3LBE #5
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Murky’s Tales

Stories of Murkales Mannion, The Reincarnator, concerning the twelve Ancient Signals of the Zodiac, the Great Wars of Correction and other matters

by D.F. Lewis

 

Tokkmaster Clerke (Aries)

Tokkmaster was a warmonger, but he could never seem to find a war to call his own, until…

From his enclave, he had heard rumors of all American Thumper Monsters coming in from every quarter; his sleep of ages was disturbed by the approach of their giant underwheels bouncing along the hillock lands, even before the actual attack became imminent. He fumed and fretted to ready himself for what he thought would be the battle to end all battles, the one to keep History in check, to keep it intact, in fact — for if false battles defeated true battles, then there was no hope for humanity to survive the excesses of time out of kilter. And Tokkmaster Clerke was one who could brook no Confusion.

Stationed as he was on a Mount south of a London that had not yet been built, not even yet thought of, let alone capitalized upon, by a caucus of lost tribes scraping a living outside the margins of what most of us call reality, Tokkmaster could see the distant dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, curdled by a mist that was either real weather or just an unaccountable symptom of time gone awry.

Tokkmaster, as he waited to discover anything he could do to support the cause of what he considered to be the Inevitable, had a waking dream of one called Dat al Cursa who, for all he knew, was a previous incarnation of himself or, more bewilderingly, a future such. And this Dat al Cursa taught him that time was a holy force more real than anything recorded in the Old Bible, a righteous energy that had been so mucked about with by all and sundry causing Anger to be nurtured out of next to nothing (and, not surprisingly, Wars) along its churning, tentative motor nerveways; and from between the mischievous angles of its little and big hands, came those who knew nothing but the wreaking of vengeance…

Shivering like someone left in a Time zone in which nobody had lived for a least a thousand overbleak winters, he lost sight of what he had been staring at, it seemed, since birth: the building of the distant dome… the birdlike creatures that, from moment to moment, flocked in and flocked out in uncountable numbers, bringing religious stones and statue ingredients to form the mighty edifice that, one day, would center upon itself a vast complex of markets… the breaking of that dome by even bigger birdlike creatures, whose wings were more noticeable than their bodies, whose claws stretched from county to county like a vision that deserved no credence.

Tokkmaster shuddered. Dome up, dome down, for a day… or was it an eternity of entropies? Others, similar to him, squatted by his side to hear his words… but none were uttered, only grunts, only wordless threats. He had a massive file as imposing, no doubt, as the shimmering starclaws that hovered above him where the sun should have been. That file was rutted with staircases of hardest, crudest iron and he ground it upon his skull, up and down, with a vigor, rifting, riving, splintering the brain that ridged up in inflammations of skull-temper.

“Ram it home!” he screeched.

That was the purest anger of all.

He rasped the mighty crenellated file upon his own dome, but the fever in his brain did not allow him to relish his own pain.

The all-American Thumper Monster when it reached Tokkmaster’s Mount did not beak and claws tangled upon each other, overeager to overreach themselves towards that Anger they sought for themselves — but the Anger was off fighting in another war somewhere else than never.

Murkales rested. The night was yet young. And he had only just begun. He told the moral of his first tale before passing onto the next:

“Time needs careful filing, for confusion waits in the wings to predominate…”

 

Ervin Tourner (Taurus)

When I first met Ervin Tourner, he was on the point of becoming a banker in the City of London. Unicorn, Capella Inc. was the name of the firm, I think. I must tell you about him, really, to get him off my chest.

He sat next to me on an underground train and just started prattling. The first thing I found out about him was his childhood; apparently, he didn’t speak at all for the early part of his life and has said very little since; he told me the fact that I was the first person with whom he found it easy to string together a sentence; and all I had to do was nod. But, as you can imagine, I was a trifle worried that a complete stranger had seen fit to tell me tantamount to his whole life story on a short journey below the City streets.

Coincidentally, we were both due to alight at St. Paul’s station; he took my arm as we rode the up escalator together, as if we had been long acquainted. I did not have the wish to tear myself loose, for I felt a strange tinge of joy at his steadfast presence. It was as if I had met my earth father, one who would be able to look after me. When he told me about the forthcoming position in Unicorn, Capella, I metaphorically rubbed my hands at the thought of the waterfalls of money that any City job — back then — cascaded from the coffers that they had kept at the top of those tall buildings surrounding and hiding the imposing dome of the cathedral.

We kept appointment that evening in a local hostelry called the Bull and Neck, where we could be sufficiently nondescript amid the roistering City workers in their wind-down mode. (Strange that they had any time off at all seeing that the global financial markets never closed, never opened — just fed like beasts off each other’s udder). We could not speak for the noise, but that did not seem to matter. I looked into his eyes — which were as deep as wells. He looked into mine which seemed to create sucking feelings at the back of them, which was even pleasant.

He took me home to his flat. He was speaking few words now, but I gathered other facts of his life; he came from south of Croydon originally; as a child, a caul, like a fine lady’s veil, had sat upon his face making it seem an image on an old wonky black and white TV; when the words came, however, his features had started to show through.

I took off my blouse, without asking him first. I was surprised I had done this, for my mother had always told me that my body was sacrosanct; my husband would have to dig for the treasure through several layers of womanly wear and even he would never see the two jewels hidden under a golden brassiere that had been riveted to my bosom by that cleverest doctor who had brought me into the world in the first place; but, tonight, I only wore the blouse above the brassiere. He still did not speak nor show any feelings beyond indifference. I lowered my skirts for him to see that I was as natural down below as if I had just been born. I allowed him to put his whole arm in… But he did it as if he was gutting a chicken, as far as he could go; I believed my mother, then, that men certainly do not have romance… However, I knew my two valuablest jewels were safe beneath the golden brassiere. Nothing could breach those shining cups that were built into my very breastbones.

Later in the evening, he showed me a leather-studded jewel-box. He said it was more valuable than anything it could ever contain. It had been passed to him, father and son, from an ancient Duke who had called it the Casket of Baal. It had been hammered, he told me, from the udders and wombflesh of a thousand cattle.

Open it, I indicated, please open it.

He showed no emotion as he clicked it open with his tongue… and, as he ran his fingers through its costly contents, he seemed to have further loosened up his speech vessels, for he prattled of mumps, croup, quinsy, mastoids, scrofula, goiters and sore throats…

He must have been a magician, too. For, to my horror, at the bottom of the casket, beneath a most wondrous clutch of diamond-drops, were the two valuablest jewels, to me, anyway.

I fled on shaking legs, dragging my blouse and skirts behind me like a bestormed washing-line.

I no more travel those long underground tunnels beneath the City streets. For all I know, he still works at Unicorn, Capella Inc.

I later found a new job in an office where I sat near a window overlooking the wondrous dome I had once yearned to see. But now it meant nothing amid all the other tawdriness with which I was beset.

I still wonder how that Ervin Tourner pilfered my nipplestones, from under my nose as it were, in such a blatant, devilmaycare fashion. My golden brassiere is still well and truly upon my gorgeous breasts, or what used to be my gorgeous breasts, I suppose.

I will never find out the trick of his trade. I can’t even seek advice from my mother, for she died so long ago.

 

Murkales finished and looked knowingly at those who listened.

He told the moral with a wry smile on his lips:

“That man who knows the ways of a woman is rich.”

 

Nial Hopper (Gemini)

Nial Hopper was a wayward sort of character, always killing two birds with a single stone, one of those members of the light-fingered gentry who haunted the corridors of the media, full of monkey shines and seemingly busy as a cranberry merchant.

But he certainly came a cropper one day, which many of you may still remember, perhaps, rather unlikely though… for those who don’t recall, let me remind you…

He was once a celebrated chat show host on satellite TV, had a big following, he did… if nothing else, he was a good communicator, a mouth with a bagfull of tricks… a household name, he was, the man with all the rumors, all the puckish smiles, a real handy-andy of the airways, quickly turning his tongue to anything — and I mean ANYTHING.

Nobody could get an angle on him. For he was already a gossipmonger to beat all gossipmongers at their own game. For all anyone could find out, he was as pure as a virgin’s tear duct. Everybody KNEW his tongue was hinged at the middle — but to prove it, you'd have you’re work cut out, as well as some of your lung tissue.

… until that particular day of which I speak. How do I remember and you don't? Well, have you head of brainwashing? My head’s a tumble-drier all in itself AND my brain got a washing as good as anybody's. BUT I kept a bit of brain away from the suds at the top of my skull, squashed to the underbone like a wadge of half-used chewing-gum… That’s where I keep my memories of Nial “WayUpInTheAir' Hopper.

Imagine the opening of his show; “IT’s THURSDAY NIGHT SEVEN PEE EM AND HEEEEERE’s HHHHHOPPER…”

And he would hop hop hop on to the studio floor like an aged pooftah trapeze-artist, gazing at his flies to ensure they’re still zipped up and then glinting at the camera like a fairy straight out of a children’s popup book.

“Well, I do feel shamed, really shamed,” he would say. And the applause would echo on, echo on. Then he would release a clutch of literary allusions — which he had learnt by rote to seem bookish. Then a few risqué jokes, to show he’s still one of the lads, if he ever was. Then I would turn off, In case I couldn’t turn it off later once he'd really got going…

That particular night? Well, that was the one occasion I didn’t turn off. He let it all slip. He let it out of the bag. He shook out all the salt and pepper from the cruet, till the whole dinner was spoilt. Told us that the world was not quite as we thought. London was not really London at all. St. Paul’s Cathedral was really the center for some devil-cult worshipping a twin-god called Bashti-Beki. If we went out of our houses that very moment, we would catch large slimy creatures with bony wings gnawing at things they'd found in the gutters… They could also use the TV aerial as a toothpick as they roasted on the roofs against the gibbousing moon. New forms of reality would soon be set in motion by factors far beyond our brains’ capacity to understand. Wars of Correction were being fought across the continents of the world, hand to hand mauling in the main, but with paranormal skirmishes already forming beachheads around them as they fought. Reality was becoming unreal, Unreality real. Which was which was his job to say…

And with that he disappeared from the screen. He just disappeared. And episodes of Coronation Street seemed to have been going on forever… instead.

A black figure arched above my armchair, like a canopy, so I couldn’t follow the plot on the TV. A long tongue, with a hinge, probed my mouth, as if it wanted to get into the very inside of my skull.

At that point, Murkales excused himself to go to the smallest room (where he said he'd left something), but not before telling the moral of his third tale:

“He who hides a bit of himself away to stop others getting to it, may himself never find it again and, even if he does, not recognize it as his.”

 

Peter Jeffery (Sun of Cancer)

Murkales returned, only to find that his audience had doubled since his absence. He doubted whether he could do justice to such attention, but after taking a deep breath, his tales spun on…

Peter Jeffery is the only fictitious character in my tales. But, at least, I think he must exist somewhere this side of the Moon, someone like him always does; but it’s a question of finding the correct precinct of reality.

In fact, there may be thousands of Peter Jefferys dotted along the alternate parallel lines of possibility, verging on probability and tangibility now and then…

Somewhere he is a tavern-lord, serving flagons of moistness to those too dry; or a laundry-man stretching billowing flags across the narrow streets of a dark city; or a huckster shopkeeper, selling smokes, pots noodle and groceries by the dozen; or one purveying shellfish between the tall, leaning boat-houses of some godless seaside town; or, in his feminine mode, a scrub-woman touting scrawny cauliflowers, lettuces, melons and mushrooms to the fallen gentry of an even godlesser inland city…

But the Peter Jeffery I know, the one I'm sure I do know, is he who lives with an ass in a corner house facing north. And to its south, there is the largest lake that can be imagined by man, called in some quarters the Moonstone Sea, but from other more dependable sources I’ve since found that its real name is the Lake of Canopus. Jeffery’s long, thin allotment of a back garden led down to the lake’s edge where, once, he had drowned his Mutter for tear of catching a particularly virulent form of gastric catarrh from which she suffered. But then the lake was never the same afterwards — perhaps Murkales’ moral for this tale will be: “The rottingness that Life is, finds no cure in Death, only dissemination and cross-germination…”

To cut a long story short, for all my tales will only find space on the flyleaf of others’ books, Peter Jeffery, when just a slip of a lad, decided he would grow a beard to hide his face. But, when he was older, it grew anyway, of its own volition.

And cutting it even shorter, come one Christmas morning, he would lead his aged ass down to the once virgin mere which still lapped to and fro across his cauliflower patch. They would both look into the alluring surface of the relinquishing inland waves and see a strange vision of themselves; and which the ass, which the man, neither would know.

And it was that vision in the lake which told the story I'm here to tell.

The man garbed the ass in rich church vestments stained with the Menses of Our Lady. And he led the beast from the Lake of Canopus toward a large city where a huge domed cathedral loomed across the makeshift terraced housing gridding out around it. He pulled the ass unwillingly into the heady incensory darkness of the cathedral’s belly and, finally, to the altar where they both knelt in simple prayer.

Through some unaccountable miracle flashpoint of coincidences, the ass was ordained Bishop of the dark city — the congregation flock believed it bore the long teeth of a relic Christ.

Peter Jeffery returned to the corner house facing north… backing south. The lake had drifted on in time — and the end of his long, thin garden was curtained with mist for ever more.

He sat on at his window day-dreaming of being that huckster shopkeeper. And, at night, he would scratch at his huge hairy balls, as a fitful sleep told him further lying dreams.

Murkales forgot to tell a proper moral to his tale, or maybe it was so difficult to understand, even he could not simplify it with a nifty axiom; but one in the audience who evidently thought he understood it all piped up with one: “The Ox knoweth his owner, but the Ass his master’s crib.”

 

Abraham Bintiff (The Sigp of Leo)

The crater of ravens… pardon me, let me explain. In the center of the Dark Lands, as far from the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral as it is possible to get, where even the tribes did not roam, was a crater as large as any on the moon… and, across its wide mouth, whirred and shuttled the shimmering blackness of countless birdcritters, so intrinsically timed that wing always missed wing, claw dodged claw, beak crossed not with beak, but no space shoved between them…

One among these blotted raveners was called Corvus which, none knew how, had a metal hood upon its crest, spurs to match its curlicue claws and proud breastpins, all made from the purest gold ever mined by man or alien.

There will be a time, none knows exactly when, ordained for Corvus to leave the park (thus, no doubt, opening up a cancerous emptiness in the very center of the crater’s heavy humming) and it will glide, as big as a condor, over the ruined pavilions of the Dark Lands, where gambling had once thrived in the Oldest Days, but now only the fireplaces are left standing like blackened teethstumps.

Abraham Bintiff, one who aspired to a chivalrous sort of Samson image, ground his teeth as he put his shoulder to the walls of the palace…

But the golden turrets did not budge, not even an inch. He cursed, sat down in the hot sand, and picked at his toes. He'd always wanted to be a hero warrior… but his salamander brain could pot cope with the body that had been leased to it by a landlord called God. It squirmed about inside Abraham’s massive skull like a wild worm, launching aneurysms and synapses into the spinal marrow as if it were a little boy racing twigs from the dream bridges of yesteryear…

When such absurdities reached the heartwood of his soul, Abraham would twitch and tumble, like a berserker fiend from Hell, pulling out his lifeline for all and sundry to see… clawing at his eye sockets to get to the thing that tormented him from within.

Ladies would blanche at the sight of the vivifying orange of his pubes, as he resorted to a gorgeous exhibitionism that would have been so out of character: it was as if the brain now bad really taken over…

Eventually, the wild worm ended up at the crease of his arse, having finally expended its energy in a leonitica of blood-sucking and bone grinding. Escaping the fleshly confines of Abraham Bintiff, it left him behind as an inert pestilence in the choleric breeze that came off those barren plains surrounding the Dark Lands…

… only itself to be pecked up by a hungry birdcritter called Corvus… before the brainbirth could call its life its own.

Murkales turned pompously to his audience and enunciated the moral that all had already guessed:

“The early bird plucks the worm…”

Boos ensued… then the booze was cracked open for a welcome interlude in Murky’s Tales.

 

Stripling Welham (Virgo)

Stripling Welham, as you all know, was a lavatory-man, not the sort who looked for spiders in your waste products to see how ill you were, but one who collected such stuff from those tanks serving as depositories before water closets were invented.

He had a stinkcart pulled by his lifelong steed called High-Damoner, and Stripling’s friendly presence was often smelt before the clatter of the wooden wheels on cobbles was heard… in those strange far-off days that few can now recall.

But, not only that, he was a caring man. Once the turds were poop-scooped into his shit pans, he would take them home to examine more closely, not to find, as I have already said, the bugs and more faceless germs that seemed to make their home in some of the more unhealthy clutches of big-lots he collected from the best end of town, but to derive a message for life as we knew it from the purer, harder versions garnered from the poorer districts of Dormitory Town, along Destination Street and so forth. (Any new arrival in the town could easily tell where Stripling’s latest hideout was, not necessarily from the heady stenches that could almost be seen emanating visibly from his overgrown chimney, but from the flocks of stool-pigeons roosting on his ridgetree roof.)

His great maxim in life was, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” Which is a shame really, for that was to be the moral I was going to lay on you at the end of my tale. Anyway, he would line up his collections along his work bench and meditate upon their shape, color and offure. He would extract any foreign bodies, such as prophylactics, worms (of the thread-, tape- and book- varieties), intestinal veins and seeds that he unaccountably called “spicas” (and what they were we shall never now know, for I fear the likes of Stripling Welham is long gone). These cast-offs he would throw to his dog Harris…

Then he would insert his eye-glass and examine every crevice for some mandala, pattern or zodiac of life, the universe, everything. He would insert a fingertip to the softer parts of their sausage-lengths and, tentatively, put it to his tongue for a further testing. He would even put his ear to them, to see if any air bubbles were popping in some arcane rhythm that only he could understand. If no message was forthcoming, which was more often the case, he would idle the rest of the day carving domed cathedrals from the hardest specimens, with many of which he used to decorate his bedroom.

And so to my tale.

One day, Stripling had gathered such a cartload of extritus, a veritable shit mountain, he called it… His work bench sagged with the weight of a wonderful array of the primest bogsteaks he had ever seen… in all shapes, sizes, smells and various shades of brown (some were even colored cinnabar or golden orange)…

I don’t know whether he had a brain fever, or whether it was all foreordained by the very sense formulations and structures he was now studying (a lot of faeces, as it were), but he suddenly took the whole joblot and, as if he considered himself Master of the New Clay, he molded out of it one vast, overtowering vision of Our Lady holding a seed wheat in one hand and a blossoming branch in the other. He then massaged an apple-shape from the left-overs, and stuffed it into his mouth — the temptation had at last been too great.

His dog found him lying beneath that melting statue which was now fast becoming nothing but an image of a misshapen tree.

Who cleared out Dormitory Town’s tanks, thereafter, only the ghosts could tell.

Murkales looked embarrassed. His tale had certainly gone over the top with most of the audience. But, who can deny that he must always tell the truth and no amount of euphemism could hide that. He did end with a moral, however, but whether it was the one he originally intended I somehow doubt:

“To the pure, all things are pure.”

 

Sinecure Wabbit (Libra)

My nominal hero for this tale vas to be Sinecure Wabbit, but he hasn’t turned up for pack drill. he’s off sick.

So, being Libra, this can be the pivot or fulcrum tale, balancing all in the Scales of Destiny…

First, the prologue.

I’ve been sitting here, listening to myself giving out rumors that should hardly be able to be believed especially by a well-respected teller of tales, such as I. After all, who’s ever heard of our good and proper reality being subject to… what did I call them… Wars of Correction? Brains that start up a life of their own and try to escape from goodly people’s heads? Honest men of the City pilfering nipplestones from a lady’s most sanctimonious retreats? The carving of hardened excrement — a new hobby for the working man, better than homing pigeons by half — well, I ask you! Let me get down to a right old-fashioned judgement on the subject…

Sinecure Wabbit has arrived, better late than never, breathless as a kidney instead of a lung. His whole demeanor was conciliatory, appealing to my better nature (but as it was better, it couldn’t have been mine at all). He complained of lower back pain, that’s what delayed him, he said. I accepted his excuse graciously, but asked him on what platform he was appearing…

“Mathematics! Accountancy! My game is figures, each decimal point, each sprog and infy of them!”

He reminded me of a man I once knew who took a huge file to his own head to make it into a point, because he was so angry with the pointlessness of life…

I thought Wabbit must be suffering from Bright’s Disease, when he went on to say:

“Two plus two equals four, we all know that, but…”

“The truth is always the strongest argument — so, pray, proceed,” I responded.

We were walking across a septic creek near unto a turn of windmills, but we may as well have been strolling arm in arm through the West End along an arcade of beauty shops, for all the notice we took of our surroundimgs.

“There is a City,” Wabbit continued, “that existed before the Wars began, in which a mighty cathedral was said to center itself, like a child settling into his first desk at infant school…”

“Yes?” My foot had nearly got stuck in a saw-pit, where a number of bear skulls were littered about, but I continued, regardless, munching on an unbuttered hot cross bun that I had packed myself for lunch.

Wabbit’s speech was unbroken: “All the books showed that cathedral without a dome, but handsome being as handsome does, it grew one, just like that, without history even recognizing the fact…”

“Yes?” We had now entered an overgrown lane that passed a number of straggling barns, from which the noise of what sounded to me like giant birds brooding emanated.

Wabbit never stopped talking: “So with this one dome in place, having been laid upon its own version or reality, it needed another…”

“Why?”

“Because… well, because… isn’t it obvious?… if there’s only one of something, there’s no symmetry…”

And with that, he hobbled off, leaving me alone in the middle of what looked like nowhere, between the Cross and the Crown…

And so to the epilogue of my tales which, if you like, is just a glorified moral:

“If you’re susceptible to doubt, if your foresight is such it can easily be mistaken for hindsight, gather up all the ingredients of mankind real and unreal, as represented by my tales, sow them in the bed of justice and watch them grow through hingeless boxes into bridal-chambers or crossing places of love and love… seeking symmetries they hope to fulfil.”

 

Baron Harch (Scorpio)

When Baron Harch died, he was said to be seen riding upon a cherub into the upper skies of his domain.

Harchwee, that very domain, had been named after the dynastic progeny of which the Baron was one. Legend said that. Judas Iscariot had been the original forefather but, as the history books pointed out, this could not have been true for Iscariot did not have the vherewithal. In any event, this dynasty was no different than most, in being eventually beset with virulent venereal diseases that good as stanched the progress of male/female births and was effectively starting to dry up those from male and male.

When a child, the Baron had played in low gardens by sluggish streams; and his hands, fingers decked with the dead sphincters of now forgotten ancestors, would drift idly among the pond weed, mindlessly dallying with the tapeworms that were bred amid the streams’ undertow before being inserted into children’s bowels for further incubation…

The Baron’s boyhood companion was one called Isidor who told tales of being an offshoot of another dynasty, one that had been decimated by Wars that those who wrote the history books had conveniently forgotten. He spun yarns of the dauntless men and women who had seen fit to become like unto racketeers, hoodlums and scavengers… but this had only been a disguise, a decoy, for they retained their eagle eyes below hoods and just waited for the opportunity to employ their strong, deft healing touch in the furtherance of penetrating the frail humanities beyond the end of time itself…

Isidor said that all his forebears had been surgeons, practicing upon each others’ bodies, sometimes all at once, like a mountain orgy of severed limbs, dissecting privities writhing and knotting together, bladders sucking bladders, groins grinding on groins. Their skills became so great, the whole gamut and gangland of living corpses enacted mutual operations, fit to make them into just a quagmire of blood-riddled, pulsing flesh heaps.

The young Baron would stare at this starveling Isidor, disbelieving the crazy purgatory of which he told.

“And if they were such clever surgeons, Isidor, why did the dynasty die out? Some form of cannibalistic dysentry?” The Baron squealed with laughter at his own wit.

“No, it did not die out. I'm living prove of that. They sought not death, but lifelessness.”

And Isidor’s nude privities (at which the Baron had been staring throughout the conversation) suddenly took flight on distended scrotum sacks, flapped up, up, up into the blue skies like a wintering bird of prey. This was no doubt evidence of the unnatural surgery to which Isidor had been subject, before being fostered… foisted off on Harchwee.

Isidor pointed to the wheeling of his rebel bodypart in the otherwise empty skies, as if it were some form of uncanny alibi…

Judas Iscariot kissed Christ in the low garden but not before whispering:

“It’s only in Resurrection that you will truly understand the love I have for you.”

Murkales muttered something the audience could catch. Whether it was vital to the understanding of his eighth tale, we may never know, but the moral was clear enough:

“There is no home for disease in Death.”

 

Blasphemy Fitzworth (Sagittarius)

BlasphemyFitzworth, as you well know, sold cat’s meat from his barrow in mid-Victorian London; his customary cry of “Gout cat! Spout cat! Watch their Whiskers sprout!” would echo round the streets when I was a little girl.

I used to follow him, in my pinafore, along with a troop of other girls and, shame to say, we used to mock him and run our filthy hands through the sticky strands of his merchandise. But he always had a supply of smiles for the likes of us — he sometimes called me Pansy or Lettuce; I don’t know who he got me muddled up with.

Well, come the Jubilee, he'd been a regular feature of our Destination Street it seemed for the whole of my life. But no cry came that morning. At first, lying in my truckle bed, I did not notice the absence; I just felt beyond myself that something somewhere was awry. Tales had gone on amongst us girls in Feemy’s flock that he was not really a human being at all, that he was a traveler of all times and worlds but, in those days, nobody had heard of aliens and stuff like that.

I just stroked my cat Gianser, for whom I was meant to buy Feemy’s meat, but my mum and dad usually got hold of it first and dressed it up for supper… My mother had both hips dislocated and her husband was always off “slaying dragons,” or so he said, with his “trusty spear.” So not much money came our way, only the bits and bobs that Feemy gave me in change.

Therefore, I felt some responsibility for the welfare of the cat’s meat man and, knowing he was always complaining about his liver, I feared that this organ, the nature of which I then did not understand, had at last given up the ghost. My innocent girlish concern was not very understandable either.

I grabbed Gianser and hugged him to my empty chest, kissed him goodbye; and he gave a dry lick to my thighs as I pulled on my knickerbockers: he always did that to see if he could lap up my warts.

I trudged through new-fallen snow, early this year; my father had evidently been down the alleyway already for I saw his footprints leading in the same direction as I.

I had never been to Feemy’s abode before, but I knew from his various tales, that it was called Mowsle Barton, somewhere toward inner Hackney.

I was a boisterous little kid most of the time, but that morning there was something impending which seemed to stanch my natural joy. As I approached the tall chimneys that were once the property of a large house, with several wings, but were now fast becoming just another factory complex, I realized that I was utterly lost.

I had long overtaken my father who I had seen showing off in front of some of his cronies, pretending he was a horse and whipping his own backside with a small branch, as if he himself was the steed about to take him towards the brave crusades of which he'd always bragged. The cronies laughed out loud, but when they saw me their silent grins were nothing but missing teeth.

I wish I'd brought Gianser with me; he would have been able to sniff out Feemy’s abode.

I managed to get home, sad that I had not been able to locate Feemy. But my father did not return; my mother was so caught up with her ailments she forgot to notice either my presence or his absence; Gianser had disappeared too, which made me even sadder for I feared I would never see him again. All I could do was sleep.

I then had a dream, which is still going on.

I found Mowsle Barton, which was indeed the large house before it'd become a factory. I heard the resonant cry from within just like an opera-singer practicing:

“Gout cat! Spout cat! watch their Whiskers sprout!”

I managed to get in through a groundlight and wound myself through grids of corridors before I reached the source of the singing. There was my old friend Feemy Fitzworth, seemingly years younger, propped up in a four-poster bed, mending his cat’s meat as it he were knitting. Gianser was there too, with a cat smile so human I thought it must be me, but it wasn't; I was standing by the door, watching Gianser nibbling at Feemy’s curdled meat; I laughed out loud for it meant the knitting would never get any longer however hard he tried…

It was as if I had prepared what I had to say; Feemy had looked up at the sound of my girlish laughter and, seeing his dear face, I said:

“I'm your fairy God-daughter.”

Immediately, I felt my hips widen, my privities sprout whiskers, my chest grow a pair of women’s breasts so perfect in their symmetry I needed to fondle them myself.

And, with a decency that I still retain, I’ll leave you to imagine the rest of the dream.

Murkales smiled. The audience were relieved, far the tales had certainly taken a more positive tone. Whether he was saying something about the telling of the tale itself or something deeper within it, he finally gave out the moral:

“O! many a shaft, at random sent,
Finds mark the archer little meant.”

 

Padgett Weggs (Capricorn)

Padgett Weggs for most of his life, was cared for by his elderly mother. He spent all day in bed under a teetering wooden structure that he himself had built before getting into bed… the exact reason of which he quickly forgot, but he knew it was something about night creatures he thought clambered over the roof of the house.

His mother had visions. She was a God-fearing lady, so when a vision visited her she would kneel before it and pray that it was a message from that Being somewhere up in the sky Whom she so worshiped.

The most common vision was that of her son, beneath his creaking Contraption, turning into a goat before her very eyes, one leg doubled up under his body, head drooping, and terminating in the tail of a vigorous fish.

If she'd known that the vision was just a useful cosmetic to hide a truth: her son masturbating — she would have prayed even harder, no doubt.

When King Winter at last arrived, the house, which had gaps in the ceilings and even bigger ones in its roof, could not withstand His irksome onrush. Padgett’s mother died of a pneumonic catabolism that shot from one side of her head to the other and back again, like a bullet trying to escape.

Soon after her death, she discovered that her God was not really called God but Dagon… but that’s another story.

Murkales rested his head between his knees, as if he couldn’t bring himself to go on. But, gritting his teeth, he continued.

There’s no rest for the wicked.

Padgett Weggs knew his holiday was over. King Winter had made sure of that.

At first, he resorted to further common sleep, hoping that he would never wake up. And during that last fitful sleep, he did in fact dream for the first time in his life.

He actually dreamt that there were NO malign great-headed bony birdcritters of night clambering over the roof trying to get at him. The world had in fact been Corrected (through the tireless efforts of several mercenary armies of realists) into one which had a sheen, a veneer of truth and common sense. But, deep within the dungeon of his soul, he knew better… but he did not know he knew better.

He decided to become a dosser. He left his bed and even the house, now knowing or thinking he knew that the world was a safe place… and he left during a temporary thaw In King Winter’s reign. He trudged to the City where a newly built St. Paul’s Cathedral acted as both Shadow and Dignity. He squatted at its foot, with a bottle of cider another dosser had given him (“Strange,” thought Padgett, “I seemed to frighten him into giving me this tool of the trade.”) and he sucked at the emptying bottle.

Padgett tried to sleep… to avoid noticing the scratching noises upon the mighty dome above him. The encroaching bitterness, coming in again off the skies, was soon really getting his goat, and his fishtail flapped violently…

Murkales must really have known Padgett Weggs well, for there were tears in his eyes as he finished the tenth tale. Evidently, he could not muster even one moral, so he forged straight on to the next hopefully lore uplifting tale…

 

The Reicarnator (Aquarius)

Man should be his own star,

This is a tale of me, myself, I. Murky Mannion, at your service, the Reincarnator, the Fallen God… the one who sits on your roof, preening his feathers, listening to all your dreams…

They say we are on the brink of an era: new times are mustering their forces along all our horizons, if we but raised our eyes to see.

I was born in a land called Desultory; lived out my youth at the foot of the dead volcano Catanak in a township called Parsimony.

At school, the teacher told us of steam trains, airships, ocean liners, electricity, broadcasting, nuclear power, space travel — a historic fantasy that only I disbelieved.

Beyond the blackness of the chalking-board in the classroom, I heard the clicking of one Uncle Hairlip, a boogie-man that my parents had laid on me to get me to sleep for fear of his coming. I'd managed, in my own mind, to get him locked up within the blackboard but, one day, I knew the teacher would let him out… if ever I put a foot wrong.

The classroom you would recognize from the fifties, ranks of those sloping belidded double-desks, etched with the memories of a thousand childhoods. The teacher stood at the front wielding a huge, snaking bull-whip…

We had art lessons come Thursday afternoons and I will tell you of one in particular.

I was doing a colorwash which I had entitled, in my naiveté, “A swan circling the Milky Way.” In fact, amid all the Impressionistic blotches, that I had managed to daub in my amateurish way, I could see the gliding whiteness giving the nod to each world that heaven contained.

The teacher was not amused… he thought HE was the art master. He taunted me with his little finger and threatened to tell my parents who would in turn tip off those who knew Uncle Hairlip…

 

They would send me on to another nearby township called Misericordia. For treatment, they said.

I was to go by train.

By then, steam trains had been invented; I could have no argument with that.

The station waiting-room was warm, compared to the spasmodic winds being funneled along the platforms outside. A gas fire hissed tentacles of heat across a white grid of bones in the corner of the waiting-room, over which I warmed my gloves.

Don Astaire was escorting me to Misericordia — they could no longer allow me out alone. He told me to stay in the waiting-room, whilst he went off to get the tickets clipped.

They'd told me the “treatment” was to get all the water out of my blood. How this would improve the way my brain worked, they never explained; nor did they really explain fully about Uncle Hairlip either when I was younger, so what could I expect?

I left the gas fire to hum on its own in the far corner of the waiting-room, and went over to the window to look out for the sight of my first steam train. I imagined it to be a mighty metal beast, with moving parts bigger than itself and great gouts of smoke blossoming with the wind.

But the glass in the window was itself steamed up. So, I began to fingerdraw visions across it, and amid the spaces I drew aside, I saw the dying swan upon a dying planet that orbited a dying God’s head…

But it was not God; it was someone outside the waiting-room staring in at me through the convolutions of my design. And it was not Don Astaire, my companion.

It was Uncle Hairlip, bits of his face drooling over other bits.

Murkales laughed. He had now evidently outgrown such childhood fears.

Apparently, Mount Catanak, the long dead volcano near Parsimony, had erupted violently before he could be put on the steam train to Misericordia, for some dubious purgative.

One way or another, the impromptu catharsis had arrived; in one flashpoint of time, Uncle Hairlip had become the man himself, in a form that could be contained or even regenerated into something greater still.

“Man is his own star, did I say? I leave you to judge. But the true moral is that the Wars of Correction are within Man himself.”

 

The Weirdmonger (Pisces)

My name is Impious Foote, the Weirdmonger, and I’ve come on Fish Day to tell you that Robinson Crusoe has nothing on me.

It may be a hoax, I’ll leave you to judge, but I am the only person alive. All of you out there are just figment of my vivid imagination. O, don’t get so distraught, it’s not as bad as all that.

I'm the Weirdmonger, as you well know, and every word I say immediately becomes a truth, a thing in itself, which you can see leaving my mouth flapping about, a bit its own devices.

I always remember the time my parents took me to the seaside. As a child, I had not been “told” that I was the Weirdmonger, so I took everything at face value. Mum and Dad wanted me to catch bigger than the pondfish back home, and they certainly thought the sea was big enough. To their eyes, it was a mass of holy water, all gathered in one place by the trawlermen of God. They did not seem to notice the oil slicks scumming its surface — but I did. No big fish there, I thought.

Even as a child, I had finesse. I carefully drew aside the blackened kelp like a curtain and viewed down to the very bottom of the sea where no subterfuge could skulk. There I saw the biggest eye I had ever imagined. With a salt-green pupil and blood-curdled whites.

I will always remember that eye staring up at me, as if saying, “Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men.” This was no pondfish. This was God who was also the Earth itself. No other alibi.

The dream, if that it was, finished there.

The oily sea and my dozing parents returned with a vigor I could not face.

Something had tried to suck out my soul, whether it had been dream or not. Something BIGGER than me!

Later in life, I took my medicine wagon from township to township across the desert from which the sea had withdrawn.

Standing on top of the wagon, having attracted a big crowd with my banter, I would throw a ball to little boys whom I had chosen from out the crowd; and when they threw it back, their souls came too. I sucked out their little minds and collected them within my own like goldfish in a bowl. I wanted to become bigger than He I'd seen long long before.

Parts of me still come racing from my mouth, like black flapping cassocks, but they’re only you and you and you… being born to the ambiguous ways of life. Take a look at yourselves in REAL mirrors; you’ll see you’re not what you seem at all: only wrinkled lobster golliwogs with nothing behind the eyes.

Murkales, or he who I had taken to be Murkales, evidently wished his set of zodiacal tales had ended with the one before, supposedly his own. Hope was a tone with which he hoped to have ended. No other alibi.

Impious Foote, the Weirdmonger himself, took over with the last moral of all:

“There can be no morals.”

But the audience had already gone.

 

 

D.F. Lewis was the recipient of the British Fantasy Society Karl Edward Wagner Award 1998. He was born 1948 in Walton-on-Naze, Essex. From 1966-69, he attended Lancaster University where he formed the Zeroist Group. Des loves listening to 20th century classical music and walking along Clacton sea front. He is married with two grown up children. DF Lewis has published over 1200 stories worldwide since 1987. He was five consecutive years in Year’s Best Horror Stories. He has stories in many prestigious literary journals such as Stand, Orbis, Iron, Purge, and London Magazine, in The Best New Horror vols. One, Two & Eight, and several honorable mentions in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Many stories in professional book anthologies. His acclaimed novella Agra Aska has been published in severely limited edition, now seeking new publisher. Visit him online at www.weirdmonger.com.


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ISSUE #5

April 2000

FICTION

ART