"In the Absence of Murdock" by Terry Lamsley
From THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOLUME FOUR Edited by Ellen Datlow (2012, Night Shade Books).
Matt Cowan of Horror Delve has praised "In the Absence of Murdock," so I had to take a look. I've read the story twice in the last few weeks; it is a compelling story, skilfully told.
Franz seeks out Murdock, his brother-in-law's writing partner, who seems to have vanished into thin air. Murdock does not respond to phone calls and is not home. But what is disturbs Franz.
....At the rear of the bungalow Franz became confused because someone, Murdock presumably, though he didn't seem a likely candidate to be a master of DIY, had fitted neat partitions into two rooms to divide them up into a number of smaller spaces. Finding his way round them in the semi-darkness kept Franz fully occupied for some time and he was relieved when he came upon a wooden door which he took to be at the back of the house. He tried the handle, found it wasn't locked, and hurried through it, only to find himself in a large, windowless room lit only by some slight luminescence originating in what at first he took to be some indoor plants. He stopped to get a better look at them and saw that in fact they were what appeared to be the upper—in fact the topmost—branches of a large tree and, looking down, he realised that they continued down into a space below the bungalow.
Bemused, he ventured forward a couple of steps and peered into what he thought might be a cellar and saw that the space below was too wide and deep to be anything of the kind. He could see a very long way down—so much so that he felt himself reeling. His fear of heights made him almost topple forward and it was with some effort that he managed to scramble back some distance towards the door. He held his right hand up to his brow as his head had for some reason begun to ache and glared again at the branches that protruded through the floor.
He noticed that some of them were beginning to move and sway a little where they were closest together, at the back, and thought he could see a clump of something in amongst them, like a platform, or maybe it was—could it be—a nest? It appeared to be a good four feet across and three or more feet deep.
Yes, he knew then that that was what it had to be, some kind of nest made of branches and the tattered remains of what appeared to be curtains, bed sheets and various scraps of clothing. And the reason that the branches were swaying and bending was because something, some creature, had been aroused by his presence, and was coming out of its nest to investigate the cause of its disturbance....
From there a dream-like menace develops. It only increases for Franz when he learns from his sister that Murdock has reappeared.
18 November 2019