Say hello to Daniel Fishwick and his wonderfully stormy short story, The Screen's Reach. Daniel is a writer in Manchester. While working on his first novel, he has had several short stories published, his favourite form of fiction. When he's not waiting for bread to finish toasting he can be found on twitter via @VanFishtelrooy. Follow him for more of his work and some of his yapping.
The people of the town sweep their doorsteps, gather wood for their fires, and lay their tables. A whole town washed in a broad stroke of calm evening light. Far removed from their wind chimes which clang in the breeze there is a rumbling, unheard by all. It continues long into the night.
On the moonlit patio of a restaurant, a bearded man tells a tale of finding a whale’s husk swept ashore. Enraptured children sit on the cold stone slabs in a crescent around his chair. At first, he thought it was an upturned boat that was half buried amongst the wet sand. His brother had left early that morning to go fishing and panic shot through his limbs as he feared the worst. Naturally, he ran towards it. Smoke billows from the cigarette in the ashtray as he describes the moment he recognised what it actually was, the feeling of the beach pebbles beneath his feet, making him stumble. He took his right shoe off and held it aloft. The children craned their necks to look at the shoe. He pointed to the scuffed leather and then rubbed his cheekbone, ‘Scars’ he said. Whatever had attacked the whale left a mark beneath its eye, a series of circular lacerations left a rub of white on the drying grey skin.
Bray flicked another page back before the voice of Lena, his mother, boomed upwards from the foot of the stairs. “Book down, bum up, chicken. Two minutes.” He could then hear her talking to Max as his footsteps followed, “Freezing it is Maxy boy, freezles. I’m sure I saw a penguin on the way back from work.” Bray took his eyes away from the book for a moment, pinched the top of his nose and scrunched his eyes shut, before beginning to read again.
The man rubbed his beard with an open palm, the couples had been happy for him to entertain their children while they chatted over expensive meals, yet he had saddened himself with his own tale. Bright pairs of eyes blinked towards him, waiting for the next line. They expected the whale to explode, to talk, and to fight. They sat so still beneath him, waiting as their backs gently heaved with tired breaths. He took a final gulp from his wine glass before making a cutting gesture with his hand, the story was over. He laid out a note on the table and weighed it down with a couple of coins. The children sulked as they walked back to their parents. The old man laced up his shoe, buttoned his jacket and left.
Even at such an early morning hour, Bray’s room was darkened
by thick curtains. He was surrounded by what Lena referred to as The Screens.
Two televisions, a computer monitor, a docked phone. All of which beamed
flickering light into his wide eyes. Bray peered over the top of the book, on
one of the televisions a wrestling match was gathering momentum. In that black
box, a world away, the raucous hollering of a Texan crowd met the acrobatic
leap of the challenger as he landed elbow first on to the chest of the
champion. “One minute!” Lena shouted, as the champion writhed under the painful
pressure of a submission hold. The champ gallantly reached for the safety of
the bottom rope yet the challenger was able to pull him back to the centre and
sit deeper into the hold. “Y’all can kiss my hairy white ass!” he shouted as
the crowd jumped to their feet. At the centre of the picture, an old woman made
her way to her feet and raised a middle finger towards the ring. One of Bray’s
screens lit up, his phone with a message from Obaro “You see that old
woman???”Bray sent a message back instantly, smiling “Mad old crone!”
“One minute I said. Who are you talking to on those things anyway?”
“Friends” Bray said
“Friends from school?”
“Some from school. Some from out of school. You wouldn’t get it Mum, its part of Soldiers of Avalon.”
“Don’t think I’m quite comfortable with all these games, jelly bean. Could be anyone.”
“Mum, its fine. ‘Because I’m a General I get asked for tips and stuff. For beating bosses.”
“Well as the General’s mother I’m ordering you to be careful ok? Remember-“
“No names, no pictures, no details. “
“Correct. Thirty seconds, turn these screens off and come down. It’s your turn to give Max a bath. Pass me that pile of socks.” She held a solitary black sock towards her face, “Little man! These stink! Sometimes I think it should be the bloody dog giving you a bath.”
Before she left, Lena looked around the room. The floor strewn with dirty clothes, plates and bowls. Each wall propped up a homemade gallery. Portraits of astronauts, rare birds, footballers all stared back into the room. The detailed shading filled every inch of each lined A4 sheet. She had never seen him drawing yet they appeared more frequently as the time spent indoors increased, worrying weeks had become multiple months. On the computer monitor a news feed ticked along, local and worldwide updates pouring into the room, alongside ran comments of his peers, who were supposed to be in lessons. They’d spoken about this before, ‘switching off time’ she’d called it. Bray despised the term; he could tell she was uncomfortable using it, spouting from a manual. Even so, for the first couple of weeks it had worked, he ate his meals downstairs in the kitchen with her, he read his books in the warmth of the living room, and she had heard him laugh. But before long he was back with The Screens.
At an unthinkable depth carcasses float by, lifeless vessels which once belonged to the shoal that were too weak to continue find themselves devoured by their own and left to fragment. Their long limbs trail in the water like torn flags in the wind. Unperturbed, the giant continues its journey. Vacant eyes stare into nothingness, floating in the silence. Its strange features become undeniably beautiful as the gold of its hide shimmers. A thing of such power, now so gentle. Each calm movement instinctively measured. Pushing its own great weight while ever aware of threat. Just as the weeds do among the froth of the surface, its tentacles billow and drag in the deep. Day upon day of meandering could halt within a moment when it would suddenly need to defend itself. From the scars which it carries on the dome of its head, you know that however placid it may seem now, when that moment comes it will be ready to unleash the undisputable power that lies dormant in its mangled frame.
Bray led belly down on the carpet. As he dragged a thick pencil line across the paper, he recited another line from the book: “Does it know of its grand power? While it bleakly rolls through a world of which we know too little.” To shade the eyeballs of the monstrous squid, he circled the pencil lead at an angle, applying pressure where more darkness was needed. For an hour he lay there, leaning over the page. He lowered his head towards the drawing and looked closely at each line, blowing away any excess lead so that it didn’t smudge when he held it up. Taping it to the wall he repeated: “A world of which we know too little.” Slithers of sunlight illuminated the giant squid hanging in the centre of the other sketches, his finest yet. A loud cheer came through the opening of the window, Bray peeked through the gap in the curtains as a young batsman handed over his bat and helmet, obviously caught out in the early stages of his innings, his friends taunted him as he walked back to the edge of the grass.
Saturday came and with it more solid sunshine, ‘what a week
we’re having!’ his Mum kept saying, Bray secretly admired the positive way she
saw each week as a separate clean slate, unrelated to the last. She careered
around the house, clomping on the floorboards, opening the curtains wide in
every room before getting to Bray’s where she paused in the hallway. She could
hear the gentle turn of a page from behind the door and she felt the glands in
her throat begin to swell. In Bray’s room, the low winter sun highlighted the
dust as it fell onto the casing of each screen. Bray thought about putting the
book back but continued to read with tired eyes. Lena pushed the door open to
see a collection of new drawings on the walls. She silently swallowed to clear
the lump in her throat.
“Today’s the day, chicken, just like we said. Max will still be here for you when you get back. We’ll take him up to the fell tomorrow if you can do this for me, we’ll go to Guy’s Plaice on the way back, how does that sound?”
After a deep inhalation, Bray nodded and put down the book. His face drooped into a sulk. His mum smiled as he zipped up his coat and he shuffled towards the door. Lena reassured him it would be ok, piece of cake, won’t take long. She kissed him three times on the forehead and wrapped a scarf around his neck. She gently closed the front door and from the front room window, watched her son make his way to Healy Park.
The kettle rumbled to boiling on the worktop. Lena sank into a chair, took a long line of red liquorice and began to tie knots in it. A deep creaking noise came from above; she ignored it and continued to tighten the knots, twisting the liquorice until it curled. She lodged it between her cheek and her gum, closed her eyes and sucked in the sweet flavour. Upstairs, water ran out beneath Bray’s door into the hallway, settling in puddles before falling between the gaps in the floorboards. The water was not quite clear, specks of debris and dirt mingled with the foam which sat on top of the puddles. A blotch of damp soon appeared around the light fitting on the kitchen ceiling. The liquorice fell from a corner of Lena’s mouth as she noticed it. She ran up the stairs, her bare feet slapped the wet floorboards of the hall. The door cracked and collapsed under the weight of heaving pressure, wooden panels bounced into the hall, one flung to the bottom of the stairs. A powerful tentacle gripped around one of Lena’s arms and pulled her into the room. As she tried to pry herself free another took her leg, hoisting her into the air. The eyes were as dark as Bray’s sketch and looped to the back of its head as she struggled. As the tentacles thrashed the drawings drowned in the water. Torn pieces of paper soaked into mush. The suction of the tentacles was punctuated with sharp teeth that leeched into Lena’s limbs. The water line crept up the wall and the shells of the screens floated in the water. Weeds tangled with wires on the surface of the water and floated before clotting against the windowsill. Another grand tentacle, thin yet long, took her neck. With her lungs tightening, she could hear a faint bark and then another. Max had trotted to the front door to welcome Bray home.
Growing fat with anger, a rage awakes within. Swollen tentacles swipe their way through the darkness, beginning the innate chase of its prey. A star shaped mouth of layered sharp teeth is readied. Few things possess the power with which it can move through the deep, its great many limbs squeezing with abnormal strength, choking that which interfered with its procession. The last gasps of life bubble upwards, flesh of the victim drifts slowly sideways before inevitably sinking downwards.
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