Clay Head

Mike Grist Featured Story, Stories, Surreal, Writing 2 Comments

by Michael John Grist

There’s a giant head in my living room. It’s made of grey clay and it sings through the night.

It sings songs about America. Sometimes boogie-woogie or the Big Bopper. It sings Buddy Holly. It sings about the plane that crashed and sometimes the song about the crash. It sings about whiskey and rye.

I don’t know why the head sings. I don’t know why the head is in my room, or why I let it stay.

The head doesn’t wake me up when it sings. It sings so low and so slow and so deep that I don’t hear. I hear it in my dreams as I watch the Big Bopper come down in flames. I feel its vibrations, a slow sub-woof all through the night.

It’s a big head, and it blocks the TV, but I can’t do anything about that.

Image by Karina Ishkhanova

I record the big head singing. I record it with a long-playing digital recorder. I have 8 hours of audio before the battery dies. Each night the battery dies a little sooner. I should buy new batteries.

The head sings, and I replay the songs at high speed. It has the voice of a young girl. It sings high and sweet.

I wonder how such a big head can have such a high sweet voice, so slow.

“How is your voice so high and slow?” I ask the big clay head. It sits and stares. Its eyes are two big red buckets. I bought the buckets at a hardware store at the mall.

I know it can hear me. It may be replying, but its answer will be too slow and low and deep for me to hear.

I set the tape that night, and leave it to record. I go to sleep. I dream of crashing planes and purple mountainsides strewn with wreckage.


The giant head is sitting in my living-room. I find its eyes pointing upwards to the ceiling when I sit down at the coffee table to eat my cereal. It is looking up. I play back the recording on fast speed.

The giant head answers my question. It says- “I have a high and slow heart.”

I remember the question I asked.

I go to work.

The head sings in my absence.

I feel like there are desert winds moving through the house when the head sings. There is nothing lonelier than a giant head.

When I get back from work I find myself in tears at the door. I am staring at the giant head. It is staring at the wall.

“You can’t walk,” I say to the head. I try to speak slowly. “You can’t move around. You can’t meet other people, or other heads. You’re trapped here.”

I sat and watched it while it slowly slowly answered me. I set the recorder and waited. I’d never waited before. I’d never tried to talk to the head before.

After 30 minutes I cut the recorder and played it back fast.

“That’s true,” said the head.

I threw the recorder on the red sofa. I moved over to the giant grotesque head and touched its cold clammy skin. I felt nothing through it. I felt nothing.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

That night the head sang Irish songs. Sad Irish drinking songs.


I brought a friend from work home the next day. Her name was Geena.

“Hello Geena,” I said as I picked her up in my SUV. It’s an old SUV.

“Hey Bob,” she said. “You’re late.”

“The traffic was atrocious,” I say.

Already it’s over.

I brought her back to my place. When she saw the giant clay head she freaked out.

“What the hell is that?” she asked. She stood in the doorway looking at it.

“It’s my art,” I said. “It’s a giant clay head. It sings through the night.”

“It looks freakish.”

“It’s just clay,” I said, taking her arm, giving her a gentle tug. “It won’t bite.”

“Why would you make a giant clay head in the middle of your room?”

“Why does anyone do anything?”

I let go of her arm. She let it fall back down by her side.

Her bag was red and covered in cheap looking red sequins. Like she’d sewn them on herself. They said- MARGE.

Her name was Geena. I knew. Maybe she thought of herself as a Marge. She was a work friend. She didn’t want to come in for dinner.

“Aren’t you hungry?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I knew this was a bad idea,” she said. She looked me in the eye. “You’re weird, I knew it.”

She turned and left.

Her left leg seemed a little longer than her right.

I walked over to the big clay head and sat down in its mouth. I could feel it trembling beneath me.

We were both alone.

I dreamt of empty vistas. Like the new Coen brothers movie. Wide open spaces with nothing but occasional death interrupting.


The next day there were tear trails down the clay head’s cheeks. But not only tear trails.

Geena’s bag was hanging out of it’s lips.

I watched Geena’s MARGE bag for a time.

Geena had left.

“Geena left, didn’t she?” I asked the giant head.

I looked around the room.

Her cheap nylon mini-skirt was on the floor. So were here high heels, and stockings. Her blouse.

Where was Geena?

I looked at the giant clay head. I knelt over its mouth and pried open its jaws.

Inside its mouth was Geena. She was shivering, her naked skin was goose-bumped. She was white and pale. Her eyes didn’t see me, they flickered fast and sharp at random angles round the room.

“Geena?” I said. She didn’t even seem to notice me.

I ran to the bedroom and pulled the blankets off the bed, lifted her out of the giant mouth, and set her down on the red sofa. I ran to the bathroom and ran a bath. I made it hot, and I added sweet-smelling salts.

I put Marge into the bath. I left a towel, and her clothes on the inside.

Then I went to talk to the giant.

He was looking at the sofa where I’d lain Marge. I was looking at him.

“You can’t do that,” I said to him.

He looked at me. His eyes were looking at the me of the past hour. So I stayed still. And I started slow-talking. I slow-talked like I’ve never done before. I made the words last as long as I could.

“You can’t do that,” I said.

“I know,” said the giant head.

I made myself think slow. I turned off my breathing, or at least forgot about it. I turned off the light and the sound of traffic outside. I turned off the thump of my heart, and I talked to the head.

“You can’t eat people.”

“I was so cold.”

Tears slow-trickled down the head’s cheeks.

“I thought she’d keep me warm.”

“You nearly killed her. How did you even get her back here?”

“I sang her back.”

“Why did you need her? Am I not good enough for you?”

The head shook its head with its eyes. It had no neck to shake its head with.

“No,” said the head. “You come and go. You work. I’m always here. I’m always alone. I can’t move. I can’t see the outdoors.”

“I’ll leave the door open,” I said. “You can see the street.”

“No. Everything is too fast. Everything is wrong for me. I almost killed her.”

“That’s right!”

“I put her in my mouth because I thought it might be warm. But nothing is warm. Everything is cold.”

“We’ll figure something out.”

The tears trickled slow and clay-like down the head’s face. At the carpet they furrowed and bubbled and spread grey clay flat across the floor.

“No,” said the head. “We won’t.”

I was snapped out of the slow-talk trance by a blow round the head. Geena was standing in towels. She had hit me with her bag.

She stepped over me and hit me again.

“Just what kind of psycho are you?” she yelled.

She hit me a few more times. Then she got dressed as I lay on the floor recovering, and then she ran away.

I waited for the police to come. They didn’t come.

I watched the tear pools of the giant head spreading over the floor.


That night I dreamt of empty oceans. I was floating in the cold sea. I looked down, but the oceans were empty. I looked up to the sky, but there were no stars.

I was alone. There was nothing.

I woke up chilled to my core.

The door to the apartment was open. My TV and stereo system had been stolen. I forgot to close the door, I guess.

The giant head had cried itself an inch thick across the floor. The clay was washing in slow waves towards my bedroom and towards the kitchen and out towards the door.

His face was sallow and run down, like molten wax. I could see the edges around his loosening bucket eyes.

I played back his songs of the night before.

There were no songs. Only humming. Long slow humming, deep like the tectonic plates grinding under our feet.


When I came back from work, the tears were all gone, and he had returned to normal.

“That’s better,” I said.

His roar began shortly after that. It began soft but soon trembled up to an almighty blast that filled the whole house with deep shaking sound. A mirror fell from the bathroom wall and smashed in the sink.

I ran over to him. I put my hands on him, his cold grey skin. I sat down before him, I looked into his bucket eyes.

“Kill me!” he boomed in his slow deep voice.

I hit him with a shovel and went out into the yard.

“Kill me!” he roared out the door. I was digging a hole in the yard. I don’t know why. I found there were tears in my eyes now. I don’t know why.

“I don’t want to live like this!” he cried.

I ran back in and hit him with the shovel to shut him up. I hit him long and hard, until all his features had been knocked askew, his bucket-eyes knocked out of his face. I hit him until he stopped screaming and the sound coming from him became nothing more than a low buzz.

Then I started to take him apart.

I dug out chunks of clay with the shovel. I threw them out into the garden. They flew and lay, grey on the green, sweating in the warm night air.

I cut and diced his whole head. I spread all the little pieces around the garden until there was nothing left in the living room at all.

Though there was something left.

There was the shape of my daughter cut into the clay. I had cut her into it. Lying as she had lain when we lost her.

I watched her.

“Don’t cry, daddy,” she said. Her button eyes stared up at me. I knelt beside her, touched her cheek. Her cheek was cold, cold clay.

“It’s OK,” she said.

I knelt and gulped and fell into paroxysms of shaking and sobbing and hugging her cold clay body close.


I came to some time in the night.

The lump of clay I’d thought was my daughter was now no more than a lump of clay.

I stood up. I thought about drinking whiskey. I walked to the open back door to look over the clay spread around the yard.

The clay was moving. Every hunk of clay was stretching up like a plant blooming in the moonlight. They grew up into a tall and tangled forest, and through that forest walked a man, the man with the giant face. He smiled at me. He was whistling the Big Bopper. He came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder.

“It’ll be alright,” he said. He spoke at a normal speed. More tears gushed from my eyes. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said.

I fell against him in a hug. He hugged me back. His arms were warm. I remembered his smell, the smell of my own father as I’d hug him close. I remembered the times I’d hurt myself and run to him.

After a time he pushed me away, held me at arms length.

“You’ll be fine,” he said.

Then he turned and walked back into the undulating forest of clay branches. Fish swam in the canopies and octopi squidded and darted around.

I found myself laughing as I watched them move.


I woke the next day on the sofa. There was clay everywhere. I hadn’t dreamt of anything.

I moved to the lumpen chunk of clay in the center of the room. I opened it up, and dug from out of the middle a small cache of jewelry. A wedding ring. My daughter’s first necklace. Sundries.

I placed them in my pocket.

Then I walked to the yard, took up the shovel, and began to heap up the clay.

I was ready.


Later that evening, with all the clay packed, I listened to the final songs of the giant head. He was singing “Danny boy.”

“Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling me. From glen to glen, and down the mountainside.”

He was singing in my daughter’s voice.

It drew the last few tears out of me. I wiped them away. And then I moved on.


Read more of MJG’s SF & Fantasy short stories.

Learn about his epic fantasy novel project DAWN RISING.

See Story Art.

Read about the craft of writing.

Comments 2

    1. Post

      Thanks very much David. There’ll be more coming in the next few weeks; I thought I’d uploaded all my previously published stories to my site- but turns out there were quite a few I hadn’t. Those will all go up shortly.
      Plus I’ll be getting some new stories published elsewhere soon, including my first pro sale- I’ll post the news and links when that happens.

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