Saturday, 28 November 2015
Friday, 20 November 2015
Cannot sleep my lady? Then draw close to the candle and listen.
I will tell you a tale of the old old days there were not in fact so long ago as you would hope.
The King in those days had two sons. The eldest son, the heir was a foul creature, handsome enough to look upon but nobody could long bear his presence without wanting to flee him or strike him. The King indulged his eldest son and the people suffered for it, but not so much that they would rise up and turn horror into anger.
In those days a traveller came through the wood, astray in the dark heart of it, lost and cold. Each path mocked him with its turns and every way he took brought him back across his own earlier path. If he called on the Virgin for guidance she did not hear him or choose to answer.
The denizens of that house were several and they were foul welcoming him with mocking eagerness, complimenting the length of his limbs and the strength of his frame and the beauty of his features. They themselves were short and twisted things, pale and half formed with faces that called to mind the slack hanging faces of the dead. They dragged him into their hovel and sat him at their table. They all assured him that his presence honoured their dreadful cottage, all except for one more malformed than the rest who lacked the power of speech and simply rested his bulbous head on the table and damped the wood with his drooling.
He ate their rancid meat and drank their fusty water as hospitality demanded and he felt his stomach rebel but his manners kept the foul mess down.
And then they offered him a treat fit for a prince. The offer was made with leering smiles and wicked hints of tone and gesture. Behind the cottage there was a path of pale cobbles half buried in the mud, white and brittle they looked and his feet slipped on them as the creatures swarmed him toward their goal, a clearing in the woods like a bald patch on a diseased scalp. There was a slab there, a stone altar, rough and cruel and well used. The old worshippers had altars like this before their gods were purged with fire and salt. There on the altar was a maiden, still and pale and as the stories would have you be assured, fair beyond measure.
The stranger demanded to know what was meant by it, how these misshapen brutes should come to have the company of a woman so unmarred. The creatures smiled, or scowled or drooled according to their nature and the leader of them explained in sly words how they were commissioned to the work by a great man, and that the lady was a pleasure fit for a prince.
The prince, they explained, would not visit until later and so if the gentleman visitor wished he could avail himself of the lady. A modest donation to their coffers would suffice.
The stranger drew his sword and butchered the monsters. Their pale flesh parted beneath his steel, their limbs fell jointed to the ground. They did not resist even so much as a child might and died in confusion that their gift should be so scorned. When they fell dead the stranger tried to rouse the lady and found that no power short of the final trump on the day of resurrection could do so. She was cold and still and would never rise again from that brooding stone. What surgeon’s art had preserved her in so fair a condition he did not dare imagine.
He did not hear the prince, the heir approach. The young man was grievously wounded as the prince slashed his face back and forth with his dagger decrying him as a slayer of his loyal and secret servants, and demanding of him where he would find his cold pale brides now.
And that is the tale I have told. I do not know if you smile or frown at it, for my brother’s blade took my eyes that night so long ago, when our father still lived.
In the morning I will bring you your breakfast to fit you for your journey.
Blow out the candle when you are ready my lady.
In response to Our Write Side's prompt - Creepy Seven Dwarves
Monday, 9 November 2015
Edmund Jenkin was not an old man but he was weary and reaching the end of his resources. He had been waiting for his caller who was overdue by an hour and he was worried. The weather was bad but that was not what concerned him. What concerned him was that the time was bad, the days were bad, the enemy was breaking through in ways they could not have imagined a decade ago and he was concerned that these were the final days.
When he saw Jacob’s car draw up in his driveway he was not so much relieved as resigned. There was still work to be done. When he opened the door to his visitor though he shook his head.
“You should not have brought the boy,” he said to Jacob. The child was about ten years old and seemed hidden inside a hooded coat at least one size too large, playing some game on a smartphone that was occupying his full attention.
“No choice Ed,” said Jacob, “His mother’s busy, I couldn’t leave him behind.” The two visitors entered the house and Edmund disposed of their coats over a couple of hooks in the hallway.
“What’s your name then?” asked Edward of the child, smiling awkwardly.
“Simon,” said the boy, “What’s your wifi password?”
“Wi…? I don’t think I have one.”
The boy’s father laughed at Simon’s horrified expression and installed him in the parlour while the two men went into Edmund’s study, a cluttered room of books and folders and strange drawings pinned to the wall. Jacob recognised some of the things in the drawings and they made him feel ill.
“It’s getting worse isn’t it?” he said.
“Much worse. The stars are right and the old ones are stirring in their strange homes. Their followers are awaiting their return. Already there are manifestations.”
Jacob nodded, running his fingers over a pinned up pencil sketch of a formless bundle of ropy sinew. “There was a shoggoth in the Humber Estuary,” he said very quietly, “we drove it off but it killed Elaine. Marcus hasn’t spoken since then. I think he’ll do something… rash… if he’s left alone. That’s why Sarah’s not here today, she’s watching him.”
Edmund shook his head sadly. “I heard of that. The television said it was a chemical spill. And the incursion in Fiswick?”
“They took a dozen of the citizens, nothing we could do. Dragged them under the waves. Edmund… how are they doing it? They’ve never been able to accomplish so much before.”
“The stars are right,” Edmund said. He opened up a book on his desk, a very old book with brown and cracking pages. Jacob knew the name of the book but wouldn’t ever say it aloud, its reputation was so bad. The page displayed was covered in spidery symbols, pen-strokes of dark ink that almost writhed under the reader’s gaze. “But even so… the simplest conjuration takes such concentration, such precision.” He instinctively tried to trace one of the symbols with his finger in the air and stopped himself, clenching his fist angrily.
“We need to find a way to…” Jacob sighed, “I’m stating the obvious. What isn’t obvious is how to stop them. But until we find their rituals, find out where they’re doing the summoning from we’re always going to be on the defensive.” He picked up a copy of the Daily Mail, the headline CANNIBAL IMMIGRANT RAMPAGE showed a blurry image of what were plainly – to those in the know at least – two ghouls tearing into the crowd after a London football match. “How did they get so bold? How did they get so much better?”
“People believe everything and nothing these days,” Edmund said sadly, “the occult is a joke to so many. They do not understand how the edge of the abyss can crumble so quickly, how deep is the fall that awaits us all. If only we-“ He stopped suddenly and looked around. The lights flickered off and then on again a few seconds later and the walls of the house seemed to groan. The renewed light was wrong somehow, a greenish cast to it, the shadows fell wrongly, drawing inward toward the centre of the room.
“They’ve found us,” Edmund said, his mouth dry with fear. He fumbled with one hand at the talisman he kept in his waistcoat pocket, a silver square engraved with number-squares that should be proof against the chaotic forces they too-often faced. The silver felt slimy to the touch, sticking to his fingers. “My God they’ve found us.”
Jacob ran from the room to fetch his son. Whatever danger they had to face they would face together and he could not risk them using his child against him. The corridor had twisted like a corkscrew along its length though it looked no different and as Jacob tried to run down it he fell from floor to wall to ceiling bruising himself and having the breath knocked out of him.
“Simon!” he yelled at the parlour door, “Simon are you alright?” His words burned like ochre light in the air around him as he called. The answering cry was petulant.
“Just finishing the level,” in a tone that meant ‘do not disturb me’
Jacob crawled to the door across a carpet that tore at him like shards of broken promises and he thrust the door open. Simon was safe though the room around him had become a twisted mosaic of its original form. The boy hadn’t even looked up from his game and Jacob lurched forward to grab his son, to save him, to take him back to Edmund who was the most skilled exponent of the arcane arts he had ever met and who might be able to protect them all. A scream the colour of corroded dreams echoed out from the study giving the lie to that hope.
“Dad, leave it, I’m nearly done,” The boy was unaware of any risk, his finger moving rapidly over the smartphone screen, and Jacob looked at the game for the first time, really looked. Each time a shimmering green symbol appeared on the screen the boy traced it almost at once with his finger, and then the next, and then the next and the next, the speed incredible, the accuracy such that only a child with a favourite game could achieve.
Jacob recognised the symbols, but he could not stop the child at his game. He did not have time. The walls of the room opened inward like slatted blinds, noiseless and inevitable, and the things beyond the world looked in hungrily and took them both.
Friday, 6 November 2015
Eddie was a bright guy. I met him at college where he was studying literature and poetry and he had a real passion for it all. He had a gift with words and loved a well crafted phrase loaded with booby-trap cleverness. Away from his subject though, away from the sphere of words and ideas he was different, quiet and withdrawn. He never really spoke about it, because people didn’t back then, but we all figured he was suffering from depression or some similar condition. He’d go through periods of quiet withdrawal and become a mostly silent presence in our groups and gatherings, perfectly polite and amiable but offering nothing except for the occasional clever spark of wordplay or wit that he couldn’t resist breaking through. I suggested a couple of times, gentle as you like because Eddie could take offense easily, that he got help and that we only wanted him to be happier. “I’m okay,” he’d say, or “I’m doing fine.” And he’d smile and act better around me for a couple of days just to shut me up.
He mistrusted doctors. He mistrusted medication fearing I think that it would make him less himself, or dull his wits somehow.
And then he improved. His mood lifted and stayed lifted, he began to smile more and laugh more, and to suggest things to us all, things we could do together. We were all so pleased at this change that we said yes to practically everything he suggested and our little group made excursions to the coast, to the theatre and even to poetry recitals at his instigation. The seaside trips and theatre outings were good, let’s leave it at that.
Then the Daily Mail ran one of their shock horror headlines. “Killer Drug Targets Mentally Ill”. Underneath the lurid screaming type was the typical scare story about something new that would undoubtedly bring British society to its knees. This week it wasn’t immigrants or left wing economics or young people listening to music, it was a new drug available over the internet (“When will ISPs hand over all their customer data to the police?” the article raged) that was supposedly a miracle cure for a wide spectrum of affective mental disorders. It was called Claritas, or Focus, or half a dozen other names and its exact source was unknown. The drug arrived (“shipped from clandestine sources” the Mail reminded us) in small black boxes with a yellow logo and users experienced a new sense of drive and enthusiasm for life. The article broke down at that point and started the usual rant about foreign influences, scroungers, the work-shy and people unable to stand on their own two feet. The last paragraph wiped the spittle from its chin and mumbled about untested, unlicensed pharmaceuticals and the risk of side effects. The USA it pointed out smugly had banned Claritas outright.
I mentioned it to Eddie later that day, thinking only to share our usual mockery of the gutter press and its hamfisted propaganda. Instead of joining in though he scowled and said quite bitterly that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Claritas, he said, had changed his life.
That surprised me. He’d always been cautious about drugs, medicines, even artificial sweeteners and he was the last person I would have expected to try something so unregulated from a peculiar online source. How are things going with that, I asked carefully. He lit up.
“Going great,” he said, “I can think again. I can enjoy the world around me. When I look at a flower I don’t just see the flower anymore.”
I asked him to explain.
“I see the flower behind the flower,” he said with a big grin, “the real flower. It’s hard to explain. I suppose you get in habits of thought, you see what you expect to see. When you look at a lily you see your own idea of a lily. Since I started taking Claritas I see the lily itself.”
“The lily without the mask?” I suggested liking the image. He liked it too and agreed. I heard him using the imagery himself several times afterward. The world, he said, was made up of masks and it was good to be able to see its face now.
It was a month later that I saw another change in Eddie. He’d turned up for one of our regular gaming nights but he was quiet again and I wondered if his depression had settled on him again, if the black dog had bitten. If it had it was worse than before and he seemed sullen and defensive the whole evening, barely speaking except when forced to and with irritation when he did. I wanted to ask if he was okay, if there was anything I could do, but the awkwardness of it all and the fear that he’d be upset by my intervention made me hold back. He looked at me as I held back and just shook his head, answering a question I hadn’t asked.
He came a couple more times to the gaming nights over the next month and then just stopped. We were all worried but nobody liked to intrude on him, especially if he was having a hard time. I left him a couple of falsely cheery voicemails asking him to get in touch and received only a curt SMS “Am ok” in return after a couple of days. And then the Daily Mail ran another front page article about Claritas. “Internet Drug Death Horror”. A photograph of a pretty young woman with a glass in her hand and the caption “SONIA IN HAPPIER DAYS – Parents blame Internet Death Pedlars”. The article was the usual stuff but upsetting. The woman had a history of depression and had recently perked up, attributing her improvement to Claritas which she’d purchased online. She’d recently started becoming withdrawn and isolated and had posted a final message on her Tumblr account saying “I don’t want to see any more.” And then she’d jumped, and fallen, and died. The Mail pointed out with glee that it had been warning about the dangers of the internet for years and that the government should certainly step in to restrict access to pornography and extreme beliefs and everything else that our grandparents would have objected to on the basis of being immoral or too foreign. It also quoted some of Sonia’s previous blog entries and her growing fascination with and then fear of what she described as “veils over the truth.” They were, she wrote, being stripped away one by one and the joy of understanding she wrote of in her earlier posts was being slowly replaced with a growing paranoia.
This reminded me too much of Eddie and his experiences. I called him there and then inventing some cheery excuse to use while the phone rang. It went through to his voicemail and I didn’t bother leaving a message. I took a bus and walked from the station toward his house. I was so worried for Eddie I barely noticed that here and there I was having to walk round people in the street, people standing still and not doing anything, just not doing anything. Other pedestrians were walking around them in the sleepwalking shopping trance common to people in cities and I suppose I was doing the same. Eddie was standing outside his house, just standing there in his garden. He had a packet in his hand a black packet with a cryptic yellow sign on it and no other markings.
I called his name and he didn’t respond. His face was tilted upward he was looking at the clouds, a typically grey skyscape for the time of year. He was just looking, but so intently it was unsettling. I could not remember seeing him pay that much attention to anything, not even in his college days. His lips were moving but he was making no sound. I touched his arm and he shook my hand off without breaking eye contact with the emptiness above him. Foolishly, pointlessly I looked around for anyone who could help, though what help I expected a stranger to be able to offer I didn’t know. There were passers-by, but I also saw others like Eddie, others standing statue-still and staring upwards. Six or seven on this street alone, just standing and looking upward with such perfect focus and attention while everyone around just moved on and noticed nothing outside their own heads.
I called Eddie’s name again more urgently, asked him if he was alright.
“Time for what?” I said, “Eddie, look at me.”
“We have all laid aside disguise but you,” he said and there was a tone in his voice, a hint that he was quoting something and not speaking for himself.
And then he spoke more clearly, four words only, loud and strong and clear, and those four words were spoken at once by every one of the other upward staring visionaries in the street, and in the city, and as I somehow knew all across the world, an answer given from some unknown other who spoke through the voices of tens of thousands.
“I wear no mask”
In answer to the prompt "Peculiar" at Studio30Plus and the image of lights in the sky at Light & Shade Challenge
Thursday, 5 November 2015
(Originally posted in July 2013, resurrected here in honour of Halloween and my recent Lovecraft revitalisation)
|Image by Stephen Bickham at www.freeimages.com|
You look a little tense. I think I know why. It’s because this is a fairground, and fairgrounds are a little… disturbing aren’t they?
I don’t take it personally any more, but do try to relax a little while we chat. A lot of people find fairgrounds spooky, don’t they. Have you seen how many horror novels and films have them as settings? Theme parks or circuses too, I suppose. All part of the same set of tropes.
There’s a lot of reasons for that.
Firstly I suppose there’s an element of the Outside about fairgrounds. They come and they go, and the people who run them are not settled like most people. They travel. They arrive, they set up, they take your money in exchange for some rare entertainment and then off they go again leaving only muddy grass behind. Maybe that triggers the deep deep fear of the outsider, the stranger. The sense that these people are not like us and maybe they’re not playing by the same rules. Could be a touch of racism in there too, eh? Ever hear Cher singing Gypsies tramps and thieves. Love that song by the way. Papa would have shot him if he knew what he'd done. Makes the hairs on my arms stand up that line, imagining what had gone on.
Then there’s the experience of the fairground itself. It’s out of the normal isn’t it? Not a habit. It’s a place that’s only there at certain times, so it’s always a little bit different, and not part of everyday life. Like a dream, all show and no substance, with bright coloured facades over grimy old cabins. Fun and flashy entertainment that, like fairy gold, is not all it seems. In the morning... it’s all faded away and a little bit tawdry.
Perhaps that’s why people find fairgrounds disturbing.
Or perhaps it’s the nature of the attractions. A maze of mirrors, all dark and distorted, and the lingering suspicion that the contorted dwarf or gangly giant in the mirror may be slightly more… real… than the you that is doing the looking, the soul of you, not so pretty as you'd like to think. And then there are the laughing clowns in their booths who are probably, almost certainly, most likely mechanical. But you don’t want to look too close at their hungry eyes just in case.
I’ve been running fairgrounds for most of my life now, travelling all over with them. Nobody knows more about them than I do, and really they’re very prosaic. Just another type of workplace that’s all. I’ve seen, oh, tens of thousands of visitors? Hundreds of thousands? Possibly more, who can say. And they come and they go; some of them wide eyed and wondering, some of them grumpy and bitter, some of them… like you… with a little bit of that old fear growing and spreading just behind their eyes and wondering just why you’ve always found fairgrounds to be so very unsettling.
Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. All those things I mentioned combining together and growing like a venomous pearl around a tiny piece of grit, some old truth, some real nastiness that once happened in such a place, at such a time long ago. More than once maybe. And the pearl swells and grows and glistens nastily and before you know it… Fairgrounds are spooky. So unfair really, stops you enjoying yourself.
Fairgrounds are places where you should be able to enjoy yourself. I do. I enjoy my life in my fairgrounds immensely. Every new stop brings new joys.
Fairgrounds are places where you should be able to enjoy yourself. I do. I enjoy my life in my fairgrounds immensely. Every new stop brings new joys.
Like you. You’re a joy just to look at, lying there all relaxed and… well not exactly calm, perhaps, but certainly… limp.
I know you can’t close your eyes, but try to focus on the music, such pretty music, while I change.
Do you want to know the real reason people find fairgrounds scary? Spooky? Disturbing? All the way back to the first travelling oddities that roamed in the shadows when the pyramids were new. Do you know why, even then, the fairground people were looked at sideways and rushed out of the bazaars, and why people dreamed a little bit darker when the show was in town?
It’s because of me. Always me.
There. All changed. The mirror-me, you could say.
Wednesday, 4 November 2015
(originally posted in response to a Trifecta prompt in 2013, reposted here in honour of Halloween and my recent resurgence of interest in all things Lovecraftian)
|Image by Jon Spencer of www.freeimages.com|
It was boredom that drove me. The drugs were simply for something to do. Acid, peyote, salvia, shrooms, they were all just things to do. I’d read Castaneda, and Huxley, and the others. The mysticism of it passed me by, the experiences all I wanted.
I was introduced to Petrie by the friend of a friend. I loathed him. Petrie was too thin and smiled too much, like Death with a dirty joke he was waiting to shock you with.
“You really want this,” he said and handed me a single blue crystal. It looked like a teardrop and felt like gel. I didn’t ask him what it was, wasn’t interested. He called it “HPL” and laughed.
That night it melted on my tongue, bitter and lingering. I sat and watched static on my television and waited for the effects to kick in.
Time slowed and I could no longer move. Not breathe nor blink nor twitch. Each heartbeat rolled like a peal of thunder taking an hour from start to finish. Even that stopped. The television static was truly still now, a collage of visual gibberish.
I could not stop my thoughts. All else had stopped but not my thoughts. Time had ceased and only thought persisted. There was me, and there was an eternal moment that I would never be free of.
In my mind I screamed for centuries.
And my screams were heard.
The things that live in the gaps between moments came to stare. I cannot describe them, but they felt like the presence of the bereaved. And they came to stare at me like a freak in a sideshow. For milennia they came and soon I knew them all.
“Weep,” said Petrie after ten thousand years, and he pressed a glass tube to my cheek. I blinked then, only once, and a half dozen tears fell and became blue crystal in his keeping.
He smiled and crept away, and left me timeless.
He smiled and crept away, and left me timeless.
As careful readers of my blog may have noted in between the weird stories and disturbing attempts at poetry I have occasionally made reference to my gaming hobby. I've been involved in role playing games since I was a teenager - too many years ago to count without wincing - and most of those years have been spent taking on the role of games-master, referee, dungeon-master, keeper or whatever the term de jour happens to be. Basically in those games of collaborative and communal story telling I always tended to be the one who laid out the framework of the stories, administered whatever rules were appropriate and played all the characters in the universe who weren't played by the players.
It's been a great hobby and I thought I knew it inside out and I suppose I'd become fairly set in my ways. That changed recently and though I've never considered myself to have a particularly narrow outlook on gaming it's started to widen out incredibly. I've looked into new games, new rule types, new genres and it's revitalised my gaming life as I've managed to find myself running games not only for my usual and long term gaming partners but also for their family members, for work colleagues who've expressed an interest and for people across the sea who I've never met except virtually.
There are a lot of reasons for this (displacement from some fairly trying times personally being one of them) but it's been facilitated by my discovery of new vistas of gaming mainly by my recent discovery of podcasts. I have a long commute to and from work and I recently decided to investigate the podcast app on my phone which I'd previously ignored. Were there, I wondered, any podcasts concerning my beloved roleplaying games.
Oh hell yes was the universe's answer.
One in particular has become my favourite.