Written and illustrated by Rich Blackett
The engine of the old Ford rattled as she urged it faster than she knew was possible. The night was almost fading now as she drove on through sleeping hamlets and farmsteads, each filled with inhabitants blissfully ignorant of the invisible chaos under the skein of reality. This night she had seen beyond the doors of heaven and hell and behind the curtain of everything she knew.
She used her free hand to pull the coat tighter around her thin frame and kept the other firmly on the wheel. The road finally evened out from farm track to asphalt, so she stole a glance at Amelia asleep in the seat beside her - in sleep at least, she was oblivious to whatever might be stalking them.
It had started innocently enough, like so many things, with Algie translating poetry from an old cover-less book he'd found poking about in the Townend Library. He had swept into their house, papers in one hand and a bundle of dusty tomes in the other. It could only be the latest wild goose chase, but better that than his drinking.
‘You know Ellen, these poems are extraordinary, like something from the Gharne fragments. Pity the cover's been pulped but if I can put these together I reckon it'll really help the first edition of New Visions. You know we need an exclusive and this'll really knock their socks off!’
Algie was dressed in his usual dapper jacket and waistcoat, the same sharpness that had attracted her when they had met at Amelia's soiree. He had talked long into the night about his plans, increasingly referring to his loneliness and his need to share this glorious future. The implication was obvious and despite her father’s initial misgivings about the son of a bankrupt bookseller. Algie's hyperbole had eventually won over her father and ever the traditionalist he had even given them a generous nest egg as a modern-day dowry.
Algie was oblivious to her but she had nodded all the same - New Visions was his pipe-dream, a grand scheme that was always on the verge of, but never quite coming to fruition. He always needed another patron or one more piece of superlative art, but not one copy had ever been printed let alone sold.
He dumped his books and papers and returned from his small study sans jacket and stood in his favourite spot gazing out of the bay window. Ellen could sense another one of her husband’s bouts of self-aggrandisement looming, and with his back to her Algie began rolling up his sleeves; presumably to show he was ready to begin 'the great work'. Previously this had been 'An Atavistic History of the Peak District', abandoned in favour of “The Mesmerism of Slate – a Philosophical Investigation”, only for this to be shelved to make way for “An Occult postulation on The Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge. She had only heard about each of these by reputation and never by their text or publication. Perhaps finally she would see some of the promise she dimly remembered from that soiree so long ago in Ambleside.
‘I'd show them to you but you know they'd be quite beyond you I'm sure, but I expect to read the first one at the writers’ group tonight, so you'd better drop me off early.’
‘Tonight, oh but Algernon, I'm taking the car to see Amelia, and she doesn't have a telephone so...’
‘Look Ellen, I think the fellows might have planned a few drinks for me, this being the Club anniversary so if you drive me you could just collect me at 11:00?’
‘A few drinks? But Algie you promised, I know you said you'd never take the Pledge, but you said no more drinking, we can barely afford...’
‘Don't start Ellen.’ He turned away from her. ‘It'll be fine. I'll be fine. Just don't be late.’
‘I'll try to be on time but just wait in the lodge if I'm late.’
‘That's my girl! I better get started right away so I'll skip dinner if it's okay. I'm sure you made something lovely.’ He strode past her to the study pausing only to collect a decanter of spirit and closed the door a little too firmly behind him.
‘I didn't make any,’ she said to the space where Algie had been. ‘I'm glad you liked my hair today.’
It was after seven when Ellen dropped off her husband. All the way to the Windemere Club Hall Algie had talked of nothing but the stanzas he had translated, how he was the first poet to create transfigurative verse and might even need to create new words to describe the sensations the words had stirred in his heart.
‘I completed the whole volume in four hours,’ were his parting words to his wife before he slammed the door and trotted off to the Writers Club. Ellen drove on thinking of her friend, wishing she would give up cigarettes. She wondered if the new Radiogram might have been delivered. She and Amelia were so different but had never truly grown apart, despite their disparate lifestyles. Amelia wrote articles for The Cumbrian Monthly and had never married, while she simply kept house for Algie, but her friend had always been there when her husband’s drinking had spiralled out of control.
Pulling up by the small house in the last of the evening sun Ellen could just discern Amelia waiting for her in the long dark blue dress she loved. She stood to greet her friend as the car rolled to stop by the veranda.
‘How're you beautiful? You should let your red hair grow a little Ellen; you don't have to do everything Algie says. Go into the front room, I'll be through in a minute.’
She brought in a pitcher of water, two tall glasses, set them on the table and joined her friend on the sofa.
‘So then darling, tell me everything, are you still Algie's invisible wife?’
In the Writers’ Club Algernon surveyed the crop of the Lake District's brightest and most creative minds, to be sure there were one or two dilettantes and introverts among them, but for the most part they were all fellow explorers of the written word. He felt that between them they had begun to map out new territories much as their forefathers had tilled and tamed the land. Algie wanted to believe that his few calls to fellow poetic sensitives had prompted the large gathering, but he was sage enough to realise that it was the venerable antiquarian Henry Barton and his talk on the verses of Khitai, which had drawn the crowd. The Club’s two-year anniversary seemed to have gone unnoticed save for a lack-lustre banner at the rear of the hall.
Barton’s conclusions were intriguing to be sure, but any connection with Leng was pure speculation and Algie had a sense that his short reading would be a hard act to follow.
He poured himself a large glass of port. This would be his moment and they would not forget him, and if word got around it might even instil some sense of awe into his wife – or at the very least stop her staring into space like a weak-minded fool. Her father’s money was all very well but she never appreciated the finer things and simply nodded blankly when he declaimed verses that should have moved her.
Slowly the gathering settled into their seats, each with a generously full glass. He waited for the noise to die to nothing then began to read the first line…
‘So you've never been unfaithful?’
‘No, never. Algie'd kill me, or the shame would kill him, or both.’ Ellen laughed.
‘But you've been tempted,’ her friend teased.
‘Well there was this one time,’ she cleared her throat and reached for her glass
‘Go on! Don't be coy, tell me everything.’ Amelia stopped her friend’s hand. Her blue eyes caught Ellen's gaze.
‘Do you remember when you let me try on your mother’s dress?’
‘Algie was such a bastard to you that day. I just had to put a smile on your face. Hah! You looked divine in that dress though. Twenty years ago in Windermere it nearly got my mother arrested!’
‘You zipped me up...’ Ellen faltered.
‘I zipped you up, patted your behind and said, “You look good enough to eat.”’ Amelia's brow had the slightest furrow.
‘...and then you kissed me.’
Algie's voice was hoarse and dry from repetition, but he had to continue, his voice was no longer his to command. Henry had been the first to stagger from his seat, screaming as something terrible and indescribable happened to his arm, leaving it a belching bloody stump. The club treasurer, without thinking, had dashed to Henry's side and attempted to staunch the blood, but the inexorable horror continued and had excised half the man’s head. Amid dreadful cracking sounds and sprays of fluid over the terrified and fleeing club members, the invisible horror had brutally exposed the bloodied grey cerebella.
‘For goodness sake man, it's the poem, it's feeding the thing, stop your damned poem you fool!’ It had been Fenwick who had made the grim connection between the unthinkable obscenity before them and Algie's oratory.
‘What have you done!’ Gasped Henry Barton above the screams and incomprehensible noises that rapidly filled the hall. It was to be his last word on the subject as the life force in him was abruptly snuffed out and he collapsed amid the increasing carnage.
Men flailed uselessly at the doors, fighting and clawing over each other to try the brass handle, now slippery with the blood of their friends. The shouts and screams were building as more body parts were gnawed out of existence and an obscene absence of shape dragged a man Algie recognised as a talented sculptor across the wooden floor of the hall, only for his midriff to be bloodily erased from sight. Still Algie continued to read. Rooted to the spot by forces beyond his comprehension, he stared through, rather than at the paper moistening in his palsied hand. Algie felt compelled, against all reason, to recite the poem again.
They had kissed for a long time, pressing each other as close as they might and then slowly pulling apart and gazing through the near darkness.
‘Stay,’ she whispered.
‘I can't. Amelia he's been drinking and...’
‘Just stay, have a cigarette.’ There was a sense of urgency to her words.
‘Amelia, I don't smoke.’
‘A cup of coffee then, it won't take a moment.’ She pulled away from Ellen and grabbed a dark slip.
‘If I'm late then he…’
‘He won't mind if you pick him up late, he won't even notice you have my lipstick all over you.’ She pulled on her blue dress and lit a cigarette. ‘What time is he expecting you, half-past, quarter to?’
‘What! I have to pick him up at eleven’!’ In a panic Ellen began to force herself into her clothes. ‘Oh god. He'll kill me.’ She caught a glimpse of the red tracks of Amelia's lipstick smeared across her face.
‘Don't forget this.’ Amelia opened her hand and revealed Ellen’s wedding ring.
Algie awoke to the scent of old dirty wood, face down on the stage. Perhaps it had all been a dream, a brain fever brought on by the port? But as he clambered to his feet and nearly slipped in the crimson pool that led to the club secretary's eviscerated torso, he saw with cold mortal dread that it was all too real.
His skin twitched with terror at the monumental horror that invaded his eyes as he surveyed what remained of his peers. He felt an obscure sense of gratitude that he knew little enough about anatomy that would enable him to identify the mauled gnawed chunks that had once been men. Shaking uncontrollably at the grotesque panorama and choking at the insidious blood-copper taste on the air, an awful sound stilled the gag reflex in his throat. The unspeakable, invisible thing was still there. It must have gorged itself on the flesh of the entire group leaving him entirely intact. A thought hit him. Surely it should have devoured him first?
His eyes glimpsed the crumpled translation sopping with blood at his feet and slowly, inexorably it dawned on him what Barton had said - he had summoned the thing that had laid waste to his peers. His words had brought forth the hungry abomination that was resting invisibly somewhere in the hall. He should have heeded the oblique warnings in the Gharne fragments. He had never been able to find the book in the Old Library again, despite hours of futile searches - he had only his rough notes to construct the rest of the epic. A dim part of his mind realised that he had translated a ghastly summoning ritual to manifest a creature beyond all human understanding.
He staggered off the stage wondering distantly if the door would open now and if he did escape, would it pursue him and for how long? Could he outrun it? Or make it to the car?
The lightest of touches opened the door easily and Algernon tottered into the pitch- black night beyond the hall. He could hear the distant sounds of the Baptist Church and the gentle lapping of the lakeshore, but his wife was nowhere to be seen. Mindlessly proceeding down sinking deeper and deeper into shock, his mind rebelled at what he had witnessed, maybe it had not happened at all? Perhaps he was asleep in the back row of the hall right now, nudged into some phantasmagorical flight of fancy by an interminable lecture on the Poetry of Khitai?
Suddenly there was light all around him, was he waking up, had it really been a brain fever?
‘Algie!’ He knew that voice. ‘ALGIE!’ He felt a blanket over his shoulders but still felt he should be walking. ‘I'm sorry I'm late Algie. I was at Amelia's and well, you know how you say women can talk forever and... Algie? What's wrong? What's happened? Algie talk to me!’
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