Abigail by Daemon Manx  (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)

AbigailManx

Adrian Billard is an artist who never quite fitted in, his obsessive-compulsive tendencies and homosexuality marking him as an outsider from his youth. His present social circle comprises an upcoming date and a local bartender; but if his quiet life is lacking in Wildean scandal, it is at least sprinkled with Wildean wit:

There was little that was subtle about Adrian if anything at all. He was flamboyant and overt, with a definite flair for the dramatic, especially when it came to displays of emotion. He had once been told by a former boyfriend that he wore his pain like a chartreuse ascot; loud, proud and in your face. Gabriel, the bartender, had been within earshot of the spectacle, took notice, and felt obliged to enquire. He had known Adrian for years and had been the one to point out the ascot/pain analogy.

Returning home from the bar, Adrian finds a wicker basket on his porch. Inside is a baby, left for him to adopt, the only explanation being a small card that gives her name as Abigail. The baby, it transpires, is a strange one indeed:

A wide pair of violet eyes looked up at him. Silver flecks around the reptilian pupils flashed in the pale glow of the porch light. A hypnotic chimera washed over him as he fixed on the strange gaze. Suddenly, he felt weightless and out of the body; the sense that he was floating several feet above ground was consuming. Adrian found himself face to face with the most peculiar vision.
“Gee-hee-he,” the strange baby looked up at him and laughed.

This infant exerts an immense influence over Adrian. Despite her otherworldly attributes, he finds her beautiful – a veritable blessing, indeed – and deserving of his unconditional affection. Even as the baby devours milk bottles like a ravenous animal and projectile-vomits over his dining room, he remains devoted to protecting her from the harshness of the outer world.

Adrian, it transpires, is not the only person to fall under the spell of little Abigail. A visiting delivery man is brought to tears by the sight of her, and even asks if he can take her away. From the start, Adrian planned to keep Abigail hidden away because of her monstrous appearance – but now, he has a new, very different reason for preventing the wider public from seeing her: few, it seems, can resist the temptation to see the child without trying to make off with her.

Sitting in the middle of this demon-baby narrative is an exploration of Adrian’s personal history with homophobia. The centre-point of the story is an extended flashback to Adrian’s schooldays, touching upon his shyness, his distaste for the brash games of his classmates and, finally, an incident in which he was accosted by the local bully:

“Oh, this is nice!” the boy said mockingly as he stared at the picture on the front page. A gothic sketch of a great demon had been displayed on the paper. Adrian had used pencil and charcoal and had obviously spent a great deal of time on the piece. The creature’s musculature and physical presence were precisely defined and accentuated; there had been great attention to detail in the artwork. The demon was nude and clearly male. It was also very anatomically correct and more than just well endowed. “I should have known!” Urial hissed as he tore the page from the book and tossed it into the wind.

This event was significant for Adrian, marking the moment at which he first fought back against his oppressors, and he was left with the conflicted emotions – and recurring nightmares – from having brutalised the face of the lead bully. Small wonder that, in his present, Adrian is determined to protect Abigail from all who would see her as a misfit.

As short stories go Abigail is quite long, being the only finalist in the year’s Splatterpunk Award category to have been published as a self-contained book (the paperback edition clocking in at 49 pages). The plot is fairly slim considering the book’s length, but author Daemon Manx deploys some neat tricks to keep up the pace. Consider the sequence where Adrian first finds the basket on his porch, and the story keeps us guessing exactly what he is seeing:

The light cast from several directions stretched the object’s shadows to gross proportions. This made it look as if it had long legs, spider’s legs to be precise. A giant demonic spider had found its way onto his porch, had pretended to sleep, and waited for the opportune moment to pounceo n its hapless victim. It was just Adrian’s luck too. He would be cocooned and slowly digested on perhaps the happiest night of his life.

After realising that it is not a giant spider but a basket, Adrian opens it and sees what he takes to be a snake, but which is actually an arm belonging to a very strange baby.

And so begins the saga of Abigail – a saga which, without wanting to give anything away, concludes with the sort of punchline where we can practically hear the rimshot.

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