Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Deep One

They used to come in seething shoals. Now they came in frisky ones and twos, snouts snuffling out dreams to dream. Not exactly werewolves, but more the slightly flesh-corrupted ghosts of similar beasts, new-smoked from cthulhoid burrows towards the seas of slumber.

Sometimes dreams failed to supply sufficient sustenance - and, yes, in dream, all words often sounded alike: or sometimes like poetry masquerading as both sense and nonsense. Then, of course, there was nothing to boast or swell the chest about. And, having let wasted valuable time in rehearsing such pretentious dreams, the Platonic Form of Dream itself began to dream - having first dragged the dreamer inside its darksome burrow. Corpses had thoughts, too, but could not pack a pen - which left their dreams unrecorded. Meanwhile, there were three snores in the bed where there should only have been two.

Gerald had crept between the sheets, as he had done for years in search of a dream-blurred unconsciousness upon the Plateau of Leng. He lay beside his wife, expecting to awake next morning, unless death interfered. If death was indeed to end his life with a loving care, as he always hoped, he would need to die during sleep's dream of surrogate waking.

That night, as usual, Gerald had stirred fitfully to the echoes of time's small numbers tinkling amid his own ears' tinnitus - insomnia, nostalgia and amnesia, all bed-partners within his amorphous blight of a soul. He listened to his dear wife's nethermost confusion of snores, but there had surely been three snorers, counting himself. Now, fully awake, there were only two. He coughed in an embarrassed attempt to halt further widening of his dilemma. However, he could not be certain about doubt, let alone about certainty.

His wife's snores were complex at the best of times - a combo of nasal bong-bongs, tongue-clucks and teeth-grates, together with the uncanny out-of-body Jew's Harp of the spirit that twanged a mere inch from her lip-bursts. Yet, even this mish-mash of physical frictions could not account for the startling cannonade of snores from beyond his wife's recumbent form. Gerald leaned over the familiar valley of wifely breasts and covered the strange third party with the echoing coffin of his own mouth and kissed its breath away with a slobbering slug of a tongue. The white tombstones (albeit gappy) were epitaph enough. Then nothing but whisperers in the darkness.

"You don't look right today, Dad," said Sarah out of the blue.

"Yes, I've been feeling a bit achey."

Gerald finger-combed what was left of his hair and winced at the sun-burnt tenderness of his scalp.

His wife gave a glance at his daughter, as if to say - typical. Just when the family holiday was just round the next corner. He always felt peculiar at such times. He threatened death as a corollary of every excuse.

But Sarah thought there was something different about her Dad this time. She had also noticed that her father was not the only phenomenon showing signs of strangeness. The aeroplanes had been flying low, with wider wings, throwing darker shadows, filling the air with incessant drones. Not that this had happened all at once. Nobody had admitted noticing. Except little Sarah. And then only to herself.

Gerald was indeed not right. In fact, it did not look like her Dad at all. Which didn't mean to say he was someone different. How else could she explain it? After all, she was too young to know everything.

A scrap of bacon hung precariously at the corner of Gerald's mouth, as he scanned the newspaper which had lately grown so small it sat in his hand like an instruction pamphlet, covered in nothing but headlines. He slowly turned the pages, tutting as he came across scandals he found disgusting or which stirred envy or even opened up new vistas. Lurkers on all thresholds in all townships. Or so the scaremongers said.

Sarah's younger sister Pauline had long since disappeared. Not even their mother had questioned this event. The postman had stopped delivering bills. Perhaps, the outside world no longer existed, except for the proof provided by the TV. The serials were never-ending, which thankfully gave the lie to Sarah's greatest fears.

"Your face looks like a burnt bacon, Dad," said Sarah.

Gerald looked at her quizzically. Never mind. They would soon be flying off for a holiday in the sun, she thought. A resort near Innsmouth.

The hotel receptionist was neither old nor young, but that said nothing about her age. It felt as if she had appeared ready-made from a dream - but Gerald knew it was not really a dream at all, even though he was asleep at the time. The room he had booked was reputedly haunted and he rather fancied seeing a ghost, never having believed in such phenomena before, he said. The receptionist humoured Gerald more than he humoured her, he guessed - and, with a guffaw, he gambolled into the chosen room, clutching his night things. Ghosts were so much more preferable to full-blooded monsters.

There was, of course, neither ghost nor monster. But there was the indeterminate woman, attractively and sophisticatedly dressed, who spoke of things he could not later understand, although he was convinced he understood them then. And a little girl who was rather too pretty to be his daughter was soon to be lost on the beach.

Gerald would later hasten to add that he had felt no sexual yearnings for the woman - thus, thankfully, it was not one of those despicable dreams which he had suffered as a boy.

"Did you sleep well?" the woman asked Gerald. He told her that his body felt full of a lumpy bed's aches. But there was silence. Nobody there. The woman had spoken to a bulging suitcase, because speaking to herself would have been deemed madness. "I've got your bacon sizzling downstairs," she added. She had a huge fin on her back, which made her breast-harness bigger than any dreamable brassiere. Tinnitus the background of waves. Her daughter Sarah had been filleted off the bone for evening dinner, on the menu as "fresh-caught and stuffed with fucus".

(written, published 1992?)

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