Made for the dark, p.1
Made for the Dark, page 1
Made for the Dark
By Greg James
Copyright © Greg James 2017
Published by GJA Publications Ltd
First Edition published May 2017
All rights reserved.
The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Any reproduction, resale or unauthorised use of the material or artwork herein is therefore prohibited.
Disclaimer: The persons, places and events depicted in this work are fictional and any resemblance to those living or dead is unintentional.
Adrian Chamberlin – for the good conversations and the good times
Author’s (Very Brief) Foreword
Welcome to my first collection of paranormal and supernatural tales. In these pages are all of the short stories I have written since I started being published in 2010. Some of these stories have appeared previously in anthologies. Others are appearing here for the first time. A few include elements that were later reworked for scenes or characters in my novels. Their presence here should not detract from your enjoyment and I hope they may give you a little insight into a writer’s process.
I would also like to thank my friends, Robyn Walker, Daria Lee, and Charlie Oughton, for taking part in the photoshoots that illustrate this collection. I hope the selected images add something to the stories for you.
That’s enough from me.
An Upstairs Room
Rossiter sat alone even though there were other people present.
He regarded the rather drab surroundings from an uncomfortable seat situated in a pub not so far from King’s Cross station. The darkly-varnished upholstery of the bar was worn and splintered in places. The leather covers of the seats were torn and bulging while the tables and floor had not been washed properly for some time. There was a faint odour of disinfectant in the air underscored by urine – the cleanliness of the facilities no doubt necessitated by patrons’ overuse rather than a considered observance of hygiene by the landlord. It was a depressing place to be now he was in his early forties. He’d loved such establishments as a young man; naïve enough to think being in a rundown pub made him a more credible human being on some obscure level. I am no longer young, he thought, and hope escapes me though I can’t think why. I held onto it as if it were a lover back then.
There were a few regulars; as scattered around the place as the tables and stools. A tall, young man with a shaven head sat unnaturally hunched over his pint of lager as if he were jealously guarding it from those around him. His face was a mask of frowning flesh and one of his pullover’s frayed sleeves was rolled up to the shoulder and colourfully stitched into place. Mother’s work, it must be, after the man lost an arm somewhere, Rossiter thought, must have been in a war. One of the many that seemed to be going on these days – he lost track easily and, to be honest, didn’t much care.
At a table across from him, an elderly lady was dressed in a thick wool hat and heavy raincoat even though it was a humid summer evening outside. She’d been nursing a gin and tonic for the entirety of the time Rossiter had been there. From her bag, she was constantly pulling tangled lengths of black and white wool, examining them closely, then returning them to the bag only to pull yet more out again after a few minutes muttering quietly to herself. Sad creatures, Rossiter thought, lonely creatures – and how much longer will it be until I become the same?
It was as this bleak thought passed through his mind that his companion for the evening returned to the table. Her name was Justine; red-haired and drunk. She sat down next to him and leaned forwards. Her warm fingers found their way to his knee and then inched their way steadily up his thigh.
“Justine, please.” Rossiter said, moving carefully away along the leather seating. She shook her head, not speaking, took his hand in her own and placed it against the warm rise of her breast. “Justine, please, you’re a married woman.” he said, not looking at her.
She let his hand go and he removed it from where she had placed it. He felt slightly sick and cold inside while she was becoming tearful. Normally, he would try to offer some comfort but she had a husband, a decent man that he liked well enough. Another kind of man might have taken up her offer but Rossiter just wasn’t that kind of man – not through any sense of innate decency, he just wasn’t.
Her hand was resting lightly on his thigh again and he could feel how soft and inviting it was. Her fingers were moving along his thigh, more slowly this time, and Rossiter found himself watching with fascination for a moment – in the same way he watched wounded animals limp along on nature documentaries before the predator fell upon them and devoured. He reached down and lifted her hand away. There would be no devouring tonight. He met her gaze this time and saw the question there – why not?
He had a complicated answer that he couldn’t articulate, so “I’m sorry,” was all he could manage.
Rossiter got to his feet. She swayed where she sat, tipsy, still looking at the vacant space where he had been, not entirely registering he had moved. Her face was soft in the way that tells a man sex is available – and he was walking away from it. How ridiculous.
Afterwards, he thought events must have unfolded as they did because of how he was feeling; that is, that he took the wrong door to leave the pub because of the emotional scramble inside his head. Instead of finding himself outside in the lukewarm air, Rossiter found himself facing a set of stairs that led to an upstairs room – he could hear the faint sound of music coming from above. He hadn’t been aware that the pub had an upstairs room. Curious, he went up the stairs, hoping that Justine would decide to leave without him actually having to be involved in the affair of her departure. It would be tiresome to deal with so he continued to climb the stairs to whatever awaited him at the top without much trepidation.
The door was painted a plain brown that had become scratched and scraped off in various places. There was no handle, merely a hole where the door’s handle should have been mounted – it was through this the sound of music was escaping from the room. Rossiter made a face as he dug a tissue out of his jacket pocket, and wrapped it twice around his fingers before slipping them into the hole so as to pull the door open.
Inside, the light was dingy; barely illuminating half a dozen chairs irregularly placed before a small stage that had been erected against the far wall of the room. There was a threadbare backdrop of peeling tinfoil stars and crudely-painted rainbows. Only three of the chairs were taken but Rossiter, for some reason, felt better about staying by the door and watching from there rather than seating himself. Better, safer, it amounted to much the same.
The three seated figures were in silhouette but he could see that one was a largish man with a slumped posture who seemed to be whispering repeatedly to himself. Leaning forward a little and concentrating, Rossiter was able to catch, “… Jonathan …”
The second and third figures appeared to be a couple; youngish, he guessed, by the look of their clothes; smart casual rather than anything too outré. More likely to be trying for a baby in the next few years than hitch-hiking across Europe as he understood many liked to do before settling down to a mortgaged life in suburbia.
An unusual threesome, he thought, and a poor audience for whatever was about to take place. The music continued to play at a lower volume than the large man’s whispering – Rossiter couldn’t think how he’d been able to make it out at the bottom of the stairs. It was a rather spare composition of three to four melancholy notes falling in a minor key – vaguely reminiscent of Mozart’s Moonlight Sonata in tone, but he was no expert on Classical music, or indeed anything
Rossiter waited in the dark of the room until his feet began to get tired and, when he decided about leaving, the music stopped; the lights appeared to brighten by a small degree and a man stepped out onto the stage. He wore a checkered trilby, an oatmeal jumper, and sported a patchy, unkempt beard. He seemed to retreat a little from the audience after realising he was onstage and moved like a man just recovered from a heavy night of drinking. There was no microphone and the man had no talent for projection as he spoke to the audience. The seated three leaned into his words, attentive disciples, whilst Rossiter resisted the urge to move closer in favour of his sanctuary in the shadows.
Despite not hearing what the man was saying, and observing little more than occasional nods of understanding from the seated audience, Rossiter surmised that this man was not the entertainment they had all been waiting for. He was merely le compère, and one of the worst he had ever witnessed. Maybe it was time to go home now, but there was the chance that Justine had not left as he’d hoped she might. The woman may still be lingering downstairs in the bar, waiting to catch him as he exited.
I’d better stay for the duration, Rossiter thought, tedious though it will undoubtedly be.
With his arms folded sternly against whatever was to come, he watched the compère bow, stand briskly upright and then spread his arms wide before stamping his right foot three times against the floor.
The lights went out for a heartbeat; when they came back on the compère was nowhere to be seen. In the ensuing quiet, Rossiter sighed harshly and earned a glance from the largish man. It was too gloomy to tell whether the look had been critical.
It was then a most peculiar apparition came out on stage; short and skinny, dressed in a wing-collar shirt, a waistcoat with various accoutrements hanging from it and a pair of shabby trousers with a tartan waistband. A chair and a stool had materialised onstage somehow during the brief darkness and the performer, for that was who this must be, moved towards them. Rossiter wondered at how the performer was able to divine the whereabouts of the chair and stool because, as well as a rather battered top hat, the face was obscured. The performer was wearing a bag of white linen over their head and there were no holes Rossiter could make out through which they might see.
The performer sat down on the chair, which was very rickety, and put their feet up on the stool. They stretched their legs out and pointed their toes to the sky – male or female, the feet were quite smooth, hairless and bare. Finally, from a waistcoat pocket, the performer produced an apple and went into final pose, cradling it in their cupped hands; seemingly staring at it, enraptured, even though it was obvious they could not see it.
After a few minutes passed, the compère returned to the stage, cleared his throat and began to walk towards the meagre audience. There was no air of threat but Rossiter couldn’t help moving further back from the unexpected approach until he was touching the wall. He wanted to reach for the door handle and let himself quietly out but didn’t have the nerve to grope for it in the dark. He couldn’t take his eyes from the performer on stage, much as the same androgynous figure could not look away from the apple it was cradling in its small, pale hands.
The compère had his hand on the shoulder of the largish man and was talking to him in earnest. The largish man was nodding vigorously and trembling a little. A moment later, he got to his feet and took steps towards the stage. In the mild light illuminating that part of the room, Rossiter could see the largish man had an even broader, wilder, and darker beard than the compère – and eyes that would not catch the light. There was a feeling of size and weight about him that had been concealed when he was seated; revealed, it was unsettling. His brows were knitted in a permanent, deep frown and he had a kind of underbite where the lower lip and lower teeth protruded. Rossiter realised that he had moved away from the wall and closer to whatever was about to transpire. It was as if the largish man conveyed a gravity, drawing him into the fold. For this reason, he heard the next words that the compère uttered sotto voce, “In your own time, Mr Williams.”
The largish man, Mr Williams, nodded and tried to smile, unfortunately. He moved onto the stage with care, each step softer than the last. The closer he came to the seated performer, the more he seemed to fear that a heavy step might make him, or her, shatter into pieces. And Rossiter, no longer caring for the sanctuary of distance, took a seat with the remaining two members of the audience.
Mr Williams was standing behind the performer now, looking then not looking, then looking again to the compère. The latter made a gesture and this seemed to relax the largish man who raised his hands and reached down towards the performer. From the shape he was making with his fingers, Rossiter thought Mr Williams meant to strangle the fragile creature. He gripped the seat of his chair, about to stand up and call out – when the largish man did something entirely unexpected.
His hands dove lower, reaching for the ribcage of the performer, and there proceeded to dig into the cloth-covered skin and gently tickle the hooded androgyne as one might a young child. There was no violent movement in reaction as one might expect though Rossiter fancied that he saw the linen over the performer’s face crease and undulate as if a concealed mouth were drawing quicker breaths. Mr Williams went on with this play for some minutes and it was plain to see that he was weeping as he did, and his husky voice carried across the room in a manner that the compère could not compete with. As when he had been sitting alone, he repeated a singular word, or rather a name, over and over again, “… Jonathan … Jonathan … Jonathan …”
When he was done, Mr Williams withdrew his hands and left the stage with as much care as he had entered upon it. He did not return to his seat. He merely exchanged his unfortunate smile with the compère and departed, passing by Rossiter rather brusquely.
Rossiter looked after him as the door closed in the man’s wake before returning his eyes to the stage, where the performer sat looking as undisturbed as when they’d all sat down.
What on earth was this, he wondered, what am I a part of here?
As he pondered, the compère approached the young couple who sat a few chairs away. This close, Rossiter overheard some of what was exchanged between them, “Mr and Mrs Devoy, you understand the agreement. As you like it. In your own time.”
Husband and wife looked at one another, held hands, kissed, rose to their feet and ventured onstage. They were less careful and respectful than Mr Williams had been and, before they reached the performer’s demesne, they were on hands and knees moving in a way untamed. Rossiter thought their faces were becoming more than slightly feral in the dim light. They stopped at the stool upon which the performer’s bare feet rested; toes still pointing to the sky. The soles were remarkably unblemished for an adult, Rossiter thought, and stopped himself as his mind wandered to what the rest of the performer’s body might look like.
He watched as the Devoys begin to lick and gnaw upon the performer’s exposed feet. Their tongues eagerly laved the soles until they glistened, also slithering in between the toes, as well as thoroughly wetting the dorsum pedis and ankle bones. They suckled upon the toes in a manner that put Rossiter in mind of ravenous new-borns. Again, as with Mr Williams, the performer seemed to barely respond and this seemed only to increase their frenzy. Their ministrations became steadily more and more abrasive until Rossiter felt sure they would draw blood before long. Again, he found himself gripping his chair in readiness to certainly intervene.
And again, the spectacle came to an end before this was necessary. With Mr and Mrs Devoy crawling away on their hands and knees as whatever energy had possessed them bled away, exhausted. The further they were from the stage, the more they resembled their domesticated selves. They were on their feet by the time they reached the half a dozen chairs and walking calmly in arm in arm as they left. Mrs Devoy spared the compère a flirtatious wave of her manicured fingertips. Three had departed and three yet remained.
Rossiter looked to the stage and its still denizen, th
“Are you not still here?” the compère asked.
“But I haven’t paid.” Rossiter said.
“This is not that kind of arrangement.”
Rossiter frowned at the use of the word arrangement. It seemed out of place.
“I’m not here for an arrangement.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I was curious.”
The compère smiled pleasantly, “Then be satisfied. Our friend is waiting.”
Rossiter looked to the stage, to the performer, and felt how tired his arms were getting from gripping the chair. He had to close his eyes to will his fingers to let go, and make a conscious demand again for his legs to take his weight as he stood up.
He swayed a moment and thought of Mr Williams; the respectful giant, rather than the uncouth newly-weds, as he undertook his tentative journey onto the stage. He felt uncomfortable and the lights were bright. Much brighter than he thought they would be. It must be the heat from the lights getting to him. Looking back, he could not perceive his chair or the door – there was a shroud of darkness over everything. The ghost of a headache clutched at his skull and made his stomach turn with a silty rush of nausea.
All he could see ahead of him was the performer. All he could see of the performer was the bare hands and naked feet, and neither told him whether this was man or woman – and the apple was still cradled as it had been at the beginning. The skin of the fruit was fresh, shimmering, and ripely-pebbled with natural reddish colour. He’d loved pink ladies as a child. Rossiter felt an overwhelming urge to snatch it away, take a bite, and feel the cool, nostalgic sweetness on his lips and chin. He was standing by the performer and could feel utter stillness there. If he reached down, would he be able to feel human warmth and a pulse in the performer’s wrist? He remembered Justine grabbing his hand and pushing it against the warm swell of her breast earlier in the evening.
by Greg James / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes