Thy Deep and Dreaming Sleep

Thy Deep and Dreaming Sleep

by Richard W. Straw

October 12th

Arrived just after half two, and settled into the cottage. It’s decent, a small bungalow, one of those old shepherds’ cottages that pop up all around the countryside, everything that I need for a couple of weeks of writing. The place is so quiet, the one thing that I’ve got here is time. God knows, I need it – the Knowles book is never going to get done, and April has been getting pushier. The mobile signal’s pretty poor around here, so that should keep her off my back for a few days, anyway. But I’ve got to get something done – that advance is spending itself pretty fast.

There’s a small old-fashioned desk in the lounge, and I’m sitting there now, writing this. It’s a good sized room, so it serves as lounge, dining room and study. The telly is five channels only, but there’s nothing on anyway. From the window there’s a lovely picturesque view of the railway line and motorway. Still, I suppose nothing’s perfect, and the joys of double glazing mean that peace and quiet are pretty much assured. There’s an open log fire against the far wall that’s enough to keep the place heated, and some very odd art on the walls – there’s a picture above the fireplace that’s just a random mass of colour. No accounting for taste, but this stuff is just nasty.

Tebay isn’t much of a village – nice enough, but little more than a couple of long streets. The local shops are actually in the motorway services, so I’ll be able to get a paper every morning, and eat breakfast in the company of lorry drivers and sulking kids. There’s a bizarre local legend about a witch and an egg but nothing much else – the place seems to have sprung up around the railway, and so it’s not much more than a commuter village for Kendal and a load of holiday cottages for the sort of lunatics who think getting lost in the fog on Scafell Pike constitutes having a good time.

Something odd when I went to light the fire. I had to clean out the grate, and there was a weird hollow sound to the tray when I was scraping out the ashes. Sounds like there’s a large open space beneath the fireplace, which seems peculiar. When I was little, we had a fire in my parent’s house, and my dad used to say that the grate was bottomless, and if you fell in, you would fall to the centre of the earth. Of course, the older I got, the more I realised he just had a bizarre sense of humour. Still, just for a moment…

The Bells of Blencathra


The Bells of Blencathra

Written and illustrated by Andy Paciorek

It may be said that the people of this nation may be divided into those that love Christmas and those that loathe it.

Yet there are others that may actually fear it and it must be said that I am one of that number.

Let me explain for it is not a fear of joy and goodwill, for I am no latter day Ebenezer Scrooge, nor is it one of those irrational phobias that linger from childhood – though it may indeed be irrational, it is however a deep and abject dread that fills my entire being at advent, yet one that stems from a bizarre and monstrous experience that it was my misfortune to bear witness too.

Specifically, though I now shun all of December’s frills and festivities as best I can, it is the sound of bells that fills me with the utmost horror.

To put some perspective on the account I am about to relate, let it be known that my childhood Christmases were filled with as much excitement and fun as any and far more than many, for I had a secure, comfortable upbringing neither spoilt with an over-abundance of luxury nor was I deprived or abused in any way whatsoever. I was a regular child, dull even – not prone to the wandering and wondering imagination that some children possess. It was of this mindset that I was to remain, the Christmases of my teens and twenties spent in revelling with friends and those to follow in the cosy comfort of courting and wedlock … at least for a while. For this is where the story turned.

It was the second year following the split from my wife and the first following the decree absolute. The first I spent in the city apartment that had for years been our marriage home. It was a Christmas spent in absolute misery, the endless same old Christmas songs that played eternally in shops and from the television, although always being irritating had in times past served for some ironic jovial sing-song now sounded like fingers scraped down glass, the happy smiling couples that I saw out in the streets Christmas shopping and heading to and from parties now filled me with pain and loathing for I was no longer part of that lifestyle (and though for every kissing couple at Christmastide, there are those that curse and quarrel, in my loneliness my eyes were blinded to those).

There were no invitations to parties for me to attend, nor were there Christmas cards adorning my apartment, for the only envelopes that fell onto my doormat that year were letters and bills from solicitors. It was then that I discovered that all my friends were in truth her friends and had abandoned me when she did. I found company in the bottle.

So that Yuletide was spent in drunken, isolated sorrow in a house that no longer felt my own. I pledged to myself that the next and no others would be spent the same.

I moved apartment when my finances allowed, not far from where we’d lived together, but somewhere a little smaller, decorated to my newly found bachelor taste; somewhere to call my own. I could not abide to spend the following Xmas alone in the city, yet I still desired my own company and to get away from the hustle and bustle and tinsel and plastic trees. 

So it was to the English Lake District I headed that cold December, specifically to a holiday cottage that I had rented close to Troutbeck village. With car filled with food and drink and books that I had always thought about reading but hadn’t got around to I arrived at that lovely isolated cottage with its stunning views of Blencathra mountain.  I unpacked, made a coffee on the stove and then drove to town to buy more logs to ensure that the fire would be well stoked for my entire Christmas break.

All was well, as I sat warmly by the fire that cold Christmas Eve, I looked up from my copy of Jack London’s ‘The Call of the Wild’ and gazed out of the window just as the first few flakes of snow fell from the dark sky. Entranced I watched as the fall grew to a flurry and I smiled, the weather forecasters had got it wrong  - it would be a White Christmas after all.  I felt good, relaxed; it was better this way, isolated yet far away from the isolation of the maddening crowds and away from the solace of the bottom of the bottle (though it must be said that my cup of coffee was heartily topped to the Irish tradition – purely for the extra warmth factor of course).

So in this contented state and hypnotised by the drifting flakes of white on the black canvas of night beyond the windowpane, I drifted into sleep.

I awoke, what seemed like minutes but a quick glance at my watch revealed to be hours later, for it was five minutes to midnight – almost Christmas Day. I threw another log onto the fire and was in contemplation whether to turn in then or to sit awhile longer with a snack and another hearty drink, but then something caught my attention… a distant sound of bells. Not improbable I thought, perhaps a church in a nearby village peeling out the chimes of midnight mass, but no, these bells were gentler, tinkling … distant yet somehow strangely close.

I looked out of the window and beyond the falling snow, which had now gathered upon the ground as a blanket of several inches in depth, I saw what appeared to be lights moving down the rough side of Blencathra. In colour they varied, bright yet in somewhat pastel tones of green and white and red and mauve. Peculiarly they appeared to be floating slowly, yet without doubt they also appeared to be moving upon the cottage at an impossible rate. Then, and now I stop momentarily, for to recollect and relate fills me still with incredulity and confusion and a cold rush down my spine… for there just within the garden of the cottage were a procession of figures.



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!’



That is not dead which can eternal lie

That is not dead which can eternal lie

Written by Glen Colling
Illustrated by Andy Paciorek

My tale starts only 24 hours ago.

One day, that has changed everything.

It was a typical summer morning on Lake Windermere. The sky was a pastel shade of blue that was reflected on the calm waters of the lake. A soft breeze blew from the South keeping the heat down to a comfortable level.

I had come to stay with friends in Bowness only three days previously, hoping to find some peace away from the front line, and had already found a deep love for the area.

Each morning I would rise early, before the crowds, and travel down to the waterfront where I would hire a small boat and coast out onto the lake. There, I would spend many an hour lying back and letting the boat drift where it would as I watched the river birds hover above me.

I had found a solace that was previously missing in my life, and I was trying hard to forget that in another two days I would have to report back to my unit.

The first sign that I was in trouble was easily dismissed.

My boat began to bob up and down on the surface. But, lost as I was in my own thoughts, I passed it off as a passing rower, or a swan landing close by.

It was not until my small boat began to bounce rather wildly that I started to grow concerned.

I immediately sat up and looked around me to discover that I was in serious trouble.

To my right, a violently swirling vortex of water had formed upon the previously still surface and was growing larger. The mouth of the vortex was already two metres wide, spewing a cloud of moisture and causing the waters around it to roil and twist.

I reached over quickly and grabbed my oar as the hungry waters sucked at my craft. Plunging the oar through the rivers surface I began to push against the greedy pull of the vortex.

At first my efforts seemed to come to naught as I was inexorably drawn towards the dark maw of the whirlpool. But slowly, oh so slowly, I began to edge away. Inch by agonising inch I began to hope that I might, just, get away.

But Poseidon was not to be cheated of his quarry so easily and the vortex all but doubled in size. The drag of the swirling tides became too much and though I strained with every last reserve of my strength, I was pulled towards the violently spinning waters.

House of Dark Lanterns, part one.

“The stars, that nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps with everlasting oil, give due light to the misled and lonely traveller.
John Milton

House of Dark Lanterns, part one.
Written and illustrated by Andy Paciorek

The hammer fell on the last sale of the day at the Kendal & District Auction House and as proceedings drew to close and unsuccessful bidders and onlookers filed for the doors, those who’d secured their bids remained to finalise the details of their purchases. Carl Fieldman remained behind, though he was of the former rather than latter group, having been outbid on his efforts to buy a Regency bronze table lamp.

He was friends with the auctioneer and had decided to wander over for a quick chat before heading home. Seeing him, Dewson, the auctioneer, gave a smile.
“Unlucky, Carl.”
Carl replied with no petulance, “Not for you, I bid more for that lamp than it was worth and I was still outbid.”
“Oh, Carl, you know as well as I that an object is worth whatever two or more people bid for it, and if it’s any consolation that solid oak Victorian writing table we had in today and would’ve expected to fly barely crawled to its bottom estimate!”
He continued, “Actually, you could have done us a favour and bid a bit more. Money is of no consequence to your rival bidder and once he sets his mind on something he’ll obtain it, no matter the cost. Anyway, shh, speak of the devil, here he is.”

Carl looked up to see a tall well-groomed man approaching. In his hand he carried a knobbly blackthorn cane of the type sometimes referred to as a shillelagh, but what perhaps would be more correctly termed a bata. Several steps behind him was a rough-looking man with thick side-burns and eyebrows and who was almost as wide as he was tall, solidly built not fat.
“Ah, Mister Dewson and now to business” he said with a smile and extending his hand to shake that of the auctioneer, “Cash, fine I trust?”
“As always, Mr Mordrake,” replied Dewson politely.
The man Mordrake gestured to the squat man behind him, “Mr Soulby, if you will,” and with a plump envelope, containing more than the four thousand, three hundred pounds the item settled on, Misters Soulby and Dewson moved away to conclude the exchange.

Standing alone together, Mordrake nodded in polite greeting to Carl. Carl spoke, “Congratulations, it’s a nice piece. You got a bargain.”
Mordrake looked at Carl curiously, then an expression of recognition passed his face as he realised Carl was his opponent bidder.
“I did think I’d pick it up nearer the three and a half mark, but it is a nice piece, the curious embellishment of the figures of a satyr and a nymph on the base may not be to everyone’s taste but it sets it apart as an interesting object. Together with the other of its pair, which I do happen to already own, I’d estimate the collective value of the pair at perhaps more than ten or even eleven thousand pounds on a good day. Not that I’d resell.”

With that comment, Carl was assured that despite money being no object, Mr Mordrake  was indeed cannily aware of his purchasing.
Mordrake thrust out his hand in greeting, a firm dry shake.
“Lucien Mordrake at your service and I take it sir, that you are a fellow Luciferian?”