Book: Black Wings IV: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror

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SEALED BY THE MOON

 

Gary Fry

 

Gary Fry lives in Dracula’s Whitby, literally around the corner from where Bram Stoker was staying while thinking about that character. Gary has a Ph.D. in psychology, but his first love is literature. He was the first author in PS Publishing’s Showcase series, and Ramsey Campbell has referred to him as a “master.” He is the author of more than 15 books, and his latest are the Lovecraftian novel Conjure House (DarkFuse, 2013), the short story collection Shades of Nothingness (PS Publishing, 2013), the zombie novel Severed and novellas Menace, Savage, and Mutator (DarkFuse, 2014).

 

 

“WHAT’S SO IMPORTANT ABOUT THIS PLACE, ANYWAY?” asked Glenn, pulling his Vauxhall into the campsite’s car park.

Lily didn’t immediately reply, just sat in the passenger seat looking directly forwards, at a rocky landscape stretching to a hazy horizon. She’d grown up in this area, and Glenn hadn’t been too surprised when she’d asked to spend her twenty-first birthday here.

Her voice as strange as Glenn remembered it after she’d first started taking medication, she said, “There’s a place I want you to see.”

This was progress, he thought, drawing upon the many counselling textbooks he’d read as a student, which frequently talked about disclosure of secrets and how this engendered trust…. But he wasn’t in that role this weekend; despite having met during his NHS work, he and Lily were now lovers and should behave like that.

“I look forward to it,” he replied, choosing not to be inquisitive. Lily would tell him more in good time. She could be like that, elusive and often confrontational, and again Glenn drew on professional experience by not rising to issues emerging from her subconscious mind. “Shall we unpack and get the tent up?”

If she was disappointed he hadn’t asked about the place she’d mentioned, she didn’t show it. For a moment, before switching off the grumbling engine and opening his door, Glenn thought he saw a curl of anger ripple along her upper lip, but then this expression was gone, replaced by the passive solemnity he’d come to associate with her family.

An only child, Lily had lived with her parents only a few miles north of this location, in a small North Yorkshire town where everyone knew one another’s business. More recently, her mum and dad had moved to Leeds, where Glenn had been born and now worked. A few months after this relocation, following a botched suicide attempt, the eighteen-year-old girl had been referred to him for support and guidance. They’d fallen in love after only a few sessions, Glenn was vulnerable to the intimacy of a first client and Lily admired his cool strength, non-argumentative nature, and—she’d told him only recently—tremendous height.

Glenn was six-foot-four and had been only mildly surprised to learn, after meeting the man, that her father was a similar height. There was probably something Freudian at work here—an Elektra complex or some such—but Glenn had been trained as a general counsellor and not a dyed-in-the-wool psychoanalyst preaching according to Sigmund’s orthodoxy.

Lily’s mother had been a docile creature, given to apologies even in the absence of any perceptible misdemeanour. Whenever she’d served dinner, she’d say things like, “I hope the gravy isn’t too lumpy,” as if in anticipation of devastating disapproval. Glenn tried hard not to let his work dominate his private life, but he’d nonetheless found it strange how such a reserved man as the girl’s father could have such a timid, edgy wife, let alone a “loose cannon” of a daughter.

After carrying all their weekend gear across to a suitable spot for camping, Glenn watched his girlfriend roll one of the joints that she—in her own words—“simply couldn’t live without.” Since nearly OD-ing at a party in her late teens, she’d been prescribed by doctors an alchemist’s dream of potions and cocktails, yet none worked as well as her standard weed-and-nicotine combo. But Glenn didn’t mind, really. Sure, he was accountable in his career, but marijuana was hardly Class A stuff, was it? Besides, his private life had nothing to do with anyone else, and there were no rules against dating clients; it was merely frowned upon by colleagues, but they could all just bugger off.

Glenn enjoyed putting up the tent, using a heavy mallet to drive lethally pointed pegs into firm autumn earth. He wasn’t an aggressive man, which was perhaps the reason he was so suited to his career, the cut-and-thrust of psychological duels, that slippery process of transference. He and Lily had engaged in a number of intense sessions, during which he’d held her ostensibly sourceless anger, helping her to realise how non-destructive it was. This was extremely challenging, involving a firm identity and clear knowledge about where his boundaries lay. He guessed an over-possessive mother and distant father had offered him insight into these mechanisms, a nebulous knowledge of how people over-lapped, their emotions grew entangled, and their actions were often mistaken for one another’s….But again he was getting distracted by the minutiae of his working life. He as well as Lily was supposed to be relaxing this weekend, his first period of annual leave for months. And he was determined to do so.

“Let me have a smoke of that, will you?” he said, once the tent was fully erected and his girlfriend had lit up her second joint of the afternoon. It was a cool, crisp day, the September daylight almost colourless. Other than themselves, just a handful of other couples occupied the site, mostly older, respectable-looking folk who probably thought the scent of Lily’s smoke was a new perfume. Glenn reckoned most of them were a lot like his parents: polite, well-meaning, as green as all the grass here.

“Hey, you’ll need it where I plan to take you,” Lily replied, exhaling smoke with dragonish abandon. Her bohemian clothing—all wooden chains and garish amulets—rattled with her movement; her unmade-up face looked solemn and mysterious. “It might even help.”

He stepped across to her, dropping the heavy wallet, which hit the soil beside the tent with a vicious thump. Then he reached for the joint.

He liked a beer, of course—what normal guy didn’t?—but he’d never used such substances for anything other than mild relaxation, the pleasure of its taste. Pot was different, though; he enjoyed the dry, tender feeling it left in his throat, the sense of having more space around him it bequeathed. Hell, he’d spent most of his childhood in a small house in Leeds, and the great majority of his adulthood as a responsible trainee and then an even more responsible practitioner. But out here, where the hills climbed and fell, and rocks had stood for all time, it would be nice to open up a little, experiencing the world with all its edges exposed.

He took a deep drag on the roll-up, feeling smoke fill his mouth like dust. He sensed Lily watching him, a faint air of amusement animating her pretty face. Sometimes she looked so old at the same time as looking so young, and he wondered what that implied. He’d been treating her professionally for three years now and still felt as if he’d just scratched her surface.

Uncomfortable with feeling like the junior person here—he was twenty-four to her twenty-one—he met her green-eyed gaze and said, “So where is this place you plan on taking me to? And why the hell would you think I need help?”

Now she smiled properly, those lips curling north, like the sun arising during some primitive dawn. She’d been sitting on one of the collapsible stools they’d brought along with cooking gear and sleeping bags, but then quickly stood and snatched the joint back from him.

“Is the tent finished now?” she asked, between more hurried inhalations from the quixotic fire. “Can we just collapse in it when we return?”

“I’d just like to get all our stuff inside,” Glenn replied, sensing the drug already teasing the corners of his psyche, the way imps in ancient mythology were said to threaten fragile communities. “I mean, I know we’re in the middle of nowhere and with few ruffians around, but…well, it’s better to be safe than sorry, isn’t it?”

Before meeting Lily and agreeing to let her live in his smart city centre flat, he’d assumed such rules in life were commonsensical, just practical watchwords to uphold. But more recently, she’d overturned all that.

“Oh, so sensible,” she said, her voice certainly containing an element of disapproval if not outright frustration. Glenn wanted to blame the dope, but the dismaying truth was that she could be even more like this when clear-headed. “You’ll be putting padlocks on the zip next.”

Actually, he did have a few small locks that secured the tent, but this wasn’t the time to allude to them. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t lose his temper; his professional persona suggested that this was what Lily was after, what she was always after, and he refused to give her that satisfaction. If he was ever successful in transforming the girl into the happy, contented person her parents clearly wanted—well, her mother, anyway; her father had always been strangely uncommunicative on the matter—he’d have to resist her invasive mind-games.

“Okay, then, bugger the stuff,” he said, those imps breaking into the village of his mind and rapidly colonising it. “Let’s go.”

She looked curiously pleased, especially when he picked up the mallet again and flung it along with several other items inside the tent without securing any of it.

Then he was ready. And Lily willingly led the way.

 

The North Yorkshire countryside was rich and strange. Glenn loved this time of the year, its wet periods and chilly fronts. When winds gusted—and today played host to a circus performance of them—a scent of wild vegetation and moist grass swept across the landscape, filling his mind with fond recollections of childhood episodes involving happiness, health, and hope. Everywhere felt ancient out here, as if the primitive brain, with its seething limbic core, now had evidence for its irrepressible nature. Trees shook as they’d done since time immemorial; stone caves gaped, providing refuge from growling stalkers. Overhead, clouds scurried, great armies on the march, and the sinking sun kowtowed to a new kid in the area: the imperious moon appearing with all its mythological majesty.

Glenn was always enamoured by this kind of environment, despite having grown up in a city. He could well imagine what Lily’s early life had been like, the alfresco freedom of unquenchable youth. But what had come between her and later success? Why had she developed a phobic reaction to maturity and mainstream life, as if a nuclear moment in her teens had torn a hole in her existence?

This was all Glenn knew about his girlfriend’s suicide attempt: one moment she’d been dancing with so many other up-and-coming peers, and the next she’d been lying in a hospital bed with machines buzzing and bleeping all around her. As long as Glenn had known her, she’d refused to discuss this dramatic event, but had always been happy to refer to her childhood, the days preceding this inexplicable attempt at oblivion, living with her parents in a village up north.

With the campsite way behind them and the makeshift path-way ahead deserted, Glenn considered this a good moment to question Lily, who, for all her cocky confidence, tended to open up only in absolute privacy.

“So,” he said, puffing a little as they ascended a slope leading to a sequence of rocky hillsides, “where are we headed?”

He wanted to feel that this whole event—her birthday, the amazing location, just the two of them together—bore some kind of symbolic resonance, a journey into revelations, deep and true. But that surely required complicity, and he couldn’t be certain whether his moody lover was willing to share his predilection for bone-shaking facts.

In the event, marching on ahead with a lingering smile of expectation, she said, “We’re going to Mooncap Cave.”

She left it at that, presumably attempting to pique his curiosity. And on this occasion, now alone in the brooding hills, he saw little harm in humouring her. “What’s…Mooncap Cave?” he asked, feeling both fretful about the spooky name and intrigued by what attracted her to this place.

Lily had now stopped smoking, but the substance she’d already imbibed must be pressing against her mind, because when she eventually replied, her voice grew laboured, as if all the space out here was lending it a resonant quality, the way acoustics in a concert hall offered richness to sound.

“We used to come here when I was a child, me and Mum and…”—a pause as she quickly drew breath—“and my dad.”

Glenn was sharp and had observed months ago how his girlfriend referred to her parents differently. His docile mother, with her reticent nature, was addressed as “Mum,” the pronoun’s capital letter almost audible. But her father—the taciturn, disengaged man who stood as tall as Glenn at well over six feet—was always called “my dad.” And the use of the single modifier “my” told Glenn a great deal about Lily’s relationships with her parents; this was a subtle thing, but straight out of a textbook. But now he must drill down into experience, get her talking in a way she rarely had in the past. Maybe this was a perfect opportunity.

“Go on, then,” he said, observing all the dark gathering overhead. Having reached the crest of a slope, they found themselves among a vast range of rocky land. He wouldn’t want to be stranded out here in as little as a few hours; neither he nor his girlfriend had brought torches. “Tell me more about Mooncap Cave.”

Glenn thought she’d hesitate again, weighing the relative risks and rewards of opening up to him. But then she began talking, making him believe that the drug in her blood had brought dark treasure to the surface.

“It’s an old story around these parts—older than the hills.”

She giggled like a schoolgirl, as if her opening comment had greatly amused her. Glenn suspected that both of her parents had once used this line, back in the days to which Lily now alluded.

“There’s a cave up ahead, and it has a hole in its ceiling that you can see straight through. The hole is circular, the same size as…the same size as the moon.”

As Lily paused again, Glenn noticed many glitters appearing in the dimming sky, an extraordinary display of stars. There was no cloud this evening, which exposed the world to whatever aspects of the cosmos saw fit to damage it. And yes, here came the satellite to which his girlfriend had just referred: bloated, bloodless, and bonelike—the intense moon.

“So what?” Glenn replied, now feeling slightly uncomfortable. It wasn’t just because his girlfriend’s voice had grown less reticent; it was also that, at twenty-one years old today, she’d requested to spend the time here, in such a barren part of the ancient world. That wasn’t normal, was it? But of course nothing about Lily had ever been normal.

“Inside the cave something dwells,” she went on, the smile in her tone almost palpable. “But only those tall enough to see the moon fill the hole in the ceiling will ever observe it. This thing is a god of desire, a master of rage, a spiritual advocate of every furtive taboo you or anyone else has ever considered.”

In truth, Glenn had dwelt on few of those, having grown up in a conventional if rather stilted way. But was Lily now talking about her own family life? Taboo, he thought as they continued walking across an uneven plateau of age-old rock. Desire. Rage … Glenn’s discomfort began to escalate. Were events about to be referred to that strayed beyond the boundaries of his supposed expertise?

His girlfriend kept on walking, her slender limbs clearing every ostensible obstacle, as if the drug—no, truth—lent her impetus. Then she added, “My dad went in there once…”—again, “my” dad and not simply “Dad”; Glenn observed this well—“and God knows what he saw, but when he came back out, he was…” Lily hesitated again, raw emotion impeding her throat. But moments later, she finished, “When he came back out, he was a changed man.”

“Changed…how?” Glenn wanted to know, his professional interest now as aroused as his personal investment in Lily; in truth, he often wondered whether these were one and the same thing.

She refused to look at him, just continued striding over rocks. “There’s something I’ve never told you. It’s something I’ve never told anyone. Only Mum and I know. But now you should, too.”

“Go on. I’m listening.”

She laughed again, the noise harsh and mocking in such a motionless atmosphere. “Oh, I like your objective distance,” she said, clinging to a chain around her neck, one of the weird amulets she’d once bought in a New Age shop. “You pretend it’s for our benefit—you all do, everyone in the therapy game. But actually, I sometimes think it’s for yours.”

“You mean, to stop us from getting involved with clients?”

“If you like.”

Now it was Glenn’s turn to be audacious. He said at once, “Well, that’s already happened in this case, hasn’t it?”

He’d suspected the comment would knock her off-guard, and so it proved. Lily grew silent for a moment, as if addressing the vast sky. But then, her voice motivated again by a need for confession, she said, “My dad used to beat us up, both Mum and me. And very, very often.”

Glenn was certainly shocked, he could admit that much, but he somehow kept his response calm and neutral. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

Her laugh on this occasion sounded more like a scoff. “Hell, what’s to tell? It’s the usual male deal. In his case, a projection of unfulfilled desire. Seeking excuses to grow angry over a lack of opportunity to perform antisocial acts, whatever sad, common, and dull things these may be. Jesus, Glenn, you’ve read all the books. It ain’t rocket science.”

Something about her phrase caused Glenn to look up again at the moon, hanging in the sky like an indifferent face. Its eyes were craters, its mouth some tranquil sea. Then he glanced back at his girlfriend, but his only thought at this stage was to wonder whether her mother’s apologetic nature, the way she’d disparage her cooking before guests had even tasted it, had a direct causal link to her husband’s earlier behaviour. And if that was true, what on earth had this done to the child, to poor young Lily?

“We’re here,” his girlfriend announced, halting yards ahead of Glenn, her tone undeniably excited. And before Glenn could properly examine what appeared to be the dark mouth of a broad tunnel beyond her, she went rapidly on. “I’ve come here almost every year since I was about twelve. You see, what happened back then happened on September the fourteenth, my birthday. I’ve read all about the myth online, and it’s only tonight when it works. While standing inside in a tiny dip in the ground, you have to look up and see the moon passing over that hole in the cave’s ceiling. And when it’s absolutely aligned, like a cap, the cave is sealed…sealed by the moon. And that,” she finished, with little uncertainty in her voice any more, “that is when you see him.”

A god of desire, a master of rage, a spiritual advocate of every furtive taboo you or anyone else has ever considered … Hell, had Lily been suggesting earlier that her father had once wanted to sexually abuse her? Or was she trying to tell Glenn, whom she surely trusted now, that the older man had gone that far? In reference to male behaviour, Lily had used the words “sad, common, and dull things”—and Glenn considered the implication here all too transparent.

But none of this squared with what he knew about his girlfriend’s father. It was true that the other tall man was reserved, given to non-communication and periods of detachment. But that was the point: he seemed harmless, as if there was no hurt in him. He certainly hadn’t seemed the type—and Glenn, in his professional role, had witnessed many of the kind—to commit domestic violence…let alone anything even more sordid.

As Glenn wondered whether he was being naïve and still had much to learn, Lily went on.

“I grew bigger in my teens, but never big enough. I don’t why you have to be so tall to see the moon cross the path of that hole on this particular night. The past is weird, full of stupid nonsense…but in this case, the myth seemed to work. My dad went into the cave alone and observed the cave being sealed by the moon. And when he came back out, he was a different man. He never hit either of us again. It was as if…as if…oh, I don’t know… ” Now her voice sounded desperate and frustrated, but eventually she added, “… as if he’d seen something in there that had changed everything.”

At that moment, as Glenn continued processing left-field thoughts about an ancient god of the darker realms of human experience, Lily paced away from the snaking entrance to what was obviously Mooncap Cave and started goading him again.

“I want you to go inside,” she said, her manipulative persona reappearing, teasing and taunting. With one hand, she pinched her small breasts and then placed the other in her groin, clutching and rubbing it. “I want to know what my dad saw that day fifteen years ago, Glenn. Only you are tall enough.”

Two aspects of this latest information troubled him. The first was the age at which his girlfriend’s dad had become less violent and possibly even more than that. Lily was now twenty-one, and fifteen years ago she’d have been just six. Six. If she’d experienced unnatural episodes at such an age, it was hardly surprising that she now behaved so provocatively, so moodily, so unpredictably.

But it was the other issue that unsettled Glenn the most. She’d said, “Only you are tall enough.” And did that imply that she’d agreed to be his lover for only one reason—his height? This wasn’t as comical as it sounded; Glenn had read many cases about relationships in which relative physical stature was a crucial component. Some women refused to date short men, and this couldn’t be ascribed to either social mores or evolutionary imperatives. It was a psychological preference, plunging deep into Freudian territory. Women with short fathers might be drawn to taller men as a way of defusing incestuous tensions, for instance. And those with tall fathers…

Glenn refused to think about that. After all, his girlfriend had said nothing more about her dad than alluding to his violence before he’d entered the cave and his passivity after emerging. Maybe only that was involved, and Glenn was inventing the rest the way people in his profession often did, a clichéd occupational hazard, seeing smoke without fire.

Now Lily had placed one hand on his groin, which stirred with irrepressible need. “Go in there for me,” she said in a low voice, like a coquettish temptress in full force. “And when you come back out, tell me what you saw.”

His penis stiffening under her imperious grasp—rational objectivity had little impact on the autonomous body; Glenn knew this from his studies, too—he pulled away slightly, but not so far that he was unable to relish these impromptu furtive developments. He imagined him and Lily walking back to the campsite later, after he’d got this foolishly symbolic act out of the way, and enjoying fiery sex in their tent. This was surely a watershed test, he thought, stepping away from his girlfriend and towards the shadowy mouth of the cave. By re-enacting a key episode from her disturbed youth, he could gain her trust and even help her become a normal person. That was what they wanted, after all: himself, Lily, her mother…and even her culpable father. Normal. Prosaic. Like the humdrum world with all its delusional mythologies, its ancient, innocuous charms.

Without further hesitation, turning briefly to observe his giddy girlfriend with dope-narrowed eyes, Glenn stepped inside a tunnel darkened by the mysterious moon.

 

Fortunately, the tunnel, about twenty yards long and chinking from side to side, wasn’t too cramped. Glenn suffered mildly from claustrophobia, a psychological condition that had a no more insidious cause than being a big guy in a world carpentered for smaller people. But this was no manmade place, no tailored refuge from wild nature. This was the world itself, in all its cold, murky reality.

He strode across standing pools, residue from a recent downpour, before he and Lily had arrived at the campsite. Water also dripped from the top of the tunnel, more than once tapping him on his neck, like an insect falling to deliver its sting. But the sharp sensation was just coldness, sending shivers along his spine. He felt fearful, he could admit, but this was simply an atavistic response to his subterranean location and nothing to do with his girlfriend’s words when she’d bullied him into coming down here. He wondered again what this foolish game betokened. He was happy to do all he could to help her, especially after learning about such dark secrets from her past. But surely this went beyond the call of his occupational duties. Rounding a final bend in the dim, dank-smelling tunnel, he observed light up ahead, etching all the stone around him with crawling life. Then, entering a circular cave with a hole as big as his head in its ceiling, he realised where the illumination was coming from: the moon beyond that gap above, just visible from this angle.

Despite his mounting unease, Glenn tried telling himself that he’d consented to his girlfriend’s eccentric request as a personal favour and not a professional obligation. He was here as her lover, and must now experience some nebulous part of her girlhood, when she’d been too young—only six years old—to remember anything accurately. The truth probably involved her father experiencing a paradigm shift in how he related to his family; maybe his wife had stood up to him, delivering an unambiguous ultimatum: No more violence or we’ll both leave, your daughter and I. And the girl would have first noticed this while holidaying in the area, her childish mind, with all its innate capacity for animism, attributing the change to such a rich environment. Later, while researching the experience with credulous need, she’d learnt about the age-old myth associated with this small cave, the way the moon passed its hole, and the thing that allegedly dwelled here…It was all nonsense, of course, as Glenn was about to prove.

Just then, noticing a slight dip at the heart of the shadow-filled cave and heading quickly towards it, he considered his own youth and all the commonplace events he might have similarly misinterpreted, imbuing them with magic and other primitive modes of thought. He’d been an anxious child, given to violent tantrums. But in hindsight, Glenn thought these had been more to do with fear. He recalled being unable to sleep as a boy, even as late as his teenage years. That shadow beyond his bedroom curtains hadn’t been a tree in his home’s front garden, but a murderer come to bear him inexorably away. These episodes, which some might attribute to unaddressed psychological issues, but which Glenn ascribed to common vicissitudes of uncertain youth, had lasted until he was an adult and had taken charge of his life with a career, a home, and now a partner. Lately he found himself afraid of hardly anything…until today, of course, standing in this spooky cave with only a perverted fairy story to make sense of it.

At that moment, from his new position, standing in a small dip that seemed designed for a human’s bipedal posture, he spotted the moon gliding across the neat disc of the ceiling’s hole. Only its right edge was presently visible, but Glenn was astonished how quickly it moved, as if accelerated by his queasy perception, which arose from either denied fear or the drug he’d imbibed earlier. But in truth, he knew this had to do with context, the stone framework reducing the satellite’s cosmic capacity, turning it into a small cap over the cave. Now he realised why Lily had insisted that he observe this phenomenon: anyone shorter or even taller would struggle to watch the moon describe this autumnal trajectory, moving over the gap so that its edges neatly aligned with those of the hole. He also understood why he’d had to stand in this dip in the cave’s cold floor; it wasn’t just about the angle at which he looked, but also his distance from the ceiling: his height and spatial location were perfectly combined to observe this ancient, mystical event.

And now it was about to happen.

As the bloated, bony moon nearly filled the hole in the ceiling, Glenn thought back to everything Lily had said, about how it had irrevocably changed her father, transforming him from a monster to some docile recluse. Assuming for a moment this had really happened, what impact might it have on Glenn, who was already quietly respectful? Would his reptilian self, the Freudian beast that allegedly existed inside all people, be roused from its depths? But that was stupid, stupid. Glenn glanced away from the moon now filling the hole in the cave’s ceiling.

That was when he saw it.

Sitting against one wall directly ahead, the figure was as large as himself, but considerably fleshier, great folds hanging off a combination of bones that seemed too slipshod to sustain any movement. It was as pale as the cosmic satellite Glenn had just been observing. Its face, insofar as this could be described, was a hybrid travesty of knotted skin and squashed features: eyes fought for supremacy amid a twisted nose and a razor-sharp mouth. Its ears were mere nubs, and what little hair existed on its flaky scalp looked like wire ripped from some faulty power socket. The whole of it appeared to thrum with incipient motion, even though it remained remarkably stationary; its elongated limbs, little more than sockets held together by stretches of sinew, hung laxly beside a corrugated torso, like wax dripping from a misshapen candle. It smelled like a zoo, foul and intense. Then it made a strange sound, like a trillion bees trapped in a locked room, and when it finally exhaled a bronchial breath, words soon followed, the aged utterances of something beyond such petty concerns as life and death.

If this was a human language, it was like none Glenn had ever heard. The syllables the thing spoke bounced around the cramped cave, as if they were beasts crashing against a cage’s interior, powerfully seeking an exit. Glenn felt his psyche flinch from the sound and wondered whether his girlfriend outside might think a minor earthquake was occurring. But then he recalled how much she knew about this event; she’d been here before, after all, and would surely expect a violent trauma in this tiny, isolated part of the planet. Indeed, everything she’d told him was true: a god of desire, a master of rage, a spiritual advocate of every furtive taboo you or anyone else has ever considered … This figure now sat in front of him, booming some message Glenn was unable to comprehend.

He flicked his glance from the creature, from its unreal face and stirring limbs. Then he found himself looking once more at the moon capping that hole in the cave’s ceiling…but now it had begun moving away, sliding further across the gap, its left edge parting from the makeshift lip. Seconds later, sensing a shriek of terror building inside him like the presence of something infinitely more dangerous than mere sound, he fled from the spot he’d occupied, in full view of that horribly bony entity, which had thundered out incomprehensible words, its flesh beginning to tremble and writhe.

While heading again for the exit—that damp, snaking tunnel—he thought he noticed in his peripheral vision the figure depart with the moon that had brought it, but he lacked sufficient confidence to conduct a proper assessment. He simply wanted to get back outside, safe in the arms of Lily, someone who’d once experienced by proxy the horror he’d just endured. The creature’s manifestation—its long-lasting effects—had altered her life forever, and this had surely been to the good.

As Glenn re-emerged from the underground layer and took hold of his waiting girlfriend, who simply smiled that knowing smile, he couldn’t help wondering how it would all go for him.

 

“So come on, Glenn, tell me what you saw in there.”

He’d already decided that he’d suffered some kind of pot-induced hallucination in the cave; that was a rational interpretation, the only explanation that made sense now that his emotional engagement in the event had diminished.

But Lily didn’t want to hear such a humdrum account. Laid beside him in their tent, her eyes sparkled and her lips trembled. Her whole body, dressed only in knickers and a feminine vest, seemed to shake with imminent revelations.

When they’d arrived back in the campsite, it had been raining heavily, and this had provided Glenn with a perfect excuse not to stop and talk until he’d got his recollections into some kind of order. At the tent, he’d stooped and pushed aside all their goods inside—including that heavy mallet—before encouraging his girlfriend to enter, with him quickly bringing up the rear. Then, after stripping off their wet clothing, they’d sat and ate sandwiches until Lily, with scarcely suppressed eagerness, had refused to tolerate the silence by asking her plaintive question.

Glenn looked at her, still struggling to reconcile what he’d witnessed inside that cave with the uncomplicated way he’d always lived his life. He’d rarely done drugs, at least not hard ones, and the last time he’d suffered a bad dream was maybe five years ago, while studying for exams to qualify in his profession. But…was there something deeper in his existence, something of which the thing he’d seen less than an hour earlier had been a subconscious symbol? Yes, this was surely now about him; the entity lurking in that shadowy place, a vision conjured from inaccessible memories and sustained by perverse captivation, had tried telling him something, the way it had communicated a life-transforming message to his girlfriend’s father, fifteen years ago. The creature was certainly delusional, but no less true in its meaning.

Lily was growing increasingly impatient. “Come on, tell me,” she said, and immediately scrabbled off the floor like an insect, swung one leg over his body, and then straddled him like a deadweight. She pressed her groin against his exposed boxer-shorts and lifted his hands to cup her pert breasts beneath her vest. Then, her voice no less insistent, she said slowly and surely, I…want to…know.”

“What…what do you want to know?” Glenn replied, becoming aroused despite the bullish way she always tried getting what she wanted from him.

“Everything,” she said, her tongue darting in her mouth like some forked appendage. “Describe it to me. Include every detail. Make me feel as if I was there.”

Perhaps he could do better than that; as his hands strayed higher up her body, sliding gently around her throat, he sensed a tormenting part of himself, one newly awakened by circumstance, wrestle to his surface, making his flesh burn with unrest. He recalled his cloistering mother and distant father, the psychopath who’d never actually stalked him in his childhood bedroom, and all the nightmares that had dogged him until later life…And why did he now feel so angry about it? Whatever the truth was, he soon began to speak.

“I saw it, Lily. I saw every part of it. It was hideous and yet…strangely beautiful.”

“More,” she said, pulling her arms away from his chest, snapping her hands behind her back, and then running fingers blindly down his pinned-down legs. “More more more.”

“Oh, the way it smiled—it looked like you, but far more insidious, as if it understood everything about the world and so many other terrible secrets.”

“What? What does it understand?”

By this time, Glenn sensed himself improvising, abandoning all his usual neutral logic and professional distance. He felt one of his girlfriend’s hands sliding between his thighs, grappling for the sensitive nest below her own pubic area. Maybe the other would soon follow. Then, deepening his vindictiveness, he said, “It knows all about us, Lily. It knows about bestial people.” Now intuition took complete control of him, a combination of both his occupational experiences and every nebulous thing he’d ever suspected since childhood. “It understands that everything that happens to us has consequences and that no significant event can ever be overruled. It knows that functioning in everyday life involves suppression of desire, and that perversion is just blocked engagement. It realises that interaction with others is the most important aspect of our lives, and yet also the arena involving most risk. And it told me—yes, told me—that…that…” Just then, Glenn remembered that terrible noise in the cave, the sound of an earthquake taking grip, and that was when he finished, “… that buried secrets can be released.”

“At last it’s free,” said his girlfriend, having already tugged his erect penis from his shorts and shoved aside her knickers to enable rough entry. She’d done all this with one hand, and when Glenn jerked up, thrusting her backwards, he used both of his to search the area around them, the chilly groundsheet of the tent.

But it was too late.

She already had the weapon.

“And now I am, too,” she declared, raising the heavy mallet Glenn had used earlier to knock in those lethally sharp tent pegs, before bringing its head down firmly upon his face.

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