Sunday, July 25, 2004

Wasted Meals

The two women stood at the high head of the stairs - dressed in designer equestrian gear, one with bright red jodhpurs and the other in the smooth textured blood of a riding-jacket. Their whips were barely concealed behind their backs. Approaching them from the bottom of the steep narrow treads, I felt I was fresh from a cradle, toddling precociously, precariously, presumptively upward for the first time.

I saw one of the women tremble as she thought of the correct words: "Get down to the front room - the fire has just been lit." The tone, although understated, retained a richly vibrant confidence about cruelty. Yet, I continued to climb, on all fours now, towards the jackboots planted where the narrow carpet had become foot-loose at the landing's edge. I noted that the stair-rods had worked free and dangled like discarded cutlery after an invalid's wasted meals.

One of them snatched me into her arms and, upon seeing her face close up for the first time, I realised it was beautiful - more stunning than anything in the wildest dozing dreams which seemed to constitute the whole of my assumed existence amid those fitful afternoon naps. The lips were full-red, picked out like a swollen exotic bloom in the midst of her aspirin-crushed complexion. The sad eyes told me more about life's reality than any words: that I was the fleshy, if phantom, child who would hang by my mouth from her suckers, having not been mother-born, but delivered in time for Christmas, my hips just narrow enough to pass down through the constricted soot-walls of a chimney.

The other woman was merely a presence. Her mother? Her eldest daughter? Her own self moulded from an alternate reality for the masquerade of the late afternoon's events? Or, perhaps, myself, grown too readily into full womanhood in the improbable future? And from that same future, I would perhaps recall my inevitable childhood: propped up in a dining-chair, posed for an impossible photograph, the nappies becoming soggy around my loins, in the front room which then connected directly with the street outside. I would perhaps recall being positioned facing a screen which flickered black and white images, hypnotising me into nap-land, where I could be no trouble to those who led their own lives around me. I was to see upon that screen jerking puppets and nodding fingermice, hear the foreign language of pre-speech and the even foreigner songs of an Elder Race that, I surmised, in my misplaced innocence, lived in the upper floors of the big house - where, apparently, I was not to be allowed to wander. I would speculate why the two women often touched each other, their red ripe lips ever conjoined in outlandish botanic cross-breeds. They entangled their long horse-whips into the cobweb arteries of a cat's-cradle game spun by blind crazy widow-spiders. Their limbs twined in tune to their hand-joints which, in turn, played Churches, Steeples and Fingerpeople. Indeed, my childhood lasted longer than expected. But eventually I grew into a man, not the woman I had assumed myself to be. My pair of mother figures never forgave me for this. They flayed my flanks as raw red as their tunics, to match the glowing embers in the front room's grate. I saw their faces, larger than life, staring at me, as I tried to escape up the flue disguised as a ghost of smoke. They stoked the coals with the hafts of their whip-stocks, their tongues flickering like flames.

But, upon the earlier day of which I first spoke, they stood at the high head of the stairs, witnessing the baby-thing that was my body trying to clamber clumsily towards them. They blamed everybody but themselves for this their only child: mutated beyond recognition and miscarriaged with insect-joints, cranking up the stair-rods like an ill-butchered lump of best brisket with a whip-feeler jiggling between the sirloins - mimicking a creature from early children's television. They brayed endlessly, with their necks back-doubled in arches, as the baby-thing continued to step up the twisted nodules of the two women's composite spine. All this was before the nightmares proper started. The landing was as dark as inside the chimney. I knew that because I had just been up there looking for Santa Claus.

Darkening the house would remind me from the likeliest future of the war-time blackouts. But nobody had told me then that I could have had the lights switched on inside the house, once the window-blinds were fastened down. Nostalgia was my game. The past my gift to the present. Darkness my late lamented mother's embrace. I often recalled the grumble of aeroplanes heavily underhung with bombs as they carved the night sky like the Devil's sharks towards the city. My mother and I would squat in each other's arms on this very landing, praying for the man-made storm to pass without the lightning fulfilling its threat. Sometimes, the bombs did land in the vicinity, even breaching the window-blinds with their sudden shafting flashes - dimly illuminating the steep staircase and its inky well below us, the banister and the newel post. We cringed, since we knew that the hallway haunted a ghost, rather than vice versa - and we dreaded to see the ghost's frightened face in the abrupt light. Its fear became no less as the years passed away. The war ended (not before time). My mother died at a ripe age. I had gone on living in the same house, subsisting on an inheritance that had been in the family for at least time immemorial. The ghost had no doubt grown older, less frightened, wrinklier, less visible, probably hanging around the newel post. And light grew scarcer, sparser, sparer. The world outside could have been enveloped in bright summers all year round, for all I cared. The grocery boy, who never seemed to get older, failed to tell me what the hell was going on in the outside world (when he dropped provisions into the coal bunker).

The darkness, one particular late afternoon, was thinner than usual. Perhaps one of the window-blinds had sprung open or the chimney had unexpectedly cleared its throat of soot. But the newel post, an overgrown globe of wood on an intricately carved banister-end, glinted like the dome of one of my bald ancestors: a glimmering from within it - looking like a fortune-teller's crystal ball and then a child's turn-topsy snow-scene toy. The ghost could be clearly seen crouching on the bottom stair, the back of its neck red with the newel post's light that bled into it. Suddenly, the ghost turned on its haunches, droning like the onset of London's Blitz. The beauty on its see-through face was more than could be borne.

The bomb stirred me and, having woken me, proceeded to kill me. When the firemen pulled my body from the rubble, they pinched themselves, since my head was wooden, apparently dislodged from a newel post. The bomb itself was a previously unexploded one from the ancient Second World War Blitz, which soemthing had unaccountably shifted in the chimney. The firemen had pinched themselves, to give my dream some consistency.

I woke in the quiet front room. Only the rhythmic dripping of the large carriage clock on the mantelpiece and, sometimes, the canary's pecking at the window pane through the bars of its cage. If the late afternoon had not been so unseasonably dark, it would have been easier to describe the room's interior. Suffice it to say, it had become old-fashioned before its time. But the newly laundered antimacassars upon the backs of the shabby three-piece suite shone out luminously like gateways to another dimension, one with a skull-print stain in the centre.

As my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I felt an impression of someone sitting in the wing-armchair who suddenly spoke: "I'm so glad you've come to the front room at last. The fire's newly lit in your honour. Come and sit next to me." The voice was shrill, a bit like a man's who had grown into second childhood with a voice that was breaking the other way. I imagined he had a white beard and red-riding hood. Of course, there was nobody there. And the fire was unlit. I rose with a creak and squeezed the nipple of the wallflower light-switch. The shadeless bulb burst into life, hanging very low from the rose in the cracked ceiling. My eyes were closed, but I somehow knew my way about without opening them. I proceeded to the tallboy, trying to find the dear creature who had spoken to me. Instead, I discovered an oblong box inlaid with finest abstractions of ivory and ormulu.

My eyes were not wilfully shuttered. The eyelids had ingrown the cheek, the lashes embedded in the flesh like splinters of rotted freckles. Yet, without further ado, I lifted the lid and the spokes on the musical braille began to pluck-turn inside the clockwork. My eyes engorged with joy below the pulpy carapaces - and indeed it was a winsome tune the box played, tantalisingly unmemorable with the tinkling of long-fingernailed fairies' harps. A pity I was stonier deaf than both the front room's doorpost and the hall stair's newel post put together. The canary twittered in oblique scales as it followed the tune throbbing in my shaking hand. As if the music-box were about to blow sky high.

Abruptly, I guessed the truth, or the nearest to truth as it was possible to reach: the wartime Blitz had killed my real mother before I was conceived, let alone born - and a continuous programme of dreams was the most that reality and existence could do for me by filling in with extrapolations of cross-skewed memory. An understudy for life.

But, no. They were not dreams at all. Dreams are merely excuses for mismatches and confusions. My eyelids sprung open like window-blinds, with the sound of ripping flesh. I found myself gazing from the Stairwell up, up, up towards Hell and saw the pair of riding-crop women ... looking down at me with a jaded deja-vu ... standing head high at the head of the stairs.

(Published ‘Nox’ 1993)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Watkins examined the matchbox. When he was a small boy, they sold toy lorries in matchboxes, and racing cars, and family saloons, and bright red tractors. Recently the world had become a boring place for Watkins. Matchboxes contained only matches. And cigarette packets had only cigarettes: no attractive cards to flip bearing pictures of footballers, tropical birds, Second World War aeroplanes and, yes, even bright red tractors.

The matchbox sat in the palm of his hand. Life was usually too busy for such minutiae. The last time he stopped to breathe was when his mother died. Even when he was supposed to be relaxing, his mind raced with this or that project. Yet today was different. The world had suddenly hushed, as if the act of impending was its raison d’être - and Watkins was flagrante delicto: about to take a sneaky smoke, a habit which his better self had officially given up yonks ago.

With the unaccustomed intake of breath that would not re-emerge until his lungs started flapping like dying fish, he pored over the crumpleable cuboid of the matchbox. The larger geometry of the cigarette packet nearby - which he had originally intended to plunder with the more surreptitious fingers of his left hand - did not belong to him. Nor did the matchbox, for that matter. In fact, their owner was a mystery - especially as Watkins lived alone, expected no imminent visitors (nor, even, any just departed ones), and had in fact not unlocked his front door since Emily left in a huff a fortnight ago. The artefacts could not possibly have belonged to Emily, to sweet sweet Emily. She was so green, he thought she must come from Mars. Recycling, for her, was not necessarily living on a déjà vu biking holiday.

And you could say that again.

No, the presence of the smoking equipment was decidedly an enigma, which, in many ways, was a better word than mystery and also obviated a boring repetition. Watkins shook his head. Could he, of all people, be thinking such thoughts? On top of which, he had just spotted a man’s pipe resting upon a shelf of the bookcase within the bay window alcove. He may have succumbed to fags in his chequered past - but never a pretentious pipe! Men who smoked pipes had the personality of a car exhaust or worse.

The matchbox just moved, a barely perceptible budge in the palm! A horrible feeling. As if he were a boy again with a trapped wasp. Except this was more a wriggle than a buzzing bounce. A slither, not a head-bashing. Yet quieter than Watkins’s resumed breathing.

Emily wasn’t ever coming back. He knew that. He and Emily were usually chalk and cheese, but not necessarily in that order. She a schoolteacher with a degree in method acting - he, well, he had smelly feet, didn’t he? And his mother had never properly house-trained him. Now it was too late. An old dog could never learn new tricks.

Yet he did remember a trick he once knew as a boy. One with a matchbox. Two live matches were needed. And a penny (an old penny in those days). One match was positioned vertically head-up at one end of the empty matchbox’s label-side by means of a punctured hole. The other leaned head-up against it with the white stem creating a hypotenuse, its end resting on the label with the penny between. You then asked someone how you could get the penny without touching the matches.

Also, there were those cotton-reel tractors, with a stub of candle, elastic band and one matchstick, which his father used to make for him. Memories were flooding back.

But all this was before the matchbox seemed to move in his palm.

Yet how could it? Certainly without the presence of an independent motive force. Tricks were never that prestidigitatious. So, he speculated upon sliding out the tiny drawer, to gauge what was what - until the interruption of the door-bell going. Surely not Emily. But if not, who?

He had expected no imminent visitors.

The last time Watkins had unexpected visitors was the occasion he had suffered a chimney fire and one of the neighbours had called the fire brigade. Nosey-parkers, all of them!

He pushed gently on the fragile tray with his nose to reveal the most surreptitious of his own left hand’s fingers (the little one) lying in its narrow coffin. Slightly slithering between the corners of its fingerhouse. Brown-stained at one end and bright red-stumped at the other. It looked to be in a torture of traction.

He tried to snap it shut before calling the snoop-police, worried that he might get Emily the whale-lover and part-time RSPCA ambulance-driver instead. But none of the number-pads worked. And the door-bell had indeed gone. Only the squeaking of Watkins’s lungs remained. The fingermouse? It had dropped out with a crumply plop and died - touch wood.

Published 'Touch Wood' (Little Brown & Co) 1993

Sunday, July 18, 2004


I could see she needed to speak to someone in her own class. Years a lady, and now she had to resort to nightly shake-downs on patches of dusty floor that considerate souls would mete out by the inch. Her name she said was Madame de Charlemont, but I doubted if that was her real one.

“Can I call you Claudette?”

“You may, if that were really my name.”

“It seems to fit. You’re like something out of Proust or Colette or Katherine Mansfield or Anita Brookner.”

“Or Baudelaire or Mallarme... No, No, why should I have to come out of anything at all?”

I could see she was irritated. The mane rippled like a sea, the face her beach of damp powdered sand. The hair was indeed greyer than fair, propped up at the front like a hedge in a nineteen forties style, ill-fastened at the sides with beetling hair-clips. However, it was the look, the content rather than the form, that intrigued me most.

My attention slipped to the voice. I tried harmonising my own tones and registers of speech with the contralto echoes of her; it was as if the sound was not taken from the chest but from her past, when she’d held audiences in the palm of her shell-like hand.

“Can I help you in any way?” I ventured.

I had discovered her inside a two-bit cafe near to a nameless place (an area between two well known tourist attractions of the city). She was sitting in front of a large wall mirror; so at first I thought there were two of her; twin sisters upon a sheen’s breath, as the Poet once put it. I sat myself at the next table, so close I could easily stare into her wayward eyes; the sea had already withdrawn leaving glistened pools upon them. She was picked out by the awkward late afternoon light that entered between the posters on the cafe window. I simply knew she knew that I wanted to talk to her. And vice versa. Too old to be a pick-up, I should have had no qualms. Too old to be picked-up, she eventually answered me with not even the slightest turn-away of the head.

“You could only help me, if you’d met me twenty years before.”

The remark was even more cryptic in the foreign language she spoke. I shrugged it off for what it was; a dream talking; hope expanding into the past as well as into the future, but merely skirmishing with the seedy present moment.

“You’d think they’d clean up this city for the tourists, wouldn’t you?” It felt like taking pot-shots with words: hoping at least that the target would stop wavering about.

“Yes, I stood in some finds...” She held up her dainty foot at a sharp angle so that I could see underneath the high-heel shoe. I was astonished someone of her age could balance on such dagger- points, like a filler novelty act in an anachronistic vaudeville.

“Were you indeed a famous singer, Claudette?”

“More famous than some. Put now I’m just an entry in a thousand discarded diaries.”

“Will you sing a song I’ve written?’

I held out a tattered score. I’d carried it in my back pocket for as long as I recalled owning the pocket.

“In here!” She turned to look at the waitress who was scowling at us from over the steamy counter.

“Why not? It may bring others in, and surely they need more clients than simply the two of us.”

She saw what the score was. I thought I caught a half-smile hovering in her look. “I see it’s called ‘Claudette’,” she said.

“In this city, one ceases to be surprised at coincidences,” I answered.

She stood up. I then knew she was a Diva: for common songstresses of the old school squat sing. I, for one, croon above my own finds.

She was not quite so old as I had originally believed. The dress shone upon her pedigree flanks. The breasts relayed the blurring flow of shimmer and sea light. She hummed her voice into tune, as the Poet said, like a coterie of ambivalent musicians using colours as well as sounds for the ultimate accompaniment. But I never really understood poetry.

I tapped my fingers on the unpercussive table, finding it difficult to keep up with the other rhythms of the city around us, for the surface was tacky with ancient meals. I opened my mouth, as if that would encourage her to follow mine in a composer’s lip-reading, a listener’s sight-reading.

She eventually sat down without singing the song, though I could have sworn there had been at least something in the air (not my song, but one that had been written by one of her past lovers).

“Did you not like my song, Claudette?”

“I liked it very much, my dear.”

I turned to the waitress, seeking confirmation that Claudette had not sung it at all.

“It’s got a nice tune, Mister, I’ll say that for it...” Her voice was coarser than the Diva’s, despite the youthful breasts upon the sound-box.

I turned back to Claudette, for somehow I knew I would love her more than any song could sing. But she had already disappeared into the gathering mysteries of the city’s night. I heared the distant tolling of the engulfed cathedral and shuddered.

“But you need a lady to sing it rather than you,” the waitress continued, as she sat back into the coffee-coloured gloom of the counter. I barely heard her trying to mimic my song.

I looked into the large mirror on the wall, but its steamy surface swam with an uncertain gloss: Usher’s tarn dimming in the man made light of early evening.

I swayed out into the quiet street on alcoholic points, wondering why her real name had gone from my mind. Nameless or no, I’d always love Madame de Charlemont.

Published 'The Banshee' 1992

Dorothy Alone


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Knee Jerks For Nancy


Saturday, July 03, 2004

The House of Cutt

Richard Wiles sighed and tilted back on his chair, arms furled behind his neck.

He looked down at the carpet. It was of a design he did not favour - but who cared? Having come with all the other fixtures and fittings, he did not have a wife to worry unduly about mixing and matching the colours.

He laughed to himself, for if stupidity had been dosed out at birth, then his spoonful had been as from a ladle. Why had he bought this crumbling old house at all? Not that crumbling was something which could easily be attributed to it, despite its age, unless feelings were stranger than observations.

He stood up to peer through the semi-frosted glass at the desolate surroundings of creek and marsh. He had yet to spend his first night here, tonight in fact, and he shuddered, his flesh seeming fleetingly to work loose from the bones.

Little could he afford this strange edifice but, let it be said, he had been shot through with the solidity of the walls; they gave off an earth magic he could never have explained, even to himself. The walls were standing thick and mighty, indicating, beyond too much argument, that the house had been planted at this spot in an indefinably distant past and would still be there at the end of Adam's line. The place was riddled with it. But at the back of his mind...

Folly! Folly! Rich as he might be, he would find it almost impossible to upkeep such a spread. Loneliness was not to be the only other problem, either, for he believed, he was sure, in ghosts: he did not know whether this was as the result of influences outside himself, but he suspected that a whole hive of them lurked in the upper galleries of the house ... a situation he viewed with mixed feelings.


He was started awake by a loud scraping sound rising from below stairs. He had chosen one of the bedrooms in the top storey as master over all the other ones and he had laid his troubled brow there on the pillows plumped up by the batting-lady during one of her late excursions from the kitchen areas. The log fire had long since died away; the ashes crumbling into the grate had earlier disturbed his beauty sleep.

The noise was of someone scrubbing the kitchen's stone floor - but surely not now at this time of night! Too loud by half. He scrambled further from the grasp of dreams, for the ghastly scraping continued its growing din - chafing against a frightful grain. It was climbing the stairs! Rubbing two rough-cut granite blocks together, climbing the stairs? Wiles tried to calm the pangs and cramps which were taking purchase of his limbs. Not yet reconciling himself to the fear that was stirring up his imagination, he heard the scraping nearer and nearer, louder and louder, until it actually passed right outside his bedroom door.

Cutt House gradually retained its respectful silence. But Wiles failed to sleep for the rest of the night, stewing, fretting, threshing...


Morning came with the sun shafting through the open beams of the bedroom window, dissipating the final remains of night and its attendant fears. Wiles was remarkably freshened at the sight of a golden-eyed breakfast, brought to him by the batting-lady and, as he admired the well-turned coddling egg, he asked whether she had heard any ... peculiar noises in the night.

She had slept like a log, sir. She couldn't, Wiles felt, be stirred even by her husband's lovemaking.

She had been batting-lady to the old Cutt family until they sold up to Wiles. The last of the Cutt masters, the seventh in the line, had died unexpectedly. How? Wiles had failed to discover; the batting-lady continued to assume an air of ignorance and indifference on the subject. Wiles had gained the impression that the Cutt family had literally fled the house. However, he could not remember whether he had learnt this before or after his committment to the house.

The batting-lady returned every morning with stacks of crusty bread and pancakes dripping with molasses. But the scraping itself did not return ... for a while.


In the intervening days, he researched the Cutt family history by visiting the house's cellar library. The earliest reference was in "The Annals of Time" by William Mather, dated 1687. There was one particular passage which came off the page at him, telling of a certain John Cuthe who had built this very house. He had wanted a really solid construction and, although the book grew vaguer here, it had evidently been designed with certain experiments in mind. To this lonely marshy spot, Cuthe had transported mighty blocks of stone that would have set the toters of Stonehenge cringing ... thick and solid, impenetrable, already tested by eons of undecaying. The floors and rafters were made meticulously of the most tightly grained oak. This peerless strength was shafted into the deepest foundations that it was possible to dig. How many labourers werehired remained unclear ... but they could not find billets enough for them in the nearest villages.

Another rotting volume with "War in Spain" by Charles Dipp on the spine, had within a manuscript, presumably a diary of John Cuthe himself, dated 1681. The words had been fading for centuries, but Wiles managed to glean a few strings of sense from it, viz. "rock hath hardness on the Sabbath", "my wife doth not like that which I do", "the core didst suck well tonight", "there is a cuckoo which pecketh ever", and further such cryptic phrases meandered across the badly foxed pages, as if the fluid Cuthe used as ink still possessed a life of its own.

Mystification on the heels of folly! Wiles shrugged at such arrant nonsense, but the cellar library itself bothered him - it was bitten deep into profound bedrock and vaguely, instinctively, he began to think he felt the bowels of the earth pulsating beneath his feet ... as if a stony heart were throbbing.

Another disturbance of the night was to follow ... and yet another a few weeks later. Wiles sat bolt up like an automaton at the first hint of scraping. Teeth on edge, a desultory dream of chalk screeching on a blackboard, turning into some insidious joker scratching his uncut nails along a plaster wall and, finally, into an anguished mockery of reality itself. Every nerve of his bones, every cavity of his skull winced ... and his nails were likely plucked one by one from his fingers and toes. Hideous friction within the otherwise loose-limbed fibre of his soul. Up the stairs, past the bedroom door, dying away into relative silence, scraping, grating its time-worn course.


Then Wiles met Eugene Cutt, heir of the late James Cutt. He had to be sought out in London, where he had fled following a particular fracas at the house, the superficialities of which even the batting-lady had cause to remember (but pretend she had forgotten).

Wiles could not easily sell up. Nor could he forget the troubles of Cutt House since he felt a force driving him to plumb the intrigues and unseasonable hauntings of the night. If he left without attempting to rationalise it all, and thus creating an acceptable smokescreen context to the wrenching in his very gut, a force which he had no option but to call Terror would then tread on his tail till his life's end and into death. He had to open that bedroom door, even if metaphorically, at the height of the scraping and he would do it, come what may, with Eugene Cutt by his side.

Wiles did not have reason to like this last human remnant of the Cutts called Eugene but, not being able to put his finger on it, he trusted him. This was despite the outlandish tales that Wiles forced from him.

Cutt was shamefaced to learn that the house had not shaken off its troubles, following the departure of he whose ancestors had set it all in motion in the first place. He should have come clean at the outset. He murmured behind his hands so Wiles could not catch it all.

"I thought us Cutts were the only ones to be cursed by the Infinite Cuckoo..." Eugene touched his temples, as if to say he had the bird in there anyway, to forgive himself talking poppycock. "Yes, I must tell you all. I should have told you before you instructed your solicitors yes, I will explain myself, sir, not before time, as you say ... yes, yes, you have the right to know, I'm so very sorry. I don't know where to begin..."

The dawn chorus in London comes even sooner than that in the country, and for a time Cutt's voice was hindered by the many parkland squawks.

"Yes, I'll try to begin ... the first of the Cutts made a pact with the Core of our earth. He called up the power of the Core ... the legend goes that there is an unholy force at the centre of the earth, a knot of stone needing sustenance. A sick force..."

Wiles winced as he felt his own stomach crawl towards his throat. His toes curled, for the ground shook with the passage of a tube train.

"The core lusts for everything, to be the core of nothing, if you see ... well, legend, true, but my ancestors died for it. The Core feeds on humanity, on mineral, on anything. Soaking them down through the white stone of the earth's inner crust, to the curdling oceans of cream. The story goes that it has allies amongst humanity, like my original forebear, and it has given birth to its own allies, to provide food for it, such as the Infinite Cuckoo..." Again he lightly touched his temples.

Wiles complained to himself that ghosts he could even barely begin to believe in ... but this was undreamable!

"I tend to agree with you and, seeing you here, has persuaded me that the mystery must finally be solved. The curse of the House of Cutt must be lifted, it's my obligation."

Breakfast was stony silent, for they were in communion. Wiles envisioned a chaos that gave birth to the cosmos. He saw the Core sucking in all in its path, firstly things on the earth, then the earth itself, turning it inside out as it were. Then gobbling the rest of the universe.

Out of the Core came life, space and time, and now it was lusting for its original nature, God to Dog without passing Go. No wonder his mind raced out of control, in paradoxicons of fear and awe. But hardly more than sub-intellectual concepts ... hardly a solution for Cutt House!


They travelled across the wild marshes, late in the afternoon. The flatness was so vast, only broken by an odd malformed tree, Wiles chuckled at ideas that God must have entered a horizon-throwing competition when creating this part of the world, and had won it hands down. The first glimpse of the house was a travesty of such fennish nothingness.

Little to do that night ... and they retired early, not without noticing that the batting-lady had been busy peeling wallpaper in the hallway. Richard Wiles and Eugene Cutt were as ready as they could be for what was about to unfold...


The following afternoon, they began a systematic exploration of the whole mighty structure of the house. They ripped up floorboards, tapped the walls, including those recently stripped by the batty; they left no stone unturned, but nothing was to be found. They knew instinctively that the cellar library was a prime place to concentrate their efforts. Day after day, they chiselled at its stone floor, chipped away at the rutted wall, only breaking off to delve deeper into the mouldering volumes interminably lining its cavern walls.

Then success came. Cutt, re-examining the floor more closely, discovered a swirling-shaped knot in the stone, a flaw created at the beginning of time in earth's raw material, no doubt. Wheeling his finger around it several times, he received what he felt as a touch of power, but this was soon forgotten by a fever of activity, since a part of the stone surface had slid away, to reveal a pit of white mud.

"Richard! Richard!" he shouted, forgetting formalities in the mode of address, and Wiles came running. Glancing downward with a shudder, he saw the hole in the actual bedrock of the earth full of shifting slime, even now starting to burp and seethe as it met the air of the library.

"O, my dear God!" blurted Wiles. "It's so ... utterly pure white!"

It heaved and twitched, put out sticky fingers and melded lumps of pink-veined fat.

"O God, please shut it! For the sake of sanity, shut it!" moaned Wiles, turning away in disbelief from the cacky blubber.

Cutt, re-tracing the convoluted knot of stone in the floor, closed the rocky cover above the nightmare albino pus. All he could say, like a visitor in a dream, was "Cuckoo-spit! Cuckoo-spit!" over and over again.

Both men soon recovered from their shock. They simply now knew that they had discovered the power house of the building. They must keep watch over it, at all times. The disturbances had not occurred since Cutt's return to the house, so one was to be expected at any time. That night, they both sat by the "hole", furnished with revolvers, a net and a heavy-duty pick-hammer. What they inteded to do with these they had not the slightest idea. But nothing happened on that, the first night after discovering the "hole".

The second was a different story. Or they wished it had been.


The hurricane lamp threw distorted shadows across the rocky walls. Then, they heard it, after a long night of diffident conversation. Very faint, at first, and still vilely slow: it was the scraping sound which Wiles had heard on the first night in the house, initially like the scrubbing of a stone floor and then sickeningly like two ill-shaped granite blocks being rubbed together. It seemed to rise from the very soul of the earth, nearer and nearer with every gasp bursting from their lips.

"Let's get out of here!" screamed Wiles.

"No, wait! We can only see this thing out!" shouted Cutt in an attempt to be heard against the rasping din, his eyes afire with terror's orgasm of fear.

From that point on, all was very simple, so simple it more or less describes itself, with merely the lightest narrative intervention by one whose memory survived the affair.

The stone lid moved from above the ungodly scraping, revealing the turmoil of gulping whiteness below. Out of these churning separates of blinding muck, there rose a beaked head. Its huge elbows levered up the bony branches of its malformed body.

A mammoth bird, insidiously cuckoo-like, vented from the depths of its muscle-ripped chest those musical notes that usually welcomed Spring, but here meant death.

It was the grisly beak champing which was the appalling snicker-snacker of its scraping.

Congealed in its runnelled flesh was the white juice of its birth, of its hideous hatching and, although moving in concrete, it migrated from the poultry devil of mediaeval art to twentieth century's version of reality with the greatest of ease.

Wiles screamed and screamed as the birdish thing clambered from the roiling pit and grated over the floor towards them. Cutt was silent, but quivered and twitched uncontrollably.

Simultaneously, the earth throbbed apocalyptically and, many horizons away, a volcano lost its guts.

On and on came the clucking beast with stone bones, on and on, and took Cutt into its beak, raised him from the floor and whiplashed his body with a sabre-rattling yelp. Wiles saw the blood pumping from Cutt's mouth and striping the creature's creamy breasts; and Cutt's head, severed at the root, fell into the sickly curds of the Core.

The cuckoo sank back, duly satisfied. And finally, all Richard Wiles could see was the slime surging, imploding...

He could not budge, for he realised, realised that what he ridiculed was in fact ridiculing him, realised that the universe was doomed, if not already extinct; and, with an insane shriek, jumped into the virgin pit, to forget that to which he had now sacrificed himself.

Published 'Auguries' 1988