Magpie’s Ladder by Richard A. Kirk

Sneak Peek Story Extracts

MAGPIE’S LADDER comprises five stories that came to the author/artist while working on his visual art. “My preferred drawing technique is stippling in ink,“ he tells us, “creating images with countless dots using a mechanical pen or brush. During those long hours, my imagination would wander, introducing strange characters and settings. The elements began to cohere into stories. Writing them down became a new path for expression, and for approaching the worlds that I enjoy creating.”

From “Magpie’s Ladder”.

Lily dreamed of a long darkness. She thought it was permanent until a gentle pulse of light brought about a change. The light, which grew in strength, came from a twisting torus above a giant’s head made from innumerable tiny objects—bones, gears and glass. She realized that the life she had thought was forever was an instant, the fulcrum between one thing and another, one place and another.

From “Lint”

A pale giant sat in the middle of a small boat, nine fingers whitening on the gunwale. His nickname was Crane, given for his slender limbs and long neck. Crane feared any expanse of water, and had a prickling acquaintance with finned fish anaphylaxis. The lake was a fogged mirror with silvering marred by innumerable darting pumpkinseeds. He hummed “Jelly Roll Blues” to calm himself. The vintage outboard motor, which looked like some kind of reeking steampunk beetle, seemed about to rattle the boat to pieces. Crane only loosened his grip when the island, for so long a scribble on the horizon, began to fill his field of vision. The pilot, a desiccated man who’d offered Crane a bump of meth off the back of a freckled hand before setting out, let the boat drift toward the shore. They said goodbye, in a haze of pale gasoline exhaust.

From “The Engrosser”.

“Hey, Paperweight.” Synge’s nickname in the firm was Paperweight, derived from the fact that his days were spent leaning over a table, pressing papers into the wood grain with his threadbare elbows. Paperweight was the cruel invention of Norton Alder, the firm’s chief accountant.

It was Alder now, the ridiculous ass, rousing Synge from his funk. “Paperweight, the old man wants to see you.” Something in Synge’s bowel shifted, like an eel in a bottle.

From “Elephant Bridge”.

One evening, two women drifted along a river in a rowboat. The older of the two, Justine, was in her seventies. She sat at the front of the boat, wrapped in a crocheted blanket, with a pug curled in her lap. She rubbed its ears between her fingers absently. The younger woman, pale from many hours in the library, dipped the oars only as often as needed to keep them on course. The river was choked with water lilies filigreed with tadpoles. Minnows darted between the stems, skirting sepia carp that moved with stately purpose. It was Justine’s favorite place. As a young woman she had painteden plein air on the embankment, but that evening it had been Gillian who’d suggested a row.

From “Thin Skin”.

Eric found the chair in a study at the end of a hall. It was an unremarkable orange armchair. He sat down, tentative at first, but then with a kind of bone-weary pleasure. It wasn’t as though Ackerman had killed himself in some messy sort of way. His death had been a prim affair in which he had calculated with precision the required dose of phenobarbital. There were minute burns in the chair’s wide arms. The material had been worn thin where the elbows met it. This was a comfortable reading chair, the kind of chair you could spend an entire Sunday in with the right book. Eric felt an idea kindle in his mind. He could put the chair in his bedroom. After all, why should Jennifer have any say over his household furnishings? Chuffed by this minor rebellion, Eric stood up and gave the chair an exploratory tug. It was damned heavy. He pulled off the cushion and tried again, but felt no discernable difference.

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