Saturday, 8 May 2010

Talking of short stories...

Here's something a little different from my usual output...


THE DAY

I wake this day and reach for my wife.

She does not offer her lips to be brushed by my tremulous fingers. She is gone. On this same day she peers on vistas of gold and turquoise, or such is the heaven promised to her by her faith. I think that she has gone to a dark and empty place, a nothingness of forever, for who could have faith in anything now? He doesn’t have faith in us.

I catch the sob in my chest, but it has a will of its own and breaks forth as a belch of phlegm that bubbles on my whiskered chin. Shuffling closer to her, the sweetness of decay is rich. Caring not, I place my lips to her marbled forehead, kissing her gently.

Murky opal eyes stare back at mine, pebbles on the bed of a highland stream viewed through peaty water. There are skeins of threads, broken corpuscles making a scarlet maze amid the yellow and purple lividity of her cheek where it lies on the pillow. Once pretty, a pattern of duck-egg blue flowers, forget me not’s, the pillow is now stained black where the essence of life has spilled from her, sticky and gelatinous and congealing.

It is three days since my wife died. In the night death had come for her, spiralling down from a bruise-ridden sky, a harpy on shattered pinions. While I slept in dreamless exhaustion, the claw-footed thing had alighted on my wife’s breast and stole from her the omega exhalation of her time on earth.

She had been afraid to die. I’d held her and told her not to be frightened. When it’s time I will be there, right beside you, my love. My promise was as cheesecloth carrying water. Well intentioned, yet pointless. I did stay with her and have stayed the three days since, but now I cannot bear to share her bed any longer.

Crawling from the blankets, the stench of my own body on me, I tuck the duvet around her stiffness. Around me stalk the shades of ghouls, flicking back tattered veils to expose drooling maws. Banshees howl, a demented lament calling me home. Goblin shadows crawl through the detritus of our room, and I fancy I hear their claws scraping on the boards. They have no power over me, for it’s not yet my time. But today is the day.

The jug holds enough, and I splash the flammable liquid upon our bed. Pass censure, I care not. I bring flame and set it to her pyre, sending the imagined night fiends scurrying, for flame is anathema to them all.

I stand in the road, watching the breeze chase trash below the overgrown hedges. Behind me, the place that was our marital home thunders in on itself, imploding, sending tendrils of smoke to catch at my ankles.

Where to go? That is the final mystery on the day.

I walk, following a path untrodden, my bare feet sinking in mulch. Beneath the leaf litter, do insects still crawl? Nothing of the air, or land or sea has survived, I am certain. Chitinous-backed things, though, are they the new lords of this world? Had they always been?

The corpse of a dog.

Then other corpses. Not canine. No maggots, no flies or blue bottles, so perhaps they too have been struck down.

More corpses. Male, female, some older and indistinguishable now.

The rank and bloated things are nothing new to my eyes, yet still shake me with unforgiving terror. In them I see my own future.

It is imminent.

This is the day.

Nothing moves between heaven and earth. Cornflower blue, tufts of cotton wool, nary a contrail: the sky is as empty as the heart that rides like a clenched fist in my chest. God once pledged a rainbow as a sign of his promise. Today the sky holds no prism. No promise.

I stand by a river. It smells like corked wine, not least because the bodies of men and women fight for space with the dray beasts piled along the embankments, or hang caught in the tree roots along the edges.

I go on. This is the day but not the place.

It’s later and I stand on a bridge. I know this place. Along the way I’d been drawn back along an anabranch until my feet had again found familiar ground. One foot after the other I walked, dazed, seeking a sign. None came, not at first. The arch of the bridge drew me in, a sliver of steel to a lode stone, and I plodded towards it, my mind feeble, a shuddering ache in my bones. The coughing kept coming, the sputum, claret-rich, flecking my shirtfront. It still comes.

There on that bridge I first kissed my wife. She wasn’t my wife then, but that means nothing now does it? She had been my everything and I want to be with her again. This strange anastomosis, this joining place that had entwined our life blood, made of us one being, it is the place to end it. Right? Damn right.

The river here is broad and deep, such is the way where bridges arch. I stand, bent over the low wall and stare down at the smoked glass waters. The banshees are calling again, their wailing beaten back only by the thrumming of my pulse in my ears. Saddle, stirrup, anvil, all thrum. I force the lamenting things from me. It isn’t time. I am not ready. Deep breath. Exhale. More coughing. More blood. It’s turning black.

On a bent knee, I lean on the wall. Head bowed, hands clutched to my stomach. Not in prayer; I clutch at the burning in my lungs. My lips drool, thick, viscous froth that takes an age to slide to the brassed-current below. As it hits the plop is loud in the still air. Even the breeze holds its breath.

Breathe, goddamn you, I tell the world. Breathe and live again.

As well that I wave a hand and command the dead to rise once more.

Such is my impotence.

My wife was afraid to die. I told her not to be frightened. But I am the king of hypocrites. I am terrified. I am not ready, but it is the day.

God.

If there is such a thing, He has turned His head away in shame. He has judged his greatest creation a failure, and has held closed his fists, giving free rein to Death and all his cohorts. Disease came, Pestilence followed on its filthy heels and they swept the earth. Every man, woman, child, every beast that flew or walked or swam in the oceans, they have all been struck with God’s furious cleansing. The seas rose, the bloated fishes riding the tides, fields were spoiled by the cattle dropping in droves. Planes fell from the skies, cities burned, sewers overflowed and dams failed. It has taken less than eight months all told.

I am the last man alive.

Stumbling, I bring both feet onto the parapet. I scrape a nail out of the bed of my toe, and wince at the pain. Even now, pain can still make me cringe. How sad that I have not the fortitude to face this unflinching.

The flames immolated my wife, but I can not face them. I choose this instead.

God has cheated us. Now I will cheat him.

I step off the bridge. Open my arms, greet the rushing surface of the river. My love I’m coming home too.

For today is the day.

That humankind dies.




Copyright: Matt Hilton 2010

15 comments:

Glaznost said...

Dark and verbose, i like it. It's very different from your usual style, and as i'm used to Hunter's point of view coming from your pen it takes a few paragraphs to get into it, but when i did click with it, it was worth it. A very rich piece.

I feel sorry for the poor bastard.

Matt Hilton said...

Thanks Paul,
yeah, totally different than my usual stuff. But that was my purpose for writing it. Not only is it verbose and 'literary' but in the first person present tense that I usually can't read, never mind write!!

Thanks for the feedback. It was a story that was sitting on my computer for a while, so I'm happy that I gave it some light. Even though the subject matter is dark.

Sue H said...

Grim, desparing and tragic - you've certainly covered all the bases there, Matt.

Wonderfully descriptive writing, though - and a world away from the Hunter style.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Harsh but very well done!

Matt Hilton said...

Sue, and Paul, I thank you.

As I mentioned to Paul G, it was something I had sitting on my computer that hadn't really been read by anyone else, so just thought I'd air it and seek feedback.

When writing the JH books, I try to strip things back so there's no fluff - but I think I've also mentioned that I'm a fan of the old pulp masters like Robert E Howard, HP Lovecraft etc, and sometimes I like to drift into that dark and troubled mind those writers seemed to have. I think that writing something as harsh and stark as this one took a different voice, much more verbose than Joe's, and I hope it has worked.

If not, I think I'll have Joe's voice in my head for a while yet, so no worries.

One of my all time favourite books is Stephen King's THE STAND. In some respects I wrote this as a vignette of one man's take on a similar world-wide plague as 'Captain Trips' in King's book. Something even as big as The Stand only dealt with about 2 dozen characters' fight against the plague (and subsequently Randall Flagg)and I've often wondered about the other billions of people on the planet and what their personal take would be. Count THE DAY as the musings of only one man in a similar situation.

David Barber said...

Read this on my iphone whilst staying in the Hilton Hotel in Aviemore for a surprise night out with the kids and friends last night. Was a little bit drunk while lay in bed but re-read it today and it's just great. Obviously well written and a far cry from Hunter but something you are obviously good at. A stand alone novel for the future could be on the cards, me thinks.

Nice work, mate.

Matt Hilton said...

Cheers David,
a stand alone novel? Hmmm...
Not sure I could sustain a full book in first person present tense, but who knows?

Got another one sitting on my computer at the moment, a kind of crime thriller cum is-it-or-isn't-it supernatural type novel that I'd love to send to the publishers (but my agent's not too keen yet).

maybe one day.

Anyway, it's good to flex the writing muscles now and again and doing something totally off the wall - it's a good learning experience. And you know something, the more I read it, the more intense and the more powerful it becomes. Sorry if that sounds blowing my own trumpet - I'm usually my own worst critic - but I like it.

David Barber said...

Nowt wrong with blowing your own trumpet mate.

Matt Hilton said...

Cheers, david,

toot-toot!

Lee Hughes said...

Cracking piece, showing off a different facet of your writing. I'm a sucker for apocalypse stories.

Matt Hilton said...

Cheers Lee
Yeah, I read the interview Lily Childs did with you where you mentioned your love of the apopalyptic stories so thought this could be your cup of tea. Glad you enjoyed it, matem
Matt

Matt Hilton said...

That should be apocalyptic, mate
Matt

Jamie Freveletti said...

Very nice! I loved The Stand and this has that same desolate feeling. Love that he cheats death. It's good to shake things up a bit to keep things fresh-isn't it?

Matt Hilton said...

It most certainly is.

I'm also a huge fan of The Stand and wanted to pay homage here. I often think that The Stand is an awesome story with a huge cast of characters, but there's also a world full of others who would have had stories to tell. This is one man's version of the events affecting him. Glad you liked it.

BTW: SIGNS (Mel Gibson movie) to me is a similar treatment of War of the Worlds. Small family story set against the larger alien invasion that Wells showed.

Lily Childs said...

I love the desolate feel to this and the poetry in the description. Atmospheric, beautifully emotional... and steaming with menace. It's the kind of horror I adore - as is Stephen King's The Stand.