Friday, November 8, 2013

Be Afraid. Be Mildly Afraid.

It's another trio of my Hundred Nightmares! Because a Catholic blog is just the place you come to read short and barbed tales of the macabre, the monstrous and the morbid, right?

(As a matter of fact, though quite a few of these tales are grislier and naughtier and bleaker than they would have been if they had been written after-- and not just before-- I started practicing my faith, there were only a couple of stories that I decided, after much humming and hawing, were just too risqué for a blog called Irish Papist. As for the other borderline ones, well, I plead artistic freedom!)

Nightmare Twenty-Three: The Corridor

She found herself standing in a long corridor, a thick green carpet underfoot, soft electric lights in the form of old-fashioned lanterns hanging on the walls.

The air was warm. It was uttery silent, but even the silence seemed gentle.

Katrina looked down at herself, and a tremor passed through her. She recognised what she was wearing instantly. It was the loose, grey baseball sweater she’d worn when she was seventeen. The soft black pants and the white runners were from the same time, too. The happiest time of her life, when everything seemed to glow with promise.

How old was she? What was the last thing she could remember? She strained her memory, but nothing came.

She stepped forward, looking at the doors on her right and left. They were varnished mahogany, with brass panels at eye-levels, and decorated brass handles. Each panel had a date inscribed on it, in florid script. The first said:

12 July 1968.

But I wasn’t even born then, thought Katrina. She grasped the handle (which was warm, as though someone had just been holding it) and opened the door.

A man and a woman were sitting at a kitchen table in a dark, crowded kitchen. For a moment, Katrina thought the woman was herself. Then, with a wrenching sense of dislocation, she realised it was her mother, aged eighteen or so.

But she didn’t recognise the man at all. It was not her father, but a curly-headed, wide-browed man who looked much older than Katrina’s mother.

The two were speaking in low voices. They did not look up at her. Katrina knew that they couldn’t see her, though she could smell the cooking in the air.

“Think of it, Katrina”, said the man, in deep, rich tones. “A little kid brought up in the atmosphere of scandal and resentment and blame. This is still a very puritanical society, though we like to pretend we’re liberated.”

Her mother’s eyes were red, but she looked as though she had cried all her tears. She was staring at the man, and her eyes burned with fury.

You’re liberated, anyway, aren’t you?”, she said. “Aren’t you?”

Katrina closed the door. She didn’t want to hear anymore.

She walked along the corridor, her heart palpitating. A thousand images crowded into her mind, precious moments shared with a father who had never been her father at all. She began to run through the corridor.

She stopped before another door. It read 3 March 1986.

She opened it. There she stood, dressed in a denim shirt and tight jeans. She was at a concert. It was sparsely attended, and she didn’t recognise the bluesy guitar filling her ears. Judy O’Connor and Alison Burns were standing with her, and all of them were clutching cans of beer.

“The drummer is kind of cute” said the Katrina of 1986. The Katrina listening winced at the tone of studied nonchalance—- almost lethargy—- she used.

Alison and Judy looked towards the stage, and began to giggle. “Whatever floats your boat”, said Alison. “But I’d rather be capsized myself.”

Her two friends broke out in gales of laughter, and a moment later, Katrina joined in. For a moment, the Katrina was seized with pity for the Katrina of 1986, a pity that felt nothing at all like self-pity. The girl was so insecure, so utterly at sea. How had she ever been so lost?

“I need to go take a leak”, announced Katrina 1986.

Katrina thought that the scene before her would change to the bathroom of the concert venue, but her younger self walked out of view, and she remained standing before Alison and Judy. Their eyes followed her, and then Alison said—in a voice as low as the music would permit: “Do we have to tell Katrina about your cousin’s party?”

“Nah”, said Judy, with a promptness that was like a knife in Katrina’s guts. Judy had been her kindred spirit, her near-sister. Katrina had cried for weeks when she’d died in the car-crash.

“She’s great” said Alison. “I mean, she’s fun, but...”

“So needy” said Judy. “She’ll always be a little girl at heart.”

Katrina slammed the door shut, so hard she imagined her two old friends looking up in surprise, and moved on.

Scene succeeded scene, stage after stage in her life. Nothing seemed to be as she had believed it. She opened door after door, and the last showed two nurses drawing the curtains around the hospital bed of an old woman, her face grey, drips hanging from her arms. The nurse was crying.

“Some of them hurt you more than others”, said the red-haired nurse that Katrina had liked least. She’d thought her a moody bitch.

The corridor ended there, with two doors left before her. One had a brass plaque that read, “Return to the Beginning”, and the other, “Exit.”

Katrina stood there for fully five minutes, thinking.

Then she reached towards the handle of the door that read “Exit”.

It opened, and she heard—-


Nightmare Twenty-Four: The Savage Night

It was the worst storm Francis had seen in years. It was the night of a full moon. It was just the night he’d been waiting for.

Sheets of rain were beating against his windows, as though outraged by any obstacle. The howl of the wind was like the wailing of some ancient god.

Francis whistled to himself, cheerfully, as he pulled his boots on.

He had once been the plainest of men. Perhaps not ordinary, because Grome was a tiny village, and village life was accounted odd by the wide world. Even in Grome, Francis had always been thought of as a man apart. In such a small village, nobody could be a recluse.

Not that Francis wanted to be a recluse. He was to be found in the Friar Tuck most nights, sitting with the others, even if he seldom joined the conversation. When he did join in, it was to supply some fact or piece of information; the name of a villager’s child, the year when a shop had been opened, the exact spot where a car accident had taken place some years before. He didn’t have any opinions.

Most of the time, though, he spent on his own. Eery weekend, he would explore Old Man Bentback, the mountain—the maps called it a hill—that overlooked Grome..

He’d grown aware of something there a long time ago. He would find the remains of rabbits and foxes torn to bloody shreds . He would find mysterious paw-prints in the soft earth, bigger than that of any animal native to Old Man Bentback.

And, eventually, he saw it, through his binoculars, scampering from place to place. What looked like a man on all fours, except that it moved with much greater speed and ease than any crouching man could.

Francis, a supreme realist, didn’t suffer from the kind of superstition that rules out the supernatural-— or anything else, for that matter. He remembered, as a boy, hearing Grome legends—- fading, even back then—- about something that the old folk called the Grey Man. The Grey Man had had been blamed for the slaughter of sheep, even for the disappearance of infants from their cots.

“Once Old Man Bentback was thick with Grey Men”, one old women had said, giving Francis a gummy smile. “Or so my mother told me.” It was one of his oldest, haziest memories.

And then there was the hut.

Francis often wondered if anybody in Grome even knew about the hut. Not that they would be very excited if they did, and who could blame them? It was the simplest of wooden structures, lacking even a window. Its timbers were rotting and it swayed in the wind, but it still stood, and it must have withstood hundreds of bitter storms already. No, it was nothing too remarkable.

Except for the fact that something lived there.

It had been in the hut that Francis’s life had changed, three years ago. On the night of a full moon. Then he had learnt all about the Grey Men. Then he had learned all about Old Man Bentback.

Once every month since that night, he had become a part of the mountain. His ears had been finally been opened to its savage music-- hearing it not as a distant melody, but plain and clear.

But, for all that, the life of a Grey Man was a bitter life. What could be worse than an existence torn between beast and man?

So here he was, climbing to the home of the creature that had ushered him into this new life, time and again losing his footing on the muddy earth underfoot, struggling against the furious wind.

The thing was standing before the hut when he reached it, a man-shaped shadow against the starlight.

“I thought you’d come back”, it said. Its voice was so rough that it took Francis a moment to realise that it was speaking English. He was close enough now to see that it was naked, despite the storm and the bone-piercing cold.

“I can’t live like this”, said Francis.

The thing watched him. Somehow, Francis imagined it was smiling.

“What makes you think I can do anything about that?”, it asked.

“I don’t know”, said Francis. “Ever since you...changed me...there are so many new things I understand. You can change me again, can’t you?”

“Maybe”, said the Grey Man. “Maybe. I see you brought me a gift.”

“I hope that it’s enough”, said Francis, passing the little bundle to the Grey Man.

“Oh, it’s more than enough”, said the Grey Man. He lowered his head and sniffed appreciatively, growled as a cat would purr, then drew back reluctantly. “And I can change you again. This world is no world for our kind, is it? I remain as I am, only for the sake of the bloodline. Maybe the world will change again. But, I liberate.”

The thing leaned forward, and its fangs tore into Francis’s upper arm. The hill resounded with his screams, and once again, he began to change form.

Perhaps three minutes later, the naked man grinned benevolently —and enviously—as a grey wolf scampered from the bundle of clothes on the dank earth before him, into the welcoming night.


Nightmare Twenty-Five: Pultergist

Dear Mum, Sandra and me love the house, the kitchin is so cozy and it’s all so specious, it’s warm too, it’s exciting owning my own house, and having Sandra makes it the bees knees. There is rumurs of a poultergist but I don’t believe all that rubbage. The last owner said she never heard anthing anyway and she was hear five years. Anyway I have to go I hear Sandra coming in I love you Mum take care now Bobby

After labouring over the message for ten minutes, Bobby clicked on “send”. The message would be in his mother’s computer a second later. He marvelled at the modern-day miracle, as he always did. He had first used the internet two years ago, and it still amazed him.

He wondered when his mother would check her email. Probably not for days. He loved his mother but she wasn’t very organized.

He got up from the computer table and staggered out to the hallway, stiff from sitting so long.

Sandra, still wearing her coat, gave him a look of mild surprise when she saw him walking through the living-room door.

“Is somebody here?” she asked, in a low voice.

“Only me” said Bobby.

“I thought you were in the kitchen”, said Sandra. She was a plump woman, pink-faced from exertion right now. Bobby thought she looked her cutest like that.

“No” said Bobby. “At least...”

They both walked to the kitchen door, slowly. Bobby pushed the door open, and stepped through quickly.

There was nothing there, but the window was open.

“Must have left the window open”, said Bobby. “Cats...”

“Oh well”, said Sandra. “I got something for the house, hon. Wait till you see.”

She reached into her shopping bag, and drew out a statuette of a soccer player. It was made of plastic and brightly painted.

“Georgie Best!” said Bobby, taking it eagerly. His eyes shone like a child’s, and Sandra smiled. He stood it on the table, leaned over, said, “It’s beautiful, babe”, and kissed her.

As they were locked in a kiss, the lights in the house flickered. Neither of them noticed. Their eyes were shut tight.

“Now I’m going to make a cup of tea and watch Ladies Don’t Faint”, said Sandra, drawing back slowly.

“What the hell is that?” asked Bobby.

“Oh, some costume drama thing....but, hon, the woman who lived here before us is one of the script-writers! Can you imagine that?”

“Wow”, said Bobby. “Maybe it’s a good luck house.”

* * *

Dear Mum may be I spoke to soon about the poltergust. We been decorating the house and strange things happen. Our picture of babys swimmin with dolphins kept falling of the wall, and my George Best statue went missing. The TV keeps cutting out too but Ralph says nothings wrong with it. I asked the last lady who lived here about the poltrgist she said it was a school teacher who fell down the stairs and hit her head I love you Mum take care

* * *

“Do you smell something?”, asked Sandra, her hand paused in the air, a length of sticky tape clasped between finger and thumb. It was three days before Christmas and they were wrapping presents in their bedroom.

Bobby sniffed once, and then leaped off the bed. “Smoke!”, he cried.

As soon as they were downstairs they could see thick clouds of it crawling along the ceiling. It was coming from the sitting room.

“The tree”, gasped Sandra. “Oh hon..”

Bobby leaped forward, pushed the living room door, and then flinched from the black fog that billowed out the open door. He reached up to Sandra, grabbed her hand, and shouted: “We’re getting the hell out, babe.”

* * *

Dear Mum DON’T WORRY everythings OK well we are both alive and the baby is fine and that’s the main thing isn’t it? I have to be honest the house is completely gutted. Everything was ruined all the stuff we’d got for the house. Something funny, the fire burnd all our books to sinders all my soccer and war books but all the books you ever bought me were OK. You know, Robinson Cruso and The Tree Mustkateers and The Man in the Iron Mask and all them. They werent even charred. Maybe God is telling me I shold read them!!!

Anyway we shud be able to move back in soon and Sandra is already making plans you know Sandra. She is going to start a book club. She even knows what the first book will be it’s something by Barbra Cartland I love you Mum Bobby


  1. Ah great stories again Maolsheachlann. I like stories like the first one where the reader is thrown into some strange place like that. I also like the plot twist of the second story; you're pretty good at those. I have to admit though, I think the ending of the third story was lost on me a bit. Was it that the mother was dead the whole time, and so she burned everything that didn't belong to her?

  2. Thanks so much Antaine! I'm glad you liked them.

    I didn't think the second was that good myself-- I just wanted a werewolf story (I don't like werewolf stories myself so maybe that's why I didn't like it!) I also like stories with a kind of surreal, dream-like situation like the first, as you do.

    As for the third-- ha, ha, ha-- not going to tell you! Only because this one is a bit of a joke, a bit of a shaggy dog story. But the big clue is that all the trashy books were burnt but the few classics weren't. Also that the previous occupant was a scriptwriter and wasn't bothered at all. But maybe your explanation makes a better story than mine!!!

    By the way, it was really nice to meet you at the Belloc meeting yesterday, it's a pity you don't join us in the National Gallery restaurant afterwards.

  3. Ah, I thought that it might have something to do with a ghost who hated all the new stuff.

    Thank you. It was great to meet you too. I really enjoyed the meeting, and I have to say it was quite interesting being in a room with so many people who take Catholicism so seriously. The closest I've ever been to that before is talking to people on blogs. I didn't really plan properly yesterday so unfortunately I didn't stay long afterwards, but if the group is ever going off anywhere aside from the library again then I'll be along too. I'll also come along to any Chesterton meetings in the future too, though I'll be more listener than participator I imagine.