Why Hill House is the Greatest Place in Horror Fiction, According to Andy

Hello and Hallo-welcome to a surprise twist on our Tuesday theme–it’s Textual Analysis Tuesday, and you join your blogger, Andy, as he takes a little trip to a familiar house.

******

In the list of places you wouldn’t want to spend the night, Shirley Jackson’s Hill House has got to be near the top of the list. Probably the greatest ghost story ever written, The Haunting of Hill House is not for the faint-hearted. No ghouls wander the halls rattling chains in a white sheet. There’s no elaborate backstory of lost love or evil within, no reason for a haunting given. There’s just old tragedy, and cold spots, and banging on the walls and doors, and a slow prising open of psychological wounds. In the night. In the dark.

The title is intentionally misleading: the house may not be haunted, per se. It can be the subject of the title, and not the object. That tricky little of may also be possessive: the haunting belongs to Hill House, but not something it does.

The fact that Shirley Jackson managed to pack that much ambiguity into five words speaks volumes about the rest of the novel. A dozen people can read this book and come to different conclusions about what, precisely has happened. One thing is clear, though. There’s something deeply wrong with Hill House:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

The opening paragraph of the novel does so much in such a short space of time that anyone who writes for a living must regard it with a certain amount of awe. Hill House is “not sane”, but the implication is that it is a live organism. It exists under “conditions of absolute reality” and does not dream: it does not sleep. It’s isolated; it owns the hills that surround it, and it has agency in holding in darkness. It is, at least in some way, conscious. It is well-built; neither dilapidated or ruined by time, and will outlive almost everyone who reads the passage. It is a silent, lonely place, which very subtly implies that not even mice or other pests go near the empty house. And of course, whatever walks there does so silently, without opening any of the doors.

The fact that this paragraph also closes the novel adds a further ambiguity to the titular haunting. To a creature such as Hill House, what would four investigators (who remember don’t exist “under conditions of absolute reality”) staying for a few days be perceived as if not a haunting?

“I am like a small creature swallowed whole by a monster, she thought, and the monster feels my tiny little movements inside”

What we’re missing so far is a physical description, and that’s what we would expect when or protagonist first sees Hill House. Instead we get this:

“No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.”

Again, there’s the idea that the house is always awake, always “not sane”; note the use of the word “maniac” instead of “manic”. It looks like “a place of despair”, and worse, it looks back at you. Houses are very rarely described this way; and the common word we do use, ugly, is never once mentioned. In some ways that makes the house even stranger: it may not even be ugly, but it is wrong.

That’s not to say as a building that Hill House isn’t strange.

“[Eleanor’s bedroom] had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible tolerable length”

This, as Dr Montague explains later, is entirely intentional:

“Every angle is slightly wrong. Hugh Crain must have detested other people and their sensible squared-away houses, because he made his house to suit his mind. Angles which you assume are the right angles you are accustomed to, and have every right to expect are true, are actually a fraction of a degree off in one direction or another”.

The characters frequently get lost, and doors don’t lead where they expect them to. In addition, the doors are all hung to swing closed on their own if they are not propped open, and several times in the novel the doors are found shut again despite them being propped open. Mrs Dudley the housekeeper is assumed to have shut them, but then again, nobody ever asks her. A grim irony is made from the third sentence of the opening paragraph of the novel, a sentence that at face value seemed almost superfluous:

“Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut.”

What at first seems like alliteration is instead yet another insight into the wrongness of Hill House. Everything it says is literally true, and nothing else. Walls are upright but meet at strange angles, bricks meet neatly but not straight on, floors are firm but may not be level, and the doors are shut because they are designed that way. Of course, it is sensible to shut doors in a large house, but that’s not the only implication. The doors of the house shutting is both rational and reasonable: the rest of the house is neither.

This is a house that, by its very design, messes with the occupants very sense of reality. Here we have something that Lovecraft grasped towards in his writings about ‘non-euclidian geometry’ and ‘strange angles’, most famously in The Call of Cthulhu and Dreams in the Witch House. The result, according to modern psychological studies, is akin to being on a low level acid trip or another dissociative drug, in that once our minds becomes ever so slightly uncoupled from the ‘real world’, our other senses start to behave oddly as well:

“‘Could it be,’ [Luke] asked the doctor, ‘that what people have been assuming were supernatural manifestations were really only the result of a slight loss of balance in the people live here?’”

And at another point Dr Montague remarks:

“We have grown to trust blindly in our senses of balance and reason, and I can see where the mind might fight wildly to preserve its own familiar stable patterns against all evidence that it was leaning sideways.”

It is a grim irony that Hill House exists under conditions of absolute reality, while destroying the occupants’ sense of it. Then again, if it is less than absolute, how real is real?

Of course, the novel plays out to its tragic conclusion, but what has actually occurred is left up to the reader to decide. The house may just be a house after all, a place with a tragic history with a new chapter added. Poor Eleanor was already disturbed when she came to Hill House, and may have been far closer to the edge than anyone realises. And as for the strange noises and the cold spots and the odd hallucinations? Well, we all see things that aren’t there, especially in such a strange, old building after all. In the night. In the dark.

But then again, Hill House is intact at the end, in its hills, never sleeping, never dreaming. A veneer of plausible deniability does not disguise its evil face, and Eleanor still died in its grounds, either possessed by the house or her own delusions. And as Jackson’s masterpiece concludes with a reprise of its opening paragraph, a final, terrifying thought comes to mind.

Why did she specify live organisms?

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Monkey Shines; or Home Care Needs More Oversight

Welcome back to Mixed Bag Friday, where Lilly and Andy just review something that interests one or both of them. This week, you join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they wonder how many monkeys can be considered a problem.

Today’s offering: Monkey Shines: A Study in Fear

Andy: Hey Lilly! Wanna come watch a movie about an evil monkey?

Lilly?

Lilly: I am NOT encouraging this.

Andy: Her loss. I’ll just get my helper monkey to help me. Isn’t that right, Blanche?

Blanche: EEE EEE

Andy: There’s a good girl. Have a dorito.

download.jpgThe evil monkey genre is one that I feel is severely underrepresented. They’re smart, quick, dexterous and small, which makes them a perfect horror movie adversary. They’re also genuinely evil in real life – monkeys drove the Deputy Mayor of New Delhi off a balcony to his death in 2010. Seriously.

They’re also cute, so nobody likes the idea of hurting a monkey, which may be why: it kinda puts the kibosh on the whole triumphant fightback that would happen if the humans were to stand a chance.

But there is one movie with an evil monkey, and it is deeply, deeply weird. For a start it was George A. Romero’s first studio movie, released a full two decades after his breakthrough with Night of the Living Dead. It also has a sympathetic portrayal of disability combined with a romantic relationship, which is a LOT rarer than it should be. But I get ahead of myself.

Our plot begins with an athlete, Allan, who is immediately hit by a truck and rendered quadriplegic. Ouch. After failing to adjust to his condition and becoming suicidal, his scientist friend reveals that he has been experimenting with injecting a ‘smart-serum’ into Capuchin monkeys. I wonder if this was the same drug from Deep Blue Sea 2?

Dorothy: EEE-eee-EEE-Ohohoho-EEE

Andy: “Capuchins and bull sharks are genetically different enough that the chance of their brains processing complex chemicals the same way is very small. Also Deep Blue Sea 2 sucked.”

You’re probably right Dorothy. Have a pringle.

Anyway, he offers one of the modified monkeys called ‘Elle’ to Allan as a helper, and the two soon become really close and his life improves. At the same time he meets Melanie, a specialist in his condition, and a romance blossoms between them.

Trouble is, Elle is the jealous type, and has also apparently become a telepathic receptacle for all of Allan’s sublimated rage about what happened to him. Monkey killing spree time!

I really like this movie. The quadriplegia is treated respectfully and realistically, and Jason Beghe really sells the emotional toll this sort of injury can take, and his interactions with Elle are really well done. It’s also a fascinatingly terrifying idea: something that much smaller than you that you are utterly dependent on slowly turning on you and those around you. Creepy.

The whole thing is played very straight, which also helps, because it is, ultimately, a movie in which someone is killed by a monkey pushing a toaster into a bathtub.

Go! Watch! Enj-

Lilly: ANDY.

Andy: Yes?

Lilly: Sophia was marking her territory in the upstairs lounge, and then Rose beat the shit out of her and shit in the shower. Also I’m pretty sure Rose is a dude.

Andy: Ah.

Lilly: Also Blanche and Dorothy are getting fat. Are you feeding them chips again?

Andy: …No.

Lilly: Blanche is literally holding a bag of doritos. And she’s wheezing. GET RID OF THE MONKEYS. FOR THE LAST TIME. PLEASE.

Andy: …

Blanche: …

Dorothy: …eep?

Andy: No, I don’t want you to “do something about her”.

Go! Watch! Enjoy!

The Satanic Rites of Dracula; or Break Ups are Hard with Drac and Van Helsing

Hello and Hallo-welcome to Walmart* DVD Wednesdays, where we pick a film from a $5 DVD we bought from Walmart featuring 12 ‘Horror Classics’! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who definitely aren’t into Satanic Rituals if they only happen at midnight, as frankly, that’s after their bedtimes!

Today’s Film Offering: The Satanic Rites of Dracula

the-satanic-rites-of-dracula-1.jpgLilly: Hoo boy, readers. Have we got some films for you! Films that are definitely just under 42 cents each worth of entertainment, at the very least! If you’ve never bought a horror compilation DVD from Walmart, are you even a horror fan?

Our first Walmart classic is actually a legit classic–one of Hammer’s Dracula films starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Listen, you might not think of The Satanic Rites of Dracula as being well known, but when it’s put on a DVD with the films this treasure trove of tripe has, you’ll take what you can get.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula kicks right off mid-ritual, complete with seventies Hammer nudity and henchmen inexplicably all wearing those lamb skin vests. Pro tip: If you’re trying to make your cult seem less like a cult, matching outfits are a no-no outside the ritual room. Turns out, these odd meetings and rituals have been going on for a while, and they are being investigated by the police. Sort of. Because any investigation has to be on the DL due to the fact that some of those old men in the meeting (actually, all of them) are higher ups in the British government and well, isn’t that a sticky political scenario!

Lucky for the investigation, they have photos of the men higher up, all except a mysterious sixth man who didn’t show up on film.

VAMPIRE.

I mean, not obviously, maybe the photographer was shit or wrong, but still.

VAMPIRE.

Enter the conveniently-known-somehow Dr.Van Helsing played by mother effing Peter Cushing and his perky granddaughter played by mother effing Joanna Lumley! This is where the film turns into some sort of weird tale of revenge and redemption, carrying on a rivalry from a previous film, Dracula A.D. 1972. Which we haven’t seen, but hey, it didn’t seem overly relevant so whatever! This film was also the last time we see Peter and Christopher Vamp Rivals it up, Peter returning for the next (and last) Hammer Dracula film but Christopher opting out. Which somehow made the last scene where (obviously) Van Helsing kills Dracula (again) a little bit sad. Aw. Last time, guys. Also, is that skeleton MELTING?!

So, some perks of the film–it was hilarious. I know it wasn’t meant to be, but gosh, did it make me laugh. From a man hitting his head on an overhead light as he was escaping to, no word of a lie (AND SPOILERS) Dracula getting caught in a shrub (a bit of vamp lore played with you don’t see anymore), I was enjoying it.

And maybe that’s the point of Hammer, the reason why I, for one, love it so. It’s just so fun to watch Joanna Lumley with over-plucked eyebrows trying to scream her way out of every scenario, and to watch Peter Cushing discussing the Dracula issue with TWO cardigans on–it’s a TWO CARDIGAN problem! Also, the gravitas of Christopher Lee is almost impossibly thick to the point where you’re almost like ‘you know, maybe this Dracula guy has a point…’ and then Van Helsing with his compassionate speech about how Dracula might want to end his life after being a ‘cursed immortal’ and do I ship Dracula and aged Van Helsing? Of course I do, and you will too unless you have no HEART. Also, vampires were subdued by sprinklers. Sprinklers. Just. Stop film. Stop.

So it’s got weird cuts that sort of jump. So it’s got continuity errors like Joanna’s shirt changing from a hideous orange to a hideous yellow between being-chased scenes. So it features way too many scenes where it is people talking about things over and over but not doing them, as if they had to reset film stages and thought we needed to be entertained in between like a live play, but like, it’s a film, we can just…not be aware it takes time to get the action scene set up again, man. And so the acting outside of Peter and Christopher is a bit ‘We’re in a horror film, so I assume we gasp and scream and scowl a lot?’ which does make their acting come off as a bit intense when other people are in the room.

BUT it features the plague, so like. Can we be mad? No. No, readers, we cannot. Also, tell me you don’t love the weird shadow effect in the title credits of an awkward looming Dracula and I’ll call you a liar, because of course you do.

If you enjoy Hammer films, and if you think of Christopher Lee when you think of Dracula, you should check this one out. If you don’t like Hammer films and don’t know who Christopher Lee is well…why are you even here?

Go, watch, and enjoy!

*A note: Hallowfest has no connection to or affiliation with Walmart whatsoever, and our opinions do not reflect Walmart in the least.

Charly says always tell…

I

It has been 6 years since Charlie went missing. I don’t think many people miss him.

I was interviewed by the police endlessly at the time, but when police busted in his dormitory door, and discovered two Glock 34s and a manifesto detailing his desire to end “all the bitches, whores, sluts and undesirables” who had made his life so difficult the day after he vanished was enough to mute any sympathy for the missing 21 year old.

I had had a hard time convincing the police that I knew nothing of the potential crimes, or of his disappearance, but as a search of my own room had turned up nothing in either case, and the weeks stretched to months with no sign of Charlie, I was let go, although I felt a particular sense of being watched for the next two years or so.

Maybe this document will vindicate those tireless, irritating cops who knew that I knew something else; that I had more to tell. Because of course I did. I couldn’t say with absolute certainty what had happened to him, but I knew enough to keep me awake and sweating at nights, and enough for the more perceptive investigators to sense it and shadow me.

Something else shadowed me through those long months. Readers may come away from this story thinking it little more than my own guilty dread, but I have seen the woman again, standing on the corner of Robie and Quinpool, and I know that she sees me too.

My hands sweat as I type this. Let me return for a moment to Charlie, and more mundane horrors.

I had known Charlie since I was six years old. We like to pretend that we choose our friends, and that certainly becomes easier as we age, but for children accidents of proximity take precedence over almost anything else.

He wasn’t repulsive then, not yet. Certainly as he grew into a teenager there was an arrogance there, born out of the fact that he was very clever, at least academically, but many would have said the same thing about me at the time – many still do – but the true ugliness emerged among the ravages of puberty.

There are obvious exceptions of course, but the poisonous chalice of hormones that ravage a small boy’s (and girl’s!) body do have some unpleasant side-effects. Myself, I could not stop squeaking for a solid two years, and frequent eruptions on my nose and chin plagued me well into my twenties. Charlie, however, was something else. There’s a kind of acne that looks almost diseased, turning the skin a darkish purple and mottled. I thank the stars every day that I was not affected as badly, but Charlie was not so lucky.

It was then we had our first rude awakening to how the world works. Every piece of media aimed towards children emphasises that it’s “what’s on the inside that counts”, but in the cruel, closed world of High School, that noble lie is trampled into the dust. We weren’t bullied, as such – there was no single perpetrators, but those who have been through a similar experience will know of that miasma of unfocused hate that teenagers direct towards their social inferiors. If you explained it to them, the caste system of pre-modern India would seem a perfectly reasonable analogue.

I have never thought of myself as a realist, but all of this seemed perfectly obvious to me, even at the time. Charlie, someone who approached the world as he thought it should be, lived in the semi-delusional belief that rather than being at the bottom, we were at the top. We certainly were academically, but by any other bar we ranked somewhere near the kids with learning disabilities. He even convinced himself that romantically there was no one at the school “worth bothering with”. The fact that this was a reaction to none of them bothering with him seemed to have been swept under the rug.

I had grown apart from him in my later school years, and by the time I graduated I seemed, by luck rather than by design, to have stripped most of the unnameable, undesirable qualities that I had apparently possessed. I even had a girlfriend, a sweet, timid girl who I loved spending time with.

Charlie, however, still seemed to be stuck in a holding pattern. Whatever had allowed me to break from the loop had not broken him, and I found him an increasingly bitter individual to be around. He had begun to rail, in a way that was to become familiar, against the women around him – abandoning his former position of aloof non-interest to an angry, cynical view of those he went to High School with. I wondered what had changed him, and eventually a girl we had both known for some time admitted that she had had to gently rebuff him and this hadn’t gone well.

I suppose, in our own ways, we had wanted university to be a fresh start. I had broken up with my girlfriend amicably, and was eager and excited to meet new people at Acadia. I had learned that I had to share a sink with another person in the next room, but was delighted to discover that I had my own space.

Charlie had jealously guarded his applications from me, despite the fact I didn’t care, and on the day I moved in I found out why. He was in the room next to me, and we had to share a sink. I friendship had fallen a long way – I felt a twinge of revulsion at the idea.

He acted like nothing had changed, and while he was a good guy to game with at other times he was extremely difficult to be around. He held forth long winded rants on any and every subject, ridiculing those of us who dared disagree with him. His ego grew to gigantic heights, as he declared himself a genius and started calling those of us who disagreed “poor, deluded fools”. He was a rampant conspiracy theorist.

Obviously this alienated anyone I brought back, and new guy friends I coached carefully or went and hung out at their place. With girls, there was no question of bringing them back. At best, he was a figure of fun among my friends and course mates, but for me there was less and less humour with every passing day. He was an active nuisance.

As his ego grew, his attention to his appearance and cleanliness fell away. He had never been a skinny kid, as opposed to me who had always looked like a recovering heroin addict, but a poor diet of kebabs and fried chicken swelled him to an enormous size over the course of a few months.

Worse though was the smell. An adolescence spent in a crowded school had taught me the value of deodorant and regular bathing, but the lesson had been lost on Charlie. A stale, rank odour hung in the air between our rooms, solidifying into a tangible taste in his room itself. After a few months I stopped going in there, and stopped inviting people around altogether. The ones who knew, understood.

People often wonder at my strange hobby of burning incense, assuming it’s an affectation with a whiff of cultural appropriation, but in truth I now work best with something burning nearby simply because there was no other way to work in my tiny dorm room.

He sometimes came out with us. Those occasions I dreaded the most, because he inevitably invited himself and covered himself in some foul-smelling cologne. The trouble was, this was the time that social media had only just taken off, so hiding events and parties from him was tricky.

He was rude, difficult, whiny, abrasive, offensive and unpleasant.

It was on one of these occasions, buoyed up by one too many beers, that I finally told Charlie to fuck off. I had endured him for over a decade and I was done with him.

He moved out a week after that.

I didn’t see Charlie for eighteen months.

II

It was the middle of finals week in my second year that I saw Charlie again. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was sharply dressed, and had shaved his head and beard. He had lost a ton of weight, and then seemed to have put some of it back on as muscle. He looked almost, well, normal. At least until he opened his mouth.

“Good morning! And how are you?”

He had caught me by surprise, and now held one of my hands in a death grip. He talked like a politician. I responded that I was fine. Something seemed off.

“Excellent, Excellent. Still skinny I see!”

With that he grabbed at my forearm, and I instinctively pulled away. What was going on here? There had been a harsh glimmer in his eyes as he’d spoken, followed by another faceless grin. As he’d said it his line of sight had momentarily flickered to a group of girls stood nearby. I had a sneaking suspicion that this conversation was for their benefit.

“Listen.” he put an arm around me, and there was that cologne again. “We’re friends. I want to help you out.”

I was still too shell-shocked from his barrage that I didn’t come out with some snarky comeback. I just nodded, wondering what he could help me with.

“I’ve got to run, but there’s a book you should read. I’ll drop it around your dorm tomorrow.”

With that he let go, and sauntered off. Absurdly, he had a cane that he twirled. I didn’t know how I hadn’t noticed it.

Later that evening, I returned to my dorm to find a book propped up against the door. There was no note, but I had no doubts as to who it was from. I picked it up, and it took a few seconds to work out what it was.

A few weeks before, one of my less romantically successful friends had been talking to us about something he called ‘game’. He’d been reading some stuff online, and thought that these guides on ‘picking up’ would help him out. We’d laughed at him then, and Bear had first tousled his hair and then set him up on a date with a girl from one of his labs. They had got on like a house on fire and John hadn’t mentioned it again.

This however, looked similar. I read it over the next three days. It was a strange mixture of sound advice about personal hygiene and appearance, solid confidence boosters, truly bizarre ‘pick up’ techniques and a couple of things that in retrospect sounded suspiciously close to date rape.

He called me a week later, almost breathless with excitement.

“Did you read it?”

I confirmed that I had, and was about to voice some concerns when he interrupted.

“Well then, let’s hit the town! I’ll be round about eight.”

I went that night, more out of a sense of genuine curiosity than anything else. We hit a bar first, and as we went in Charlie silently indicated a group of girls at the bar. I hung back at first, just watching. He went up and, to my astonishment, pulled a bunch of fake flowers from his wrist. The girls laughed, delighted, and before long I had joined them around a large table. There was one girl in particular I really liked the look of, and she returned my shy smile with one of her own. Meanwhile Charlie was regaling the table with stories of our school days, most of which never happened.

The shift was subtle, but I could feel it when he started to lose the room. Under the nice clothes and the muscles there remained a tiresome blowhard, and he interrupted the other girls when they tried to speak. Eventually, I went to pee, and when I came back they were filing out of the door. I did run into the shy girl again some time later, though. We had a little boy last June.

Charlie didn’t understand what had happened. He had followed the rules proscribed, and yet still wasn’t getting anywhere. He sat down heavily, and to my astonishment, started crying right there and then. It all came tumbling out. He was still a virgin. The book hadn’t helped. He was going to die a virgin, and he had been a perfect gentlemen and they only wanted assholes, so fuck them and he would have his revenge.

I put it down to drunken rambling, but that last phrase still haunts me to this day.

III

I didn’t see him again for another six months. I didn’t think he was dangerous, not then, but I didn’t want to be around him. Chloe had got the full story out of me on our third official date, and felt sorry for him, but my pity and my patience was through. He had put up a facade, and that facade had cracked and revealed the ugliness beneath. Maybe one day he would grow up, but for now, I was done.

The same as before, he got in contact with me. He cornered me when he saw me going into a shop. He asked me if I was still dating ‘that bitch from the bar’, and it took an incredible amount of restraint for me to not hit him. There was something off about him, an anger covered with placidity that frightened me. I said yes.

He told me with a sickly smile that he still wanted revenge on those girls, and all the other girls at the university. I didn’t know what this meant at the time, but now I do I still shiver when I think about it. He had met someone online, he told me, an older woman, who agreed with his plans. He had apparently let his heart out to this stranger, and been responded to in kind.

The day after he met up with her for the first time was even stranger. He knocked on my door almost absent-mindedly, and seemed vaguely distant the whole time. He even seemed this way when I asked about his date.

“She’s … wonderful.” he said, in a singsong voice. “I’m seeing her tonight.” His head turned slowly to the window.“I should be going.”

He left, and as far as I told the police, that was the last time I saw him. I was apparently one of the last – there are a few witnesses who saw him get on the bus and get off on Quinpool, but other than that, nothing.

I lied to the police. The true story of what happened that night, insofar as I know it, is as follows.

Something was seriously wrong with Charlie. That much was obvious, but at the same time I had no idea how he would react to me following him on his date.

It was cold outside, so I bundled myself up and pulled the hood on my jacket as far forward as it would go. I lurked in the shadows near the bus stop, and slipped on just before it pulled away. Charlie had gone upstairs. I followed him.

The stairs came out around a third of the way down the bus, and to my relief I spotted Charlie in front of them, facing forward. My cover wasn’t blown yet. I stared at the back of his head the whole way, and he didn’t move once. Eventually, when the bus lurched to a stop, he stood and, still with that dreamy look on his face, headed down the stairs. I waited a few seconds, and then followed.

By the time I got off he was some distance down the street, talking to a woman. She caressed his face, and to my surprise, wasn’t wearing gloves or anything on her sleeves. She was very pale, and very tall. She put a hand on his back, and as they turned to walk away, she looked down the street straight at me. Instantly I knew that while Charlie might still be oblivious, she knew what I had done. The look, a terrifying, penetrating look from two black pools, was one of almost idle curiosity. And then, they swept off, and were around a corner before I recovered.

I ran, and slipped, and ran again, reaching the corner to see Charlie being ushered into a boarded up house. The woman had her back to me, and she followed him in.

It was by now almost completely dark. Street lamps buzzed and came on as a crept up to the house. I stepped over a waist high fence and looked through the cracks in the shutters.

A single streetlamp behind me served to illuminate the gloom. I saw Charlie standing, facing the window, and the woman sultrily stepped behind him. There was a strange, shifting quality to her now, and as she left the light she seemed to be taller still.

A few seconds passed, and then something large and bulky got between Charlie and the window. The street light still shone, and it illuminated something black and scaly at my eye level. I could hear the woman talking now, a low level hissing sound that froze my blood. She was angry, and the bulk in front of my eyes swayed slowly from side to side.

It was only when it moved completely that the truth dawned on me. The black scaly thing blocking my eyes and the woman were one and the same. I fell at that, and only through youthful stupidity (masquerading as willpower) did I force myself back to the window.

Charlie was stood, alone in the room. He still had that dreamy expression his face, lolled to one side, but the strange purple lips and bloody drool suggested he was dead.

The woman, or whatever it was, was nowhere to be seen, at least at first. A pair of hands with white insectile fingers appeared out of the gloom and placed themselves on Charlie’s shoulders. He collapsed slowly, as if whatever had killed him had made him rigid and immobile. The creature bent over him, and cooed softly, a long black tail curling around his body.

Oh my dear. My poor dear. You will feed my sisters who cannot yet stray from the nest. But, my love, what shall we do about the one outside? Time, my dear, time. We must give it time to mature.

 

Cynthie

When I received the telegram from Sir Walter Hawthorne, I must confess I was surprised. We had had some short acquaintance in during the Great War, both serving on the staff of General, now Viscount, Byng, and as far as I had remembered we had shared little in common, despite our roles as medical professionals in a war that made a mockery of such.

There was one thing, however. Both of us had expressed an interest in so-called spiritualism – although as I recalled, his studies had taken a far more occult bent than my own more casual dabbling. It was to this his telegram alluded:

My dear Julian (our acquaintance had obviously meant more to him!)

I have reached a critical point in my studies and require some help to make the next stage a success. Please attend as soon as able.

Walter.

 

I considered his request carefully, but having no patients in the immediate future, at least none that could not be put off. I packed my suitcases, left instructions for the housekeeper, and headed up into the wilder reaches of the Annapolis Valley.

As the motor car rattled northwards, I tried to remember what little I knew of Sir Walter. He was married, certainly, and I remember distinctly the impression that she was a foreigner of some kind, due to vague references he had made. More definite was his daughter – his face had lit up when he talked about her and he had even had shown me a wrinkled browning photograph of a stern looking girl in a floral dress.

The girl stuck in my memory because of a peculiarity of her features. She was not an ugly child, but a certain elongation of her face leant her eyes a strange look. I would have put it down to her foreign parentage if I had not seen mixed race children on my travels. If her mother was some form of foreigner, I had no idea from where she came.

The other oddity was the picture itself. It was the fashion in those days for the picture of a child to be fully in the picture, or else a close-up of the face. This was neither, and instead there was the upper half of the child in the lower half of the picture and an eternity of brown space above her head. This was more easily explained, however. Sir Walter had clearly taken the picture himself, and as an inexperienced amateur, had not framed her in it correctly.

Eventually the road gave way to a rutted track, and then a sharp right turn up a steep driveway brought me to Sir Walter’s abode. It was a handsome house of Georgian vintage, with high windows and a certain solidity of structure houses of that era possess. After passing dozens of farmsteads that could be described as little more than shacks, the house was a reassuring sight, and I at once pictured a roaring fireplace and a hearty meal.

When Sir Walter answered the door himself, something felt amiss. He was a man of considerable means, and therefore answering his own door must have been an eccentricity rather than a necessity. There didn’t appear to be any other staff around either.

As I stepped over the threshold, I was immediately hit by a wave of heat. Instead of the relief I expected, I almost staggered and gagged. This was not the heat of a fire – it was a wet, almost tangible thing, that stifled the air and filled it with a smell not unlike rotting fruit. As I stepped into the kitchen there seemed to be no source for this miasma. It was foul.

It even seemed to bother Sir Walter a little, and he mopped his brow as he led me towards an armchair. When we sat, I properly examined my old wartime companion for the first time.

He was a stooped, quiet man, who owed his title more to ancestral fortune than to any merit on his part. A shock of grey hair shot out from each temple, and to my astonishment I noticed he was wearing rubber boots. He was nervous, and avoided eye contact with me. Instead he removed his spectacles, repeatedly rubbing at them and putting them back. After a few minutes of this – he standing, I sitting, to add to the awkward atmosphere – he seemed to focus on me properly for the first time.

“Well, Julian, shall we begin?”

At this a certain degree of anger hit me. He had dragged me up to his house with little to no explanation, and now was expecting me to proceed in a matter I knew nothing about!

“Look, Sir Walter (he waved his hand at this as if the title meant little), I have driven a long way with little to no rest, and I believe the very least I am owed is an explanation for why I am here.”

He crumpled at that. He suddenly looked very old, and very tired. He indicated towards the mantle.

“I…” He stopped and composed himself. “I wish to see Cynthie again.”

On the mantle was a copy of the same photograph I had seen years before, beautifully framed and lined with black velvet.

I regretted my anger immediately. My own spiritualism had withered in the face of too many frauds, but obviously his had not, He had contacted me in the hopes of conversing with the dead.

“I’m terribly sorry, Walter. I had no idea.”

“She’s with her mother now.” he said, and there was a strange hint of malice in his voice as well as grief. “But with your help, I hope that tonight I will see her again.”

He had become distant again, so I stood and indicated that he should lead on.

He led me down into a cavernous basement. It was from here that I realised the smell was coming from, as some glutinous mixture of enzymes covered the entire floor. He indicated that I should put on another pair of rubber boots he had at the top of the stairs.

Down at the bottom the smell was almost intolerable. I had spoken to a handful of people who had the misfortune to inhale mustard gas and this was similar to how they described the sensation. It seemed to cling to my very clothes, and penetrated into the furthest reaches of my sinuses. There was something else to it now, something worse than rotting fruit. Something … burnt.

In the centre of the room a small platform was raised, and on it, arcane symbols had been carefully drawn out in chalk. I had seen some of them before, in books I dare not mention, but others were unfamiliar to me. I examined them for a few minutes, before Sir Walter busied me away from it.

“No, no, no. You stand here.”

He indicated a spot on the far side of the cellar. Here I was far from both the platform and the curious array of equipment that Sir Walter went back to adjusting. He switched on an electric spotlight above the platform, and plunged the rest of the basement into pitch black.

“In a moment,” he cried out, “I will run a current through the substrate on the floor. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.”

I affirmed that I understood, and he flipped the switch. There was a buzzing of an enormously powerful generator, and around the platform a sickly glow, lit by flashes and sparks, spread from the liquid. It glowed, to the extent that I could see Sir Walter’s grim face by his machinery, concentrating intently on the centre of the room. This went on for what seemed like several minutes, and I was just about to yell that Sir Walter had better power down or risk burning out his equipment, movement caught my eye at the edge of the illumination.

Into the spotlight stepped Sir Walter’s daughter. Cynthie had grown into a young woman, with thick black hair cascading down her front. Her eyes were closed, and I thanked god in that moment that they were, for as she stepped forward again, the rest of her body came into view.

From the waist up she was normal, or at the very least, human. She was naked, and her long hair preserved her modesty. Her hands were clasped in front of her in a mockery of prayer. From the waist down, there was something … else. She had not come fully onto the platform yet, and I could only see a hint of a scaly blackness below her waist.

Two giant arachnid forelegs came out in front of her, and pulled her snake-like rear fully onto the platform. I shrieked in that moment, and she opened her eyes and stared at me curiously with fully human eyes. Below her waist her limbs moved again, and four insectile legs clasped the edges of the platform, supporting the bulk of what was behind. Dear God! No wonder he had taken the photograph in such a way!

She turned from me and looked at Sir Walter.

“Father.” she said, silky smooth and without a hint of affection.

“Cynthie!” he said, stepping forward.

The final horror came as a shadow detached itself from the wall behind me, and moved around the edge of the room with inhuman speed. I never saw it clearly, but as Sir Walter reached towards his daughter, something foul and insectile reached around and lifted him clear off the floor and spun him around.

A dozen eyes glittered in the darkness. Thus far I was rooted to the spot, but the final thing that sent me careening from that house of horrors was when the second creature spoke. It was a raspy, cooing noise, and infinitely horrible and alien, yet also undeniably female. Sir Walter screamed at what she said, and as I ran up the stairs there was a ragged, tearing noise and the screams died.

However, it was the words themselves that would keep me from sleep for countless nights to come. I would play them over and over again, and marvel at the nightmare I had narrowly escaped:

Foolish Lover. Did you really think that someone else could pay the price for you?

Maglocunus

There has been much speculation on the nature of my experiences in Northern Wales. I have been reluctant to speak for fear of ridicule and professional ruin, but now I feel the time has come. My anxieties have been overcome by a greater dread following the announcement of the proposed expedition to the dark and forbidden valley in which my partner Sir Henry Grayle and I made the initial discovery amongst the barrows. His subsequent disappearance and my lengthy hospitalisation are a matter of public record, but there has been little else for the gossip columns on Fleet Street to go on.

Seeing as the few facts known don’t seem to have disturbed the minds of the men behind the current proposal,  I will state this as clearly as possible: the barrows must not be opened.

———–

Perhaps I had better start at the beginning. My schooling was laid out from an early age, through King’s College School through to the University of the same name. I was tempted to take up theology, but ultimately washed up on the shores of the Faculty of History.

There were, at this time, several lines of study open to me. At the time, Egyptology was in vogue, and this seemed to be the most intellectually profitable direction I could take. However, one season in the baking Arab sun cured me of my misconception, as I had no desire to be a mere relic hunter and the relentless heat drove down my spirits.

It was with some surprise, then, that I quickly discovered another line of enquiry closer to home. The semi-legendary Kings of Britain’s Dark Age past reached out to me from the pages of Gildas and Geoffrey of Monmouth to grip and fascinate me. Shadows of vanished kingdoms danced in front of me, haunting my dreams.

However, outside of these excellent sources, the evidence was less than substantial. In fact, it was non-existent. Instead of the later, clear narratives of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, there was a deafening void, filled by puerile tales of King Arthur.

Nevertheless, I was content, and much to my surprise in this time I somehow acquired a protege. Sir Henry Grayle was a tall, wiry man whose eyes were so pale blue that people mistook him for being blind. He was a good man, and fine company, and given the scarcity of material he was soon up to a similar level of comprehension and we collaborated on many papers.

However, his historiographical methods differed somewhat from mine. While I was content mostly with academic work (my sojourn in Egypt having cured me of my delusions of adventure), Sir Henry felt the pull of the natural outdoorsman. In some ways I feel as if he lacked imagination – he could not conjure the lost realms of Ancient Britannia without sensory input.

It was at this time I noticed another worrying trend. His desire to work in the field, so to speak, and his obsession with recovering artifacts of that era, began to resemble the rapacious treasure hunters of Egypt I had so despised. In Sir Henry’s case, I believe he was innocent of their baser desires, the Grayles being an exceptionally wealthy family, but I fear he searched for something greater. Prestige, perhaps.

He also gave much more credence to local legend than I felt appropriate. His first instinct upon entering a town or village was to frequent the local pub, conversing with the locals and asking about the traditions of that particular part of the world. The fact that he was able to do so was due in no small part to his effortless charm, a skill I envied him, and that may have influenced my attitude.

It was late last August, when I received word from Sir Henry from just outside Beaumaris. The telegram was opaque, and unfortunately the original is lost, but one word stood out to me among the confusing talk of great discoveries. The word was Maglocunus.

A shiver went up my spine. I am not sure if it was excitement or fear. The word means a great deal to scholars of Brythonic Kings, but for the benefit of lay readers I will briefly outline the reason.

Maglocunus was the name of a Brythonic King from around the middle of the 6th Century. Unlike many of the semi-legendary kings of this era, he is known from a contemporary source, indeed the only contemporary source – De excidio et conquestu Britanniae by the British monk Gildas.

The document, a polemic of brutal condemnation, targets the contemporary clergy and ruling class of Britain, identifying the moral failings of the British people for their slow conquest at the hands of the Saxons. He saves his most bitter recriminations for the ruler of Anglesey, a king he refers to as the ‘Dragon of the Island’. To this person he ascribes many foul deeds, including the murder of his nephew and wife, claiming he had sunk to ‘the lowest depths of sacrilege’. His name, as given, is Maglocunus.

For years, the overwhelming condemnation heaped on the subjects of Gildas’ sermon has been assumed to have a political, as well as spiritual edge. The clergy, nearly untouchable to the Britons even in the face of Saxon apocalypse, were not aloof from the world, and the world has known men of god scheme and plot as well as the ungodly.

 

There is, however, something more serious present in these passages. The bitter recriminations heaped with scorn on other kings here take on a hysterical edge, and as such the shadow of a tyrannical king looms large behind the whole document. It was with some trepidation, then, that I had essentially received word that Sir Henry had found some evidence of him.

As I resolved to leave my comfortable quarters to journey to meet him at the expedition site, I received another telegram. This one I have to hand:

Have found it stop there are at least twenty mounds stop this may be the british valley of

the kings stop come immediately end

 

Clearly Sir Henry was having some sort of mental collapse. A British Valley of the Kings was on the surface preposterous, not least because Britain had been a fractured state of many competing ones and there was nothing contemporary to suggest such a place existed. I now felt I needed to travel all the more quickly, to make sure my friend was all right.

The train pulled into the tiny station which was proclaimed by a grubby sign to be Rhosneigr. On the platform, an excited Sir Henry bobbed up and down, and as soon as he was in range he grabbed my hand at shook it violently.

“So glad you’ve come, so glad.” he said cheerfully, but under his pale eyes there were heavy bags. He also kept glancing over his shoulder in a way that suggested there was someone following him.

He could barely contain himself, however, and even as I began to unpack he burst into my room bringing with him a large cardboard box.

“I’ve been inside one of them, Charles.” he said. “One of the barrows. I will take you up there tomorrow. But for now, look at this.”

With a flourish, he removed the lid of the box. Within there was a rusted sword hilt. His smile faded slightly when I looked nonplussed. “There.” he said, jabbing impatiently at the hilt. I leaned in, then looked at him in sudden shock.

Carved in the hilt was Maglo-us.

“It’s his, isn’t it.” he said, sudden desperation in his voice.

“I – I believe so.” I replied. I came to my senses. “You really should have left it where it was.”

Sir Henry dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “I documented its location. It will be returned.” He seemed to say the second sentence to the room at large, rather than just to me.

After these stunning revelations, he returned to his room, leaving the hilt for me to examine. It was certainly of the right design. If it was fake, it was a very clever forgery. My earlier dread was gone. In its place was a sense of nervous excitement.

Eventually, after what seemed like hours, my candle guttered. I looked up, and realised that it was brightening outside. Somehow I had studied the handle all night.

I also noticed something else. Outside at the edge of the lawn of the hotel, stood a figure. He was very tall (for I am almost certain it was a man) and he seemed to stand unnaturally still. He appeared to have some kind of heavy cloak draped around his shoulders. It was still far too dark to see his face, but I got the distinct impression that he was looking straight at my window. He seemed ethereal, as if he would fade if I went outside to approach him.

I retired to bed, deciding that I was imagining things, and that the groundworkers probably started early so as not to be seen by the guests. I had been asleep for half an hour, when I awoke with a start. It took me a few seconds to realise it, but the door had been opened, and it was the noise of that opening which had awakened me.

I lay facing the wall, overcome with a sudden sense of dread, I resisted turning over, even when I heard the creak of the floor as someone entered. Eventually however, I plucked up enough courage to turn and face my intruder.

The door was indeed open. Outside, in the hall, stood the figure I had seen on the lawn minutes earlier. Again, the eyes bored into mine from beneath a hood, even though they were not visible. The cloak, for at this point I confirmed that was what it was, was tattered and dirty. And he now had it circled around him, seemingly to hide what was underneath. The apparition didn’t move, not once in the time it stood there.

However, it, was the creature that had entered the room that caught most of my attention. It was a grotesque, twisted thing, seemingly shrivelled and dried out and yet still somehow, horribly alive. It was looming over the box containing the hilt. It looked back at the apparition beyond the door, as if for instructions, and then bent and picked the box up. It limped back to the door, hobbling strangely on its shrunken legs. At that moment, it looked back at me.

If I had ever been able to die of fright, that moment would have been it. I shrieked, even as it turned away and the door shut behind them. I was still shrieking when the landlady burst in, demanding to know what the noise was. I somehow passed it off as some sort of nightmare, jabbering at her until she left me alone.

I then packed, and immediately left. Somewhere in the journey back to London, I fainted on a platform, and it was in this state that I was rushed to hospital where I remained for some considerable time.

You may be wondering why I was so precipitous in the abandonment of Sir Henry, given his disappearance on the same night. Of the apparition in the doorway I can say little, but of his hideous familiar, I can say only this: it had the palest blue eyes I have ever seen.

I say again: The barrows must not be opened!

An Old House on Raglan Street

Every town thinks they have a house like the one at the end of Raglan Street. They all have some run-down shack with an overgrown garden, or a maisonette collapsing into ignominious decay: a place that can attract the local town legends and mysteries, a mythology in which children pass on fearful tales of murder and mayhem, each more lurid than the last.

In reality, these houses rarely radiate more than a sense of forlorn melancholy. The house on Raglan Street was different. It had no gate, no collapsing front deck and no weeds. It was barely talked about, and was instead avoided instinctively, as if the brooding building squatting at the point the road became track barely existed.

Unusually, there was more than one empty building on Raglan Street. The church stood empty, the white planks peeling paint and a faded sign proclaiming “-esus -igh- of the worl-” was disquieting, but paled in comparison to its baleful neighbour.

I was maybe ten when my mother sat down to tell me why I shouldn’t enter the house on Raglan Street. As a sensitive child the idea that I would go anywhere near the place scared the hell out of me, but apparently some boys in my class had thrown rocks through one of the windows and my mother wanted to make sure I wouldn’t take part in a similar expedition.

“You know about not letting people…touch you, right?” said my Mum. She was nervous, and anxiously searched my face.

“We had a policeman come into school and talk to us about it.”

“Good.” The relief was obvious. “And you know not to go near the house on Raglan Street? Or the old church?”

“Yes, Mum.”

“Good.” She looked into her mug of tea for a second before continuing.

“A long time ago, there was a bad man at the church. He was supposedly a Man of God. He did…he did what that police man said was wrong to some boys and girls from around here. He did…other things as well. Violent things.”

I didn’t really understand her, but she went on.

“The priest would take them to that old house.” she said, her voice wavering. “One of them didn’t ever come out again. A boy called Tommy. They searched the house.”

“What happened to the priest, Mum?”

“He…he was supposed to get reassigned. But he disappeared before then.” Venom I had never heard before entered her voice. “Bastard skipped town.”

———-

When I returned to the town as a property developer, the strange, horrible conversation with my mother twenty years before returned fully formed to my memory. The church had been demolished, but the house was still there, a little more run down and a little more filthy, a few more broken windows, but substantially the same. Somehow, the garden was still free of weeds. Nobody had ventured inside it for years.

Seeing the land was for sale, curiosity got the better of me, and I headed to the door. Old, childish fear rose up inside me, but I pushed open the door and went inside.

A sickly sweet smell assaulted my nostrils. The house was extremely dusty, and cockroaches clicked across the floor as I walked in. The kitchen was at the end of the hall, and I headed in that direction.

Rotten herbs and weeds hung from a rack and old pans sat in the sink covered in cotton-like mold. Moths flapped lazily in the airborne dust. The kitchen smelt of mulch and soil, and it was almost fresh, compared to the mustiness in the entrance hall. The awful sweet-smell was stronger too, and it was coming from a door in the corner.

Steps led down into a cellar. As well as the first smell, there was a vague hint of ash in the air, as if a fire had been burning below. It was pitch black, and as I bumped into the bottom step, I pulled my phone out to see what I was doing.

I swept my tiny rectangle of light over the cellar, and my heart stopped, and I left rapidly to re-enter a saner world.

By the time the police had cleared out the cellar they had discovered the remains of a fire pit and a primitive altar. The desiccated remains of a man’s body, still clad in vestments, was slumped behind it, and hadn’t been moved for some time. Another body had been found, a malnourished, naked, fifty year old with rotted teeth lying sprawled near the cellar steps. The time of death of the wretch had been impossible to determine due to his disease-ridden state, although he appeared to have suffered some sort of cardiac arrest relatively recently. He had clearly been living down there for years.

All of this I could have coped with. But the nightmares come for one simple reason, and one reason alone. In the sweep of that tiny rectangle of light, something near the steps had moved, and reached its pitiful arms towards me.

The Strange Mrs Dandridge

I
Mrs Dandridge had been one of a dozen old ladies living in the row of terraced houses known to the post office as Honeybee Avenue but to everybody else, it was known as the Hive.  She was presumably a widow, although Mr Dandridge had been dead such a long time that nobody could ever remember seeing him.
At one time, she had been friendly with the other older ladies living on the street, but her reluctance to invite any of them inside her own home and her extreme reticence about standard subjects, (such as the degenerate youth of the rest of the town with the notable exception of some grandson or other, or the influx of a small Polish community that threatened to overthrow the natural order of things), meant that she had experienced a gradual ostracism from the rest of the street. A year before she died, in the manner of outsiders the world over, she had instead become the subject of lurid gossip.
The nosy Mrs Beasley said she had seen Mrs Dandridge wandering around her back garden at an ungodly hour in some kind of haze, muttering strange things to herself (what Mrs Beasley was doing looking into someone else’s garden at this time was not discussed).
The magnificent Mrs Cole said she had heard strange noises from one of the upstairs windows; in the manner of an actress who really knew her audience, she refused to elaborate further – she simply raised an eyebrow and repeated ‘strange’.
The excitable Mrs Allen had confirmed Mrs Cole’s story, and added that at one time she had seen a green light blaze suddenly from the spare bedroom for a few seconds at the crescendo, but Mrs Allen was known to be a tad imaginative.
II
The final nail in terms of approval came a week before – a large package had arrived for Mrs Dandridge, and when there was no answer, the postman had delivered it to Mrs Allen next door and pushed a note through the letterbox. Mrs Allen, whose active imagination had been running riot after every discussion of Mrs Dandridge, couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out more, and opened the heavy box to “have a looksee”.
Inside was an extremely large, extremely ancient book with a set of symbols unlike anything Mrs Allen had seen before. The lettering and patterns seemed to weave together and shift on the cover and, after a few seconds, Mrs Allen’s head began to hurt. She couldn’t take her eyes off it.
A furious hammering at the door interrupted her trance. A full quarter hour had passed.
A wild eyed and wild haired Mrs Dandridge stood on the doorstep.
“You didn’t open it!”
Mrs Allen’s eyes widened in indignation “Certainly not!” Mrs Allen did not expect to be accused of such things on her own doorstep. The fact that she had was beside the point.
“Give it to me.”
It wouldn’t hurt to say please, thought Mrs Allen as she hastily shut up the lid and awkwardly carried it to the front door. Mrs Dandridge interrogative tone had vanished, and been replaced with a vague, dreamy look.
“Thank you, m’dear.”
And she was gone.
III
A week later a heat wave had struck. Mrs Cole’s dutiful grandson Paul had been visiting his grandmother and her friends in the way all good grandsons should – telling slightly risqué stories, pouring the tea, and flattering Mrs Allen. He was on his way home when he caught the edge of a very strange smell. Paul had never been around a body before, so he had little idea that, left in the heat, the smell becomes overpowering in a confined space and leaks out of windows and doors to pollute the street. He approached the house that seemed to be the source.
Unable to get any response from knocking, and remembering that this was Mrs Dandridge’s house – a woman he had found odd, but not known well enough to form the concrete opinions of his grandmother – he went around the back and found the back door ajar. Curiosity and concern overcoming trepidation, he pushed it open and went in.
The smell was overpowering, invading his nostrils and seemed to coat him in a layer of grease. Acutely aware that he was potentially trespassing, he called out.
“Mrs Dandridge?”
She wasn’t downstairs. He began to ascend.
“Mrs Dandridge?”
The smell was worse on the landing. He pushed open the door to the spare bedroom.
“Mrs Dan-“
The tableau before him was in many ways simple, but it took his eyes several seconds to process it. The simplicity itself underlined the stark, revelatory sense of horror he experienced.
A mirror was at one end of the room. On it had been scrawled a series of symbols and patterns in what was now a brown, flaky substance.
In front of the mirror was an emaciated corpse, a mummy that had been carefully dried out and preserved – this was later identified as the late Mr Dandridge.
In the far corner, a pizza delivery boy sat upright with a surprised expression and a cut throat.
In the middle of the room, a large book was opened at a page showing a horrific image of a demon that seemed to shift on the page. The two dimensional drawing seemed to have its own depth, and the mocking expression of the creature itself seemed to stare straight into Paul’s soul.
Finally there was Mrs Dandridge. The medics would later state that the expression of exquisite horror frozen on her face suggested that she had died immediately of fright. Paul could only hope that was the case, because whatever the strange Mrs Dandridge had seen that had taken her life had taken her eyes along with it.

The Hum

I

Good morning, Doctor.

Yes, I am feeling much better. How are you?

Good. What would you like to talk about today?

Ah.

If you insist.

The problem began, I suppose, when my motorbike hit the side of an articulated lorry. At least, that’s what they told me happened afterwards. I don’t remember, of course. I broke three ribs, both my legs, collapsed a lung and badly fractured my skull. They told me I was lucky. So did Mary.

No, she doesn’t visit any more.

I was in hospital for a few weeks before they discharged me, claiming me to be largely recovered. I was still in a wheelchair, of course, but they assured me the metal plate in my head had solved the most pressing threat to my continued wellbeing.  I was to have a nurse visit me twice a week to get me walking again, and a doctor’s visit every month to make sure I didn’t present any, how shall I put it, neurological oddities.

Of course, you already know all this. I am merely providing context. Narrative, if you will. It makes the whole thing seem tidier, don’t you think?

It didn’t start until about a month later. On the day I came home, Mary had gone out and bought me several DVD box-sets of TV shows she knew I liked. It was while I was watching one of these – honestly I don’t remember what. To a man with my condition, television seems like such an abstract now. Anyway, I first noticed it beneath the dialogue. It seemed to be present in moments of quiet, in between what the actors on screen were saying. A low, vibrating hum.

II
Naturally, I assumed there was something wrong with the cables at the back. When Mary got home, I asked her to check them for me. There didn’t seem to be a problem at all, so when she went out next, she bought a replacement cable for the link between the DVD player and the television.

It was still there the next day.

The television set and player were both fairly new – less than a year old. I thought it might just be me, so I did my best to ignore it from then on. It got worse, however, and by the end of the week, I could barely hear what was being said above the drone. Eventually Mary (to whom television is mostly a noisy distraction anway) sat down to watch something with me. After a few minutes, she declared she couldn’t hear anything at all. By this point the noise was starting to give me the headaches you have undoubtedly read about in my file.  I responded rather sharply that she must be deaf.

The next day, both the TV and the DVD player were unplugged and put into the garage. It had become a point of contention for her and more than a niggling problem for me. It was probably the right thing to do, because unbeknownst to her, I had even begun to hear the hum when the television was switched off.

The neurologist didn’t help at all. He said that the plate in my head was settling in and that there was bound to be a few odd occurrences here and there. If I waited a couple of months, I would probably be able to watch it again.

I asked him about people picking up radio signals on their fillings. He said that that was an urban myth.

III
A few days later, when I was more mobile, I wheeled myself into the kitchen to get a drink. There it was again. Below the slow natural hum of the refrigerator was a sharper buzzing. My hum.  I couldn’t believe it. I wheeled back into the lounge.

I think that was the first time I really panicked. The first thought that crossed my mind was if I was unable to go into the kitchen, I was unable to feed myself during the day when Mary was at work.  The second, far more terrifying thought was that the Hum was spreading to other appliances.  What if it spread to every electrical device? What if it didn’t stop? Many people talk of going back to nature or a simpler, more agrarian lifestyle. That was one thing. To be bodily forced into the 19th Century against my will was quite another.

Mary was very understanding when she came in. Her soothing tone and use of phrases like “crossing that bridge when we come to it” lulled me into a sense that perhaps everything would resolve itself. This sense was only surface deep, however, and beneath that black thoughts still danced.

The Hum got worse. Soon I was afflicted with it wherever I was in the house. By this time I had started walking again, thanks to my nurse, but the digital blood pressure machine she insisted on using sparked inside my head.

Phones were now useless to me. All entertainment that was anything other than a book or a pen and paper was also now out. I couldn’t even visit museums, once a simple pleasure, as a car ride was torture and the automated security systems clawed at my retinas. I was an outcast.

IV
In the end, Mary and I had to make that literally true. Mary found a cottage out in the depths of Wales that was perfect for this. It wasn’t hooked up to the mains; it had a gas-burning stove and an open fire. At the other end of the garden was a small shed, which Mary hooked up to a phone line and generator. She’d organised it to work out of there from now on, so she could keep her job and I wouldn’t be disturbed.  For the first time in nearly a year, I could relax.

There is little else to tell. One week, while Mary was at a set of important meetings in London, she hired a housekeeper to come in on the Wednesday to give the house a once over.

I don’t remember her name.

I had been reading steadily through The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes when The Hum hit me full force as it had never done before. It burned, it rasped, it gripped my spinal column like a vice. I was tormented, almost writhing in agony. Ah! It was all I could do to stand and reach for the poker by the fire.

I still don’t understand the screams of the woman, or Mary’s when she came in.

Don’t you see, doctor?

I had to stop that damned woman’s pacemaker somehow.

 

Hellraiser; or The Music Video for Tainted Love is Way More Intense Than We Remember

Hello and Hallo-welcome to How Have We Not Reviewed This Wednesday, where we pick up our own slack and review those big name films we know you were dying to hear our opinions on all these many years of Hallowfest! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, two writers in the further regions of experience who are demons to some and angels to others.

Today’s Film Offering: Hellraiser

Lilly: Whoa.

Andy: You OK?

Lilly: Yeah just … give me a minute.

Andy: Get a glass of water or something. Or have a mint out of the box. NO NOT THAT BOah damn.

Cenobite: YOU RANG.

Andy: Yeah, sorry mate, we did the thing with the mints again.

Cenobite: YOU NEED TO STOP STORING INTERDIMENSIONAL PORTALS ON YOUR COFFEE TA-

Andy: Yeah, yeah I know.

51StiQZskKLAnyway. Hellraiser is one of the largest franchises we haven’t covered in any way, shape or form. Based on a novella by Clive Barker called The Hellbound Heart (way to spoil the ending, dude) there are no less than 9 movies in the series, with a 10th due sometime this year.

Lilly: Wait, what! I’m in. I’ve seen none of the other eight, will that be a problem? Whatever, I got time!

Cenobite: ACTUALLY THEY DECLINE IN QUALITY AFTER THE SECOND INSTALLMENT.

Lilly: That is surprisingly self-critical and meta of you, Cenobite.

Andy: WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?

It’s also fairly unusual as far as horror franchises go. It’s British, for a start, as is Barker, and he directed and wrote the screenplay for the first movie. It’s a long running horror franchise that ISN’T a slasher, and it also began in 1987, at a time when most other franchises were merrily beginning to plow themselves into the ground. The worst offender, Friday the 13th, was between Part VI and VII. In a market well past its late-70s prime, this is shockingly original.

The plot involves a man called Frank, a jaded man seeking new extremes of sensation. Purchasing a puzzle box in a Marrakech (or somewhere like it) he solves it – opening a portal to a dimension of ultimate pleasure and pain: indeed a place where the distinction between the two is essentially meaningless. And in the opening move of what promises to be a deeply unpleasant experience, he is torn apart by rusty hooks. Exit Frank.

Lilly: Oh, PS, this movie is super graphic.

Andy: Some time later (months? years?) his brother Larry moves into his house with his British (read: uptight) wife, Julia. As we here at Hallowfest know all too well, moving house is a pain in the ass; and in Larry’s case thanks to a rusty nail, the hand. A few drops of blood on the attic floor later, and Frank is back minus a few essentials. Like his skin.

Frank has some kind of hold over Julia through the power of boning, and convinces her to bring her more blood to help restore his body. Meanwhile, Kristy, Larry’s daughter, realises her stepmother is up to no good and investigates. And of course, the Cenobites, nightmarish denizens of the other realm, are not too happy about Frank escaping their clutches…

Lilly: So this film was a thing.

First things first–holy wow, this was an exploration of how far people go for pleasure. Hellraiser is at the core a nasty, gorey journey towards sexual fulfillment that sees pain as being part of the experience. Acceptable and consensual adult s&m relationships are turned up to eleven by Frank’s ever growing need for more dangerous stimuli. Unfortunately for him, the Cenobites go all the way up to twenty seven (see: rusty hooks). It does give a whole new meaning to ‘aftercare’, though.

I need to talk about the Cenobites. Seriously. I want to talk about them at length, and try and figure out what the heck I was seeing. I loved them. They were confusing ins-and-outs of orifices and piercings and oh all that leather–a symbol of extreme that transcends Heaven and Hell, clearly. I love how they were visibly walking the walk of their gospel. One of them is so hardcore, he doesn’t even have a face! I mean. That’s dedication. Or mutation? Who knows!

Cenobite: WE’RE NOT MUTATIONS. MORE MUTILATIONS.

Andy: Was that a PUN? NOBODY OUTPUNS ME IN MY OWN HOME I’LL KI-

Lilly: Whoa now! First off, don’t bother threatening him, he’ll just like it. Second off, I’m not cleaning up your bits they nail to a spinning display. I’m just not.

For creatures that have no basis in…anything? Any mythology known to my simple mind, the Cenobites march out on screen in the first few minutes of the film and take command of the space like true proud dom/mes. I wanted to see more, wanted to know more, and honestly am now pressuring poor Andy to watch more of the series so I can watch these loveable creeps in action.

The best part is that these terrifying beings aren’t even really evil. They operate on a whole different level than humanity, so it can appear as such, but they are just pushing the limits of what is pleasure and what we understand as pleasure to the extremes that the human flesh can withstand (and then just past that). They only appear when summoned, the ultimate submission needed. You need to request that they do what they do so well. Oh, and figure out a weird rubix cube for horny people. You have to do that, too.

Andy: There are very, very few works that get to the core ideas of H. P. Lovecraft as well as this. His elder gods are not evil, per se – they are simply vast, unknowable and operate without our concepts of what is right and fair. Ash’s “perfect organism” without “delusions of morality” in Alien is one, but it can’t talk. The Cenobites can, and every sentence out of their mouths is coherent, consistent, and utterly indifferent to the unfortunate mortals who stumble into their path.

Instead, the film asks us to consider who the real monsters are – the Cenobites, alien, unknowable and outside our own limited senses and perceptions? Or is it Julia and Frank, the sordid, down-to-earth, flawed humans who make terrible choices?

Lilly: Or is it the weird upside monster thing that defies gravity? Who knows!

Andy: Yeah, what is that thing?

Cenobite: NO IDEA.

Lilly: I really don’t find that comforting at all.

Hellraiser is the sort of film you hear about for years, followed by groans of remembrance of ‘that scene’ (which is different for everyone) and sniggers due to it being about sex. But it’s not just that. It’s about the morality of pleasure and the limits that can be stretched and, a bit troublingly, about how once you say yes to that world, there is no going back.

Andy: It’s also not perfect – Clive Barker is a writer first, and clearly a director a distant second, the result being that it’s shot like a really gory TV movie. But the ideas it has, the broader implications of its story, mean that I did not regret one bit jumping in on this franchise, er, 30 years late.

Lilly: So do we recommend this film? A hearty ‘yes please!’ from me.

Andy: And me!

Cenobite:

Andy: What now?

Cenobite: I PREFER CLIVE BARKER’S LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Andy: …Trust us to get one from the Hipster Dimension. How do we close this box again?