The Caul Bearer

 

“They were alive with a teeming horde of shapes swimming inward towards the town: and even at my vast distance and in my single moment of perception I could tell that the bobbing heads and flailing arms were alien and aberrant in a way scarcely to be expressed or consciously formulated.” The Shadow over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft.

 

Like the webfoot cockle women trudging out of a Dylan Thomas black, bandaged night, the flither girls made their way across Robin Hood’s bay (or Baytown as the locals called it) to find limpets to use for bait on long lines. This wasn’t a fishing village in Wales but it could have been, with the small fisher houses and the narrow, cobbled lanes in between. There were nets to be mended lying strewn around the cottage entrances, as if to capture land animals as they entered and left. Nets, stretched like cauls over the windows and on the front of the walls. A strong odour hung in the air from the fish that had been left to dry. Part of the wild village had already fallen into the sea, demolished by the north-easterly winter storms. Brid’s mother had told her of the houses on King Street that had leaned over the cliff and tumbled into the sea a few decades ago.

 

When the tide was out you could walk all the way across Stoupe Beck Sands to Ravenscar; she’d done that often enough, but not today. Many a wreck lay off the Ravenscar headland, hundreds of years of them, sailors and fishermen had been washed up on that shore, and their bodies harvested by the scavengers of the deep. Men in their pale mottled skin with slivers of flesh hanging from them. They were so rotten you could peel out the spine of the fishermen as easily as with fish.

 

Bull Running

 

Dedicated to all the crazy, wonderful mozos of the Fiesta of St Fermin, to Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles.

 

Something had happened that caused one Spanish family great cause for concern. A boy, named Lorenzo called upon sixteen year old Elise, at the small house she shared with her Aunt Pilar, in the little village of Alqueria. Only for a moment did the aunt leave them alone. Elise was standing in front of a large mirror that showed her from head to waist. Her long brown hair spread round the upper part of the frame. A look askance from her hazel eyes, a strange reflection—and a hint of something other-worldly and rather demonic had made the boy afraid.

He made his apologies and left, troubled by what he had seen. The only other person he told was his cousin, Bonita Mendoza, who thought that she would curry favour with Elise by giving her a gold bracelet which had been meant for Bonita’s sister-in-law. It had not been enough, for less than a week later Lorenzo was found dead in the olive grove at the back of his home, with a bull’s horn through his heart. The horn had been driven in so deeply, and with such force, that it had nailed him to an olive tree. After the post mortem, and when the horn had been removed, it was found that it had not been sawn from a bull but had been wrenched from its head and black, bloody flaps of hide still clung to it. The funeral was a quiet affair, with only immediate relatives in attendance. Soon after the Mendoza family left the area.

Elise was prone to blackouts which the doctor could give no explanation for. She had one just about the time of Lorenzo’s death.

 

Shadow upon Shadow

 

“The inhumanly still face leaned over toward her, the shadows of its great horns drooping over its forehead. Within the staring sockets she could see no eyes at all.”

By kind permission, from Dolls, in Scared Stiff by Ramsey Campbell. MacDonald & Co. Ltd. 1987.

 

It took a long time to push, with a struggling will, to that higher part of Alice’s mind where she could not tell reality from insanity, between what was imagined and the supernatural. In her indecision she was suffering. That night she had tampered with doors that should not be opened, pushed the car over the cliff with herself in it and unknowingly had unleashed something from deep within her subconscious, or another place—where dark things live, where creatures as old as time, formless but nonetheless still dangerous, dwelt.

Breakfast and taking the kids to school was a blur, something done by another self who was as equally confused as her. Alice kissed the boys, Ellis and Ben, goodbye, then made her way down Malvern Avenue, and up the Old Town Hall steps, to the oldest part of the library. Here she was helping the librarian clean, document and index the Vanderbilt collection that had been bequeathed to the people of Lawson Town ten years ago, and was still gathering dust.

Alice couldn’t shake off the feeling that she was being followed, causing her to constantly look back over her shoulder. It was as if she could feel someone’s acrid breath on her neck and she could smell something that reminded her of the stinkhorn that grew in buried wood, with its odour of rotten meat. However, there was nothing or no one there.

 

Wings of Night

 

The dualitists is a reference to the title of the short story, The Dualitists otherwise named, The Death Doom of the Double Born, written by Bram Stoker. It was first published in The Theatre Annual 1887.

 

It occurred to Elena that perhaps she wasn’t living the best possible life; that in fact she was never moved to extremes anymore. She had been afraid to think too deeply and act accordingly. In banal activity and thoughtless repetition she barely existed, treading water, hesitant to join the others who called to her from within. Elena was aware of them all, a small army of malcontents who were trying to build a bridge bound together from the fresh hewn bones, and rotting sinews of the dead. Reluctantly Elena stayed away from the darker corners of her mind where the dualitists dwelt and where former selves waited in quiet expectation.

Every Thursday and Saturday evening Elena worked as an usher at the Royal Exchange Theatre on Cross Street, in the city centre of Manchester. She showed people to their seats, sold programmes and was given a clip board with a list of directions for opening and closing the doors for the actors.

8.22p.m. Open for entrance of Hamlet, then close door.

8.25p.m. Open for exit of Hamlet, then close door.

8.26p.m. Open for entrance of Ophelia, close door and so forth.