#33 Now That They Are Gone

Image by Witthaya Phonsawat, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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What happens to the house now they are gone?

Hands gather on the iron gate. Fingers that cannot hold are slipping through the bars to grasp the air, left burning even by the faintest touch. A line of desire stretching as far as the onset of night on the plantation fields is visible. Somewhere beyond, daylight has just left, and is streaking away.

What happens now the rooms are all shut up? Locks turned in every key hole, windows barred with thick blocks of iron. Rust is gathering on the panes, on the old door handles and window frames. Gasping, those who wait outside the walls are aching for the decay inside that house.

Dr Barnstable has long since left. He took with him his servant and his big, leather bag. The clasp snapped shut on his box of tricks, the claw hammer has nailed its last. He is going into retirement now, never to come back to this place. The stake and sacrament can be left to someone else, he says, as his servant merrily throws open the gate. There is blood on his collar and cuff, gore trails the trouser leg, but a pipe is lit and a night of comfort is waiting for old Dr Barnstable and his servant.

What happened afterwards? There had been a fire in that old place, just before the sun went down. They all saw it, the ones outside the gate. They saw a burning in the attic window, and a figure on fire, plummeting to Earth like Lucifer, evaporating on the North Wind in a pathetic final puff of desperate half-life.

Now the house is empty. Only the living can enter, and none will buy the place. Left to rot on the old plantation, the house sleeps restlessly, and the dead watch it. They are gnawing at the gate post, digging in the dirt until it stings them. Their limbs disappear, their essence annihilated while others take their place. It is the Holy Water burning them but they will not leave the house of their King, even long after Dr Barnstable dispatched him into thin air.

Slipping past the crowds of phantom watchers the gate will easily swing upon your touch. You put the cold, iron key back in your pocket and proceed because you did not hear them cry to see a living soul walk where they cannot. Down the gravel path to the sound of cawing crows, to the beating wings of ravens and the creak of the bows of the antique scarecrow. Knocked down and losing his stuffing, birds have pecked out his eyes and in the patch, pumpkins are rotting.

Towards the house your steps are crunching on the pebbles. The leather of your newly shined boots is scuffing and your tailored jacket is too fine to resist the cut of the wind through the corn field. It stretches away out to right and something perpetually rustles through it along the rows.

The house is here and waiting. The door you unlock with another, newer key. They changed the locks. Dr Barnstable ordered it done and the man came on Sunday and now the key is small and neat in your hand, and sparkling. But see how it turns uncertainly in the lock. The man has made rough work, the key struggles, you twist and twist. The key snaps. The door, as if aware of the resistance, opens creaking loudly, you think it could almost be laughing.

The house is barren now. Holy Water on the hearth, the door jam smeared with brick dust from a pouch. There is the smell of burnt sage wafting down from the gallery like a host creeping down the stairs to greet you, now that the old host is gone. Trails of blood will never be washed from the floorboards, decades of viscera smeared into the carpet. Half the rooms are shut up, and will never be opened again. The others are places where graveyard earth has been scattered . Consecrated broadcasting, Dr Barnstable was thorough as he sewed the Holy grains from space to space. It doesn’t matter that no one will ever buy the place.

The dead waiting in droves at the gate spend hours just sniffing. They long for the night when the smell of sanctity finally ebbs and flows away. Its sacred atoms scattered to the wind, just like their King. Inside the house you stare out of a French window. Is there something unusual about the line of darkness beyond the tall, black fence?

A picture collapses down the wall, but you only jump inside. Are you afraid to move? The key is broken, you think. You have to call the man back tomorrow, but he will only come on a Sunday. Dr Barnstable has gone back to Germany. There you go, he is saying to you again in your memory, it’s your inheritance now.

Dr Barnstable died in his bed in the brand new hotel. The hotel with the plump towels and the bright lights and monogrammed bathrobes. His servant found him face down in the scatter cushions with lash marks all over his spotted, wrinkled body. They think the local call girl did it. They found a leaflet in his trouser pocket with her picture on it. Vampira. She looks to old to be only 16.

You are standing in the kitchen looking out at the herb garden. You laugh because they won’t be growing garlic in there. You need to laugh because it’s getting colder and you only wanted to see the place. You’re staying at the little inn on the crossroads because you don’t have Dr Barnstable’s bag of tricks. You don’t even know he’s dead. No one can reach you on your room phone, it’s ringing off the hook and hits the ground. The servant replaces his receiver and quickly packs. He’s thinking about driving out to you, but he has a boat to catch.

What does the house do, now that it is so empty? No one can use these rooms. Fortified against the dead they lie waiting, crumbling into themselves. Ivy is tracing a lineage already up through the cracks, plunging its way into the masonry, hunting out the houses’ heart. You take a look upstairs. The beds are writhing. Beetles are clicking through holes in the Egyptian cotton and take no notice of Holy curses. The master bed is positioned in front of the altar. It hasn’t been slept in in years. You think about going to the attic.

Dr Barnstable said the cellar was fine, but the attic was out of bounds, which sounds ridiculous. Everything Dr Barnstable said was ridiculous, including his fee. You push open the attic door and peer inside. Dust motes are swirling delicately in the moonlight. Your lamp is only disturbing them, clashing with the moon, making monstrous light where shadows should be. The room is resentful. A giant cross is hogging the room. Oh, you think, so that’s where my money went. not only on fancy hotel rooms, and monogrammed bathrobes. The cross has nailed a shadow to the floor. It might have been intended to look like silver, but you’re guessing it’s tin plated. You lift the cross, but it’s heavier than it looks. I paid for it. You say this aloud to the room as it watches you. Somewhere outside the gate, the sniffing stops. You’ll never hear it with your ears.

You drag the cross down the stairs. It’s not going to help you sell the place and the agent is coming first thing on Monday morning because they aren’t as easily spooked as the locksmith. They want the money too much. It’s a big house. Tripping on a loose board, admitting defeat, you lay the cross down on the first floor landing and it falls like stone. The crash disturbs the dust. Something is making your skin prickle. It’s allergies, you say, speaking aloud again.

Taking a last look around you get ready to leave. It really smells in here, the sage hasn’t quite done its job. You glance in the downstairs rooms again quickly. The stains are starting to get to you, but they can do all sorts of things now with chemicals. You don’t want to have to pay for new carpets. You never even knew you were the last surviving relative. It’s too much work, and your business won’t run without you.

That’s when you stop, and see the stairs.

The cellar. But you don’t need to go down there. It’d be damp and the smell will be worse. Still, people will pay good money for a wine cellar. Your lamp goes out in a puff. You retrieve your matches and light it, but something feels, different. It’s truly dark now. You can no longer gaze out of the French window and see the line of shadows because they are  now indistinguishable from darkness.

Every step is an adventure. You’re laughing a little nervously because it’s just like being a kid. The sloping wall above the stairs is coated with watery slime and you can’t always dodge the drips. At the bottom is a corridor leading to the rows upon rows of empty stacks. The old miser didn’t leave you any rare vintages. You search around and peer into abandoned alcoves, disappointed to find nothing you’d care to keep. You aren’t even creeped out. It’s even warm down here, strange, the rest of the house is ice cold.

The old master is dead. Dr Barnstable had said before you handed him the cheque. Hocus pocus. It was part of the will, something tacked on at the end by a magistrate official you never got to meet. There was something about a county council, Freemasons, you grunted as you read the will, but there was no fighting it. You had paid up, and now felt a little disgusted that Dr Barnstable clearly hadn’t bothered to make the place look a bit more, respectable. After all, how long could it have possibly taken to perform his mumbo jumbo? His servant had called you and said – in a tone you found unneccesarily cloak and dagger – Would you like to be there when he does it? It had seemed like the entire town was crazy and didn’t realise that Dr Barnstable had connived his way through life and was now probably half-way to Germany with a enough money to buy a thousand silver crosses and teenage girls. No thank you. You replied, and hung up the receiver.

You turn to take the stairs upwards again. You feel less certain now than you did because a hot wind is suddenly at your back. You can hear the old Doctor again, The cellar is fine, I didn’t do too much there, just leave the attic well alone for now. Perhaps it would best if you rent the place, and keep the door up there locked. He had a strange accent. He said he had been adopted. It all made sense. Still, now you’re annoyed that he suggested you rent it. Of course you’re going to sell, of course you’re going to open all these locked doors.

Outside the line is waiting. Still reaching out their hands towards you through the gate. Still risking oblivion for one sniff of their dead King. Somewhere underneath the sage, they can still smell blood. They felt the ground tremble while you were in the attic. They waited in agony. Now the hot breeze is blowing at your back and they are resuming their grasping, frantically pawing the ground in front of the plantation gate.

You worry about what to do with Dr Barnstable’s cross, but you didn’t see the shadow slip from under it, and seep into the wood. The warmth you feel behind you is followed by an aching, roaring, hollow sound as the ground suddenly collapses. Licks of fire are catching at the timbers, ignoring the sage and Holy Water trails. It’s just another job, Dr Barnstable had said, as he had closed the door and felt in his overcoat for the pipe, already imagining the cloying comfort of a cheap floral scent on firm, apathetic young breasts. The fix doesn’t hold if you don’t really care..

You don’t know what is happening as you rush upstairs, but the stairs are collapsing under your feet. Then in an instant there’s a hand on your shoulder, you feel yourself thrust by brute strength upwards onto the floor of the entrance hall. You’re lying on your waistcoat within a finger’s touch of the door but your head is tilted sideways. You’re panting and everything spins so you grip onto the floor. That’s when you notice the house is burning. Outside the gate, hordes are stomping and gnashing, amassing in clots of darkness. A cold hand strokes your neck. Fingers are slipping beneath your collar and you sigh as it loosens the buttons, and rips off your tie. Soon you’ll be able to breathe.

The fingers are caressing your skin lovingly, until suddenly, they stop.

Four nails are plunging into your neck, into the arteries, impaling you in a last gurgle. The arm does not only bend at the elbow, it twists and bends and bends and bends…

A shadow is wearing your clothes. It passes through the door, now left hanging on its broken hinges, swinging with creaks which sound like laughter. Part of what used to be you is leaving, and will never come back.

The fire goes out in the plantation house, smoke smoulders and is caught by the wind but no one will smell it for days. No one will buy it now. Somewhere outside the gate, a trail of black figures trickles away, gnawing at the air, following, sniffing.

One question remains.

In a nearby harbour, Dr Barnstable’s ship is leaving with an extra crate on board. A cold fog has rendered the deck unusually quiet. As he lights the Doctor’s orphaned pipe, his servant wonders to himself:

What happens to the house now that they are gone?

 

 

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30# Men of Ice Have No Business Being Near Fires.

Image FreeDigitalPhotos.Net by franky242

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I am a man made out of ice. No, I’m not your Jack Frost. I don’t leave glinting white fern trails on windows overnight. I just walk around in the dark, and I try not to touch anything.

When the sun comes up I’m face down on the grass. I can’t feel the wetness of the morning on the green blades as they pierce right through me. Exhaustion makes me grab at the ground to pull myself up, but I pull up no clods. There is currently no earth under my fingernails. I am transparent in the sun, the world walks right through me. I can barely see my own hands.

During the day I find myself inside houses, trying to open doors. It takes a lot of concentration, but if I try I can open them. I know there are things inside but I can only vaguely see objects huddled on shelves, furniture in corners. Afterwards I always feel disappointed. I know shouldn’t touch anything, but I don’t know why. It’s just a feeling I have that it isn’t right for me to be touching them. Sometimes I can’t. I reach out for a door handle and find my  whole arm is gone. In the back of my mind I can hear screams, as if I someone was in those rooms with me. I turn around thinking I must not be alone, but all I ever catch is the edge of a skirt, or the heel of a shoe, and a tap-tapping, frantic, down the stairs.

I said I was a man made out of ice. This isn’t strictly true, but I make things cold. I know this because voices tell me. Cats sneeze when I come near them, and back away. I can see the breath of animals. I know that I carry my own cold with me everywhere. I don’t know if I feel cold, because I always feel the same. Exhausted. I don’t remember things like warmth and comfort. I can see a fire burning in a hearth and sometimes I’ll have a recollection of what it meant to be beside one. I can put my hands out now, towards the fire, and I see only a fog around my hands. Men of ice have no business being near fires.

At night, I feel more substantial. I don’t know quite why. I think perhaps it has something to do with the way the darkness fills up the spaces where parts of me should be. I hold my hand up to the sky, and when I look through it, I can see stars sometimes. The moon makes me feel like I have an outline. Sometimes, I think I can see people. For a moment there will be a face on the street, lit up with a sudden panic. They vanish after that, and the street is empty again.

Once, I met someone just like me. He was standing in the graveyard, under an old yew.

“Do you ever wonder why the trees, and the animals and everything here looks real, but you never see any people?” He asked me. I shrugged. It had been so long since I had seen anyone like me that I had forgotten about talking.

“Well I wonder about that,” he said.

I thought perhaps the conversation was over. I thought about leaving, but part of me wanted to try to talk to the man. It had been so long, but I was sure that I used to talk to people, and feel warmth, and eat and laugh and do all those sorts of things.

“There’s just the cold now, isn’t there. It eats right through you. You just feel like an icicle, walking around, spreading the fog, and the chill-”

“You have it too?” I asked him. I couldn’t hear my own voice.

“Yeah course.” He said. “Course I do, everyone like us does. Once you get to this stage, it’s hard to thaw. You want to, but when people come near you and feel the cold they scarper. You can’t get enough warmth from them to put out all that ice inside. Can’t even hold yourself together. You fall away in bits. That’s what happens if you don’t thaw.”

I mused over what he had said. I told him about about how my hands fogged up when I went near a hearth. “I’ve come to the conclusion now that it isn’t worth your while trying. Men of ice have no business being near fires,” he said.

I last saw him a few months ago. He was in a state because a girl had started coming to the graveyard at night. There are no fences around it, only the road which winds round a little stone wall. Foxes dart about between the trees, up and over the wall, and into the traffic, They give night drivers quite a scare. I see the cars, but not the drivers.

He was agitated because the girl was coming regularly, and it made him feel uncomfortable. He worried she would know he was there, and it would get awkward. He was older than me I think, but I don’t know. He just seemed like someone old. Thinking about that made me wonder if I was old, because I couldn’t remember. But he definitely seemed older than me. I thought it was funny that he was so worked up about the girl, but I sort of knew what he meant. I didn’t like having to see people either, or being seen.

I saw her in the graveyard, she was vague at first, but the more I saw her, the more she became quite real. He had said she was a girl, but I thought she was more of a lady. I think the old man called her a girl because he was old. I like now to measure myself somewhere in between the old man and the lady, in terms of age. It makes me feel more substantial. I like knowing that something about me can be measured.

She reads books on the benches, or on the grass at the edges of the graveyard where a little light from the street lamps floods in. The foxes don’t know what to do about her either. She tries to talk to them but they panic and run. She saw me one night, and looked at me for a while, her eyes grew very wide, but I think she could tell that I didn’t like it, and so she went back to reading her book. I could see that her hands were shaking though, and I felt bad, so I left.

I keep coming back to the graveyard. Sometimes I sit on the bench and watch her read. she talks to me now and I think I reply but I can’t hear my own voice most of the time. Sometimes the words come out though, and it makes her smile.

One day she asked me. “Why are you always so cold?” I told her the saying, “Men of ice have no business being near fires.”

The next night she brought me a candle. She showed me how to hold it. “The trick is not to let go,” she said. Somewhere beneath the wisps of fog I thought I could see a pair of hands.

They were my hands.

 

26# Ghost Train

Image by ponsulak, Freedigitalphotos.net 

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By the light of our lanterns we gazed at the train, Mandy, Amelia, Roberta and me.

Part of the driver’s cab and a lone carriage was all that was left, hanging out of the bushes in bits and pieces as if it had made a break for it. There were no tracks in sight, just a trail of debris around the carriage that disappeared off into the darkness behind the trees.

It began to rain. We huddled a little more closely together and Mandy and Amelia began whispering to one another so Roberta turned to me.

“There was nothing here before,” she said. “The trains haven’t run here for like, years.”

“How do you know?”

Roberta shrugged. “My brother Cam did a project on it, all about how the trains stopped coming here, and how they closed the tracks and got rid of the old railway bridge.”

“Why?” I asked, as we followed the others towards the carriage in the lashing rain.

“Oh,” Roberta’s face took on a sort of knowing look, her mouth forming a dramatic oval.

“Well, people kept throwing themselves off the bridge,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “I think they hung themselves.”

I shuddered and she nodded with that same knowing look in her eyes.

“And they had to shut down the train tracks because of the accident.”

“What accident?”

“Oh a big crash or something, no one talks about it anymore but lots of people died. It was a really long time ago though.” Roberta said, growing disinterested in the conversation as we approached the train.

It was in a real mess, all broken bits of wood and twisted metal just lying there with the rain bouncing off it. It gave me the creeps but I stood there with the others, just staring at it until my arm got tired holding the lantern.

“Let’s go home.”

Amelia shot me a look. “Are you kidding? This is cool. We’re not going yet, I want to look inside.”

Shivers passed over me as the storm beat heavier on our backs, but I didn’t say anything because Amelia was the boss. We all moved forward, swinging the meager light from our cheap, battery-powered Halloween lanterns at the wreck.

“It must be really old,” said Mandy, uncertain. “It looks like an old steam train, like it’s been here forever but I don’t remember it.”

“That’s because it wasn’t here.” Roberta repeated, hanging back a little, but Amelia shot her a look like murder, and so she trod forward.

“Somebody must have cleared the trees around here, it must have been hidden before that’s all. Don’t be such a baby.”

We got up to the cab and Amelia said for us all to hold our lanterns up so she could see inside. Mandy’s lantern went out with a POP; the vampire face with the plastic fangs suddenly vanishing from view.

“There’s nothing in there anyway,” Amelia said, banging the side of the cab. We all followed her in silence as she moved further back towards the carriage section.

“Gimme that,” Mandy said, snatching at my pumpkin lantern.

“Get lost!” I snatched it back, but it made me stumble and feel stupid. Mandy was older than me, so was Amelia. I didn’t want to go along with it but I was afraid to look like a coward.

“Give her the lantern and stop being such a child.” Amelia said, but again I shook my head, I was tired and cold, and just then I thought about my parents and how late it was.

“I’m going.” I said, and practically ran off because I didn’t want to hear them making fun of me, and I didn’t want them to try and make me stay.

“Pathetic!” I heard Mandy shout after me. I turned after I’d crossed the street and saw Roberta standing a little way behind the other two, looking back at me. I felt bad then for leaving her, because she wasn’t as bad as the others. From where I was standing at the crossroads I could now see Roberta join Amelia and Mandy, her skeleton lantern bobbing along until it joined Amelia’s werewolf. They were trying to get into the carriage, I could hear their voices but not what they were saying.

I was about to give up and head home then when I heard a noise. It was like a door creaking in the wind, and there was a rattling sound too, it was so strange that it made me stop where I was. A light appeared in the wreck, it lit up Amelia’s face and showed her shock. She raised her hand up to cover her eyes as Roberta grabbed for Mandy and pulled her away from the carriage. I heard steam hiss and a whistle blow and suddenly the carriage was moving; the cab reared up in front like a dancing cobra, pulling the carriage back underneath it. Fallen, rusted metal rods leaped up from their place on the grass and reached out like grasping fingers, sweeping the girls off their feet with a roaring whooosh as their bodies disappeared into the darkness inside of the carriage. Their screams lasted only a second before cutting off dead.

I was frozen to the spot, watching speechless as the light within the train-thing flickered on and off in the lashing rain. It stood up tall, big metal arms hanging limp at its sides now somehow attached to the body of the train-thing.

It watched me for a while, and I suppose it was thinking. I couldn’t do anything I was so afraid. In the corner of my eye I could see Roberta’s skeleton lantern fizzle out and die by the roadside. That changed things. It made me want to move as fast as I could to get away from there, and I’ve never run so hard in my life. I ran so hard that I tripped and fell, skidding on the wet concrete and cutting my jeans open. I cried out in pain and looked back because I was convinced the train-thing was closing in on me.

But it was gone. I was all alone in the street.

 

Dead Men Telling Tales: Maritime Gibbet Lore in Nineteenth-Century Popular Culture

Image: National Maritime Museum (BBC News London Website)

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While not a piece of original fiction as is usually my remit here, I wanted to plug a short  factual piece I wrote recently about how the link often made between pirates and the punishment of gibbeting (hanging in irons or hanging in chains) such as you might see in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean is traceable to at least the nineteenth century. This fascination with maritime gibbets is certainly visible in various literary works during the century, and in newspaper articles appearing around the latter half of the Victorian period. In this post I examine this phenomenon; delving into the history of gibbeting and into the folklore which sprung up around the practice.

The post is featured on the Port Towns and Urban Cultures website, a research group attached to the University of Portsmouth. Please check out all the other great maritime themed scholarship while you’re there!

My article can be found here: http://porttowns.port.ac.uk/dead-men-telling-tales/

Thanks for reading.

Eilís

24# The Exhibit

DFQMND

This short story is my entry into @ruanna3 ‘s latest fiction competition, The Dark Fairy Queen’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Writing Contest. I’ve chosen the theme ‘fairytales.’ Hope you enjoy, and please click on the blue ‘froggy’ link at the bottom of the story to check out other competition entries. Thanks!

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Lights flashing on outside the museum appeared to be like the echo of the lights dimming within. I remember them that night because of the exhibit, the sealed box which held all the magic the children came to see in such large numbers. It had been so long since such a place had existed in the real world.

During long summer evenings I would often stay to walk among the exhibits alone. I know that other employees found the experience “creepy.” They were afraid of the paintings with their corpse-like eyes, placid and unfathomable. I never had those thoughts because I wasn’t afraid of death as they were. Mine, and the generations before me crafted stories to cope with the passing of life, but now that transfer from biological, entropying bodies to replaceable mechanical models was possible, death had become unthinkable, so that even these paintings of the dead were horrifying to them.

As I headed straight for the Organic Exhibits room I thought about the stories my father told me when I was a child. I vaguely remember one about children being lost in a place where trees thrived, where a bad woman lived who ate children, or was that another tale? The stories had given me nightmares so my father had stopped telling them. Now I approached the museum’s new attraction with a feeling, wonder, I think it was. I heaved its lid open and gazed down.

The first thing I remember, standing over the encapsulated paradise, was the smell. Fresh and woody, the musty scent assaulted my nostrils and almost made me stumble. In that box lay synthesized the last bastion of poets and dreamers: a dell of miniature trees, their trunks entwined with ivy, their roots adorned with bluebells – a pioneering effort all created artificially, but so real they seemed to me, who had never seen a forest, or a flower. For a moment I experienced calm, until I heard a voice in the woods.

“Is someone there?”

It was like a child’s voice.

I dropped the lid back down, stepped away, but then faltered, and lifted the lid again. There were no other workers in the museum, but still I whispered to the voice:

“Stay hidden!”

Speeding homeward on the fetid monorail, I wondered what on earth had been created in that box, and what I might have to risk in order to protect it.

(400 words)

Synaesthesia and the Spectral Locomotive.

Image by Artur84 courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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Last year, I was delighted to take part in a wonderful magic realism blog hop organised by Zoe Brooks, (you can see the short story I wrote for it here.) Check out the links at the bottom of this page for other great blogs by fantastic authors on the hop.

In the previous blog hop, I included a short story, as I didn’t really know what I had to say about the genre. I felt at a loss I suppose. Many others had, and have posted excellent pieces about magic realism, and considering how flexible the genre is inherently, there might feasibly be as many personal interpretations as there are grains of sand.

With this in mind, I thought I’d try this year to talk about what draws me personally to write magic-infused stories, and to enjoy reading them. The answer is perhaps more clinical than you might think. Apparently my brain is hard-wired to see fantastic things.

I have a condition called synaesthesia. Here’s the wiki page. I can’t explain it all that well in terms of the science of it, but essentially it means that my sense are a little more interconnected than they might ordinarily be in most people. I like to use the metaphor of a ghost train, stopping at stations that would have been long since shut down in other  minds. In my brain, strange pathways led to strange places. Smells become sights; colours and emotions and tastes all intertwine.

For example, when I smell a perfume, it also manifests itself as a colour in my mind’s eye. The same perfume will always bring to mind that colour, in the same way that if I asked you to tell me what colour the grass was, you would instinctively think green wouldn’t you?

Chanel make a perfume called Chance. I used to wear it all the time, but my mother (who is also a synaesthete) wasn’t a fan. One day we both realised that the reason we disagreed over the smell was because it was a very light shade of blue. As a child I had loved the colour, but my mother couldn’t stand it. As far as I know, synaesthetes won’t usually see the same colours or patterns for the same things, but sometimes these overlap. So, a lot of synaesthetes might see the letter O as white in colour for example.

Some synaesthetes have only one type of sensory overlap, such as that of colour-numbers/letters. I happen to be blessed (or cursed) with a wide range of sensory entanglements. Numbers and letters have colours, genders and their own personalities. (I thought I was just a little crazy until I realised that some other synaesthetes personify numbers too-phew), whenever I hear music I see patterns, shapes and colours. Emotions have colours (grief and all bitter-sweet feelings are purple). When I touch something hot or cold, that also manifests itself as a colour, and when that something is too hot or too cold both sensations look exactly the same to me, they are both yellow.

Certain words have an amazing power to bring tastes into my mouth, “emerald” being the strongest of these. Whenever I hear or say the word, I experience a rush of sweetness, a bit like syrup, on the back of my tongue. I once heard that these taste sensations are frequently linked to childhood experiences. I think perhaps I was watching The Wizard of Oz, eating a lollipop when the Emerald City scene came on, and now the association is with me for life. Lucky for me it’s a pleasant one!

I could go on and on but I won’t. This is supposed to be a post about creativity, not neurological conditions. I wanted to share this because I wanted to show how magic for me is not so unlikely or remote a thing. I live in a kaleidoscope. When I hear music or conversations the patterns and colours soar around me in great arcs. I sit in lecture theatres and coffeeshops and have to try and not be engulfed in rainbows. It can be terribly beautiful. Terrible because the sensory overload I occasionally experience can tip me into anxiety attacks. Beautiful, because I live in a world where monotony is just impossible.

I recently discovered that, when given the choice, I will rely on my synaesthetic responses over my normal ones. If a friend asks me “can you hear that?” I won’t listen, I will look to see if I can spot the shapes the sound makes. Perhaps vibrations trigger these patterns then, as I often see the shapes before I am aware of any sound. Because of this, I can’t imagine what I would do if I woke up without these strange hallucinations. How would I feel my way around the world? I suppose I would adjust, but it would be like loosing a limb.

When I write about magic in everyday life, it’s because the concept lies close to my heart. I see magical things all the time. Every time someone speaks, or a band plays, or someone hurts me, or makes me happy, I see things that are unique to me. Ghosts are everywhere. Ghosts of sentences, or dogs barking. Ghosts of emotions. When someone talks about “a smile lighting up a room” for me it’s really true. When someone smiles naturally and unselfconsciously it makes me see a giant sunflower, with huge petals opening up, it brightens me too. That may sound horrifically corny, but it’s what I see.

I suppose the one thing my condition and my writing have led me to wonder, is what is magic now? The term and its implications for society have meant so many different things throughout history. Magic can have both positive and negative and (perhaps more rarely) neutral connotations. It represents the wondrous, the heinous, the mysterious, the things we don’t understand. Nowadays it is taken more metaphorically. We say “oh when we got engaged it was just so magical.” I understand that my synaesthetic experiences can be explained by science, but that doesn’t stop them from feeling any less magical to me.

For me, magic is an every day thing. Sudden visions appear and disappear all around me and I walk through them, because I’m too busy and I can’t afford to get distracted. I don’t want to be run over, or I don’t want to miss my bus. Sometimes I allow myself time to enjoy them. I’ll put on my favourite songs and watch the patterns they make as they form and swirl around. Then, I collect the things I see and incorporate them into stories. Being a synaesthete has many draw backs, but I know I’m lucky. I rarely run out of inspiration, because my dreams are all around me.

MAGIC REALISM BLOGHOP 2014
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link below to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

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15: The Crypt

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amworth

Charles Doughey died on 18th November. He left behind him a modest family but considerable wealth. After the death of his brother, Charles had taken into his care two young nieces Cassandra and Helen, and a nephew, a rather haughty man named Edward. Their mother, who was still relatively young and not without her charms, gladly accepted the offer of a generous roof over their heads and financial support, but of course there was idle gossip spread about due to her age, and her beauty. Many of the townsfolk pondered loudly over their cups as to exactly why Mr Doughey had moved the family into his home, and not relocated them comfortably elsewhere, as he was not without the means and wherewithal to do so.

The sad and somewhat early death of Doughey put paid to numerous rumours quickly, and encouraged yet more salacious accusations to spring up in their place, as though heads of the dread Hydra. The entire estate and Doughey’s fortune were of course left to his closest relatives: the Widow Doughey and her children. Far from being delighted at this change of circumstance, the young wards were devastated at the loss of their beloved uncle, and none appeared to feel this loss as keenly as the youngest, Helen. A pale girl of sixteen, Helen had never possessed the sociable nature of her brother and sister (nor her mother) and instead could often be found in her uncle’s library amongst the books, sat beside a roaring fire. She was not, however, without graces, and her smiles and gentle conversation delighted anyone who shared her company. These pleasant traits were not to be enjoyed by her loved ones for much longer however, for just as her uncle grew sick, so a sickness stole upon the girl, and made her increasingly wan and solitary.

“I do not know why she sulks as she does, the doctor says there is nothing at all the matter with her but melancholy.” Edward would complain on the many occasions when Helen would not come down to dinner, but would dine in her room alone, feigning sickness. Tucking in his napkin he would go on, voicing his distaste regarding her new choice of reading material to his mother and sister who nodded politely at intervals.

“Really those aren’t the sort of things a girl should be reading. Such dreadful periodicals no doubt encourage these bouts of melodrama, I dare say she is quite taken away with stories of spectral visitations and Counts who carry maidens off to dungeons and whatever else rotten these scoundrel writers and their low imaginations can conjure up.”

There was also much speculation at the house when Helen was discovered weak and delirious outside her bedroom several nights before the death of her uncle. She had been found by a maid servant, her small frame draped half-over the stair rod, her eyes glazed, her night dress torn, faint bloody scratches raked across her breast. At first a male servant was suspected of felonious assault. His disappearance coincided with the night in question, and he had been spotted in Helen’s company on several occasions within the house by some of the maids. However, after Helen had been revived and questioned, she was insistent that she had no memory of the man approaching her, but that a vile nightmare had awoken her, and that the scratches must have been the result of her own tormented hands.

Naturally the incident caused a minor stir and Edward was at the point of having the servants search his sister’s room for what he believed to be the cause of the nightmare – the sensational periodicals – when their uncle, Charles, took a turn for the worse, and expired.

He was buried not long after in the family crypt, and those assembled commented how fortunate it was that Doughey could afford such a resting place. Foul weather had besieged the town and turned the cold earth of the church yard into a quagmire. Fierce winds lashed at newly dug graves, desecrating funeral wreaths and battering the walls of the church was a hellish fury. It also happened that the funeral coincided with a dreadful week of unfortunate events. On the Sunday previous, a  faithful servant was revealed to have vanished without a trace, all her belongings still under her bed below stairs. Then there were continued nightmares for Helen, each one leaving her more deranged than the last, weak and delusional she would wander the house until she was discovered and brought back to bed. Finally, one of the younger maids was found dead in the kitchen garden, her throat slit from ear to ear. The rain had washed away every trace of blood (of which there must have been considerable amount) along with any possible evidence of a crime, and as the knife had been found still clutched in her hand, the doctor concluded suicide.

These tragedies were almost more than the household could bear, and resulted in many servants abandoning their posts altogether, believing the house to be cursed by the spirit of Charles Doughey, angry at a death before his time. The only member of the household who could be relied upon with any certainty was Cassandra. It was she who comforted the ladies and quietly saw to the smooth running of daily chores in the absence of several hands. Edward was particularly occupied with matters pertaining to his profession, and thus, found a great many excuses to be absent. Still, Cassandra bore all of the misery upon her proud shoulders and was a rock to her poor deranged sister and mother, just as her own father had once been, before his own mysterious demise.

If the family had hoped their troubles were ended once the funeral had passed, they were sadly mistaken. Helen began to see a spectral presence in her room at nights. The phantom, she claimed, was no longer a figure in her nightmares but a slim, ethereal entity she saw whilst wide awake. Her mother, too, began to be disturbed by strange noises, eerie sounds, and footsteps rattling past her door as she lay a-bed, trembling. On one particularly dark night, when the moon was too thin to cast even the faintest shadow, a servant on his way to bed had his candle knocked from his hand as if by some terrible unknown force. When the man cried out, another came to his aid with a new light, and perceived ahead of them Charles Doughey’s portrait lying face-down upon the ground. A week later, Helen was dead. She joined her uncle in the dark bosom of the crypt, and the entire town was awash with stories of curses and ungodly goings-on.

“It is he!” Cried the Widow Doughey to Cassandra. “It is your uncle, he walks from the grave to torment us all! The man must surely have been cursed in life. If only I had known he would bring us so low! And where is your brother when we have most need of him?”

“Mother, calm yourself! I cannot believe that our dear uncle would ever wish so much misery upon us, even were he cursed as you claim. I do not believe in curses, give me the key to the crypt and I shall prove that he sleeps unmolested in his grave and that will be an end of it!”

But her mother would not consent to such a macabre undertaking, and refused access to the crypt. “We will wait until your brother comes back from Italy,” she told the girl. But Cassandra, refusing to heed her mother, worked her wiles upon their most trusted servant, who consented to reveal to her the hiding place of the crypt key.

Stealing out of the house as soon as midnight struck and the servants were all a-bed, Cassandra took the key and a set of tools stolen from the house carpenter, and headed off down the path towards the church across the fields behind the great house. Clods of mud clung to her feet and the hem of her gown, but she pressed on unheeding, as if a terrible hunger were upon her. Even though she had no light to guide her, she knew her way perfectly well in the darkness. Owls hooted overhead, and night creatures snuffled and rustled in the woods about her, but Cassandra kept her resolve and only paused for a moment to rest when she saw the graveyard appear before her.

With cold, trembling hands, Cassandra slipped the iron key into the lock and the old crypt door leaned to with aching sound. Inside darkness swallowed up every object, and so Cassandra was forced to light a candle to grope her way down the stone aisle. As she passed her candle illuminated the alcoves where the coffins were kept, some still rested solemn and intact, but others had long since decayed, their wood splintered and sagging, their contents disgorged and sampled by vermin. These sights, and the putrid air of the crypt made Cassandra feel faint and nauseous, but she was ravaged by a desire to push on further into the crypt in spite of these ghastly scenes.

The crypt was terribly cold; with only a shawl about her shoulders the young girl searched each alcove for the name she sought. At last she came to rest at the end of the hall of the dead, where two newly erected plinths stood straight ahead. To their left was an older coffin, one which bore her father’s name, and which she alone new to be empty. Thus this she dismissed without thought and instead rushed to the coffin bearing her sister, her corpse only days old. Almost feverish, she attacked the wood with her tools, wielding them with an almost unnatural force, until the lid was off, and slid to the floor with a crack. Helen’s beautiful face was now a mask of death. Even paler than she had been in life, and joyless, her body was as cold as ice. Gasping madly, her chest heaving, Cassandra lifted her sister up, and partially out of the wooden box. She whispered words into her ear and caressed her long blonde hair, pushing it back from the nape of her neck to show the place where two pin-pick wounds stared out of the alabaster skin like the eyes of a demon.

Helen’s eyes now were opened, her hands clenched. She too gasped and looked wildly about, her bloodshot eyes finally resting on her sister.

“What do we do now?” she asked.

“Now,” said Cassandra, her eyes burning with an unholy glare, the candle light illuminating her bloodthirsty maw, “now we wake Uncle Charles.”

The two young women set upon the second casket and to reviving the old man. Decay had barely marred him, and he seemed alert and eager when roused. The party of three then processed through the crypt and out into the night. The town and its sleeping inhabitants lay ahead of them, innocent and unawares – soon the vampires would be at their hideous repast…

End

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Notes.

This post was inspired by a few too many nineteenth century Gothic tales late at night – the last line is an homage to the wonderful Varney the Vampire.

Varney the Vampire