Fantasy Horror Fiction

The more long-standing residents wished they could claim it was some kind of mystery or local legend, or at least that they could tell any newcomers that, but, unfortunately for such mildly entertaining ideas, there was such a thing as the Internet, and they may well have ended up looking rather silly.

     Still, if it wasn’t fairly common knowledge that there was no mythical story behind The Rocks, then it wouldn’t have been that difficult to believe it. A kind of Stonehenge in miniature, boulders arranged in a circle that looked as if it most definitely ought to have some significance. Admittedly, the fact that they were outside a factory on the industrial estate didn’t add to the mystic aura. As everyone who lived nearby and used it as a short cut was keen to point out, both to themselves and others, it was all clean industry, and at times it was like a walk through the country. Well, almost. Technically The Rocks weren’t on the estate itself, though at least three quarters of the factory that sold and serviced machines for amusement arcades was. They were on Golf Road, the route that newcomers took to walk into town until someone kindly pointed out the short cut. 

     There was another name for The Rocks, though, and that was Poo Corner. No, that wasn’t some whimsical misspelling of a much-loved fictional bear, though of course that amiable creature and his adventures were in people’s minds. It was called Poo Corner because it was a corner and because it, well, pooed. 

     It was the kind of smell you could get used to but never stop noticing. Kelly Sanders, who was a relatively new arrival, was reminded of what her late grandfather, who’d worked on a farm, called muck spreading time. She always walked more quickly, and hurried her little rough-haired dachshund Waldi along when they passed Poo Corner. Waldi seemed to mind it just as much as she did. He was a fastidious little dog. Oh, every so often he couldn’t quite resist a somewhat perfunctory roll in the leaves, but was positively eager to have a bath afterwards. “I know,” Kelly smiled, when she could have sworn he held his nose in the air on passing. “It’s not very nice. But your own poop isn’t exactly ashes of roses, you know.” He treated that remark with the contempt it deserved.

     All the same, the origin of that smell was something of an enigma. The closest thing to compare it to was poop, but it wasn’t quite poop, and anyway, it would have taken a positive army of dogs attending to their business twenty-four hours a day to sustain such a persistent odour. Kelly’s friend Patty, who worked in a care home and sometimes did might shifts, told her it was just as omnipresent late at night or very early in the morning. Wind could not blow it away, rain could not wash it away, snow or ice could not mask it.

     “It’s more like some kind of fertiliser,” said Kelly’s neighbour Rachel, which was basically just a more polite way of expressing what her grandfather had said about the muck-spreading. But though the description wasn’t inaccurate, it was also, demonstrably, wrong. In front of the Amusement Arcade factory, on the Golf Road side, there was only the kind of grass that grew perfectly well, and perhaps even a shade too enthusiastically, of its own volition, and rocks hardly needed fertilising, did they? People made vague remarks about industrial waste, but the waste from such a factory wouldn’t be noxious, and anyway, it was recycled. Someone had once known someone who worked at the factory and was at pains to point that out.

     “You’d think we’d know more people who worked there, really,” Rachel said, but it was more the kind of thing you said to carry on a conversation than any great mystery. The firm was family-owned, and not that large, and they supposed that the family still tended to work there. 

  Intermittently (so it was said) one of the local councillors had a word with the factory owner, and it was presumed that he promised to do something about it, and nothing was done, and the matter was let drop (so to speak!) for a while. 

     “We’d almost miss it if it wasn’t there, I suppose,” Patty said, in the tone of voice that implied not quite like a hole in the head but not that far off it. Most of the residents in The Forge were originally from outside the area, but there were a few who could remember the factory first being built. It wasn’t the first property on the site – in fact it had been used for a small cotton mill as far back as the 19th century, and had gone through stages of being a typewriter factory and a dispatcher of surgical supplies, among other things. 

     Kelly was determined not to be too judgemental, as she gambled herself, enjoying a flutter on the National Lottery (though she had never won more than £25) but that self-same grandfather had been very puritanical on the subject, though he was, for the most part, a tolerant man. She knew why – his own father had been an inveterate gambler, and though, so far as he knew, he never struck his mother, he made her life a misery. 

     Kelly sometimes took another short cut – in town this time – that took her through an amusement arcade. She knew perfectly well that the vast majority of people playing the slots, as they were now called, without even the addition of the word machine  - were either holiday makers or locals having a bit of fun, shrugging resignedly when their allotted spend ran out or joyfully spending their wins on an extra fancy ice cream or a toy or the like, but she also knew that there were people who were there no matter what time of day she passed through, and was prepared to bet (and there was an ironic choice of phrase) that if the arcade opened 24/7 (which was not allowed under local bylaws) then they would be there at two or three or clock in the morning, staring hypnotically at swirling fruits and characters borrowed, possibly without permission, from soaps and movies, as bright artificial lights flashed and hypnotic sound effects that were not quite music throbbed in the air. She presumed at least some of the machines, or the parts to service them, must have been made on the factory on Poo Corner. 

     Sometimes she had a fancy – after all, dogs were supposed to know things, weren’t they? – that Waldi was not so much turning his nose up at the smell as at the activity that was facilitated by the factory on Poo Corner.  Admittedly that theory was rather stymied by the fact that frequently, when he trotted past or through the actual arcade, he displayed a decided interest and was happy to slurp from the water bowls they sometimes considerately provided in the hotter weather. No, Waldi was no canine crusader against the evils of gambling. In fact ,when he and Kelly made their way through the Arcade (which bore the, perhaps, strangely honest name of Mirage) he sometimes paused as they skirted the café section as if hoping that a piece of sausage, or indeed a whole one, may be passed his way. He certainly wouldn’t have refused it, though he considered begging beneath his dignity. The Mirage had a pragmatic approach to dogs. Despite the kindly meant water bowls, they didn’t have signs saying You Are Welcome Here complete with picture of an impossibly cute dog, but nor were they banned. Kelly had noted that some of the Slot-Slaves, as she termed them, though she was enough of a liberal to feel uneasy about using words like Slave had a faithful, if somewhat bored-looking, dog at their feet. And  I suppose they will be as faithful when they’re begging on the streets, she thought, realising that ironically, she didn’t quite know if such a thought were idealistic or cynical. 

     Normally Waldi was perfectly content to curl up on the couch in the evenings, especially when it was such a wild, bitter autumn evening. He was fond of his creature comforts and there was something quite soporific about the sound of his rhythmic snoring, though when Kelly mentioned it he looked at her in haughty disbelief at the notion that he would do such an uncouth thing as snore. But tonight, Waldi was restless and whimpering, pawing at the door. And it was plain that he wasn’t going to be content with just a trip into the garden to relieve himself. Kelly sighed, but tried to maintain a good grace. For all his snooty ways he wasn’t a demanding little dog, and she had times herself when she just had to get some fresh air and stretch her legs. “Fair enough, you win,” she said, “But I’m warning you, if you decide on the way home that you don’t want to walk home, you needn’t think I’m going to carry you.” Waldi knew an empty threat when he heard one. The night was every bit as blustery and bitter from the outside as it looked and sounded from the inside. Rain was lashing down and the sky was filled with those brooding grey clouds that somehow look darker than the black sky behind them, the intermittent glances of a low-hanging half-moon not making anything seem brighter or more friendly. Kelly hoped that a short, brisk walk would satisfy Waldi, and headed towards Poo Corner. And as they drew nearer, she heard a noise. At first she thought it was just the kind of noise that always seems to come from a factory at night, even when it is closed, and then she thought that the wind was carrying the mooing of cattle from one of the fields out in the country. After all, they weren’t that far from the country. But each thought was dismissed as it was born. This was no industrial nocturnal whirring, and this was no restless lowing borne on the night wind. 

     There was only one word to describe it, and there was no point to pretending otherwise. That word was howling. True, it sounded more plaintive than menacing, but howling was howling. And as the moon disappeared behind the clouds again, there was a light that did not come from on high, but from below, and from scores of eyes glowing in the dark. At first she thought that there were some extra rocks, but rocks did not have glowing eyes. And rocks did not howl. The smell of Poo Corner was stronger than ever, but it had become more vibrant, and seemed to form some strange trinity with the howling and the glowing. The figures stood up, and stood as tall as she did, but they still howled, and their eyes still glowed, and that smell intensified. All of the horror stories that she hadn’t read because she wasn’t interested in that kind of thing flooded through her mind. There was a certain fascination, but fear definitely overrode it. She gave Waldi no choice and they hurried home. 

     She couldn’t settle, not surprisingly, and wishing she could believe that the best way to conquer your fear was to confront it, she tried a Google search. Kelly’s colleagues at the tourist office often said that though she admitted herself she was no computer expert, she did seem to have the knack of putting in the right search terms to get a result, and it didn’t fail her now. Within a few minutes she was reading an article that had been posted back in the 1990s, and had that strange look of old web pages that somehow made them look older and quainter than even ancient manuscripts. It was from an early website of some folkloric society.

     We have found instances of an interesting variant of the werewolf legend, whereby, instead of humans metamorphosing into wolves, wolves are said to metamorphose, at least partially, into humans, standing up on two legs. This is particularly associated with certain parts of Lincolnshire on the East Coast of England, and occurs, so it is said, most frequently in late October and early November, though not necessarily at Halloween. In olden times, it is said, people used to erect standing stones to try to deter these eldritch manifestations, and also in some hope of stifling the terrible smell that is associated with them. There have been cases related of these creatures maintaining their essentially human form.

     Kelly had very troubling dreams that night, and they concerned Waldi walking on two legs, and howling, and his eyes glowing. No such metamorphosis happened, and she determinedly told herself that her beloved pet was most definitely not one of those beings described in an article that still used words like whereby and eldritch

     But two things happened that day. She could have sworn that for a couple of seconds the prosaic street name sign shifted from Golf Road into Wolf Road and that her eyes were not deceiving her.

     And as she took the short cut through the Mirage arcade, she realised that one of those clusters that form when someone important, or who thinks themselves important, had formed. One of the regulars (though she wasn’t quite sure if he was one of the addicts – life wasn’t as simple as that) looked up briefly from the whirling fruit and said, “Himself has decided to pay us a visit.  Mr Laurence Mortenson, chief supplier of these,” he laid his hand on the machine, and Kelly wasn’t sure whether it was an aggressive or devoted gesture, “To the whole county. Look at the staff,” he sneered in contempt, “Fawning all over him!” 

     Despite herself, Kelly was curious, and drew nearer to the cluster. Mr Mortenson was a tall man, towering over most of the staff who did, indeed, appear to be fawning all over him. He was what her mother described as handsome if you like that kind of thing making it plain she didn’t – and Kelly didn’t either. He said something that was funny, but not that funny, and the staff dutifully howled with laughter. Except mixed in with it, there was a howl that was not one of laughter, and even in the strong artificial light of the Mirage, eyes that glowed very strangely. And they seemed to be honing in on her, looking beyond the giggling workers and the whirring and flashing machines. 

Author’s Note  Most of the locations described in this story are real. However, to the best of my knowledge, the events are entirely the product of my imagination!

October 27, 2020 07:01

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