Inside The New Gothic: Damien Kelly’s ‘The Whipping Boy’

The Gothic is the most enduring literary tradition in history but in recent years friendly ghosts and vegetarian vampires threaten its foundations. The New Gothic is a collection of short stories which revisits to the core archetypes of the Gothic, the rambling, secret-filled building, the stranger seeking answers, the black-hearted tyrant, and reminds us not to embrace but to fear the darkness.

In ‘The Whipping Boy’, Damien Kelly brings the bleak desolation of a remote village in Ireland to the fore. He shows us all one of our worst nightmares – a summer stuck with your bully, but our protagonist discovers that getting your own back has a price.

There was no water in the outside toilet.

A brick cubicle on the far side of the yard, it held nothing more than a bucket with a seat, lined with old newspapers that you brought with you from the pile kept by the side of the kitchen range. That could stand a few visits, if all you needed was to piss. But if you shit in the bucket, you had to fold it up and carry it out to the gully to dump.

“Even in the night, Pius. Yours are so goddamned dirty. You leave a stink in there, and I find it? I will batter you.”

I knew he’d be on me later, kneading his fists in my guts, hoping to turn my bowels to soup and force me out to the bucket in the dark.

There was no water in the house. The chief reason for sending us to stay with our grandmother at Three Trees was so that we could do the walk up to the tap outside Swanton’s back door instead of her. It was what allowed her those three or four weeks residence in the summer, so she could still legitimately call it home. Two buckets of water, twice a day; one to drink from and one for the dishes in the sink.

Potatoes we could wash in the rain barrel, and did every day. Why were the Irish still in thrall to the potato? Even I, at ten years old, knew how the famine had happened. If it rained, you’d bring a basinful from the barrel into the long shed and wash the potatoes there. Crouching in the dust of decades-old turf, looking up at the swallows’ nests clinging to every corner, and listening to them squealing at you; stuttering chirrups, like machine-gun fire. It was the summers spent in Three Trees that taught me to think of birdsong as just so much startled screaming.

For the rest, get The New Gothic from Stone Skin Press.

Damien Kelly is a writer and psychology lecturer living in the untamed wilderness of the northwest of Ireland. He’s married to a beautiful pathologist and has two precocious children to fret over. The horror practically writes itself. Season of the Macabre, a collection of winter chillers, is published by Monico, an imprint of Clarion Publishing.

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