Stephanie has read at Story Shop 2014, the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust’s daily showcase at the Edinburgh International Book Festival of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today.You can find the story she raed on Sun 24th August 2014 below.
Stephanie McGregor is originally from Ohio, but lives in Scotland where she writes for teen audiences. Her novel The Life and Times of Cara Grimes was long-listed for Undiscovered Voices 2012, and another – The Forest Grim – took 2nd place in the 2013 Strange Chemistry Slush Pile Challenge. She is Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators-British Isles, and the former Chair for the West of Scotland Children’s Book Group. Her daily life includes writing about teen-angst, and horrific happenings, along with fighting her cat for the writing chair.
The Short Story she read on the day
a short story by Stephanie McGregor
I must’ve hiked through those Carolina woods a hundred times and never saw it. When I cut across the old Murphy farm fields trying to get to the slip road down the hollow, it appeared. I felt it watching me run, so I stopped.
The house sat at the edge of the wood line, camouflaged by tall, fat spruce trees. There was something about it that drew me in, even then. All the windows on the ground floor were covered over with plywood. Someone must’ve given up halfway through doing the upstairs part, ‘cause there was a stack of weathered boards lying on the roof of the porch.
Like spider’s eyes, those upstairs windows shown back at me all black and shiny, reflecting the outside and not giving me even a hint of what was hidden within. The remains of a garden lingered ‘round back, not knowing whether it was coming, or going. It’d long since outgrown itself to the point where you couldn’t tell where the garden ended and the undergrowth of the woods began.
There was an ivy-covered outbuilding behind the house that could’ve been a garage, but even though I squinted I still couldn’t tell. When I looked back, the house resonated with silence, almost like it wanted to tell me something, but couldn’t. Everything about it whispered the ghosts of secrets, and of life long past its sell by date. It stood still in an animated sort of suspension staring down at me with intent.
It was not what I saw with my eyes that sent chills through me, though. An image of a future me burst into my mind, like some psychic mirage. There was a flash and then I saw a still-frame of myself there in the house looking out. The vision materialized all blurry-edged in my mind. It was as if the house knew I needed it, and I’m still not sure it hadn’t just popped up in that moment like this Room of Requirement that was in the stories I used to read as a kid. For whatever reason it chose to appear to me then, I’m grateful.
Thinking about it now fills me with that same hunger. The house is as empty as I am and there is something so desperately sad about it that it’s all I can do to not run back up there right now and tear the boards off the door.
Back at Carol’s house, I look out into the darkness from my open bedroom window. “Give me a sign,” I say to the night. A muggy southern breeze ruffles my curtains.
Carol screams from her room. It’s a nightmare, I know, but I rush in anyway because it’s my mamma’s fault she’s having them. I stand there watching her fight the bed sheets. “Carol?” I say. She opens her eyes and sits up.
“Greta?” she asks tenderly, all bleary eyed and confused.
“No. It’s me, Maisey,” I say.
Then, as though my voice has brought her to her senses, she goes right back to being nasty ol’ Carol. “What are you doing in here? I, I thought you were your mother. I thought…” She clears her throat.
“You were having a nightmare.”
“I damn well know that! It’s no business of yours, anyway. What would people say if they saw you in here with her gone? Get out!” She points her finger in the direction of the hall.
I do as she says, shutting the door behind me as I go. This is all Mamma’s fault, every bit of it. I know exactly what the people in this little backwoods, backwards town would say. They’d say Gay Carol was taking advantage of the situation. I’m not stupid. But no one sees me, and no one will. It’s been three months since Momma left.
I know the game. There ain’t nothing to it. As long as nobody sees you you’re not really there. You don’t exist. If you stay quiet they’ll forget you all together. And if you don’t, they’ll leave. They always leave. Poof and they’re gone, or you are, or they wish you were, or the whole damned world ceases to be, and no one cares at all. Time goes on either way. It don’t need you to tick by. It don’t need them either. It just needs God to take his key and wind the mainspring tight. But God and me, we ain’t talking right now.
I sigh, retracing my steps back to the bedroom at the end of the hall; the one that still doesn’t feel like mine. Carol’ll be up for hours pining for my ma. I can hear her crying into her pillow. It may well be the only thing we’ve got in common. She won’t want anything to do with me tonight, so it’s a good time to go.
My window slides up real easy from all my escapes. I drop my bag out and make my way to the porch roof along the ledge, then lower myself down onto the railing and jump into the dry grass. There’s no reason for me to hurry, but I feel like running, so I sling the bag over my shoulder and across my chest and jog off into the night.
I move up the tree line, avoiding the poison ivy as best I can in the dark. I see the Harpers’ porch all lit up. Two gypsy moths flutter about the bare light bulb narrowly missing a spider’s web. I creep ‘round the side yard and keep moving as quietly as I can. My memory takes me up through the farm fields and into the woods. It calls to me like a siren.
I can’t see the house at first, but I know it’s there. I can feel the loneliness. A young, pregnant moon is shining overhead. Trees cast the house in shadows. If I wasn’t sure this is where it stood I wouldn’t’ve seen it, but I can just make out the edges in spite of the darkness it’s disguising itself in. I’m not offended, though, because I know it’s not hiding from me. The disguise is for other people, I understand this all too well.
This house and me, we’re the same. Abandoned. Forgotten and left to rot. Maybe together we can make it through. Maybe together we can disappear.
“Welcome home, Maisey-May Jackson,” the house seems to tell me. And right then I know I’ll never go back.
(c) Stephanie McGregor, 2014