Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Sign in the Moonlight: Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams & A Twist Too Far

A brief note before we begin: I was recently reporting The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories as to be out earlier this month, and the attentive will notice that it hasn't materialized yet.  The new release date is, touch wood, the 15th of January, with the hardback edition due by the 15th of April at the latest...

The thought that first springs to mind in regards to Caretaker in the Garden of Dreams is that it came out of the same bout of insomnia - or maybe, rather, waiting-to-fall-asleep-weirdness - that produced my first novel Giant Thief, and so its sequels, and so basically my entire career as it now stands.  Which is quite a lot of emotional weight to lay on one fairly short short story!

Of the two, though, Caretaker is without a doubt the piece that feels like it was cobbled together out of random bits of cerebral flotsam on the very verge of sleep.  Which is to say, it's downright odd; so odd that I find it odd and I wrote it.  It was a late addition to the collection, added in when I was thinking that maybe a few more thousands words wouldn't go amiss and realised that, hey, a freakish Dark Fantasy story based on a nearly-dream wouldn't be altogether outside the parameters of what I had in mind.

A side note: isn't one of the cool things about horror is that it's where the monsters get to have a voice?  I think maybe that's so.  Certainly the pleasure of writing this one, other than how fundamentally strange it is, was that I got to describe some horrible things from a perspective so divorced from our own that you barely realise how nasty much of what happens is until you step back and think about it.

Of A Twist Too Far, I feel like all I should really have to say is, how creepy are contortionists?  I mean, not as people, I'm sure they're lovely people, or at least only creepy in the normal human ratios of creepiness to non-creepiness.  But as a medium of entertainment, contortionists are pretty creepy.  And it's plain amazing that there aren't more horror stories written about them.  Which, perhaps needless to add given all the introduction and that title, this one is.  It sprang out of some similar impulses to The Facts in the Case of Algernon Whisper's Karma, in that once again the narrator is a Watson to the protagonist's Holmes, looking on in awe, bafflement and eventually in horror as they go further and further beyond the pale.  In a A Twist Too Far, however, the object of the narrator's fascination is a genuinely extraordinary individual - and one who only gets more extraordinary as the story progresses.

Here's a sample:
Fortesque took it upon himself to educate me on the intricacies of contortionism: of the subtleties of frontbending and backbending, of enterology and the professional's disgust at dislocations and other such cheap tricks.  I soon discovered that contortion, like any trade perhaps, has unfathomable depths beneath a surface of simplicity.  I learned too that even then, amongst his peers, Fortesque was an athlete of remarkable ability.  It wasn't for nothing they called him the Human Knot.  He could flow like water in a breeze; rearrange himself as though his limbs were some puzzle carelessly manipulated.
Yet he was not happy.  I saw that the moment we met, and the certainty only grew upon me.  His eyes were haunted.  His moods were fiercely changeable.  He would drink, sometimes, as though he fervently wished to be dead.
I would try to question him, of course.  "Frederick, something bothers you."
"What?  No Victor, just this miasmal London weather."
"You seem perturbed."
"I'm nothing of the kind."
Fortesque, it struck me, was a man in great need of a confidant.  Yet however much I probed or expressed my concern, he did not confide.  I had lost a brother-in-law to monomania some years before, and knew enough to recognise the symptoms.  He was in the grip of a commanding fervour, and I felt earnestly that without my aid it might consume him.

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