Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Guest House of Usher

Edwin Usher retired just a bit too late to enjoy it properly. He took his little retirement fund and his savings from that time his premium bonds had come up, and he bought his dream house.

Puck's Rest stood up on the North Bay clifftop, overlooking the new car park for the beach. It was far away enough from the pier not to hear the fairground, but close enough not to miss the sound of the sea.

Edwin advertised Puck's Rest half-heartedly as a seaside guest house, and was mildly disappointed when people actually started turning up expecting cooked breakfasts and central heating. Eventually though, he settled into a little routine, with regular guests and a few permanent residents throughout the summer. Winter in Puck's Rest belonged to Edwin Usher alone.

Then, one year, just as the October sun grew thin and pale in the morning mists, Mildew Rouvellier arrived.

Edwin heard him before he saw him, ringing the service bell incessantly and shouting for service at the top of his baritone voice. This was winter. No time for guests. Edwin made his way downstairs, but before he had even reached the bottom, a very large man in a purple cape and broad brimmed black hat pounded towards him, hands outstretched.
"Excellent sir! Excellent. Mr Usher yes? I shall take a room for one," he boomed, "and shall stay til early spring. Mildew Rouvellier."
"I eh..don't have any rooms." said Edwin, who, to be fair, had been caught somewhat on the hop.
"Nonsense! You've a whole house full of them, and I only need one."
"What I mean to say is, we're closed for the winter."
"Well you shouldn't have a vacancies sign in the window then," beamed Mildew.
Edwin winced, clearly he hadn't been thorough enough with his winter preparations this year.
"I've been ordered by my doctor to take the sea air and that is just what I intend to do. So. Room with a seaview please. And a window I can open."
Edwin sighed quietly to himself and took two of Mildew's many bags up the stairs to Room 5.
"No no no," said Mildew, "this is far too small. What else have you got?"
Mildew barged past Edwin and into a room further along the hall.
"That room is not available," said Edwin quietly.
"Rubbish," said Mildew, "there's no one in here. Could do with a clean mind. Very dusty."
"Not. Available." said Edwin. "You can have the master bedroom, it looks out over the bay."
"Humph. Well I shall expect a very large tea tray and selection of biscuits," said Mildew, and stomped off into the ensuite to pee very noisily.

Over the next few days, Mildew made himself very much at home. He was a voluminous man, who seemed to expand to fill the surrounding space, and despite having only one room in the house, he seemed to be everywhere Edwin turned; from the whalebone handle razor in the bathroom to the hookah pipe now installed in the lounge, Mildew had arrived.

It took until the following Thursday breakfast time for Edwin to be able to face a proper conversation with his new guest.
"You seem to be settling in nicely." said Edwin.
"Oh yes," said Mildew, "wonderful place. Real character."
Edwin poured himself some Earl Grey.
"Are you a commercial traveller Mr Rouvellier? You have an awful lot of cases."
"Hah! No Edwin, no. My business is show business. I'm an actor."
This now seemed entirely self evident to Edwin, the cape should really have given it away.
"I see now that you are trying to place me!" said Mildew, "Perhaps you recognise me from my films."
"I don't go to the pictures much. Too loud."
"No? Tomb of the Gryphon? Dinosaur Valley? Solstice of Fear?"
Mildew looked at Edwin expectantly.
"…aren't those…really old films?" asked Edwin.
Mildew flinched.
"Yes well I mostly work in theatre now. Didn't like the way British cinema was going."
"You mean into colour?" asked Edwin, allowing himself a little self satisfied smile.
"Children of Baal was in colour. And Tears of the Werewolf."
"Actually…I think I might have seen one of your films on ITV once. Were you in Vampire on the Buses?"
Mildew glared at Edwin silently, and sullenly munched his toast.
"We're out of jam." he said eventually.
Edwin strode purposefully into the lounge clutching his Sunday Supplement.
"Look at this!" he said to Mildew, rather angrily.
Mildew stopped inhaling and peered over his horn rimmed spectacles.
"Ah! It's me!" he laughed, in genuine delight, "Let me see."
Mildew tried to grab the paper, but Edwin pulled away from him.
"It's a big article about all your old horror films."
"Let me guess…they call The Burryman a cult classic," Mildew shook his head, "Thing about cult classics, no one makes any money…"
"Yes. Thing is…and the article is very clear on this…you're dead."
Mildew smiled.
"Mmm. For quite some time now."
Mildew momentarily faded into the low light of the lounge, as briefly transparent as the smoke from the hubble bubble. This seemed to annoy Edwin still further.
"You're dead?'re what…you're…haunting my house?"
"Well I like to think I'm underplaying it slightly…but that's the general idea."
"But why?"
"I spent a very pleasant month down here filming The Lambton Wyrm. Wonderful sea air. Chilly though. Caught pneumonia and died. Shame. I had an episode of Sapphire and Steel lined up."
"Why my house?"
"Ah! Well it has a very authentic shabby glamour. And you looked like you could use some company. I'm very good company."
"I like being alone." said Edwin.
"You certainly do spend a lot of time alone in that dusty room."
"Go haunt somewhere else."
"I like it here. I'm all unpacked now." said Mildew, "If you don’t like my company, not only are you in the minority, but perhaps you should move along."
"Absolutely not. I worked hard all my life for this. It's my dream."
Mildew pointed to the damp ceiling with the stain from where the upstairs loo leaked and the frayed and dangerously worn stair carpet.
"This is you living the dream is it?"
"Get out."
Mildew smiled with all the classic venom of a b-movie villain.
"Make me." he said.

At first, Edwin tried his very best to be British about it; he just rudely ignored Rouvellier, snubbing his attempts at conversation, pretending not to hear his endless evening recitations of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and leaving the room whenever the television mysteriously started showing one of his films - except Vampire on the Buses, he watched that one.

Mildew simply upped his game, initially with an ironic 'bump in the night' approach, running the full gamut from creaks and chain rattling through to unearthly howls - though their impact was diminished by the fact that Edwin knew it was just Mildew being obnoxious. Next, he turned poltergeist, constantly moving Edwin's pens, hiding the loo roll and filling in the crossword. Edwin retaliated by bringing in a professional exorcist - Mildew spent all afternoon discussing classic horror movies with him and he left with a signed poster of The Devil's Rowboat.

It was really only a matter of time, and Mildew had saved the big guns til last…
"The room! You've wrecked the room!" cried Edwin.
"Wrecked? I've cleaned it!" said Mildew, "Dust down, windows open, get a bit of life into the place."
"But…I haven't…my…"
Edwin crumpled and fell to the floor.
When he came to, Mildew handed him a cup of sugary tea, and waited.
"How can I leave?" asked Edwin eventually. "Where should I go?"
"I think you know exactly where you're going." said Mildew.
Edwin smiled sadly and nodded. "I suppose."

Edwin stepped out into the early morning and wandered down the slippery cliff path into the sea fog. Rouvellier, watched and smiled and then, ever the professional, he packed up in preparation for his next engagement.

If yer in the mood for scary tales, may I be so bold as to suggest ye download the excellent Hallowscream from Theatre of Terror, full of excellent scary comic strips, and I've a wee text story in there as well.

And celebrating ghosts, here's the King of faded seaside glamour with a classic Hallowe'en mashup...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Cure for Witches

badger woodcut by ross ahlfeld
"A tuft of hair gotten from the head of a full-grown Brock
is powerful enough to ward off all manner of witchcraft;
these must be worn in a little bag made of cat's skin - a black cat -
and tied about the neck when the moon be not more than seven days old,
and under that aspect when the planet Jupiter be mid-heaven at midnight."

That winter the sky was thick with witches, almost darkening the moon as they  shrieked and cackled across the night sky; and wherever their black shadows fell, there was trouble and misfortune.

Nothing and no one seemed able to stop them, not the watchmen with their swords and pikes and not the elders with their plans and schemes.

As the nights passed in the shadow of the witches, there was a sickness in the village and the harvest crops all rotted in the store. The people grew worried for there were many winter nights yet to come.

So it was that a Trapper came to one of the villages plagued by witches.
"There is only one way to keep the witches from your village," he said "and I can show you how it's done."
"What must we do?" asked the Elders.
"All you need, is a tuft of hair from a badger, nailed to each door, pinned above each bed and carried by each of you in a catskin bag. The badger is a creature of the twilight, just like them, full of old magics and riddles. Witches are feared of badgers. Your village will be safe."
"We'd need many badgers for that much magic." said the Elders.
"Ah!" said the Trapper, "I know a place very near to here, where there are fields of badger setts. If we went down near the dusk with traps and clubs, we would easily find enough of them to keep your village safe."
So, having no other plans or ways of guarding against witches, The Elders paid the Trapper to take them to the field at dusk, and the green grass ran red with blood. The next morning, every house in the village was made safe from the witches.

And sure enough, that night, when they flew overhead, the witches stopped cackling, and screamed away over the hills toward another village.

The Trapper tipped his hat and thanked the Elders, then headed off slowly in the same direction as the witches.

The witches never returned, and no one in the village ever saw a badger again, or gained the fair fortune they could bring. 

I'm actually not all that keen on animals; I don't like dogs, cats or even goldfish and  I'm a vegetarian not because of some sort of 'Meat is Murder' principle, but because I really don't like the taste or texture. But a childhood of Watership Down and Wind in the Willows does predispose me to anthropomorphic animal fiction. And I actually have an adopted badger...he doesn't live with me or anything, but I get photos and updates about how he's getting on not being culled. So, I'm very firmly in the "don't like the idea of a badger cull symbolically" camp, though I gather there are some very sound scientific reasons also. Obviously, the debates around the proposed badger cull can't be reduced to folktales, but I just though I'd say, "I don't like it". If you don't either, sign the petition.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

National Poetry Day - Stars

by sharon with love

I wish I'd never watched you fall,
already burning out as you
scorched across the sky.
I ran behind,
waiting for impact.

All that time wasted,
looking for glitter in the dirt
and finding only ashes.

I should have looked to the skies,
to the brighter lights still blazing,
yesterdays away from now,
and set my course by
that antique radiance.

only one of us
would have fallen.