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Posts Tagged ‘weird’

d3b54c63cc513eee4c66089211eb865aMrs. Mundy was too busy to die. When she felt a terrible pain in her chest and her vision swam and went black she just gritted her teeth and refused. She shook her head until the pain faded and the stars went away and then she felt a lot better.

“Oh, I can’t get sick right now. There’s too much to do!” She muttered to herself and scrubbed away at the dishes with even more ferocity than she already had been until the last of that dizzy feeling faded away. There were the dishes to finish – and there was melted cheese stuck to them – the floors to scrub, the steps to sweep and lord knew what else to do around the house. It never seemed to end.

It kept getting worse. Things kept piling up that needed doing and Mrs. Mundy was in her seventies now. Nothing happened quickly anymore. There was the hoovering and the dusting, the spare room needed repainting and it wasn’t as though there was anyone else to do it, God rest her dear old Harry. Then there were these blisters she’d gotten and then there were all these flies that had turned up in the house and the little black spots they left all over her nice white walls. She wasn’t having any of that.

By the time she’d dealt with them – flypaper hanging everywhere, spray to get rid of the persistent ones, not that she liked to use nasty chemicals and her daughter had always nagged her about the ozone – and sticking plasters for all her blisters, well, then there were more problems.

She had developed a cold. A runny nose, a bloated stomach, diarrhoea, a heavy feeling in her head. Along with that dizzy spell and the chest pain from the other day, as well as the blisters she clearly wasn’t well. Maybe she’d had a bad reaction to that new washing-up liquid she’d bought? Who had time for the doctor when that horrible smell lingered in the house and her ‘condition’ meant the bathroom needed constant cleaning? At least she wasn’t hungry. That was something, not needing to wash dishes so much.

Still, Mrs. Mundy couldn’t get a break.

She still wasn’t feeling well and somehow she kept getting the most horrible stains on her clothes, green and yellow and fatty, even though she wasn’t eating. No matter how often she ran them through the wash they wouldn’t get properly clean. Who had time to go to the shops for more dresses when there was work to do?

The cat kept leaving dead animals – or at least pieces of rotting meat – around the house and scrubbing those stains out took a lot of effort. All this work meant she was losing a lot of weight, which was a nice thought. She’d have to get some new dresses soon either way if this kept up, but in the meantime, an old belt would keep her dress on, stained or not.

Mrs. Mundy got exhausted. It was harder and harder to move each and every day until one day she simply couldn’t get out of bed, though it pained her just as much to stay there. Housework would be piling up, the cat would be going unfed and his litter box uncleaned but there was nothing for it. She couldn’t even raise her head from the pillow.

So she slept.

The next morning she felt a lot better, light as air, right as rain.

“The rest has done me good!” she said to herself as she set to work. It never ended and now there were these bones all over the bedroom to dust and polish along with everything else.

A woman’s work was never done.

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london_fogNight security jobs are unmitigated shitness. You sit – alone in a little room in a huge building, all alone, and stare at flat-screen monitors upon which nothing happens for hours and hours and hours.

A smart phone and a solitary television with the sound turned off the only respite from black and white pictures of an empty building. Twitter and scrolling headlines across the bottom of twenty-four hour news a welcome distraction from mind-numbing monotony.

These people online and the newsreaders become your next-door neighbours after the world’s gone to sleep.

It’s easy to imagine you’re all alone up here, tucked away in your little room. Once it hits three in the morning even London goes quiet. There’s nobody out there on the streets. The ones who are still awake are street sweepers or tucked away in the clubs and pubs far away from the business districts.

This is the time it’s hardest to stay awake, eyes drooping. Your body knows its not supposed to be awake and everything is at its lowest ebb. If it weren’t for the unceasing news and internet chatter – bless you time-zones – it would be easy to think you were the only person in the world.

Even that blurs into one though. An endless parade of far off disasters that lose their impact. What’s one more atrocity or war when they happen every day? Sometimes something makes you prick up your ears though, or your eyes. Maybe you hear something about a place or a person you give a damn about. Not some ambassador from a failed or failing state, but a celebrity or something you have a personal connection to.

That doesn’t happen often though. Most of the time you sit and stare, drinking cup after cup of coffee, fiddling with your phone, staring at the screens and wishing you were home in bed.

Sometimes something weird happens though. It has tonight. So I’m writing it down and printing it out. Even if I am on camera, even if I’m going mad. I just need to have a record.

I handle the night security for London’s latest, greatest, newest skyscraper. The Prism. Eighty floors of empty glass and steel. It’s still being fitted out so there’s nobody there at all, save the workers during the day. Everything works, there’s just no offices yet and the bathrooms are all bare bones.

It was a bit past three and I was nodding half asleep over the monitors, not paying too much attention to them. The air conditioning in the building was on but it felt a bit close and humid despite that. If you don’t have it on the buildings get weird, internal micro-climates, some of the big ones even form ‘clouds’ in the atrium. They didn’t want that here, so the moment the building was sealed, on went the air conditioning.

It wasn’t like I could open a window, but I had a desk fan. That helped a bit, fresh air blowing across my face. It woke me up a little, a start and jump like when your chin hits your chest when you’ve fallen asleep sitting up.

That’s when I noticed a scrolling headline across the bottom of the television, for some reason it caught my eye amongst everything else.

“London threatened with thickest fog since 1952.”

Meteorology wasn’t a big news item and its not like fog was unusual, even today, but I hadn’t seen even a hint of it on my way to work. The main news item was some update about some economic conference, nothing of interest to me. There’s a little camera watching me all the time, quis custodiet ipsos custodes indeed, but I decided I’d risk it and go for a look out of the window.

I had to cup my hands against the window to see through the light glare, but it was true. There was a thick fog running down the Thames against the current like a cheap smoke machine and starting to flow over the sides into the streets. Why they thought it was so bad I don’t know, it was thick, but nothing worse than I’d ever seen before, so I just went back to my desk.

In the five or ten minutes I’d been away from the monitors nothing much seemed to have changed, but there was a picture of London Bridge in the box-out. I tried to turn the sound on, but I realised it didn’t have any speakers. I’d never tried to turn the sound on before so I’d had no idea.

I was too cheap to get mobile broadband, so streaming the news to my phone wasn’t going to work out. Not with a flaky 3G connection in the bowels of a giant Faraday cage. I was stuck with the scrolling text, I couldn’t even turn on the subtitles, I had no idea where the remote control was.

I switched to the internet on my phone, even though it loaded at a crawl I could get a couple of pages up. There was only a small update and a few pictures from the unlucky sods up as late as I was. It looked like it was spreading rapidly, even just in the short time I’d been away from the window. That or it was much thicker elsewhere, downriver from me.

The page didn’t tell you much, just that the met office were mystified as to the cause, it was the wrong weather, there was no pollution to account for it, though it had a sickly stink apparently, and they were trying to work it out and asking for more pictures from people around the city. It was local news really. There was some early speculation that it was down to algae or something else, but nobody really had a clue. This late at night the news and the met office – and everything else – was running on the ‘B’ teams.

Twitter wasn’t that much help either. Only people outside my time-zone were awake aside from a few people out late clubbing and they were wasted. I sent them a couple of feelers. Something was making me feel really uncomfortable about the whole thing though I couldn’t really put my finger on it.

I didn’t want to get up from the desk again, that would mean a reprimand if it got noticed. I started flicking through the cameras trying to get a view of outside through the glass, but the only one that worked was a view of the entrance and I couldn’t make out much from there, just a few wisps of mist.

Back to Twitter, there was a tag now #FogDoom – typical nonsense like #snowpocalypse and all the rest. It wasn’t that busy yet but one thing stood out in the slowly scrolling messages.

Woolwich Witch : Got off Skype with my BF. Bunch of sirens and lights on the road and river.

That seemed strange so I thumbed out a quick message back.

Night Wotcha: What’s going on there? Stuck in central London and can’t get the news.

I flicked through the cameras again while I waited, trying to see anything else, even a speck of outside through the window. Still nothing, but the mist was thicker out the door, even through the camera.

Woolwich Witch: No idea, but the river’s high. I can barely see outside. The noise stopped though. Don’t see the lights.

Night Wotcha: Can you get a better view anywhere? Sounds freaky! 🙂

Woolwich Witch: Yeah, I’ll step out and have a look. See if there’s anyone around.

Police aren’t unusual, but a whole lot of them charging through the night down there? Close to the Thames Barrier? That seemed weird. Was it a terrorist attack? Gas or something? It didn’t make much sense to me but it would explain the police. If the river was coming up that could be bad for the city as a whole. Grandad had used to run one of the river taxis. I thought high tide would hit sometime after four in the morning. There was a while yet before that happened.

It was no good, I had to go for another look.

This time the river seemed higher, even from all the way up in the building. It was hard to tell of course, the fog was even thicker now and it was flowing up over the banks and spilling into the streets beyond. It was weird looking, moving in all directions at once, almost like it was alive, questing for a path between the soulless, empty, lifeless buildings.

The BBC news scroller was now talking about a flood warning now, but being not very specific as to why. My desk phone went off with an automated warning, but I didn’t really have to worry here. It was all automated and the building should be well able to resist any sort of flooding. All I’d have to do would be to wait it out until low tide – a matter of hours.

The Woolwich Witch hadn’t gotten back to me again, but I didn’t know her and she didn’t owe me any sort of explanation.

I started thumbing through the hashtag and its all weird nonsense. Drunk and stoned people talking nonsense. More pictures but a lot of them were weird looking. Artefacts and stray pixels, like when it rains hard or a pigeon decides to have a nap on your Sky dish. Some of them were half uploaded, like the image had been cut off halfway through my download, but it wasn’t me.

After the mangled images there were no more posts by that person. Any of them.

I don’t scare easily and I try not to get panicked over nothing but I was scared now. The signal quality on my phone was dropping every ten minutes or so, bar by bar, ‘3G’ to ‘H’ to ‘E’ and even that kept dropping out. The last few tweets I saw on the tag before the data connection completely cut out were even weirder, people who’d gone out to check out the fog and going missing. People not able to get the police.

The TV was all about the fog now. The presenter, someone you wouldn’t see unless you kept my hours, was clearly out of his depth, trying to cope with it. They were calling it a chemical spill, telling people to stay inside because of the fumes, even if it flooded.

Even the TV signal was breaking up now. Weather can do that, but fog was too low on the ground to disrupt any signals. Maybe I was imagining it, but there was a sickly scent, even behind sealed glass and storeys into the sky.

I took the lift down to the great void of a lobby, so empty. Here the smell seemed, paradoxically, less bad. It didn’t make sense to me. Beyond the doors I couldn’t see a bloody thing, it was all thick fog faintly yellow in the dim night lighting.

I about jumped out of my skin when there was a loud bang against the doors. There was a shape there, banging against the glass. The knock loud, but whatever screaming sound was out there dimmed by the thick glass so it sounded distant.

As I got my breath back from the fright I stepped towards the door, and then jogged, fumbling for my keys. Even pressed against the glass I could barely make out who it was, but it was a man. Maybe a policeman, I thought I saw a cap. Just in the seconds it took me to get to the door the banging got quieter and quieter though the shadow looked just as manic and violent as ever.

As I got there it was abruptly silent, a shape in the mist that could have been a man or just dappled shadow, blown away. I fumbled the keys and yanked the door open, shouting out into the fog but there was no answer and the stink made me gag on the words even as I tried to give them voice.

It was hard to breathe, to think, so I got back inside and shut and locked the door again. Back up the lift to my little nest, the only place I might feel safe. The lift seemed slow and the lights kept flickering all the way up, coming on again as I got back. Everything still seemed to be working but the TV was black now, on every channel I could get and the phone was useless.

From the window everything was dark now. I couldn’t even see street lights now. The light from the building made it nearly impossible to see beyond the glass and the moon was dim, a sliver behind grey cloud. I couldn’t see anything.

The smell was getting stronger. I was sensitive to it now, noticing it – or imagining it – behind every smell in the building. New paint, plastic, epoxy, all of it seemed to carry a hint of that stinking fog in it that made me queasy.

It was the air conditioning. It was sucking in the air from outside and the fog with it. It was seeming to rise, shorter buildings disappearing beneath it, the fog seeming higher around the taller buildings as if it were trying to climb them.

I don’t know the first thing about air conditioning. I went as high as I could in the building and cut cables, jammed pipes and stuffed ducts with whatever I could find. Tarp, sacks of cement, plastic, silicon gel from the builders. I think I sealed the building and its only me here. I’m not going to suffocate.

There’s a little computer in my nook. Turns out the tower’s running on generator power now, so I turned off all the lights I didn’t need, and the pumps. Sat and wrote this. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ll save it. I’ve print it out. I’ve put texts to everyone I know into my phone so they’ll send when the signal comes back. I don’t know what else to do but sit and wait.

I’ll go and seal the air conditioning better I suppose, but if there’s nobody out there, what’s the point?

I’m alone.

***

fog-448188Mr Morgan is still missing and has not been seen since the night he caused millions of pounds worth of damage to the Prism Tower, setting back the opening of the tower for at least two months, flooding two basement levels and all but destroying the air conditioning system.

These writings, apparently left by Mr Morgan – though there’s no way to prove that – seem to suggest an impaired state of mind which may have insurance implications. With Mr Morgan missing it is likely that a settlement can be garnered from his estate, though it is unlikely to make much of a dent in the costs.

Without finding Mr Morgan it is hard to know how to proceed further, though it’s clear from his confession that he caused the criminal damage. Given the long term importance of the account I believe the claim is genuine and that we should pay out.

Sincerely,

H Arnold,

Claims Department
Xebi Insurance Co.

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Genealogy is a fascinating subject.

What, though, if it takes you back to the ‘old country’ and to a town that no longer exists. What can you learn from a crumbling cliff and a village sunk beneath the waves?

Smashwords

Lulu

Drivethrufiction

Amazon

Also available in a bundle with my other ‘neo-pulp’ stories.

Soon available on iBookstore etc. Just search for my name or the title.

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insects-in-amber-distantCaruth cries and the tears soften and cut tracks through the crust around his eyes. He’s forced flat by the weight of them, three of them, pinning his legs and his trifurcated trunk to the cold, rough cobbles of the alley. He can’t move, can’t do anything but protest as the straddle him and pin him with their weight and even his cries are stifled, a boot pressing down and crushing his trunk, barely a squeak making it out of the nostrils.

The ruffian tears back his robe, revealing his face, his back. A glittering trail of golden gems studding his thick, oily skin. It hurts as the brute grasps and squeezes at the flesh and there is a ‘pop’ that is felt, rather than heard.

The amber lozenge pops from the thick skin, dripping sebum  and leaving a raw, pinkish hole in his flesh. The footpad shakes the oil from his prize and holds it up to the lamplight. An oval comedone of hard amber and –  deep in the centre of it – the preserved and perfect body of a flea.

Caruth tries to shift, his skin raw now, desperate to be free of them. They’re stealing his only legacy. It’s hopeless, years on the street have left him week and feeble. He freezes, feeling the point of a knife against his brow.

“Cut the skin free. We can pick ’em out later.”

This is it.

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The Venom Club

I spot the little man the moment the door opens. He’s nervous. He knows that he – anyone – shouldn’t be here. I watch, intently, not even blinking, as he closes the door behind him with needless care. Nobody is going to appreciate his care, nobody is going to hear him over the thumping beat of the music.

This isn’t a place that needs to be careful or quiet. We don’t even need a man on the door. Casual trade knows not to fuck with us and if they don’t at the start of the evening, they do by the end. This means he’s either here for a reason, or he’s utterly clueless. Given his care and wide-eyed fright I’m laying my money on the first.

He moves across the floor as though it is shards of broken glass, gingerly, carefully, every sense alert. I can practically see the panicked pulse in his neck and his eyes look dramatic in the half-light, wide-whites, black holes of pupils.

He edges around the serpentine sway of the slithering dancers. He can’t help but look. Who could resist? The sisters are almost identical, they move like whips and arch and twist and writhe in a way that looks effortless and boneless. When they feel his eyes on them they press their cheeks together, tangle their long, straight hair. As he’s drawn in their split tongues lap from their mouths and wind around each other.

I smile as he stumbles back in shock from the girls and I keep my eyes upon him. Finally, he notices, this stumbling, bovine man. In incline my head, slightly, to encourage him and lift my drink. A sip of burning, bitter green, the bile I’ll need to get through talking with this man.

It’s a room of corners, the club. The people who come here don’t like being on show. They like being tucked away. Something to put their back against. Here, in one of the many nooks I’m shielded from the loudest of the music and I can receive this little man and conduct our sordid little business that let’s me live my life.

“I need someone killed,” it’s the first thing out of his mouth, even before he sits.

“No. You don’t.”

“What?” I pull my drink closer, he’s he type that would drink it to ‘settle’ himself and that wouldn’t be a good idea.

“If you need someone killed you can get anyone to do that. Any sneak or footpad or thug. Or you could do it yourself. You need a problem removed and this problem just happens to have a pulse and a name.”

“Semantics…” he growls, the cow-man has a little spine after all it seems.

“Respect will get you a lot further than disdain,” I tell him and I knock back the last of the bitter green liquor, swallowing the scale at the bottom of the glass. I flick my tongue against my fangs and lean forward over the table. “So, tell me about your problem…”

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I couldn’t sleep. The girl, I still didn’t know her name, had unsettled me. Her scent lingered in the cramped bedroom, fighting with the smell of damp and my own sweat to dominate the room. It was cold now though and I huddled deep under the covers, not that it seemed to help. Every time I closed my eyes I had the unsettling feeling that she was back in the room, standing over me and it kept jerking me back awake with a thumping heart. She had bitten me, hard; hard enough to draw blood and it still ached, even though the bleeding had stopped now.

It was no good, I was left restless, curiously unsatisfied. My head was swimming with unstructured thoughts, fears, wondering. The professor’s books sat beside the bed, near incomprehensible but what I had read had instilled in me the same curiosity that had brought the professor here.

It was no good. I steeled myself and swung off the bed into the cold night air, hurriedly pulling on my clothes and, as quietly as possible, creeping out onto the landing. The boards creaked, every step, sounding to me in the stillness of the night like the thundering tramp of a giant. I stopped, briefly, in the filthy little bathroom to soap the smell of sex from my body and, somehow, that made me feel better, more human, more settled. I was up now though, awake and I needed some air.

The door of the house creaked in its warped frame as I tiptoed out, closing it with exaggerated slowness, sucking my teeth with unease, hoping I hadn’t woken anyone. The only other one awake seemed to be the girl. A shiver down my spine as I stepped from the porch light and I looked up to see her cat-like gaze watching me go, her nose pressed up against the clear glass.

I put her behind me, thrusting my hands deep into my pockets to keep them warm as I tried to pick my way back to the cliffs. There was hardly any light tonight, no moon or stars, just the distant light from the porch and the faintest glow on the horizon to light my way. My hand groped in the dark for the guy-rope and found it, carefully inching my way down that treacherous path, bit by bit, the shadow of the cliff making the path and the beach virtually invisible.

A slip, a tumble, part of the path gave way and I fell, sliding down the path, no way to tell how high up I still was, how far it was to the beach I panicked, so scared by the dark that I couldn’t even voice a cry, just a strangled half-yelp as I tumbled into the void.

Striking the ground drove the breath from my body and left me spitting sand from between my teeth. I was winded and the bite in my shoulder flared, but I can’t have fallen that far. It just hurt, nothing was broken, dignity bruised more than my flesh but still I just lay there in the damp, yielding sand for a little while, getting my breath back.

After a time, the scent, the cool dampness of the sand stirred memories from the bedroom and that made me shudder. I sat bolt upright and struggled to my feet, brushing the sand from me with desperate pushes of my hands.

Then I saw it.

The sea was glowing, faintly, a green phosphorescence that glowed brighter with every wash of the waves and faded as they stilled. Eyes wide I stumbled forward and through the frothed surface of the glowing water imagined I could see the faintest shadows of the lost town beneath the water.

Was it my imagination or was I really seeing it? The squarish outlines of houses, streets, a dark shadow where the body of the church must reach up to its still-standing spire. It was impossible to tell if it were real or a trick of the light but it took me to the very edge of the water.

Water lapped at the toes of my shoes as I stared into the glow and my eyes adjusted slowly to the dark. Shapes moved in the dark and sunken town, or maybe just the cast shadows of the waves. I could see where the beach sloped forward and then dropped off, suddenly, down to those hidden shapes, so much deeper.

There was a glitter in the sand where the water slopped back again and I reached down, Plucking another coin from the sand and brushing it with my thumb. Gold again. Then I saw another, further out. I peeled away shoes and socks and stepped into the chilly brine, plunging my hand down into it to pull another from the dull, grey sand.

Something different then. A shining red further out in the water that seemed to twinkle like a distant star and it drew me. Distorted by the sea it always seemed out of reach but transfixed, I moved until the water slopped around my hips, glowing about me with every step.

I reached out, over the precipice towards the crimson mote, imagining a ruby or a garnet, perhaps set in some ancient Celtic gold.

It grew big in my vision with appalling suddenness and something made the water swell. A wave swept me from my feet and something… something boneless and long-fingered, something rubbery and cold as ice, something taloned and clammy and glutinous grasped my leg and dragged me into the dark.

I don’t remember much.

Blackness.

Panic.

A great red eye.

Teeth like broken glass.

I don’t remember how I got away.

The next thing I knew I was sitting in my car on the road back to London. A policeman tapping the window and asking me if I was alright.

I was drenched with salt water, the car was soaked in it. Green weed still clung to my body and my shoes, my socks, were nowhere to be found. I couldn’t speak to him. Couldn’t describe what I saw. There were ambulances, concerned people, people from the embassy and then I was taken home. Numb with shock and as helpless as a baby.

I still don’t know what really happened. My leg is scarred, curiously, like the shape of some enormous hand, every scar a mass of smaller, circular impressions into the flesh, as though it were stripped away.

On my shoulder, a double crescent of sharp, women’s teeth has never healed either.

I hope I found the reason we left Maundbury.

I hope they didn’t come with us.

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Genealogy, that’s the thing. People like to know where they came from and who they’re related to, what their heritage is, what it means to be them. It’s nonsense of course, who we came from doesn’t make our destiny, doesn’t dictate what we do. Still, my mother’s always been kind of insistent about this sort of thing and about our roots, nostalgic for ‘merrie old England’ and she always hit a brick wall when we got back as far as that. I wasn’t going to pass up a free trip to England and so, here I was.

I’d wasted as much time as possible in London. I came from a small New England town and life in the big city was fascinating to me. I’d never even been as far as New York before, let alone somewhere as exciting and foreign as London. They spoke English at least and that meant I wasn’t completely out of my depth as I would have been in Paris or Berlin. It also meant I had a really good time out drinking and seeing the sights but sooner or later I had to get off my ‘arse’ and set about what mom wanted.

I’d rented a car and headed out, following the ancient map my mom had given me. It didn’t even have all the roads marked on it that were signposted and as I drove deeper and deeper into the countryside and nearer and nearer the coast I began to wonder if it even existed.

Out of season it was cheaper, that was one thing, but outside the city England was not the rolling green hills I’d been lead to expect. Britain has this peculiar quality sometimes where everything is grey. The sky is a cool slate grey, the mist swirling around you is the same and, when you see the sea, it’s the same damn colour. Top to bottom grey to the point where it seems to stretch away into infinity and you can’t tell where you are or even how blind you’ve even become.

I found the turning , finally, that was supposed to leave to the village. Mom was on a mission to have me find the old church records so we could trace the family further back. Maundbury – my home town – took its name from this village. Early settlers weren’t too creative with the names when they first came to America. Our settlers were particularly lazy, not even bothering to put a ‘New’ in front of it when they founded the place.

The road, such as it was, was more of a track now and this did not bode well. The car bounced and shuddered along, wreathed in mist and I was shaken nearly out of my seat. Suddenly the road fell away in front of me, vanishing into nothingness and it was all I could do to bring the bone-shaking car to a halt, the front wheels mere inches from falling away into the unknown darkness.

With my heart in my mouth I opened the door and stepped out into the swirling grey. The wind was blowing from behind me, weakly, out to sea. I could hear the waves, some distance below, washing against the shore and, if I crouched, I could find the very edge of the cliff, tufted with sickly grass, but there was no way to see the sea or how high up I was from the ground. The only way to tell where anything was, was the misty glow of the car’s headlights, and further away, off the road, a distant, glowing porch light.

Perhaps I’d taken a turning too soon and the one I’d wanted had been the next one, but I daren’t try and move the car in this mist. I reached in and turned off the engine, cutting the lights and left the car behind. I’d have no choice but to wait for it to clear and, hopefully, get some help to move it when it did clear.

The ground was soft and crumbly, like a hard cheese, under my feet as I trudged. Swirling mist clinging to my hair and clothes and making them damp as the distant glowing light slowly resolved itself into the the shape of a run-down Victorian house, weathered by the rain and the salt with rotting window frames and mould-speckled glass. Simultaneously hopeful and worrying was the fact that there was a sun-faded sign in the window of the door marked ‘rooms available’.

A glance at my watch told me it was only eight in the evening, it felt much later. I’d hoped for a pub or an inn to stay at but there were no other lights around and this seemed to be the only place to go. I hammered my hand against the door and stepped back to wait, trying to put on my best all-American smile for whoever opened the door.

The door opened side and the rush of hot air that issued forth was almost stifling compared to the cold air without. I blinked and smiled and smiled and blinked again and gave my best and most cheerful “Hi!”

The person who stood there in the light was a wizened little dwarf of a man. All hunch and hair with the occasional, sparse little cluster of red hair in the snow-white of his beard and sea-green eyes that peered up at me from the depths of stars of wrinkles.

“Can I ‘elp you?” He leaned against the door, seeming pretty confident for an old man confronting a stranger on his doorstep.

“My car’s stuck,” I shrugged apologetically. “I was hoping that, perhaps I might be able to get a room tonight until I can get it sorted out tomorrow?”

“Of course you can, come on in before you catch your death,” the old man’s face creaked into a smile and he stepped aside to let me in.

The air outside was a soaking blanket of cold, but inside it was steamy and hot. The moment I crossed the threshold sweat began to pour down my back. The place was cramped, it even looked like the walls were sweating. Ancient central heating was rattling away as I stood, taking in the bible verses on the walls and the peeling wallpaper.

“Got nothing with you?” The old man lead the way to the stairs and the threadbare carpet that covered them.

It took him an interminable amount of time to climb the steps and moving shadow caught my eye as I replied, a pair of feminine shadows watching me from the hallway below.

“It’s back in the car, I won’t be able to find it until the morning. Not to worry, so long as I can have a shower it’ll be alright.”

“Bath.”

“What?”

“No shower, just a bath.”

“Oh, that will be alright.”

The women’s faces were framed by red hair, one old, one young, staring unsettlingly until they slid out of sight when we finally reached the landing. The floorboards bent under my weight as the old man shuffled up to one of the doors.

“Here we are mister…?”

“Bremer, John Bremer,” I smiled to him again and assured him I’d be alright and that I’d take breakfast in the morning. All but slamming the strange old gnome’s own door in his face as I escaped into the room.

The room stank of damp and the window frame was crumbling and stained black. The single pane windows rattled as the draught wended its way out through the frame and the bed had the firmness and the wet smell of the unused. It groaned as I sat on it and I knew how it felt as I flipped on the bedside light – it barely made any difference.

Mark 1:17 peered down at me from one wall, gilt, in a frame and an old, local map glared down from the other, showing the peninsula we were on ‘The Tongue’ and the village, on the part of the peninsula that didn’t seem to be there any longer. Was Maundbury even there any longer? Was this all that was left? This whole trip was a bust, mom was going to be pissed but if the village wasn’t even there, there was nothing to be done.

Looking out the window told me nothing more than it had before. Outside the glass the whole world was a sea of grey, making it seem like the house was the only thing that existed and the only sounds were the distant wash of the sea and the constant, unpredictable rattle of the heating. No television, no radio, it seemed odd. I wondered if they were gathered below me, in silence, listening up towards the ceiling.

Whatever the case, I wasn’t going anywhere until morning. So I slept. Swathed in mist, surrounded by Bible passages and the ghost of a missing village. The very past I had no real interest of my own in.

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