Posted From: 126.96.36.199
|Posted on Friday, August 02, 2013 - 06:00 pm: |
You need to have lived at the right time, you need to have lived in the right place, you need to have been of the right class. You needed to be all these things to have experienced the Public Bar. Not any old Bar, indeed not any old Public, but something far more difficult to conjure up. A million miles from the Lounge, and even the old Saloons could not hold a candle to the real Public Bar. Well, are you feeling comfortably snug? Time to listen to a very short story, but long enough to conjure up the real Public Bar.
The man with the eye-patch stared at me. One bad eye hidden, no doubt, for good reason. And one good eye left open to the sight, for the sight of it.
But the white of his so-called good eye was riddled with red wriggling thread-worms. And its central pupil seemed to be a grey weeping pustule or it was the leading edge of something that I imagined to be knotted brain extruding from further back in the man's skull. The eye as a whole was ringed by hardened ridges of blackened flesh which gradually became pinker the further such ridges reached from the socket itself. Judging by the sight of this "good" eye, then, I actually wondered about the nature of the 'bad' eye under the patch and I shuddered, shuddering as my body shook.
I was stationed in the Lounge of the pub from where I could barely discern his shape nursing half of bitter in another Bar, yes, the Public Bar -- so it was astonishing that I could see his good eye at all let alone all its capillaries.
I guess I must have been staring at him...
Abrupt as that—without warning. Winking with the good eye.
It was not simply a cute quick flash of the eyelid, but more a slow motion retraction of his soul behind the gnarled ribbing of the eye's eyelid as if it were a tiny wing ... as if a creature lived in his head, rather than a brain. It was as awful as that, and worse.
The preservation of personal and communal sanity forces me to take half measures. So, no more of the wink.
He beckoned me from the Lounge by slowly bending and unbending his finger. I had never been in the Public Bar, so I expected spit and sawdust on the floor. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ambiance almost bearable. But the drinkers themselves were decidedly second-rate, a shaggy collection of human wrecks—derelicts who raised their heads in a desultory fashion as the swing-doors continued to clatter together behind me.
These regulars' faces did have the requisite appendages such as noses, eyes, mouths and so forth, but their utter blankness could not be concealed behind such disguises. One snorted into his tankard, dislodging his flat cap in the process. Another waved imbecilically as if he and I were both long lost bosom pals. A third revealed the ugliest toothless grin I'd ever seen, as if I were the stand-up comic come to entertain them.
The eyepatch winker, though, by the bar did not turn. He knew that it was necessary for me to approach first. The fact that I had come this far...
It was then I spotted that his eye-patch was now hanging from one of the empty tankard hooks above the Public Bar—a flat spider with its legs all running into one. I noticed, too, his drink had become fuller than before. Surely, he had not had sufficient time to finish the previous one and order another in the odd few seconds it had taken me to leave the Lounge for the cold street and back into the pub through a different door into the Public Bar where I now was.
Gingerly, I clopped nearer to him, so close I knew he must have been aware of my presence. The floorboards seemed to soften under my touch.
Even at that late stage, I need not have tapped him on the shoulder.
Surely, I could have slipped out of the Public Bar without further repercussions.
He revolved like a clown's head on a seaside pier with a two-way neck, his wide mouth gaping up and down—for me to toss a ball in—to win a teddy.
The face finally turned away without turning back ... too fast even for surprise. I simply glimpsed a tiny knife-blade sawing from within the skull, as it cut a raw-edged path through the gristle around the second eye-socket which was now made visible by the removal of the eyepatch. Something must have been wielding the tiny knife from inside.
So if you ever visit a time and place where the Public Bar subsists, you now know something of its nature and that you will likely remain stigmatised by it forever. That is, should you decide to be tempted in by the sight of its beer pumps or by anything else inside. Anything or anyone.
And eventually he started the turning of his head again, which was slower than before, as he slickly said, "I am pleased to see you, my chuck." Love at first sight, I guess. And my stilettos were stuck fast in the floor, as the man leaned towards me for a taste of my tongue...
By the way, his smile was worse than his wink.
A revision of a story by DF Lewis that was first published in 1996.
Stevie Walsh (Stephenw)
Posted From: 188.8.131.52
|Posted on Friday, August 02, 2013 - 06:11 pm: |
Brilliant, Des! That made me shudder.
Gary Fry (Gary_fry)
Posted From: 184.108.40.206
|Posted on Friday, August 02, 2013 - 06:17 pm: |
Creepy, man. Really enjoyed that. You have the touch, for sure.
Posted From: 220.127.116.11
|Posted on Friday, August 02, 2013 - 09:28 pm: |
Superb! I'm sure I've read the original version - either in Weirdmonger, or in one of the 'zines I have, or on the old Weirdmonger's Wheel.
Makes me realise .. I really must push The Last Balcony right to the top of my TBR pile soon. I'm longing to see if it's even better than Weirdmonger!
Posted From: 18.104.22.168
|Posted on Sunday, August 04, 2013 - 09:57 pm: |
Thanks, everyone. And yes, Caroline, the original version of that story was in WEIRDMONGER under the title 'First Sight'
Posted From: 22.214.171.124
|Posted on Tuesday, August 06, 2013 - 02:47 pm: |
WARMING DOWN by DF Lewis
While mindlessly threading her fingers into the dinner table’s holes, Marie said that she was sure the house was meant to be quiet, civilised, with slow, methodical bath times and, of course, mere small talk at mealtimes, nothing controversial being allowed to spoil the even-headedness. The even-handedness.
Giles turned the wireless louder on something called Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead. He’d forgotten whether Marie was a servant or his mother or his sister or even his girl friend. She’d admit to being nobody but a stranger, he guessed.
The items of furniture in the room sported finger-holes to ensure nobody lost their grip on them as sideboards, chairs, stools etc. The books even had handholds built into the spines.
“Ok, let’s be quiet for once,” Giles said abruptly, with another tweak of the wireless knob. The old fashioned receiver had a wicker speaker with many holes too tiny for fingers and its bakelite hull thrummed with vibrations; the reception bore a harshness bordering on a whistle.
Giles soon turned it off. There was silence, save for the wireless’s residual fidgets of warming down. Marie stared at the book in Giles’ hand, as if threatening some sort of hell if he didn’t stop reading it. Whatever her real role, she was a nag.
The dinner guests were then permitted entry to the dining room. There were steps somewhere above in the house.
"We ought to speak about the skeletons ... the things we were meant to speak about."
This speaker who spoke about skeletons possessed a piping voice, either a child or a woman, Marie was not sure which. Unlike the wireless speaker, this person had holes big enough for fingers.
"Why don't you speak about skeletons then?" thundered Giles, as if stirred beyond the petty concerns of skeletons that a household should have consigned to the broom-space under the stairs.
"It doesn't matter," said the piping voice, discouraged by Giles's encouragement to speak.
"If it doesn't matter, why speak about it in the first place, then?" questioned Giles.
"Giles, don't rant so," said Marie, whose innocence often gave her unguarded moments of bravery.
"One can't rant in questions, my dear," said Giles. "One can only rant in statements."
Whether that was true nobody bothered to ask.
At that point, there was no spell to break, but merely a heavy hush that could have been cut by any one of the knives poised above the thinly sliced, long-cut, pork. The steps overhead seemed nearer as if they had descended at least one floor since the initial awareness of them.
When the steps ceased pacing again, mouths returned to chewing, minds preferring not to invest the phenomenon with a faith in stray servants.
Giles's teeth were snagged on some crackling, a substance which loudly lived up to its name, giving a chance for someone who had not spoken before to speak with the bravado of interrupting without appearing to do so: "I can't help thinking some of us shouldn't be here at all."
"Well, isn’t that always the way?" said Marie.
"Weddings, Christenings, First Communions, Funerals...," enumerated another.
"When does the priest arrive?" asked a woman with the stature of a tiny girl. She was bolstered by cushions to bring her level with the table. She was obviously out of touch with the arrangements, having arrived at the house barely before dinner was served. The wavering candlelight filled her crows' feet, tending to hide them rather than illuminate them. Possibly the only good thing about the evening.
Giles had swallowed what was left of his crackling, allowing him then to announce: "The priest's expected."
His gold tooth glinted as if compensating for the dullness of his eyes.
Yet, Marie had vowed to make no value judgements. Like characters on playing-cards, would it be too far-fetched for her to be able to believe that they had no legs below the table but a second set of head, chest, torso and arms? She guessed this not to be the case, bearing in mind that she was feeling her way in the dark - a peopled dark, yes, but one where the stubbing and stumping paces above made her think otherwise. And, what's more, she was beginning to grow fed up with her lack of progress in nailing some sense to this dinner gathering. She was feeling her bones unsolve their own jigsaw frame, allowing the rest of her to flop towards the feet in crumpled folds.
"Yes, expected," repeated Giles.
"Who's expected?" asked Marie, not following the conversation.
"The priest," said the midget woman.
"Oh, yes. It's a pity everything has to end with priests."
Giles visibly prickled and said: "Everything has to end, even the thickness of that wall." He pointed at the chintzy flock wallpaper, imagining what lay behind it.
The house did not exactly shake as the footsteps upstairs grew even louder, but it was like the long drawn-out rhythm of an earth tremor, one which had not yet got the bit between its stony teeth. The paces were now directly above the ceiling and nobody could brush them aside.
"Perhap's it's a ghost," laughed the man who had only spoken once before.
"Ghosts don't pound like that."
"Nor do skeletons."
The last voice seemed to come from under the table, but it must have been a quirk of acoustics.
"If it's a skeleton, it might be wearing its hob-nailed boots!"
"Why do you say 'its' boots?"
"The mind boggles."
"No, but it's generally better not to use 'it' or 'he', but to use 'she', because that shows you're not making snap judgements, but asserting a definite commitment as to gender."
On the subject of commitment, or lack of it, Marie had given up trying to assign speech to any person who actually spoke. Well, it had to come, she supposed.
"This doesn't eat like pork."
"What else can it be?"
"It tastes sweeter and (what shall I say?) bodier. Bodier, yes, that's the right word."
"Not sweet enough, though. I wish this apple sauce was sweeter."
The midget dolloped piles of a pus-like substance on her lengths of filamented pinky white meat.
The knuckling knock on the dining-room door was, to some minds, caused by the perpetrator of the disguised pounding upstairs, now downstairs.
"It's probably the priest."
"Where have all the servants gone?"
"Who opened the front door?"
Giles stared at Marie. He rather fancied skeleton girls. With feet that knuckled along rather than pounded. And with puppet-strings so tenuous they seemed unsupported marionettes. Hand-puppets tended to have too big a holes, in any event. Too much give and no take. And only one such hole each.
The wireless suddenly switched itself on, as the door opened. Long before remote controls were invented.
A complete rewrite of THE DEAD that was published in 'Weirdmonger' (Prime 2003)
Posted From: 126.96.36.199
|Posted on Friday, August 09, 2013 - 11:44 am: |
The shop window was crammed with toys and contraptions, all of which would create a devil of a fuss as soon as the batteries were fitted - everything except the giant abacus which sat among the calculators and spellcheck computers, a delight to Broome’s old-fashioned eyes as well as to anyone's sense of the past. It recalled old school blackboards - sloping desks etched with centuries of schoolday crushes - clouds of chalkdust - roller maps, showing places only recognised by old stamp albums - and stories like this one, where nothing meant anything, and anything meant everything.
The abacus, a vertical wooden frame, about a yard square, with a number of coloured balls threaded upon horizontal metal bars that were equally spaced from top to bottom - an aid to the counting process, although Broome could not exactly recall how. Whatever the case, it was worth buying, just for its nostalgia value - a startling item to put by his high billet window: a touch pretentious, but all good grist to the mill. Remembered time given a shape or form and potential ritual transfigured into prayer-beads.
The bell rang above the shop door, which Broome was pleased to hear as he entered, since such a sound showed that the abacus was not the only nostalgia about this place. The man behind the counter was relatively long in the tooth, too. In spite of the electronic gear with which the shop was stocked, Broome could almost believe that there was a cash-desk in the gods of the shop somewhere to which cash was zipped in canisters upon high-tension wires and any loose change returned to the customer by the same means - just like in the good old days in proper shops. A telpherage named Lamson. An Adjacent to Duration like a trapeze act that only fiction could perform - a fiction now made real.
But, no, he had not seen that particular cash exchange method for many years. He was living in a past which, like most pasts, could never return. In the meantime, he just had to purchase the abacus. In a strange way, his self-respect depended on owning it, whatever the cost.
"How much the giant abacus?"
"I am afraid it's not for sale, sir."
The crotchety individual did not even look Broome in the eye, but continued to press heavily with his stub of a pencil upon a pad of receipts so that the sheets of purply carbon paper would 'take'. He had the look of someone who should not have spoken in English.
"Why is it on show, then?" Broome was determined to be tersely business-like in the modern fashion, despite his passion for the past.
"Well ... just for show, really."
"You've enticed me into this place on false pretences, then." Broome wanted to be more polite, but the puppet-strings of his telphic ancestry tugged, making him officious.
"So, you go into chemists, I suppose, to buy the huge vessels of coloured liquid they have in the window?"
Broome scowled, or Broome hoped Broome did, sufficient to notice.
"There must be some price which you can sell it at, surely."
"It's more than my job's worth..."
"Come off it. I'll give you twenty pounds. It's not worth half of that, but..."
The outside was now curtained by rain, which was strange, since the sun was clammily hot and bright when Broome first peered into the grimy shop window. All the contraptions had been shining in his eyes. Even the abacus had been glinting with its skewered balls of colour. Grumbles of thunder supplemented the shopkeeper's own.
"Sir, that abacus is a prized belonging of the family that owns this firm. It's just a gimmick, to help sell the calculators..."
Broome winced at the word 'gimmick', making the whole transaction seem so tawdry and, indeed, modernistic. But Broome was a culprit, too. Broome’s twenty pounds offer had indeed taken into account current inflation.
At that moment, a young lady with what Broome could only describe as a pointed squeaky face bustled into the shop, shaking her umbrella, as if it were a giant bat that had just been taking a skinny dip. Broome was convinced the bell had not sounded out for her above the door, as it had for him. But perhaps that was because his mind was occupied with his first sight of her. She reminded him of someone he had once loved - during those dark reaches of the past when love of strangers was more acceptable. Once unrequited love - as in Proust - escaped any accusation of stalking...
"Good morning, Miss Stephens. How are you?" said the shopkeeper.
The shopkeeper appeared flustered, as if Miss Stephens made him believe he were in the presence of a higher being. Broome guessed that she was probably a member of the family who owned the shop (and, of course, the abacus). She had that bearing. An old family from the Valleys. Full of sleek dark-haired beauties. Broome begged her to smile at him: yet how many times had he fruitlessly begged her in erstwhile days?
"Hello, Reginald," she said to the shopkeeper, with a lilt. "Everything all right?"
"Yes, thank you, Miss Stephens. Everything is ready in the back. They're already counted."
She smiled with a prettiness which Broome had never been able to fathom.
"I'll check a few at random, as usual. And the odd bag of silver."
"Yes, of course."
And she disappeared, through a bead-curtain which continued to hiss like a rattle-snake for a few seconds after her departure, followed by a period of silence spent mostly with Broome’s scrutiny of the shopkeeper's reactions to such a scrutiny: a shuffling of feet as if he had at last met his embarrassment threshold.
"So, how much then?"
Broome had decided to be positive and not to take no as an answer. Even a yes, in his present unwanted frame of mind, would have received the short shrift of his legendary old-fashioned look which usually set back the best of men upon the balls of their feet. Anything old-fashioned, in its true sense, was more powerful because of the centuries of trials it had undergone. In reality, Broome actually wanted to hug the shopkeeper, tell him that it did not matter and could he put in a good word for Broome with Miss Stephens?
"Keep your voice down, for goodness sake. You'll interrupt her counting..."
The shopkeeper pointed to the now unruffled bead-curtain through which Miss Stephens had disappeared. Broome could just about catch the gentle undertones of numbers being recited. He visualised her short skirt still bobbled with rain and the tantalising glimpse of stocking-top when she had ensconced the umbrella at the back of the shelf behind the counter.
He eventually purchased a battery calculator. He did not know why. He had hundreds already. In fact, he nearly bought a doll, one that could cry real tears from a re-fillable sump in the lower regions. For no obvious reason, he was deterred from such a purchase by the long human-like fingers which uncurled from the back room of the shop and painstakingly proceeded to move the beads up and down the hangings of the curtain-divider upon which such beads were strung, as if this were part of some counting process, far too arcane for modern folk like Broome. A reminder of a historic invasion, when they strung-up used heads.
The next occasion Broome looked in at that shop, the giant abacus had vanished from the window. The noise of the bell above the door was now only audible to snakes or blind bats. But he felt stiffening finger-length tubes of his own flesh being threaded along his bones. The same shopkeeper was standing behind the counter. The face now purple.
Rewrite of 'The Abacus' from the WEIRDMONGER book (2003)
Stevie Walsh (Stephenw)
Posted From: 188.8.131.52
|Posted on Friday, August 09, 2013 - 03:46 pm: |
You have a distinctively surreal and compelling voice, Des, that makes me think of you as one of those Artists who was born out of his time and will come to be appreciated in later years. A bit like Lovecraft & Aickman - without implying that your work is in any way similar. Keep up the good work and if the rewrites feel right to you then continue and make us all proud to have known you. There is unquantifiable genius in your words.
Posted From: 184.108.40.206
|Posted on Saturday, August 10, 2013 - 01:27 pm: |
Thanks, Stevie. That's very kind of you and perhaps when I've done a lot more of these 'Weirdmonger' rewrites, someone will want to produce a book of them? I became disenchanted with 'Weirdmonger' itself some years ago...and that's why I told Prime to put it out of print.
Any future such rewrites (another one done today) will appear here: http://www.ligotti.net/forumdisplay.php?f=217
Posted From: 220.127.116.11
|Posted on Saturday, August 10, 2013 - 05:13 pm: |
"I became disenchanted with 'Weirdmonger' itself some years ago...and that's why I told Prime to put it out of print."
And yet Weirdmonger is easily in my top 10 favourite collections of all time.
Stevie - if you can get hold of a copy, read it!