Sunday, December 11, 2011

House Trained - Culture Vultures

House Trained

My name is Matthew Shakewell and I nearly died yesterday.

I shall try to relate as closely as I can my experience, but please keep your hand on your heart and read this story in the clear light of day...for you may die of fright, as I so very nearly did. Please take care, make sure my words are not those of a mad man or one who wants to frighten you gratuitously; make sure you do not put too much credit in their meaning as appreciation of their truth could have damnable effect on the mild-mannered or the nervous...but, as I write this, I genuinely believe each word I am about to devote to paper.

So much for the warning, now for the facts.


I snuggled into the warmth of the carriage as the train churned through acre upon acre of English countryside. It was impossible to view the trees and village stations we must have passed through, for the night enshrined everything; so the most sensible thing to do was to try and sleep until the time for arrival at my destination, where my uncle would be waiting to greet me.

I slept for how long and with what vague dreams? Nebulous vistas of strange dimensional cities intruded, warped visages staring and tentacles clutching, wet lips and things sucking near. I awoke to the carriage, the formless darkness sliding away past me and an old man snoring in the corner. I was quite shaken by my dreams as the memory of them lingered incoherently. But I soon realized on looking at my timepiece that I should have arrived at my destination about an hour before!

It was then that I comprehended I had not seen one thing from the carriage window. True, I was travelling through a comparatively uninhabited part of England, but this was decidedly peculiar; even though there were no stars nor moon, I should have seen the distant glow of some big town or the lonesome light of a spinster's cottage. But absolutely nothing could I see, presumably on acoount of the unusual blackness of the night through which I was speeding in a corridorless train. Might it be fog?

I relaxed back into the seat and viewed my sleeping companion. The fog would explain the lateness of the train, but what about its apparent speed?

I was convinced the train was traveling at a phenomenal speed, but it was now two hours overdue--without precedence on that line. I resolved to wake my companion and I stepped over to shake him. What curled from the hood of the duffel coat was an evilly scarred face and, on unwinding, gave me an imbecilic smile: a moon-face topped by a schoolboy's cap, giggling in the depth of its rasping throat.

"Mutation" is a word too medical, too clinical, as what I saw was essentially unwholesome; nothing created by a mother on this world, but fashioned far away in dim lands beyond the galaxy we know. The transfiguration took me completely by surprise as, before my eyes, the monstrosity literally dissolved and dripping from the brown duffel coat was a green, sticky slime, forming a viscid puddle on the swaying floor.

It held all the smells which disgust man throughout the world and others completely new to his nose, recalling my dream vistas and certain other things I could not quite place.

My first thought was to pull the communication cord, but I felt the train was slowing down--presumably my destination had been reached. My mind was a maelstrom as the train drew to a halt. On jumping to the platform, I realized it was not my intended destination, but a strange station ... and the nightmare train was drawing out, leaving me bewildered and valiseless. Amid the chaos of my mind, I knew I had to find a porter and share the horror I with him.

Empty tins and scraps of paper scuttled along the deserted platform, driven by the night wind. So, no fog! Visibility was excellent, but it still puzzled me why I could not see the moon nor the stars. I shouted for assistance, but none came: a forsaken station, forgotten by all who used to work there, those who, under a happy sun, waved green flags and blew whistles, carted parcels and drank tea. Dazed, I shuffled along the cluttered platform towards the station-house, sithouetted against the ceiling of the sky, ominous and spectral.

I came to a turnstile and, not surprisingly, it was enlaced with choking cobwebs, twining through the bars. The only exit I could see was through there, and so I pulled myself together to cut a path through its creeping entropy. As I entered, an over-nourished spider skittered to its lair. I wish to God I had not looked to the left into the ticket-collector's cab, for here was not a deserted seat, but the ticket collector himself sitting, not as he used to be, but a decaying skeleton-creature with a puncher in the bones of a hand. A plump worm coiled through his skewered ribs ... and I screamed ... ran from that blasphemous railway station...

...into avenues of ill-lit horror, through lines of trees, black and twisted against the blacker sky, along country roads twining between untended hedgerows ... until exhaustion put paid to my progress ... I saw the House; it rose out of the darkness, looming forbodingly. It was more of a castle than a house, and had two towering wings, pointing and mocking at the sky.

I should not fear its occupants, I told myself--they would probably disperse my fears and show my position on the map - so I plucked up enough courage to walk to the main door. Its massive oaken surface and golden knocker filled me with awe, but I grasped the knocker, pulled it heavily from the wood, and let it drop with a crash echoing throughout the whole house. It was such a loud noise that it startled me and put the fear back. There, I waited for what Fate would bring to the door, waiting, eternally waiting. But no one came. No one deigned to answer my call for help, so I decided to force my way in for shelter, but the door looked too mighty for entrance there. But I was mistaken as a single trial caused the door to swing open with a splitting creak revealing ... only darkness. I coughed as the atmosphere tightened in my chest and I felt for a suitable position to sleep the night out.

It was then that I heard something which I can hear even now inside my head, a funeral moan, harmonically illogical, resonant, deep but also shrill, coming from up above me, approaching down a rickety staircase, a moan carrying at one and the same time the horror of the graveyard, the scream of delight as ghouls ecstatically lift a prutrescible corpse from its resting place, the terror of a lunatic's laugh as he carves his own flesh, and all the pain and panic of the Pit where shapeless elementals vaguely swim in fire, chewing off the heads of the human damned.

After, came a slithering and bumping above me: a thing was moving across the floor and, then, it was squelching down the stairs emitting the long drawn-out moan. The alternate slithering and bumping rode the creaking, teetering stairs, inexorably drawing closer, nearer, faster, down, down, down... seemed as if I were in another world, sucked in by intangible forces to a revelation of the cosmos, a panorama of all time; stars and streaks of light reaching to infinitudes of chaos and cult, ethereal glows and fresh, unmathematical lands. I saw a city with dome-like, square buildings on plains of kaleidoscopic bubbles and, in each bubble, a grotesque gargantuan gargoyle leering at the citizens in the buildings. Those citizens themselves were immaterial, covered by jellified green slime and motivated by an ectoplasm of orange exactly in the middle of its soul-light.

I saw vague ski-runs of blue effulgence stretching for aeons from

the mamnoth, bubbly planet past the barrier of time and space, almost an interpenetration of two universes. I saw an enormous sled skim down the runnels, carrying those unfathomably huge monstrosities of green slime, and it looked as if they were waving and laughing, gobs of jelly forming into limb-strands and mouth-holes where the orange ectoplasm turned into a flickering tongue.

They laughed! They waved! They grew even larger! And on their interuniverse journey, they bred more and more of themselves as they neared a familiar planet...

The vision changed: I was looking at the cities of earth--London, Paris, New York, all empty except for ill-twisted skeletons littering the streets, doing exactly what they were doing when they died. Until the visions faded...

I was still in the House blanketed in darkness. The slithering and bumping grew yet nearer until I could see it!

It was a luminous blob of green pus - looking as if it had plucked itself unceremoniously from the incubating slime of its huge host monster following arrival on Earth. By turns it materialized and dematerialized as it squirmed and hobbled towards me... and I imagined I saw a crease of a wicked smile where the green fat folded and twitched. I screamed and screamed. It touched my foot. It actually touched my foot! My blood curdled as I felt it gradually creep up my body. The breathing gunge greened me over, covering my face like slobbering clay. I was then a gibbering, juddering puppet, insane with disgust, but tittering in ecstasy. I felt it enter my mouth, ooze into my throat, a seething, thickening mess of spitting, burping stew.

I found myself back in the train, watching an old man in a brown duffel coat sleep opposite me ... and out of the window the distant glow of a city.

It must have been a nightmare.


The train was three hours late when it arrived at my destination. I feel an impending doom on our world. Nothing to be done. As I lie here in a hospital, the doctors are amazed and disturbed by my body, which is dyed a hideous green in and out.

(Previously e-published)

Culture Vultures

The bookshelves were stacked with cassette tapes. Earfuls of them.

The body must have been left lying there for ages, since the high stench had literally sprayed from the letter-box into a kid's prying face, one who was delivering a free newspaper, despite the sign on the garden gate expressly forbidding such delivery.

When I was finally alerted, as head of paupers' funerals in the local authority, the police work had been carried out. They had decided that the dead body had been left lying for some weeks, if a successful suicide could be blamed for such dilatoriness - which I doubted. Still, a dead body has got broad shoulders, in more senses than one - bones tending to spread out with the grain of decay. There was a desultory investigation by the autopsy man, where, on peering over his shoulder, I saw that there was very little differentiation between the congealed blood and the flesh proper.

There being no family to pick over the bones, as it were, I had my beady eye on the cassette tapes. From a cursory glance of the scrawled labels on the narrow side of each unpliable cuboid, the dead body had been a great lover of classical music. He and I had at least that in common. Even, the autopsy man, a philistine at the best of times, whistled with some bemused amazement, claiming that he didn't mind "a bit of that philharmonic stuff like that big fat geezer who sung the World Cup theme tune and, yes, of course, Mantovani".

"Mantovani?" I pretended I was not old enough to remember.

"Yes, Mantovani. Haven't you heard his 'Charmaine'? And, who else? Semprini. He played nice stuff on the piano. Geraldo. I reckon a lot of that dance music is even better than some philharmonic stuff."

The autopsy man did a mock jig round the dead body's living-room, as if reliving a romance of his youth when he danced the night away with his loved one to the sounds of some godawful Max Jaffa palm court rave or a Victor Sylvester jamming session!

With him thus preoccupied, I was further scrutinising the cassettes. A lot of classy sounds. Ranging from Monteverdi to Boulez. All the Bartok string quartets (my favourite). Tippett. Mahler. Schoenberg. And some composers even I had never encountered before. Hugh Wood. Ruders. Glass. Steve Reich. Havergal Brian. The Grateful Dead.

The Grateful Dead?

They weren't particularly classical. Weren't they a flower power pop group from the late sixties? I seemed to remember a friend of mine (in his forties, now) saying they were the best thing since sliced bread. And why sliced bread was such a good thing to be the best thing since ... well, I had never, till today, questioned.

Meanwhile, the autopsy man was acting turvy.

He had grabbed a cushion and was waltzing it around the room.

No, I was wrong, because I couldn't believe my eyes.

The cushion was not a cushion at all. It only looked like a cushion. In truth, it was a part of the dead body's body, lace-trimmed with a tripe-like fatty gristle, tinged pink. Goodness knows what he would have done if he had real music to jab his legs to. Most of it was in his head. Yet, I suddenly heard the imperceptible 'it is, it is, it is' sound that one often hears from others' personal hi-fi sets: an irritating habit of live bodies when they travel on trains these days. But, no, the autopsy man's ears did not wield such a spider-headclamp...

Unnoticed by both of us (and presumably likewise by the policemen), the dead body's head possessed a sprung device consisting of a shiny black half-hoop embedded in the white skull bone like a cinemascopic rodent ulcer trying, not to escape, but to enter a sinking ship - each extension of the hoop bearing a sanitary lug-pad stained with yellow wax. The interminable it-is emanated thence.

We then heard the sound of something coming through the letter box. No doubt this month's 'Good Music Guide', but we had scrammed through the back way, without bothering to investigate. Paupers' funeral arrangements are not always such avant garde affairs, I hasten to add. Yet, sometimes, paupers kindly end up burying themselves, as eventually turned out to be the case with today's stiff. Saves on council money. A lot to be said for it. Anyway, my friend the autopsy-turvy man - I've managed to get him into Stockhausen and Frank Zappa, but only after I promised to accompany him to a Richard Clayderman gig next week. He'll be doing our packed lunch.

Published 'Sivullinen' 1994

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