The House of Mechanical Pain

by Chaz Brenchley

[rating:5/5]

Let me start by saying that “The House of Mechanical Pain” really resonated strongly with me. I really empathized with the female character in this one, and I will get into why in just a sec, but if that skewed my review of this story so be it. Actually this story hit so close to home I had a very hard time coming to terms with my reactions and then writing about them on this blog. If it wasn’t for this month’s theme of the Social Justice Challenge I might not have posted this at all. It’s a bit of a tender spot, to say the least.

“The House of Mechanical Pain” is a horrific short story from The Years Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 it is also included in the book Phantoms at the Phil: The Third Proceedings. It is about a woman named Tasha who wants her friend Jonny to come home with her to her family’s mansion where her father is about to sell off several items from the family estate that she holds dear. Part money grubbing move, part power play in this damaged and dysfunctional family, Jonny is supposed to take pictures of everything that is going into the sale, but really he is there as moral support for Tasha.

The parents are cold and distant from each other and their children, the children are distant and uncertain with each other and everyone avoids everyone else when at all possible. These are all signs of a damaged family, and of an abusive household. Perhaps not physically abusive but there are other kinds and I tend to be hyper aware and pick them up. The father is definitely emotionally and verbally abusive and has some control issues, the mother acts like a woman that got pulled into an abusive relationship and now has stopped even looking for a way out. The children… well let’s just say the younger brother, Rufus, reminded me of my own youngest brother: very uncertain around strangers and even siblings, always testing the undercurrents in a room or only showing up after everyone is gone, and disappearing at the first opportunity.

The manor seems to have it’s own character to add to the mix as strange happenings begin to occur. Things not being where people left it, and so on. Is this house haunted on top of everything else?

As the story unfolds you find that the things being photographed belonged to a particular distant relative. A younger brother himself, named Joshua, bored in the Victorian country side, who took to astronomy and photography as amusements to take up his time. But, a closer look at the photographs reveal a sinister subject indeed. His older brother’s youngest child Georgina is at the center of several pieces, and a closer look at family photos show her as being distant, upset and ultimately gone entirely.

“I wonder who she is?” – a girl standing off to one side of the group, head down, long loose hair falling like wings about her face.

“Poor relation?” Rufus hazarded, all heedless young heir. “Not Joshua’s, he never married. She must be family or she wouldn’t be let in the photo, but she really doesn’t look like she belongs.”

“Don’t be cocky, Ru. If they ever took a family photo of us, none of us would look like we belonged.”

And that, in an unexpected sentence, was why I love Tasha: that ruthless honesty, the unflinching glare into the spotlight of her own intelligence. She knows; oh she does know. And she’s not afraid of the knowledge. It’s the world beyond that she can’t deal with, anything outside her skin. Which is, first and foremost, her family, before she even gets to all the strangers.

2010 Social Justice Reading Challenge

In this story Chaz Brenchley gets the horror of an abusive family and calls it, all of it, correctly. He is spot on in his descriptions of the actions and reactions of his characters and in the way the abusers and abusees react whether living or dead. The main point of the short story is the ghosts of past abuse that continues to haunt families for generations and I can tell you that, more than anything else, is not far fetched at all.

As horrifying as this short story is it still doesn’t live up to the horror of living it every day but it is a first step towards understanding those that do. I strongly recommend you read it, it is available to read for free at Chaz Brenchley’s website. Here is the direct link to his short story “The House of Mechanical Pain”.

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