Thursday, 12 December 2013

Cantus Arcticus - Part Four

Cantus Arcticus is written by Mark Jones of Wordsmith Jones Editorial Servicesit is told in 5 parts, one each night this week... Mark's story Moonlight Over Inverkip is part of our A Nip in The Air Ghost Story CollectionNo less terrifying is Mark's brave rifling through his teenage diaries which you can enjoy at 20 years Ago Today : A Diary of Teenage Embarassment.

Catch up...Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Night led Duncan into dreams. It was his tiredness. It was the whisky. The dreams were uncomfortable, full of ill-defined landscapes and faces he felt he should recognise but didn’t. Once or twice, he awoke – firstly with the belief that it must already be nearly morning, when it fact it was still only 1 a.m., and then under the assumption that he’d slept just minutes when in fact a whole hour had passed since he’d last awoken. Soon, however, he slid towards a deeper sleep, uninterrupted, inescapable, and it was there, after a fashion, that he saw the men.

Snuggled in his bed, Duncan began to picture the house at night. Deluded that he was conscious (although aware at a certain level that he was, indeed, only dreaming), he shifted his gaze to the door, a black gaping rectangle in the wall since he’d drunkenly forgotten to close it. With only a mild sense of anxiety, he rose and moved through the door and on to the landing. There, he could see the bathroom door. Nothing interested him there, but beside the bathroom were the doors to the other two bedrooms. He knew – he could feel – that one of these, the furthest from him, contained not darkness but sunshine. Within that room it was already day, and, more than this – much more – he knew that his mother and sister were inside, Mum playing with Janet, sitting on the bed and holding up an item of clothing to make his young sister laugh. He saw the scene in his head. His heart yearned, but he knew that now was not the time for him to enter that room.

Disappointed, in fact a little embittered by the experience, he moved along the stairs, brushing rudely against his father – a much younger version of his father than Duncan had ever known. Dad was smiling. Curiously, Duncan felt that Dad, although entirely physical and present beside him, stood in black-and-white – the embodiment, the very manifestation, of the old photograph from the hallway wall.

He ignored his father, not caring whether this displeased or upset the old – or, rather, young – guy at all.

Entering the hallway and then the living room, Duncan became surprised – and rather pleased – at how convincing this dream was, for, again, at some level he did know this was all just his imagination at play. Dark, the front door behind him as he stood in the living room. Darker still the living room ahead of Duncan, between the living room and kitchen. He stepped forwards and walked gingerly into the kitchen. There on the worktop sat the whisky bottle and grimy, sticky glass tumbler. But, oddly, there were other things too: a loaf of bread, unwashed crockery, a wristwatch where the kettle should be but wasn’t, butter laying out melting in a dish of chipped, hairline-cracked china Duncan didn’t recall having seen before. The watch was an old one of Dad’s, though not a watch Duncan had ever seen but one that Dad had worn years before he’d even married, and then thrown away – Duncan simply knew this and considered how amazingly well the brain could fill in the blanks, telling him stuff now that he never knew before.

However, Duncan began to feel scared. The sensation grew that he wasn’t the only one present. Shadows seemed to move just beyond his line of sight. They lurked, but when he looked nobody was there. A curious whispering could be heard, but each time Duncan stopped to listen, so too did the whispering. It wasn’t a breeze, there were no windows left ajar.

Standing by the frosted glass window of the utility room door, Duncan realized how very much he’d stopped enjoying this dream. Deciding to return to his bedroom, he tip-toed out to the foot of the stairs. To his intense horror, a very faint light hung at the top, spherical almost, a cloud of light. Could a bedroom door be open, with milky moonlight seeping through the doorway and on to the landing? Duncan began gingerly to ascend the steps.

He seemed now to exist now in some kind of realm between reality and dream. A twisted, twilit kind of world, everything shimmered in a peculiarly ethereal luminescence, neither wan nor brilliant but somewhere curiously in between. The walls, the doors, the carpets, the furniture – the very furniture Duncan had earlier transported outside to the lawn – and the pictures on the wall all hung in a strange fog, almost transparent. In places he saw other furniture and picture frames, property that did not belong here, not to this time and space, anyway. Dad’s possessions stood ahead of these stranger objects, appearing almost superimposed upon them, as though they were unreal, mere light projections of a slide-show shone upon the true reality of the unfamiliar items.

Duncan wandered, dazed and perplexed. With the unearthly globe of light receding from his approach and sliding further along the landing, he reached the top stair and noticed how jumbled everything looked. Everywhere was hazy, blurry furniture and carpets and pictures and light fixtures stacked on blurry counterparts – like the negatives of two photographs of the house taken at very different times, with different inhabitants, but developed as one image. Upon nothing could Duncan fully fix his focus. Was it like this the whole house over? Duncan returned downstairs.

In the sitting room, within Dad’s armchair, sat an old man, tall and lean with long thinning hair. Duncan’s throat felt dry. Here at last was an image that appeared with perfect clarity. But this return to normal vision was not to Duncan’s liking. Nor was the vision before him particularly normal. The aged gentleman had the wrinkled, earthy and dignified features of a tribesman – an Inuit, perhaps; from the far north, at any rate, that much was clear from the furred collar and feathers that cloaked his neck, caught and illuminated by the bright milky-white moonlight that crept through a crack in the curtains. With his back to Duncan, the elderly man sat as though reading or sleeping. Finally, the aged nomad – for this was the only description for him Duncan could grab from the ragbag dictionary of his mind – turned and frowned.

Duncan felt a cold imprint on his belly and realised his hand was pressed flat against it, perhaps out of nervousness, perhaps out of sheer, naked fear. Clutching his stomach, he watched as another man – a sailor of haggard skin and tired eyes, and wearing a uniform some fifty years out-of-date – appeared and stood by the door to the kitchen. There were two doors there now, overlaid, each as pale and transparent as the other, one open and one shut. Following the sailor’s eyes, Duncan walked, as though directed, through the open door. He knew what they wanted. He was afraid, but knew he must comply – or, at least, attempt to – before they would leave. The nomad and the sailor wanted the box.

Now in the kitchen the sailor stood ahead of Duncan, and behind him – as though watching them both – the wizened old nomad. The sailor was trying to tell Duncan something. He sensed this, even though the sailor’s lips were clamped shut. Duncan felt the swarthy man attempt to transfer thoughts directly in his head. At last he began to sense what the sailor was trying to say. Thoughts came thick and fast now, and Duncan found his mind almost overpowered by them. He understood now, though, where the box was. Looking up, he exchanged a look of mutual agreement with the man. It was as if both knew that only this would pacify the cruel, malevolent expression furrowing across the nomad’s face. The two younger men took to the stairs, not stopping until they arrived in Dad’s old bedroom.

Pulling a large cardboard box full of his father’s last remaining possessions away from the wall, Duncan discovered a door he’d been aware of but hadn’t yet found the time to open. A small door, rising about three feet from the floor, it opened up into a cupboard. His expression turned to disgust. The cupboard contained every kind of junk imaginable, and all of it covered in a thick shroud of dust. The sailor looked cowed, scared. He stepped back into the shadows until Duncan could barely see him. The nomad moved ominously closer through the door of the bedroom.

Feeling the nomad’s eyes upon him, Duncan reached into the cupboard. He knew what he must withdraw. But at this, a terrible rumbling began throughout the whole house. Every pipe seemed to rattle, every wall begin to shake. Pure horror coursed through Duncan as a memory flooded back, like water into a drain. He froze. This wasn’t real. This was just a dream. His brain began to awaken and thaw. Realising with terror that he was caught between two states of reality and wasn’t quite sure to which he belonged, Duncan lashed out, arms flailing in empty dark air. The house continued to reverberate, but he now he became deaf to all sound. Was it from sheer fear that he could only see? Behind him, walls shook, the sailor retreated scared, the fierce gaze of the angry nomad fell upon him like a shadow, and there came a sensation – a tingle, the whiff of a familiar odour: stale tobacco and burnt food. Dad too was present in this hellish room. Duncan knew he was there, and knew his father was trying to help him, but still he couldn’t actually see the old man. Vibrations abounding all around, the house rattled on. Or – the thought came suddenly to Duncan from the disturbed depths of his mind – was the house really shaking at all? Perhaps in truth the house stood still while he himself shook?

Duncan awoke, covered in sweat, his T shirt bumfled up around his neck. He lay staring at the ceiling, gasping for breath. Peculiarly, despite the crushing fear he’d experienced only moments before, he then drifted almost instantly into a very deep and very proper sleep.

Had he known what was to come, or had he indeed been able, he might have taken care to enjoy this descent into peaceful unconsciousness. As it was, he never was aware of the two dark silhouettes that fell first across his bedstead, and then slid away: two shadows that withdrew and melted back into the black void of the open doorway.

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