Categories
Literary

Short Story Saturday – Dunce by Mike Russell

Dunce

 

Mike Russell

 

Everyone calls Dunce ‘Dunce’. Everyone thinks that Dunce is an idiot. I used to think so too but not any more.

 

Dunce is completely bald and has a really pointed head so the temptation to get him paralytic on his thirtieth birthday, carry him to the tattooist’s and get a nice big ‘D’ smack bang in the middle of his forehead was too much for me. Trouble is he can’t afford to have it removed so he wears a big plaster over it. Gangs of children tease him.

‘What’s underneath the plaster, mister? Show us!’

They swear he has a third eye under there.

 

My name is Bill but Dunce calls me ‘Fez’ on account of my hat. I’ve known Dunce for over sixteen years. I don’t have to use my memory to work that out; I just count the number of boxes of Turkish Delight I’ve got stashed in my cupboard. Dunce buys me a box every birthday. Dunce thinks that because I wear a fez I must be Turkish (I’m not) and that being Turkish I must like that powder-covered gunk (I don’t, I hate the stuff).

 

On my last birthday, after saying:

‘No, Dunce, I’ll eat it later,’ and stashing box number sixteen in the cupboard, I decided to take Dunce to the theatre. He’d never been before.

The play was called ‘Death in the Dark’. We had front row seats. Dunce was captivated. He stared at the actors with a gaping mouth.

The lights dimmed to darkness. Kitty Malone, the beautiful star of the show, was stood centre stage. A shot was heard. Dunce jumped right out of his seat.

‘What was that?’ he said.

The lights came back on and Kitty was lying in a pool of blood. Dunce let out a scream then shouted:

‘Someone call for an ambulance! And the police!’

The audience thought that Dunce was an actor, that the play was being cleverly extended beyond the stage, questioning the boundaries of theatre.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ Dunce shouted at the audience. ‘How can you carry on as if nothing has happened?’

‘This is wonderful, just wonderful,’ I heard someone say behind me.

Kitty was stoically sticking to her role, thinking that the show must go on, but Dunce was clambering up onto the stage, crying, stroking Kitty’s hair and checking her pulse.

‘She’s alive!’ he shouted with relief.

‘No I’m not!’ Kitty hissed at him through clenched teeth.

That was it; I was in hysterics. What a birthday treat this was turning out to be.

‘I’m acting. It’s part of the play. No one really shot me,’ Kitty hissed at Dunce.

The realisation was excruciatingly slow. I watched Dunce’s face change from shock to confusion to understanding to embarrassment. He made his way back to his seat. He didn’t speak or look at me until the play was over. The play got a standing ovation and we headed for the bar.

 

Kitty was in the bar too. She smiled at Dunce who blushed. She seemed to be fascinated by the top of his head. She walked over and invited him to her dressing room.

 

Twelve hours later and Dunce was in love! How about that? And what’s more, Kitty was in love too! And not only that but they were in love with each other! Kitty fell for Dunce. Not ‘fell for’ as in ‘was deceived by’ because there’s no deception where Dunce is concerned, he can’t do it, but she fell from her deceptions towards him. I couldn’t believe it.

‘It won’t last,’ I said to Dunce. ‘Enjoy it while you can but face facts: you are Dunce and she is Kitty Malone. Think about it.’

 

Dunce told me that Kitty had a thing about ice cream cones, a fetish you could say. She ate six a day. She liked to bite off the tip of the cone and suck out all the ice cream. She had a recording of ice cream van music that she played whilst they were having sex. She was forever stroking the top of Dunce’s head.

 

Then came the day. Dunce came round looking really worried.

‘Fez, have you seen Kitty? Do you know where she is?’

‘No, I haven’t seen her. Why? What’s the problem?’

‘I had a dream last night,’ Dunce said. ‘I dreamt that I was in bed and I looked at the calendar by the side of my bed and it was tonight. I put out my hand to touch Kitty but she wasn’t there. There was just this cold sludge covering her side of the bed and this smell: vanilla. It was melted ice cream.’

‘So what’s the problem?’

‘I think that something is going to happen to Kitty. I have to find her before tonight. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning alone in a bed full of melted ice cream.’

‘Dunce, dreams don’t mean anything and prophecies are impossible. Sit yourself down. Let’s have a couple of beers.’

I opened a cupboard, reached in to get the beers and a pile of boxes of Turkish Delight toppled over and fell out, breaking open and spilling their contents all over the floor. Dunce looked at the boxes then looked at me. I watched his face go through the same slow transformation from shock to confusion to understanding to embarrassment that I had witnessed so many times before.

‘You don’t like Turkish Delight?’ he said.

I said nothing and guiltily handed him a beer.

Dunce sighed then said:

‘So why did I have that dream?’

‘No reason at all,’ I said.

We sat in silence for a while then Dunce suddenly stood up.

‘It’s no good, Fez, I have to find her.’

 

Dunce found Kitty in the centre of town, lying on the pavement in a pool of blood. An ambulance and the police were on their way. An ice cream vendor was crying and yelling:

‘I don’t understand! I don’t understand!’

A huge, plastic ice cream cone was protruding from Kitty’s chest. It had fallen from on top of the ice cream shop for no apparent reason, smashed through her rib cage and crushed her heart.

Dunce cried. Then he cried some more. The next day, he cried and the day after that he cried. Three weeks later, he awoke, dressed, ate some breakfast, then cried. The next day, he came round to see me. He was crying.

‘Hello Dunce,’ I said. ‘Do you want a beer?’

‘What’s wrong with you?’ he said. ‘How can you carry on as if nothing has happened?’

‘It was an accident, Dunce,’ I said angrily, ‘a random occurrence. These things happen. You just have to get on with life. Why are you so stupid?’

I regretted saying it as soon as I heard it come out of my mouth. Dunce stared at me with tears in his eyes.

‘A fez is only a severed cone,’ Dunce said. ‘At least I have a point.’

I took off my hat and looked at it sullenly. Dunce had a point that he had a point. If he’d found Kitty a moment earlier… if I hadn’t delayed him with my arrogance, my cynicism…

‘Fez,’ Dunce said, ‘you remember the tears that I cried in the theatre when I thought that Kitty was dead but she wasn’t? I think that the tears I am crying now are the same as those. I didn’t understand what was going on in the theatre and I didn’t understand what was going on when the cone fell on her. I think that maybe we only cry because we don’t understand what is going on. Maybe if we understood what is really going on we wouldn’t cry at all, ever.’

Dunce smiled through his tears and beneath the plaster on his forehead I swear I saw something move.

 

Copyright © 2014 Mike Russell.

Read more of Mike’s work here!

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Categories
Literary

5 Wonderful Weird Fiction Books

  1. Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti. songs of a dead dreamer uk paperback 1989 Songs of a Dreamer was Thomas Ligotti’s first collection of supernatural horror stories. When originally published in 1985 by Harry Morris’s Silver Scarab Press, the book was hardly noticed. In 1989, an expanded version appeared that garnered accolades from several quarters. Writing in the Washington Post, the celebrated science fiction and fantasy author Michael Swanwick extolled: ‘Put this volume on the shelf right between H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. Where it belongs.’ Amazon
  2. Strungballs by Mike Russell. 71WvzwrzA4L Disclaimer: Mike Russell is my other half 🙂 I was a fan before we were a couple. If you love Examining The Odd and want to show your support, please grab a copy of this amazing book. Oh, and don’t forget to leave a review! You won’t be disappointed.
  3. The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. house on the borderland william hope hodgson 1983 reprint carroll graft - Copy
  4. Railsea by China Miéville. tortoise
  5. The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft.

    “There are black zones of shadow close to our daily paths, and now and then some evil soul breaks a passage through. When that happens, the man who knows must strike before reckoning the consequences.”
    ― H.P. Lovecraft, The Thing on the Doorstep


    Which books would you add to the list? Which is your favourite? Please share if you love weird fiction!

Categories
Visual art

A Week of Aubrey Beardsley – Friday

Welcome to day five of Aubrey Beardsley Week here on Examining the Odd!

I see everything in a grotesque way. When I go to the theatre, for example, things shape themselves before my eyes just as a I draw them — the people on the stage, the footlights, the queer faces and garb of the audience in the boxes and stalls. They all seem weird and strange to me. Things have always impressed me in this way. – From an interview given in 1894, as quoted in Aubrey Beardsley : A Biography (1999) by Matthew Sturgis, p. 220

Drawing was a strong interest from early childhood, and Beardsley practiced it while earning his living as a clerk. Beardsley’s meeting with the English artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones in 1891 prompted him to attend evening classes at the Westminster School of Art for a few months, his only professional instruction.

“Morte Darthur, Le” [Credit: Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]In 1893 Beardsley was commissioned to illustrate a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, and in 1894 he was appointed art editor and illustrator of a new quarterly, The Yellow BookBritannica

There was a young man with a salary,
Who had to do drawings for Malory;
When they asked him for more,
He replied, ‘Why? Sure
You’ve enough as it is for a gallery.’

– On illustrating Le Mort d’Arthur (1893), as quoted in Aubrey Beardsley : A Biography (1999) by Matthew Sturgis, p. 155

Categories
Literary

The Outsider – H. P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft Unbound

H.P. LOVECRAFT’S “THE OUTSIDER”

I just had a nice little re-read of this very short Lovecraft classic and thought I’d do some googling. Behold: goodies! The music is particularly good, although it looks as though it’s been around for a while, so apologies if this is a mere memory jolt for you. I recommend enjoying it with a warm cat, a glass of red wine and a beat-up paperback.

What drives this character to keep going into the unknown is mystery. He has seen signs, warnings that what is coming will destroy any remaining sanity he has left. Yet, he trudges on through the darkness and into a room filled with some abject horror. He even reaches out to touch one of it gruesome paws before he turns and runs for his life. The Outsider is for those of us who have dreamed that those who raised us are mysterious and incompressible. When we finally forced to face our parents, truly understand who they are and what they are about, we are faced with a shockingly realization that we may never understand them. We can only see monsters and wonder how they came to care so deeply for us. Aaron M. Wilson

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I’ve found some amazing atmospheric music inspired by Lovecraft by Michael Brückner. It’s available to buy as a digital album or on a CD, but you can also just listen to tracks here. With titles such as Haunter Of The Dark, The Call Of Cthulhu and Dreams At The Witchhouse, it makes for some genuinely creepy listening.

I actually had stumbled upon his name, upon musical adaptions of some of his stories, upon pastiches of lesser authors and even one or two of his oiginal stories before, but at this early encounters, it didn’t click – instead, for some reason, it hit me with the power of a crashing meteor from the depths of outer space when I was 19 or 20 years old, and in a state of utter fasciantion I had to devour any book by him that I could find (fortunately, most of his work was still in print then in excellent German editions back then). After being obsessed with his work for some time, I also started to take interest in Lovecraft’s unique – and quite strange – personality, studying any biographical information on the man I could find, and discovering that weird as he may have been, I could find many parallels in his life to my own troubles, problems and feelings. – Michael Brückner

And below is a great short film from Emerson College. I loved it!

 

Categories
Literary

Weird Fiction Quotes

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H.P. Lovecraft: Master of Weird Fiction

Categories
Literary

H.P. Lovecraft Covers through the Years

I thought it would be fun to find H.P. Lovecraft book covers that span the decades and put them in order here. Enjoy the terror!

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Astounding Stories – At the Mountains of Madness, 1936

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The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Livros do Brasil, 1941 (I think this is my favourite!)

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Weird Tales (featuring The Shadow Over Innsmouth), 1942

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The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth, Bart House, 1944

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Best Supernatural Stories, The World Publishing Company, 1946

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The Survivor and Others, 1957

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Dreams and Fancies, Arkham House, 1962

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The Colour Out of Space – and Others, Lancer Books, 1964

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The Colour Out of Space and Others, Lancer Books 1969

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The Lurking Fear and Other Stories, 1970

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Dans L’abime du Temps, 1973 (or maybe this is my favourite…)

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Watchers Out of Time and Others, Arkham House, 1974

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The Colour Out of Space, Zebra Books, 1975

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El Caso de Charles Dexter Ward, Alianza/Biblioteca de Fantasia y Terror, 1998

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An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, Hippocampus Press, 2004

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Beyond the Wall of Sleep (Complete Works), CreateSpace Indie, 2013

 

Categories
Literary

The Weird West

I’ve been reading Dead Man’s Hand, an anthology of Weird West short stories put together by John Joseph Adams. Adams has previously collated a book of fantasy short stories Epic: Legends of Fantasy.

Dead Man’s Hand includes work from Mike Resnick, Beth Revis, Alastair Reynolds, Hugh Howey, Kelley Armstrong, Jeffery Ford, Fred Van Lente, Christie Yant and others. Published last year by Titan Books, this genre is new to me.

I’m familiar with Weird Fiction, but this Western niche has escaped my attention until now. During the introduction Adams explains that the phrase “dead man’s hand” refers to the poker hand held by the gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when, in 1876, he was shot and killed by the coward Jack McCall.

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It was the third story, David Farland’s Hellfire on the High Frontier, that prompted this blog post. Farland manages to pack a ‘skinwalker’, a stranger who “turned into an oily shadow and wafted away”, a box of beating black hearts, a plague merchant, a steam-punk airship with a balloon of golden silk, and so much more into just eighteen pages.

Despite this huge heap of fantasy, he manages to create a despairingly honest story with (in my opinion) no hero and no hope. Farland (also known as David Wolverton) hails from Utah and is the New York Times Best Selling author of The Runelords and YA fantasy thriller Nightingale.

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Need more Weird Westerns? I’m intrigued by this recommendation from Fred Van Lente (whose short story Neversleeps appears in Dead Man’s Hand): “my absolute favorite is this rarity from 1989, Secret of San Saba, in which early conquistadors from early Texas discover an unearthly Lovecraftian horror beneath the sagebrush that poops gold. (Yes, really.) It’s been out of print forever, like most of Jackson’s work, so if you see it in some dusty bookstore shelf–grab it!”

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To quote Adams: “So that’s the game, pard. Pull up a chair, ante up, and I’ll deal you in. The game’s “Weird West,” no limit, and everything‘s wild.”

Categories
Literary Music

10 Short Stories challenge – day 1

I’ve set myself a challenge – to read ten short stories over the next ten days and blog about them here.

 

All of the stories will be strange or odd (of course!) and all will be free to read online. I’ll post a link with each post so that you can read the story too (comments would be lovely so that I don’t get lonely on the challenge).

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So, the first story! Today I read Thomas Ligotti‘s The Night School.

To be honest, I nearly gave up after the first two paragraphs. I found it a bit clunky and it wasn’t holding my interest. Then (and I’m not sure when or how), I was sucked in. The school in the story is such a wonderfully scary building and I don’t know how the narrator managed to continue on his journey. One of my favourite things for a story to do is smell. That may sound weird if you don’t have the same opinion, but I find that with some books (Gormenghast springs to mind), I can smell the room, the person, the feeling. The Night School reeks!

Ligotti is easily one of the most respected horror/supernatural authors alive today, often compared to Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I must admit, this is the first Ligotti story that I’ve read and I’m looking forward to more (suggestions and links very welcome). How I’ve not stumbled across him before (although I’ve heard his name dozens of times since the release of True Detective), I really don’t know.

If you prefer to be scared via audio, have a listen to this:

David Tibet of Current 93 is a friend of Ligotti and they have collaborated on numerous tracks. The one above features Tibet reading Ligotti‘s poem I Have A Special Plan For This World, set to eerie music and startling sound effects.

I read The Night School over on Weird Fiction Review. Go and have a read and come back to tell me your thoughts in the comments 🙂