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Dark House Lane

by D.F. Lewis


After making a hash of the very last scrape of his bristly face, Pyke attempted to towel off the curds of surplus shaving-soap from his cheeks and jowls. But the magnifying mirror revealed a creamy teardrop left under the right eye. As his bath towel dropped to the lino like an empty mongrel, Pyke swaggered into the bosom of his family who were proceeding to demolish a breakfast as if it were the first meal they'd ever had. Mounds of back bacon steaming on the central platter, ringed with many hard-boiled goose-eggs. Spirals of fresh kidneys decorated a monstrously large china plate and in view of the lakes of blood in which these little indented morsels of offal sat, Pyke could tell they were rarer than their original bestial berths.

“Why didn’t you wait for me before starting? Where are your manners?” he asked.

A scrawny individual lifted up from a heap of honey-soaked waffles and looked daggers. Such impertinence was enough to make a father sink into sobbing. The tiny child in the distant high chair at the other end of the table (whom Pyke took to be his latest daughter and whose part in the breakfast seemed to be one more of supply than demand) was slumping to one side like a baby off the bone. She evidently loved Pyke dearly, as she wept at seeing her daddy so ill-treated by her siblings. She was so fresh to the world, too, the whole face being laced with slicks of what Pyke likened to cuckoo-spit. In fact, every member of his family looked decidedly peeky, as if their refineries were on the blink. Pyke’s wife forthwith made it crystal clear how upset they all were that their half-baked bristly brute of a father hadn’t volunteered to be a kidney donor. One creamy tear dropped to the plate and sizzled.

The phone rang louder than normal.

Ludicrously, for one split second, Pyke believed that must mean it was about to convey disastrous or, at best, bad news. He had a phone phobia even when not having one of his dicky turns (as his wife described his fits of depression). And, today, he happened to be having a right humdinger of trip into self-pity. In fact, his wife normally answered the damn thing — but, later that day, soon after the tetchy breakfast, she had departed upon one of her increasingly frequent shopping trips and Pyke’s first impulse was pointedly to ignore the ringing. But it became louder, if that were possible, and even more insistent. Could it be his wife ringing? Surely not. She knew how the phone unmanned him. Unless, of course, she had a mishap of some description to report. He plucked the handset from the cradle and held it as far away from his ear as possible. It buzz-sawed. Someone, he thought, was shouting wordlessly from inside a tightly nailed tea-chest of fibre glass stuffing. So, he replaced the handset with a flourish — evidently an obscene anonymous call. Then, jabbering in a language he himself didn’t understand, Pyke went off to make himself a nice cup of tea, before embarking on his own trip into town. And during his window-shopping, he assumed the wall around the window was hurting rather more than his head. By now, the bricks would be screeching in pain, if they had mouths. Instead, he did his level best to deputise.

If this weren’t real life, there may have been some point to banging his head against a brick wall. After all, it doesn’t often happen in real life, he thought. But for such an action to happen gratuitously, Pyke suspected himself of losing his marbles rather than imposition of unreality. But this was decidedly real life… unless all truths are merely made up. Pyke was hurting the wall with his head for no other reason than to prove the hypothesis of the phenomenon of the Will to self-infliction. However, if he were gaining pleasure from such intellectual considerations of his own masochistic act, then perhaps the act itself was not gratuitous assuming he fully expected to receive such gratification.

If the truth were known, the wall did not hurt at all. It began to look rather pretty, though, with those sprays of red flowers all over it. Pyke’s mouth was up a tree. The rest of him was in bed sleeping, with a dream fading beyond a specific wall of reality. Hovering above the tree was another mouth joined to a body bigger than anything Pyke could possibly imagine. The mind of any human being could only encompass sizes up to a certain degree of immensity. That was why eternity and infinity were often visualised as possessing no beginnings nor ends. True immensity, of course, did not even invite concepts of beginnings and ends. Such words were not even in the vocabulary of those who truly lived along the slipstreams of sizelessness. In fact, words of any description were irrelevant — they only cluttered and then buzz-sawed around like fast-emptying balloons of nothingness. These concepts were too big to enter Pyke’s mind, for one.

His mouth felt as succulent as a cannibal's. His eyes wept, as if the brain were raining inside. The tree and the two mouths lingered for a moment, then vanished with a popping of his ears. The sheer immensities stayed in his subconscious a little longer. He was dying for a drink. Two tongues somewhere in the universe sucked juices from each other’s troughs of flesh. But “somewhere” was too constricting a place. And somewhere deep inside himself, Pyke realised that he was too insignificant even to exist. Hence the creamy tear.

A wet Wednesday’s matinee to which nobody came — that was Pyke’s life. He therefore committed suicide to further the cause of its shortness. This he did by trying to revisit his own past beyond the trawling radius of memory and disappear up his own fundament which tended to happen to some babies in the old days before their umbilical skin was shorn off. Instead, however, he found himself cynically used as a body-bomb. When his mum and dad visited a gallery, the security men didn’t impound the squawky bundle of Pyke along with all the couple’s other paraphernalia. Babies were of course beyond suspicion. And being a modern art gallery, Pyke’s blasted viscera over the walls slightly improved the paintings. It was no wonder Pyke had been so suicidal in later life with parents who were terrorists. (And failed terrorists at that.) There was indeed fitful applause from the gallery-goers that Wednesday afternoon, but it was so long ago everybody forgot the minor triumph of Pyke’s remains, including Pyke himself. And at the confluence of Market Avenue, Dark House Lane and Temperance Street, there was an inn which was so popular the regulars came back as ghosts… and ghosts came back as regulars. The odd stranger or two pretended to come back as either or both and, if neither, even stranger.

Pyke became a stranger himself, one of those shadows that leant on lamp-posts. His ambition was to be a regular, drinking black stout from a straight glass, eyes front, soaking in the sidechat and emitting only small talk. He yearned to support the bar off his own back. To be given the responsibility of tippling with the best of them, call them locals, narrow men or what you will — this was a vision he should have dredged from sleep; but to be given it by staying awake was more than he could ever dream. His first day as a regular narrow man, he still felt as if he were a stranger. He glanced from side to side, admiring the heady atmosphere of the inn’s innards. Never had he witnessed such camaraderie and bonhomie on the hoof. The ghosts, regulars and other narrow men were drunker than lords a-leaping. Within some of them, he could actually watch the booze filter through their alimentary canals via the metabolic bilges and weed hatches.

Later, when a loose-limbed lovely of the opposite sex sauntered into the bar, he lost interest in all else. He tried to lose himself in her eyes, as she approached the bar and fall deeply in love — which he would have tried to avoid if he had known she might become his wife and mother of his ugly children, a wife intent on selling off all his organs for good causes. Yet, he need not have worried since he found she was a ghost in disguise. Stranger even than Pyke, of a sex not opposite but tangential. An irregular of the first water. He cried into his drink, which, in the circumstances, was not a bad idea, because his head was already going round faster than his neck. But, in hindsight, that made very little sense. He was rather relieved, therefore, not to be granted the luxury of hindsight.

Pyke’s one and only experience as a straight and narrow man ended rather abruptly, leaving someone like himself propped up by the lamp-posts again, as the limbs grew ever looser. Back home, following breakfast, h- is real self listened to the Shipping Forecast on the Home Service. The phone trilled forcefully. He was informed that someone close to him was close to death — and could Pyke come and replace the body? The shock of the news caused Pyke to leave the wireless switched on and to forget his topcoat despite the weather outside. His car couldn’t start first time. They very rarely did those days, specially a Klino with double de-clutching. Pyke rather loved this jalopy but, like most things one loved, he hated it quite a bit also. Eventually, however, Pyke roll-started it down the hill from his house and spluttered at breakneck speed into the main road at the bottom without daring to stop it…

Never had there been any trouble from this method of launching upon the arterial roads of London, but today he was out of luck. With merely one startling backfire, the Klino was hit broadside by a motorbicycle and sidecar. The man (Pyke thought it must be a man) who had previously been astride the snorting monster was one large black leathery creature of the Third Reich variety, sporting a black visor over the face fixed to an even blacker helmet. The passenger (Pyke assumed it was a woman) struggled from the buckled sidecar, a mass of padded duffle-coat and red wrinkly face poking from the hood. It looked as if one of the duffle-pegs had pierced her chest and she was finding it very difficult to breathe, despite what must have been a force nine gale. The ambulance, which had been called by an interfering loafer of indeterminate identity, took all three of them to the hospital… which was convenient since Pyke was due there in any case, to donate all his organs.

The walkie-talkie on board the ambulance sounded a mass of static to Pyke’s ears, but he managed to catch the words Bailey, Fisher and German Bight. The ambulance-bell sounded exactly like that of a telephone and, unaccountably, he wondered whether a ghost would be able to recognise its own erstwhile corpse. He felt a bit too dicky to care. The throat rasped like burnt bacon, as he forced out the croak of his voice in yet another plea for company. The jungle whined and trilled around him, as sensuous as it was frightening. It even sucked and belched. The bread fruit and seeping stagnancies of mulchy land were unpoisonous, he was certain. He was less certain of his own name. He laughed. He assumed he had been born here, other than he remembered scanning Tarzan comics as a child in an outlandish city somewhere to the north, but how he sensed the direction, let alone the memory itself, was a mystery to him. He did not know the word “amnesia” since, of course, there were no dictionaries in the jungle. He examined his body for tell-tale signs. A bruise here or a scar there, each had a story to impart. The dank heart of the jungle raged around and within. Heat was only relative. And, naturally, there was no comparison he could make. He simply loved such heat as his only companion, erotically dripping upon his skin — but through it all, he kept an ear pricked for rescue, even if “rescue” was not the way he visualised it. His baying screeches would surely not go unanswered forever. And, as he managed that thought, he horned his hands and hollowed for what he intended to be the last time. He had surely postponed despair for far too long.

The answer was plaintive, more a plea itself than a promise of a lick and a rescue. Higher-pitched than he had felt possible, even in his world of falsetto fear. It was an answer, nevertheless, and the face that peered through the green spears was straight from one of those sophisticatedly innocent paintings of Henri Rousseau that bedecked the outlandish city’s galleries. So innocent, yet so wild. So sweet, yet so unpredictable. So unknowing, yet certain and, indeed, proud of its place in such an expert painter’s vision. He knew the words to speak, but whence he had garnered them was as unfathomable as the apparent ability to get his tongue round them at all. “I'm glad you’ve come.” The other simpered, pulling her body forward, if “her” was the correct word: a pronoun without a real noun to delegate, since he probably dreamed her. He glanced at the seamless bread fruit hanging on her chest and smiled: they were no doubt delicious as they were “erotic” and quite unbearing of poison, he thought, recalling a blurred vision of his mother. Birth: the ultimate organ transplant. The length of Dark House Lane, the buildings are far and few between. It sounded almost like a poem. The two men staggered through the darkness, expecting the shape of Impwing Court to rear up at any time. Pyke was a bridegroom officially soon to be on honeymoon but had taken time off to accompany his best man to another party. The hotel at which the newly married couple were to stay that same evening was only three miles away in another quarter of the town, less dismal that the one through which the men now felt they were wading.

“Who told you about this other party?” asked Pyke.

“One of the bridesmaids.”

“Which one?”

“The dark-haired one — she was hiding behind me when the photos were being taken.”

“Why isn’t she coming?”

“She said she came last time and once was enough — you can only have one binge in a lifetime like those held in Dark House Lane.”

“Sounds a real limb loosener!”

“Sounds a shindig and a half, if you ask me.”

The groom and the best man forged on, oblivious of how the weather was becoming dirtier and dirtier. They were very much worse for wear, in any event. Abruptly, a giant shadow stained the darkness: it was the silhouette of an ocean liner in dry dock. There was a slit of flickering light where one of its funnels joined the rest of the bulk… but proved to be a damaged chimney of a large house on closer scrutiny. The best man remained in a blacker shade of hirsute, whilst Pyke, expecting him to follow, approached the door that had evidently been cut into the side of Impwing Court for those who were larger than men. The noise of stamping was too insistent to be dancing, thought Pyke. But he shrugged as the door entered him. The best man returned the way he had come, leaving Dark House Lane to its own devices and to better men than him. Meantime, he'd find the still virgin Mrs Pyke and pluck a fresh crop of widow’s weeds. And ugly children. But didn’t find her before he'd lost himself.

The blue china dolphin on the mantlepiece had morning upon its arched back like a shining wound. A man (who, by chance, had been the loafer who had witnessed the road accident) yawned into the room, walking. He had been employed by Widow Pyke because she was scared of nights. He had claimed he was ideal for the job: given free board, plus spending money: for him, the perfect stake-out and crash-out. Breakfast would come later, cooked by the daily to whom he chatted as she passed around the living-room with a stiff feather-duster. “How is she today?” he asked, both he and the daily knowing to whom 'she' referred. He had not seen the Widow Pyke since she retired early the night before, with a mug of hot cocoa held out in front of her like a holy steaming crucible. “She didn’t want breakfast this morning,” said the daily, “and she told me to take it back to the kitchen…” “That’s a shame.” “Yes, it certainly was, as I had coddled the eggs just to the right turn…” “Sit down for a while before you make mine — in fact, why didn’t you give me her refusals?” “You were still asleep when they were hot, and I didn’t want to disturb you after your long night.” The daily did not sit down, but prodded her duster at the mantlepiece. Later, when Widow Pyke had not descended the stairs by mid-afternoon, he broke into her bedroom — to find she had died a few seconds before. The mattress, he discovered, was chock-a-block with dead and live insects like desiccated human organs, crunching under her increasing deadweight. Widow Pyke, more strangely, had become a replica of the daily with whom he had passed the time of day earlier. He slumped into slumber, the impetus of which rolled him under the bed. He was so hungry by now that the food eventually dripping through the springs of the bed would have been just what the doctor ordered if it had not come too late. And so, the dream-loafer had been caught napping. Downstairs, the dolphin ornament collected the daily dust into its wound and, despite its frozen sculpturesque mien, it flopped more than it arched.

Meanwhile, there was no alternative to reality. And the Bo Peep Chippie was tucked away in the backstreets of a seaside town where, as Pyke approached it from the more frequented thoroughfares, he heard its oil sizzling even before its smell could mask the familiar ones thereabouts of sewer and seaweed.. Although amnesia didn’t help, he had gathered from some well-seasoned locals in a pub just off the prom that the particular chippie in question was famous for its tubs of mushy green peas as well as the primacy of its succulent haddock, the finger-sticking batter and choice french fries…

“French fries!” Pyke uttered, surprised at the terminology employed by such riff-raff.

“Riff-raff!” they retorted.

He quitted the pub in disgrace, since he had not stood a round of beers. The atmosphere could be cutwith a knife, but what could he have done? He only had enough loose change for a fish supper — and the drunkards had really set his mouth watering and his dentures clacking with choice descriptions of the chippie’s greasy wares. Feeling that he was being followed, Pyke tried to shake them off by going into a particularly wild choreography of blind alleys and back-doubles, to such an extent that he lost all sense of direction himself. But, then, he was greatly relieved when he heard the distant hiss of frying. To pursue a route by hearing was not so easy as it sounded. Often, he wavered off into the wafting savours of the sea; then back again into the effervescence of having his ears syringed by the legendary Bo Peep Chippie’s crackling, bubbling batter. Finally, the trail became stronger, as the tummy-turning aromas of fish done to a turn began to lead him by the nose. He was now so hungry, even his head felt empty. Lobotomised. Until, abruptly, he was mobbed by beer-breathy louts who robbed him merely of his loose change, leaving the fat wad of notes untouched in the same pocket. They scuttled off into the darkness, cackling of missed rounds.

As it turned out, the fish and chips were not as good as they were cracked up to be by smell or rumour. Perhaps that was because Pyke had lost his appetite as well as his loose teeth. Down in the mouth, he loafed around listening to waves bubbling on the shingle and the bleat of fish confused by the sea’s back-doubles. “The reason the dustbin men only collect the bins on Mondays is because all murders happen on Sundays,” the bubbles and the bleats told Pyke. He looked smug. Too smug. If it was possible to be too smug. Like being too bad. Surely, one could only be good or bad. The shades of each were self-contained. Righteous was a better word than smug, in any event. Whatever the case, Pyke had given the aura of being self-satisfied which, after all, was not difficult with very little self left to satisfy. “Do dustmen really empty bins only on Mondays?” a widow-weeded Mrs Pyke asked. Pyke’s reply was formulated after a longish pause, because he always engaged his brain-organ before opening his mouth and waggling his tongue amid the gurgling currents of his throat. If only other people looked before they swam. “You be surprised,” said Pyke, “in fact you can hear their distant clattering and hissing even now slowly getting louder.” Mrs Pyke checked her watch. It showed indeed one minute past midnight on a brand new Monday morning — which was gratifying in seeming to disprove one thing, at least, in what Pyke had said. Unless, of course, she was already a widow of a few minutes’ standing, the bubbling from the bath having already settled into deep silence…

The building in Dark House Lane looked to Pyke as if it had been literally drowned in antiquity. Memories flooded past his mind like the forgotten souls of his phantom children. Including the daughter who grew up with a stoop. The ridiculous thoughts were not that ridiculous, for just around the corner he had seen a statue of King Arthur. “How did they know what King Arthur looked like?” The Question drifted up into the sky like a watery balloon of lost breath. Evidently, Pyke was not alone. Indeed, the pavement was crammed with late shoppers and other loafers. None paid heed to him, but who could blame them: he paid less heed to them than they did to him. His wife had said he was a selfless man — or was it selfish — perhaps she intended more by selfless than met the ear. He entered the swing-doors. The commissionaire asked him what he was up to. He had taken one glance at Pyke’s garb and decided he was suspect. Once, Pyke had been in a pub when a dog padded in through the open door and did his business on the beer-stained carpet. Today, he felt like that dog.

The commissionaire looked smug when Pyke claimed to have an appointment with the chairman of the company. “You have an appointment here, sir?” he queried, accentuating the aitches, in his ex-serviceman voice. “Do you have a name, in that case?” Pyke cringed at the grease in the commissionaire’s hair, as he riffled through a big black book on his high desk. “Course I have a name,” snapped Pyke, “why do you ask when it’s in that book?” Pyke pointed towards the list of appointers and appointees, ending with a name that looked half right from his upside down point of view. “Ms Ample Clavinty?” The commissionaire’s eyebrows vanished up into his hair, as his question-mark drove deep trenches into his forehead with its interrogative hook. “Yep, Ms Clavinty, that’s me allright,” Pyke said, raising his voice an odd octave. “Oh, is it, sir?” The commissionaire was evidently a sarcastic blighter. “The next thing you’ll be telling me is that you’re Queen Guinevere!”

Pyke breathed in hard, audibly. Pyke would stand no nonsense from this jackanapes, he vowed. He stared at the chap’s chin, the opening for the mouth, the humourless eyes, the nasal hair, all of which transmitted the intensity of his self opinion. Pyke knew this individual had been standing guard in this reception foyer since time first began — as if sculpted from solid flesh. He was the ultimate non-loafer. An upstanding fixture. More stone than heart.

But Pyke could not think of a rejoinder to the man’s quip. And Pyke left the same way as he had come in.

The man with a screwdriver had created a conduit into Pyke’s living-room through which plumbing all the filth and madness of the world could flow. A few last adjustments and the cable was feeding countless international TV stations into the flickering screen. Pyke thought it was a bit much. He had originally considered it would increase his choice — not deepen the depths to which humanity could stoop. The man was no doubt a drifter. He took his screwdriver even into beauty parlours, Pyke presumed. And, then, to cap it all, Pyke spent most of his time channel-hopping, with the obsessive hope that the next one along would actually be showing something worth watching. Alternating between a couch potato and a sofa sausage, he found himself slipping back into his own mind’s boggling. Words failed him. And when everything eventually become lost to him, there would still remain the flickering screen which the dead call Heaven, the living, Hell. And Shipping Forcasts became mere warnings as to colliding thoughts in the ether.

It was now many years since the drifter with the screwdriver had first forced the sluice-trough into Pyke’s living-room via the cacophonous cables of the underworld. Pyke was hanging on to sanity by a thread. But then, he saw his birthday suit. During a commercial break between two halves of a hideously boring American basketball game, there appeared on the screen something that looked like a one-piece vest and long-johns and featureless muslin face-mask and stunted cable outlet at the front like a generatibve organ. To keep you warm in winter, they said. Insulated the thermals of the body, unless Pyke misheard it. Except— and this is the crunch point — it was Pyke'sbirthday suit they were actually trying to sell. For unfortunates who did not have a whole body-organ to use. This turned out to be the only encouragement Pyke required for a drastic measure such as switching off the TV set, which he did with a whimpering sigh of relief. Then, of course, it was Pyke’s death suit they were touting instead, with a face more featureless than ever. He should have unplugged it as well. And resorted to a wireless. Once a loafer always a loafer.

The buxom wench in the pub reminded Pyke of his wife in her prettier days before she'd absconded with a strange random traveller who had acted as Pyke Best Man and started a fish-and-chip business in a coastal resort. One that sold battered sausage and grilled offal. Faggots, chips and mushy peas, twice, please, and a heavy hand on the vinegar. Pyke winced at the accent of his down market thoughts. And when the wench in the pub showed a clean pair of heels, Pyke had to be thankful for good fortune. He realised that if he had managed to accost her, he may have had his evil way with her. So he was perturbed when he saw her perched at a bar in Dark House Lane a few days later. She must have had a weak bladder because she walked to the Ladies room several times, strutting her stuff in front of Pyke, as if mocking, taunting his forbearance. For a stranger, she was quite common. He was never to see her again. A handsome young loafer in loose-limbed slacks was evidently the person she was expecting. They went off together, leaving Pyke with his thoughts. She looked straight through Pyke as if she saw a Cheshire Cat.

Yes, Pyke smiled. Thankfully, one was never alone with a mind.

His only offspring a single creamy teardrop. But his beer hadn’t even got a head.



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, Panurge and London Magazine. In The Best New Horror vols. One, Two & Eight. Several 'honourable mentions’ in Year’s Best Fantasy & 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.


October 1999