Our fourth interview with the contributing authors of Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue is with upcoming Australian weird speculative fiction short story writer, Helen Stubbs. Her contribution “Surgeon Scalpelfingers” is as weird and wonderful as it sounds.
Pre-order your copy of the limited print edition now for only $10 + postage.
Don’t forget, Midnight Echo’s subscription drive will run until November the 20th. All you have to do to be in with a chance to win $200 in cold hard cash, or signed books by award-winning authors, is to take out any one of our subscription offers before then. Subscriptions go for as little as $3.85/year for ebook and PDF formats.
* * * * *
Midnight Echo: What is your favorite Sci-fi horror novel or short story and why?
Helen: My favourite Science Fiction horror novels are The Visitor and The Margarets by Sheri Tepper. She deals with futures where humankind endures drastic interventions by extra-terrestrial entities. Tepper writes girls who can do whatever they must to survive horrific events, rituals and weapons. The novels are disturbing, beautiful and believable. I would love to be able to create worlds and universes as massive and convincing as hers.
I also love John Wyndham’s novella Consider Her Ways, and Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which are both subtle horror working with the concept of waking in vastly changed circumstances. Whether you become a breeder or a cockroach, that has to suck.
Midnight Echo: Tell us about your story and what your influences are?
Helen: My story, “Surgeon Scalpelfingers”, draws on one of my greatest childhood fears…ending up on an alien work bench. Initially, my protagonist observes what has happened in a cool detached manner. I love the narration of John Wyndham and that influenced my style in this piece. Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter inspired me in part (to take my character apart), while the robot from Lost in Space was definitely in the back of my mind as I designed the final product. There are some delightfully icky images in this story. Yay.
Midnight Echo: Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn’t common knowledge?
Helen: My first attempt at constructing a book was non-fiction. It was about my pet chicken, Chatterbox, who hatched one Christmas day then met an untimely end mere months later. Rest in peace, Chatterbox (1985-1986). This story is for you, who will ever be my favourite adolescent rooster, for whom I never found even a torn dappled feather. Was it alien abduction? Perhaps you are free ranging through far off galaxies, making single-legged featherless hens very happy.
* * * * *
My I woke and wondered if I was still me, then decided probably not. While I had no memory of what I had been, I was certain I’d been a single thing, with a few or more limbs and zero coils.
I was strewn around the dim lab. I still had a sense of my body-parts, though we were no longer directly joined. Some sat tall and alone, on quietly vibrating dishes—that arm for example. It used to have a hand on top, now it had a metallic disc.
A brown organ with a curved back was encased in a glass canister of orange jelly. It had an aerial on top and wires trailing from the base. Yet other parts of former me inhabited small robots, for example, one finger had become the body of a metallic seven-legged beetle…an insect? Insept, I supposed. Its rubbery neck supported a half-sphere, which turned toward me.
Oh, hello—it held my other eye. That other eye looked back at me, to where this eye and my thoughts were based… in my head? No, not at all. My other eye had a clear view and told me I no longer had a head.
The majority of me was collected on a green operating table. One eye had been set into a circle of skin that was stretched over a cylinder. It looked similar to a drum. I couldn’t see my mouth, but other parts of me lay along the bench, integrated with a lot of hardware. Limbs, organs and a few toes were set into glass and metal casing. The connections between them included cable, wire and some tubing. I had no skeleton—not bone and not metal. My scaffolding was missing. I could not stand up.
My independent eyes looked about a little more, rolling around their new settings. Beyond the circle of light that surrounded the green bench, it was hard to make out details. But there were my bones; lined up, from shortest to longest, in a slim tank that stretched along a wall. It didn’t look like it included all 206, but approximately a hundred.
My nose sat on top of a tripod. If I had an eye above it, that eye would have quite a view. Perhaps the *insept* could crawl up and take a look? Actually, it was good vantage point for smelling. My nose sniffed… it smelled blood and Betadine. And something more animal. Something that could do with a wash.
I was a work in progress. If I could have found my tear-ducts I would have cried.
To distract myself, I focused on locating my missing fingers, recalling that there should be another nine of those, along with two arms and two ears. These things were coming back to me. And so was a tall wobbling form, backlit by a bright light beyond the corridor. He was a two-metre tall, hill-shaped blob.
“Surgeon,” said a voice above me, in an unfamiliar language—yet I understood.
The voice belonged to a triangular robot face on a snake-like arm. Its long neck originated from somewhere above, lost in the darkness. It had spoken through a triangular speaker which lit up when it spoke. This mouth was set beneath its round camera eye.
The snake-bot turned to face the surgeon.
The surgeon burped and farted as he moved closer, and his rolls of pale fat came into view. His white face seemed to glow against the dimly lit background. He had bruise-blue lips, just like raw sausages. His pale yellow eyes were rimmed with red inflammation.
* * * * *
Biography – Helen Stubbs
Helen Stubbs loves the beautiful weird, especially fiction about the future and alternate realities. Her writing usually includes tough heroines and terrible things. Her unpublished novel, Black Earth, is a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Award. She’s currently working on a novel called Verdan’s Marsh. Helen’s short stories have appeared in the Aussiecon Four Souvenir Booklet (competition winner “The Perforation”) and the Australian vampire anthology Dead Red Heart. She’s a member of Queensland Writers Centre, Vision Writers and Prana Writers. Her interests include chatting to strangers, travelling, bike riding, the environment, art and innovation. Contact Helen at twitter.com/superleni and helenstubbs.wordpress.com.