Check Out an Excerpt from Michael Marshall Smith's TIME OUT

1st Apr 2024

Time Out by Michael Marshall Smith

We're pleased to share an excerpt from Michael Marshall Smith's soon-to-be-published novella, Time Out, of which Publishers Weekly wrote, “Smith (Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence) renders this psychological horror novella with such a light touch that readers won’t see the scares coming before it’s too late… From a deceptively simple personal growth arc, Smith spins a haunting narrative that will have readers rushing to call their loved ones.”

Do not be mistaken, MMS drives the nails deep.

Time Out

I woke late next morning, after nine, stirred from a deep sleep by the thud-thud-thud of a squirrel running down the top of our garden fence on Carol’s side—an event so common that Leela and I referred to it as the “squirrel highway”. Last night’s gulped water and unscheduled pre-bed nap had mitigated the wine but I still did not feel on great form. Nonetheless I fashioned my face into a smile and turned toward my wife, determined to make up for the day before, starting with an offer of coffee in bed.

She wasn’t there. This wasn’t a complete surprise. She usually gets up before eight. But it was the day after Christmas, a day she refers to as “Boxing Day” because of English parents, and insists on taking easy. Either way, she was up. Maybe, I hoped, doing exactly what I’d been intending: waiting until I was awake to bring in some coffee as the start of a period of apology (on my part) and forgiveness (on hers)—after which we could get back into the groove of family life and what was left of the festive season.

I lay back, waited. Gave it fifteen minutes.

Got up.


I was not greeted in the kitchen by the smell of freshly-brewed hot beverage, nor by any sign of my wife. By “sign” I mean both that she was not physically present, and the kitchen remained in the state of clinical tidiness I’d left it the night before. This would be unlikely if Leela had spent even five minutes in there. I love the woman but her process with the arrangements of objects in any given space is fundamentally chaotic. I have mentioned this in the past but it was met by an immediate counter-strike detailing the much larger number of practical tasks she accomplishes around the house. I have not returned to the subject. I just tidy up. Not least because she is, of course, right.

I rested the back of my hand against the kettle. Cold. Overnight cold. Surprising. She doesn’t wake up with her hand out grasping for caffeine, as I do, but generally wants some before long, and will default to instant coffee—a weirdly un-American habit which is doubtless also related to her parentage.

I went out the back door and into the garden. ‘Leela?’

No reply. Our back yard is large, half an acre, a pool close to the house, the rest on a couple of levels and artfully divided by hedges high enough to stop you seeing into the next section. So if she wasn’t going to answer, I had to visit each in turn.

I did so. No sign. I belatedly realized that when I’d opened the door from the kitchen, it had been locked. As I’d left it the night before. You can’t do that from the outside. So she couldn’t have been out here. Duh. It was clear I needed caffeine, stat.

I poured a glass of water while coffee perked. Stood sipping it looking out into the garden. I was a little pissed, though I wasn’t sure why. It felt like some kind of point was being made, and not subtly. Obviously I was going to be sorry for what happened yesterday. So why make it hard for me to apologize?

Then I thought: Emily.

I checked the wall clock. Nine forty-five. Surprising she wasn’t up and in the living room, playing with gifts from the day before, anxious for input and company. Unless perhaps she’d taken some key prizes upstairs when she went to bed… Of course.

That’s where Leela would be. Hanging with her daughter on “Boxing Day morning”. Hopefully not bad-mouthing me.

I poured two cups of coffee and took them upstairs, reaching again for a smile. When I got to Emily’s room I nudged the door open with my foot, something cheerful on my lips.

But they weren’t there.