A woman is crying.
Waves crash rhythmically against the beach in the distance.
Her sobbing worsens, and another sound becomes clearer: a monstrous, guttural clicking, reminiscent of the slavering mandibles of some great beetle.
The sobbing ceases, replaced only by the sounds of eating: quiet crunching and wet gulping mouthfuls amidst the waves.
JOHN TUSK: It began and ended, as ever, with a kiss. I stood back, wiping my lips with my cuff as her flesh began sliding from her bones. Bubbling, frothing, oozing colors of peach turning into dirty pink then stark scarlet skin running, bloody, blood souring to mulch in the veins. The veins breaking, the mulch spilling free. Bone showed through, naked, white turning grey, grey turning yellow, shrinking, collapsing upon one another. The hair upon her head becomes damp straw and shed itself strand by strand. One eye sank deep, the other slid down the bones of her cheek, a spoonful of clotted soup. Her whole figure dribbled away within her clothes, dropped in lurches to the darkly-ribbed sands between the tall, barnacled posts of the pier.
Waves crash ceaselessly against the beach.
JOHN: I felt fulfilled, as much as ever. I picked up her dress, now emptied of all but the odd remaining nub of bone and a little slime, still bubbling at the edges. I balled it in a knot and threw it a little further out, out towards the incoming tide. Threw her shoes one by one off at a different angle. What was left of her feet, that fizzing, oily puddle, well… the tide would take it all, as it always did. If anything was ever found, it would be miles up or down the coast, hundreds of miles, perhaps. The Irish Sea, as ever, would prove a fine friend to a fellow with much to bury.
The sound of footsteps, ascending steps and leveling onto a dock.
JOHN: By the time I’d walked back across the beach and up onto the prom, dawn was just start to match its first red strands to the moss-colored girders of the tower. Blackpool was silent, save for the sounds of my steps and the calls of a few sleepless gulls. A town so often thought shabby, tacky, trivial, as beautiful suddenly as some great carcass of scarlet and bone white, a sea beast from the dawn of time sprawled across the sands and all the gaudiness of its bared liver and lights and eyeballs and teeth. I had wandered so far to wind up here, and wondered how I could ever have lived anywhere else.
MAUDIE: Oh God, oh God! Up in the sky with the wolf and the cat and the baby, all lost… Up goes the sun, with the, with the fire and the snow and, and the world’s all sick, sick with their eyes burned out…
JOHN: Correction. I did not wholly have the prom to myself. A short way further along, I saw dear old Maudie, stirring awake upon the metal bench where she’d spent the night.
MAUDIE: The night flew off, gutted its guts on the tower’s spike, scraped it all out, bleeding, see? Weeping all the way down the ballroom’s front, stain your gown. Piddling, puddling, puddling in the gutter, got guts in the gutter, bones too, brown as dirt, as, as blood, old blood!
JOHN: Maudie. As much name as she could remember, fixture on the sea front for as long as anyone could recall. Bag lady indigent, living rough, always drunk on something - hair tonic, (…), disinfectant - horribly sober in her shriveled, old heart. Thin, blue, waterproof about her lumpish body and filth-encrusted, mismatched clothing, her cap of ancient gray hair dyed the most violent canary-yellow to match the color of her outsized plastic handbag, stuffed with God-knows-what mess of mementos. As I drew near, she stepped upright in her carpet slippers and sagged tights, recognizing me with all the shivering clarity her colorless eyes could muster.
MAUDIE: Here’s the night, the night, still walking around like the giant he is, and the day’s started bleeding way up there. Cat crawled, climbed up over the crib edge, sucking the babies, someone’s babies, someone’s babies dying, breath all bone dry! Here he passes, long shadow, longer than any white, live soul ought to be, slicing the rest of us so thin, thin for eating, and all that’s left is me! (…) shedding a tear, a silver tear for what the tide took away, my life torn! Y-you see, torn, like, like that sky, and the cold got in, so long ago that, that this poor hat of mine – is that Daddy’s hat? – oh, it’s sore with the salt-sting!
JOHN: I smiled, strolled past fondly. She knew what she knew, had seen what she’d seen, but who was ever going to believe her when that drink-furred tongue could no more have put two words of (…) witness together than it could have sung Traviata? I tossed her a few coins to help her get drunker still and left her there in my magnanimity. Every kingdom needs its court jester, and this kingdom of mine, this Blackpool of beautiful death, hid discreet behind the Blackpool where kiddies spend bank holidays, had Maudie, speaking the truth in a code no policeman would ever decipher.
The sound of breaking waves continues.
JOHN: A brisk, southward stroll along the front brought me to the shabby front of the hotel. The Toledo Hotel had seen better days, had competed with Lytham St Anne’s for the better class of holiday-maker back in the 30s and 50, a grand oasis of the fake Mediterranean on the filed coast. But the flit of such folks to the actual Mediterranean, plus one-too-many insurance fires, had left it, decades later, a great ungainly shed for benefit claimants, for waifs and strays otherwise homeless, its elegant rooms broken up into cramped bedsits. An ideal roost for this bird of ill omen.
The crashing tide of the Irish Sea fades to silence.
JOHN: As usual, I had left open the fire exit door to better sneak back in with maximum discretion. I climbed the stairs, feeling pleasantly weary after my night’s exertions, looking forward to a curl in a corner with my more pleasant dreams… but one landing short of my own top floor, a door opened.
A door is thrown open and footsteps drum out of it, their owner breathless and fearful.
TOM: Kate! KATE!
JOHN: The young woman, dressed only in some short wrap and a hint of cotton nightgown, threw herself against me: blindly? I couldn’t be sure, the landing gloomy, but, having collided with me she clutched me tight, glancing back towards her doorway through which the boyfriend loomed.
TOM: Kate! I’m sorry, I…
JOHN: She pulled herself apart from me, looking at me properly for the first time. Her lip was bloodied, her eyes dark: she looked utterly lost and starkly beautiful as a broken thing can sometimes be in this brutal world, and I thought, for a moment, I glimpsed my own reflection in those dark eyes. The reflection of a man wondering if he hadn’t seen that total stranger somewhere before. The boyfriend shambled closer, all apology, something to do with coming off his nightshift, soreness behind his eyes. Though it was the first time I’d caught sight of her, I’d glimpsed him a time or two, having to avoid him in the early hours as he shambled in exhausted. He glanced at me, but only for a second before taking her arm, gently now, and leading her back into the room, murmuring some conciliatory sweet nothing at her ear. She seemed to give in more than go gladly, but go she did; yet even as I turned away and started up that final set of stairs, I looked back for a moment, and saw her look back at me.
JOHN: She said, and it was as if she could see what was lost in me as sure as I could see what was lost in her. The door closed. I continued upstairs to what suddenly seemed a cold and lonely corner.
KATE: Who was he? Out of nowhere like that? I was just trying to get away, away from the next thump of Tom’s knuckles. At that hour in the morning, a place like that, everyone’s in their room, so you think: comatose with whatever swig or (…) or shooting up it took to get some sleep. Well, I just thought it was an empty landing I was running into, and there he was: tall and silent like a shadow, there in that corner and, I don’t know… gentle? Thoughtful? He looked… like a girl’s guardian angel, sprouted from the wallpaper. And in that split second of seeing him, Tom at my back and my lip split and sore and bloody I found myself – well, who wouldn’t? – reaching out, grabbing at him, clinging like to say, “Save me! This life of mine is hitting too hard just at the moment”. But who was he? No one. No one to me. Just some nobody going up the stairs, so I pulled away, and I saw I’d left a tiny spot of blood on his white shirt: just above the heart, just below the neck. I was going to apologize, but Tom was at my back, all apologies himself trying to lead me back into the room, and… well. I knew where I was with those apologies, that pull on my arm. You stick with what you know, don’t you? And I knew Tom like I knew every other compromise that had ever come my way. I was being pulled through the doorway and Tom closing the door before I ever really grasped… that’s Mr. Upstairs! I said. Because though I’d never seen him before, I’d heard, yeah! I’d heard! Usually at night when Tom was out on-shift, his steps, tramping back and forward, back and forward, just above the ceiling of our room. No thumping about, no music, just soft, soft steps. Back and forward, back and forward, shivering the electric light above my head and I’d wondered – as you do – who’s that up there? What’s on his mind? And now I’d seen him at last, though all he was was still a shadow with my blood on his shirt. Tom? He was all for making up. All that long night, stuck out in the cold, watching over switched-off amusement park rides and he comes home, half-pissed with the whiskey he’s drunk to keep himself warm, crawls into bed and grabs at me, reckoning I’ll at least show him a little softness and affection. Except, I was asleep, stuck in some dream, and… there he comes all grabbing and groping and me, the cold bitch that I am, said no, and the last gulp of whiskey kicks in. The smell of it fast in my face followed two seconds later by a smack in my teeth and, well… well that’s what true love’s about, I suppose. Anyway. Over breakfast he was all apologies and buttering my toast for me, angling for a gentler sort of kiss and cuddle but, I had work to get to, hadn’t I? Another day scraping runny eggs and bacon rashers off a hot plate, blasting steam into coffee mugs smelling of liquid fat and other peoples’ struggle to make breakfast last all day. I rebuffed him again, more safely this time. Pulled on clothes, boots, kicked my way out into the gray morning. Got on with life.
JOHN: Sleep? Somehow, suddenly, I wasn’t in the mood. I lay awhile, staring at the ceiling, that sea gleam glinting brokenly across the cracked moldings. My God. I sprang up from the bed, stepped to the window, and looked down through the dusk-gray net to the prom, the (…) end of the prom coming alive below. Why her? The sight of her, when so many others, prettier, more painted, had been annihilated at my kiss, less bother in it than the breath it takes to mention them? Was I a little overfed that morning, stuffed too aching with life stolen and so prone to second thoughts? I was going to throw myself back on the bed, bury these absurd notions, but then I saw her below, stepping across the road, running for the tram, missing it, turning along the prom to walk into town. Suddenly I was pulling clothes back on, suddenly I was starting swift down the stairs. It turned out I was following her, clean past the door where her man slept, stupid.
TOM: Well, I was sorry, wasn’t I? Sometimes you just… hit out. Sometimes life’s like that, gets a bite in your ass and you can squeal or you can smack out at something. It’s them you love, her you love that’s usually easiest smacking distance. I love her, like nothing else. Like nothing else I ever found in this shithole world and, oh, I fought my start in it with such hopes. High fucking hopes, and what’s left? After a night shivering in the cold, shining a fucking torch around the lot of chained-up amusements… her. Her and nothing else. How could I? How fucking could I? Kate… I ain’t gonna let you go, Kate, I ain’t gonna. No. No fucking way, if it cost me all the pittance in my fucking pocket. Kate!
JOHN: I followed her, at a discreet distance, some way along the prom and then off into the side streets near the central pier. In Dale Street she stepped into a café. I stepped into the shadows by the closed yellow shutters of the UFO and Paranormal exhibition on the opposite corner. The latter emporium had been run by the, now presumably defunct, Galactic Federation of Light, and offered aura photographs. Though the place was now (…), “Are We Alone? See The Evidence for Yourself” it said on a board above one of the rusting shutters. The café itself more humbly offered on the board outside all-day breakfasts and traditional roasts. Through the threadbare lace curtains I saw her disappear behind the counter and reappear five minutes later in a nylon uniform, taking an order from an elderly couple in the window she had to discreetly disengage from an argument that might had been going on for 40 years. I thought of wandering in myself, placing my own order, my own command upon her attention, but I was distracted.
MAUDIE: Blood! Throat cut! M-murderous snitch, vampire’s bait! Stain of Christ on the burial sheet.
JOHN: Maudie. What galaxy had she appeared from, there in that half-empty street? But there she was suddenly at my elbow, pointing at my, what, my neck? No, lower, my shirt: a stain there, a spot of blood. What, the woman’s? The woman under the pier, the woman that I… No, no. Hers. The woman in the café across the street, the woman I was… Hers. When she clutched me the blood at her mouth, a tiny bead of it, kissed from her to me.
MAUDIE: Killer, is it? C-come to roost? Crow, flapping black, black wings in the salt-white street, looking for a nest to fill with bones. Don’t go tearing up the daylight, please, it’s all the best we’ve got! I beg ya, I beg ya, don’t, don’t bloody the live-long day, bury it in the long black sand, I’m crying out to you, don’t kill me, no…
JOHN: I pulled my coat tighter about the tiny blood stain and hurried on, shamed just for the moment, like a far more common sort of murderer, leaving her ranting there in the side street.
MAUDIE: Blood, you see? See? Someone? Spot of blood! You could see clean through, clean through to where the corpses are. Cadavers piled high, buried deep, screaming clean out to sea, with the seagulls. I’m screaming here and nobody’s listening, nobody! I’m nobody, see? Bury me. Cuppa, cuppa - cuppa tea, crumpet of cake, I’m starving, starving of thirst… Throat burning with the sand, with the blood, with the poison, oh God, am I next? Save me, save me, someone! Cuppa?
KATE: Usual morning. (…) stuffed full of runny eggs and shriveled bacon, black pudding slices, frothy coffees, pots full of builder’s tea, space left for three sugars. Bowls of soup all chunked with cheap tinned vegetables. Fish and chips frying, roast stewing by the tail-end of the morning. Some old woman – seen her before – switching out on the street, brains gone on cocktails of fuck-knows-what. Blood and murder, she were on about. Well, it’s something to scream about when you’re that far gone; either that or bugs under your skin. She wandered off and the day went on. By four I was wilting like the sandwiches under the countertop, and Tom came through the door.
The shopkeeper’s bell above the café door jingles as it’s swung open.
KATE: Tom? A whole other Tom from the early hours, rested, freshened-up, nicely dressed, leather jacket and that shirt I bought him last Christmas, all fastened with a tie, even. And I was like, what the fuck are you doing here? ‘We’re going out,’ he says. Out where? I’ve got half an hour left on my shift. ‘Get out of it’, he says, ‘we want to catch the shops while they’re still open.’ Which shops? ‘Leonard (…)’s, he says. What, the jewelers? ‘That’s the one’, he says, ‘get through there and get changed’.
TOM: Well, I thought, why not, after all this time? That cut at her lip I dealed… should run a fair bit of lipstick over it, but I knew that was no kind of mark I wanted her to know me by. After all we’d been through, no… a jewel. I wanted her to have a jewel so the world would know, so she’d know: I’m an idiot, I’m a prick, I’m a fucking hopeless failure at every fucking thing I ever turn my hand to, but I’m not bad. Not deep down. There’s bastards in this world, them that really break what they get their hand to and enjoy it, but that’s not me. I’m… well, I’m just some poor idiot bastard makes the mistakes he does without ever, ever meaning it. And I meant to make things right. So down to (…)’s we went, caught it just before closing, and she must’ve known on the walk over what it was all about. And I said that I wanted to make it straight, we were (…) you know, but… what the fuck do I know about a ring? A ring she’d like, a ring she could live with. So I wanted her help to help… you know, help me choose it and she said, ‘What, an engagement ring? What’re you telling me?’ And I says, I’m telling you to choose a ring. And she said, ‘What? Are you sure?’ And I said, I’m not browsing round this poncy jeweler’s for recreation. What, this one? That one? And I could see her worrying suddenly, worrying about money, you know? And I said, discreetly, you know, fuck the money. You know I’m working all those long night watches to go and not spend the money I’m making. It’ll go on the card, don’t worry! The magic fucking card. It’ll be paid off by the time I’m dead. Come on Kate, I says, it’s been so fucking tough this last couple of years, but now we’re both working. The work’s shit, but we’re earning, so why not? Why not, at last?
The sounds of a busy city street surround them: cars passing, occasionally honking, and people bustling by in muffled conversation.
TOM: So she chose – middle of the range, but decent, you know, nice sparkle to it. And I did the necessary with the card, then wafted her out to the sea front, right out to the comedy curb out there in front of the tower, all them beautiful, stupid (…) by all them dodgy old comedians my dad used to love all printed there on the concrete of the prom. And I stood her there in the center, where they’ve got the old Morcambe And Wise song all printed out and I said to her, like the song says, make me happy though the years, bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love… and marry me, for God’s sake, ‘cause I’ve just gone and bought a bloody ring! And she looked at me, and she looked out to the sea, and she looked at the deathless words of Mr. Les Dawson right along the side… and she finally said, ‘Yes’.
KATE: Well, what else was I going to say? Planned it well, he did, in that way of his that never seemed like any kind of plan at all. He’d seen me see how much the ring cost, so what was I going to say, then and there? It was all sweet of him, the stupid bugger. I said yes in an I-don’t-know sort of voice and he heard what he wanted to hear, and that was it; which was better, God knows, than him going down on one knee next to some Les Dawson joke about Mother-In-Law. The salt-spray of the sea stung, meanwhile, at the cut on my lip… anyway. He dragged me onto a tram and we headed straight up to (…) for a meal he’d already bought: Italian - Sardinian, even - fancier than the usual Nando’s. Barbecue ribs for him, salad for me, followed by him gulping down one of those calzone things, extra spicy, me on the spaghetti marinara. We finished off sharing a sundae big enough to fill a bucket, him eating twice as much as I did, which is one thing the man in your life is handy for, anyway: scraping the plates clean. And he talked, talked like I hadn’t heard him talk, not in a long time, about his life, our life. All he’d been after with it so long, the dreams, you know? All them dreams for him and me and the whole bloody world. Now sometimes you forget he was the one who went to university, couple of years at least, and sometimes you couldn’t help but remember. Nice night. Tide was far, far out. We walked back along the sand. Stars – you could make out a few, at least, between the clouds. Oh, and the moon… so bright. Sometimes in Blackpool you turn away from the lights on the seafront, the lights and the noise and the wildness of it all just hits you: the sea, that whole ocean of sky. He was talking politics, his own kind of politics which was a kind of poetry, like me talking about the silly bloody stars, but… you got to find something beautiful and to talk about it. Even if talking’s all you ever get to do, well, what kind of life is it you’re leading?
A door opens and closes, the waves crashing gently against the beach.
KATE: We got back, we made love. I mean, really, not just lazy fucking like we’d gotten in a rut of for a while. He could be so naked and beautiful, that man of mine, sometimes, when he took the anger and the hard defenses off with his clothes. I clutched him so close and I thought, maybe. Maybe… marriage. Maybe. He came and I came, and I came, I think, with the sweetness of how innocent suddenly he felt in my arms, the sob that came out of him, and it was so quiet afterwards, I swear I could hear the tide turning far out across the beach. And I thought, married? Maybe this is what being married could be.
JOHN: Through the floorboards I listened, that brute coupling with a bellow like the bull that raped Europa, and her, whoever she was, having to suffer that. I thought I heard her cry out in pain and could have stormed down there and… but no. What were they to me? Nothing. Figures glimpsed on a staircase. I had a world out there to kill, and yet… I had hung that white shirt on the back of a chair by the window. In the moonlight, that tiny stain upon it, the stain of her blood, shone like a black jewel. What was it doing there? They never, ever leave a mark on me, a stain. I never let them. I stand apart, even as I see them rot, except… except. A pain. Sudden, somewhere under the lowest rib on my right. A soul, biting, not quite digested, and angry still. Hers, the woman from last night? You can kill them hard, reduce them in seconds to slime and dust, but the thing you steal, swallow down… why, that can gnaw inside for years after, all those hundreds of years’ worth of souls drunk and still some ancient ones claw and scratch and whisper in the loops of my guts. The whispering is the worst, those bygone voices coming at you present-tense...
Kill me. Snared me, caught me in the dark, dragged me down, stole my soul, nicked it, sunk it deep here. Here, where I’ll hate you forever more. Thief. Killer. Spew me up, set me free, or see me bite you deeper still here in your own crooked depths.
John cries out in a guttural tone.
JOHN: When they’re restless as that, only thing to do is get out, hunt down one more, pile its soul on top of the others, tamp them down that way. I got up, dressed, went out into the night.
KATE: But the thing is, I dreamed, and the dream wasn’t about Tom. I dreamed I was walking on the beach. Tide was out, it was dark. Dead of night, except it wasn’t dark, because I was walking on the sand just to one side of the south pier and all the rides, all the amusements along the pier, the Adrenaline Zone, all that stuff… it was all on fire. Blazing high into the night sky, and… there was people on the rides, the rides and the slides and the climbs up Spider Mountain, the Crazy Coaster, the Sky Screamer, and screaming they were, too, because they were all on fire! But they still went up, down, up, down and all around and bits of, I don’t know, wreckage? Burning bits of metal and plastic, and maybe a few bits of burning people came raining down, thumping down onto the sand next to me. I could’ve been killed! I tried to move further away but, suddenly, just past where the fiery light was brightest the sea blocked the way. The tide started to come in, black waves, white splashes on them like broken glass. Something was in those waves, calling out to me, and I could see… it was something like a horse with no legs, like some great, ugly goat of a thing not being able to get itself out the water, calling for me to help it; and it had wings, too, great feathery wings, but they were broken. Poor bloody, ugly thing. Like… yeah. That’s it, like one of those sphinx things you see on a postcard from Greece or Egypt. I splashed out into the shallow water, caught hold of it, (…) spike its bubbly fur all over. I had to wrestle it, drag it, drag it on out of the water; it wriggled like a great fat (…) snake, flapped its stupid wings, the smell of salt and animal hide. And then suddenly it had arms, or something like arms; I couldn’t see them but I could feel them, clutching me tight, dragging me down even while I was dragging it up. I hit the sand, the wet sand. The thing was on top of me, hot, meaty breath in my face, its fur and its ribs all pressing down on me, waves washing in under us, cold like everything else was fiery. Fiery? Yeah… and I was fiery too. You sometimes are in dreams, nothing to lose. That thing, its great, fang-y muzzle came close but then, suddenly, it was so dark I could hardly see what it was, and then… when it kissed me, I knew it was a man’s face, a face like a face in a mask of soft fur, panther’s fur, and we were… well. We were eating away at one another like the flames were eating away at the pier, and he clutched at my skin with hands like claws and my clothes came away like thin rags, and I was clutching at him just as tight, and that animal hide slid off of him just as easy and it was a man’s naked skin just beneath. And my skin and his skin were a single skin, both of us writhing deep inside it and the writing works us deeper, deeper into the wet sand until we were sinking clean through it, burying ourselves in the sandy dark. We must have lain buried there a long time, although it’s always difficult to tell these things in a dream.
The sounds of bestial growls and burning pier gives way to the din of a carnival, strength game bells clinging, some children and a clown laughing in the distance.
KATE: Can you fall asleep in a dream? I think I did. I woke up with a start: I was lying on a floor in a dark room, and what woke me was him rising, quick off me like he was running from something. Running guilty. I was up on my feet quick, quick and naked, seeing him just as naked running ahead of me through this long, dark room and, as he ran, I could see wings, the beginnings of wings starting to sprout all wiry out of his back, and there was a kind of flickering light in the room, and in that flickering light I could see mirrors lined along the walls either side of me. Hall of Mirrors-type mirrors, all warped and distorted so I could see my own naked body stretching and thinning and fattening and splitting in two in one mirror after another.
The sounds of rapidly-retreating footsteps, fading to sinister, echoing whispers and incoherent, shadowy mutterings.
KATE: And then it wasn’t even me I was seeing in the mirror, it was these other people, all standing there burning like the people up on that pier must have been burning! Through the flames I could see their faces cracking with the heat into these awful, broken smiles. The glass in the mirrors were melting, bubbling. I ran on, caught up with him in a doorway. He turned, but it was the landing outside the room we were standing in, I mean, the room I was dreaming all this in, and he was dressed like he’d been dressed that morning: shabby old overcoat, black hoodie with the hood hanging out, wrinkly white shirt in need of a wash and my blood on it. He turned, started up the stairs. I ran after him. It was hard to catch up, however hard I ran. At last, top landing; as he slid his key in the lock, the lock of the door I’d never seen before, I caught his shoulder. Turned his head; his face was a mask made out of gold, a beautiful mask, and the gold was melting. He opened the door. Everything was on fire through there, burning wallpaper leaping in the air. He took my hand, gently. Somehow I wanted to go with him; into the heat we stepped, and the heat felt and smelled like the heat of the beast thing taking me on the beach, but it wasn’t a room we were in, no – it was the end of the south pier we were on, and everything was burning around us, big, towering metal bits of the rides coming down, tumbling down. The whole pier was swaying and buckling under us and he faced me, and kissed me with that masked mouth, and me – oh, I was molten too. It was only very slow that the pain of it all ate into me, ate into me and I woke.
The ocean crashing rhythmically against the beach, and Tom snoring in a deep sleep.
KATE: Woke to Tom snoring next to me, nothing going on but the slow rolling on of our life together, on into the future. The future that might, God knows, smack you in the mouth but wouldn’t burn the world down around you, even if the heat and the light was something you felt you needed.
JOHN: I wandered from pub to pub, amusement arcade to amusement arcade - even this late in the season they were busy enough - but no scrap of humanity particularly caught my attention. I strayed onward, northward along the promenade. Outside the body of the town, on my right, hotels, shutting up with the coming of winter; the great plastic-y tableau of the grandest of Blackpool illuminations lining the seafront on my left. But the great autumnal display of these gaudy, lit tourist attractions had come to an end the previous week. They sit there now, unlit, waiting for council vans to work their way from one end of the seafront to the other, dismantling them. I was passing one particular display, the plastic figures and setting showing some kind of split-level grotto populated by fanged and hairy goblins, comical and family-friendly, all the while pondering my turning back and admitting defeat, when I caught a sound from the vicinity of that display.
A VOICE: Help! Someone help!
JOHN: I stopped. The trolls in the tableau stood there, dull, hunched, unlit, unmoving, unable to make any such sound. No other figure was in sight, even the road momentarily silent of cars.
A VOICE: Help!
JOHN: The sound seemed to be coming from…. ah. Why, indeed, yes. It was coming from behind the display, in the narrow gap between the installation and the iron rail overlooking the sea below. I walked, cautiously, around the corner of the display, its fairytale decoration giving way to the naked scaffolding that propped it up. A white shape fluttered halfway along the tableau’s rear side, like some outside gull that had caught its wing there.
Chains are rattling together.
A VOICE: Fucking hell, someone help!
JOHN: It was a figure in a full bridal gown, headdress and veil and streaming white train and all. A woman? Mm, a woman’s dress, but it didn’t sound like a woman.
THE BRIDAL DRUNK: Help! Is that… someone? Someone there in them shadows? Help me, for fuck’s sake!
JOHN: It was, in fact, a man. A young man, turning my way a beefy face and fashionably-trimmed beard, even as he struggled with the… handcuffs? – yes, handcuffs – by which his lace-mantled wrists had been fixed to a vertical length of the tube of the scaffolding. I stepped closer, and he paused in his strugglings, trying to show me a meaty, if embarrassed, smile.
THE BRIDAL DRUNK: Look a sight, I bet. You’re thinking… like I know what you’re thinking. Well, it’s just a joke, joke on me. Stag day, see? Don’t even tell me, me mates out for a laugh. Well, you got to go along. Last night of freedom. So I got dressed up like this, hitting them pubs hard, lads all dressed up like the bridesmaids, then they drag me up here. Handcuffs, see? Went and got them at the sex shop. Kinky like that. Locked me up here, then all fucked off to a club. Thought they’d come back in half an hour, maybe, an hour at least. But… but I’m due the fucking registry office 10am in a Burton suit. The joke’s getting a bit bloody thin. And I got this bloody sea wind blowing up me bloody bustle. Can you help me, mate? Help me get free, or get someone – the police, even. They’ll have a laugh, but that’s the bloody police for ya. All that Budweiser poured in me and now this cold wind. It’s me Aunt Vi’s old wedding dress, can’t go pissing the silk all yellow. Come on mate, give us a hand, see the funny side, don’t ya? ...Don’t ya? Wait… what’re you doing? What are you doing back there? What do you think you’re up to? Wait, no! Noooo!
JOHN: Stepping behind him, I slammed his stupid face against the scaffolding to which he was attached. A few teeth audibly shattered. He choked slightly on the blood in his mouth. As I pressed myself close from behind and began nibbling, kissing in his ear, he gave a fearful whimper, as if fretful I was about to sodomize him past the lazy bustle… but no, dear fellow. I was a spider on your back, not a rapist. I kissed, drove my tongue deep into the hole of his ear.
Gasping, spluttering, and gagging sounds amidst visceral squelches.
JOHN: The brains melted in his skull like molten copper, ran out through his nose for the moment or two he still had a nose, then as I stepped back, his whole head sank upon itself like a shriveling mushroom. His body sagging likewise, bones, flesh becoming liquid, dribbling away through the folds of the collapsing bridal gown. The wrists encased by the handcuffs slipping free, for by now they were like melting candles more than human limbs. What little was alive in him was now swallowed hard in my gut. I waited another few seconds then trampled flat what was left, wishing just at that moment I could trample flat all such men, all such men and the world I’d seen them make.
Normalcy is restored, and we can hear only the familiar crash of the tide again.
JOHN: I hefted up the bridal gown, empty now of all but a few dribblings, and hurled it over the rail into the black waves washing the promenade wall just below. It flopped and floated there a while, washed again and again against the wall like a swan with a broken back. The black water infiltrated itself more and more thoroughly amid the dense white fabric and it sank, slowly, very slowly but swiftly enough. What was left on the pavement, well, a passerby might have mistaken it for something a dog puked after snapping up too many dropped take-aways. I left it as it was and walked back into the center of town, stopped at a pub just short of closing time, swigged back a beer to get the taste of the fellow’s worthlessness out of my mouth. I spotted myself in a mirror above the (…) just behind the bar: amid all the happy, trivial laughings and bustlings, I was a dark stain, a charring upon the face of the glass itself.
KATE: I was awake a long time, long enough to hear those soft steps – his? – climbing the stairs outside the room, long after midnight. The steps seemed to stop immediately outside our door. Something in me clenched, hard and cold as that silence in the hall, and then I heard the steps continuing up the stairs. Softly above, a door was unlocked, opened, closed. I caught the tiniest creak of a step above my head. I huddled down deep under the duvet, close against the warmth of Tom’s shoulder. I shut my eyes tight and waited for the next dream to come.