Green Competition - Runner Up

Damien McKeating

Runner Up
Let the Grass Grow Over Me
Green Competition


Damien was born, and shortly after that he developed an unwavering love of fantasy and the supernatural. He has short stories published across numerous anthologies and magazines, and is very grateful to anyone who has read and enjoyed them. He is currently working on self-publishing his first novel. He is fond of corvids and, contrary to rumour, is currently the oldest he has ever been.

Let the Grass Grow Over Me By Damien McKeating

The man was wood.
    Evie stood poised in the doorway of the crumbling building and watched him. He sat on a chair. His clothes had turned to rot and his skin was the colour of polished walnut. It turned him smooth, a tree carved into the shape of man.
    Evie lingered at the threshold. She wasn’t allowed in the village, but it was the best place to find raspberries, and they always tasted better when they were wild.
    The house was not crumbling, she realised. It was being reborn. Ivy decorated its breezeblock walls. Curtains of leaves and branches covered the holes of windows. Soil scattered across the bare boards. Roots and shoots pushed and climbed from underneath.
    The man, too, had been reborn.
    Evie stepped closer and saw the moss along one of the wooden man’s hands. There was a clump of toadstools in his lap. A bee landed on his nose and then flew away. Across his brow was a garland of leaves and with another step Evie saw the delicate weave of twigs. At one time a bird had made its nest on the man’s head.
    “Hello, Nest,” she said. Her young voice was tiny in the rippling, rustling peace of the wild and the old.
    She had heard about the virus, but had never seen it before. The grown-ups liked to argue about what it meant, and they all tried to keep it away, to keep everyone safe.
    It didn’t look dangerous, Evie thought. The man looked peaceful.
    Her teacher had told her that you could hear sap moving in trees, if you pressed your ear to the trunk and listened carefully. Would she hear it in the man? Would it sound like his heartbeat?
    Evie placed her hand onto his, where it rested on the arm of the chair. It was warm and living.
    The man opened his eyes, blue like a boundless sky.
    Evie screamed.


    Mal felt his throat tear as he called his daughter’s name. She knew better than to go off in the wild on her own; but when did kids ever do what they should?
    He moved through the dappled woodland, feeling the bite of bracken and the flicker of ferns. There was a deep, wet smell to the world, and it made his skin tingle. He scratched at his arm and pulled his sleeve up. His mottled flesh was sunlight through the leaves; shades of overlapping green that spread outwards from his elbow. A bee landed on his skin and he jumped, flinching away from its delicate touch.
    “Mal?” Kacey called.
    He pulled his sleeve down, feeling shame burn in his stomach.
    “Here,” he said.
    Kacey crested a rise in the forest floor, her face flushed with exertion and fear. “Down here,” she said. “I think she went into the village.”
    They raced down into the valley. The houses stood reclaimed, no longer homes but habitats. A tree rose out of the building ahead of them, a giant plant from a giant pot.
    Evie screamed.
    They darted towards it, tracking the sound to a building a little way beyond them. Mal crashed through the door, bouncing off the rotten frame, and nearly barrelled into Evie as she backed away from the tree…
    No, Mal corrected himself. The man. The man in the chair.
    Evie scurried behind Mal and into Kacey’s arms.
    Mal couldn’t take his gaze off the wooden man. He stared into those pearlescent blue eyes and felt his heart beat with the slow, steady pump of rising sap in spring.
    “Mal,” Kacey pulled at the sleeve of his coat. “We have to get out of here.”
    “Hold on,” he said.
    He wasn’t afraid. Kacey was afraid. He could taste it, a metallic tang in the air. He could see her rapid breathing rippling like a breeze around him.
    But he wasn’t afraid.
    The wooden man opened his mouth.


They watched the figures flitter and fall through their vision. They smelt their heat, and felt the pulse of their blood as a rumble through the air and soil. In a long, slow moment, words formed in their trickling mind and gave the figures names: man, woman, girl.
    They opened their mouth to reassure them, to dredge up words of comfort from the past. The crick-crack of creaking wood snapped from their throat of sap and timber.
    Words tumbled from the man-woman-girl, and they ruptured and rumbled the air. In their sounds was the taste of fear.
    They still sought to offer comfort, and moved their arm/branch to offer a hand/leaf. There was a snap as their joining with the chair broke. The untethering brought a sharp flash of pain and they remembered what they had become.
    The time for moving fast was done.
    It was time to be slow.
    Time to tilt towards the sun.
    The man loomed, a towering oak against the rectangle of daylight behind him. They sensed life in him, on him, through him.
    They sighed the ripple of wind through summer leaves as they recognised one of their own. The turning was upon the man. He faced his rebirth.
    Tiny tickles itched at their bark. A taste of honey-nectar in their knot/mouth. The bees were here. The Hive was coming.
    They closed their eyes again and sank back against the chair. In moments, as these things were now counted, the chair would rot into the ground and they would all be united once more.
    Things were returning.
    What was scattered would be whole once more.


Kacey held Evie behind her with one hand. With the other she reached for Mal, tugging at the sleeve of his coat.
    “Come on,” she urged.
    “I think he’s trying to talk to me,” Mal replied, not even turning to look at her.
    Kacey stared at the wooden man, saw the fungus growing on him, saw the bees crawl over his face, and felt her stomach churn. It was monstrous.
    “We need to get away before we’re infected,” Kacey said.
    “He’s not scary,” Evie said. She pushed her way around Kacey’s arm, and Kacey reached out to haul her back, grabbing a handful of Evie’s coat. “Hey!” Evie cried out.
    Kacey winced at her own heavy-handedness. But she still pulled Evie to her, clamping her arm around the girl.
    “Mal,” Kacey hissed.
    But Mal was staring at the man in the chair, the half-formed grotesque with the creaking limbs and rasping voice.
    Kacey grabbed Mal’s coat and pulled at him. Mal twisted away from her, sliding out of the coat as he took another step away from them. It left his arms exposed and Kacey saw the mottled green pattern over her husband’s skin.
    “Mal,” she said, her voice cracking.
    She went numb. Evie tumbled from her grasp and hurried to her dad, but Kacey registered it only as a distant event, as something happening to someone far away.
    Her husband was infected. The man she loved. Shared her bed with. Had kissed earlier that day.
    She put her hands to her mouth, feeling her own skin against her lips, wondering if she was infected too, if she would find patches of moss creeping over her flesh.
    Bees buzzed around her and she flinched from them. She was terrified of their touch. Her movements sent her into a tangle of leaves that fluttered against her skin. She screamed and fell back into the doorway.
    “We have to go,” she pleaded.
    But Mal was on his knees in front of the wooden man. Evie had her hand on her dad’s arm, and she turned to look over her shoulder.


“It’s okay,” Evie said. “He’s not infected. He’s flowering. Can’t you feel it?”
    Her mum backpedalled on her hands and knees through the doorway. Evie stood by her dad as he settled down next to the man of wood. She could see the urgency leaving her dad’s limbs. She sensed in him the urge to put down roots. To be. To return.
    “It’s okay,” she said.
    There were bees all around her now. She ignored them and laid her head on her dad’s shoulder. She placed one hand on his back and her other hand on the leg of Nest. She felt the same warmth in them. The same life.
    “I love you, dad,” she whispered.
    He sighed and his body sank deeper into its folded embrace. He would take root here, Evie realised. There would be a tree here with the image of her father in it.
    The tickling and buzzing of the bees became too much. Evie stepped outside and found her mum sitting on the floor, pale, numb from shock, her fists pressed to her mouth. Evie followed her gaze and saw the Hive.
    Bees walked. Through cavernous eyes in a long-forgotten skull dripped honey tears. The cave of a rib cage opened out onto a writhing stomach of yellow and black. Legs stripped of flesh, turned to bark and moss, stepped through the wild.
    Kacey sobbed.
    Evie stared. The Hive that had once been a person stopped and watched them. Evie sensed a singular awareness within the collective buzzing. She imagined it rippling through the eyes of Nest, her father, the roots under her feet, the leaves above her, birds in the air, every blade of grass she trod.
    In her.
    “We’re all the wild,” she said. “It goes through us all.”
    Her words spurred Kacey into action. She rose up, grabbed Evie’s hand, and ran. She dragged her daughter with her and Evie followed rather than fall.
    But she looked back.
    The Hive watched them go.
    The wild watched them go.
    And in every breath, every beat of blood and sap, every cell, every burst of sunlight in every bite of food from the soil…
    The wild went with them.


Judges Comments

Multiple WM winner Damien McKeating's 'Let the Grass Grow Over Me', the runner up in WM's Green Short Story Competition, is a terrific slice of folk horror that offers a fantastical, original slant on the genre's tropes.

Transformation is woven into the story from the very first words: The man was wood. Evie's child's-eye vision that 'the wild' has more appeal is hinted at with her preference for wild fruit. We're told she 'lingered at the threshold'. Damien's themes are all in place and the liminal space that the story will explore has been set out.

That space is where the imaginative, fantastical element of the story is played out: a wonderfully strange, communal experience of wildness that invokes the story's folk-horror element: a community, ritual, old ways, bees, an elelent of the supernatural. The story trips deftly from its weird opening into further layers of weird. It's really well done.

'Let the Grass Grow Over Me' is excellent: a satisfying piece of fantastical eco-fiction with an original slant. It plays with its genre's tropes confidently and effectively as it transforms a terrifying ending into something more ambiguously tender, with its message of acceptance about giving yourself over to the wild and putting down roots.