…where even the Eccles cakes are abstemious – as hollow and unsatisfying as a doctrinal dispute at synod…
…where even the Eccles cakes are abstemious – as hollow and unsatisfying as a doctrinal dispute at synod…
In Haddon Hall, the seat of the Duke of Rutland, which dates back to Tudor times and beyond, there is a recurring porcine motif. I took these pictures intending to write about the ancient Peak District custom of once a year dressing up your prize pig as Shakespeare – a practice outlawed by an unamused Queen Victoria following an outbreak of Hamlet jokes during her visit to nearby Bakewell.
Then the light caught this chap just right and instead I planned to write about the Duke of Rutland’s unholy cross-breeding of William Hope Hodgson’s swine-things with China Miéville’s skulltopus.
But after #piggate #Hameron #swine/11 , there is nothing left to do but post the pictures and wonder quite how long that sort of thing has been happening, how widespread it is and how high it goes.
I should have been prepared for it. The bus journey to the start of our walk had given us plenty of warning. Weaving through the steep-sided Matlock Bath, we could make out big new houses being constructed on the surrounding hilltops so that rich folks could look out onto the Peak District and down on the strange old resort village.
To be honest, it is easy to look down on Matlock Bath – thanks to a comment by Byron, it was once known as ‘little Switzerland’ and was later dubbed ‘the Venice of the North’, when in reality it is more like the Paignton of the North on a rainy out-of-season weekday when most everything is shut – but at least I feel no urge to transmute my metaphorical disdain into architectural form. (Technically, this is the moral high ground, but it is not very high at all. Or particularly moral.)
It was only when we got onto the open moorland that it became clear how far this gentrification had advanced. Everywhere you look, noble dignified proletarian grasses and ferns and gorse are being swept away by a tide of purple sprouting broccoli, advancing inexorably like the Martian red weed.
Our long looping walk brought us onto the Chatsworth estate, home to the Dukes of Devonshire. In the 18th century, the 4th Duke reoriented the house and decided he wanted a clear prospect – to provide a startling first view of the house for approaching visitors, and to give himself a nice view of the grounds. In order to achieve this, he demolished the village of Edensor, where estate workers and others lived, and relocated them to a newly built village hidden from his view.
There are several striking things about his new Edensor. First, it is dominated by the Estate’s massive church – just to remind the residents who exactly is in charge. Just because they are out of his sight now, they have not escaped his power.
Second, no two buildings are alike. The Duke is said to have gone through a book of architectural pictures and picked out the ones he liked. The buildings are all rather sturdy and may well have been a significant improvement in some respects for the workers who moved into them.
I really wanted to hate the place, but it is so fucking picturesque that at first it is quite difficult.
But the picturesqueness is part of the reason to be really angry at this obscene display of wealth. Fucking furious at the arrogance of the man.
It is not just the social cleansing – people seeing their homes demolished and being forcibly relocated just so someone could have a pretty view – but also that, having removed these workers from his prospect, the Duke then turned them into some kind of entertainment spectacle for his family and household and guests on their way to the Estate church. And no way did he not at other times just take his chums along to marvel at the absurd village he built and the amusing people who lived there. To him, they were no more people than the plants and trees in his garden.
I guess I should calm down. After all, my sole remaining career goal is to retire and be hired by one of these hereditary parasites as an ornamental hermit. And at least the struggle goes on, as the good people of nearby Bakewell demonstrate with their proletarian commitment to not ‘fusion’ but ‘portmanteau’ cuisine.
I should never have…
I have his dreams, I see the ancient temple beneath the rocks, I see where the face is
it is no longer there
Peering out of the windows at what my watch assures me must be noon – even in this thick caul of fog there is some light out there, though it is diffused, lacks direction, is too ambient even to cast a shadow – there is nothing but a luminous watery haze. Something moves out there. Not the black dog nor the white hare, their duty of prolepsis is long over and they have fled. What moves out there is vast and inhuman.
Sometimes I think I am the bottom of an alien ocean and above me a leviathan courses through the deeps, pursuing elephantine prey with a stately grace born of its immensity. Sometimes I feel its shadow fall on this narrow house. Terror turns to hope. How can something as miniscule as a human life even be noticed by a being so colossal?
I know this is just idle fancy.
The thing outside is terrene, mineral. Asperous. It moved so slowly for millennia that it appeared to be without life. Perhaps its liveliness was twisted out of sight in another dimension. But now it walks the Earth again.
It is coming for me. I know that, though not how I know that. I can only surmise that hidden in the words of the codex by some ancient steganography were words, curled up like a virus, waiting to be woken, words that infiltrated my mind, replicating and replacing neurons, wiring themselves into me. And that by some strange conjunction of influences, I was drawn here. And they leapt again, from me to the even older text Charteris unearthed, and activated something within it.
I see I have become quite mad.
What we think of as madness is really knowledge, perhaps even a kind of truth. I see the world differently now, and it is twisting me, making me other. Who knows what I will have become by the time my rescuers arrive?
But I am not so delusional as to expect rescue any more, or respite.
The thing out there is quartering the ground. It is drawing close.
It will not be long until it finds me.
It’s in the trees! It’s coming!
It is now ten days since we last ate. Even the honey with which I rendered the bitter tea palatable has run out. I suspect Charteris of stealing tiny amounts each day, and whenever I am now forced to drink such amaroidal stuff I must quell a rage that swells in my chest and throat. I fear it is not part of me but that thing within me that was summoned here, and that as I grow weaker it grows stronger.
Trapped in this Cimmerian gloom, I struggle to recall what daylight looks like. All there is is lethargy and a sense of inevitable withering.
The thin and desperate cries of Dyson and MacReady have fallen silent now.
Something is moving around out there.
Charteris shambled fitfully around the cottage, regressing into the very likeness of a villager, his hands becoming awkward appendages, capable only of clenching and clutching. Occasional moments of lucidity interrupted his constant mumbling occasionally, but it was clear his sentience was fading. He slept a lot, but restlessly. He tossed and turned as if animated by some idiot cosmic puppeteer, his strings badly tangled. He would, with persistent dull regularity, awake screaming in terror. When I tried to quiet him, he muttered over and over that ‘It is gone, it is gone’. After several days of such obscure maunderings, I realised that he had been dreaming about the crypt, about the stone face in the wall. He has infected my imagination. Even now, when I try to recall that strange grotto, I can visualise it perfectly, but the face is no longer there.
The odd thing about going so long without food is that I am too exhausted to do anything, yet too exhausted to sleep. My face is the colour of bruises. There is a rash spreading on my left arm. I found a patch of that fungus there and scrubbed at it too hard with a toothbrush. Cleansing my flesh, I broke the skin and gave it a way inside me. I scratch at it without realising until blood coats my arm.
Each day I press on slowly with my work on the printout of the writing on the tablets. My head is too blurry. The script remains elusive, dancing just outside the reach of my stumbling intellect. It taunts me.
I would not have done it.
It was not me that did it. It was that thing that he brought here inside me.
Several days ago, Charteris started wandering up to me at random moments and shaking me violently, interrupting my concentration. He kept claiming I was in a trance, incanting the ancient words on the sheets before me. He would not understand that it was impossible for me to do so, that there was no way for me to pronounce a language that had not been uttered on this world in millennia.
He will never understand now.
But as I sit here, alone at last, I cannot help but wonder whether he was speaking some kind of truth. My mind has not always been as focused as I claimed. With my disrupted sleep, it is no wonder I sometimes drift off a little while poring over these archaic texts. Perhaps in a state of hypnagogic liminality my consciousness slips, and whatever it is inside me that was summoned here gains egress from the realm in which it has been confined and some tendril of its dreadful being possesses me.
That would explain it.
That would explain how Charteris came to be lying at my feet, his head not merely bludgeoned but crushed – caved in, as if by the exertion of some monstrous pressure on skull.
It would explain how his blood came to be mingled with mine on my hands and arms.
At least I need no longer go hungry.
Mankind’s greatest folly is, it seems, to hope.
The fog has neither lifted nor even retreated.
Charteris and MacReady have twice now tried to reach the farm. Both times they returned empty-handed and clearly shaken.
Dyson can barely even bring himself to look in the direction of the orchard, yet as another day dawns without the prospect of food, it is he who suggested trying to make our way through the fog to the village.
At first I resisted taking part their expedition but, as they equipped themselves to leave, the prospect of being abandoned here filled me with a dire foreboding. They had the decency not to comment on the haste with which I join their preparations. We roped ourselves together as best we could with belts and ties, with Charteris in the lead position. He handed each of us a heavy duty flashlight. ‘We need to preserve the batteries,’ he said, ‘just in case, so let’s see how far we can get with just my torch.’
The fog was like a shroud. I could feel it tightening around us, almost. I could barely make out Charteris ahead of me, or Dyson behind me. MacReady brought up the rear, invisible to me.
Charteris set a careful pace, occasionally straying from one side of the lane to the other, and pressed doggedly on.
Time descended upon us like a cerement.
I have no idea how long we had been walking when Charteris abruptly halted. We clumsily concertinaed together. A car angled across the road blocked our way, its front doors wide open. It took a few moments for us to recognise it as the one in which Dr Raymond had driven off in search of a phone signal.
‘Why are both doors open?’ MacReady asked. ‘Did he have a passenger?’
The answer was not long in coming.
We snaked cautiously around the obstruction. The irriguous grass at the edge of the road was slippery underfoot; waterlogged nettles and stubby branches reached out of the hedgerow to sting and graze.
The fog blunted Charteris’s torch-beam, diffusing and curtailing its reach, but even in its feeble glow we could see the bodies lying in the road. Sprake, who the doctor must have found shortly after leaving us, his pasty body now almost blue, his skin mottled with the strange fungus that contaminated everything in this damned valley, and Raymond himself, as naked as his erstwhile charge, his jaundiced flesh bruised and bleeding. The broken corpses were arranged, as if by some seedy maniacal godling, in a sordid tableau of joyless copulation.
Nausea and unreason swept through me, unhinging me briefly.
Sickened as the others were, they were all for pressing on towards the village, but nothing could compel me to take another step in that direction. MacReady bristled and, when I would not bow to his threats of violence, he urged Charteris and Dyson to just leave me there in the road. ‘Let him keep the cadavers company,’ he snarled.
Eventually, Charteris agreed to return with me to the cottage while MacReady and Dyson continued on in search of help or haven.
That was four days ago.
The fog remains impenetrable, the transitions between day and night almost indiscernible in the gloom. Sometimes I imagine our timepieces running down, and I am filled with trepidation at the thought of being trapped here with no certain way to measure the passage of time.
‘They will return,’ Charteris says several times each day. ‘They will bring food. We will be rescued.’
Such pathetic hopefulness makes him seem small. He is shrinking in significance.
I have not told him that sometimes, through the fog, I hear Dyson and Macready calling out. Begging for us to help them find their way back to this paltry shelter.
They are lost.
Their voices are the voices of the damned, and with each hour that passes they grow weaker.
Sprake has returned!
I fear what it portends.
Lower Wirklesworth is one of those villages that nowadays must share its vicar with three or four others in his parish. When he gave Charteris access to the church, it was on the understanding that we would not intrude on the days when services – which rotate between the villages – were being held there. Today is such a day. There is a wedding, I gather, though it is difficult to imagine any of his shambling parishioners seeking a religious blessing upon their unseemly propagation.
Finding it hard to concentrate on my work while the others began to stir, I happened to glance out of the window, and there, in the mist that shrouded the orchard this morning, I saw him. Sprake.
Naked, apart from a cape he seemed to have fashioned by reversing one of those hospital gowns that do not fasten up the back, he eagerly stroked at his tumescent manhood.
I rose, stunned, and the others followed my gaze.
Sprake spilled his seed onto the bark of a stunted apple tree, and danced away out of sight.
‘Bacchus and Priapus,’ Charteris laboriously quipped, ‘we should not be surprised to find him playing Pan, now should we?’
The other morning, when Charteris had sent us to our tasks, found a shovel and a supply of bin bags, collected and disposed of the animal debris ringing the cottage, even found a hose somewhere to wash away the blood and feathers and fragments of bone, I found myself for the first time ever beginning to admire him. He did it quietly, fastidiously, without any fuss, neither commenting on it nor expecting our gratitude. But today, as he mocked Sprake and seemed disinclined to aid him, any hint of approbation and esteem I might have felt died.
‘He’s out there, in this weather with no clothes,’ I said. ‘He’ll die of exposure if we don’t do something.’
Charteris stared at me, puzzled, as if seeing something for the first time, then ordered us to quarter the orchard for any trace of the poor bewildered man.
After a fruitless hour, we regrouped at the cottage. The mist was turning to fog, and we had still not breakfasted. Shortly after Dyson left for the farm to collect our supplies, a car pulled up. It was Dr Raymond, as sallow as ever. He had come to tell us of Sprake’s escape, and to see if he had returned here. ‘I didn’t inform the police yet, as I thought it might be resolved without any fuss,’ he explained. ‘You keep searching, I’ll drive out of the valley and call the rescue services once I can get some reception on this damn phone.’
Ten minutes later Dyson’s cries for help reached us through the thick and sodden air, ringing like a gong. The fog had become so thick he could not find his way back. Charteris and I went to make tea, while MacReady stood outside, calling at regular intervals to guide Dyson back.
He stumbled into the kitchen, empty-handed and clearly shaken.
‘I can’t find the farm,’ he explained.
I am the only one who never goes to there – I dread finding myself alone with any of the locals, whose unfocused physiognomies and hobbling brute forms I confess disturb me deeply – but I understand the path to it is straight and unbroken, with no junctures or offshoots that might mislead one, and Dyson has a level-head and steady nerve. I cannot make sense of his perturbation. He says he did not stray from the path, that it seemed to shift beneath him, like some inhuman sentience drawing him into its bosky tentacular embrace, sprouting ligneous ungulae to catch in his hair and clothes.
The farm, he insists, is no longer there.
The fog is growing heavier, killing the light. I can no longer see the trees, though I sense them drawing closer – the spawn, perhaps, that Sprake returned to grubbily fertilise?