“Sitting up in the dark, he took a deep breath and scented a familiar, beguiling trace in the air…”

Deep Green Leaves, Alex Clark

New Ghost Stories IV

Here’s Colin Corrigan writing about the origins of his story ‘Wonders of the Universe’, which appears in our latest anthology, Crying Just Like Anybody.

Some day a real rain will come…

Travis Bickle said it. Noah said it. All over the world, people have been saying it since storytelling began. There’s something religious about a flood that will rinse away all evil, and leave us with a fresh start. A clean world, hoping to forget its past…

About eighteen months ago, my house was flooded, my living room, kitchen and bathroom submerged under nearly three feet of sewage-stained water. It really wasn’t the end of the world for me — I rent, so the repair costs were borne by my landlord, and my housemates lifted most of our valuables out of the way before they were claimed by the waterline — but it felt dramatic, even momentous, all that rain, nature’s power reaching up at us through our very floorboards. It was probably inevitable that I would one day soon try to shove the experience into a story.

‘Wonders of the Universe’ began, though, as a story about science, not religion. Kevin and Edel start watching a DVD box set of Brian Cox’s popular BBC series, after they are advised by their marriage counsellor to do more things together, and the experience encourages them to analyse their own lives, and try to deduct what they really want from the world.

Science is a thing we humans have been doing for a while now, to try to understand phenomena that had previously only been explained by myths, legends, and religious doctrines. We’ve managed to figure out why the sun rises, why the sky is blue, why the earth sometimes quakes. We’ve discovered cells, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and made all sorts of technological advances.

Lately, though, it’s all gotten a bit out of hand. There’s a story about a reporter who approached a Professor Eddington of Cambridge, who had translated Einstein’s work, and asked him if it were true that apart from Einstein himself only two people could understand his Theory of Relativity. Professor Eddington looked at the reporter and said, “I wonder who the third person is.” Fast forward another century or so and we’ve got string theory, wave-particle duality, dark matter and hidden dimensions. It has gone far past the point of making the world easier to understand. It’s made the task damn near impossible.

So I’m writing the story, it’s getting longer and longer and more and more complicated, and things are just getting worse for Kevin and Edel. It’s becoming obvious that bringing the Wonders of the Universe into their living room was a really bad idea to begin with.

Because the Universe is, unfortunately, like Brian Cox, and your options are limited.

Like Kevin, you can weigh yourself against his knowledge, his achievements, his rockstar lifestyle, and understand that your own life is embarrassingly insignificant and underwhelming.

Or, like Edel, you can fall for his mellifluous, Mancunian whispers, his soft, floppy hairdo, his sheer goddamned enthusiasm, but then realise that he’s unattainable.

Or, like me, you can eject the DVD, flick back to the Bible Channel for a moment, and wash all my characters’ troubles away with a flood scene at the end.

Some critics, like Hollywood scriptdoctors and Aristotle, would accuse me of lazy storytelling, argue that I should construct my plots through a chain of causes and effects towards a conclusion where my protagonist earns his resolution through his own decision making and actions. And maybe they’re right.

But in my defence, Aristotle didn’t know about entropy. And: sometimes these things really do happen, interventions of fate or coincidence that change the direction of our lives. And: sometimes it just rains so much the sewers can’t take it. And: sometimes that’s all we can hope for.

— Colin Corrigan

‘Wonders of the Universe’ appears in our latest anthology, Crying Just Like Anybody, available in paperback and ebook editions. We published another of Colin’s stories, ‘The Romantic’, in All These Little Worlds Read Colin’s thoughts on writing ‘The Romantic’ here.

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