The Valley


Show kindness to your friends by not eating them, the sign said. But what the fuck else is there to eat? I shake my head as the soft flesh of a newly cooked baby dissolves on my tongue. They don’t know what they’re missing. My larder is an assemblage of appendages. The valley made me into an aunt-eater.

The valley night pulses malevolence. It’s a Galt’s Gulch of assassins and necromancers. A place without law where the punishment pre-empts the crime. People dream of crumbling concrete post-Soviet apartment blocks with clanking inefficient central heating, but they live underground in fetid blocked-up sewers. Somebody broke the weather. In summer the sun melts the flesh from your bones, and in winter it freezes the flesh from your bones. The weather is a force of pure negation.

The valley is a panopticon. Eyes watch from everywhere. Their gaze doesn’t moderate your actions: they only seek to worsen you. Sickness seeps from the ground through your feet, poisoning your soul and blackening your aura. The only cure is the shaman who will purge the blackness at the cost of your life. Basically you’re fucked.

The people of the valley grow viler and viler with every passing day. Their accent thickens and becomes guttural. You can’t have a conversation without being burned by gobs of green hissing saliva that eats into the surface of your skin and leaves your clothing pock-marked. The conversation of the older residents is lethal. It literally bores you to death.

Painted men, their tattoos are on the inside. Their past is forged beyond believing. Worshippers of false gods. Idolaters, every fucking one. They’re ruled by discorporeal entities, mediated by melancholy dog-faced priests who hypnotize you with ethereal nose whistles. A sudden disorientation as they melt your will in torrents like butter. Who’d have guessed it’d be so oily? They keep this in carefully labeled jars. You wander about will-less, wasting your days in sophistry, trying to hide your Confucian. Until you recover it you’re hopelessly entranced. But drink it down and the dream dissolves with a hiss.

In the valley there are no interiors or exteriors. Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory. Everything is permitted that is forbidden. Self-mutilation is just a way to pass the time.

I find myself bartering with the owner of a shop that sells shadows.

“What kind of shit are you pushing here? We don’t need that apparition.”

It’s raining cats and dogs again. They hit the ground with a wet thud. Moans and whimpers fill the air. I step around the large ones and kick the small ones into the gutter.

A moist breeze wafts through caverns in the barren valley wall. The air grows small fingers and tickles you delightfully as it picks your pockets.

The cave dwellers are pale blind men with transparent skin: sacks of visible organs. They eat once every seven years. Too lethargic to hunt for food, they ingest themselves from the extremities inward, until one day they digest their own stomach and end up a steaming turd on a dusty floor. Passers-by are a delicacy. Semi-organic walls absorb any cries for help.

Somewhere in my memory there’s grass. Distant music. Summer evenings. Sputtering buckets of citronella. Pink lemonade. We were merely flesh then.

I was there all the time, but acting in tomorrow. They never thought of looking for me there.

They say someone escaped the valley once. They say. As for the rest of us timid souls, the valley has become our lifeline. It’s poisoning us, but without that poison we would vanish in a burst of primal matter. Or perhaps like a song we’d just fade away. Apathy and lethargy have soaked into our bones and left us wilted and invertebrate. Something or someone has fucked with our density.

I don’t know how I got here, but I know I’ll never leave. There are worse places I suppose…


About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • hello,
    coach murdock… been thinking about this for a long time now. didn’t know it.
    not sure how this revelation feels.

  • Excellent stuff, Ryan. I would love to see this style in a novel.

    I ordered Vagabond Dreams yesterday will hopefully arrive tomorrow and distract me from the crappy English weather.

    All the best,

      • It finally arrived this morning. Firstly whoever picked the paper and cover material is a genius! Soooo smooth. Excellent first chapter. I haven’t been this excited by a book for a long, long time. Well done, Ryan. I wish you all the best with your future projects.
        See you around the Shapeshifter’s lair. Is it a lair, haaaa what’s the hero equivalent of a lair? hmmm

        Anyway I’ll shut up and get reading!

        • Thanks, hope you enjoy it. Please post a review to Amazon when you’re through 🙂

          Definitely a lair. Cave has the wrong connotation, and besides, they smell too musty.

          • Loving it so far. Will post on amazon uk when I’ve finished it :o)

            In the meantime I’ve posted (or attempted to?) a quick guitar improvisation to your facebook page, in lieu of a photo.

            Off to the lair!


Sign up for my entertaining email newsletter and claim your FREE gift!

Recent Posts