Stephen Gregory Does a Good Badger

I've been raving about Stephen Gregory's latest book, The Blood of Angels, to anyone who'll listen, so I thought I'd give a sample of his prose. This is from The Woodwitch.
He stepped out to the wheelbarrow, where still the brightness of the moon was smothered, and he hefted the corpse of the badger in front of his face, lifting it with his hands in the folds of his pullover around the rusted strands of barbed wire. Then, turning into the shed, straining to hold the weight and the smell away from his body, he managed to summon the strength to raise the badger to the hooks. He was lucky first time: the confusion of wires which had buried themselves in the flesh of the animal now snagged on a hook, and as the man stepped backwards he left the badger aloft, swinging its head down- wards, rotating gently so that now the mask of the jaws was grinning at him and then it was the milky eyes which stared blindly into his. The man was breathing hard. But he was pleased with what he had done and to think of what it would produce, and he thought of this as he took the logs from the wheelbarrow and stacked them regularly against another wall of the outhouse so that they would dry quickly. When he had done this, he stood and regained his wind, happy to be in his little shed with the ranks of timber which he himself had cut and with the hanging corpse. "You're perfect," he said quietly to the badger. He removed his pullover from it. The light from the torch was soft and warm on the walls and the wood, and it made golden sparks of the animal's bristles; it made the awful fixity of the mask relax, as if almost the warmth of the light could restore some life to the badger and unclench its gritted teeth.

The man turned out the torch, locked the shed and went back to the cottage. As he did so, the single cloud moved on and the land was once more flooded with moonlight. There was silence, not the breath of a breeze to move the trees, nor the cry of an owl in the forest. Only, in the woodshed, there was the dripping of blood from the mouth of the dead thing, forming a crimson stain on the new white wood of the mountain ash, and the tumbling of maggots from its nostrils.

Of the many types of quiet scenes in horror, I especially like the ones where someone is alone, and busy with a project, working methodically and without a great deal of fanfare, in a way that is unsettling. Sometimes it's unsettling because it's so innocent, you wonder whether it's a lead-in to something else: a young woman in the kitchen humming to herself as she makes a snack, a child playing a game on the sidewalk. Sometimes it's unsettling because something is obviously wrong: the murderer lining up his trophies on a shelf, the assassin constructing a bomb. But even better, I think, because more subtle, are the ones where the author tells you everything that's happening, and doesn't have anything up their sleeve -- no easy suspense -- except that what's happening is...well, how would you put it? Peculiar? Uncanny?

There's nothing wrong with what this man is doing with the long-dead remains of a badger. Nothing wrong at all.

Copyright © Fiona Webster 1996

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