Matthew Cheney has published fiction with One Story, Weird Tales, Pindeldyboz, Web Conjunctions, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. He lives in New Hampshire and teaches at Plymouth State University.

We published Cheney’s story “Getting a Date for Amelia” in Issue 4.

Walk in the Light While There Is Light

posted Jan 10, 2012

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Baskerville decided to become a monster because he had chewed his way far into the Earth, and he lived now in the space he had chewed for himself, a musty cavern beneath a knoll in an unnamed wilderness in northern Maine. He had been on vacation, alone, hiking and camping, trying to forget his latest failed encounter with something resembling love, when he was seized with the desire to devour some soil. His friend Cal the Freudian would have said this desire was fueled by a need to consume and obliterate his mother—the Earth, of course, being the biggest mother of them all—but Baskerville thought this was bullshit, because Freud was bullshit, and if Cal had been there with him, Baskerville would have accused him of being a coprophiliac for all the bullshit he ate, and that would have set Cal a-thinking for so long that he might have shut up for a while.

Baskerville hadn’t seen Cal in many years, though. Not since becoming a monster. Not since eating his way into the knoll and sealing the passage behind him with saliva-saturated mud. He hadn’t seen anyone in ages. His hair and his fingernails were unruly, and in the darkness of his cavern, a few of his teeth had grown and grown until now they jutted between his lips down a few inches below his chin. No light came into the cavern, and Baskerville didn’t know if his eyes worked anymore, but his other senses were stronger than ever, and he spent much of his time listening to worms and bugs crawl around him. Sometimes he thought he heard distant voices, but he was convinced these were illusions, like an amputee’s memory of a leg.

Needs were few in the cavern. When he got hungry, Baskerville ate more dirt, adding a new room to the cavern every couple of months. A spring provided a brook of water for him to drink. To empty his bladder and bowels, Baskerville went to the farthest wall and released his wastes into an apparently bottomless pit that had opened there. He always listened to hear if his wastes hit the bottom of the pit, but they disappeared into silence. This frightened him at first—for whatever reason, he found it more comforting to think of his urine and excrement settling somewhere instead of plunging toward the center of the Earth for all eternity—but now he took it in stride. Monsters, he decided, shouldn’t think too much.

His biggest problem was time. There was a lot of it. Living alone in darkness, Baskerville had removed himself from history and progress and anything else that required days to be distinguishable from each other. To pass the time, he sang old songs to himself.

You’ve been talking about your brickhouse
but you oughta see mine.
It ain’t so pretty but it still looks fine.
I am gone, I’m long gone,
My road is rough and rocky all my way.

Baskerville had forgotten why he remembered the songs, and why he seemed to be able to sing a different one each day, and why his fingers strummed an imaginary guitar.

Sometimes, when he didn’t feel like singing and when the darkness seemed particularly thick and when his teeth hurt and he feared he might finally need to chew his way up to the world he had so happily left behind so long ago—sometimes, he screamed out to the echoing emptiness:

“Hateful day when I received life!”

Or, if he were particularly filled with bile and eloquence:

“Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred!”

Yelling for so long hurt his throat and numbed his ears and made all the worms and bugs in the walls scurry around and cause little bits of dirt to rain on him for hours. The exclamations always had a good effect overall, however, letting him chuckle and guffaw at himself for quite some time. “’ God, in pity, made man beautiful’ [chuckle] ’and alluring,’ [chuckle] after his own image’ [chuckle, guffaw]. Hey grubs, you hear that? That was a good one, eh, that sure was good, wasn’t it?” And then he inevitably fell over onto his ever-growing stomach and laughed until he fell asleep.


Sometimes Baskerville wakes up in the middle of the night and screams.

The only way he knows it is night is because he screams.

Even as a child, when he woke up in the middle of the night, he screamed.


He woke screaming and knew it was night. He knew it was time. How he knew, he did not know, but he knew: It was time to leave.

He began chewing. He told himself a story of what would happen when he emerged:

And so he quitted his retreat and wandered into the wood; and now, no longer restrained by the fear of discovery, he gave vent to his anguish in fearful howlings. He was like a wild beast that had broken the toils, destroying the objects that obstructed him and ranging through the wood with a staglike swiftness. Oh! What a miserable night he passed! The cold stars shone in mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches above him; now and then the sweet voice of a bird burst forth amidst the universal stillness. All, save he, were at rest or in enjoyment; he, like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within him, and finding himself unsympathized with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around him, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin.

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