This book is spawned in dedication to everyone who has ever come up against insurmountable problems and has overcome them.
It is two months after the horror of the fog and the monster in the cavern under the hill in Mingsport in ‘A Fear of the Dark’ and Harold, Bernard, Victoria and Carlton are getting on with their lives. Each has grown with the challenges faced on that fateful evening (in character, not stature. They hadn’t physically got any taller). Outwardly, little had changed except for perhaps an extra pound in weight here or a deepening crowsfoot there but inwardly was a different matter. The mind cocoons its owner from an event. It uses tools such as nostalgia and perspective, where it can. Where it cannot it wraps the event ever more tightly, then locks it away and it distances the owner from it but it is still there. The event faced by each of the characters a mere two months ago is cocooned just so. Each pursue new interests with gusto but they know things have irrevocably changed and know a cocoon sits in the corner of their minds. Whilst busy, they each feel they are waiting.
Being Part II of what is
The Rising Tentacle
Across the cold, fathom-less ocean that stares up like the dead eye of a shark that inhabits it, the calling made its way. It welled up from constricted lungs escaping blue, taught lips. It used whatever mode it could to reach its destination. But in the end, it lost its force, became a shadow of its former self with the journey it had made. It arrived, near void of its intent but for all its failing, a vestige of origin remained, clung to the battered call. It had called. It was heard.
Chapter 1 – The Calling
The clock that stood in the corner of Harold’s room had been mended. It had a tock and it had played happily with the tick for several weeks until it stopped again. All that remained now was an annoying tick, tick, tick and that really ticked him off! Time dragged on like a recalcitrant child on its way to school when all it would rather be doing is going outside to play. Harold scratched at the page with the nib of his pen making ink suffuse beyond the size employed to make his medium quality paper. He liked the pattern it made, wicking its way from the corner of the paper, out into the expanse of white where Harold had written precisely, nothing.
As is the way of these things, whereby humans put such store in the coincidences of daily life and attribute great meaning to them, Harold was musing on the fact of whether a great atrocity at sea could be considered an albatrocity. He was sat at his desk by the window that afforded a view down, out across the town. It was a cold but bright day. Just then, a knock came at the door (it wasn’t just a knock, all on its own, it had an attached fist which was in turn attached to an arm which further attached to the postman). It was a telegram, addressed to ‘Harry’ and read as follows
‘Harry, am in Bristol. Come, quickly before it is too late! Geo.’
Geo referred to George Pilkington-Glass, an old school chum and lifelong friend of Harold’s in England. Harold was born and lived in England before moving out to America and the obscure town of Mingsport. He had had a letter from him about nine months ago telling all about what was happening back home and it had initiated pangs of yearning to visit the old land but they had subsided. Those pangs had now risen, Lazarus-like. ‘I shall go on a boat! An adventure! I wonder what is wrong?’ Harold asked himself. ‘I must pack’.
Harold was animated (no, he wasn’t a cartoon, a hand drawn 2D cel, iterated over time, evolving and telling a story) he had come alive, energised with a purpose beyond the immediate day to day. Since ‘the incident’ as he and his companions now called it, everything had paled into insignificance. He had felt he was now destined for greatness but greatness was pacing itself like a marathon runner whilst Harold felt more like a 100 yard dash man himself. After part-packing a valise (small suitcase to you and me) with a new suit and shoes (he had decided to splash out) he stood it in the hallway. He set out to see Bernard who lived in Quiet Street, down in the town. Secretly he hoped that Bernard would accompany him on his journey of mystery.
‘England you say, well I never. And you have no idea what this Geo fellow wants you for?’ asked Bernard, his interest piqued. Ever since ‘the incident’ Bernard had, like the other members of the group, forged in that pit of terror been at a loss to return to normal, everyday life. He had been keeping himself busy, looking for ‘something’. ‘When do you depart?’ he asked.
‘I hope to leave this Saturday’ said Harold (today being Tuesday).
‘So soon?’ said Bernard quietly, he was calculating timings in his head. ‘I would love to come with you’.
‘You would?’ interjected Harold.
‘Of course, but I have to finalise the exhibition at the Museum for opening on Monday’ Bernard continued. ‘I shall join you by sailing the following Saturday. By then you will have settled in and have an idea of what we’re up against!’
‘Up against? I am not sure we will be up against anything in particular. I mean…’ Harold was cut short.
‘No, I am sure of it. The wording, there is something about it…’ Bernard went off into his own world of reasoning but Harold decided not to follow. He was glad and Bernard was right. Time to settle in, get the lie of the land. If it all turned out to be nothing but a storm in a teacup then very well, they could just enjoy the tea. ‘What about Victoria and Carlton!’ Bernard suddenly exclaimed.
‘What!’ exclaimed Harold back.
‘Well, they must be informed. They will want to come’ Bernard ran on, oblivious of Harold’s reservations which were growing by the second. He suddenly had the vision of a crack team, descending upon the quietness of England, scaring his old school chum half to death when all he wanted was to share a discovery of some new star. ‘Well, I will let them know…’. ‘Leave it to me, you focus upon your departure while I ready things here’ Bernard continued. Harold could see that no amount of discussion could dissuade Bernard from his path and so left, to busy himself with the task of departure the coming Saturday for the country of his birth. By the time he had reached Quayview Cottage the vision of the crack team had dissolved into one of a can with various and increasing worms escaping over its edges, which then somehow twisted and writhed into objects of horror. This in turn sparked the writer in Harold and he reached absently for scratchy pen and ink-stained paper and wrote the title – “The Can of Worms”.
Harold had found out that he would have to journey down to New York and catch the Sailing Ship: The Leviathan. This would depart Saturday evening at 10pm for Southampton, England. He had a ticket awaiting collection in New York and had to set off the very next day to make the sailing.
Bernard had met with Victoria and Carlton at The Sign of the Tentacled Pentacle, the book shop where they had met two months earlier by accident, almost. For Bernard believed that rarely did anything ever happen by accident but rather by someone or something’s design. The book shop had gained a notoriety after the events of ‘the Incident’ and was doing profitably well. Each Bernard, Victoria and Carlton had developed ‘interests’ since the incident; Bernard, until meeting Harold had been working in the local museum as a curator. He was now just completing the finishing touches to his own exhibition at the museum and had published a booklet. Victoria lived with Carlton; he was her brother! The other members of the group were unaware of this fact and Victoria was unaware, that they were unaware! Carlton acted as though he was unaware, he probably was but he was not letting on. She was quite happy running the book shop but did have yearnings for more. What ‘more’ was was still to be explored. She had set up ‘self defence’ classes for women in addition to promoting the book shop. Carlton was lecturing! Two months ago this would have been an anachronism for Carlton for very rarely had he ever spoken. It was the involvement in ‘the incident’ that had awoken something in him. That something was well & truly out of the blankets now and on its way to the bathroom to wash its teeth! Both Victoria and Carlton had been intrigued by Bernard’s description, embellishments and general making up of things fantastical and had agreed to put their affairs in order to enable travel to England the following Saturday. Bernard would complete the preparation of exhibition items for ‘Under the Surface: an ‘exhibition of hidden local history’ at the local Mingsport Museum and would prime his new assistant, Tu Yong. Tu Yong was young but not too young for the task in hand. He was ‘coming along nicely’ as Bernard put it and would rise to the challenge of taking the helm. Victoria would put her classes on hold much to the dismay of the towns women who had come to value their weekly ‘combat training’ sessions. The townsmen weren’t quite sure how it was all going to pan out and were probably secretly relieved about the enforced hiatus. Carlton had a lecture the coming Monday and would postpone future dates until his return.
It may seem incongruous to the reader that each was willing, at the drop of a hat (or other such sartorial accessory) to rush off, across the globe on so little a reason but their thought processes had been subtly altered. They were as if more aware, more in tune. Fear can do this to a person. The horror they had encountered cannot be underestimated.
—– | | —–
In the afterglow, when the sun has dropped from prominence leaving only vestigial amber in the early night sky, terror awakens from its slumber. It summons dark and violence and travels with the aid of fear, seeking the unfortunate. The unfortunate looks to the sky and mistakes the beauty of vision, spread across the heavens, for comfort. It is in fact, the herald of hell.
Chapter 2 – The Sailing
Queueing to retrieve his ticket Harold had taken some time and further queueing to board the ship had heightened a form of mild trepidation that had built since he had realised he was actually travelling. That time was brought into sharp focus when he had to actually start paying for things. The gang plank had hand rails on either side. Harold was pleased there were hand rails, he had worried about it the whole journey down from Mingsport. It was less of a gangplank and more of a walkway he was also pleased to note. It stretched up, before him onto the enormous expanse of what was going to be his home for the journey. People were waving, some with streamers in hand, others gloved and others holding handkerchiefs. He felt the left breast pocket of his jacket and took comfort in finding a fresh, clean handkerchief there. He would not be waving it, but that was of no matter, he was not leaving, he was returning to his homeland and he was caught up in the excitement of journey. He was shown to his cabin, port-side. It was cabin 13, he smiled to himself ‘how fitting’ he thought.
They had sailed on an autumn tide and the boat swayed slightly in the oceanic blue far away from the clutter of land. Looking out from the deck rail he could see the sun striking wave tops momentarily as they rose from the fluid deep, then fell back into its embrace. Although sunny, a chill sea breeze played across the deck of SS Leviathan. It now seemed such a pompous name in view of its dwarfed stature in the expanse of the sea. Boarding the gangplank in New York with its bustle of harbour, he had felt important, entering another world. Now, all he could feel was inconsequential, a bottle cast adrift with no hope of making shore, destined only for the deep grave of the ocean. He walked on as he did each day taking his constitutional something or other…
This morning had broken fine. Sun and sea air lifted the senses. He stood looking out to sea along with other passengers, interspersed along the expanse of wood and metal railing that separated passenger from a cold, lonely death. Harold looked helplessly on as vomit splayed its way across his cream linen jacket.
‘Such a small, dainty person’ he thought and couldn’t believe so much vomit could come out of such a petite mouth.
‘I am so terribly sorry’ said the young woman, ‘it’s just the motion of the boat, Bbwwaarrgghhfff’.
Luckily, this time the trail of what could only be thought of as breakfast this early in the day made its stringing way into the vast blue of the ocean. Harold stood back but proffered his clean, white, pristine hankerchief over to the poor girl to be rendered used. ‘Oh thank you’ said the young woman and wiped her mouth. She looked at the monogram HPL on the hankerchief as she folded it back into a semblance of its former glory. ‘I, I did not realise I was in the company of so esteemed a gentleman. I will clean this and return it forthwith’ she said.
‘Oh, no matter’ said Harold but secretly he was glad he didn’t have the embarrassment of taking the hankerchief back and putting the warm linen into his jacket pocket but then, on reflection it didn’t really matter as his jacket was in need of similar attention to the hankerchief.
‘And I must get your jacket cleaned’ she jumped in.
‘Absolutely no need, I will get it seen to immediately, upon return to my cabin, think nothing of it’ said Harold.
‘You are so kind, I must repay you somehow, before the journey is complete’ said the young woman adorably.
‘Oh, I, well…“ stuttered Harold.
‘I must go and freshen up’ she said and turned slowly to walk off, back to her cabin.
‘Likewise’ said Harold. As he walked off a small cube of carrot dropped to the deck and he stood on it and he could not help thinking that the call of two or three sea birds following the boat sounded like laughter…
On the way to the cabin, a rather grande looking elderly lady promenading with two younger ones looked over at Harold and his carrot-adorned jacket and exclaimed ‘Well! Some people just have no decorum’, tutted and walked off, the two younger women laughing.
‘It’s…’ started Harold but thought better of it and carried on, without further insult to his cabin. The brass number 13 stood proud against the dark brown, varnished wood of the door.
The jacket had been taken care of, a morning drink of coffee and exquisitely made cakes had been brought to his cabin and he was enjoying the sun streaming in through his cabin window, as he sat in a chair by a small table reading his ‘travelling book’. A smart rap at the door broke his concentration, mid sentence where the protagonist had just discovered the body, lain down behind the settee by someone up to no good. A member of the ships crew handed a handwritten card to him, regimentally turned and left.
‘Please accept my invitation to dine this evening. I have booked a table for 7:30 PM. Emma.’.
‘Excellent’ was the first word that went through his mind, closely followed by ‘she wants to eat? Oh my God, she’ll throw up again!’. This was even more closely followed by ‘Oh, she’ll be over that now, won’t she?’.
A table, slightly away from the piano but more importantly away from the door (Harold hated it when people were brushing past you while eating) had been chosen by the young woman, Emma and her beaming eyes acted as a beacon, drawing Harold across the floor. A waiter pulled back the chair opposite Emma and he sat, thanking the waiter and thanking Emma for her kind invitation. Emma was amiable, without a hint of hesitation putting Harold and the meal at ease. This companionship was just what he needed and he was soon tucking into an exquisite meal of lamb. Wine flowed, the music accompanied the evening and people became louder as they drank more and time moved on. Looking around, Harold caught a glimpse of a man sat at a table someways off from them. He could only see the slightest profile from the way the character was sitting but something felt familiar about him. He could not put his finger on anything in particular and then Emma started a new topic of conversation and he dismissed any further thought of the matter. The evening passed extremely pleasantly and effortlessly. Eventually they got up from the table and made out through the doorway to the deck.
‘Thank you for a lovely evening and see, I wasn’t sick once!’ said Emma, then burst into laughter which Harold joined in. She kissed him on the cheek, he blushed, and she went on, into her cabin and Harold turned and walked off with a spring in his step and just before turning the corner he leapt up into the air and tried to click his heels. He didn’t quite manage it though and tumbled to the floor. At just that moment, the elderly lady, along with her two companions stepped into view and horror spread across her face like dirty water wicking up a clean, white hankerchief. ‘Come away girls, it is that dreadful man, I do believe he is drunk again’ she said with maximum disdain. ‘Oh no, It’s not what…’ once again Harold’s explanation tailed off into nothingness as it had before. He felt he had been caught red-handed but he hadn’t done anything, but it was as if he had! The two younger women smiled this time rather than laughed. This tempered Harold’s embarrassment and annoyance a little but he did not realise why.
A knock came at his cabin door. Upon opening it he saw a member of the ship’s crew stood with silver salver, proffering a ship’s telegram. It read
‘Imperative you make for Lyme Regis immediately upon arrival. Have booked room at The New Hotel. Hurry. Geo.’
‘Lyme Regis? I know it from my younger days. Hurry?’, he pictured himself in grimy boiler-suit, shovelling coal in the blast furnace heat and smearing an oily grime on his clean handkerchief. The image melted into the heat of the oven. ‘There is little I can do to hurry’ he thought.
Several days had passed and they had passed pleasantly. Emma had firmly attached herself to Harold like a limpet below the Plimsoll line on The Leviathan as it made its way through the Atlantic. Harold had liked it. He had found out she was destined for the same place as he now was; Lyme Regis. She had an aunt who lived there and she was returning from America to live with her. She knew the area from her childhood and would show Harold around it as it were. They were days away from docking at Southampton and the weather had closed in several days previous. Harold had decided to go out on deck and watch nothing in particular; the moon behind the clouds, occasional stars and the dark mirky sea, an ink black depth of oblivion. He pulled the collar to his coat about his neck and ears as the wind tried to take hold. It was just then that Harold heard it. A “splosh”. The distinct sound of something dropping into the water below him. It was not the sound of something that had been thrown, it was something that had been dropped or had dropped itself into the water. There is a subtle difference. He looked over the rail and down, his vision’s emphasis changing from gazing out across, to peering hard, down. The view and thus his perception did not however change. It was still a sea of nothing, whatever the viewpoint. As his concentration and interest waned like the moon would do later on, they were both piqued by a commotion that was building over on the other side of the ship. A call rang out over the growing mumbling and footfall sounds. He walked to the corner where he could cut across to the other side of the ship and saw a lantern swinging, casting shadows up and over the cabin sides. There was another shout and two of the ships crew joined a figure looking and pointing toward Harold.
‘You there, halt!’ shouted the first figure and all three started to run towards him.
He stepped slightly to one side and held on to the metal steps that led up a level. He felt safer, less threatened. That was until he could see that the first character was holding what looked decidedly like a gun in his right hand.
Harold found himself held by two of the ship’s crew members with a gun pointed at him by someone obviously higher up in the ship’s ranking (gold braidy bits glinted in the lantern light).
‘What has happened?’ asked Harold clearly and understandably perturbed .
‘What are you doing here?’ abruptly asked the man with the gun.
‘I was just taking the air when I heard the commotion and then saw the light.
‘What has happened?’ he asked again. The man with the gun relaxed slightly and his gun lowered (this could have been taken as a positive sign by Harold but as the gun was now pointing in the general direction of his groin he didn’t feel this was so).
‘Someone has been murdered’ said the man.
‘Murdered? More than murdered’ said the mate on Harold’s left arm, both had relaxed their grip (and didn’t have guns pointing at Harold’s nether regions).
‘More than?’ questioned Harold.
‘You need to come and look. Did you see anyone?’ asked the gun holder (To be fair, he had moved the gun from pointing at Harold’s privates, down to his feet. Harold was relieved.).
‘No-one, no-one at all’ said Harold thinking back and remembering seeing no-one at all. They walked toward the scene of what was to become etched on Harold’s mind for a very long time.
Flitting in and out of view as lanterns waved wildly with the rocking of the ship (the wind had grown in stature) and the coming and going of crew and passengers awoken from their slumber, was what could only be described as a carcass! A slaughter scene assaulted Harold’s eyes and nose. Someone turned away and wretched, someone else gasped but Harold was speechless. Blood was smeared against the walls of the cabins and on the decking and it ran in its wooden grooves. The corpse had been eviscerated. His mind started to question what had happened here. It was at this point that the disapproving elderly lady arrived on the scene.
‘What is all this commotion at such an hour?’ could be heard above all else. Then, she screamed, then fainted, falling to the floor in a dead swoon. One of her younger companions stepped in at the same time as Harold knelt to help the poor soul. They bumped each other, stopped for an all but imperceptible moment, then started the task of reviving the elderly lady. Harold leant close to the elderly lady (he called her the elderly lady as he did not know her name). He started to loosen the top button of her starched white blouse. The elderly lady started to come around. She opened her eyes and saw Harold, hand on opened button of blouse, face inches away from hers, she screamed and swung her right arm around to slap Harold clean across the face.
The young woman called out, ‘Mother! This gentleman is trying to help you’.
‘It is that dreadful drunk, he appears also to be a sex maniac!’ she groggily shouted.
Everyone apart from the eviscerated corpse turned to look at Harold.
‘Mother!’ sharply reprimanded the young woman.
‘Well, at my age dear, you have to be careful. Yes, well. Perhaps thank you is in order. All the same, I shall thank you all the more if you can keep your hands from my blouse’ she continued.
Harold blushed, the young girl laughed quietly.
‘Get me away from here’ could be heard as she got up to her feet and walked away with the aid of the young woman and the wall of the cabins.
In the commotion, Harold had near forgotten the purpose of the elderly lady’s faint but it was quickly brought back into focus by the smell of blood and the red which was all around. As the the face of the young woman who had just helped him revive the elderly lady disappeared, his mind suddenly thought of the second young woman who had always accompanied the elderly lady. His eyebrows raised pulling his eyelids and their attendant eyelashes with them.
‘It could be her! Where was the young woman’s sister? Surely she would have got up with her sister and mother?’ the thoughts racing through his mind. He had jumped to this conclusion due to a woman’s shoe being one of the few discernible things that could be made out from the scattered mess. However, this thought was soon dispelled as the second young woman appeared, accompanying the first. A sense of relief washed over him at seeing them both and he noticed how alike they were, near-twins except separated by a couple of years. They both acknowledged Harold and returned almost immediately to their cabin. His mind then screamed ‘Emma!’.
As he first walked, then ran along the deck of the ship to the cabin on the starboard side of the ship he could think of only one thing, why? As he approached cabin 36 he slowed. He paused, then knocked loudly. Without waiting he knocked again. His hand went to the brass door handle and the cold metal connected with the cold dread that was building in his mind. He turned the handle and the door suddenly opened and a bleary-eyed Emma looked up from a mass of chestnut brown hair and silk.
‘Harold! What time is it? What’s wrong?’ she said sleepily.
‘You, you’re alive!’ exclaimed Harold smiling.
‘Only just’ replied Emma.
‘There has been an accident you see, well a problem, a murder’ he continued ‘and I thought’.
‘You thought I would want to see. Give me a minute’. She pushed the door to and opened it a minute later in a dressing gown and slippers to combat the cool night air.
Harold thought about protesting and correcting her assumption but decided against it and they set off to visit the murder scene in the dead of night, not your average evening’s promenade.
At the scene of the crime the commotion had died a little. The body (or what was left of it) had been covered up and two of the ship’s crew were what could only be described as swabbing the deck and walls. The senior ship’s crew member walked towards them, his arms opened out in a ushering stance.
‘The accident has been taken care of, please return to your cabins, I apologise for the inconvenience’ he said in a perfunctory tone.
‘Shouldn’t the scene be preserved or something’ asked Harold.
‘It has all been taken care of sir, thank you for your concern. If you wouldn’t mind returning to your cabin’ he continued.
‘Cabins’ corrected Harold a little annoyed.
‘Beg pardon sir?’ returned the officer in the same tone.
‘Cab-ins’ repeated Harold a little louder. He turned, with Emma’s arm in his and walked her back to her cabin.
‘What do you think happened?’ asked Emma inquiringly in a hushed tone. As she had not seen the full force of the brutality of the attack it all seemed like an adventure in a book rather than the brutal destruction of an as yet unidentified human being right under their very noses.
‘I am not sure, best you didn’t see it. You need to lock your cabin door and open it to no-one’ he said seriously as they reached cabin 36.
He walked back the way he had just come but keeping to the shadow of the overhang from the deck above. As he came to the scene of the crime he found it was no longer a scene. Everything had been hurriedly put away and save for the wet pink patches, there was little to suggest what had happened only approximately half an hour ago. Harold walked up to further inspect the area and upon doing so felt something underfoot. He stopped and stepped back and knelt to feel for the offending item. It turned out to be part of a charm from some kind of necklace or bracelet. Of course it could just have been dropped some days previously but it was more likely to have been swept aside, missed in the cleanup and belonging to the poor victim. It seemed clean so Harold put it in his jacket pocket, the only reminder of the grisly scene that had confronted him. He continued on to his cabin with a thought to trying to salvage some sleep from what was left of the evening. He did manage to fall asleep eventually but his mind was active with something he could not put his finger upon. Something was not quite right (obviously something was definitely wrong), something haunted the edge of his understanding like a twig from an old tree rubbing against plaster on a wall. As he fell into sleep he had dark thoughts of attacking darkness and the sound of something dropping into the water and a shining silver and then, nothing. As dreams have a habit of doing, it completely eluded him in the morning and he awoke to the sound of knocking. Emma had come to take Harold for a late breakfast and ask him more about the night’s event. The weather had fully turned and and the glorious sun of previous days had been swept away by grey cloud and a fine mist of rain rather like the event of last night. With upturned collar and Emma’s umbrella against the elements they made their way to the breakfast lounge.
The lounge had been emptying as it was later than usual for Harold’s breakfast this morning. The smiling face of Harold’s croissant looked up at him from the breakfast plate. He stared at it for a few seconds then turned it around so it looked sad. ‘That’s better’ he said to himself. He felt like he could now face the day. He took a bite, ‘that will show it’ he thought. He could face the day now with certainty. The croissant had fulfilled its purpose in life. It felt no pain*. Emma had thought about asking aboBeing Part II of what isp style=”text-align: justify;”ut the previous evening but the almost melancholy air exuded by Harold made her think twice and she refrained.
A little gi/prl walked past the open doorway to the lounge with her mother and a plaintiff ‘are we there yet?’ drifted into the room.
‘Indeed!’ thought Harold ‘are we there yet?’. The journey had started out full of anticipation and if he were to be honest, a little trepidation. It had developed into a pleasant journey with the meeting of new acquaintances but had degenerated into a strangeness that one’s finger could not be placed upon. It would be good to arrive. A further ‘are we there yet…’ trailed off into the whipping breeze on deck that hurled it out to sea.
The ship was now two days away from arriving at Southampton and there was a buzz in the air. It was not however the excitement of the imminent docking but the event that had happened the previous evening, probably distorted out of all proportion into the realms of fantasy. However Harold knew it could be no darker fantasy than its truth.
*If any croissants have been affected by this story please contact CAS – Croissant Action Support. Help is available.
—– | | —–
It is in the interplay between light and dark that we humans are at our best. We stand in the light, we are children of the light but only a step away from the dark, only ever a foot away. We bask in the sun, its rays making us feel invincible and we forget its twin opposite, just for a moment. It is usually something simple that makes us remember, something very simple like the pricking of a thumb.
Chapter 3 – The Meeting
The S.S. Leviathan docked uneventfully in Southampton. The ship was not met by the police as Harold had expected so he went to the shipping line office and offered his name and address for when the police wanted to contact him to take statements and the like. The clerk took Harold’s name and Harold gave them the address of the hotel he would be staying at in Lyme Regis. He eventually got to make arrangements for travel with Emma and they both went to take tea while they awaited departure.
‘I cannot help thinking the shipping line has made light of the event that happened the other evening. No-one has asked me for a statement and I saw no policemen upon docking’ said Harold more to himself than to Emma. He lifted an exquisite porcelain cup to his lips. The piping hot tea burned his lips and he put it down quickly.
‘There has probably been a cover up’ said Emma munching into a scone, the strawberry jam and fresh cream oozing from both its sides and dropping to the plate that waited below on the crisp white tablecloth.
The large white clock with its big hands of ebony, hanging above the passing hordes of people that criss-crossed back and forth across the expanse of the station, played out time. Harold kept an occasional eye on its progress and as the minute hand made its way to hang in Damoclean proclamation for all who passed under its sway, he made to move for the train that would depart punctually in ten minutes time. Emma followed his lead but not until she had wiped her index finger to obtain the last piece of cream from the plate.
The train carriage, being empty allowed Harold and Emma to spread out with Emma occupying a seat next to the window, Harold preferring the seat diagonally opposite, next to the door. He leant into the corner of the chair and the door window frame and opened the paper he had purchased on the the station platform. Emma occupied herself watching across the railway tracks to the platform at the other side and the busyness of people. One person caught her eye, a tall man in dark clothing including a rather large-brimmed hat. She seemed to think that he was staring at her. Although quite far away his eyes pierced but she felt it was nothing ‘probably just someone people-watching like myself’ and her thoughts drifted on to someone else and it could equally be thought that this next person was staring also. She turned away from the window and studied the front page of the Harold’s newspaper.
‘Anything interesting happening in the world today’ she asked striking up conversation. Harold cocked the newspaper corner down to see Emma.
‘Just the usual; Ford’s car factory in Cork is up and running, it is looking more likely that Oxford will admit women to take degrees but it’s too early for cricket!’.
‘I knew they would, Oxford that is. My old teacher at St. Monica’s said as much and cricket, oh yes I do miss cricket’ said Emma. ‘What is this on the front page – MONSTER MYSTERY- POLICE BAFFLED?’ she continued.
‘Oh, it’s some monster mystery, the police are baffled’ replied Harold trying to be knowledgeable (he hadn’t really paid it much attention to it).
‘Very insightful’ replied a giggling Emma.
Harold folded the paper and looked at the front page. The story ran on how someone had been killed in mysterious circumstances and it did indeed look as if the police were baffled. ‘It is reported as happening in Bristol’ said Harold reading on.
‘It could be a good start for a story, will you be writing one soon? asked Emma.
‘By Jove, you are right!’ exclaimed Harold ‘there could be something in it’. He got out his black notebook and pencil from his inside jacket pocket and started to make some notes.
‘Aahh, the master at work’ thought Emma dreamily, ‘to think, I may have been instrumental in initiating one of HP’s stories…’. She went back to looking out of the window at the streaking countryside in the warm shades of autumn.
The train rattled along silver parallel lines that stood stark out in the bright autumn sunlight. The metal wheels jolted as they passed over the joints of the railway lines and across points that could direct the journeyman to a myriad destinations at the flick of a switch. Inside the train carriage however, the mechanical pattern of sound was transmuted by the wood and leather and plush fabric into a soporific rhyme that lulled first Emma, then Harold into somnolence. The blur of the passing countryside coupled with the sunlight through the glass window into the carriage world, interacted with the thoughts of journey’s end and what that would entail. It built a heady cocktail for dream which was shaken, not stirred by the halt at stations along the route, each bringing its own twist to the reverie. Though pleasant at the outset, a dark fluttering beat hung at perception’s periphery and brought an uneasiness to bear of which neither could understand. The train passed through The New Forest and on, skirting the coastline at places, on to the couple’s destination; Lyme Regis.
The oil and steam dissipated and gave way to the taste of salt sea air. It danced around the rooftops and along the road and down small paths that led to the houses of the seaside town.
‘It is good to be home! exclaimed Emma twirling around and swinging her case,
‘I have missed England’ said Harold. A taxi was hailed and soon both Harold and Emma’s cases were piled into the cab and it set off for The New Hotel. It was a few minutes drive and Harold had arrived in time for dinner. Emma went on to her aunts but had arranged to see him the next day and to ‘show him around the place’. He stood in the entrance to the hotel, its rich carpet giving him the feeling that it should not be stood upon and he suddenly felt very alone. He had not realised that Emma’s company had shielded him from the enormity of the travel he had just undergone, until now. He was back in England, he was not really sure why and the episode on the boat which had been forgotten now bubbled up into the forefront of his mind. The grandiose pillars that upheld the facade of The New Hotel were quite new! Yes, they had an air of aged quality about them but time had not been sufficient as to yet be unkind. The hotel looked to all intents and purposes like a hotel that had ideas above its station.
‘May I help you’ said an overly-important, nasally-sounding concierge returning Harold to the present with a jolt.
‘Leftcroft. HP Leftcroft’ replied Harold.
‘Ah, Mister Leftcroft, yes. I have a room prepared for you on the first floor’ he continued after pouring over the large, leather bound book on the highly polished counter. Ping! He brought his hand down upon and up from the polished brass bell that instantly summoned a young bell boy to take Harold’s luggage to room 14. It was in fact room thirteen but room thirteen did not exist in name. Superstition dictated that room thirteen be called room fourteen but everyone knew that it was really room thirteen with a number fourteen on its door. The light was switched on to reveal a comfortable room with a large mahogany wardrobe at the far end that dominated the wall and a bed with floral eiderdown out from the wall to his right. A small table with bowl and mirror stood under the window at the foot of the bed. Harold tipped the bellboy whose eyes lit up (this was one Americanism that had rubbed off on him) ‘thank you sir, thank you’ said the retiring bellboy and as the door closed behind him, Harold sat into the dark red winged chair beside the bed and relaxed. A fire was lit in the small grate in the wall to take the damp out of the air, it had been a sunny but a not particularly warm day by the coast. Harold looked out of the window that overlooked the side of the hotel and by craning his neck to the left found he could just see the smallest glimpse of the sea. ‘A room with a sea view, Geo has pulled out all the stops’ thought Harold. He put away his clothes into the large wardrobe, freshened up & changed and then went downstairs for a bite to eat.
In the dining room Harold ordered traditional English fayre; Steak & Kidney pudding, potatoes and vegetables, a crumble of rhubarb with custard and washed it down with a pint of local beer. He was just finishing when through the two square-glass doors burst a maniacal figure, all tweed and wild grey hair on both head and face. He looked intent on attacking someone, other diners in the room shrank from the figure (pulling their drinks close to their respective chests), Harold sat aback in his chair.
‘George?, Geo!’ it was George although more animated (we’ve been through that…) than he had seen him before.
‘Come, come now’ said the man proffering his right arm still wild-eye, as if possessed.
Harold stood from the chair and table, looked around at the staring guests and proffered an ‘I don’t really know who this man is but I’ll humour him and get him to some help’ look with attendant arm/hand gesticulations and followed Geo out through the glass doors, past reception and out of the main door, onto the seafront of Lyme Regis.
‘You are looking well, old chap’ said Harold lying.
‘Well? All is not well, not well at all’ said Geo, still driven by some as yet undisclosed purpose. The night was starting to close in quickly, light from windows spilled out onto the pavement and few people were about. In just his jacket (which he had managed to grab from the back of his chair before leaving with Geo) Harold felt the cool night air. It was not unpleasant but he had a feeling that before the night was through he would be feeling the cold. They stepped out along the sea front, Geo striding ahead with Harold almost immediately falling behind. They headed right, along to The Cobb that stretched out and disappeared into the night. There were no clouds, only stars in the black, inky vastness of the sky and Harold felt insignificant against it. Geo had marched on around and Harold followed like some attendant body pulled along on the end of a rope. The curving mass of stone that made up The Cobb swept out into the bay and they both approached some small wooden buildings that congregated about its prominence. Harold eventually caught up with Geo who stood staring out to sea. As Harold approached, Geo swung his arm up to the heavens pointing
‘There, you can see it clearly from here’ he shouted. Harold looked up, along the sight of the pointing arm and saw, stars.
‘Stars!’ exclaimed Harold.
‘It moves, it seems slow but it moves, across the heavens. Or hell’ said Geo distantly. Harold focused and re-doubled his efforts to understand what point his friend was trying to make. He then saw a star that appeared to be moving slightly, in relation to the others that filled the sky.
Suddenly Geo turned ‘go back, get some sleep. I will see you in the morning’ he said and marched off. ‘bright and early mind’ he called, already at some distance from Harold who stood at the end of the harbour bewildered by what was happening.
‘Wha?’ he called but it was too late as his friend had shot off and was disappearing back into the night. He moved a bit nearer to the edge of the harbour and looked down into the lazy water that ebbed and flowed in the night’s lights. He walked along, close to the edge passing worn wooden ladders that led down into the water. Ahead, worn breakers stood like forgotten totems, a god abandoned by their people. The light reflected across the expanse of water in the bay. Looking back to where he had walked from, the sea appeared more restless, voicing its discontent by speaking in aquatic tongue; an urgent slapping of water on stone. For a moment, Harold thought he saw something break in the shimmering water, caught in the half moonlight. It looked sinuous he thought, but upon peering nothing came into view. He had just turned around when he heard a loud slap. He turned back and did see something slip into the water, just on the edge of vision. It had an eerie feel but he thought it must just have been a fish. He felt he was over reacting, pulled his collar about his neck and walked on. He felt somewhat put out being pulled out into the cool night to see a star when he could have quite easily looked out of his bedroom window and seen one there. He could have also been warm and comfortable with a glass of something or other in his hand. He took one final look back, up to the area where he thought the star had been (he was no tracking satellite and so was looking in the general vicinity which probably covered thousands if not hundreds of thousands of miles). He turned and headed towards the faint glow of the buildings along the sea front and thought ‘drink’.
Harold awoke early as he did most days. The sun was finding its way through and around the curtains and he walked across the deep red, patterned rug and wooden floor to pull them back to reveal, a gull! It squawked, turned placing its rear in full view and then flew off lazily. Ahead was the wall of the building next door. He had forgotten he was not on the front of the hotel and so craned his neck to the left and saw the sea. It was blue and a little choppy and a couple of people were promenading along the sea front. He saw the gull had not gone far and then it flew back to the windowsill. ’I bet that bird is related to the one back in Mingsport’ thought Harold and he then went on to think about his colleagues who would hopefully be joining him soon but upon last night’s showing, he wondered if it would be a waste of their time. He dressed and then went down to breakfast.
He was early and only one other fellow was sat at a table reading a newspaper. Harold took a seat over by the window, away from the door and sat at the crisp white linen-laid table setting. A young waitress duly walked over to Harold at his table and took an order for tea, English breakfast and toast & marmalade, ‘fine cut’. He found the fine cut preferable to the thick cut which, although not unpleasant and indeed more ‘orangey’ just didn’t seem the done thing. He had slipped remarkably easily back into his English ways even though he had only been back in the country a day. A local paper was presented with the tea and he skimmed the front page headlines and sub-headlines before turning to some inner page at random. This was a particular quirk of his and he always liked to read a paper ‘non sequitur’ as it were. He sipped tea from white porcelain and before long an English breakfast arrived with toast at the same time in a rack. This was how he liked it. There was a dilemma whereby with the toast arriving with the main breakfast. It was hot to have a couple of slices with but had significantly cooled by the time one had gotten around to having toast and marmalade. If it came after the main breakfast, one couldn’t have toast with it. But it was hot to have with marmalade. Harold had pondered this and settled on the former rather than the latter. The English breakfast itself was a ‘6-pointer’ as defined by Harold’s own classification system. This meant that 6 points could be awarded as follows; 1 – bacon was well done but not crisp, 2 – two sausages, not burnt, 3 – egg done to perfection, not under-fried leaving runny white and not over-fried hardening the yoke and crisping the white, 4 – baked beans, sufficient and not encroaching upon other items, 5 – flat mushrooms, quartered but most importantly with minimal watery fluid on the plate in their vicinity (button mushrooms could pass for the fifth point but again, had to be free of extraneous fluid) the 6th point – awarded for toast arriving at the same time as the main breakfast. The classification system could be extended to the ‘7-pointer’ where an un cooked tomato, cut in half and the woody stem part removed from each half was present but tomatoes were currently out of season (half a point would be deducted if the woody stem part was left in place creating the ‘6 & a half pointer’). The system was also flexible enough to encompass the ‘8-pointer’ but this generally applied to doubling up of the egg, bacon or sausages but not including beans, mushrooms or tomato. He buttered a slice of toast with the side knife, then lifted the silver cutlery (he had pondered the idea of incorporating cutlery style and weighting into the system but had decided against this) and cut into the bacon and dipped it into the egg yoke and ate. This was a good 6-pointer. However, before he could finish said breakfast, the dining room doors burst open and in came Geo.
‘Come, I said early, you have to see this!’ he exclaimed. The chap with the paper looked over the top of it but there was less possibility for embarrassment compared with the evening previous and Harold stabbed at the last piece of sausage determined not to miss out on it, got up from his seat, grabbed his coat from across the seat of an attendant chair and made toward Geo. Geo promptly turned about face and stepped forward, out of the dining room.
‘Here we go again’ thought Harold to himself ‘I do hope we are not going on a wild goose chase out to The Cobb again’. At the bottom of the few steps that led up to the door of the hotel Geo stopped, turned and said
‘Hello old chap, good to see you, bit of a rum runaround so far eh? Still never mind, things to see, things to do’. He then turned left and Harold followed, glad at least to have acknowledgement and off they both went.
Harold had the measure of his old chum now. He was managing to keep apace as they walked left, along the front and around to a building with a glass observatory tower atop its roof, that had command of view, out across the bay.
‘I tracked it and saw it fall to earth’ said Geo as he paced on forward.
‘Tracked what? Saw what? said Harold enthusiastically if not a little short of breath (thinking the 6-pointer had maybe got the better of him). There was no reply and Harold didn’t really mind, didn’t really expect anything, he had thrown those words out into the blustery wind like rinds of dry bread to the gulls that wheeled above, playing the gusts. They turned, under an archway, down some steps and up to the door of the towered building. The door had once been a shiny gloss black but its proximity to the sea front, with all the saltwater of the English Channel at its disposal had taken its toll. The brass dolphin door-knocker was tarnished and it gave the appearance that the dolphin was cross-eyed. With the door opened, Harold stepped into the panelled hallway of a bright, airy house and followed Geo, straight up the stairs, into the tower room. The octagonal room was furnished with just a winged chair that had seen better days and a telescope on a wooden and brass tripod that pointed out to sea. The view of the sea was commanding but no more-so than the sea of papers and books strewn across the floor which one had to traverse to get to the chair and said telescope. The uppermost papers were sketches, behaving like white wave tips on top of the underlying sea of dark, deep books as they moved due to a draft from an open window.
‘You will not be able to see it now, in the daylight but these sketches…’, Geo stooped and picked a couple of sketches off the floor and handed them to Harold. They were perfunctory sketches but not without a modicum of merit. Harold could see they were of a comet, traversing the sky from the right to the left as he looked at it.
‘And this is what you saw, is it?’ asked Harold.
‘Yes, last night’ returned Geo.
‘So, it is a comet? questioned Harold.
‘Yes, a comet. Not just any comet though, its like has never been seen before. It has two tails. Very rare…’ Geo was obviously excited and expounded further. ‘Another thing, it warps the sky as it passes. I have never come across this before but it is definitely there. And near, it was so near. It has come to earth!’ he exclaimed. Harold looked out across the expanse of the bay at the sun catching the wave tips accentuating a tension that seemed to be building.
‘Where do you think it came to earth?’ said Harold still focusing upon the sea.
‘Here’ said Geo holding up a sheet of paper he had pulled from the pile on the floor that looked like a cross between a chart and a badly attempted geometry exam paper. He made for the door and Harold turned and followed, now attuned to his friend’s singular mind that tracked what he was thinking about, paying little attention to the other things around him. Down the stairs, into the panelled hallway and out, closing the door behind him, Harold followed Geo. He turned to the left, up the narrow pavement and around further to the right and on to the grassed rising cliff top. On they tramped with the sun shining down and a small breeze playing the grass, making a pleasant day. Harold removed his jacket and swung it over his left shoulder, glanced out to sea at the glinting grey expanse then walked on, keeping pace with Geo. They walked on this way for approximately twenty to twenty-five minutes, Harold swapping shoulders with his jacket several times. As they came to a halt, ahead of them was a blackish uneven lump sticking out of the grass, vaguely spherical and about a foot in diameter. It could for all purposes just have been a rock in the landscape but its colour suggested otherwise and it looked like it had recently impacted the land.
‘Stand back – it is a stone!’ said Geo with all the command of a Shakespearian actor playing a small-town theatre.
‘Yes, I’ll buy that old friend’ said Harold playing to Geo’s theatricals.
‘This is the meteorite!’ he exclaimed in the same Shakespearian vein. ‘Shouldn’t it be a little bigger? asked Harold unconvinced. ‘I mean, I thought it would have been well, bigger!’ he continued.
‘This is a piece of the meteorite we saw last night, it has broken off. As you rightly say, the meteorite itself would be much bigger’. Harold made to move nearer to the fallen mass but Geo immediately halted Harold with his hands.
‘This is from no earthly domain. We do not know what it brings with it’ explained Geo.
‘Very well’ thought Harold taking a step backwards rather than forwards taking this as good advice, ‘you are the expert’ he added.
‘I assure you, I am no expert in the matters of falling things’ said Geo know crouched down and poking the rock with a small twig he had picked up near at hand.
‘Are you sure you should be poking it like that? Harold called, the breeze catching his words and flinging them over to Geo.
‘Hmm, maybe, I…’ Geo stood up, surveyed the scene and then stepped back a couple of steps and then stood a little longer. Harold looked around, kicked at a clump of grass with his right foot and then looked out to sea. The breeze was exhilarating, he loved being at the coast and so was happy to wait until his companion was ready to make a move. A gull wheeled across the sky and around and down to within a foot of the scene, over on the far side of the rock. It walked a little nearer and then along the side before Geo scared it off by shouting.
‘Should we tell someone about this?’ asked Harold. He was unsure himself, the rock was hardly large even though it had disturbed the ground but there was a strange feel about the place. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was but there was something definitely strange.
‘Tell someone… Yes…’ said Geo absorbed in his thoughts. He walked clockwise around the rock but this time keeping his distance and then came over to Harold. ‘We will go’ he said.
‘Don’t you want to take a sample? asked Harold.
‘I do not think that would be wise’ replied Geo. He walked slowly away, back along the route they had come by and Harold followed.
Back down in the town just outside the tower house the two parted. Geo was distant and seemed to need to go and review papers or some such and Harold had arranged to meet Emma for afternoon tea. He was glad about this as, although a great old friend, the company of Emma was much more preferable to that of Geo. He had some time to kill and so walked back to the hotel.
Harold had been sat in the lounge of the hotel reading the paper and had heard the clock on the mantel shelf over the large fireplace strike the quarter to the hour of three. He now noted its rhythmic ticking and tocking and thought he must get the clock fixed back at home upon his arrival. There is something soothing and comforting about the passage of time as dictated by a clock he mused as he folded the paper and got up to go out and meet Emma. Emma was coming into Lyme Regis proper via bus from Uplyme where her aunt lived. Harold saw the bus approach from down the hill to the lowest point in the town that gave access to the coast. He saw Emma’s beaming face as she alighted from the bus and she ran over and kissed Harold on the cheek. Several older females from the same coach looked disapprovingly over at what was the difference in their age and Harold felt, well wonderful! He knew that this was just a friendship but liked the thought of playing against the norms of so-called polite society. They walked out, through the town following a stream that meandered in and out of the cottages and eventually past the mill, Emma leading. They were discussing what had been happening when they came across a dead gull on the path.
‘Oh’ said Emma, ‘well I suppose they all die sometime’.
‘Yes, I am somehow becoming attached to gulls in one way or another’ said Harold and they walked on, Harold recounting how gulls figured very much in his life, back in Mingsport. He couldn’t help feeling that the gull had looked somehow sick. The thought rolled around in his mind a little like a marble in a glass jar as things often did and then he put the jar up on a shelf and forgot about it. They walked around and eventually came upon a tea room Emma had planned and both had cream teas.
‘How long will you be staying in Lyme Regis?’ asked Emma at a point where scone had to be loaded with jam and cream.
‘You know, I am not sure’ said Harold. ‘I am not sure what Geo intends to do next’. ‘What will you do Emma?’ asked Harold.
‘I am going to write’ said Emma resolutely.
‘Perfect, I could not think of a more suitable occupation for you. What will you write about? enthused Harold.
‘Adventure’ said Emma with spice in her eyes ‘and I owe it all to you’ she continued holding Harold squarely.
Harold felt slightly embarrassed and so offered ‘I will give you the name of my publisher back in America and so you will hopefully get a head start across the Atlantic. Will you write as Emma or will you have a pseudonym?’.
‘I will write under an assumed name, but I am still working on it at the moment’ said Emma, the spice now subsiding into English country herbs. Harold pulled out a pristine white handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiped his brow. As he brought it down, the midnight blue initials splayed forward in the corner of the linen toward Emma.
‘Could I have that to remember you by Harold?’ asked Emma.
‘What, my handkerchief?’ queried Harold ‘I am sure I can find something more suitable’.
‘No, the handkerchief will be perfect, it holds your initials’ she said reaching out knowing full well that Harold could not deny her.
‘I will get you a clean one’ said Harold hesitantly.
‘This one will be fine’ and Emma took the handkerchief. Harold was mesmerised. ‘It doesn’t mean we are engaged or anything’ said Emma straight-faced, then burst into giggles. The tension was broken and they fell back into companionable banter.
Harold saw Emma safely back to the bus stop and onto the bus back to her aunt’s house although a safer place could not be found in England in that day. She waved through the curved glass window, knelt up on the back seat of the bus and Harold watched it disappear out of view, up the hill. He walked down onto the beach and along its expanse looking to The Cobb with a spring in his step before making for the Hotel.
Later, as the sun had gone down and the moon had risen to take its place Harold looked out op style=”text-align: justify;”Harold had the measure of his old chum now. He was managing to keep apace as they walked left, along the front and around to a building with a glass observa//ph1tory tower atop its roof, that had command of view, out across the bay.f his window, craning to see the sea. He could not see much but he did see a light blinking, at the end of The Cobb. It blinked irregularly possibly as if signalling but Harold’s uncomfortable position made him come away and the light was left to blink, out to sea for its unknown purpose. Harold retired a little later (he didn’t give up his job and get/p a gold watch you understand, he went to bed) and he dreamed of a giant golf ball bouncing out of space onto a green trampoline, on into a giant glass of jam and cream which splashed and covered his suit. A dead gull dragged itself across his path cawing like a Raven, then Emma grabbed Harold’s face and kissed him, holding him steady and said ‘I’ll write’. The dream spun out of control, into the stars and oblivion leaving Harold confused and in a cold place.
—– | | —–
The sickness eats at the mind as well as the body. Where one can find blisters and welts raising upon the surface of the skin, so it is with the mind. It bubbles and pock marks and in so doing destroys the beauty held therein. The sickly glow from the light is the agent of the illness.
Chapter 4 – The Following Days
Packing is not for the faint-hearted. It involves life skills such as estimation, coordination, dexterity, patience. Estimation is without doubt the most important skill in this task and a great many others. It is a pity so many of us have a scarcity of the skill. When approaching packing, quart and pint pot readily come sharply into focus in the mind’s eye but no matter how plausible, how sure, it will not fit! So it was with our three companions back in Mingsport about to journey, following in Harold’s footsteps. Carlton used the brute force methodology. His squashing, forcing, pushing and pummelling skills went some way to providing a modicum of success. Bernard used the re-shuffle method, continually placing & re-placing items to obtain the maximum fit. Victoria however used her intelligence. Quart into a pint pot won’t go? Simple, obtain another two or three pint pots! It was after packing (and not an insubstantial rest so as to recover from the packing) that the three met in the centre of Mingsport to be transported down to New York to catch their passage on the SS Esteemed. Carlton with his ‘crushed items bulging at the seams with pieces of clothing trapped around the sides’ case. Bernard with his ‘is he going to live in the suit he has on for the next month or so and change his underpants only once because he certainly hasn’t packed enough items’ case and Victoria, with her ‘four large, in no way could they be classified as valises, hiding a vanity case, handbag and journey necessities bag’ cases. Each learnt a little of the other’s character that day, just from each other’s case-packing skills. The transport arrived punctually. How they boarded said transport and what it told about the companions is another story. Bernard and Carlton had decided to share a cabin while Victoria took her own which proved optimal from an economical point of view. They met in the dining lounge and immediately felt at home in this style of life. and so each day passed, enjoyable and without event. They relaxed, lulled by the waves of the sea as they traversed its expanse, in total contrast to their dear friend who had passed this way previously, oblivious to his adventure thus far.
‘There hasn’t been much, excitement so far has there?’ asked Victoria of the two men as they strolled along the deck of the ship some several days into the journey.
‘It has been remarkably relaxing I must admit’ said Bernard ‘and I say that in a good way. Although things are pleasant and content now, I feel upon our arrival in England, the tide may change’ he continued.
‘Oh yes, very good, tide…’ said Victoria. ‘Well I for one hope so. It is a long way to travel on a whim’ she continued more for conversation than any real point.
‘Whim you say? Well, may be but I have a feeling. I wonder what Harold is up to at this precise moment? said Bernard challenging the team. Each thought for a second or two but didn’t come up with anything worth discussing and so they continued their promenade around the perimeter of the ship. It would be two days before they arrived in Southampton and then all, if anything at all, would be revealed. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Harold had passed his journey, arriving on ‘home soil’, had met with Geo and had encountered the meteorite that had started the whole episode. With Geo obviously occupied and having seen Emma, Harold’s thoughts turned to his companions and their journey to what resulted in little more than a small lump of stone in a decidedly lovely landscape. He wondered if they had had a less eventful passage than his and then started to think about the events that had played out so graphically on the ship and then been snuffed out so quickly and indifferently by the lack of concern by the shipping line. They no doubt wanted to hush up the event, not wanting the bad publicity that would ensue. But the body! It was female, it was so horribly annihilated, surely someone would have been travelling with her, would have been meeting with her? He resolved to write to the shipping company and demand what had been done to find out what had happened that evening. He used writing paper provided by the hotel and using his Sheaffer ’lever filler’ fountain pen (a blue and white marble design he found particularly pleasing to eye and paper) he composed a courteous but succinct review of the evening’s events and lack of follow up. He walked downstairs to hand the letter over at the front desk to be posted forthwith. He then resolved to walk out, over to Geo’s it now being the early afternoon of an overcast day to find out what he had surmised about the fallen meteorite fragment, if anything.
The day was quiet with fewer people about than had been in the previous day’s sun, although to be fair, at this time of year very few people visited. They preferred to come ‘en masse’ and congregate like bees in a Devon hive as it were. Who could blame them, it was a pleasant spot. ‘Their loss’ Harold thought. He enjoyed the place to himself free from the hustle and bustle that would inevitably come with warmer weather. He walked up the short path to the ‘Tower House’ as he thought of it and knocked on the door using the brass dolphin. After no answer he knocked again and waited. With still no answer Harold looked at the window and up to the glass tower that could just be seen from the front of the house and then, surmising Geo must be out on some errand of astronomical importance he decided to walk around the town and headed to the parish church of St Michael the Arkangel, a church since Norman times in the little town. It had been a while since Harold had visited an old building. Back in America, old didn’t exist in the same way as it did in England and he touched the stone blocks that made up the tower . This church was old in time and his mind wandered back to the episode in the cave, with the grotesque horror that it housed and that there was something old back in Mingsport but it was not in the vernacular as here in this sleepy little town that occasionally bustled but in the ‘preternacular’, a word his mind made up as it continued to wander. He stepped inside the nave and the cool smell of stone transported him away from the day to day world. As he continued on to the transept, his mind’s journey continued and he thought of the short-lived acquaintance of Jeremiah Nule he had made and a pang of sorrow pulled at him. Anger at the loss of someone who was dedicated to discovery, like his friend Bernard and now he himself. Old flags hung on the wall, pews rowed in front of him, carved, dark wood offering a seat but no comfort, ahead the altar, framed by carved stone held his gaze. It was this cool, still, old air that made his mind think in a way it had not for several months now. The past raced through his inner vision like the blur of a fall from a tall building but stopped short of collision with the image on the boat, in the night’s light and its stark horror. The last thing he thought before he turned and left the church was a ‘splosh’ in cold, dark water. Harold tried his hand once more at the dolphin door knocker but to no avail, still no answer. ‘It must be something big’ he thought ‘then again, most things astronomical are, well, astronomical!’. He returned to his hotel, obtained his key from the desk, it being handed as though he was taking possession of the keys to some large, palatial complex of state and retired to his room. Harold awoke from a pleasant sleep he had caught after initially just resting on the bed. He was often caught this way. The sun was dropping into the sea as evidenced by the streams of soft, orange beams thrown into the room by the window with sea views, almost. They cast striped lines of orange across the white walls giving the room a feel of a circus that had finished, with everyone gone except Harold who had dozed during the final act. He felt melancholy. Harold went back around to Geo’s house to hopefully now catch him in. He arrived at the door and took hold of the Dolphin by the tail once more, he felt quite acquainted with it. He rapped confidently (’Now am at the front door and am holdin’ the knocker’ – no, not that kind of rapping), no answer, he rapped again (already done that!), still no answer. He waited. After what seemed an inordinate amount of time, Harold was just about to turn and leave when he heard movement behind the door. The door opened and Geo stood there. He had a look on his face that seemed to say he was elsewhere but motioned for Harold to enter.
As Harold crossed the step, Geo spoke ‘I think we should return to Bristol’ he said shortly.
‘Er, well. Yes! Is everything alright?’ Harold was concerned for there had been a distinct change in Geo. He wasn’t as alive, as ‘involved’ as he had been.
‘We will go, soon. I will see you tomorrow. Goodbye’. Harold had no recourse except to step back as to leave (although he had barely arrived).
‘Yes, of course. Until tomorrow. Get some rest old chap’ said Harold as he turned but the door closed upon his words. ‘he needs some rest is all’ said Harold to himself. He walked the short distance back to the hotel, gulls wheeled above his head casting an ominous pattern on the sky like burnt holes inexpensive linen. The next morning saw a fine, soaking drizzle pervade the seaside town and Harold arose perfunctorily, the room grey and lifeless compared to yesterdays gaiety afforded by the sun. He went down to breakfast and sat at ‘his’ table – like most of us, he was a creature of habit and would have been perturbed if he should had found someone else sat in ‘his spot’. After a breakfast that would have set up a small group of explorers embarking upon an expedition into the Amazon jungle, he retired to the lounge and sat taking in the ambiance. He toyed with a paper, wrestling the broadsheets like unruly sails in a transatlantic yacht race but finally gave up, becalmed in the dark brown leather chair, on a sea of intricately patterned carpet. He dozed in the lounge occasionally waking to see the odd member of staff cross the room on some errand or other. He had awoken and gone for a walk around to The Cobb, stared aimlessly out to sea for a while through fine drizzle, watched a man fishing but catch nothing and then returned to the hotel and to the lounge and to the brown leather chair. He ordered tea and a sandwich and then dozed again. Harold was was just about to get up, out of the chair to try and stir himself into action when he heard a familiar sound followed by an other. It was Victoria and Bernard and presumably Carlton. He arose from the chair and walked to stand in the doorway, viewing his three friends.
‘Well, well, well! Look what has blown in on the tide!’ ‘Harold!’ exclaimed Victoria running over to him, throwing her arms around him and planting a large kiss on his right cheek.
‘Harold, we thought we’d never get here. How you doing?’ said Bernard.
‘I’m well, well!’ enthused Harold.
Carlton strode over to Harold and shook his hand, ‘hello’ he said.
‘Carlton, I trust you are well?’ said Harold.
‘I am well’ he replied. The two always found themselves being formal around each other. Harold motioned for them to collect their baggage, ‘it must have been a long journey for you all, go get refreshed and meet me back down here, you must be hungry, we’ll eat’.
‘Long sure is right!’ exclaimed Bernard ‘but one day you will be able to fly to England from America in 5 hours!’ said Bernard
‘Impossible, don’t talk such rot!’ said Harold laughing.
‘You mark my words’ retorted Bernard. The companions moved off to their respective rooms, Half an hour later the four companions were seated, eating and reminiscing about old times.
‘So, tell us about the dark secret’ said Bernard in a more hushed tone.
‘Not so dark, as curious’ returned Harold and he began to tell of his friend Geo and the meteorite that had struck and then about the horror on the ship. The three hung on his every word and at the end of the telling they sat ruminating, Harold feeling as though he had gotten something off his chest.
‘Shall we meet Geo today’ asked Victoria.
‘I think we should, I am a little worried about him and maybe companionship is required to pull him out of his stupor’ said Harold.
‘Then let us go’ interjected Bernard, standing from the table. Consensus was reached and they vacated the table. Each went back to their rooms to collect a coat as it was cool but now dry and then congregated in the hallway to the hotel awaiting each other. They followed Harold’s lead out and around to the ‘Tower House’. Harold found himself once more with dolphintail in hand, rapping (oh, give it a rest) on the door, his companions in eager throng about him.
‘It’s all so sea-sidey’ said Victoria excitedly. Her excitement. along with the other’s eagerness dipped as a gaunt, uninterested Geo opened the door, scanned their faces then turned his back on them and made his way slowly down the corridor.
Harold turned to his companions offering encouragement, beckoning them in saying ‘it will be fine’. He was clearly concerned though. After walking up the stairs they entered the room en masse. Everyone stood staring at the sparely furnished accommodation with what now looked like a large lotus flower made up of the books an papers Geo had been studying, on the floor, in the centre of the room.
Harold spoke, trying to smooth the awkward moments of silence. ‘Geo, these are my good friends; Bernard, Victoria & Carlton. I see you have been busy’ he said pointing to towards the pile of papers on the floor. Geo looked at his long time friend like he was being cross-examined in a court.
‘Busy? The whole world will be busy’ he retorted.
’Yes, well… Look, are you sure you are alright old chap?’ Harold only now finally admitted to himself that something was wrong, he had been trying to ignore the fact but now, with his friends here he could no longer avoid the truth.
‘I, I… I am fine. It’s just this comet. There’s something…’ he lapsed back into vagueness that had typified him these past two? days. The three new arrivals looked at each other, looked at the walls, looked at their shoes in fact anything that appeared more polite than staring.
‘We will go now Geo, we will come back later’ said Harold to the relief of the others.
‘Yes’ replied Geo not bothering to turn.
‘We will see ourselves out’ called Victoria.
‘Nice to have met you’ said Bernard but all three could not exit quickly enough, hoping the sea air would clear the awkwardness that hung like tobacco smoke in a Public House.
‘I am getting the feeling that Geo is preoccupied’ said Bernard,
‘I don’t think he likes us’ jumped in Victoria. Carlton just looked puzzled and a said nothing, loudly. As they left the building Harold explained that Geo ‘wasn’t always like this’ and ‘must have a lot on his mind’ and then he dropped the bombshell that ‘he would like to get back to Bristol’.
The tempering with the fact that he ‘would be better’ held no sway with his companions; ‘but we have only just arrived!’, ‘I was hoping to look around this little place, explore!’ and ‘Hmmphh!’ remonstrated Victoria, Bernard and Carlton in unison. They walked back to the hotel in silence. Each made their excuses and retired to their respective rooms deflated by their anticlimax of the meeting, Harold was more thoughtful though and contented himself with the thought that things would be better tomorrow. A fine breeze had picked up from the sea and passed its way onto land across the hilltops. It blew over the site of the meteorite and on, not lingering but ruffling the feathers of the two black birds that lay dead at the periphery of the site. The morning broke to a swirling wind that had blown all clouds away, dismissing them as though immaterial to the day. It was bright and each of the new arrivals awoke with a fresh outlook, forgetting yesterday’s dampened start. Only Harold awoke begrudgingly, brooding upon the yesterday almost immediately but he tempered this with the thought of seeing his old friends again. He had not realised how much he had missed them. The four eventually met for breakfast, turning up at the breakfast room like small boats in the sheltered harbour outside. With Harold being a little preoccupied, Victoria spoke for the both of them. It was all excitement and breakfast banter about nothing in particular and even Harold gradually entered into the conversation.
‘What shall we do today?’ asked a gushing Victoria.
‘Well, what would you like to do?’ replied Harold avoiding the subject of visiting Geo so as not to kill the conversation.
‘Well, we will of course have to go and see your friend Geo at some point’ replied Victoria instantaneously ‘but I do want to explore and shop and eat ice creams’ she flowed. Harold was relieved and assented with a beaming smile and the others were carried along with the tide. They made to leave the table when the Concierge came with an announcement for Harold.
‘A young lady is here to see you sir’. The young lady in question had not waited for the Concierge’s return and, stood at the dining room door for brief seconds before running up to Harold, throwing her arms around his neck and kissed him.
‘My dear Emma, what brings you here?’ he exclaimed, genuinely surprised to see her here.
‘I brought my aunt into the town and thought I’d surprise you!’ she said eagerly (still not realising Harold was attached to the companions that stood around wondering who this breath of fresh air was that had blown in from nowhere).
‘Let me introduce you to my friends’ said Harold. ‘This is Bernard’ introduced Harold.
‘Hello Bernard, pleased to meet you’ said Emma as eagerly as ever.
‘Hello Carlton’ and Emma shook his hand.
‘Hello Ma’am’ replied Carlton at his most animated.
‘And this is Victoria’ proffered Harold becoming aware that some was ‘not quite right’.
‘Oh, hello’ said Victoria as if she had just bumped into the group, unawares. ‘Hello Victoria, Harold has told me so much about you. I am so pleased to meet you at last. Well, all of you!’ replied an even more enthusiastic Emma.
‘Funny. Harold never mentioned you’ said a curt Victoria. Then ensued that worst of things; the deathly silence. What they were experiencing here was The Muriel Effect*. The Muriel Effect was like an inverse ‘Butterfly Effect’. It was far more reaching in its consequences, it had the power to hold men ransom, bring down monarchies and topple dynasties. It spread like nerve gas (had nerve gas even been invented?), freezing everyone into the paralysis of shop window mannequins.
After what seemed like an aeon (one of the longer periods of time), Harold somehow found an antidote and melted the ice slightly with a ‘Well, then. Fine’. ‘We will just wait outside old chap’ said Bernard gathering the others to follow him onto the steps of the hotel.
‘I bought you this’ said Emma holding out a small thin, square parcel. ‘It’s not much but I thought it was you’ she continued.
‘But I…’ said Harold.
‘Go on, open it!’ she said. Harold undid the ribbon that held the paper in place to reveal a silver square.
‘It’s a cigarette holder’ said Emma enthusiastically. The holder was simple, just a small ridge down the centre of the case and perfectly polished.
‘It’s, exquisite’ said Harold not knowing what else to say.
‘It is just a little thank you for making my journey so pleasant and adventuresome’ said Emma paving the way for Harold to accept the gift from her.
‘I…’ said Harold but was cut off by Emma,
‘Don’t worry, Victoria will get over it’ and she laughed quietly.
‘I don’t know what you mean?’ returned Harold quickly ’Victoria is married to Carlton’.
‘If that is true, then you have a problem’ said Emma. ‘I have to go now, I wanted to catch you before you departed. Write when you get a moment, I have left my address in the cigarette case’ and with that, she turned and left. Harold opened the case and sure enough inside, there was Emma’s address, a flamboyant signature and a kiss. Outside, the three companions waited, rasing eyebrows as Harold stepped out to join them.
‘Everything OK old chap? asked Bernard.
‘Fine. Just fine. Let’s go and get an ice cream’ said Harold stepping forth to lead the team on.
‘A little early for me’ replied Bernard and laughed. They walked on along toward The Cobb. Harold was puzzled. Emotions rolled around like a boat in a storm, rising and falling with the waves of though that crashed through his mind. Emma, Geo, Victoria, The night on the ship… However, once they had walked along the sea front and reached the ice cream parlour and each had purchased an ice cream cornet, the day melted into a creamy haze. Walking back they passed a Fortune Teller’s tent that stood to the back of the promenade. A sign of black, adorned with moons and stars and the promise of knowing ‘the future’ piqued some of the groups interest, it had not been noticed on their walk to the ice cream parlour. Maybe the ice cream had made them susceptible.
‘Now there is something that might be able to aid us, maybe you should have yours read’ said a now frivolous Bernard, his ice cream running down the cone.
‘Oh do, yes. Have your fortune told, it will be fun’ said Victoria. Harold’s sense of fun was on a small, tight rubber band and didn’t stretch very far and fortune-telling was beyond its breaking point. He did not however want to appear ungracious nor a stick in the mud and so he entered the conical tent of yellow canvas. He was asked to take a seat by the mysterious Mme Zara. Madame Zara had a black voluminous skirt that swirled like octopus ink in clear water as she walked. A black shawl covered the top part of her body leaving only her wild black hair to give her identification. She beckoned him in. Madame Zara was a medium, well she thought of herself as a medium. She was in point of fact a ‘large’ just as long as the cut of the material was generous enough! She had walked over to a chair at a small round table opposite Harold, sat and invited Harold to do the same by way of an outstretched hand. Harold sat on the small chair up against the small round table with a green baize cloth over it feeing self-conscious about both the reason he was here and the fact that he was sat on a chair that was too small for him. A large crystal ball sat centre of the table and Harold stared into it.
‘Crosz my palem wiv zilver’ she exclaimed. It pulled Harold back from his reverie with the crystal ball with a jolt and he fumbled in his pocket producing a silver sixpence and placed it in her outstretched palm.
‘I zee you don’t vant to lurk very faar into ze future’ she returned in her loud confident manner. Harold looked at her outstretched hand, the penny (or rather sixpence) dropped and he found a second sixpence and placed it next to the first one in her palm.
‘I forzee ze gentlemen is not a big spenderr’ she continued, her palm still open. Harold took a short intake of breath, produced a half crown and placed it on top of the two sixpences. The hand snapped shut and retracted, almost mechanically as if counter-sprung by the correct coinage. Harold’s mind to retrieve the two sixpences vanished as quickly as the hand had.
‘Now gives me zor hand’ said the Madame in a rather more alluring way and Harold obliged, proffering his right hand tentatively, as if he might not get it back. Madame Zara took his hand in both of hers, caressing it gently. Harold raised his left hand and pulled slightly at his collar, it was getting hot under there. She ran her suntanned delicate finger over the centre of Harold’s palm, tracing the lines it held.
‘Ziss is a voman’s hand! shouted Madame Zara. Harold tried to retract his hand but is was held.
‘Do not pull away, I only mean it is a and zat has not zeen work. Neverzeless, it is a interesting and’ she now had Harold back, eating out of the palm of her hand.
‘Yu ave zeen much! Yu vill zee much more. Zere is a dark… Aarrgghhh! she screamed standing up, knocking the table over and the crystal ball with it! It rolled the short distance into Harold’s lap.
‘Crikey!’ exclaimed Harold, stepping up from the small chair and back, holding the crystal ball in both hands.
‘What on earth is going on in there? said a puzzled Victoria to the equally puzzled Bernard and Carlton outside the tent. Several passers-by had slowed their perambulation to better afford a gawk at the proceedings. Harold emerged from the tent, bottom first, the canvas doorway getting caught on his head making the whole tent sway ominously.
He turned to the expectant throng, ‘well! said Victoria’.
‘Well? What does the future hold?’ said Bernard.
‘The future holds a meagre lunch as I had to cross her palm with considerable silver’ said Harold.
‘Zank yu Dahling and tayke cayre! shouted Madame Zara from the doorway of the tent her shiny long, black hair all dishevelled about her shoulders.
‘What on earth were you doing in there? asked Victoria.
‘Oh, she stroked my palm, she screamed, the large ball rolled off the table into my lap, you know’ said Harold just glad to be out of the tent. On they walked, Victoria eyeing Harold trying to make the measure of the man. A queue of men was now gathering outside the tent, all waiting to have their ‘palms read’. Business would be brisk. The walk along the sea front continued and blew away cobwebs of confusion until they approached Geo’s door. They had arrived without discussion of visiting but had all subconsciously agreed that this had to be done and that this was the right time for it to be done. The walk up to the door seemed to take an eternity, it seeming infinitely distant but it eventually arrived within arms reach. Harold took the onerous task of knocking on it via the dolphin. His almost reluctant taps echoed lightly in the hall and were answered by bounding thumps as Geo came down the stairs and pulled open the door.
‘Welcome my friends, welcome’ he gushed reaching forward an arm to almost scoop Harold into the house. The others were drawn in, each one receiving a beaming smile from the much-changed host. ‘Onwards and upwards’ he shouted and took the stairs two at a time. The others looked at each other following, much amused but a lot more relaxed than their previous visit. They passed three small portraits that hung on the wall, caricatures of unknown men that looked as bemused as the troupe that passed them. In the room at the top of the stairs everything was still in disarray but made more congenial by Geo’s offer of a drink. Everyone accepted, it almost feeling like a celebration. There had come over such a change in Geo, it was as if he was a different person. The view from the tower room out to sea looked like a picture, there was an air of calm but in the distance storm clouds gathered. They looked as if poised, awaiting some command to rumble in and envelope the coastal towns.
‘I am away to Bristol, I insist you join me. Everything is done here’ said Geo gushing with enthusiasm.
‘Oh, well…’ said Victoria.
‘If you insist’ continued Bernard.
‘Mmhh’ added Carlton. It was left to Harold to provide articulate conversation as the others made facial expressions and mouthed individual words to each other out of view of Geo.
‘Well, we have enjoyed our time here by the sea and it would be nice to see your old haunt. Are you sure it is no bother?’ said Harold as he fingered the silver cigarette case he held in his right jacket pocket Emma had given him. For Harold still felt a little uneasy and had not so easily dismissed the low mood (if low mood it was) that Geo had been displaying these past few days. It could well be that he had fathomed some problem that had been gnawing at him but Harold could not shake the nagging feeling that there was something else. He could not put his finger, or any other part of his anatomy on it but he Still felt something was not quite right.
‘I shall go today, to make ready. You must make ready at your earliest convenience’, Geo’s overwhelming enthusiasm made this a directive rather than a request.
‘Mmhh’ p style=”text-align: justify;”came the trio of acceptance.
‘Shall we give you a day or two?’ said Harold.
‘A day? A day will be sufficient’ rebounded Geo.
‘I have things to prepare but here is my address in Bristol’ and he produced a small piece of paper with his address written on it and handed it to Harold. Harold took the paper and with a hunch, positioned it upon the silver cigarette case he had been turning in his pocket. He opened it by flipping the catch on the side, it fitted perfectly.
‘How useful’ he thought. The address was 7 Avonview, Clifton, Bristol, England and the thoughts it conjured from his past abated his worries a little. He started to warm to the idea of visiting Bristol, the change would be welcome. Geo had almost ushered them out of the building but the congenial change that the group had witnessed in him made them forgiving. They had wandered back to the hotel, discussing the change and the forthcoming journey to Bristol and had then retired to their respective rooms. Packing strategies were pondered, views from windows were absorbed and attire was attended to prior to meeting in the hotel dining room for dinner. Meat was sliced, wine was poured and dessert was spooned and the night mingled with the increase of volume inevitable with free-flowing alcohol. They even annexed people from two other tables and banter about America and the comet here over the bay which brought jovial if not absurd explanations. The candle wicks shrunk to misshapen tragedies of themselves and the night closed in around The New Hotel. The next day saw preparations made for the journey to Bristol and a bracing walk around The Cobb for the last time satisfied everyone’s ‘let’s just get one more look at the sea before we go’ requirements and they were all ready to travel, in fact eager to travel. A more sedate evening than the previous one was spent but no less enjoyable. Each retired a little earlier for a restful sleep and each would be woken to ready for the ride to Bristol. In the full of night whilst Harold and Bernard and Victoria and Carlton slept, the sea lapped against the harbour wall sounding for all like some otherworldly chant. It conjured up a breeze that blew against the hotel, as if trying to warn the inhabitants as they slept. Meanwhile, in Bristol somewhat more than a breeze was blowing up the river, channelling to the suspension bridge that hung motionless in the night. An eddy swirled around the observatory that stood guard at the head of the gorge as if mocking the structure. It abated as if bored by its display and moved away across the downs.
* The Muriel Effect – the resultant effect noted when a female who has feelings for a male meets a female who shows an interest in said male and doesn’t like it. Exhibited as a cold frostiness with accompanying lack of rationale when communicating. Coming across as cutting and terse. The effect spreads to surrounding peoples leaving an awkwardness that is not very easily shaken.
—– | | —–
Tread the dark paths of night, subterranea, worm holes of canker and foul pestilence. Drawn to the hell nexus, a blight nest. Turn away, only to be entrapped in waking nightmare. Held by terror, sanity ripped asunder and daubed as warning symbols on the walls of your tomb. Left, forgotten, ignored, discarded in unrest.
Chapter 5 – Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion
Harold was awakened by a light knock on the door by a maid, who had brought in a jug of boiling water for him to shave with. She curtseyed as she closed the door behind her, her big brown eyes and smile from over her shoulder awakening him further. He walked over to the table and poured hot water into the rose-patterned bowl that stood there. Steam fogged the mirror that stood on the table as he reached for his shaver and swished it from side to side three times in the water. He then brought water to face three times. This was the start of the ritual he performed each morning. Shaving for him was a chance to think, to put thoughts in order, to make sense of past and future actions. He lathered his face with soap and then brought the shaver to beneath his chain as he pulled his head backwards. He shaved the right side of his chin first followed by the left side, each time rinsing the shaver in the bowl of water. He then shaved each jawbone. Right, then left. He then moved on to each cheek, once again, right and then left. He then paid attention to his lower lip, down then up, middle first then out to the right and then the left. Finally, he addressed the upper lip; starting in the middle and pulling out horizontally to the right, then the left. He would revisit different parts of the face afterwards if it was warranted but the basic plan was always followed. He rarely cut himself but if he did it put him out for a time. He took it as a failing but the feeling melted away with time, like the soap suds in the bowl. It was order in the chaos of the world. He finally rinsed the last of the soap away and then dried his face with a towel. Harold was now ready for the day.
The journey to Bristol was uneventful but as outward journeys are, it was a heady mix of anticipation, nostalgia, beginnings and relaxation, to Harold’s mind. They arrived at Templemeads station, a Brunelian feat of engineering athrong with people. The glass and metal canopy threw itself across the expanse of the railway tracks, hanging for all like a technical tablecloth on some strange industrial picnic. It soft-echoed the voices of the people it looked over giving a detached, other-worldly air to the station. ‘It felt as if a stranger’s voice was inside your head trying to take control of your thought processes’ thought Harold. After the relative quiet and relaxation of the seaside, an urgency was immediately imparted to the group, each member turning their head this way and that, marvelling at the thrill of it all. They walked along the platform to the exit of the station and proffered their tickets to a meticulous ticket collector who made collection an artform. Harold reached inside his jacket pocket for the cigarette case and opened it with an air of sophistication he had wanted to use for ages but not being a smoker, had never had occasion to do so.
Bernard looked over. ‘Are you smoking Harold?’. The others looked over too, along with several others who were not attached to the party. Harold felt immediately self-conscious and immediately started to close the case.
‘N-no, I’m just reviewing the address’ retorted Harold, and then a grin spread across his face as he looked at Bernard. ‘Hail a taxi will you? I want to get to Geo’s, see what he’s up to’.
Bristol, that city of arrival and departure, infused with the melange of spices; the peoples from near and faraway places. Harold new the place from his previous time here but, as he knew, it was forever changing. Things were being brought into the city and being taken out of the city it. It was in a state of constant flux. This gave the place a tension, a tension that spilled over into the streets. Especially at night-time and especially outside Public Houses. Bernard had heartily hailed a taxi and it had pulled up to the group, allowing them to climb aboard and just about get comfortable before pulling off at a jerk, throwing them of balance around the interior of the cab like drunks. They settled into a natural equilibrium and each viewed the changing scenes, presented from the windows as they journeyed toward Geo’s residence. They would be staying at the hotel next to Geo’s residence but would go to see him prior to booking in.
George Pilkington-Glass lived in a building up on the hill and it looked out over to the suspension bridge that stood only slightly higher spanning the immense gorge it had taken for its challenge. His apartment took over a good proportion of the second floor of the building and had an ornate black, wrought-iron balcony extending out from the French windows. The balcony afforded a spectacular view of the surroundings and gave one the feeling of being suspended in the air and the ability to swoop out like the gulls that frequently did so. The troupe, for that is what they appeared as they alighted from the carriage; cases, portmanteau’s, carpet bags and more all in tow queued in line, outside the door to 7 Avonview. Harold pulled the black handle to ring the bell that hung by the right hand side of the door (no rapping here, that was all wrapped up ages ago). It jangled for an inordinate amount of time, almost as though someone was on the other end, wildly swinging on the rope that held the bell and he became self conscious of the fact that he was the one that had initiated it proceedings. The others were glad that they were further down in line for succession to such campanology. The door was opened by Geo, book in one hand, door handle in the other. ‘Come in, come in’ he drew them in with the book he had been reading, rather like a toreador with a very small cape. Harold stepped in, the others followed. They followed Geo up steep stairs to the second floor where a hallway spread out to a door that led into Geo’s apartment. Geo opened the door and what appeared before the four was another world. The room was panelled in a dark wood but for all that, the large window streamed in light onto a table covered with books and papers. The walls were adorned with charts, some framed and some just pinned but in such a profusion! Two walls of books filled the ends of the room. Various brass instruments of indeterminable use stood on smaller tables. The room exuded erudition. For all the clutter to Victoria’s mind, it seemed more ordered than the room in Regis. There was a similarity but it was as though the latter room had ‘run its course’ as it were.
‘Touch nothing here’ said Geo ‘we will retire through’ and he led a winding way through the room to a door, through the bookshelf on the left. This room was a lot calmer than the previous and there were chairs, chairs one could sit upon, without upsetting the unnatural order of things.
The chairs lined against the back wall afforded a view, out of the window to the suspension bridge – a marveled feat of engineering. Harold walked to the window and saw that the French windows opened out onto the black metal balcony. The other three sat on chairs in a line, as awaiting some interview, Victoria looked most likely to get the job. The bridge, suspended from its double towers at each end, stood massive and immovable, the bridge itself strung across the gorge like an industrial necklace. Although not beautiful, it had a beauty and Harold walked himself across the bridge in his mind’s eye. Geo had poured everyone a sherry and brought the crystal cut glasses over on a silver tray. He passed along the line of Victoria, Carlton and Bernard and everyone relaxed a little (the interview seemed to be going well). He walked over to Harold and nodded for him to open the window to the balcony. Harold did so and stepped out into the cool night air. He took the proffered sherry from the tray and turned to recapture the view. Geo brought his hand down firmly on Harold’s shoulder. It made him jump and aware of the distance down to the pavement, below the iron balcony’s grating of the iron balcony. Unease had now crept into his bones like a shadow into a graveyard at night, caught in the periphery of vision. The sherry he had just taken warmed his mouth and throat as it passed down. Geo just said ‘It is coming’ and walked away. The sherry made Harold think of the smell of Gardenias on a warm summer’s evening and the smell of… Fish! He could smell fish, cooked fish, not rotting fish, from what seemed at the moment a very distant ceremony. The hotel next door was preparing Dinner and it seemed most welcome.
‘We shall retire next door Geo old chap and get an evening meal’ said Harold turning away from the bridge to the room. The companions stood almost immediately and in unison (the interview was over and they each obviously couldn’t give a damn whether they had got the job or not!)’
‘Yes, am starving’ said Victoria. Bernard ha picked up a piece of porcelain from a side table next to his chair and he held it up.
‘This has the look of a talisman of sorts’ he said to all, looking at Geo.
‘It is a whimsy’ said Geo at his currently most animated ‘Take it’.
‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly…’ Bernard smiled ‘I mean…’
‘Take it!’ forced Geo and Bernard opened his mouth, shut it and put the piece into his right jacket pocket and was quiet as they left.
The Avon hotel was an establishment of some quality good one. It exuded an air of calm, sophistication and assuredness from its plush carpeting, through the mahogany and brass desk-cum-counter thing where people stood behind and looked important, to the way in which ones bags were taken up to ones room. In their respective rooms each of the companions was looking for that marque of the ‘grande hotel’; the little chocolaty square thing that sat on the pillow. Would it be milk chocolate? Would it be minty? Or would it be plain dark chocolate? It wasn’t there. However the beds had not been turned down and so there was still time. They met downstairs and ate fish. Carlton had Dover sole, Victoria and Bernard had lemon sole and Harold had what appeared to be the sole of an old boot. Yes, it had a few herbs on it but there was no disguising that this fish had seen better days at sea. Quite where it had spent these days and what it had been doing to get into this condition, he had no idea. He fared a lot better with the sweet. They each retired, agreeing they needed rest after the journey. Harold was concerned about Geo. Nothing was right, his old friend didn’t behave in this way. He fell asleep thinking about his old friend and the myriad of things that could be troubling him and dreamt of wrestling with a fish the shape of a hob nailed boot.
‘Read all about it!’ had called some newspaper seller in the street and everyone was. Harold had picked up a newspaper at the concierge’s mahogany and brass domain and sat down in a chair to read. ‘Monster Sighting – City smothered in thin coating!’. Apparently, whilst the team slept fitfully in their bed, the City had been visited by some kind of monster. It had been seen and corroborated by several people staggering their way home, early in the morning from various hostelries spread about the City’s more salubrious areas . They had also come across various trails of a smooth, thin brown coating on the pavements and roads, it read. None of this was corroborated by the local constabulary who upon inspection, found nothing. This did not surprise Harold but he made a subconscious mental note to have a cup of cocoa brought up to his room this evening. The other members of the group came down one by one but no-one could face a ‘Full English’ after the fish the previous evening, except perhaps Harold. He however thought better of it. They ate toast and marmalade, then sat around deciding what to do with the day. After all agreeing that Geo needed to be the priority (ahead of sightseeing and shopping, or was it after). It was decided that Harold should go around, see Geo, decide upon the best course of action and report back to the remainder and they would ‘take it from there’. The day was grey and a fine mist hung in the air, as if it was gently raining but the ground refused to let it land.
Geo was in a fair mood and Harold felt he had been able to communicate with his old friend with a semblance of normality. He had looked worn and thin, like butter spread too thinly on Br… (no, cant use that!) not in the best of health, as though he was coming down with some illness but Harold had managed to piece together some reason from the fragmented discussions that took place. It transpired that the meteorite in Regis was in someway connected to the ‘happenings’ in Bristol. Something had been brought to earth and wanted to ‘takeover’. This was not very much to go on but it was significant to have gleamed anything at all, due to the tortuous way in which Geo had presented it. Harold returned to the hotel and had decided to take his companions to an old public house he had frequented in the past; the Landrogger Trow.
‘Bless you’ said Bernard upon hearing Harold’s mention of the Landrogger Trow.
‘It is the name of the public house, just off Welsh Back’.
‘And again’ said Bernard.
‘If my memory serves me correctly. The serve fine food and fine ale’ continued Harold subconsciously rubbing his nose.
‘Well, what are we waiting for’ said Carlton ‘at last, a sample of English ales’.
The Landrogger Trow (‘bless you’), was indeed off Welsh Back (‘and again’) and stood impressively, welcoming the river trade it thrived upon with an air of mystery and a ‘damn good pint’. As they entered, a hush descended upon the main room of the Public House. Eyes turned and rested upon the group and they immediately felt self conscious. Harold moved to the bar and the others followed and the room dropped back to its previous level of background noise. Harold ordered three pints of beer and a glass of wine for Victoria. They moved to the side of the bar and effectively blended in to the place. Carlton sampled two more ales and was advised by Victoria that he need not sample ‘all’ the ales as other opportunities would arise. It was a pleasant, relaxing time and they even got speaking to a couple of locals. Praising the local ale is a universally accepted path to acceptance in any part of the globe just as pouring scorn upon it is tantamount to suicide. They ate and after sufficient time had passed for digestion (or another pint as Carlton thought of it), they made to leave.
Carlton emerged into a fine breeze that enhanced the effect of the alcohol he had consumed. He patted complete strangers outside the door on the shoulder, tipped a hat he wasn’t wearing at ladies passing by and capped it all by leaping and clicking his heels, mis-footing and crashing to the cobbles. He was fortunately no worse for his exuberance but had gathered considerable attention. Not the least of this was by a strange looking chap in a black cloak. The three companions were too busy picking their friend up to notice but from across the street, hidden from clear view, the figure noticed them. Carlton had to be helped back to the hotel to sleep off his over-indulgence and once safely put to bed, the three went to see Geo.
The panelled room worked its magic upon them once again. It was like being in some other-worldly museum where a past history was being assembled for public review. The past history however was disturbing and far removed from the present bustle of Bristol life. On the back wall, Geo seemed to have tracked the trajectory of a meteorite, ‘the’ meteorite. He showed them a large work journal that he had been keeping and took them through, page by page. Throughout, he seemed nervous, it was as if he was trying to say something but kept stopping, as if something was stopping him. He was gaunt and tired. Harold, Bernard and Victoria tried to follow the pages and pages of information that were presented but it was in no way easy.
The meteorite had traveled to earth and Geo had seen that it would fall in Regis. The meteorite had awakened something and that something was in Bristol.
‘The monster sightings’ said Harold aloud, ‘in the paper, there have been reported sightings of a monster in the paper’. Geo had withdrawn.
‘But why here’ asked Victoria. Harold turned the cigarette case in his pocket and had walked over to the window.
Bernard joined him ‘the bridge looks impressive this afternoon’.
‘I need to get a paper, an updated afternoon edition. There must be something…’ pondered Harold.
‘And afternoon tea’ added Victoria.
Back at the hotel, the afternoon edition of the ‘Post’ was out and Harold sat reviewing the article entitled ‘Police still baffled!’. Afternoon tea was on the table, what was left of it.
‘You just don’t get this back across the Atlantic’ said a satisfied Bernard wiping his lips.
‘What? Oh, yes…’ Harold was preoccupied.
‘Find anything?’ asked Victoria, she too was sated.
‘The police are baffled’ replied Harold.
‘Yes, they often are. What shall we do for Dinner this evening?’ she continued. Harold looked down at the single small scone that was left on the plate, flanked by a small trace of jam and even less cream.
He continued with his thought pattern, ‘Geo’s notes made mention of a house down by the river, on the south side. There was little reasoning behind the mention but he had seemed insistent upon it in his deliberations.’
‘Do we have an address for the place’ asked Carlton eyeing the last scone.
‘Number 17 Bleakwell’ said Harold ‘but I could do with a bite to eat before we go investigating’.
‘Oh no, couldn’t eat another thing old chap’ said Bernard.
‘I’m full’ said Victoria ‘I don’t know where you put it all’. ‘!’ replied Harold. He took the last small scone, scraping what little jam and cream remained and stood up from the chair and table.
It transpired that Number 17, Bleakwell was south of the river. The cab driver was aware of the place but communicated little else. They travelled down and around to cross the river and Harold was getting a feel for the old place. Bernard and Victoria enjoyed the sights and sounds of old Bristol as they travelled, it seemed a noisy place with people shouting about various things of no importance. Turning into the street made the carriage of occupants look around at their surroundings in even more detail. It was quiet. The street was devoid of everything. On he left, the river with bushes and small trees rising from its bank did not move, no breeze or birds ruffled the leaves and stranger still, no noise from the row of houses on the right, nor from across the river (that had been so noisy on their journey down) seemed to permeate the unnatural still of the place. Pulling up just short of 17, Bleakwell, the occupants alighted, Harold paid the driver and the carriage turned and scurried off like an over-sized beetle. Harold, Bernard and Victoria stood in the middle of the road, self-consciously looking about each other feeling exposed. They stood out, their searching innocence against a palpable guilt that seemed to hang in the air. ‘Number 17′ said Bernard which sounded like a shout aimed at the door. They moved toward the steps that led up to the front door of the house, the most un-looked-after in the street. Paint, of indeterminate colour peeled from the door as if trying to escape, the brass door-knocker was dull, as if ill. Iron steps to the left went down to a basement but everyone avoided the thought of the possibility of descending and stepped up to the door. Harold had the dubious pleasure of knocking on the door. Ominous thuds issued from the door-knocker echoing into he house and out into the still, morbidly silent street. Everyone stepped back slightly. There was however, no answer.
‘No-one home’ said Victoria breezily.
‘We should go’ said Bernard. They turned and walked down the three steps to the pavement. To the right Harold looked down the steps to the basement and saw at the turn of the last couple of steps that the a door was ever so slightly ajar. He lingered ever so slightly and walked the thought of telling his companions and what their reactions would be through his head. He told them.
‘Oh, I’m not sure…’ said Bernard, Victoria trod her feet as if walking on the spot.
‘We should investigate, it is why we came here’ said Harold almost convincing himself.
At the foot of the steps after a slow careful descent the door was indeed ajar and difficult to open or shut, as if warped. Harold pulled at it and it scraped along the floor as it gave making a sound of rotten old fingernails on slate.
All three held their breath for what seemed like an eternity before Harold said ‘Hello?’ in a quiet expectant manner. His expectation was not fulfilled. The room ahead was in darkness, lit only by diffuse reflections of the street level above. And there was a smell.
‘Hello?’ repeated Harold. Their eyes slowly became accustomed to the lack of light and they could make out a closed door ahead, across a sparsely furnished room. They made toward the door which looked scraped and worn and it was Harold’s hand that reached out to the round doorknob.
Bernard reached out and stopped Harold, ‘What if someone’s in? he whispered.
‘It seems unlikely’ replied Harold in similar tone.
‘But are you sure you should open the door?’ Bernard continued.
‘No, not sure but we have come this far’ said Harold placing his hand on the doorknob.
‘Far enough’ tailed off Bernard stepping back. Victoria was looking around the room as the two boys bickered. The door opened unexpectedly smoothly but what hit them by surprise was an unholy stench, only hinted at a minute earlier. Harold slammed the door shut gagging as he did so.
‘See, far enough!’ said Bernard clearing his throat. Victoria had reached for a nosegay from the pocket of her black velvet coat and held it staunchly against he nose.
‘I think we should retire’ said Harold.
‘What, from the business of investigation? I didn’t know we had formally taken up the offer of a job in this line of work!’ exclaimed Bernard.
‘Mmph – ooph – mmnnth – mph’ added Victoria, nosegay securely clamped to her nose, mouth and face in general.
‘No, retire to prepare ourselves more fully’ continued Harold.
‘You don’t mean we are going in there?’ said an exasperated Bernard.
‘There is more to this than meets the eye, or nose’ said Harold.
They had emerged from the steps into the street and stood looking around, like stark forlorn figures in some desperate play devoid of a script. What little sunlight there had been, filtering its way to the earth through the clouds was starting to retreat. There was a feeling that something was coming; the night, the mist, the occupant of number 17. There were no cabs to hail so the three set off, walking the way the cab had brought them down to where the bridge crossed the river. At the bridge, a cab was hailed and they made their way back to the hotel in silence.
Back at the hotel Carlton was sat in the lounge with a large non-alcoholic drink on the table beside him.
‘Up and about!’ said Victoria smiling gleefully.
‘Feeling better old chum?’ said Bernard. Carlton just looked over towards the three.
‘You were better off here’ continued Victoria ‘where we went you would not have wanted to go’. Carlton was not in the mood to talk (no, really) and endured their conversation but did not add to it. They had something to eat (Carlton did not) and when filled, went around to see Geo to discuss their findings from earlier in the day. After several knocks on the door, a couple of standings around and a ‘well, I don’t think he is in’ (with a ‘or perhaps he is not wanting to answer’ thrown in for good measure) the four returned to the lounge of the hotel. Each made pleasant small talk, avoiding the subject of the afternoon so it was left to Harold to bridge the chasm that had opened up between them and 17 Bleakwell.
‘I suggest we retire and rest’ said Harold in a calm manner.
‘Phew, there… Not so bad’ thought everyone else.
‘We shall reconvene at Midnight’
‘What?’, ‘Oh no’, ‘He doesn’t mean…’ came the thoughts thick and fast.
‘We shall return to 17 Bleakwell’.
‘No! I knew it!’ in unison of thought with devastated expressions returned the three. Harold looked at them.
‘I know, I know, but we will be better prepared tonight’. Where the hell he would get lanterns, possibly weapons of some sort and enough courage to see them through the night at 8 o’clock in the evening, he had no idea!
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