Another delay! Perhaps it should be taken for granted now that I can’t keep to the more regular posts of before. In part because of now writing a novel – my ambitious fantasy/comic/’gritty’/sci-fi/western ‘The Wulf and the Tiger’ – rather than short stories.
Here is an extract – about the first half of the story, to be fair – of a short story I promised I while back, called The Gremlins. It was the last to be written for my Faces in the Dark Compilation.
It can also be got independently here.
All around the world, things go missing. Some of the time they inexplicably reappear, hours later, after the whole house has been turned upside down. Then, there they are, in a place you had checked four times over, looking smug.
Some of the time they don’t come back. You know, you know for absolute fact that the item could not have left the house, perhaps not even left the room where you last saw it, maybe only a few minutes ago. Keys, a TV remote, a pair of glasses, a bookmark. They have nowhere to go to, no means of escape, and yet gone they are.
This is not a story about the things that go missing.
This is a story about what takes them.
The headphones in your coat pocket. You spent five minutes at the beginning of your last walk into town untangling them. Three days pass. You take them out, and lo and behold, they are tangled again. No, not merely tangled, but tied in knots. Actual knots. How did this happen? It’s almost, you think, with an expression a mixture of annoyance and amusement, as if somebody was, when you were fast asleep, taking the wires out of your pocket, looping and knotting them up with fiendish glee and putting them back. But you shake your head, unscramble the wires again, and go about your day, not for one serious moment entertaining the prospect that your previous flight of fancy might be true.
This is what they want you to think.
They vary in size, most of them anywhere from the size of a fingernail or a bogey to the size of a large hand. They have two arms and three or four legs, and they move like spiders.
They are often a muddy, greeny-brown colour, but they have a natural camouflage that turns them into a mere blotch on the environment. They do not have nails, but have long fingers, very thin and sharp as needles. They can climb anything, completely vertical and upside down. They can climb up your plug-hole. They can crawl across the ceiling, above your head while you sleep.
They say that, in the city, you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. Well, you’re never more than six feet away from at least a hundred gremlins. Six feet above and six feet under.
They wait like spiders too. They can stay perfectly immobile. Your eyes cross over them all the time. They’re in the shadows, in the corners of things. They’re clinging to the downside of the desk you sit at. They wait in the cracks in the armchair.
When they move, they’re fast, very fast, like very small things with legs often are. If your eyes detect them at all, they’re nothing but a blur, the idea of motion, the tick in your vision.
If you ever saw one, your brain would not register it. The mind convinces itself too firmly against the existence of countless little undiscovered creatures hiding and sneaking and scampering silently around us. You would simply see a bit of dirt, a ball of hair, a thick stain, a bulb of mould, and your eyes would move on instantly and your mind would not remember.
Maybe you touched one, without thinking. Most of them are slimy, and greasy, like wet frogs. They trail mucous like snails in the hot sun, invisible to the human eye. Some of them have scales, like lizards or fish. Some of them are hairy, not a soft cat-like fur, but hair like tarantulas. It is the kind a hand might touch without looking and instinctively pull back, an immediately recognisable bad touch, and yet when the eye looks for the culprit it finds none.
They are very patient, and when they are not being patient, they are being quick and invisible. The smaller ones do not need to wait for you to leave the room to sow their discord. They can steal things from under your noses. They could re-arrange half the room in the time it would take some old biddy to notice something was wrong.
They live short lives, a year at most, but their ancestral memories run long and deep, right back to the beginning. They are made up of individuals, countless individuals, but they also share a hive mind. They are directed, they are completely unified, and things always go According To Plan.
If you ventured underground, to the places where the very walls are made of them, where they seem infinite in their numbers, you would see the same three words scrawled over and over. They are written in their language, their alphabet, a cluster of sharp points like tally marks scratched on the cave walls. Translated they would read:
In their alphabet, however, a scratch can mean more than one letter, and a word can have more than one meaning. These words could also be read as:
This is the Plan. The first stage, Disarray/Madness, and Gather/Harvest, is in motion, and has been in motion for thousands of years, always growing in efficiency and strength. Disarray involves the taking and movement of our possessions, and other small, interfering activities, a great host of tricks to play on the unsuspecting humans to slowly, but surely, drive them mad. Each year things are ramped up a little bit more from the year before. And in their malice, they think it hilarious we have not noticed anything amiss, but blame ourselves and each other every time.
You may say it is having little effect. It is not. It is having an ever growing effect, simply one that humans do not recognise. For every murder and suicide, there are the prime reasons, of course, but there are also the little things, the mounting up of endless little annoyances that serve one consolidated purpose: to drive you over the edge.
These little things are the work of gremlins.
Gather works in partnership with Disarray, and involves stealing our things, and keeping them for themselves. Some of them are useful as they are; most of them are made into new things, bigger things, dangerous things. Gremlins are very good at building, at making crude but terribly efficient things out of gizmos, doohickeys and thingamajigs. Things that will make them stronger, things that will come into their own when the time comes to Reclaim.
The second stage has not begun yet.