Last week somebody said to me, "I read your blog. Well, the Catholic parts, anyway." Ha!
Well, I insist it's all Catholic-- whether it's with a big "C" or a small "c"-- and I make no apologies for including imaginative writing and other odds and ends here. I see no virtue in narrowness.
I won't be blogging for the next week, so I'm going to leave you with a bumper double edition of my Hundred Nightmares.
I've been having a blast publishing these tales, which lay forgotten on an old laptop for several years. It's pleased me a greatly that, after a slow start, they've become quite popular, according to my blog statistics. I've even been inspired with a few new story ideas. (Not that the tally is going to be increased thereby. Believe me, there were some pretty feeble efforts in the hundred which I'll be glad to replace.)
I'm off to the New World tomorrow. Talk to you when I get back!
Nightmare Thirty-Five: Security
“Maybe you should spend less time listening to silly stories”, said Hannigan, “and more time doing your job.”
Wilson didn’t reply. It was a cold night and he wanted to go home, not argue with this fanatic outside the security station. He’d only known Hannigan for two months, and already he hated him more than he’d ever hated anyone.
The fact that Hannigan had worked in a high security prison before he’d come here showed that the company wanted to tighten things up. But he doubted they realised just how obsessive Hannigan was.
“Can I go?”, asked Wilson, meeting Hannigan’s stare.
“Please do”, said his supervisor, with a disgusted grimace. “But don’t let me catch you making personal calls again. And especially not spreading ridiculous rumours about the lab. It’s the last thing we need. Do you really believe that stuff?”
“I don’t believe it”, said Wilson, evenly. “And I don’t not believe it. I was just telling my wife what I heard.”
“Your wife”, said Hannigan. “A woman?”
“Don’t you like women?”, asked Wilson.
“Matter of fact, I don’t”, said Hannigan, turning his back on Wilson, and swiping his card on the panel at the door of the security station. There was a high-pitched buzz, a click, and Hannigan pushed the glass door inward and stepped into the station.
He felt happy here. It was tiny, and he had always loved small spaces. It gave him satisfaction to survey the bank of security monitors, watching the feed from the compound’s seventy-four CCTV cameras.
What were they making here, in this remote stretch of the Scottish highlands, ten miles from the nearest village? Rumours abounded amongst the security staff. It was a cure for cancer. It was a male contraceptive. It was a biological weapon. Vista Pharmaceuticals had been best known for cough medicine and laxatives until now, but it was pretty clear that they were onto something big.
They had made it clear to Hannigan when they’d hired him; keeping people out was important, but keeping information in was even more important.
To Hannigan, that included ridiculous stories. Who knew what grain of truth might be hidden in them? One of the previous security guards, it seemed, had seen a creature creeping towards him, some ten months ago. An enormous worm, he had said. He’d just managed to get inside the security fence before it reached him. Weeks later, he’d retired, shattered by the experience.
Well, this line of work attracted loners and disturbed people. As long as they did their job, Hannigan didn’t care how disturbed they were. But the problem was that they hadn’t been doing their job; when he had arrived, discipline had been horrifyingly lax. Hannigan had insisted on twice as many security cameras, three times as many inspections, and codes and passwords changed at least every week. His staff had howled with indignation, their cosy number robbed from them. Screw them.
He switched monitor twelve onto its third camera, and cursed. The screen was black.
“Tanner”, he said, into his walkie-talkie. “Get your arse to the main security post. I’m going to go look at a faulty camera. No, I’ll go. I don’t want to leave it to anyone else. Just hurry up.”
It was a big laboratory, and the grounds were even more extended. It was a fifteen minute walk to the malfunctioning camera.
Hannigan enjoyed the walk. He was a fitness fanatic, and he was happiest on his feet. The stars were out, too. This was a beautiful place. If only he didn’t have to work with these numbskulls…
He reached the camera. The red light on its side had gone out. It looked busted. Well, it was easily replaced.
He turned back in the direction he had come, and that was when he saw it.
It looked just as he had pictured it, from reading his staff’s emails. It was three foot high, and at least seven foot long. It was coloured like a seal and shaped like a snake, but enormous jaws snapped open and shut as it moved, with ghastly speed, towards him. He screamed.
“What’s wrong, Hannig—“ came Tanner’s voice over the walkie-talkie. But his voice was cut off. Hannigan had dropped the walkie-talkie in fright, and it smashed on the icy earth.
He raced towards the closest gate in the seven-foot high security fence. Thank God, it was only a few feet away, and in a few seconds he was tapping the security code into its number pad.
There was no click, no green light.
Hannigan tapped in the code again, before he realised what was wrong. It was Monday. It had been his idea to change the fence’s security code every Monday. He had set the new one just moments before, but panic drove it from his mind.
He tried again, and again, and again. And the creature slid closer. He could hear the snapping of its jaws.
Nightmare Thirty-Six: Mr. Naughty
(Note: This was written at the end of the last decade.)
Katy was already bored of the party. Why had she agreed to come to the Dosshouse for New Year’s Eve? Because Sharon had asked her, that was why. Sharon had latched onto her and Katy was too polite to rebuff the girl’s overpowering friendship.
At least Sharon wasn’t pestering her right now. She’d become fascinated by a guitarist called Lee who was was explaining the genesis of his latest song, Never at Home to You. He’d had the idea while hiding from a political canvasser, he’d said. About ten times.
Since then Katie had fended off a hairdresser who had launched into a story about his latest tatooo; a design student who had asked her if she wanted to come home to his “regression party” afterwards; and a man in a grey suit who told her the Dosshouse was going to go bust within a few months.
Now, thankfully, most of the revellers had gone outside to look at the fireworks. The stragglers were lost in their own conversations.
Katy was coming back from the lady’s room when she saw him.
He was leaning against the bar, like a man in a cartoon. He wore artfully tousled hair, a fitted shirt with a thin black tie, and a grey cardigan. He looked very unhappy.
Katy always gravitated towards unhappy people. “You don’t like the New Year?”, she asked, in a raised voice, leaning beside him.
He looked up. He looked at her through glazed, indifferent eyes. He was not handsome. His features were rather too pointed. He might have been in his late twenties.
“Not this one”, he said.
“Oh well”, said Katy. “It’s only one day. What’s your name?”
The far-off light left the man’s eyes. He seemed to be seeing Katy for the first time. “Mr Naughty”, he said.
Katy guffawed. She had heard some horrible chat-up lines, but that was the worst. So bad, in fact, that it came out on the other side and hit brilliance.
“Really?”, she asked. “Mr. Naughty?”
“Not Mr Naughty”, said the man, with no hint of a smile. He didn’t look used to smiling. “Mr Noughties.”
“Oh, Mr Noughties?, asked Katy. “Like, the decade?”
“That’s right”, said Mr Noughties, looking around the club with narrowed eyes. “Like the decade.”
“No wonder you’re sad tonight”, said Katy. “Your favourite decade is over.”
His reponse was not what she expected. Now, she assumed, he’d have to at least feign a smile. But instead, he turned his eyes back to her, and heavy tears filled them.
“Hey, don’t cry”, said Katy. “I was only kidding.”
“My time is over”, said Mr Noughties. “You don’t get it, Katy.” (How the hell does he know my name, thought Katy?) “I am the Noughties. You’ve heard of the spirit of the age, haven’t you? Well, I’m the spirit of the age.”
Katy was stumped. How did you answer that? She might have told him not to talk nonsense, but somehow she knew he was telling the truth.
“But it’s past twelve”, she said. “Shouldn’t you...disappear or something?”
“Don’t be so provincial”, said Mr Noughty, and now he almost did smile. “It’s still December the thirty-first in half the world. Oh Katy”, he sighed, his half-smile fading, “what a wash-out of a decade. I did my best and I blew it. What will anybody remember me for? A global recession? Blogging? Recycled music? The war on terrorism? Harry Potter was the only highpoint.”
Katy felt bad for him. He looked so defeated. “Why didn’t you just...do something differently?”, she asked. “Give us another Beatles? Or some kind of...great awakening?”
Mr Noughty laughed bitterly. “It’s not as easy as that”, he said. “You can’t just ride a carriage and horses over free willl. A zeitgeist’s freedom of manoeuvre is limited. Miss Sixties and Mr Seventies...they were wonder-workers. I only appreciate them now. The awesome skill required...”
Katy reached over and patted the desolate-looking man on the shoulder. “Well, I liked the noughties”, she said. “I think you were a great success.”
A grim smile touched Mr. Noughties lips. There was a glint in his eyes.
“I know you did,” he said. “And they’re all yours, Katy. You’ll live in them forever. We both will. It’s no coincidence I’m here tonight.”
“What does that mean?”, asked Katy, beginning to feel afraid.
Mr. Noughty raised his eyes to the clock above the bar. “Because I’m going out with a bang, that’s why. In this town, anyway. Fireworks are dangerous things to leave lying around… I’ve chosen you, Katy. I’ve chosen you.”
Katy stepped backwards quickly. But it was already too late.
Nightmare Thirty-Seen: Monsters!
“Peter”, said Owen, sitting up on the bed. “Peter!”
“What?”, asked Peter, groggily, turning his pillow over to enjoy the cool side. The early morning was streaming in between the bedroom curtains.
“I’m afraid of monsters”, whispered Owen. “I’m frightened monsters are going to get in here.”
“Go back to sleep, bozo”, murmured Peter.
“Monsters don’t come in the sunlight”, said Peter. “Didn’t you know that?”
“Really?”, asked Owen, brightening.
“Really”, said Peter. “Now go back to sleep.”
Of course, Owen didn’t go back to sleep. Once he was awake, he stayed awake. Peter was different. All the monsters in the world wouldn’t wake him up when he was tired. He pulled the blankets up to his chin.
* * * *
Owen was playing a game with a piece of eggshell and a spoon when Peter came down for breakfast.
“You’re not a superhero! You’re not a superhero!”, Owen was crying, in a voice even more high-pitched than usual.
“The dead have arisen”, said the boys’ mother, looking up at Peter as she poured out his tea. “Did you read that chapter?”
“Half of it”, said Peter, sliding into his chair.
“Shhh”, said a man sitting at the other end of the table. One side of his face was a mass of scars. His left arm stopped short at the elbow; he was wearing a long white shirt, and the left sleeve hung limply by his side. “I’ve always loved this song.”
Getting Better by the Beatles filled the little kitchen. Uncle Alan bopped his head, smiling. He smiled a lot, Uncle Alan, even though he was missing an arm and a foot.
“I remember when I first heard that”, said the boys’ mother. She was a thin woman, with a careworn face and dreamy eyes. Her name was Catherine. “It was a school disco. All the music was old music in those discos.”
“Old music is the best music”, said Uncle Alan. “At least we’ve been spared any more of that goddawful rap music.”
“I like some of that rap”, said Catherine, with a bashful smile.
Uncle Alan made a face. “Could you pour me some more of that tea, love?”, he asked. “It’s going to be cold today. Cold, I tells you.”
Catherine poured her brother-in-law another cup of tea, and they all listened to the Beatles in silence, apart from the voices that Owen was supplying for his eggshell and spoon adversaries.
As the Beatles faded out, a melodious female voice said: “Here is the news.”
Catherine frowned. She didn’t like the boys listening to the news, but she’d given up ushering them out of the room. Let them hear, Uncle Alan said. This is the world they’re growing up into, God help them.
“We have good news for you this morning”, said the newsreader. “Belfast has been recaptured. The offensive lasted throughout the night, and some five hundred birdmen and rhinomen were slain. Human casualties are estimated at less than a hundred.”
“It’s hard to know what’s propaganda or not”, said Uncle Alan, meditatively, laying his mug down on the table. “But even still…”
Suddenly, his fist slammed down the table. Plates, cups and sauce bottles jumped. So did Catherine and her sons.
“Goddammit, we stuck it to the bastards!”, he whooped.
Peter expected his mother to rebuke Uncle Alan—- he’d used the b-word, after all—- but she didn’t. She only smiled, and kept listening to the news.
“The battle for Manchester is still raging. Casualties are high...there are some indications that a resistance is forming in Russia. A radio signal was picked up briefly, two days ago.”
“I just wish I was out there”, said Uncle Alan, still grinning.
“You’ve done your part”, said Catherine. “More than your part.”
Peter stared out into the garden. There was frost on the grass. He remembered, in the first year of the attack, he’d reminded his father how he’d told him monsters didn’t exist. That’s what we all thought, his father had replied. That’s what we all thought, Peter.
The sun glittered on the frosty grass. Peter loved sunlight more than anything.
Because when the sun went down...that was when the monsters came.
Nightmare Thirty-Eight: Where the Party Never Ends
Samantha had been working in The Rockery for three weeks. Once you got used to the non-stop heavy metal, it was a good job.
It wasn’t just heavy metal they played. There was fifties rock and roll, blues, punk, even some of the darker, more morose brands of country and western. But here, at least, the old slogan was true. Here, metal ruled.
And the music wasn’t too loud. Certainly no worse than the clubs that Samantha—sometimes, and reluctantly— visited with her friends. The clientele weren’t rowdy, the pay was good, and she wasn’t overburdened with work. In the middle of a recession, a student could do much worse.
“Did that poster come, Sam?”
Morgan, the Rockery’s manager, had finally made an appearance. Tonight, he was even later than usual. Sam had grown used to taking charge of things herself. At least she was learning how to use her initiative.
“Yup”, said Samantha, smiling at Morgan. He wasn’t a bad guy, even though he was catastrophically lazy. “Did you know it was glow-in-the-dark?”
“It is?”, said Morgan, leaning backwards as he always did when he was surprised, as though he had blown away by some new piece of information. He was a skinny man with a mane of black hair reaching almost to his buttocks. His face was lined, his eyelids baggy. “Wow. I hope I didn’t order the wrong one.”
“Picture of some kind of demon dressed as a cowboy…”
“Spot on”, said Morgan. “Hey, tonight’s a big night, you know that, Sam?”
“Tonight is Skid’s birthday”, said Samantha. “Yeah, you told me.”
“Well, it’s a big deal, Sam”, said Morgan, pulling himself a beer. “It’s a big deal.”
“Who is he, anyway?”
Morgan gave a very affected laugh, and shook his head ruefully. “Who’s Skid Nolan…? Man, I never thought I’d live to hear that question.”
“I mean, was he in a band or something...?”
“Was he in a band? He was in every band, baby. He was a session guitarist. But…he was more than that.” Morgan was watching the head form on his pint of beer, but now he looked back at Sam, almost solemnly. “He was a hellraiser. He was a legend.”
“How old is he?”
Morgan laughed louder at this. “Baby, with people my age, you don’t ask questions like that. Not even behind someone’s back. It dates us all. Skid...well, Skid is timeless. Leave it at that.”
“Sorry”, said Samantha, shrugging and smiling. “Hey, we need more fivers and tenners for the till.”
“I’m hearing you”, said Morgan. “I’m hearing you”. He spun on his heel and strode back to his office, nodding his head to the speed metal song that had come over the sound system, his fingers strumming the air.
The club began to fill up, quicker than usual. The clientele of the Rockery were always on the older side, though there were usually plenty of customers in their teens and twenties. Not tonight, though. Tonight, hardly anyone seemed under the age of thirty, and most of those were accompanied by lovers or friends in their forties, fifties, even sixties. A lifetime of partying showed its ravages on dozens of faces. Samantha thought there would be fewer bleary eyes and wrinkled faces in an old folks’ home.
They congregated at the bar, swapping stories about the mysterious Skid, who had not yet arrived. He was sixty today, she’d gathered.
“Did you hear about the time he sneaked into the private member’s club in London—- full of peers and judges and all these goons—- with a few guys from Bill Bush’s band, dressed as barmen, and they gave them all a blast of Headbanger’s Serenade? That shook ‘em up.”
“Phil Lynnott got the idea for Dancing in the Moonlight when he was jamming with Skid one day. It was four or five o’ in the morning. That’s what Lassie Tormey told me. I don’t know if it’s true.”
“I heard it was actually Skid who played the solo on Gingerbread Judy.”
A band set up on the small platform that served as a stage. Within a few minutes, an electric guitar was filling the air with its screech, and Samantha felt the thrumming of the rhythm section in her teeth and bones. Within a few more minutes, the floor had turned into a mosh pit.
Then, finally, Skid arrived.
She knew he’d arrived from the raucous cheers and the distorted rendition of Happy Birthday To You that the band had launched into. But it was some moments before she could make him out through the press of bodies.
A woman was standing behind him, perhaps his wife or daughter. Every few moments, she wiped his lips with a cloth. He wore tight, faded jeans and a black Led Zeppelin t-shirt. He sat in a wheelchair, staring at the people around him, his slack mouth twitching. He might have been trying to smile.
Nightmare Thirty-Nine: She Wore Black
“Anybody sitting here?”.
Albert looked up from his portable chess-board. A woman dressed in a black dress-suit was standing there, holding a cappuccino. She was chubby but attractive, and she had a pleasant smile.
“Nope”, said Albert, smiling back.
She pulled the chair back and lowered herself onto it. “Are you winning?”, she asked, looking at the board.
It was not the first time Albert had heard that joke, but he smiled as if it was. “Just going over some moves. I’m off to a tournament, actually.”
“You’re a pro?”, she asked, her eyebrows raised in surprised.
“Semi-pro”, said Albert. “I wouldn’t make any money from playing, but I write and coach as well. So I guess you’re off to some crucial board meeting?”.
The woman didn’t seem to have heard him. She was absorbed by the position on the board. “When is your train?”, she asked, absently.
Victoria Train Station echoed around them. It was Albert’s favourite place in the world. How many thousands of lives, of stories, intersected here? It pulsed with possibility. And a pretty lady’s company made it complete.
“Not for another hour”, said Albert. “I’m a chronic early arriver.”
The woman gave a burst of laughter, and her eyes—still on the pieces—- lit with mirth. “Are you?”, she asked. “I can’t tell you how much I like early arrivers.”
If this was flirtation, thought Albert, it was a funny sort of flirtation. He was about to reply when she looked up, her amused smile a saucy grin now.
“I bet I could beat you, Albert”, she said. “Come on. Speed chess.”
His expression didn’t change when she used his name. A poker face wasn’t just for poker, as every good chess player knew.
“You’re Death, aren’t you?”, he asked.
Her lips pursed with momentary irritation, but soon her serene smile was back. “I’m not Death. Why does everyone assume there’s only one Death? I’m a Death.”
“Kind of like a store Santa?”, asked Albert, with a wry grin.
The Death’s lips pursed again, and her eyes narrowed. “So, do you want to play, or not?”, she asked. “Come on, I’ll make it worthwhile. Twenty years tacked onto your life if you win. And before you ask, no, you won’t be drooling and shaking for those twenty years. Twenty hale and hearty years.”
“And if I lose…?”
“Twenty years shaved off your life. Which— sorry to say— will leave you only ten years of your natural span. Well, you don’t live very healthy, do you Albert?”. She chuckled, her dimples showing, as though this was the jolliest of japes.
“Let’s do it”, said Albert. “How do we time it?”
“Leave that to me”, said Death. She reached down, clicked open her briefcase—- Albert saw a soft flash inside it as she did so-- and drew out two large, antique-looking hourglasses. “Half an hour each”, she said. “And you can be White. Well, what else could I be but Black, after all?”
She was already setting the pieces back to their starting position, grinning eagerly. Well, she won’t be grinning for long, thought Albert.
Twenty minutes later, he was staring down at his checkmated king. It was the first time he’d played to checkmate in his adult life, but who would resign with twenty years of life in the balance?
“Enjoy our remaining years, Albert”, said the Death, reaching towards his hourglass.
Albert reached out and grabbed her wrist, and said: “Double or nothing. Come on. Double or nothing.”
She sighed. “Really, Albert?”, she asked. “I trounced you, and I have the white pieces this time.”
“Double or nothing”, said Albert, setting the pieces back up again. “Come on, be a sport.”
She sat down with another sigh. This time she moved even quicker, and in fifteen minutes Albert spread his arms in the air and said: “I resign.”
The Death gave him her broadest smile yet: “Well, I guess you’re coming with me now, aren’t you?”
Albert raised a quizzical eyebrow. “I’m not sure about that."
The Death frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Well, according to the terms of our bet, I died ten years ago. You tell me how a dead man can gamble with Death— sorry, a Death— and I’ll come quietly.”
The Death scowled, as though wishing she had some cappuccino left to splash in his face.
Nightmare Forty: Visitors
When Suzie had first seen the wreath, she’d been curious, but nothing more.
She didn’t think her father’s grave would have many visitors. He’d had friends, but really, who came back to a grave except family? Of course, it had occurred to her that her father might have had a lover of some kind. But why would he had kept it secret? He’d had a few brief affairs after Suzie’s mother died, and he’d never been at all reticent about them.
She’d knelt to examine the wreath. There were roses and lilies and chrysanthemums. It was a full, handsome wreath that looked expensive. And there was a card, but it didn’t tell her anything. There was a picture of what looked like flames printed on it. No caption, no name, no telephone number.
It was some kind of charitable society, she’d decided. Do-gooders who went around graveyards leaving flowers on graves that had none. The thought irritated and shamed her at once. It had been a long time since the funeral. The grave had been unattended for more than a year.
But really, so what? You remembered the dead in your heart, not by keeping florists in business, didn’t you?
All the same, she didn’t leave it so long to come back.
This time, there were three wreaths. One of them was enormous, composed entirely of red roses.
And every one of them had the same card attached. They all looked as though they had been printed separately—one used gold ink—but the image was exactly the same in each one. Five flames, one large one in the centre and four in each corner. Suzie was sure she had never seen it before.
She tore one of them off, and walked out of the cemetery.
* * *
“Doesn’t mean anything to me”, said Jude, after a full minute staring at the picture.
Suzie gave an exasperated sigh. “How did I know you’d say that?”, she asked. “I’ve spent hours looking through reference books...heraldic symbols, hallmarks, alchemical and occult signs. Plenty of flames, of course, but none just like that.”
Jude shrugged and took another bite of his doughnut. He was looking back towards the counter, to the butter-haired cashier who had caught his eye. “Maybe they got the wrong grave”, he said.
“How could they do that?”, asked Suzie, striving to hold onto her patience. “It has a name, dates….they’d need to be prize nincompoops. Doesn’t this creep you out? People leaving flowers on your own father’s grave, and you have no idea who they are or why they’re doing it?”
Jude shrugged again. The way he did that had always annoyed Suzie. “Of course I’m curious”, he said. “But what can we do? Unless we kept a non-stop watch at the grave. And that’s impossible. Besides, maybe they wouldn’t come if they saw anybody there, or even in the cemetery.”
“Haven’t you got any theories?”
Jude didn’t answer for a while. He just stared into his coffee, vacantly. Then he looked up and said: “Not really. I mean, what could it be? Some kind of cult? Some kind of…secret society? Dad? I mean, he was always at home. No mysterious phone-calls or letters or assignations. He only read the newspapers for the funnies. Can you really imagine him having a secret life?”
That was the nub of it, thought Suzie, staring out the café window to the passers-by in the street outside. Her father might have been the original man in the street. She saw him now, mowing the lawn in a footbal jersey and pyjama bottoms, humming some seventies chart-topper. She had loved him, but she had never him say anything original or daring or impassioned. A man like that had no right to post-mortem mysteries.
The thought of those wreaths was beginning to torment her. She lay awake in bed, wondering whether a visitor was standing by her father’s grave at just that moment. Somehow, it felt as though an intruder had wandered into her own house. An intruder who could walk through walls, who could see her but could not be seen. An intruder who walked into her dreams.
* * *
It was perhaps a year after her café conversation with Jude. The wreaths kept appearing, one every couple of months or so. Her search for the symbol had continued. She had even searched the internet, despite her hatred of computers. But she found nothing.
She was visiting Jude, in the house that had passed to him when their father died, when the idea of searching its bookshelves occurred to her.
She didn’t know what she was expecting to find. Some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore? The few books her father had owned were about football, dog-racing and World War Two. She ended up looking through her own old books. She despised nostalgia, so revisiting her childhood through its reading matter had the appeal of a forbidden pleasure.
She found it on the flyleaves of an Enid Blyton book. She had been an incorrigible scribbler. There was no doubt about it; it was her hand, and it had traced the five-flamed symbol over and over again. She found it scrawled on a dozen more of her books after that.
Someone was walking through her soul now, soundlessly, invisibly.
Nightmare Forty-One: A Fading Picture
“It has to exist”, said Erica, staring down into her coffee cup.
Dominic shook his head and laughed, still typing.
“You’ve been going on about this ever since I knew you”, he said. “When are you going to give up?”
Erica and Dominic were the editorial board—and the entire staff—of The Flickering Casement, the film magazine they had set up thirteen years before. The first issues had been photocopied and stapled together. Now it was entirely web-based. Neither of them had ever made a penny from it, but they did have a readership. They focused on the history of cinemas in Ireland— Seventy Years of the Lux, The Glory That was the Ganymede— and on features about forgotten or overlooked movies.
“Never”, said Erica. She smiled ruefully but there was no mirth in her voice, and her eyes glinted with determination. “Even you said you saw it, once.”
Dominic sighed and swiveled on his chair to face her. “That was fifteen years ago”, he said. “And I don’t even remember saying it.”
“That’s it!”, said Erica, pointing at him, almost accusingly. “I don’t remember saying it. What is it about this film? Why do people tell me they remember it, why do they give me detailed description of a scene, and then— when I ask them about it again- say I don’t remember telling you that?”
“Because they probably never did, that’s why”, said Dominic, with an exasperated grin. “And besides...make a name up and ask somebody if it rings a bell and, nine out of ten times, they’ll say it does. Everything rings a bell if you think about it long enough.” He fell quiet for a moment, looking at her curiously. “Why are you getting so keen on this all of a sudden, anyway? It’s been a recurring motif for years and years, why is it an obsession now?”
“Because I’m remembering more of it”, said Erica. For a moment, as she said it, Dominic thought she seemed drained. Then the fancy passed, and she was her usual spirited self. “Just the one scene, always.”
“A mad monk chasing a little girl through a crumbling mansion”, said Dominic, his voice almost singsong.
“That’s right”, said Erica. “And it’s so… freaking scary. I’m not surprised people remember it. I’m just surprised they ever forget it.”
“Maybe they forget it because it’s just too scary”, said Dominic, turning back to his computer screen.
He intended as a joke, something to round off the conversation, but when it drew no response from Erica— not even a grunt, or a polite laugh— he looked back over his shoulder at her.
Her features had frozen, and there was a faraway look in her eyes.
“Hey”, he said. “Hey. Are you OK?”
She came out of her trance, gave him a distant smile, and stood up.
“This is just going to torment me”, she said. “I have to follow it up. Now.”
“And how are you going to do that?”
“There’s only one cinema ever mentioned, when people remember where they saw it”, said Erica. Suddenly, she seemed intensely excited. She was already reaching for her jacket. “The Aurora in Sandymount.”
“But that’s been closed twenty years”, said Dominic.
“I know”, said Erica. “I know. There’s a furniture shop there now. Maybe if I go inside...”
“It will jump start your memory?”, asked Dominic. “Worth a try, I guess. I still think you would have found it by now if it really existed. But what the hell? Let’s go.”
“You’re coming?”, asked Erica, raising a surprised eyebrow.
“I’ve been listening to you natter on about this for a decade and a half”, said Dominic, starting to close his computer down. “You bet I’m going.”
* * * *
“Is there anything I can help you with?”, asked a short, chubby girl with long sandy hair. The name-tag on her green sweater read Anna.
“Uh...we’re just looking”, said Dominic. “Actually...”
“Actually, we’re going”, said Erica. “We’re going now”.
Dominic glanced at her, and a jolt passed through him. Her face had gone tallow-pale, and a hunted light had come into her eyes. She clutched his arm.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice dropping.
Erica closed her eyes, as though she was trying not to get sick. “You were right”, she said, in a strained voice. “Everybody else tried to forget it. I wish...I wish...oh, it’s all coming back to me now! Except this time he’s...he’s...”
Her eyes widened, and she begun to scream hysterically.