A Dark and Scary Place
A Cry From the Inside (Fantasy Tales of the Inner-Self)
A Novel Way to Die (A Serial Killer Police Procedural)
Psychotica (A Crime/Thriller with Fantasy Undertones)
Survival of the Thickest (A Humorous Novel)
Memories of an Ageing Rocker (A Wry Anecdotal Memoir of Rock & Metal Gigs)
Waves of Perception (Mind-Bending Tales of Science Fiction)
Unlucky For Some (Tales of Horror & the Supernatural)
Graveyard Horror Reviews (200+ Horror Film Reviews)
More Graveyard Horror Reviews (Another 200+ Horror Film Reviews)
New Graveyard Horror Reviews (Additional Horror Film & Horror Book Reviews)
A Dark and Scary Place
This story was written in 1994 and first appeared in Peeping Tom literary magazine the following year. I have presented it here as an appetiser for my horror and supernatural short story collection Unlucky For Some (see the Purchase Books category & the Covers Photo Gallery on the Homepage).
Tommy stopped short of stepping aboard the boat. ‘I'm not sure about this, dad.’
‘I'm not sure about this, dad!’ his father mocked in a whiny voice. ‘You some kind of Nancy-boy?’
The adolescent boy ignored the insult. He was far too worried about what might happen tonight to concern himself with paltry matters. ‘Only a handful of people have gone that deep outside of a submersible,’ he pointed out.
His father boarded the boat, then turned to call softly. ‘That proves it's safe, otherwise no one would have even attempted the drop.’
‘Look, apart from being dangerous, what you're planning to do is wrong.’
The man cupped a hand to his ear and beckoned his son over. The moment Tommy had stepped across, his father cast off. As the boat drifted away from the harbour wall, Tommy repeated himself.
‘Hah!’ his father ridiculed a little too loudly. He glanced quickly around. The light was on in the harbour master's hut, but no one emerged. All seemed quiet. ‘We're going to have to break through this naivety of yours,’ he whispered.
‘There's a difference between naivety and caution,’ said Tommy.
His father allowed the Rosemary - named after his late wife and Tommy's mother - to chug gently and quietly between the gap in the harbour wall, before smoothly bringing the speed up to maximum knots.
‘Listen,’ he said to Tommy as he headed out to sea. ‘Two divers discovered a cavern in the uncharted depths of the North Sea. Inside, the walls are literally covered with a yellowish mineral. The couple of samples they brought up for analysis were found to be unique. There are no others in the entire world. Do you realise what that means to their value? They're priceless!’
‘But if we collect a sack full of the minerals there would be more in circulation. Wouldn't that lower the value?’
His father grinned. ‘Not necessarily. There are plenty of diamonds in the world; I wish I had some of them,’ he muttered under his breath. ‘Even if they halve the value with each gem, that's still a hefty amount of dosh. Even Rosemary would have seen the sense in that.’
‘Don't bring mum into it; she wouldn't have anything to do with this. Anyway, how do you plan to sell them without revealing your identity?’
‘I don't think I'd have any trouble. Besides, there are always private collectors abroad, if it comes to that.’ His eyes turned distant, no doubt imagining the riches to come.
Tommy gazed at the tarpaulin covered bulk on the deck nearby. His skin prickled with trepidation. Although they were in the open, subject to the chill night air, Tommy realised he was sweating. It was the perspiration of anxiety.
Wiping his forehead with a sleeve of his coat, he said, ‘What about the suits? Are they safe?’
‘Safe as houses. They're a new design, not even available to the professionals yet. They revolutionise the deep sea diving industry. Imagine what new discoveries are going to be made when the suits become more plentiful. By then we'll have missed the boat.’ He chuckled at his own joke.
Tommy was unconvinced. ‘How will you find the right drop point?’
His father whooshed out a heavy sigh. ‘You're full of questions, aren't you?’ The tone was meant to bring the conversation to a halt, at least temporarily.
Tommy fell silent. Instead he stared out at the darkness. It was difficult to see exactly where the sea ended and the sky began; they melted into each other, leaving him with a lonely sense of hopelessness. Even the full moon seemed to accuse him with its presence. He longed to proclaim his innocence in this foolish expedition; that he'd been coerced against his will; that any consequences should not be laid upon his shoulders.
Time passed, and all too quickly for Tommy his father cut the engine. The boat coasted under its own momentum towards a large red and orange coloured buoy. He should have guessed the previous divers would have marked the area for their return.
His father pulled aside the tarpaulin cover. ‘Right, get your suit on,’ he instructed.
Tommy hesitated. ‘I'm not going,’ he said.
For just a moment his father was visibly stunned. But this quickly evolved into anger. ‘Have you any idea what expense I went to arranging the ... acquisition of these suits?’
Tommy shrugged. He didn't particularly care.
‘Get that suit on! It needs to be safety checked.’
Tommy stared at the deck. ‘But we don't know what's down there. There could be all sorts of monsters!’ He sounded desperate, even to himself,
His father doubled over, spluttering out a raucous guffaw. ‘Monsters? My God? What next? I hate to shatter your childish illusions, but there are no such things as monsters.’
‘There might be,’ Tommy objected lamely.
‘When it comes down to it, you're a right Jessie. Trust me on this one: they don't exist. Look, you're fifteen; isn't it about time you grew a backbone?’
They donned the suits. That in itself took more than twenty minutes. They were heavy and awkward, not to mention hot and uncomfortable. He studied his father's features through the face plate. His eyes were darting; they looked frightened but determined. Tommy, facially identical, was radically different to his father. True, his father looked scared, but it was nothing to how Tommy felt, he was sure. He had never felt so terrified in his life; a deep-rooted terror which frequently froze him to the spot, forcing his father to continually prod him into action. It was an accumulation of fears: the unknown darkness of the depths; the uncertain safety of the suits at those depths; the possibility of unusual sea creatures, his mind was haunted by visions of giant octopuses attacking submarines in the Jules Verne-type productions; and the character-driven inner-sense which told him what they were doing was wrong.
The safety checks were soon completed. ‘We look like a cross between Neil Armstrong and Robbie the Robot,’ Tommy said through the high-tech two-way head set receivers
‘Who gives a damn what we look like! Let's get on with it.’
His father shoved him with two hands. Tommy teetered dangerously on the gunnel for a moment, before overbalancing and plunging into the inky-black void. He tried frantically flailing his limbs to regain his equilibrium, but the bulk of the suit was slow to react. Panicking, he sank increasingly quickly, heart hammering, mind reeling.
Precious seconds expired before he remembered the suit's prime function. He fingered a release mechanism and one of many valves built into the back of the suit was opened, releasing a small rush of air which rose in the form of bubbles that slightly decelerated his descent. The additional weights mechanically attached to the waist and boots, allowed him to sink to the required level, which in this case would be the seabed.
Still, the descent seemed endless. Tommy imagined it to be like floating in space; civilisation an infinity away, and with no sense of time or reality. Then he saw a light to one side and realised his father must have immediately followed him overboard, to have caught him up this quickly. He was pointing at his helmet; belatedly, Tommy was reminded to turn on his own helmet light. The strip beam tried its best to penetrate the cloak of darkness, but the black seemed all-encumbering, so that the light appeared only to fade its shade.
Eventually they reached the bottom. Tommy's father held a line with a brightly coloured end weight. Because the suits were not attached to winches on the boat and carried their own independent air supplies, the weighted line was required for the return journey, so that they didn't surface too far away from the boat. For added security he wedged it part way beneath a rock anchored firmly to the sea bed. In his other heavily protected hand he held a closely woven net type sack, carrying two light levering tools.
Incredibly, they were only a short distance from the cavern entrance. There was no mistaking it; there was nothing even resembling an underwater cave as far as the strip lights would penetrate, which admittedly wasn't very far.
They made their way agonisingly slowly up to the gaping opening. To Tommy their halting steps were sheer agony; all he wanted to do was get this nightmare expedition over with, return to the surface and breathe fresh air, walk on terra firma.
When they entered the cavern, their helmet lights instantly became more effective. The proximity of the walls meant the darkness was less far-reaching, and so less oppressive. It allowed Tommy to relax just a little. He became aware he had been holding his breath for the last few steps.
The cavern walls were covered in yellow and green sea mosses, but no plant life more extravagant. The floor was soft and yielding, like walking on wet carpet or a dewy field. Tommy could see no life clinging to it.
They moved forward warily, checking the walls for signs of the yellow minerals. The cavern widened and then split as they met with two offshoots. The walls in this wide area had thousands of small white tentacles which swept backwards and forwards in the current, no doubt collecting minute food particles in the waters. There was a feint glow emanating from the left offshoot. Tommy's father pointed before starting off in that direction. Tommy followed, heart thudding, and the blood pounding in his ears.
Rounding a sharp bend they were met by one immense wall of glassy, multifaceted gems. Their helmet illumination made the minerals - more amber than yellow - appear to flicker like Christmas decorations. Tommy stood mesmerised, completely fascinated.
His father, however, immediately went to work. He pulled a tool from the net sack and pressed it into Tommy's heavily gloved right hand. Then he took the other and began to lever at the wall. Tommy watched for a moment before moving forward to help. The sooner they filled the sack, the sooner they would escape from this alien land.
He prised one of the minerals from the wall and grabbed as it floated free. Initially, he forced them off separately, but they began to come away in groups of three or four. Sometimes the gems were joined by the shale-like rock to which they were attached. Millions of minute fragments of the rock and silt swirled around him and his father in tiny eddies, until it was difficult to see clearly.
They had only half-filled the sack when Tommy released a cluster of gems from the wall, uncovering a circular glassy object, approximately three inches in diameter. As he leaned forward to take a closer look, an indeterminably small dark pin point quickly grew until it almost completely filled the translucent circle.
Tommy staggered backwards in alarm, screaming ‘Ah!’ into his helmet receiver. Although he was leaning back, off balance, the weights on his boots ensured that he remained upright.
His father moved across to see what he had discovered. Tommy's eyes were fixed unerringly on the glassy object, though his subconscious mind registered the fact the man had ignored his own son's health in favour of the find. With much enthusiasm, he began prising away the many clusters of minerals around the object. To Tommy's amazement he simply allowed them to swirl away in the slight current. Very soon he had uncovered much of the surrounding area. The strange object seemed to be part of a much larger shape, grey and ribbed. As he revealed the entire shape, they saw it was roughly torpedo-shaped in appearance, a six foot long and well-rounded bomb. But it looked far from solid.
Tommy cautiously approached the wall again. There was a definite gleam from the grey substance. He pressed a gloved finger at it, and was surprised and a little frightened when it sank in deeply before reforming its shape. A little behind the glassy circle there was another smaller but otherwise identical object. Tommy's helmet light caused the black to instantly shrink to a pin point. He pulled his head back sharply. Although his heart was pounding hard, he was finding it difficult to breathe. There was no doubt now in Tommy's mind that the circles were eyes, and that the bulk was some sort of subterranean creature.
He longed to rip off his helmet and run, screaming, from the place; the situation allowed him to do neither. All he could do was watch, stunned, as his father continued in his attempt to detach the thing from the cavern wall.
‘Dad,’ Tommy began, remembering the presence of the two-way helmet receiver, ‘that... thing's alive. I th...think we ought to get out of h...here.’
His father ignored him.
Gradually, the creature's anchorage on the wall began to loosen. Then it came away all at once and sank to the cavern floor, thrashing violently. A yellow liquid turned the water murky before dissipating. At the same moment the floor trembled, and the walls of the cavern rumbled. Tommy stood rooted to the spot. His chest felt tight. He couldn't catch his breath, although he was panting. The knowledge that he was hyperventilating didn't abate the terror and pain. The creature ceased convulsing, just as the cavern floor lifted horrendously and then fell to its original level.
‘Some kind of earth tremor,’ his father told him, ‘we've got to get out of here. It's not safe!’ Rather an understatement. With a final look at the deceased creature, probably disappointed it was impractical to take the body with him for later study, he pushed Tommy back the way they had entered, one hand still stubbornly gripping the half sack of minerals... his fortune.
The cavern was undulating and they were buffeted this way and that, like flotsam on the incoming tide. Only the weighted suits prevented them being pounded into the walls. Large chunks of rock were coming away on both sides, drifting free, before sinking. It was necessary to move from side to side as they progressed.
Tommy turned to check on his father... just as the cavern floor opened up behind the man. The upheaval unbalanced him, but he saw his father thrown against a wall, where he knocked his helmet hard and sank prone to the cavern floor. The sack opened and all the gems drifted free, twinkling like fireflies.
‘Dad!’ Tommy saw that his eyes were closed, but whether that indicated unconscious or dead, he had no way of knowing. The helmet appeared intact, as did the suit; he was no expert in such matters. He gripped his father beneath each arm and pulled. It was useless. He tried tugging on one leg. If only he could get him moving. He didn't want to risk damaging the suit, sturdy as it was.
Tommy could see the cavern exit, so near and yet so far. As he watched, gauging the distance, he felt a tremendous shuddering. Gradually, the gap was closing. Tommy couldn't believe he was actually watching the rock move of its own accord. Although his breathing had recovered, he found himself panicking like never before. Frantically, he yanked on his father's leg; the suited bulk moved slowly, as if reluctant to give up its resting place. He stopped suddenly as he realised the truth.
How could he have been so blind? The cavern was no natural rock form; it was a hitherto unknown sea creature, and they had just killed its unborn baby!
The obvious immensity made it slow to move, but Tommy knew, at the rate the gap was closing, he would never escape with his father in time.
‘Dad, wake up! Please! Dad? Oh!’
He was close to tears now. There wasn't much time. Tommy looked at his father, and back at the opening. He shook his father roughly; there was no change. A decision had to be made.
‘Sorry, Dad,’ he finally said, and made for the narrowing gap. Time seemed to stand still at that moment. It was like wading through treacle. With every step he was screaming, ‘No! No! No!’, although his father had warned him yesterday it was wasteful of air. Terror suffused him as he told himself, ‘I've left it too late!’
But then he was through as a heavy vibration informed him the gap had sealed completely.
He was whimpering like a small child, increasingly frustrated by the fact that he wasn't rising from the sea bed. It took a while to remember the weights. The suits had been designed so the weights would take the wearer to the required level. They could be jettisoned at any point; costly but convenient.
But Tommy considered nothing but rising to the surface immediately. The weights went one at a time initially, but his impatience caused him to jettison the remainder simultaneously, and he rose from the depths at a mind-numbing, painful and nauseating rate.
When he broke surface his body was in turmoil. Agony; unbearable pressure on his frame from all sides. Hands reached out and pulled him aboard a boat. But it wasn't his father's. The original discoverers of the minerals? He had no idea.
His helmet was removed, and through a tremendous roaring in his ears, he heard someone shout, ‘Let's get him packed in ice straight away! Can you hear me, son?’
Tommy could hear voices, mumbling and delirious. He realised they were his own, but they continued nevertheless. Then one thing broke through the darkness and disarray in his mind. As a face leaned close, Tommy shouted, ‘They do exist, dad. They do exist!!’
A Dark and Scary Place
Disclaimer: This is a story I wrote in 2018, well before the onset of COVID-19. I originally withheld this fictional tale, but several individuals have expressed an interest to read it. Although there are no vivid scenes of visceral horror, please do not read the story if you feel it may cause you distress.
(From the Journals of Gerard Plaintree)
It is said that we shouldn’t attach too much importance to inanimate objects. Well, I freely admit to coveting two very special possessions: a guitar and a desk. It took me some significant time to recognise their uniqueness. Let’s say they have certain properties. Let me explain how I discovered this.
The guitar is an immaculate condition early 1990s Gibson Les Paul Custom Lite, the curious abilities of which I took for granted and so somewhat overlooked. It rested on a stand in the corner of my modest rented room in the Whitechapel district of London. It remained plugged into a small Vox amp so that it was in a state of readiness for whenever the fancy took me… and it took me often. Although far from being the most proficient practitioner of the art, I knew enough to get by. The sounds it produced – even at the reasonably low levels necessary to keep the neighbouring residents tolerant – were exquisite. The guitar seemed to emote always to the required impact, but I suspected it had little to do with my handling of the instrument.
One day the guitar stand broke. My shocked instincts allowed my reflexes to catch the Les Paul before it could topple sideways onto the floor. My heart beat fit to burst; that was a close thing. I don’t know what I would have done had it been damaged in any way. I didn’t even possess the resources to purchase a new stand, let alone invest in any required repairs for the guitar.
I rested it against the single threadbare armchair, and then against the old rickety bed; I couldn’t trust it to remain in either of those positions without it sliding to the floor and my accidentally stepping on it in the darkness of the night. A practical and cheap alternative would have been to fix a bracket to the wall. That would have been achieved rather surreptitiously while the landlady was off-premises. I thought about the best position for it, eventually holding it against the wall above my bed. If the bracket later snapped at least the Les Paul would fall onto the relatively soft surface of the bed. The downside to that was if it happened during the night the heavy body of the guitar might impact with my head while I was sleeping. In retrospect, the manner in which my life was heading into near hopelessness at that time meant I would have considered it no great loss to the world.
However, the moment I touched the guitar to the wall it appeared to fasten like glue. That was more than curious. I left my arm in position, supporting the instrument for some time, before carefully releasing the pressure. Then I quickly released it altogether, cupping my hands underneath, fully expecting to have to catch it as it immediately fell from the wall.
It remained in position on the wall. What on earth was keeping it there? I considered – quite illogically – there might be a magnet inherent in the wall. But why should there be? And even if there were, there was certainly nothing present in the guitar which would compel it to be attracted with such secure force. I expected to be obliged to prise it from the wall; however, as soon as I touched it it came loose.
This was weird. In a multitude of various random positions, I placed the Les Paul gently against the wall. Each time it stuck like glue. Better than glue. And it came away just as easily as before. It never occurred to me at that moment the answer might be anything to do with the guitar itself. I simply assumed it to be an unknown property of the walls in my room. Until, that is, I was visited with the notion of experimenting with the phenomenon elsewhere. I must confess, it both excited and frightened me when the guitar adhered to the side of the armchair, and then a wooden cupboard door in my kitchenette.
How much convincing did I need? It was simply that musical instruments didn’t possess properties like this. To be absolutely certain I took the guitar outside, walking down the road and placing it against a wooden fence, a post box, a glass shopfront, and anything else I was convinced it shouldn’t stick to. I attracted a handful of unsolicited curious or questioning glances, but I offered no explanation for my actions. They probably thought I was a mature art student experimenting with conventional urban backdrops for some sort of project portfolio. I didn’t really care what they thought. I just knew my precious Les Paul Custom was now even more revered by me than before.
Much as my guitar now possessed an astounding singular property, this achieve nothing in halting the downward spiral my life had taken.
I had previously been laid-off from my job. The company went into administration so there was no redundancy to be had. I took the only job I could find, in a warehouse; however, it was only part time culminating in my being obliged to move from my spacious new-build apartment into the tatty one-room abode I now occupied. As if this wasn’t a deep enough descent into the pit, my long-term girlfriend lost patience with me (more probably with my lack of money), and then I fell behind with the rent. You need money to do anything, and I had precious little. The landlady had even less patience. She demanded remuneration – practically with menaces, as she was a formidable lady. I had to find a remedy quickly before I returned home to find my meagre belongings out on the street.
Not to mention myself!
Ascertaining my assets didn’t take long. The only items with any value were my guitar and my desk. I couldn’t part with the Les Paul, it meant too much to me. If I found myself out on the streets I might have needed to do some busking in order to earn some small change. Everyone has to eat. No, it would have to be the desk.
It was an old oak writing desk, and I loved it dearly. I just felt comfortable with it; a perfect environment for story ideas, which seemed to spark into existence practically unbidden. Not that I’d done much with the output. I lacked confidence – even though I very much enjoyed their creation. They were like children being born; a part of my past and my future immortality. Something to leave behind. It was the process of sitting at the desk and letting my imagination fly free that I found so compelling. Circumstances dictated prioritisation: enjoyment or money? If I could have eaten enjoyment I would have readily chosen it; unfortunately, money I could not do without. So, it had to be the desk.
Much as I felt physically sick with regret, I walked down to the local newsagent to place an advertisement card in the window (no laptop, iPad or Smartphone for me – I simply couldn’t afford it. What surprised and somewhat dismayed me was that I solicited a buyer so quickly. He arranged to come round with a van to collect it, so I made preparations to move it out of my room, so that when he arrived we could carefully manoeuvre it out of the building between us.
At least, that was what I attempted to do. I struggled to move the heavy desk from its normal position, across the floor to my open door. It wouldn’t go through; the desk was too deep. That was strange. It had come through the door into the room easily enough, so it should go through the same gap and out. Nothing had changed in that time about either the door or frame.
Rooting around, I finally laid my hands on a tape measure. I mentally noted the surface size of the desk, before edging across to measure the doorway space. It should have easily fitted through but, when I tried again – this time attempting to push from different angles, it still refused. The desk was far too big for the space now. Bizarrely, it seemed like the desk was stubbornly refusing to leave.
It was impossible to dissemble. This was no cheap flatpack, it was a quality solid build undoubtedly created by a master craftsman. And now you are going to ask how I – a man of little or no means – managed to acquire such a classic piece of furniture. Purely happenstance. Back when I was fully employed a colleague was getting married and moving house. He had no further use for the desk and fully intended to dispose of it. It was only mentioned in passing, but once I knew I practically begged him to release it to me. Yes, it was old, but far too good to scrap – particularly as I had been utilising a clipboard as a hard surface for my writing. I smoothed it down and offered it a protective coat of varnish. For next to no cost I had obtained a classic and useful piece of furniture.
I was on my third attempt at measuring and moving the desk when the prospective purchaser appeared at the door to my room. “It won’t fit through the doorway,” I explained before he even introduced himself.
The man wore a heavy, long coat and a bowler hat. It was as though he belonged to another time. “Did you not measure it?”
“Several times,” I answered. “It should fit but it doesn’t.”
He stared at me and then at the desk. “I have some tools in the van. If we prise-off the desk top and one side, we…” At the dangerous look in my eye he stopped talking.
“No,” I told him. “I have a change of heart. The desk is not for sale.”
The man stood silently watching me, obviously mentally appraising just how far he might push me. Finally, he said, “Sir, you are a cad and have wasted my time,” turned on his heals and was gone.
I ran my hands over the desk as if to reassure it of my best intentions. “Don’t worry,” I told it, “you’re remaining with me.”
I was most relieved at the outcome that day, but it did not help me with the rent. There was only so long I could avoid the landlady for. It all came to a head later that day. If I didn’t know better I would have said the landlady was witnessing the entire scene invisibly from the astral plane! I had sat in silence for barely an hour, pondering my next move, when there came a sudden heavy and quite insistent pounding on my door. I answered quickly, quite clearly catching her off-guard. She recovered from her shock, however, standing threateningly in the doorway, ham-fists on hips. “You are two months behind on your rent, Mr…”
I cut her off in my desperation. “I tried to sell something, but… the sale didn’t go through.” I was not about to inform her of the apparent reason; she would have me carted-off and sectioned by the White Coat Brigade.
“You’ve had enough opportunity. I don’t run a charity here!”
I moved away from the door and over to the desk, but she wisely refrained from crossing the threshold. “What do you expect me to do?” I told her. “Just open a drawer and…”
I had pulled open the single desk drawer to find it full of bank notes.
Luckily, she couldn’t see into the drawer from where she stood scowling. However, my look of surprise would have been plain enough for anyone to see. I took just a few notes from the top (any more would have been suspicious) and slid shut the drawer.
“Actually, I have just found some money I’d forgotten I had. You’re more than welcome to it.” I walked back to the door and she practically snatched the money from my hand.
“This isn’t nearly enough!” she snapped defiantly.
“You’ll have the rest tomorrow. Now, will you kindly leave.”
She opened her mouth to retaliate, but simply stared at me instead. “How do you propose to obtain that sort of money in one day?”
I could only lie to her. “Not that it is any of your concern, but a good friend of mine has offered to loan it to me until I am back on my feet.”
The landlady actually made a “Hurrumph!” sound. She stared at me as if she didn’t believe I possessed any friends – and she would have been very nearly correct. Then, as I moved to close the door, she said, “See that you do!” It made no sense in the context of the sentences spoken, but the meaning was clear.
When I was certain she had moved away from outside the door, I opened the desk drawer again. The money was still there. For some reason I expected it to be gone… probably because it had no reason to be there in the first place. No reason but for the fact I desperately needed it.
I took out the balance left to settle the two-month rent deficit and stuffed it into a trouser pocket. I couldn’t risk it going missing before tomorrow. I had only paid the landlady what amounted to half of one month’s rent, because if I had paid the whole cost she would have wondered why I didn’t pay it on time, if it was in a drawer all along. The last thing I needed was her speculating to others about the possibility of my having robbed a bank, obtained money by deception, or drug dealing… Or any other number of ludicrous scenarios.
I thought this may well get me out of trouble temporarily but the big question remained: where had the money come from?
Nobody had enjoyed access to my desk but me, and even if they had it was unlikely they would plant money in my room. Even the strange man with the Bowler hat did not go near the drawer. Perhaps he somehow knew there was money in it, which is why he wanted to purchase it. Were that the case, however, he would have been much more persuasive. He certainly wouldn’t have just left without taking the money. So, he obviously didn’t know about it.
Wherever it had originated from it had certainly materialised at the time of my greatest need. And this got me to thinking. For the first time I started to piece together the individual elements. My guitar had adhered magically to the wall wherever I placed it because the guitar stand which it used to rest against had broken, and I had very much wanted to mount it on the wall, so that it would not get knocked over and damaged. In my heart-of-hearts I had not wanted to part with the desk, so each time I moved it to the door the dimensions increased just enough to prevent its departure. Then, when I had been flippant to the landlady about her expecting me to open a drawer and find the money I needed, that’s exactly what happened.
The realisation struck me like an epiphany. It wasn’t the guitar and the desk which harboured unique properties. I had transferred my feelings on to my two most prized possessions.
It was me who had this ability!
Now, you would think that once I had this revelation in hand I would immediately brandish myself with extravagance. A life of luxury and decadence. However, even had I wished riches upon myself, I would discover the power didn’t manifest itself like that. In retrospect, perhaps ‘power’ is too strong a word to utilise in this respect. So, let me call it a ‘talent’ instead, as I believe everyone possesses a natural talent – if only they can uncover in in their lifetime. Mine materialised involuntarily through need, rather than want.
Although some things came instantly, they would only prove to be a temporary measure. To survive long-term, I would need a full-time secure job again. I was obliged to go looking for one which suited my knowledge, practical skills and experience; my ability aided me in the process by giving me the good fortune to secure the position – against the odds. Sometimes all people need is a little good luck – a chance to prove to others they are of good use.
So, it wasn’t a fortune but it did allow me to move to a better, ground-floor apartment. I thought my landlady would be relieved, but she acted as if I had caused her some kind of personal affront. All the time I was shifting my stuff she stood there, hands on hips, tutting with disapproval.
Of course, it didn’t take me long to move. I collected together what clothes and toiletries I had into one sports bag, took my guitar from the wall, and carried out the small amplifier to the van outside which I’d borrowed. Then I came back for the desk… Was it my imagination, or had it moved closer to the door. That was weird. Of course, this time I manoeuvred it easily through the door to my apartment.
Without offering to help, my now ex-landlady watched me struggle alone until the desk was safely in the back of the van, then she loudly slammed the front door. I had no notion whether she was mad at my leaving, or it was simply a way of saying, “Good riddance!”
Shortly afterward, I began to wonder if my ‘talent’ could be useful to anyone else. If so, I failed to see how; it only seemed to manifest in ‘my’ need.
Around two months subsequent to moving into my new flat something went awry with the world… or, at least, the UK. At first I wasn’t aware of the contagion. I don’t tend to watch the news because it is invariably ‘bad’ and full of injustices. However, colleagues at work spoke of nothing else. Initially, it was a minor news item. Apparently, something virulent was being carried by an airborne host – possibly flies or wasps – and human contact had put several people seriously ill in hospital.
Information was that vague. When those individuals and many more afterward died the government intervened, culminating in an anti-virus vaccine which couldn’t heal the already afflicted but was supposed to help prevent people contracting the thing in the first place. The emphasis here is on ‘supposed to’.
As with polling stations for election voting, schools were closed for the purposes of free vaccinations for the nation. I have no idea if they took the names of people as they arrived; I doubt the notion had occurred to the government officials and medical staff that anybody would purposefully avoid treatment. Either way, I made the decision early on not to go.
It was quite evident to me that pandemonium would ensue. As a nation we might be known as queuers, but when people began to realise they wouldn’t get immunised that day it would pretty soon turn violent. I doubted, too, that there were enough inoculations to go around. The primary reason I didn’t join the masses is I’m somewhat suspicious by nature; too many people were dying now and I refused to believe every victim had been individually bitten or stung by a flying insect. The virus was obviously being passed from person to person.
I was proved correct in my educated assumption when, the very next day, the government announced that there would be no more public vaccinations. Everyone was instructed to remain in their homes, behind locked doors, and the medical staff would visit door to door. They gave the reason that violence had broken-out at schools across the country, but I suspected the officials now knew the truth but were afraid of revealing it for fear of mass panic and paranoia.
I was happy to stay inside. My chest freezer was full with food, so I was fine for the foreseeable future – providing the power remained on. My time was divided between playing the guitar and writing at my desk. Recently, I had returned to my fiction writing and had enjoyed a modicum of success. Not enough to go off and live in a castle any time soon. But I had certainly built-up a reputation of being somewhat ‘different’. It meant that most of my material would now find a market. So, I was relatively happy in my own solace. After all, everything would return to normal eventually.
Those who had been inoculated obviously assumed the enforced curfew didn’t apply to them. But it did. Black-clad soldiers appeared on the streets. They displayed no exposed skin, even to the point of wearing a complete head-mask and breathing apparatus. The radio reported that anyone out on the street was being herded at gunpoint back to individual homes. The official reason for this was that those who had been given the vaccine could not quickly be identified from those who had not, and some people might be carriers or hosts to the virus.
You could collect more information from what was not being said than you could from the actual official statements. Reading between the lines just told me that these actions meant the anti-virus inoculations were simply not working.
Individuals of the media were a part of the nationwide quarantine, along with everyone else. So, there was no live location reporting. At first, they were able to broadcast on TV, somehow managing to tap-into street CCTV cameras. It was more than unnerving to see deserted places which were normally a hive of activity. The images jumped from camera to camera until the sinister-looking soldiers were shown dragging bodies from houses along a street merely ten minutes away from where I lived. Until then, they had only ever been shown keeping the streets clear.
The number of bodies being removed from premises on a single street was truly shocking. Shortly afterward, the only broadcasts received by television were updates by the Prime Minister, who didn’t appear too healthy himself. He explained how all of the best scientists in the relevant fields were working around the clock, that they had made a breakthrough, and to listen out for more regular updates.
Of course, I didn’t believe any of it. The government just wanted to give people hope. With a virus as virulent as this seemed to be, how could they hope to have teams of scientists working together without one potential victim unintentionally wiping-out the others?
Britain stopped broadcasting on TV, so there was only the radio through which to keep appraised of events. This became government controlled, which culminated in general propaganda misinformation.
I had fallen asleep on the floor listening to the radio when I was startled awake by a sharp rapping on the window. Confronted with the nightmare reality of two black-clad soldiers looking in at me, I jumped up to reassure them I wasn’t sick. Having seen me lying on the floor apparently dead, I was extremely lucky not to have been dragged from the building. Another figure walked up to join them. It briefly studied a computer tablet and then tapped it a few times. Just as suddenly as they had arrived the soldiers were gone. They had obviously been checking their records to confirm I was the sole occupant.
I sighed with relief whilst knowing they would be back. So concerned was I for my own well-being that it was practically an afterthought to look through the window at the neighbouring houses. Great numbers of people were being dragged out and placed in trucks. The victims were all inert, but whether deceased or simply rendered unconscious to curtail their violent protestations, there was no way of knowing. I had only been in my new abode a little over two months, so I knew none of my neighbours aside from basic sight recognition. Nevertheless, the scene being played-out in front of me was truly horrifying.
The soldiers returned daily. However, after the first few visits I saw no other bodies removed from nearby houses. Did mean that everyone was dead? Or that some remained healthy like me? I had no way of knowing.
I began to look out for their arrival, and soon realised they were coming straight to me. What I wasn’t prepared for was when they crashed open my door and came for me. The shock and realisation very nearly produced heart failure. I couldn’t catch my breath and began to hyperventilate. Through panic-stricken gasps I protested their actions and proclaimed my good health. Two black-clad soldiers grabbed one each of my arms… But the moment they touched me they both collapsed to the ground, clearly unconscious. I had no inkling what had just taken place.
Stunned, I stared down at the two soldiers. I decided they might come-to at any moment and attempt to assault me again, so I struggled to drag them outside and re-barricaded my door. It wouldn’t keep them out, but I didn’t know what else to do. Perhaps I should have left then and there. I hesitated too long, however. My door was broken inwards, this time flying off the hinges.
Another soldier made a mistake of grabbing me. As he collapsed to the floor, another shot me. I glanced around to see more soldiers entering. Then the world went black.
As I regained consciousness, the first thing I became aware of was a scratchy sound emanating from somewhere nearby. It was an effort to open my eyes; reasoning told me it was almost certainly due to being drugged.
Vision now reasonably clear, I took stock of my situation. I was alone and strapped to a medical bed, in a relatively small and nondescript room. A black-clad soldier stared at me through a glass panel in the opposite wall. There were a couple of white streaks on his headpiece that identified him – I assumed – as a ranking officer of some kind. The rasping, tinny sound turned out to be a tannoy-like speaker. The man was speaking to me.
“What is your secret?”
I couldn’t raise my body, and my muscles were already painful from craning my neck. “I don’t understand. Why am I here? Wherever ‘here’ is.”
“Why do you think you are here?”
“I assume it is not to play Twenty Questions?”
“How would you react if I told you that you are the only survivor in your region?”
I paused, shocked. “Surprised, obviously. Who are you?”
“My name is Redbridge,” he said. It explained nothing really.
“I had no idea everyone had perished in my road.”
“Who said anything about your road? I was talking about the area; a significantly large region of London.”
I stared at the dark lenses which covered the officer’s eyes. “That’s… horrible,” I finally managed.
I thought about that for a moment. “And you brought me here to find out how I have survived when so many have died.” It was a statement rather than a question.
“It would appear, to all intents and purposes, you are immune to the virus.”
“So, you intend to take a sample of blood, whether I like it or not?”
Redbridge practically snorted. “We have already taken that step with no success. Literally dozens of prospective vaccines have been cobbled together in order to fight this thing, and that is why we are so interested in what makes you so different. Blood, saliva, urine, skin, DNA, scans… Even semen. All of this has achieved nothing. We are obliged to wear this…” He gestured loosely with his heavily-gloved hands. “…get up permanently.”
“I think you are wasting your time looking at me, Mr Redbridge. I’m sorry I can’t help you and everyone else.”
“I don’t think you fully appreciate the situation!” he suddenly snapped.
“Oh, I believe I do. I just think you’re looking in the wrong place.”
There was a silence which lulled me back towards sleep, before Redbridge suddenly demanded, “How did you do it?”
I struggled to lift my head again. “How did I do what?”
“Incapacitate my men.”
“Believe me, I have no idea.”
The black-clad officer snorted again with derision. “Initially, I thought it was a powerful electric field, but we found nothing.”
“That is because there was nothing to find.”
“We could take you apart bit by bit until we discover the trick.”
As apologetically as I could muster, I replied, “Even if you were able, it would do you no good.”
“So, you’re refusing to help us?!”
“There is nothing I would like more…” I attempted to smile, but there was little humour behind it. “Much as your threats disguised as diplomacy are… quaint; can’t, won’t – it all comes down to the same thing.”
“What the Dickens are you talking about? All I want to know is how are you still alive when everyone else is dying as we speak?”
“Because I need to survive.”
There was another silence. Finally, Redbridge said, “What do you mean by that statement?”
“You won’t believe this,” I told him. “I have discovered an inherent ability which supplies me with what I most desperately need.”
Redbridge cocked his head like an inquisitive dog. “Are you trying to tell me you are alive because your ability has decided you need to survive?”
“Well, I have no time for this nonsense!” He waved his arms about, precipitating the entry of six soldiers into the room. The moment they crossed the threshold all six collapsed, unconscious, to the floor.
“This is all so unnecessary,” I told the man behind the glass.
“I have no choice,” he answered. “This is a desperate situation, and I believe you are the key. Gas began to emerge through vents… and suddenly turned to pure oxygen.
“I told you, it won’t help you. “My… talent is selfish in that it gives me what I need – not other people.”
“How are you doing that?!” stressed Redbridge. Quickly, he changed tack. “Do you realise this thing can’t be stopped? Everyone’s going to die. You’ll be all alone.” He let that sink in.
“No, I won’t,” I told him. “Someone else will survive.”
Redbridge’s voice rose an octave. “How could you possibly know that?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” I laid my head back on the bed and sighed. “Because, I will ‘Need’ a companion.”
A Dark and Scary Place
This is my new and original suspense tale written in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft and the Brothers Grimm. I love the classic writing style from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and possess several leather bound copies. I've enjoyed immensely the writing of this one in the first person. I hope you enjoy reading it.
I had no inkling of the existence of the thing that would be my undoing, but from the first moment I laid eyes on the structure it captured my imagination. How had such a striking bearing existed without being photographed and recorded in the annals of the West Country.
There was no doubting it held some sort of power over me from the outset. It practically became an obsession. Once I had ascertained the legend behind the building it compounded that power to the point each time I attempted to put it from my mind and leave the area a curious form of mental magnetism compelled me to return, before I had reached so much as a mile. It was plainly a matter of my intentions, as I seemed to be permitted to venture out for essential supplies, but simply travelling forth instigated the onset of debilitating headaches and the sense of great emptiness and loss. Whether this malady was a result of personal psychological problems of which I was previously unaware, or an outside influence, I had no way of knowing. Either way, if only for my peace of mind, I had to take control and do something about it.
Over the last decade I had been making some mark professionally with my study of as yet unidentified species. Treatises were one consideration; however, it was all directed toward publishing my journals to the scientific world. This last venture had kept me away for almost four years, and I was keen, as always, to return to the land of my birth.
Mindful of the fact I was totally familiar with England’s West Country, I was transported from the sea-going False Maiden which had been my home for so long, to a small boat for the trip ashore, I could not but notice the foreboding tower which loomed over the little harbour – and the sea itself.
It was difficult to perceive anything clearly at first. Low cloud and a thick, cloying mist hung over this part of the shoreline. A most curious sensation, as it picked and clawed at the flesh of my face like a fearless hungry gull. But it was more than that. A deep feeling of dread and uneasiness crept into my bones. The owner of the tiny boat released a tight, knowing smile as he saw me shiver. Nevertheless, the moment I was deposited with my bag of belongings on the outer wall of the harbour, he immediately turned the boat back out to sea and vanished into the mist.
I walked slowly and precisely along the slippery surface of the wall until I passed the small harbour master station. It appeared to be a very small port, with only a handful of nearby cottages built from old grey stone, and a single chaotic shop, appearing claustrophobic enough to easily compromise its integrity by knocking something over. A wizened old woman with a beak nose stared at me with a mildly annoyed countenance, as if I had interrupted her reverie.
“Good day,” I announced by way of introduction. The old bird-like woman didn’t even move. She could have been a statue. “I am looking for somewhere to stay for a day or two, and thought you might be kind enough to direct me.”
The proprietor stared some more, before clearing her throat and sweeping out an arm grandly to encompass her stock. The majority of it appeared as though it had stood for decades covered in dust, and I wondered at the last time she had made a sale.
I chuckled appreciatively, and played it safe. “Well, I could use some fresh tobacco, if you have it.”
She slapped it on the surface of the tiny counter, and I paid her accordingly. Before I could repeat my inquiry, she pointed off to the right. “The Precipice,” she stated.
“I have a thing about heights,” I told her.
“It is a tavern,” she said with scorn in her tone.
I thanked her and was glad to be out in the open, as I harboured the distinct feeling if I remained any longer she would have turned me into a toad.
Had I negotiated a short corner I would have spotted the tavern immediately. It was by far the largest structure in the region, aside from the mysterious tower. I could have saved myself an encounter with the unsociable old crone.
The Precipice seemed too accommodating to serve the meagre local population. At least six upper-level windows faced out to sea. Pushing open the main door, I walked to the bar where a stereotypical ham-fisted bartender awaited my custom. There was an aroma of damp and old beer.
“I would like a room for one or two nights – perhaps longer, please, my good man.”
“Certainly, Sir.” The landlord answered in a jolly but distant manner.
He informed me of the price of a rear-facing room and the slightly loftier sea-facing room. I shrugged, before pausing in consideration. An image of the imposing tower entered my mind, so there was no further delay before I happily paid two nights in advance for a sea-facing room. The moment the transaction had taken place I could not help inquiring regarding the location, and in particular the surreal tower.
“I consider myself familiar with the Western Counties,” I told the man. “But… You will have to forgive my ignorance; I do not recognise this place at all. Where precisely are we?”
“Blight? Forgive me for saying so,” I said with a smile, “but that is a rather unfortunate name for… well, anywhere.”
The thickset innkeeper shrugged.
“That is for certain,” he answered with finality. “Let me show you to your room.” He suddenly bellowed, “Jack! As a helper you make a good skiver. Where are you?”
A strange-looking boy emerged from the back. He had unkempt blue-grey hair and cat-like eyes. Even his movements were odd: quick and jerky, like a spider.
“Watch out here while I take this gentleman to his room.” He hesitated before adding, “And I will know if anything is missing!”
I followed the man up a tight staircase. “Here we are, sir. Room 15.”
“How many rooms are there?” I asked as he unlocked the door.
I could not help exploding with laughter. “Nine? How does that work then?”
He stared at me indignantly. “Excuse me. How does what work?” The door was pushed open and we walked into a compact, sparsely-furnished room. There was a single bed, a desk and a small chest of draws. “The bathroom is along the hall.”
I barely heard this last sentence, noticing as I did the view from the window. The tiny harbour and the few dull cottages, which were also within my field of view, hardly registered.
“The tower makes for quite an imposing structure,” I ventured.
“That it does… I will leave you to it, then.” He took his leave before I could ask any more of him.
Depositing my belongings on the bed, I sat on the wide window sill and gazed out at the modest harbour and the immense tower beyond. What purpose did it serve? A look-out post, perhaps; however, it appeared too substantial in construct for that simple task. The stone blocks which constituted its structure were immense. I could spy that detail even from this distance. How where they even moved into place? Ship-mounted cranes would have been required. But the aged and discoloured stone almost certainly pre-dated that era.
The tower had a bizarre effect on the eyes. It seemed to demand my full attention to the point it actually moved – looming slightly nearer, then back to its original position. It was undoubtedly tiredness; I had not slept since early the day before. In a while I would ask the proprietor to prepare me a light meal, then I would rest. My journals would wait until the morrow. First, I was inwardly obliged to inspect the tower a little more closely.
Much as the cloying mist was mostly the other side of the structure, tendrils partly shrouded the side I could see. It was a tentative contact as if the mist was reluctant to wrap itself more tightly around the tower. No windows or door were visible in the stonework, so I could only imagine there was something on the blind side, facing out to sea. I resolved to discover the truth in the morning. Details appeared tantalisingly out of my range of vision, and that is when I remembered the binoculars.
My belongings were tipped unceremoniously out of my case on to the bed, when I quite abruptly recalled my specimens, maps and other paraphernalia. Fortunately, they came to no harm when the compact travel field glasses tumbled out. I snatched them up and returned immediately to the window, as if suspecting I may have missed the tower undergo a change during the scant seconds I was away. It was a curious sensation to discover I felt more comfortable when watching the structure than when away from it. Compelling was the sense.
The view through the binoculars helped a small amount; however, it was somewhat marred by the presence of mist, which caused a kaleidoscopic miasma which toned-down the clarity of my sighting. Nevertheless, I ascertained a greater understanding of the impossibleness of the huge, shaped blocks. I could see no steps cut into the stone, nor handholds which one might expect would be present. No, it was an imposing colossus, but whatever openings there might have been were surely on the out-facing side. This would command further study the next day.
Only subsequently did I notice the quaint panorama of the harbour and the few abodes within sight. I had just caught the glimpse of a dark figure looking up at my window, when…
The next thing I knew I was rousing myself fully clothed on the bed, with the rising sun streaming through the window. I had no recollection of moving to my slumber, and wondered if I had dreamt the figure looking up at me.
My stomach reminded me I had forsaken dinner for much-needed sleep. After taking care of my ablutions and attire, I presented myself for what I hoped would be an early breakfast. The landlord seemed disinclined to make an exception for me, even though there was no evidence of other guests. “We need to sleep as well. Breakfast will be at a quarter to the hour.”
I took the opportunity to partake of an investigative walk along the full stretch of the harbour wall, bracing myself against the gusting wind blowing in from the sea. My paramount objective was to discover what little I could about the foreboding tower. Walking briskly past the harbour master’s hut on the opposite wall to that I had arrived on afforded scant revelation than I had already viewed with the binoculars. I decided to waste no more time studying blank stonework.
Over a hearty breakfast I attempted to question the landlord without raising his mistrust. I began with, “What is the purpose of the tower?”
“Purpose?” he repeated, somewhat distracted.
“What is the intention? What is it… for?”
The ham-fisted, sweating landlord shrugged, making himself busy fussing around the other unoccupied tables. “It is just… there. It was there long before I was here.”
He must have detected the barely veiled impatience on my face, because all he added before moving away was, “It is simply a landmark. Of no importance. I suggest you put it from your mind, sir, before it becomes detrimental.”
It was plainly evident he knew far more than he was saying. There was little to be gained by pressuring the man; he would be just as likely to lose his polite indifference and eject me from his establishment. The quaint harbour town was not on any map or chart I had seen of the area, so the chances of finding any literature in the place was slim to none. In fact, the history of this place was more likely to be in the people than the leaves of a book. If only they were prepared to share that information.
Was the landlord’s finishing statement stamped with a warning or a threat? It might have been either. Or both.
Much as I found the prospect distasteful, my only option, it seemed, was to attempt to question the old witch proprietor of the rustic and chaotic general store that seemed to be caught in a previous century. I carried out that task immediately after breaking fast, on the pretext I was intending to investigate the narrow lanes nearby to stretch my leg muscles. In the event the landlord may be watching my movements from one of the many windows, I strode in a converse direction and began walking up one of the steep byways. The notion was to find a way to cut across and approach the shop from the opposite direction. Eventually, however, I was obliged to return some time later down the same lane and turn the corner past the Precipice Inn – hoping the landlord had tired of his observation – and approach the shop in a more commonplace manner.
When I pushed open the door, the beak-nosed, wizened old woman sat motionless in the same position and at the same angle, as if she had not moved since my last visit. “Good day again,” I spoke breezily. “I neglected to introduce myself yesterday. My name is Hargreaves.”
I waited; however, she did not reciprocate the introduction. In fact, she might have been a manikin, as she refused to move or speak. Just for a moment I began to wonder if she had expired. I moved closer and said, “I am considering researching the curious tower which stands beyond the harbour.”
I noticed her eyes flicker momentarily and I knew I had her attention, if not yet her cooperation. Pressing my advantage – if indeed one might consider it so – I locked eyes with her. “Do you know when it was constructed, and for what purpose? What is it utilised for now? Or is it simply abandoned? It is a most singular sight, and has quite captured my imagination.”
She quickly glanced around as if someone could be concealed and listening amongst the dusty relics from another age. The moment her eyes met mine again she swept out an encompassing hand, as she had upon my first visit. “I suppose I could always use another pouch of tobacco,” I told her.
The woman sniffed disdainfully, rejecting such a simple reward. Studying the bric-a-brac at closer quarters, I struggled to find an object which might be of use on my travels. That is until I moved an interesting paperweight aside to reveal a very nicely constructed compass. It had the size of a large chicken egg with a flattened bottom. The traditional dial of the compass was set behind glass – very professionally fashioned. I shook out my clean handkerchief to remove the dust of time from the piece, before setting it down on the table. I sneezed twice. The compass needle spun freely seeking Magnetic North. I walked back to the counter but the moment I put it down the needle spun crazily. I scooped it up once more and walked slowly toward the shop door. Wherever I placed the compass it operated reliably, but the moment I walked back to the counter it spun manically again. All the while the old woman sat motionless.
“A curious piece,” I announced, placing the item on the counter. “How much will you take for it?”
She held out a claw-like hand. I put a note on the counter top. She glanced at it, and then back at me for the briefest moment before staring vaguely off into the distance. I put another note on top of the first, thereby doubling the amount. When she made the barest of movements, as before, I slid the compass closer to her and gestured as if to pick up the money. However, the claw moved with such alarming speed as I was far from certain I had witnessed the action. I only knew the money was no longer there.
“God’s Light,” she announced in a scratchy tone.
“I don’t follow you. I…”
“That is because I have not told you yet! Be silent and listen.”
I would normally have given short thrift to the cantankerous old bird, but on this occasion I had little choice if I wanted to learn anything at all regarding the structure.
“There are no records of which I am aware that offer any information at all about when it was built, or who constructed it. All I know is it was already there when my grandmother was born. You may have speculated its use as a lighthouse; to my knowledge it has never been used as such – no open area for a lamp and no pinnacle platform on which to build a naked flame.”
I had to make it plain to her there was a wish to know what it is, rather than what it was not. She forestalled my interjection with a raised claw and a stern look. “I can only offer you rumours. Stories passed down through generations. Most apoc… apoc…
She stared at me. “…at best.” She suddenly seemed impatient, no doubt wishing to return to her endless hours of statuesque staring. “Look, it all amounts to this. There was a young woman, it was said, whose countenance was so stunning and so pure any individual – particularly men – who looked upon her beauty instantly erupted in flame. No one knew who her family or ancestors were. Had they perished? Many wanted to end her life; however, the church saw her as a messenger of God. Obliged to wear a mask, she was homed in one of the local cottages – before you ask, I have no idea which one – and left supplies on a regular basis.” She sneered. “There will always be the curious and the disbelievers: those who fell foul of the stories and local advice. Most of these, it was said, were never seen again. At last it would be decided she would be ensconced in the tower, despite her protestations, for the safety of the people.”
The old woman raised a hand again to prevent my inquiring of the obvious. “Do not ask me how she was imprisoned in the tower when there is evidently no opening. I have been offered no explanation.”
“And she became known to the local people as God’s Light, due to the intensity of her visage.”
The wizened old woman almost imperceptibly nodded her ascent.
I had carried out some research into the myths and legends before I gave my professional life to nature and the cataloguing of the rarer species, and decided they were built on unanswered questions. It was undoubtedly the case here.
“It is a singular and entertaining tale,” I opined. “Correct in your initial assessment of apocryphal,” I think.” The old crone said nothing as I took my leave. “I thank you for your time. Good day, madam.”
I exited the shop to be instantly assailed by the salt-laden wind from the sea. It returned me to an immediate sense of reality. Not only had the experience in the antiquated general store felt as if time had stood still, I now realised my true haunts were beckoning me. I had been away from home for far too long. There was no immediate family; however, it would be more than pleasant to dine again with half-forgotten friends and associates, before seriously pulling my thoughts back to formally setting down my dissertations to the academic world.
Holding the compass in the palm of one hand I watched as the needle smoothly sought Magnetic North. I allowed myself a private smile. At least this diversion would prove an amusing tale told over dinner to fellow published professionals. Deeply breathing in the refreshing brine, I finally turned, retracing my footsteps back to the inn. The burly proprietor was fussing around an already spotless bar.
“Ah, sir. Back so soon? I regret there is very little to see in our harbour town. I can prepare you a light lunch, if you wish.”
“Just an ale, thank you. I will take it to my room while I prepare to leave.” I had already paid the man for my stay, but settled for my meals and a not immodest extra of coinage. He accepted the payment as if the extra was of little consequence, and set to drawing me an ale from the cask.
“Will you do me the honour of arranging transport for an hour or two?” The innkeeper grunted under his breath; I had no inkling if this was assent or annoyance. I wordlessly accepted the ale and climbed the narrow staircase to my room. It took mere moments to secrete my meagre belongings into the carry case, so I sat at the window sipping the ale and looking out past the harbour to the ever-present mist-wreathed sea. Inevitably, my gaze returned to the overshadowing structure of the tower.
The logic of putting the tower from my mind by removing myself from its presence was sound. However, the reality of the matter was quite different, as I would soon discover.
A small horse-drawn carriage – something resembling a Hansom Cab – pulled up outside the inn. Motor cars were still a rare and expensive commodity. I carried my case downstairs and, as I walked through the inn to the outer door, the proprietor called, “I will keep your room open, sir. Should you change your mind.”
I acknowledged the driver and, before I had settled myself comfortably inside, the horse was directed to move forward, the carriage rattling and squeaking behind. Apparently, there was only a single road in and out of Blight, so there was no requirement at that moment to request of me for directions. After only a handful of minutes we arrived at a crossroads. An old sign indicated that Twisted Finger Point was to the left. It was another name I failed to recognise, and I wondered if the boat had deposited me in the West Country at all. Nevertheless, I smiled to myself when I noticed someone had put themselves to great trouble in order to twist the pointed end of the sign.
We proceeded straight forward, and I began to feel unwell. It came on quite suddenly. I was nauseated. Inhaling of deep breaths, I called to the driver to stop. Light of head, I opened the door and stumbled to the ground, retching. The driver climbed down and simply looked on, believing me, I think, to be inebriated. “Do you require a physician?” he said uselessly.
I felt too sick to answer. It required significantly more than a single attempt to climb uncertainly to my feet, watched by the driver with barely contained impatience. I managed to stagger a short distance back in the direction of the crossroads, halting frequently for rest, and to take deep breaths. I was soon standing, holding onto the sign, and immediately felt more at ease – energised, in fact. Collecting myself, I began to return to the carriage. As with the impact from a wayward horse the pain and discomfort returned. The strength fell away from my limbs, and I began to suffer the effects of vertigo. With a mad, panic-driven effort I stumbled back to the sign, holding tightly to the lifeline and feeling warmth suffuse my body until I was able to stand of my own volition. Not yet harbouring the energy to call out, I waved to the carriage driver, beckoning. The man appeared to hesitate – evidently considering whether to abandon my person on the side of the road – before manoeuvring the horses around.
Forestalling his opportunity to complain, I instructed the disgruntled driver to take me to Twisted Finger Point. “There is very little to see,” he told me in no uncertain terms.
Impossible as it seemed, the notion which entered my head would not rescind its hold. “I would like to decide that, if you have no objection.”
The driver audibly grunted as he set off in the direction indicated by the sign. Inevitably, as I had determined, my well-being was shortly compromised. Balance and coordination was taken away from me, and I threw myself from the disorientating jostle of the carriage to hold to the stability of the hard ground and violently empty my stomach. I crawled on hands and knees back to the sign at the crossroads. Immediately, I began to recover a little; however, remaining very weak.
“It is little good,” I attempted to explain to the both disinterested but somewhat agitated driver. “I will have to return to Blight.”
“If you will forgive me, sir, I could have told you so some moments ago!”
Momentarily, we were heading into Blight. I began to feel strength return to my limbs. A euphoria flooded my well-being, fulling confirming my suspicions. To the evident satisfaction of the driver I relieved him of his obligation. His demeanour was significantly improved by my more than generous over-payment. He even doffed his hat and told me “It was a pleasure, sir. I trust you will recover without delay,” before sharply shaking the reins, persuading the horse and carriage to clatter away. I surveyed my own thoughts as I walked, shakily, with my bag. I reached The Precipice Inn with the beginnings of a strategy in mind.
The proprietor barely offered my presence a single glance, evidently unsurprised in the least at my return.
“I will be requiring the room for a further day or two,” I informed the perspiring man. “Perhaps you will be kind enough to fetch me up a light lunch?” The man nodded once, uninterrupted in the polishing of his tables. I glanced across at the bar, before wearily climbing the stairs to my room.
I failed to even partake of the opportunity to view from my window. If my makeshift strategy played-out I would see more than enough of the tower at close quarters. For now, I needed to rest from the effects of the short-lived but virulent assault on my mental senses. Furthermore, I felt physically drained and would need my full strength for the night’s… excursion.
I awoke in darkness, fretting for a moment or two that more time had elapsed than I had calculated. The night was young, however. Splashing water on my face to bring the senses alive, I donned my jacket coat and went downstairs to order a light evening meal and an ale. I seated myself where I had sight of the entire bar. I seldom saw anyone other than the landlord, and it was he who brought along the meal. It might as well have been of no taste, as my mind was on other matters.
Eventually, the doorway through the bar opened from the outside, and the strange boy the landlord had referred to as Jack appeared carrying a half-size ale keg. He struggled to lay it gently on the floor, before shifting it this way and that to manoeuvre it into a space under the bar. When he turned to leave I followed him out, closing the door behind me. The cold air assaulted my senses.
“Jack, I wish you to acquire some equipment for me. You will be well rewarded.”
He did not appear surprised to see me, simply staring with fathomless eyes. Finally, he said, “You are planning to see God’s Light. I can tell you it will not end well.”
I placed my hands in my pockets to display set determination. My fingers touched the compass and I absently brought it out, looking down curiously at the needle as it spun crazily. “It is sufficient for you to know my requirements,” I answered noncommittally.
“You will need a boat. And plenty of strong rope. And a shuttered lantern. A small hip flask of brandy…”
It was my turn to stare at him. It was as if he had planned this, or had arranged it before. Shaking off an uneasy feeling, I added a few small items to his list.”
“I can have these ready for you on the morrow.”
“Too late. I require them now. Tonight.”
The boy narrowed his eyes. “I will cost you.”
“Naturally. Half now, half upon return of the equipment?”
Jack shook his head. The manner in which he laid eyes upon me, I knew he was seeing another time, another place. It was somewhat unsettling. The boy glanced around, as if impatient to be doing other things. “All of it now.”
“Do not consider cheating me, Jack. I have far-reaching contacts,” I bluffed.
The boy turned and spat. “You will have your things in an hour.”
I returned to make my presence known in the comforts of the inn, slowly picking at my meal and nursing my single ale. When an hour had almost passed I watched the movements of the innkeeper. When he had moved out of sight to clean tables I drained my ale and exited, illicitly, through the bar. I trusted the proprietor would assume I had retired to my room.
It was a chill night. Clear for the most part, but the ever-present mist still clung to the tower like an inquisitive stranger. It proved both eerie and reassuring. Further out, nothing could be seen through the writhing wall of mist.
I spied the tiny rowing boat prior to spotting the boy Jack himself. It was tied unnervingly close to the harbour master’s hut. There were no lights on in the little construct; however, that did not mean no one was present. I could see the items I had requested lying in the boat.
“It is all here,” the strange boy stated in low tones. “From here you are on your own. Remember, these are treacherous waters. The is a riptide on this side of the tower. Approach it from the far side, it is calmer and there are rocks upon which you can stand. That is all.”
His anachronistic educated speech hardly registered with me. He turned and merged with the darkness before I could even think to acknowledge the advice. It sounded helpful, but I just didn’t trust the lad. Perhaps it was his eyes and curiously unnatural movements. There was something more, however.
Untethering the boat, I moved it gently and quietly as I could further out on the water. Should the harbour master or innkeeper look out of a window at that moment they would view me quite plainly. There was nothing I could do to prevent that fact. If they did happen to spy my suspicious presence on the water, they were hardly likely to pursuit me. There was nothing nefarious about my actions and, should I fall into peril, it was my own decision and the fault entirely my own.
The first presence I was aware of as I smoothly stroked out of the harbour and towards the tower was the immediate bitter chill in the air and the strong smell of brine. Tendrils of mist began to tease me into its clutches until I found myself fully enveloped and dripping with dampness. I am certain I would have been shivering with the cold if not for my exertions directing the tiny boat. The air brought with it an atmosphere of foreboding. Briefly and resoundingly I had doubts. I even considered turning back, but that would have proved counterproductive. I was resolute. There were a few things I simply had to know, and as ridiculous as it seemed I had the unnerving feeling the tower wished me to know as well.
Lost in thought, I very nearly forgot Jack’s warning about the treacherous riptide waters on the nearside of the tower. Rowing wide of the forbidding structure, I approached it cautiously from the other side. At least the boat would not be spied from the harbour, should the mist unexpectedly disperse. I had no experience to believe it would do so.
It took several attempts to clamber onto the narrow rocks whilst keeping a firm grasp of the rope to secure the boat. Finally managing to maintain my balance, I reached for the dull grey stone of the tower… and almost slipped. The stone was damp and peppered with moss. With effort I managed to pull the boat partly onto the narrow ledge of rocks. There appeared to be no obvious place to tether it, so I was obliged to snag the rope unconvincingly around and between some of the rocks, in the hope this would prove sufficient resistance to prevent the little boat being dragged out to sea. It was a somewhat precarious task to transfer my procured equipment from the boat on to the ledge.
I had given some forethought to my intended strategy, but now that I was perched on what amounted to the edge of a cliff face my plan appeared significantly more ridiculous. It was a distinct possibility I would fall to my death here. Why was I so driven? The myth of God’s Light was undoubtedly apocryphal at best. It is true most legends are based on a nugget of truth, however, I found it difficult to believe in any aspect of this one. So why was I so determined and forthright? I simply had to know. Least of all things, I could give the old crone in the shop a piece of my mind.
Coiling the long length of rope over my shoulder, I hooked one end around some jagged rocks, careful not to dislodge the boat’s tether. Then I edged my way slowly and cautiously around the base of the tower. One slip on the other side and I would be pulled into the undercurrents of the harsh mistress of the sea – never to be seen again. Once more I questioned my motives, but did not hesitate in my purpose. When I had completed one circuit I took up the tethered end and tied it off through the loop. Doing my best not to unduly hurry, I edged around the base a second time, on this occasion looping the rope around the stone structure as high as it was possible to reach. If I fell I might be dashed on the rocks, but at least I would not be dragged out and lost at sea.
As I circumnavigated the foreboding tower I closely inspected the stonework. It was a universally dull grey, tinged with dark moss. Could I have been mistaken when I spotted a discrepancy? The tint of the stone in one area high up was a minutely different hue. With no obvious way into the structure I was offered no choice but to ascend to that point and examine it at closer quarters.
Using the same process as a rural lumberjack would to ascend the trunk to the higher limbs, I looped the rope around me and edged up the wall. It proved both treacherous and strenuous – not to mention frightening. I had no liking for heights. My heart felt almost permanently as though it were in my mouth, as if taken residence. The rope continually slipped on the wet moss, and I constantly wiped the mist’s moisture from my hands. When I was halfway up and beyond the point of gentle return, my muscles began to spasm. Attempting to rest for a moment, I found no ledges to support my weight. I was obliged to press on before my strength gave out entirely.
My fingers cramped and soon felt like immovable claws. I inhaled sharply of the bitter air in preparation for inching my way close to the discoloured section of wall. However, there came a quite sudden loud crash, the shock of which caused the rope to loosen a little. I found myself two feet lower and holding on for dear life. I chanced a look downwards to discover the little boat was damaged and drifting out to sea. A forceful swell had undoubtedly thrust it against the rocks and freed its tether.
I had just lost my only salvation off this structure. To attempt swimming into the harbour would almost certainly fail at the hand of the cold water and strong undercurrents. With depleted strength I would tire quickly and be swept out after the boat. At least I still possessed the covered lantern, strapped as it was to my waist. There was no thought of abandoning this enterprise now; my only option was to follow my objective through to completion. Whatever form that may take.
With every part of my body protesting, I continued edging up the wall. Exertion meant the perspiration instantly chilled, resulting in periodic sneezes and coughs. I would be several days recovering from this endeavour. During my countless journeys cataloguing unknown or rare species, I had visited many inhospitable lands, but had never been as close to total exhaustion or death as this.
Finding myself level with it, I was now able to witness for a certainty there was something curious about this section of wall. I chanced touching it – holding on with one hand – and of instant heard a grating of stone against stone. I pushed against it with more force and was startled when the entire section fell inside of the structure, revealing an opening little more than a yard square which was straight at its base and arched at its apex. The integrity of the rope around the tower was compromised somewhat by this irregularity, causing the rope to twist alarmingly. Fully expecting to be shaken clear and fall to my death, I admittedly panicked and threw myself through the opening.
I had jarred a shoulder and bruised a hip; however, I hardly felt the individual ailments, added as it was to my catalogue of pain. Now at rest on a stone floor, my limbs felt weighed down like ballast in a galleon, and fire erupted simultaneously in all of my muscles. Blood having rushed to my head caused light-headedness and sharp headache shooting pains. I was aware of my chest heaving and a tightness to my throat. My body was starved of oxygen. Accordingly, I attempted to calm myself and rest for a while. My vision came and went, and I suffered such agony in my back the only option to temporary respite was to curl into a fetal position.
There was acute awareness of a dank, stuffy odour, and something else which my troubled mind had no experience to describe. Cold air and mist was pushing in through the opening, which undoubtedly aided in catching my breath, but it only swept a modicum of the indescribable odour away. For some illogical reason I had expected to discover bones. As I sat up straight to check the floor next to me, a wave of… something washed through my head leaving me feeling nauseated.
Though it was impossible to see more than a few feet in front of me, I fully expected to find a skeleton – or at least the dust of one. Perhaps the mythos of a woman so pure that her light consumed any unfortunate soul who laid eyes upon her was dreamt up aged villagers with nothing better to occupy their minds, given they have no local history of any interest aside from the tower – which they cannot explain. But what explained my fascination – ney, obsession – to the point I was unable to leave the region?
There was another brief scraping sound. However, this came not from the stone of the tower but from the darkness inside. I scrabbled for the covered lantern at my side. Perhaps there was some kind of wild animal inside. Lifting the shields, I held out the lantern before me. The light waned and died. I struck two matches in succession; they both immediately blinked out.
I knew you would come.
I jumped to my feet in shock, pressing my back to the wall one side of the opening as my legs threatened to give way. “Who are you?” I managed to croak.
You know who I am. The voice was deep but both feminine and sibilant.
A thrill of fear or excitement went through me. “God’s Light?”
If that is how you wish to address me.
“Come into the light,” I coaxed it, my voice audibly trembling. The light, such as it was, was meagre to say the least, and emanated from a half-moon almost totally obscured by clouds and further filtered by the ever-present heavy mist.
There came a cacophony of sounds, some more prominent than others. A light tinkling sound was joined by a wet slithering, a creaking as with wood rubbing on wood, a hissing as with laboured breathing, and a curious rattling. Some of them came and went, only to return once more.
Somebody or something had halted just beyond the reach of the light. I found it impossible to fully separate the grey outlines from the black backdrop.
Are you not afraid of being consumed by fire the moment you set eyes upon me? You are indeed a brave man.
“Or a foolish one,” I replied. “However, all roads have led to this moment and for the sake of my own sanity I would like to meet you.”
Are you certain? There is no turning back.
“I am certain though I have no inkling how I will return to the shore.”
Do not fear. I will solve that…puzzle.
This time I was certain I could detect sibilant whispers simultaneous to the unknown entity’s standard vocal tones. The discordant symphony of noises continued as it imperceptibly moved towards me. The figure was a mere yard or two away before I was able to discern its shape anything like clearly.
I was unable to refrain from releasing a single gasp at both the vision and the powerful unidentifiable odour that washed over my senses. She was in essence a shapely female with the body physique of a twenty-year-old. However, there was nothing overtly erotic regarding her nakedness. It was as if she had become fused with an ancient oak tree – set in a trunk which entirely encompassed her form. Roots or tendrils, I knew not which, writhed constantly, maintaining the whole in perpetual motion, if agonisingly slowly. As I studied the form more closely I began to notice many more descriptive details to the conglomerate form. There were mottled and ridged sections to her shape, reptile with bone-like protuberances. Sections of her humanoid skin were piscine, with blended scales and rippling movements. Protrusions, one from each shoulder, were solid and formed from hair as with a rhino’s horn. Molluscs and crawling arthropods filled any spaces on her frame. Smaller insects played around any connections between the amalgamated forms. It was as if all earthbound nature had come together to complete this one singular construct.
Some might have been terrified or disgusted by the countenance of God’s Light. However, I now came to realise the reason every fibre of my being had been directed toward the tower.
Something in my consciousness had pointed me to this one moment in time; the culmination of my life’s work.
Facing myself in a predestined direction reminded me of the compass. Retrieving the object in question from my pocket, I flipped it open. The needle span briefly before pointing unerringly at the feat of nature before me. I was unsurprised by its action.
She must have detected my gasped reaction, because she spoke for the first time in several minutes. Am I not abhorrent? An abomination?
“No,” I replied promptly and in earnest. “You are a beautiful creature.”
“A wonder to behold!”
You speak truly?
“By my life.” The conviction was clear in my tones.
You do not fear me? Her voice carried a minute but unmistakable musical tone in this instance.
I realised at that precise moment, with utmost clarity – however they had achieved the task – God’s Light had been entrapped in the tower, not because her mere visage could cause a veritable conflagration, and not due to her supposedly being the cause of multiple deaths and missing persons, but the locals saw her as an abomination of nature and an insult to God.
Still weak from my exertions, I managed to stumble forwards a little in silent reply to her query.
“Can I touch you?”
Take me in your arms. I have not been held close for so long.
The odours overwhelmed my senses as I moved closer. I discerned dog – probably wolf – bear (certainly, she possessed a heavy fur hide) and a skunk perfume, along with wet grass, wood, and a multitude of others I was unable to determine. Her eyes were a strange blend of hazel and a kaleidoscopic purple which constantly shifted. I was obliged to steel myself against falling into and becoming lost in their depths.
I opened my arms wide, embracing as much of her form as I could reach. As I made contact with my upper limbs and midriff, I both heard and felt a crack as if of brittle china. Cracks appeared over the whole of her form. I took a single step back in alarm. It was impossible, much as I struggled with my depleted strength, to break contact. I confess to shrieking once in distress. Her form then became soft and I found myself sinking into it.
Join us, I heard her say as I was completely cut off from the outside world. I was aware of a new strength suffusing my very being – my soul, as my consciousness and physical body joined with many others. Not only human but animal, amphibian, bird, insect, plant, and even in part, mineral.
Mistakenly believing myself to be swamped, instead I became an equal part of a conglomeration. Instantly, I knew what every other individual knew, and had their instincts added to my own. Of fact, they became a part of me, likewise. Additionally, I acknowledged beyond doubt I had no need of sustenance. We would endure.
Knowledge was one thing, experience quite another. And so we would while away an eternity, remembering each other’s lifetimes until another individual arrived. Perhaps if enough birds came we might escape from our relative incarceration. Hindsight taught me I had undoubtedly been tricked – at least by the old crone in the shop and by the strange boy Jack. However, it mattered not.
My single regret was I would not have the opportunity to write-up these experiences in the journal I always kept in my breast pocket. God’s Light naturally knew of this harboured disappointment, and I discovered shortly thereafter it was possible to disentangle me from the whole every Hunter’s Moon.
So it was that I sat and penned my experiences. These experiences. She was pleased for me to write my story, as it would focus my thoughts for the others. When I had completed my tale, I considered pushing it out through the opening in vain hope it might be discovered before the weather or water destroyed it. I could not do so, however. I was now part of something greater. Hargreaves is no more.
I am Legion, for we are many.
A Dark and Scary Place
The Plot Thickens, by Ty Power (c) 2021. A Brand New, Never Before Seen Humorous Sequence Featuring The Further Adventures of 'Red' Head and Domino. It jumps straight into the action with the end of an adventure and begins a new one. Let me know what you think. Survival of the Thickest below, is available for download.
"I think we've outstayed our welcome!" said Red, his voice edged with hysteria.
Domino was preoccupied but answered anyway. "Yes ..." The old crone never took her eyes from their assailants. "I do concur this is one of those moments when discretion would be the better part of valour."
“Oh, You think?” His voice turned high-pitched and he cleared his throat self-consciously. "Talk about ungrateful! We helped these ... whatever they ares," Red almost spat indignantly. His luxuriant red hair felt clammy with sweat against his neck.
Quietly, the crone said, "Help is as help does."
"What's that supposed to mean? I just wish one day you’d speaks proper English likes me."
Domino gave him a side-long glance, then shrugged. "You help one group, you hinder another."
Red took his eyes off the creatures for the first time. "But we were doing the right thing!"
"Right is relative."
Red scowled, throwing his hands in the air. "Don't start all that again. According to you, everything's relative."
"It is, pretty much."
The thirty-something man sighed theatrically. "What are we going to do to get out of this, old woman? Shouldn’t you be doing something?"
“Apart from panicking, you mean?” Domino narrowed her eyes. "What have you learned about these Aqualloys?"
"They're part metal, part fish."
"They don't move very fast on land. At least they didn't until you built the machine which controls their artificial legs."
"Yes, yes," the old woman tutted impatiently, as if the given information was the most obvious statement ever made. "And?"
"And ..." Red screwed his face up in thought. "And ... And what?"
"And they hunt and attack in packs. One victim at a time."
"So? It’s too early in the day to do all this thinking."
"So, I need a diversion." Domino released one of her best gap-toothed grins, powerful enough to petrify the most hardened criminal at fifty paces.
Red's heart leapt into his throat. Suddenly, he found it difficult to breathe. "Have you seen how fast those things can travel when detached from their legs? I’m not exactly Lynfield Crystal!"
“I think you mean... Never mind.” Domino was momentarily downcast. "I should know how fast they can travel. I enabled them to do it. It may go down as one of my biggest mistakes."
"Come on, old woman, you can't blame yourself. Let me do it for you. You seem to make a habit of mistakes. But I will say one thing in your favour: How was you to know they'd use the ability for warfare." With a jolt he remembered what the old crone was asking of him. "What do you want me to do?"
With slow and deliberate movements Domino fished in her pockets and drew out a strangely-shaped key on a chain. "I want you to run to my mobile home as quickly as you can. I need to get to the signal emitter."
Red doubted he would make it, but nevertheless felt elated, despite the situation, at being entrusted with the key to her precious Marybelle for the first time. "Okay, old timer." He frowned. "Hey, I thought this key only worked for you, you said?"
"Oh." He couldn’t help beaming proudly.
Domino tapped him affectionately on the nose. "See you in a tick." It sounded to Red like a veiled goodbye.
They moved slowly apart. The commune of creatures stayed together but constantly shifted on their six artificial crab-like limbs. Their shark-like heads on torpedo-shaped bodies followed Domino's minutest movements. That is until Red drew their attention.
"Oi, fish faces! Over here!" He jumped up and down, waving his arms like a demented fitness instructor, before immediately turning on his heels and sprinting away in the direction of the mobile home like a greyhound from a trap.
Domino threw herself on the stony ground, protecting her ugly features as the creatures she'd named Aqualloys scuttled and scrabbled past, their tunnel vision sights set unerringly on the fleeing figure of Red. One ran straight over her back, knocking the wind from her lungs, making climbing to her feet again a painful effort. When the vibration of charging metallic legs abruptly stopped Domino knew it could only mean bad news.
The water beings were detaching themselves from the artificial legs and rising slowly into the air. Then they sped away, gaining speed quickly as they went, homing in on the intended target like Cruise missiles.
Housed beneath an open shelter was the machine constructed to enable the Aqualloys to be readily more mobile on land. It had taken more than a week to build using components salvaged from Marybelle and Domino’s own spacious pockets. The design enabled it to operate continuously; the centrepiece signal emitter allowed the creatures to control their artificial legs mentally via an electrical circuit central nervous system. It also gave them airborne freedom for short distances without breaking the link with their legs.
The ability had to be removed.
Running directly to the control panel Domino prised it open and removed the breaker connector she'd installed in case of just such an eventuality as this.
“Nothing happened,” she told herself to prove it.
Her eyes widened in sudden panic. The Aqualloys would be on Red in seconds. He wouldn't stand a chance.
Red was sprinting for all he was worth, and that was a lot as far as he was concerned. Both hands were clenched into fists and his arms pumped like piston rods. His brow was creased in concentration, his eyes fixed on the little mobile home in the distance. Perspiration beads speckled his forehead. He could smell his own sweat and fear; just for once it wasn’t emanating from his underwear. Bacon and eggs fought their way from his stomach up in to his throat. To look behind would be to consolidate the fear in his heart; sight of the pursuit would surely turn his limbs to lead. So he stared steadfastly forward as if fixated on the khaki covered shapely rear end of Sheena, who had accompanied Domino and Red in the nonsense with the calendars and the dimensional breakdowns. The blood rushed in his ears and a curious electric-spark clicking noise sounding in his head, like a clock ticking off the seconds to his own personal doomsday. Why did he listen to that crone? He had to start a new life sooner or later. There was only so long he could hold on to her coat tails.
At first he thought the new whistling was in his head, too, but when it became more pronounced and shifted in pitch to counterpoint other similar sounds, Red realised it was death on his heels. He had already met Death, and he he had no wish to catch up on past times. He had no idea whether the creatures were issuing shrill war cries or it was merely the wind in an effect like that heard when an aircraft passed by overhead. What he did know was they were quickly gaining on him.
Reaching the brow of a hill Red threw himself over the top. It was too steep on the other side to keep his footing for long. The loose, uneven ground and his sheer momentum caused him to slip and roll. Trying to ignore the sharp scree which dug into his hands and face, he managed to roll on to his feet and continue running to the bottom of the hill. Now that he was on lower ground the mobile home appeared to be larger and closer. Maybe he would make it after all. But the cacophony of droning noises was much louder now, threatening to overload his senses.
Fifty more metres.
The leather jacket Red wore was puffed out with trapped air, as if he was swimming in his clothes. He could surely run faster without it, but didn't have the time or strength to remove it.
Forty metres more.
How long would it take to place the key in the lock, open the door and get inside?
Red strained his hearing to enable him to judge the last possible moment before they would be upon him.
With a shout of anguish he threw himself to the ground, unaware that he was mimicking Domino’s actions of only moments before. One hand protected his head, whilst the fingers of the other reached imploringly for the out of reach sanctuary of the mobile home.
The old woman was knocking her forehead with the heel of one hand. "Think!" she implored herself.
Electing to take the unsophisticated but direct approach she looked frantically around for an implement with which to sabotage her own work. When she caught sight of the collapsible walking stick she still held in one hand she unhesitatingly opened it out and stabbed it, like a sword, into the control panel. She was instantly rewarded with a shower of sparks. For good measure, she thrust it in three more times. Then she bridged two wafer circuits and a flame appeared. Only when the fire had taken hold of the signal emitter machine did she turn away.
"Elementary, my dear Domino." Her smug expression immediately slipped to one of grave concern. She knew she had forgotten something important. Now, what was it?
"Red?" she muttered under her breath.
At the same moment that Red made the target of himself as small as possible on the ground, the maddeningly shrill cries abruptly ceased. There was a brief hiatus and then it was raining shark-like fish.
One of them fell across Red's legs and he quickly kicked it off in disgust and defiance. "Yuck! I've always hated fish!" Deprived of both their legs and their short-term powers of flight they lay like beached wales, trying desperately to make it back to sea.
Domino appeared and pulled him up with a surprising show of strength. "Quickly, inside Marybelle."
"Cheers, old woman, I'm fine. Thanks for asking."
"Red!" She pressed the key he still held into the lock, twisted his wrist to open the door and pushed him through in front of her.
"I could've been brained by one of those flying thingies."
Domino was flitting about like a bee around flowers.
Something impacted with the outside of the vehicle and the resulting vibration shook them to their knees.
"What the hell was that?!" Red exclaimed.
"I rather suspected this might happen. It's their god."
Red was incredulous. "You've managed to upset a god?"
"It's another species indigenous to this dimension, but they worship it as their god. Probably because it's extremely large." She looked solemn for a moment, but then smiled. "Don't worry, it can't get in. Marybelle is very nearly indestructible."
There was another almighty impact and a rasping, scraping sound like fingernails on a blackboard magnified a hundredfold.
"You sure," said Red worriedly.
The crone shrugged, only slightly concerned. "You see, Red, the thing about indestructibility is ..."
"It's relative? Well, I don’t believe any of this nonsense. Just get in the driver’s seat and get us out of here please. Wherever 'here' is."
"Why can't we ever go anywhere without getting into mischief? It's like the world hates you. Not just the world but the entire universe!"
"Well, thanks for the appreciation," Domino muttered. "I don't get involved unless I can help matters."
"But you're supposed to help matters get better, not worse," stressed Red.
"Well, I think it's time we had some rest and relaxation, and this is just the place. The old crone gestured out of the windows.
Red followed her gaze. "I'm not even going to ask how we've moved a great distance without you even driving anywhere. You'll probably tell me some rubbish like Marybelle has a velocity time drive and, although we only think we've arrived, we'll avoid going somewhere else soon."
"What on earth are you going on about, Red?"
"Are we in my reality now?"
Domino pulled out a long curly hair from her warty nose, sneezed twice in reaction and finished by wiping her nose along one sleeve. Red waited for some kind of explanation, but all she said was, "What is real?"
"Real is relative," said Red sarcastically.
"Now you're getting it," the old witch congratulated him. She slapped him on the back, nearly knocking him into next Tuesday. "We're here to visit a friend of mine."
"Where's 'here'?" All he could see out of the window was a non-descriptive field and a pub in the distance.
"This is Kent, the garter of England."
"I think you mean 'Garden' of England," Red corrected her.
"You obviously haven't been to the same parts I have. You've missed an experience if you haven't visited the three sisters, April, May and..."
"Ah, no. February."
Red snorted. "February? Nobody's called February."
"I'm sure she'll appreciate your reassurance."
"Anyway, they sound like the Stygian Witches. No wonder you get on so well with them."
Domino tutted loudly and waved a hand dismissively. "This is Kent, the Garden of England." She gestured more grandly this time, before pausing momentarily for reflection. "Well, we're not exactly in the heart of the county, but you can't have everything, can you?"
Before Red could reply, Domino snatched-up her bag and collapsible walking stick and opened the door. "Come on, slow coach!" she cackled.
Red ran to catch her up. "This is your idea of relaxation, is it?"
"A brisk walk? Of course. There's nothing like it! A spot of lunch first, I think." The old crone pointed with her collapsible walking stick towards the pub. "Look, it's called The Village Idiot. You should feel at home here, Red."
Red didn't benefit her with an answer.
The interior was fairly full for an isolated establishment. A sure sign of popularity, you would think. It was traditional in its decor; what some people like to call spit and sawdust. However, Domino positively reveled in the low oak beams, open fireplace and display of brass workmanship.
"This calls for a ploughman's lunch, wouldn't you say?"
"Can't we have our own?" moaned Red.
"Boom. Boom!" She cackled again like a witch, startling a leaving patron's dog. It took off yelping and dragging its terrified owner behind it. "You know, Red, your education is severely lacking in certain areas. Just tell me what you prefer, ham or cheese."
"Ham, of course!" Red nudged her unexpectedly, causing her to step on someone's foot. The giant yokel turned to confront his aggressor. The old crone smiled at him and Red could almost see the man's blood freeze in his veins.
"My fault," he told her.
Red followed as Domino pushed her way through to the bar. "Ham," she muttered. "I should have known that was your life's philosophy."
Red's eyes lit up when he spotted the real ales. "Ah, barman." An overweight but physically threatening man who looked like he'd shared a pot with a boiling lobster ambled over.
"Two ploughman's lunches, if you please," said the old woman. "One with ham, the other with your finest English Cheddar. And two glasses of..."
"Ah, no. Lemonade will be fine, thanks."
"You've got Satan's Armpit!" stressed Red.
The barman looked at him suspiciously, but couldn't help taking a took under both arms. He briefly displayed a sweaty shirt. "Well, I do work very long hours, you know!"
"No..." Red waggled a finger at one of the pumps. "The real ale. Satan's Armpit. It's the best thing ever. I'll have a pint of that please barman."
"Oh, right. Satan's Armpit. I was hoping someone would get around to drinking that. Here you are, sir, and here is your drink, Mother Witch. Not so much lemonade as medical aid if you drink too much of it."
Domino and Red picked up their respective drinks.
"Are you outsiders?" asked the barman.
"We were," answered Red, "but now we're inside."
While the barman was still thinking about that, Domino and Red carried their drinks over to secure an uneven circular wooden table.
The food arrived surprisingly quickly. The barman brought it over himself. The ham was composed of thin slices still sealed in plastic.
"I see your food is locally sourced!" quipped Red.
The barman put ham fists on hips - which seemed appropriate. "That's right. The local supermarket sells it to us." He stormed off.
Red picked-up a piece of lettuce which looked like it had been stomped on a few times and then rinsed under a tap. "What's this supposed to be?"
"Hmm. It does look a little sorry for itself," the old crone agreed. "I always say there's nothing like a ploughman's lunch, and this is nothing like a ploughman's lunch."
As they picked selectively at the food a commotion erupted. Disgruntled patrons complained as an iron-grey-haired man forced his way recklessly between them. His eyes were wide with fright, his mouth gaping. He stumbled with little or no coordination; drunk perhaps, but on alcohol or fear-induced adrenaline?
"He's not going to be on Strictly-Come-Falling-Over-On-Ice-Get-Me-Out-The-Jungle any time soon," commented Red.
As the man tripped over a trailing leg, he fell headlong across their table. Surprisingly, the rickety wood held. One of his hands landed on Red's ham ploughman's.
"Oi," Red protested. Pushing at the man once, he slid his chair away from the table, protecting his precious pint of Satan's Armpit.
In contrast, Domino was both curious and concerned. "Are you alright, old chap?" she asked.
"I'm alright, I suppose. But my lunch will never be the same!"
"Not you, Red," hissed Domino. "It's not always about you, you know!"
"Well, actually it seems to be mostly about me. At least from my point of view."
The stricken man's eyes stared at the old crone as if she'd just arrived from another dimension. That much at least was true.
As the stranger extricated himself from the table, Domino ended up with a plateful of salad and cheese in her lap. But she didn't seem to notice. Despite appearing to be three times his age, she helped the troubled man to his feet. Just as quickly, two younger men arrived to mysteriously usher the man away.
Domino watched them, frowning in thought.
"It's all go here, isn't it," said Red into the silence. He looked at the old woman and recognised the distracted look.
"Hey, we're here to see your friend, remember? What's her name again?"
"Hmm?" The old woman shook her head. "Yes, yes, of course. Shall we go? And her name's Coral Reef."
"You're making that up. No one's called Coral Reef."
"I am not!" she stated indignantly. "She has a nice little line in producing and selling Barrier Cream."
Deftly, Domino managed to return all of her food to the plate in one movement. She brushed a few crumbs from her tweed skirt and made for the door. She was mildly disappointed to discover that the two men from the pub had vanished with their charge.
"Waste not, want not," Red mumbled to himself before tipping half the pint of Satan's Armpit down his throat in one go. He frowned at the glass for a second or two, and then lapsed into a half-coughing, half-retching fit.
"Keep it down, will you," shouted the barman. "We still have some of that muck to sell."
"Keeping it down is precisely what I'm trying to do."
Red exited The Village Idiot to find Domino striding purposefully back towards the mobile home she liked to call Marybelle. He puffed his way up to her, still clearing his throat from the off-beer.
"Aren't we going the wrong way?" He wanted to know.
"Coral Reef lives over that way. About four miles."
"You made us walk the wrong way when we still have four miles to go?!"
The old woman's smile made Red's flesh creep for just a moment. "After our shenanigans with the Aqualloys, we've arrived back in the right county in the right country in the right dimension, and we're only four miles away from where we should be. To my mind, that's a bullseye. Besides, the walk will do you good: stretch your legs, put some fresh air in your lungs. Goodness knows, you expel enough of the stuff.
They had walked barely half the distance to the cottage of Coral Reef when Domino said, conversationally. "Don't look now, but we're being followed.
Red tensed but resisted the urge to look behind him. How can you be so sure, Sherlock?"
"This isn't exactly the well-trodden path to Piccadilly Circus, is it? But there's one way to find out. See that little lane that offshoots to the left? We're going to walk casually around the corner and wait to see who comes to visit."
This was the nearest they had come to the centre of the village. Domino crouched behind an overgrown hedge, doing her very best to keep Red quiet for a few seconds. When her back began to ache she stood up and walked to the corner. There wasn't a single soul within sight in any direction.
Red chuckled rather cruelly. "You can't be right all the time. But once in a while would make a change."
Confused, the old woman dug both hands into the pockets of her tweed jacket. She frowned, surprised now as she removed a sheet of paper.
Domino turned somewhat subdued. "I don't know. A letter of some sort, perhaps" As she unfolded it, Red pulled down her arm so he could read it at the same time.
"It appears to be a letter to a man's lady friend... He works for a research centre of some sort... Disillusioned... Security overbearing... Little or no results... Thinking of leaving, etc, etc.
Red prodded the paper. "Have you seen the addressee at the top?"
She nodded. "Coral Reef. Quite a coincidence, wouldn't you say?"
"Your life seems to be plagued with them," said Red miserably. "At least we can return it to her."
"Not yet," said the old crone. "I want to return to that public house. The letter was obviously planted on me in there - possibly by the man who man who made friends with your ham ploughman's."
"But he was dragged away. He'll be miles away by now... Hopefully."
"Don't be such a damp squibb. Come on, The game's afoot!" Amazingly, she actually started jogging."
"You're doing this on purpose!" Red accused her. "I feel like an old hound being taken on an unwanted walk."
When they reached a field near to the mobile home, Domino stopped, lifting her warty nose to the wind. "Do you smell something?"
"Only my burning feet," complained Red, miserably.
"That's it exactly," Domino exclaimed.
"Burning." She lifted a bent forefinger to the wind. "This way, I think." Taking two steps, she abruptly spun on her heel and marched off in the opposite direction.
"Do you you mind if I sit this one out?" asked Red, only half joking. "I'm overdue for my afternoon nap, you see."
"Nonsense. Aren't you just a little curious?"
What they came across caused Red to turn away and retch. He made acquaintance with his pint of Satan's Armpit again. Domino, in contrast, bent down and began examining - even prodding - the cadaver. The body was burnt almost beyond recognition. The hair was gone, the eyes burnt away to the sockets. The head was scorched red in some areas and crispy black in others. It was difficult to see where the remaining clothing ended and the skin began.
"I know this Guy!" announced Red.
"That isn't even funny," Domino admonished him. But she knew it was a defence mechanism.
"You know, this really is quite interesting," she said.
"If you like that sort of thing," countered Red, holding a well-used tissue over his nose and mouth. A thought suddenly struck him. "It's him, isn't it? The man in the pub."
"Yes, I rather think it is," Domino answered, looking up. "How did you know?"
"Your affinity with coincidences," Red told her.
Peering more closely at the body, Domino commented, "One thing I can say without any doubt is that this man didn't die accidentally."
Red cleared his throat self-consciously. "Ah, Domino?"
"No, he was quite clearly shot and then set ablaze." She shook her head. "Quite horrible."
"Domino!" Red spoke with more insistence.
The old woman turned her head to see a forty year-old, grey-bearded man standing next to Red. He was dressed formally in a suit and tie.
"Moon," said the newcomer.
"I'd rather not, if it's all the same to you," answered Red.
"Detective Inspector Moon."
"Yes, two of them, actually."
Domino offered a hand to shake and a forced smile of reassurance. "I realise what this must look like."
The inspector just looked at her, before turning his attention to the body. "What does this look like?"
"We discovered this unfortunate gentleman on our shortcut across the field." She offered no other explanation.
Is that your mobile home... ah, madam?"
"Well, yes, I'm guilty on that score, I'm afraid. Don't worry, Marybelle will be moved soon."
"Are you some kind of amateur sleuth? You look like Miss Marple, only twice her age and twice as ugly."
The old crone didn't answer and he didn't press her. The inspector pulled-out a phone and requested Scene Of Crime Officers, an ambulance and transport to take two people into custody. Then he took Red to one side.
"What's your name? asked Moon.
"Red Head," he answered.
Moon frowned. "Are you sure it's not Dick?"
"I'm sure," snapped Red far too quickly. He sighed. "We have nothing to do with this body except finding it."
"That has yet to be established. But your friend..."
The Inspector stopped in mid-sentence, looking around him in confusion. It seemed impossible in the middle of an open field, but the strange old woman had simply disappeared.
Suddenly coming to his senses, Moon grabbed Red by the arm as if afraid he too might evaporate.
"Thanks a lot, you old witch!" Red moaned into the emptiness.
Copyright © 2017 - 2021 A Dark and Scary Place - All Rights Reserved.