McMara’s Rock – a few reviews

McMara’s Rock, published in Black Static #55 (Nov-Dec 2016), is my longest story to appear in print. (It is not the longest thing I’ve written, but those other beasts have yet to find a home.) I do not know, or cannot remember, how the story developed: often a story begins with no more than a certain image, a particular phrase – it’s an inkling, I suppose. But quite often the words go nowhere. I scratch my head. I drink coffee. The hours drift by. My heart is not in it. The words are flat, they do not fizz. I look at the story: it’s not you, I think, it’s me.

And when I revisit an unfinished or abandoned story, read through the notes (notes that had been jotted down with such enthusiasm, such energy) – well, quite often it’s like meeting an ex. I’m baffled as to what I ever saw in the thing: where’s the spark, the twang, the mystery? My notebooks are full of such false starts, unfulfilled beginnings. So are our memories. So are our days. From my window, as I type this, the bare winter trees, black against the white sky, look like old medical drawings, macabre and grave.

There is a real split rock, of course. I remember it from childhood holidays (rain, green fields, windy beaches, Tayto cheese and onion crisps, hens, gnats, churches, bungalows, more rain). The rock is still there, I believe, in County Sligo, although it is many years since I set eyes upon it. Perhaps you’ll visit it one day. Perhaps you’ll walk through it three times. If so, I wish you  luck.

Here are a few reviews of McMara’s Rock:

From Tangent Online. Review by Seraph:

Given that this was the story chosen to headline #55, so to speak, I expected very great things from Mr. Hargadon. He did not disappoint. We are taken to Ireland, and while the year is indeterminate, it’s not too far in the past, as cars are mentioned at several points. The titular rock, split in half in times far past, is a spectre, like that of death, shadowing the characters within the story like the Reaper himself: Always present, only occasionally seen or mentioned, and inevitably but a few steps behind.

The story follows two brothers, Jerome and Michael, on whose property the rock rests. There is a lengthy legend given to explain the presence of the rock, well executed, and while much of the story revolves around the brothers, never is the rock forgotten, and it haunts the lives of the two boys. Michael is a quiet, withdrawn boy, skirting the line between sanity and madness for much of his life. Jerome is the opposite, outgoing, constantly chasing after the ladies, lost in a different kind of madness that afflicts quite a few young men in their youth, or so I hear. However, it doesn’t take long to find just how disturbed they both are. Ever more withdrawn, Michael clobbers a young girl Jerome had brought to their cottage, purely out of what can only be described as the result of a paranoid persecution complex. Jerome doesn’t seem even to be bothered, suggesting Michael have his way with her while she is twitching half-unconscious on the floor. Were that not bad enough, when she wakes, and cries that she will go to the police, Jerome simply slips her some arsenic and buries her in the vegetable garden. Nonchalant. As if one does such labor every day. Michael is appalled, but only because he is afraid “his brother might make him do something he didn’t know how to do.”

Throughout, the references to Michael’s texts, his strange prayers, his muttering, yield an impression of an incredibly disturbed individual, and yet we see not quite as disturbed as Jerome. Not yet. There is plenty of evidence later in the story that this event has catastrophic consequence. While Jerome spends their inheritance, eventually drinking himself out of his mind and into a ditch, Michael delves deeper and deeper into madness, devouring every book, kept company only by the droning of Mrs. Dolan, an elderly woman who takes care of him as best she is able, and the many feral cats that have made his cottage their home. It’s during this time that the rock captures Jerome’s mind, and in one of his many endless schemes decides to charge admission to viewing the rock. This of course goes over as well as it could, which is not at all. He finds himself shoveling manure for a circus, scheming to make a fake replica of the rock and take it on tour with the circus, and in his drink-addled delirium manages to force himself upon the daughter of the ringmaster, and gets soundly thrashed for his reprehensible conduct. While Jerome wakes up in yet another ditch, Michael is steadily losing his tenuous grasp on reality even further, and his mind is also captured by the rock. It twists and warps the fading sanity of his waking visions, and his desires turn towards the grotesque, fantasizing sexually about his dead mother and his elderly caregiver. It’s not long after, as Jerome is cheating and bedding his way into the pocketbooks of women to make his way home, that Michael turns to far darker pursuits, slaughtering a goat and eating parts of it in a semi-ritualistic experiment, thinking to gain the virility of the goat fabled in arcane texts. Not long after, Jerome finally makes his way home, and after a drunken rage pounding on the cottage door, finds his way out to the field, to test the legend and curse of the rock. He passes out between the two halves, only to fall afoul of Michael’s panicked madness. When Mrs. Dolan brings her daughter to visit him, the daughter finds not only Jerome’s body with his brain scooped out, but any number of just as disturbing elements, such as the goat and the parental bedroom. She falls prey to his grotesqueries, and suffers the same fate as Jerome and the goat. Mrs. Dolan arrives just in time for Michael to offer her the brains of her daughter to eat, claiming it was all for her, so they could live together, forever. She flees, and when the authorities rush to the cottage, they find everything aside from Michael himself, who has vanished. The macabre story ends with another dash of legend about the rock, about how it is cursed. About how it curses anyone who sees it split in half, that it really may not be split at all, finishing on a chilling note. So, there you have it … The most chilling part of the story for me is just how perfectly Michael’s slide into madness is described. It’s also rare to find an author who just takes their time with the story, not rushing it, letting it slowly build so that the mind of the reader does the work of horror. It doesn’t rely on shock value or the supernatural to convey the fear, although there are elements of both present. It is the marching inevitability of death and insanity, building and building, that makes this a masterful stroke of the pen, much like the horror stories of Edgar Allen Poe. If you are a fan of horror/weird fiction, which I can only assume you are if you are reading a review of Black Static, this is a must read, and I heartily recommend it. It is by no means a short offering, but don’t let that discourage you in the slightest. It is well worth your time.

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DF Lewis:

…  a classic worthy of your attention …  the characterisation of the two brothers is to die for.

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SFRevu:

The titular rock is actually a rock split in two. It’s in a field owned by two brothers, Michael and Jerome, near the town of Drumsheedy. There is a legend about how the rock got there, but no one really knows. The two brothers are different. It is Michael who stays at home and would never leave. Jerome travels and gets himself into trouble. But it’s when Jerome comes home that things happen. Nice build-up … to some true horror.

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This Is Horror:

First up is ‘McMara’s Rock’, by Stephen Hargadon, easily the longest story here (verging on novella length). It is a … tale of a mysterious split rock in a field in rural Ireland, which finally settles on two brothers who come to inherit the land (and rock), and their tangentially tragic, yet wildly different lives … lyrical and poetically detailed … hints at a larger cosmic horror … there are some wonderful images to be had, and a keen sense of the tragedy of insanity.

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Black Static 53 is available from TTA Press here (or from Amazon). Well worth buying a subscription.

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Illustration for McMara’s Rock by Ben Baldwin. http://www.benbaldwin.co.uk

A rollicking good read: some reviews for Mittens

Mittens appeared in Black Static 53, accompanied by Richard Wagner’s artwork (below). Here’s a few reviews of the story:

Stephen Hargadon steps up … with the evocative and imaginative Mittens. Following the discovery of a grotesque murder, the apparent felon – sideshow manager Percy Scollop – pleads his innocence by recounting tales of his history in showbusiness… most importantly, in managing the astounding talents of master knitter Neil O’Neill.

Full of life, drama and a palpable sense of wonder, Hargadon’s Mittens blends the magic of the stage with the malignancy of self-doubt, wanderlust and, yes, bloody murder. O’Neill’s signature stage show is brought to gleaming life – a bombastic spectacle that comes close to placing the reader right before the stage – whilst the gloomy, blood-slicked horror that follows is equally affecting in Hargadon’s hands.

Throw in the twisting effects of an unreliable narrator who may be that worst of narrative leaders – the insane showman – and you have yourself a rollicking good read.

Dread Central

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“The years go quickly but they arrive slowly.” As ever, this Hargadon is crammed with stunning turns of phrase, wise saws, suppurating homilies, witty but down-to-earth conceits … the central conceit of the variety act in question is too good to spoil or unspool in a review such as this … And its staggeringly disturbing finale has to be encountered cold to be fully appreciated.

DF Lewis

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Impresario Peter Scollop is found in a room in the Foxbridge Hotel in Buxton, naked except for a pair of pink knitted mittens, with blood on them, and the dead body of a woman in the cupboard: strangled, her chest cut open and knitting needles in her major organs. Scollop denied everything even his name and that the woman was dead. We get a wonderfully imaginative story with descriptions of the incredibly bizarre acts that he presented to the public. One of the best was Neil Niall O’Neill, the remarkable knitter. He could knit at a remarkable speed. But he went into a rough patch and went out with his most unbelievable act of knitting. But was that his last creation? Imaginative, entertaining and very unsettling

SFRevu

Black Static 53 is available from TTA Press here (or from Amazon). Well worth buying a subscription.

mittens

Illustration by Richard Wagner

Reviews for ‘Listen, Listen’

Some reviews for ‘Listen, Listen’ (Black Static 51)

When his father dies, Robert Haig moves into his house. His aunt tells him she had been telepathically in communication with his father and that his last words were about a place that had been burned and in which a man who died. The ghost of old Haig reprises his last dream. A nasty, very effective, grim tale. Sam Tomaino at sfrevu.com

Hargadon is the name of an author of whose work I have become a fan over the last few years … The main theme, of how one dies and what is supposed to happen after death, depending on whether one dies peacefully or while dreaming, is certainly original … We have spontaneous combustion, regrets, guilt, collected toys, Yeats’s Byzantium, father-son relationship, life without dreams not being a life at all, workers-boss relationship, money-making, the nature of bodies when burning, telepathy, death as the most dramatic thing you ever do… DF Lewis

In ‘Listen, Listen,’ Stephen Hargadon introduces us to Robert Haig, who inherits his toy-making father’s fortune. But Robert’s old man comes back to torment him in a unique way in this wonderfully written study of ghosts and the afterlife. The Horror Fiction Review

… reminds me a little of Mark Samuels crossed with Reggie Oliver … There’s far too little witty, decadent and disturbing prose out there, and I’m delighted to have discovered another author who is so good at it. John L Probert

Black Static 51 is available from TTA Press or Amazon.

LL

Illustration by Vince Haig: barquing.com

 

Some reviews of The Toilet (published in Black Static 49)

“Down in the neon gloom of the Toilet, among the mumblers and dribblers, the dead souls with their dead dreams, Rio Snagg indicated, with a buyer’s nod, that he wanted the same again; the same again being a pint of the celebrated local brew, Knicker Sniffer, a fierce and sooty fluid cited as the malign inspiration behind many a Friday night coshing and bludgeoning.”

The Toilet Stephen Hargadon Black Static 49

Since it’s appearance in Black Static #49, a few curious passers-by and hardy souls have stepped into The Toilet. Here are their thoughts:

 

Stephen Hargadon steps up to bat next [in Black Static #49] and, quite frankly, knocks it out of the park with The Toilet. Doing what he does so well – urban horror that takes the everyday sights and sounds of the city and twists them into something much grimmer – here he takes us on a journey into a semi-hidden inner city bar that serves a very special kind of home brew.

When a murder occurs outside, police inspector Burroughs heads into the dingy joint in an effort to collect statements… only to find himself trapped in a waking nightmare. It’s a remarkable piece, and despite the short length, Hargadon manages to dredge up an atmosphere so sickly, decrepit and smeared in human excretions that you can almost smell it. It’s dark, it’s nasty, it’s slightly confounding (don’t expect to grasp its secrets easily on the first read)… and it’s bloody brilliant.

Gareth Jones ~ Dreadcentral.com

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While investigating an assault, detective Frank Burroughs becomes addicted to an unusual beer in Stephen Hargadon’s ‘The Toilet.’ The Toilet is a small bar, located a flight below street level. Burroughs’ life changes after he visits the restroom in this creepy, noir-ish mind bender.

The Horror Fiction Review

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Rio Snagg is felled by someone with a hammer outside of a pub called the Toilet. Detective Burroughs investigates but runs into trouble. I can’t go into more detail but this one was very strange

Sam Tomaino ~ sfrevu.com

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Hargadon is my cup of tea as a writer … Here the drink is stronger, Knicker Sniffer on the pump, in a basement pub that used to be a public convenience … Hargadon’s … labyrinth of The Toilet’s own lavatory has to be read to be believed. It is something else altogether. REALLY.

DF Lewis ~ The Dreamcatcher of Books

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Want to go to The Toilet?

The print edition of Black Static 49 (November-December 2015 issue) can be bought here. It contains new novelettes and short stories by Ralph Robert Moore, Thana Niveau, Simon Bestwick, Stephen Hargadon, Erinn L. Kemper, and Tim Lees. The cover art is by Martin Hanford, and interior illustrations are by Ben Baldwin, Martin Hanford, and Vincent Sammy. Features: Coffinmaker’s Blues by Stephen Volk (comment); Notes From the Borderland by Lynda E. Rucker (comment); Case Notes by Peter Tennant (book reviews and an interview with Nicole Cushing); Blood Spectrum by Tony Lee (DVD/Blu-ray reviews).

An electronic version is available from Amazon & Smashwords.

Black Static 49