Edition 4: Toy by Gary McMahon
We are pleased to have this short from Gary McMahon, a successful dark horror writer from the UK. This story deals with what it means to do what others do because it is fashionable, but how you may not realise what it meant to you to begin with. Enjoy! SY
When my wife came back from the hospital with Toy, it took us both a short time to adjust to the changes in our routine.
I remember the day well. I was sitting in the conservatory, reading the daily news on my laptop, when I heard her come through the front door. I could sense the change immediately; there was something different about the air as she moved through it.
“I’m back,” she said, making a bit of a racket in the dining room behind me.
I put the laptop down on the coffee table and stood, feeling tired all of a sudden, as if my body was reacting before I’d even had the chance to take a look at Toy.
Debs was standing at the dining table, staring down at the small carry-cot she’d placed there. She was pale. She’d lost some weight. Her eyes were flat and lustreless. It seems strange now, but at the time I almost failed to recognise her. She looked so different, so unlike her normal self.
“Is that it? Is that Toy?”
She nodded but she didn’t speak. Her small hands were clasped against her chest, folded into an awkward position against the buttons of her shirt. It made me think of the yoga classes she’d taken for a month and then abandoned, because some other new fitness craze had become more popular with her circle of friends.
I walked over and stood beside her. I wasn’t sure if I should touch her, so I kept a respectable distance. She’d worked hard while she was away; she must have been exhausted. But to her credit, she never complained—not then, and not even afterwards, when things changed for us all over again.
“So,” I said, looking down at Toy. “This is it, then?”
I reached down into the carry-cot and pulled back the pink blankets, folding them neatly. I prodded Toy’s naked belly with my index finger, hard enough to make it cry. Toy’s belly was surprisingly firm; like a balloon filled to bursting point with water.
“Funny looking thing.” I prodded again.
The crying got louder.
“Stop that,” said Debs, edging closer to me. “Please. I don’t like that sound. It makes me feel…funny. It distresses me.”
“Okay.” I stopped prodding and replaced the blankets, tucking them around Toy’s throat. After a couple of minutes, Toy stopped crying and closed its eyes, going to sleep.
We both stood and watched for a while, then, when I grew bored of this, I walked over to the cabinet by the door. “Drink?”
I poured two glasses of whisky and returned to her side. She took the glass in her small, white hand and pressed its rim against her thin, pale lips. She didn’t look well; I’d never seen her look so ugly. Her hair needed washing. The lines on her face were more pronounced.
“I think I might take a bath,” she said. “Keep an eye on Toy.”
“Good idea. You smell of sweat.”
She left without saying another word. Her footsteps were slow, deliberate, as if she were trying to make some kind of point.
I listened to the sound of the taps running upstairs, the banging of the pipes in the wall, and gazed down at Toy. There was no movement beneath the blankets, not even a twitch. Toy’s face looked serene and peaceful. I decided that I liked it better when Toy was asleep.
I went over to the TV and switched it on. Sat down on the sofa and watched the big wall-mounted plasma screen—the same model all our friends owned. More news: riots in France, a US presidential candidate shot dead by protestors, and two countries I’d never heard of had started a war. I sipped my whisky and let it all wash over me, a welcome distraction from the changes in my own home.
Before long, Toy started to make some kind of noise. It was strange, like a high-pitched whining, mewling sound. I was unsure what to do. I stood up and walked back over to the table. Toy was thrashing around in the carry-cot, balling up its little fists and waving them in the air. Its face was all screwed up, and very red. The mewling changed to crying and I decided that I didn’t like it when Toy cried.
I stood there watching for several minutes, and eventually Debs came in, with a fresh towel wrapped around her body. She smelled clean now; she’d washed off the sweat. I was glad. The odour had been distasteful. If she smelled like that when we were out together, I’d be ashamed to be seen with her.
“What’s it doing?” I looked at her, hoping that she had all the answers.
“I think it needs feeding,” she said, dropping the towel at her feet. Her breasts—always firm and perky—were now large and saggy. They were unattractive. I didn’t like how they looked. None of my friends’ wives had breasts like that, not that I knew of.
“What are you doing?”
She looked at me, blinked twice. “I’m going to feed it.”
She reached down and picked up Toy, supporting its head on the palm of one hand, and guided its face towards her left breast. I put down my whisky glass and watched in horror as Toy’s tiny mouth closed over her stiff nipple and began to make sucking movements.
“Oh,” I said.
Debs smiled, but it was a worn-out expression on her washed-out face.
“I see,” I said. But I didn’t, not really. “Does that hurt?”
“No,” she said. “Toy is quite good at it, and the people at the hospital showed me how it’s done. It feels strange, but there isn’t any pain. Just a little pressure, that’s all.”
“I see,” I said again. “A little pressure. That’s interesting.”
It wasn’t, though; it was actually rather a vulgar display. I hoped Toy would not have to be fed this way forever. I imagined Toy growing, taking on bigger and bigger proportions, and sucking Debs dry with its insatiable appetite. It didn’t seem right somehow, not in this day and age. Surely there must be special equipment to make the experience more…aesthetically pleasing. I thought I’d search online later, maybe when Debs went to bed. She might appreciate me taking an active role in things.
When Toy was finished feeding it went back to sleep. Debs took Toy upstairs, to the room we’d prepared, and then returned to her bath. I sat back down and watched some more news. Oil prices remained at a record high, the Korean bee farms were experiencing low honey yields, and a famous singer I’d never heard of had died of some kind of new disease whose name I couldn’t pronounce.
More distractions: more stuff that did not really touch us, here in our shiny home on a clean street on the outskirts of a safe city.
Later that night, as I watched the starless sky through the ceiling window, I thought about Toy, in the room next door. The sky was black. I had not seen stars for years. It was as if the blackness between the stars had engulfed them all, covering them like tar. The only lights we ever saw up there were from orbiting communication satellites.
Toy’s feeding process happened every few hours, without fail. Debs was already exhausted. She was struggling to cope and this was only the first day. I wondered if it had all been worth it, just to have this new thing in our home, this item that was so coveted by all of our friends. Everybody wanted one these days, or so it seemed, but ours didn’t look any different from anyone else’s we’d seen. And it was such hard work…so much effort for no obvious reward.
Did we really need Toy to feel complete, to mend what had never been broken in the first place? Hadn’t we been happy before, just the two of us? I did not understand this intense desire to own a Toy. I did not know where the need had come from. It made little sense in terms of our marriage, our existence as a modern couple. Our life together was like a series of glossy magazine photos, but someone had spilled something on the page and made a mark.
I got up and went through into Toy’s room. There was no need to turn on the light. I stood in the doorway and stared at the cot, and then, slowly, I approached it, moving as quietly as I could across the room. I looked down. Toy’s eyes were closed. I touched Toy’s cheek with the side of my finger, and its skin was cold. I’d expected it to be warm, perhaps even hot. Maybe there was a fault? I felt around Toy’s body, squeezing its chest and belly, then its limp hands and feet. Cold. All cold.
I picked up Toy and went to the window, holding it up in the weak light that came in through the glass. Toy’s body was loose, floppy, as if the parts inside were broken. Its head hung at an angle, chin on chest. I stared at Toy’s face, its pink eyelids, its open mouth. I shook Toy hard but it did not respond.
“What’s wrong?” I did not realise that Debs was awake, or that she’d followed me into the room. The suddenness of her voice shocked me into opening my hands but I did not drop Toy. I readjusted my grip.
“I don’t know,” I said, still staring at that tiny white face. I felt something then, like a shadow passing over me. It lasted only a moment, but it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Something else I did not understand, so I pushed the feeling aside, ignored it in the hope that it would go away.
“I don’t think we should get another one,” I said. “We don’t need a replacement Toy.”
I put Toy back into the cot and we both left the room. Debs went back to bed and I locked myself in the bathroom, where I looked at my face in the mirror. The harsh overhead light was unflattering, creating shadows and angles that I did not recognise. My cheeks were wet but I didn’t understand why.
I washed my face and put out the light, then went into the bedroom and joined my wife in our bed. She was lying on her side, facing away from me. I curled against her body, trying to copy her shape, and placed one hand on her thigh. Her body was stiff and unresponsive. She must have been asleep, but her breathing was all wrong. She was not making a sound.
I left my hand where it was and kept it there until I fell asleep.
And when I dreamed, it was of a wide, vast ocean, with hundreds of people in boats all waving at me and calling my name. They were my friends. I wanted to join them out there on the water but I did not have a suitable craft. I was stuck onshore, watching them. I could not reach them.
All I could do was stand and stare.
Stand and stare.
Gary McMahon’s short fiction has been reprinted in both THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR and THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY & HORROR. He is the acclaimed author of the novels Rain Dogs, Hungry Hearts, Pretty Little Dead Things, Dead Bad Things and the trilogy. He lives with his family in Yorkshire, trains in Shotokan karate, and likes running in the rain.