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Author Topic: Pseudopod 404: Unforgotten  (Read 3935 times)


  • Pseudopod Tiger
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on: September 22, 2014, 03:15:15 AM
Pseudopod 404: Unforgotten

by Chris Fowler.

“Unforgotten” originally appeared in the LETHAL KISSES anthology edited by Elaine Datlow in 1996. Chris says: “I used to work opposite an 18th century building with an odd little window in its back. As I knew the owners, I asked about it, and they weren’t aware that there was even a window – the room had been bricked up many years before and forgotten about. As I wondered what might be in the room, the story came to me.”

CHRIS FOWLER is the award-winning author of over thirty novels and twelve short story collections. A new thriller in the Bryant & May series is out now and his latest novel, a haunted house chiller titled NYCTOPHOBIA is out Oct 2014. More details can be found on his website: Chris

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“‘I don’t know why they had to turn the fucking lights off,’ moaned Marrick as he and Jonathan passed beneath the cracked AIKO sign and entered the ground floor of the building. ‘Look at it out there, ten in the morning and you’d think it was fucking midnight. Did you bring a torch?’

‘Yes. The main staircase is to the rear of this room.’ Jonathan clicked on the flashlight and raised its beam. The showroom had been stripped to a few piles of mildewed carpet tiles and some battered old shelf units. It smelled bad – damp and sickly. From far above them came the drone of heavy rain and the warble of sheltering pigeons. They reached the foot of the stairs and started up.

‘I wanna make sure they cleared everything out. Barney couldn’t get here this morning, his wife’s sick or something.’ Barney was an ex-bouncer and former prison warden whose aggressive temperament perfectly qualified him for his position as Marrick’s site manager. Unpleasant things happened in Marrick’s company that Jonathan did not know about, that he could not allow himself to discover. Not if he wanted to keep his job and his sanity.

Although Marrick was young, he was considerably overweight; the stairs were already defeating him. He reached the second-floor landing and looked up through the centre of the stairwell, catching his breath. ‘You can check out the top two floors, Jon, make sure we ain’t got any squatters in. Fucking hell, it stinks in here.’

Jonathan stopped on the staircase and stared out of the rain-streaked window into the centre of the block, where the backs of the buildings met.

Rooms. Something odd about the rooms. He studied the brick walls of the courtyard formed by the other properties. He felt as if he had a cold coming on. Getting his jacket so wet hadn’t helped matters. He should have bought himself a new umbrella. He sneezed hard, wiped his nose on a tissue. Spots of dark blood, a crimson constellation. He looked from the window again. The bricks. That’s what it was. The bricks to the right of the window. They were in the wrong place. There should have been an empty space there. It was marked on the map, but not there from the window.

There was one room too many.”

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I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


  • Hipparch
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Reply #1 on: September 22, 2014, 08:39:39 AM
I just loved this. A nice creepy take on the way building and cities change over the years.

I've always been fascinated with how buildings evolve alongside their usage patterns. The way that different eras get mixed up in the same building makes them seem somehow greater than the people who live in 'em. There was a while I lived in a house that had bits and pieces from three or four different centuries in it. It used to freak out some americans that the back wall was older than their country ;-)

(For those interested in how buildings change over time I'd thoroughly recommend this book, and the TV series that came out of it You used to be able to find the latter on youtube.)

My only (minor) criticism is that, for me, the multiple readers didn't quite work. I can't really put my finger on why, but it pulled me out of the story a bit. Maybe because the recording quality was a bit mixed between the readers and it felt like we were switching physical locations or something… not really sure.


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Reply #2 on: September 22, 2014, 11:29:18 AM
This is about as solid a Jamseian tale as I've encountered with a modern voice. There is a deep antiquarian love of architecture here, but it's modern instead of coinciding with M. R. James's aesthetic. It ends with just enough of a hint of the supernatural to make it a question mark instead of an exclamation point.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


  • Matross
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Reply #3 on: September 22, 2014, 07:20:11 PM
This was such a great suspense piece that oh, so, carefully builds up the tension.  I like how the threads are carefully placed to bring us to the final point where the intention meets action.  I doubt what occurred would have happens if not for the finding of the room.  Most likely the buildings would be razed and built over had they not found that room.  And was it intentional he see that room?  Or did the building want it to be seen, and the deal struck.  I could not wait to see what would happen in the room, and the ending was very satisfying, not a cheap scare.  I also actually loved the voice work as it gave each section its own definition, the voice of London, the actual history, and the narrative.  It allowed the piece to have some real organization as I knew what to expect with each narrator.

I don't know about the whole living city bit.  I love the idea of ancient civilizations holding dark secrets we've lost touch with.  But the idea that London is dying because old buildings are being brought down doesn't jive with the fact so much of the previous city is built over and old areas get removed, even mentioned in the story.  That is part of the evolution of a city, as you just can't always keep the ancient architecture.  The new architecture today will be ancient artifacts in 500 years.  Even New York has it's build over subways and secrets, and it's a pretty young city.  I don't see London as a dying city.

Also, the bit on Japanese respecting the old buildings is apparently not so true.  I heard an article on NPR about how Japan actually destroys buildings after only ten years of existence, mostly.  This came out of the world war where many buildings were destroyed and new ones had to be build over the previous ones.  This appears to have led to a desire for only new buildings and homes, which is killing housing values there as nothing ever ages or is allowed to appreciate.  It's kind of interesting how we get ideas about cultures and find out they weren't so true.


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Reply #4 on: September 22, 2014, 07:45:27 PM
For those of you who liked this one, you should check out the moody Fowler ghost story over on PodCastle:

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


  • Sir Postsalot
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Reply #5 on: September 23, 2014, 03:04:53 PM
I didn't care for the story.  Too slow of a buildup and I wasn't really interested in anything during the build, just waiting for these guys and their property schemes to come together or not.  From the first mention of the hidden room, it was clear there was going to be a horrific thing in there so the rest of the episode was just waiting for the shoe to drop.  Eh, that's fine, on to next week.


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Reply #6 on: September 25, 2014, 08:45:29 AM
Pretty much got a similar impression from this story as Unblinking. After such a long build up, The Room is revealed to exist, and I just knew it would have a human sacrifice in it, and even guessed that protagonist's boss would most likely be left in there forever by the protagonist.

Which actually felt rather unjust to me, as the guy didn't eat any babies, he just speculated in property and happened to be crude.  Yet the story seems to want us to celebrate his horrific end, even though the author took the time to explain that it was a little too late to save London architecture anyway. Bleh.

I am a sucker for a good secret room reveal though, as those appear in both Lovecraft and James in hauntingly fun ways. The parts about the room were enjoyable as they played out. The factoids delivered throughout the story were also a nice touch. It reminded me a little of John Kessel's work.


  • Peltast
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Reply #7 on: September 29, 2014, 05:33:15 PM
I knew there was a body immured from the first description of a small window.
but I never expected Johnathan to be a follower of the old ways.
I really enjoyed the ending, the little snippets of bodies tuning up and bits from the city's perspective didn't do anything for me.


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Reply #8 on: October 01, 2014, 12:11:07 PM
I liked the story.

On a side note, the mention about the Japanese respecting heritage buildings. I would say that is a fair observation and statement to make about the Japanese people as its common knowledge they respect tradition. Just because the Japanese may do a lot of urban renewal on residential property, doesn't mean its common for them to tear down a building with lots of heritage like the one described in the story.

Having lived in Japan, their residential buildings are cheaply built, and there is a stigma to living in a house pre-lived by another family. And a family just wouldn't want to live in a house that another family lived in (seriously think ghosts). Its affordable to pull down and rebuild so that's what exactly they do. I would do to if I continued to live in that society. Why own second hand when you can have new?

Just one of those things where you have to understand more about the culture before you understand them through your own cultural lens.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2014, 12:20:09 PM by blazingrebel »


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Reply #9 on: October 15, 2014, 03:00:44 PM
That NPR story also noted how in a culture where there is an expectation of tearing down buildings after one generation, there is not the cultural emphasis on repair and maintaining that we have in the United States.  Here, you cannot drive in any suburban area without seeing multiple Home Depots, Lowes, etc.  We all expect that we (or our kids) will sell our houses, so we invest in keeping them livable.  In Japan, where you are just going to tear it down anyway, you just don't have the idea of home repair.

As for the story, I liked it.  One of the most horrible people I personally knew worked in real estate speculation of this type--buy property, cut it up, tear things down, resell, profit.  While there is nothing morally good or bad about such a job, I have a prejudice against it mainly because of this one jerk I knew who did it.

So, when the villain here was a speculator, it made perfect sense to me.

Being more objective about it, it does seem to be a bit of a cruel death for someone who's biggest sin is shady business dealings and crude manners.


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Reply #10 on: October 15, 2014, 03:28:47 PM

Being more objective about it, it does seem to be a bit of a cruel death for someone who's biggest sin is shady business dealings and crude manners.

I think his biggest sin was disrespect for history, and so the Things That Came Before ate him for his hubris. Very "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad".

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


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Reply #11 on: October 17, 2014, 05:42:57 PM
Dammit, did you have to run this a week after I returned from London...?!