Dark Imaginings: Three Gothic Tales of Wonder

16 November 2018

These three stories are the winning entries from the gothic-themed micro-story competition associated with the exhibition Dark Imaginings: Gothic Tales of Wonder curated by Special Collections in the Noel Shaw Gallery, Baillieu Library. The challenge was to use 300 words (or less) to tell a gothic story. While the exhibition focused on the gothic from c 1750 to 1900, the competition was open to free interpretation of the word “gothic”.

1ST PRIZE: The Fish-Men by Victor Hu


And so the great and vaulted sky was cleaved in two.
Its puffy clouds, like startled sheep, did flee the source
From whence the heavens yawned – as crack of dawn had too
Once yawned like opened door. Yet now the weathered wood
Had splintered and been shattered forth by unknown force.
And through the darkling chasm, like the night, there would
Outpour the monsters of the deep, whose scaly hides
And bulging eyes – like bloated moon snatched from her seat –
Glowed with uncanny hue. The shades of green that tides
Adorn, forlorn unseen demanding that man’s sight
Be cast upon their form, now did spill forth to sleek
And shining fall. With quick and precipitous flight
The creatures darted through the laden air made thick
With fear that rose in pungent waves from far below,
Where desperate men emerged. Against their fate they kicked
And screamed – the bubbles of their cries rose high unto
The deafened riders wreathed with otherworldly glow –
Who, in appearance almost saintly, downwards flew.
Against the spreading terror, twisting weed of hell
That seized the heavens, men of science who proclaimed
Their mastery over nature cowered. As had fell
That son of hubris, now the father awed as well
With reason tamed, before this ancient evil lame,
And final thought engulfed by frantic tolling knell.

On “Le Ministère de la Marine” by Charles Meryon, that was on display in the exhibition from the UOM Print Collection.

2ND PRIZE: Wisteria by Lily Laycock


She had pearls in her ears, white studs on white flesh. Settled on white satin, framed by white lilies. Her eyes too, the colour of sallow milk. Pressing down on the lid left impressions of the fingertip. Her wet, papery skin that wrinkled and puckered to the touch. I cupped my mother’s face from amongst the flowers, holding her aloft from the satin casket. Though she had been painted a pretty mask, all her features slumped with the movement, her mouth curling off to the side in a spiral of atrophied muscle. A kiss to her forehead before I returned her to rest, stepping back to kneel. Hovering there, suspended in the music of the organ, I took in her final scent. A cloying perfume. Her body swathed in alcohol and synthetic sweetness. In life, she had rubbed the cores of garden flowers to her neck and released their feminine scent. Had hated perfume and its false pretention to flora. From my lapel, I withdrew a string of wisteria, settling it in the dip of my palm. Less pallid than the lilies, it had a faint yellow glow, as if lit from within by some nestling beetle. A firefly hidden amongst petal sheets. In my hand, I surely crushed that beetle, rubbing the flowers until they began to bleed clear, releasing their strongest scent in death. I ground them with my knuckles, under my nails, until they were but a damp clump. The flowers were destroyed, but as I stood once more and held my hands over her, the crumpled mess that fell brought with it her distinctive perfume. The perfume of her garden, fresh in spring and swaying in white and yellow blooms. Her pink body swallowed by the flowers as she disappeared amongst them.

3RD PRIZE: The Monster Which Haunted Belle Tarney by Andreas Katsineris-Paine


Belle Tarney was haunted by a monster. She lived in Northcote, wore slacks and liked the movies. She was now sixteen, and although she noticed that the monster which had plagued her since her childhood never came to the cinema, he often announced himself in dreams. He gathered himself up in the streets and laneways of her nightmares and then hounded her until she twisted herself awake.

Then he would appear. She would hear his feet some mornings and stayed indoors, counting the steps he took up to her house, across the porch, and through to her bedroom door.

“Give me something of yours to eat,” it would then say in a voice which sounded like rocks colliding. “Open your door and put out one leg. My teeth will scrape the meat clean off your bones. Surely you don’t need both legs,” it scraped hideously.

“I need both legs,” she managed to say. “Find your food elsewhere.”

“Just a hand,” it scraped. “Put out a hand. Put just some fingers under the door.”

“Find your food elsewhere,” she managed to repeat.

But the monster eventually ate Belle Tarney. She was not very strong. You see, Belle Tarney used to live with a family. She had a mother and a father and a sister, and one by one she traded them for relief. At first she gave her sister, and he gave her one month unbothered; then he offered her two extra weeks and she opened the door to her father’s study. Then he said her mother for one day, and she allowed it. Then—because she had nothing left to give—she gave herself. And the monster licked her bones clean.

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