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Kisses in the Dark [An Unofficial Fan-Transcript]

Chapter Text

 


 

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.   

 

KATE: Sorry!

 

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.

 


 

Chapter Text

 

There are flocks of seagulls crying in the distance.

 

Someone is deeply snoring.

 

KATE: I woke to rain on the window. Wintry dawn, hardly any light in it at all; Tom fast asleep, still snoring. How he loved those few nights he got off, burying himself in sleep like he never could, not really, during the days. Handsome, he looked, sort of... all that anger in him gone. And so it went.

 

Tom’s snoring turns into a wide-mouthed yawn.  

 

KATE: And here I was, suddenly marrying him. Was I? Could I? I licked that itchy scar on my lip and I saw I’d slept in slightly, my day to open the café, quarter after in a (…). Climbed out of bed, quiet as I could, made toast and coffee and slipped out the door. Was just closing it when I heard him stir awake and call for me. ‘Kate?’ he called, like something had frightened him, something in his dream and he’d awakened feeling, well…alone. I called across I love you, and closed the door.

 

It’s raining heavily, the gulls still tireless in their cacophony.

 

KATE: The morning was as cold as it was wet, wind blowing in off the rough sea, wind to cut a slice or two off your bones. Long ten minutes in the draft-rattled shelter waiting for the tram, but at last one came. Short run along the prom. I looked out the misted window onto the south pier and remembered my dream. All that fire, now nothing but rain. I was off the tram five minutes later, walking up the front towards the café, key in-hand. I couldn’t unlock, not easily, cause for blockage in the doorway. Hello? Some crumple of a body, all pale blue plastic and threadbare tweed and saggy nylon, bottle-blonde hair and wrinkles of skin. I thought at first it was a dead body. H-hello? Then, guess what? The dead body came alive! Hello?

 

MAUDIE: Oh God, who’s that? Catching at me out in my sleep? Cat clawing the crib, babies’ breath all sucked out, and nothing left, nothing… I’m no-one, no-one, don’t-don’t kill me, please, I’m just a, just… not you. No. You’re not him. No, you’re not… you, who am I? I told you, nobody! Just kipping here. Is that rain? Cold, cold rain, and drowned, you see? Cold and drowned, drowned a long since and shivering still. Bones made of ocean, cold ocean, stones weigh down the body. Look… Look how I’m lying here.

 

KATE: Ugh, it was that old bag lady! That sad old alchy you see sometimes wandering about the prom begging after small change, 900 years old in a thin blue pakamac, wrinkled tights out of the mummy’s tomb, mustard-yellow hair she must have dyed in a cracked sink in some public toilet. Though I’d never seen her sleep in a doorway before, though… funny enough, hadn’t I spotted her outside just the day before? She struggled up, slipping about on the wet step like a drowned bloody spaniel. The shivering that went through her, you’d have thought she’d have caught the plague off that doorstep. Well…I couldn’t let her go stumbling off in that state, now could I?

 

Keys jingle and the shopkeeper’s bell dances as the café door is hurriedly unlocked and swung open.

 

KATE: Come back!  Come here, you’ll be needing a cup of tea! So I brought her in, boiled her up a cuppa, put on some toast and fried her a couple of sausages. She took that tea mug in two wrinkled hands, gulping the steam heat down so fast I worried she’d blister her throat. It just gave her an appetite for shoving those sausages in her mouth long-ways, biting and chewing through the fatty flesh so fast you could see her yellow dentures rock about between the bloodless lips. I never saw anyone look so desperate and happy at the same time. I had to keep checking my watch: by that time, we were due to open in about five minutes. I asked her what she were doing sleeping out there.

 

MAUDIE: Doing? Nothing! Nothing, I was doing; waiting. Watching. He, he’s been round here – who? I don’t know! None of my business, him. No-one! Nothing to do with me. I just seen, you know… seen what I seen, shadows in the street, living thing all made up of dead things, cat full of feathers gulped down, head like a monster’s. Hungry, so, so hungry, feet like a crow’s. Gulped them all down at the chance. I’m trying to tell ya, tell ya what I’ve seen!

 

Amidst Maudie’s sounds of eating, the door of the café is worried against the lock.

 

KATE: Well, this was the problem: old girl getting agitated, rattling at the table, and meanwhile my first paying customer of the day was rattling the locked doors to get in for the Friday (…). When she saw them there, she froze. I told her I’d get her another cup of tea, then opened up and got on with what I was there for. Tracy toddled in ten minutes late, but it was a busy enough morning, the rain washing all sorts in off the side streets, and I needed her help to keep ahead of things. Catch was, that old girl kept sitting in the window, stringing out that second mugful of tea long as she could, and me having no idea if she’d pay up, or rather, damn well knowing she wouldn’t. Couldn’t. And all that time, every time I passed I could hear her muttering under her breath in that crazy way.

 

MAUDIE: Hm. Just sit here, hm. Out, out the rain, hm. Clear the bad, bad things, the bad, the bad streets, or down on the beach, madness walking fast in its shadow even in sunlight. No sun today. Sit here, cup of tea, get dry. Them that’s dead, well, them that’s at the bottom of the sea and sunken deep, and me, just minding my own business… What did I say that was so bad?

 

The shopkeeper’s bell rings as the café door swings open.

 

KATE: And then, of course, in walks Claudia, hair spruced to the roots, and the first thing she notices is that old wine-o in the window, and the first thing she says is, ‘What is that old wine-o doing sat in my shop?’, quickly followed by, ‘Has she paid for that tea? And what’s that she’s had, a bloody (…)?’. She told me to get the old girl out of there and fumigate it after she was gone, which had other customers turning their heads. So, it was down to me to discreetly shift her out into the rain. I was tentative to some sort of alcoholic outburst, but she looked up at me with a face like a wrung-out dishcloth and rose from the table saying something like…

 

MAUDIE: Sorry, love, sorry. I just… I were frightened, see? Seen what I’d seen, who wouldn’t be frightened? And came, came, I’d seen, I’d seen, came to say that I’d seen, have-haven’t you? Didn’t-didn’t you? Yesterday, was it? Yes, yesterday… Take care.

 

KATE: I almost had her steered out the door when she glanced around the rainy street outside, and then suddenly she was clutching my arm so hard it hurt.

 

MAUDIE: Yes, yes! Came to let you know. Have you hear? There’s a shadow clinging to the walls, a cold tide rising, and it’s peeping round your door, here… I’m not mad. I’m sunken in murder, stink of it jogging me dead and I’m telling ya, telling ya! No time, no, got to go, got to go, going now, go… Oh, God help us all.  

 

KATE: And then she was running off, off along the Yorkshire Street, wrinkled blue raincoat flapping about her. And as I turned to go back inside, I glanced another figure, dark against the yellow shutters of the closed-up paranormal place across the street. Even as I saw him he was turning away, heading in the same direction as her. He had a black hood up, and underneath that hood I thought I caught a bit of a nod in my direction, as if it was someone I was supposed to know. Then black hood and black overcoat was all I could see. He’d almost followed her all the way around the next corner, onto Foxhole Road, before it clicked in my head that it looked a bit like that bloke I’d bumped into on the landing the day before: Mr. Upstairs. And then he was gone, and I was about to make my way back inside when Claudia shouted we needed more milk, and could I pop round the corner and get some. I went back in, grabbed my coat, hurried out. I could get some around Foxhole Road. I was halfway around the corner when I heard screaming at the other side of it.

 

MAUDIE: I was just minding my own business, you know, trying to get away from, you know who, ‘cause who’d have known he’d be there? Looming. Watching. Watching me. I didn’t say nothing! Let’s get away fast, fast, fast, round the corner before the devil catches you at the crossroads. Turn the corner, turn, turn the corner and - no, boys, couple of them, see? Seen those boys, rough boys, rough with me last time out by the sea front, looking rough at me right now.

 

A VOICE: Look at this, mate, coming down the street. It’s Maudie – mad old Maudie! Maudie, oy! What you doing flapping around in the rain, you mad old duck? What you been drinking, Maudie, disinfectant? Smell of you, you could use some. Got it there in your handbag, have you? If it’s that worth drinking, me and me mate here could do with a swig. Come on, let’s see, Maudie! The handbag, you stupid old cow, let’s see. Don’t be like that! What you reckon, mate? She’s got money in there, begging money, her scrounging for coppers for cheap vodka and cough syrup to wash it down money. Hand it over, you old (…), now.

 

Maudie cries out in distress. The rain is still coming down in sheets.

 

MAUDIE: Help! Help me, someone!

 

KATE: I turned the corner and found…not what I was looking for. That fellow in the coat and hood, he was gone. Instead, what I saw was the old girl being attacked by two kids, hard-looking kids, like 16 or 17. Real sea-side terror (…), hooked on fucking around in amusement arcades and other highs cheap and nasty as the fast food. One of them was a big, fat, stupid kid, frizzy ginger hair and a shiny tracksuit; but the one taking the lead, the one fighting with the old dear for control of her big plastic handbag, was a real wolf cub in a PVC jacket, black hair greased so tight and hard it could snap a comb in half, face narrow and sharp as a blade flicked out.

 

THE GINGER: Give us the fucking bag, you old drunk!

 

KATE: Leave her! Ugh, that was maybe the wrong thing to say, ‘cause the next thing I know, after he’d torn the big yellow handbag from the old woman’s hands and chucked it aside, him and his mate were moving in on me. I backed away. Foxhole Road – you know what it’s like on that end? Bleak as a backstreet at the end of the world, half those places shut up for winter. I was backing towards one of those shut-up shops, its rusted shutters all pulled down. Some of the rubbish from inside heaped out onto the street, including three or four window-shop mannequins, old and naked, propped against a rusting drainpipe. This poor bloody female was backed up tight against the pointy, plastic imitation of the female body, wondering how much damage her own body was about to take.

 

THE WOLF CUB: Frightened, sweetheart? Of me? Oh, no need to be frightened, I’ll do you fuck-all, God, with a mouthy cow like you. It’s better she just shuts up and takes what’s coming to her, ‘cause it’s coming fast. Oh, don’t shiver, I’ll stop your shivering. I can make you stand still and cold as them dummies sticking their tits in your back. Do you like that? ‘Cause I’m an evil bastard that can make you shake so deep you’ll never shake no more. How’d that be? Oh, you’re shaking already. I’m close enough to feel it now, close enough to-

 

The Wolf Cub cries out suddenly in pain and surprise.

 

KATE: Suddenly, he wasn’t there anymore: not right in front of me, anyway. I looked down. He was on the ground, flat on his back in the middle of the road, his face all split – or his nose at least, right up to the bridge, blood in his eyes and being spewed out his mouth. Another figure was stepping alongside me, dressed in black, black hood pulled right up. Only part of him I could see that wasn’t black his pale hand, still in a fist, blood on his knuckles. The other kid with the ginger hair was moving towards his fallen mate, but only slowly, uncertain of what kind of smack he might get if he gets too close. The bloody-faced kid seemed struggling, for a moment, to stay conscious, and smacked his own hand across his face, clawing blood aside, blinking a clearer view into dazed eyes, then he was trying to push himself off the tarmac, twitching to get his arm back. The figure just at the side of me took another step forward, leaving me slightly behind him. The boy got a closer view of whatever was looking at him from beneath that hood and suddenly, suddenly he was wriggling back, grabbing at his mate for help and getting on his feet. He spat a glob full of blood and then he was hurrying away up the street, dragging his pal with him, but not without a shout over his shoulder.

 

THE WOLF CUB: Bastard! You fucking (…), you- Come on!

 

KATE: The figure just in front of me looked down at the blood on his scuffed knuckles, then turned to me, and, though the rain was falling heavy as ever, pushed the hood back.

 

JOHN: You alright?

 

KATE: He said. It was Mr. Upstairs. Yesterday in the shadows of the landing he looked vaguely middle-aged – older than me, anyway – though handsome with it, silver fox type. Now, in the rainy daylight, he seemed younger, his hair darker, though a set of features lengthy, jagged, almost like a face that had been carved out of rock on the beach. (…) I told him, yes I was alright, but I wasn’t sure about the old woman. The old woman herself, who huddled away on the other side of the street, made clear she was alright enough to continue on her way, stumbling into a run up the street the same way the boys had gone.

 

MAUDIE: Nothing to do with me, all this, good Lord! Keep my eyes shut, bad dream, my whole life a bad dream. I won’t tell, I won’t tell, strike me dead if I… Strike me dead!

 

KATE: And she was gone, the thin blue mac flopping about her.

 

JOHN: Poor old soul.

 

KATE: I hope she’s alright.

 

JOHN: She’ll be fine, as fine as anyone in her state could ever be.

 

KATE: We said. I told him she’d been hanging around the café talking nonsense, lost in her own little world, poor soul.

 

JOHN: There are poorer souls than that.

 

KATE: You think so?

 

JOHN: Mm. Living in your own world (…). Most people have to live in someone else’s.

 

KATE: You live upstairs from me, don’t you? At the Toledo?

 

JOHN: Yeah. John Tusk. How do you do?

 

KATE: He held out his hand for me to shake, but noticed all over again how bloodied it was at his knuckles. He started to draw the hand back. Caught hold of it, suggested he come round the corner with me, get it washed and bandaged. He looked at me as if no such simple kindness had ever been suggested to him in his life before. He gently drew his hand free of mine, cradling it in his own left hand.

 

JOHN: No, it’ll be alright. More his blood than mine. I’d hate for a neighbor to think I made a habit of this sort of thing. I know the old girl, Maudie… er, not personally, but she does tend a lot to the seafront and (…) for me to be happy about our younger residents disrespecting her so.

 

KATE: You’re a caring fellow. I’m at least as grateful as the old girl is. Oh, my name’s Kate, by the way. Kate McCall.

 

JOHN: Yeah, I know.

 

KATE: You know?

 

JOHN: I like to know who my neighbors are. As you’ve seen, not everyone in this town’s entirely friendly.

 

KATE: No… So you’ve guarded the friends you’ve got. Come on, round the corner. Clean your hand, have a cuppa and donut, on me.

 

JOHN: Will you share it with me?

 

KATE: By the time I’ve got the milk I came to get out, I’ll have work to be getting on with.

 

JOHN: Serving tables?

 

KATE: Hey, don’t look down on it! It’s not a town to get rich in, and the holiday season’s over, you’ve got to take what you can get.

 

JOHN: O-of course, I didn’t mean to suggest that… I wondered if, if you might…join me to something better than tea and a donut.

 

KATE: He didn’t look the kind of fellow that made that kind of suggestion to every girl he bumped into on the back streets, and I wasn’t the kind of woman who was fighting off that kind of suggestion much anyway, not since Tom collared me for a pint way back when in that moldy armpit of a pub in Moss Side, making the offer to put me out of my reach of any other offers. Until that offer came along, what all could I think of was to say, I can’t. I’m working.

 

JOHN: ‘Course you are.

 

KATE: I have to get back.

 

JOHN: ‘Course you do.

 

KATE: What were you doing out there?

 

JOHN: What was I…?

 

KATE: O-outside the café. I saw you.

 

JOHN: I was…passing by.

 

KATE: Lucky.

 

JOHN: Lucky?

 

KATE: Well, for us.

 

JOHN: Yeah.

 

KATE: Very lucky.

 

JOHN: I’m glad I could be of help, neighbor. Now, uh… I should get off and wash this blood away.

 

KATE: So you should, I told you, at the café!

 

JOHN: I know where to go, don’t worry.

 

KATE: You used to it?

 

JOHN: Sorry?

 

KATE: Washing other men’s blood off your knuckles?

 

JOHN: Hey, don’t get the wrong idea about me.

 

KATE: You’re a sweetheart, I’m sure.

 

JOHN: No, not exactly, but…well I better be getting along.

 

KATE: See you around.

 

JOHN: You will, yeah.

 

KATE: Wait!

 

JOHN: Wait?

 

KATE: Here! It was the old woman’s handbag, an (…) thing in hot yellow plastic lying in the gutter just beyond where we stood. I stepped back alongside him as he picked it up. The catch must have come loose; a couple of things inside tumbled out, splashed in the puddle at the side of the road. He tried to quickly (…) but he couldn’t quite manage with one hand, so I picked up the naked Barbie doll with no legs and no eyes, green seaweed wrapped round it and round in her long blonde hair, and he picked up the black high-heeled shoe, all packed out with sand and bits of broken seashell, a tiny crab crawling around the toe. We both stared a moment at these two funny, peculiar bits of, well…rubbish. What else? And then he was stuffing the shoe in the bag and practically grabbing the Barbie off me, clicking the clasp tight shut on both of them.

 

JOHN: I’ll find her. I’ll give it back.

 

KATE: Funny things to be having in your handbag. I make due with makeup, Aspirin, a purse, and a phone.

 

JOHN: There’s no one else quite like her. I’ll catch up.

 

KATE: And then he was hurrying away, away up the street the way she’d gone, and it was only as he went I fully remembered how I’d dreamed about him in the early hours of that morning. Him and me, well… I think it was…fuck that, I knew. Knew more than ever it was him, and knowing it put a shiver in my skin, right under my wet over and my damp uniform, and it was a sweet sort of shiver.

 

+++

 

A growling and monstrous groan spits something incomprehensible.

 

JOHN: Damn… Damn that old bitch. Following me everywhere, haunting me like a fat blob of bad cunt, and to what a fucking cunt do I mean? I could kill you and every scrap of cunt on the prom and not break sweat and yet, what? You go rooting around in my leavings, taking bloody souvenirs, for what, to show to, what, some fat ass Lancashire cop wouldn’t know what in a million fucking years the thing that I am? Aren’t you mad enough to know the truth?

 

JOHN: Turning up towards the prom I took out the shoe, the shoe I knew came off the other girl, down under the pier just the other night. I dumped it in a chip fat-smelling wheel-y bin, then hit the front, looking, looking and remembering. A minute ago, her – Kate, she called herself Kate – who asked that burning question, what the hell was I doing roaming about outside the café again? Good question indeed, for what was I after? Maudie was a simple thing to chase in the twist of my own thoughts, and there she was: Maudie. I caught sight of her by the turning from Madame Tussaud’s, hurried after her. She was bothering an old couple for change by the wax works’ door, Spiderman and the Hulk looming at their shoulders. She saw me coming and hurried on. I caught up with her just beyond, in a narrow alleyway between one of the fancier fish and chip shops and the Funland amusement arcade. Confronted, she was her usual contrite self.

 

MAUDIE: What, what’s that? Oh hello there you, again. M-minding my own business, I was, popping along the prom-prom-promenadin’, promenade, just-just-what’s that, a bag? Bag, a woman’s bag, no, bag for a bloke like you. My, my bag is it, mine? Oh yes, them boys, bad boys, such badness round here sometimes, badness to drown the whole town, but… B-b-but c-can I, can I have it back?

 

JOHN: I gave it back to her. She took it gladly, then looked up at me suspiciously, then carefully unfastened the clasps, opened it and peered inside. Yeah Maudie, I told her. It’s a little lighter. You were carrying stolen property, after all, and I stole it back. I tolerate you, Maudie, as one phantom to another, but only so far.

 

MAUDIE: Stole? I didn’t steal. I saw a girl stood upright down on that sand last week! Or…was it last-last week, or, last month or a hundred years ago? And, and she was a sight like the sight maybe I once was down on that sand, and she sank away to nothing and I sank away to this. And now you can understand, sir, can’t you? I would clutch, clutch, yes, what’s left. Clutch and keep quiet! Oh don’t, don’t look at me like that, not like that, I won’t say anything! Listen to me, this mouth here, sir, and heart and eyes too, they’re all filled up with sand! I’m nothing, you see? Nothing clinging to, well, a few tiny somethin’s, a handbag full…to remind me, you see? What the solid world was like, once.

 

JOHN: I pushed her, gently, against the brick wall to one side of the Funland side door, and was about to remind her how easily I could make a nothing of her, grains of nothing blowing in the breeze of the sea, when I heard some kind of uproar inside the amusement arcade. Squinting through the doorway I saw, past the lot of slot machines and video games blazing in the gloom, some bloody-faced figure, arguing with an attendant in a red t-shirt over what looked like entry to the toilets in the back. The bloody-faced figure pushed the attendant aside and I saw it was the boy whose face I thumped ten minutes before, his ginger-haired companion alongside. He half-pushed the toilet door open, looking over his shoulder to hurl some curse at the poor underling trying to keep Funland from looking like a field hospital in a warzone, and as he did so, he came close to glimpsing me through the open door. I drew back a little and only then noticed Maudie running off, put into the prom. I let her go, yet again, and crept off likewise, reminding myself how little I had to fear from her and how much I had to be watchful of him myself.

 

+++

 

A running faucet is turned off, and we hear the last of the water drain.

 

THE WOLF CUB: Stitches? The fuck you on about, mate, stitches? I don’t need fucking stitches. What, this fucking limp-wristed smack? I got caught off-guard, that’s all. The fucker took a swing at me and I was ready, he wouldn’t have got halfway close. Just a bit of blood, that’s all, blood for spitting out and snorting out. Christ, what will your mum say? Bastard. Where did he come from, anyway? Who the fuck was he? Look at this blood, let me wash it off… Fucking mess, got on me shirt too. Who the fuck did he think he was? Let me catch that fucker again, let me. Does me nose look broke? I’ll break him, break his fucking neck, his neck and every fucking… What’re you looking at me for? I ain’t scared of no fucker like him, gloomy fucker, stood there like a fucking second-hand Dracula in an (…) funeral coat, face like a fucking marble headstone. And all on account of us having a laugh with a stupid old wino, a laugh! I’ll catch up with him, all fucking six-foot-ten of him, break him down to size. Does he, does anybody, think the hard fucker looking at me back in this grubby mirror here is gonna stand and take this shit? ‘Ey, look at him, the shit he’s taken in his life and still he-

 

Glass shatters.

 

THE WOLF CUB: FUCK! There, look...more blood, and a crack in the fucking shit-house mirror. Blood where it belongs this time, on my fucking fist! Wait ‘til I get to the (…), these fucking knuckles. Wherever that bastard is, I’ll find him, I’ll brush his jaw, I’ll bury him under a fucking tram line. I’ll have a look. Come on, I’ll buy a cheap t-shirt on the way back. Mum’ll kill me if she saw me in this state, like this, this one. T-shirt, now that’s the blast.

 

+++

 

JOHN: I walked the day out, as I so often do, hungering for the fall of night, for the dark’s better chances of feeding my particular need. Around me the arcades and amusements made their din, showdown lights, a few rain-swept figures struggling after diversion, while the emptiness in me, that emptiness raging with the dead, ate at my guts. I bought a hamburger from the kiosk on the promenade, tried to eat it, fried onions slopping out the sides, but my belly couldn’t hold it. I tried to throw it in a rubbish bin but the bin was overflowing already. The half-eaten burger fell out onto the prom. A stray dog picked it up, a lanky, dirty, yellow mongrel. I saw the dog had two heads, each of the half of the greasy burger in its maw, fighting over it; the meat, split apart, was gulped down, both heads turning a fanged sneer my way as they licked the grease around their snouts. I looked out to the sea. The moon had the same bone-white look I saw in the four-fold eyes of the dog. I hurried away up the prom, past those too blind to see all that I, for so long, could not escape seeing.

 

The waves crash rhythmically against the beach.

 

+++

 

KATE: Got home. Leftovers from the café for tea. Tom all hugs and talks of the future, calling me Mrs. Tolland over the dinner table already. I did my best to smile along but some other thought that sat in the back of my mind, a memory of a certain someone else, stood looking at me in a rainy side street, seeming to look deeper into me than Tom, God bless him, as he made nudge-nudge jokes about married life. He sensed this, I think, and got more serious by the time we were finishing off the apple tart. Time was getting on; it was dark outside the windows. He got up to get ready for heading out onto his shift. He paused, looking at me hard as he zipped up his jacket.

 

TOM: I get scared sometimes. You would on these long bloody shifts, night watchman for a switched-off amusement park, them rides snaking in and out of the night sky, all them fiberglass cartoon characters - put there to charm the kids - stone-cold dead, colors on them drained by the dark ‘til your torch beam hits off them and the brightness leaps out at ya like a nightmare you’d have as a kid, something under your bed or jumping out of your wardrobe. I don’t get on with the other watchmen, Fat Bob and that lot, heads full of shit they’d read in the Sun that morning and racism and TV gossip and football transfers. I just…you know. Wander. Shine the old torch around and wonder how the fuck I came to be there. Pleasure Beach. Fuck, Kate… The shores I once wanted to take pleasure on. And with you, Kate, always with you. Don’t let me think, not for a moment, that if them shores are still out there somewhere, you won’t sail there with me. Yes, I know you said yes, and yes, I know ‘yes’ should be enough, but…still. Every other thing in this world that ever made me a promise went and broke that promise. Don’t break your promise to me, Kate. Don’t, uh…that the time?

 

KATE: He left. Through the window I watched him start the short walk towards the Pleasure Beach. I loved him, but hadn’t I always been looking through a window at him? Wouldn’t there be a pane of glass between us, dusty, rain-spotted, even at the wedding ceremony?

 

+++

 

Rain is falling.

 

JOHN: I hurried northward up the promenade. What was I looking for? I couldn’t find it anyway. The rain was dying to a drizzle but a harsher wind was blowing off the sea, white caps on the black waves like bones being washed up, shapes behind and above, around the naked girders of the tower, shapes even I couldn’t see, not properly. Dark against dark. I’d been evading them my whole life long. I must have been walking like a madman to the eye of anyone less horribly sane than myself. Needing to get clear of the open spaces in the seafront, I turned inland up Talbot Road, heading past even smaller, plainer shops, past the train station, past (…) and the Mega-Bingo. All the way to where gaudy Blackpool turned into an ordinary English town, all (…) housing and corner shops. I could swear that yellow dog, that two-headed dog had followed me all the way, darting in and out of the glow of the street lights. Alongside me, suddenly, the expanse of Layton’s cemetery with its sea of pompous Victorian memorials. I thought to hide a while in there, collect my thoughts, work out why so many of them, the ones hardest to understand, were thoughts of…thoughts of her, but on the other side of the road, by the round-about, I caught sound of a weeping from the public toilets.

 

The rain continues and we hear the hitching sobs.

 

JOHN: The door of one of the toilets was propped open by the back of a small figure sat on the floor just inside, some lad little more than a boy, in a black string top and pinkish satin trousers, hair gelled into spikes. He had his face in his hands. I stepped close, I asked him what was wrong. He raised a face all tears and smeared mascara and bruises weeping blood.

 

THE LAD: Who are you? You come to give me a beating too? Come to sunny Blackpool, get your pretty face smacked in! I only come here in the first place ‘cause they said, well, you’re gay and stuck in a fucking bit village where the bit’s ancient history and fuck-all to do with itself otherwise but get phobic over any poor fucker thinks there’s more to life than third-division football and betting on some faraway horse. Get your ass to Blackpool, it’s bloody Paradise Island if you’re queer. Who fucking knew the same old straight bullshit would be waiting in a corner for me just off the prom? They chased me, they did, and when I wriggled out from under the kicking and the thumping, chased me all the way up here, which is I don’t fucking know where, just the only place I could run where I wouldn’t hear them howling after me no more. They’re out there somewhere still. I just called the police. Do you think they’ll come? D-do you think they’ll care? What? A couple of minutes ago I called them. I’ve taken shit off a bunch of straight kids, why shouldn’t I take some shit off a couple of sniggering bloody police officers just to make the evening perfect? What, you, help me? Oh, fuck it mate, I need it.

 

JOHN: I helped him up, eased him further into the little urine-stinking toilet, letting the door flap closed at my back. He seemed like a lost soul, this lad, deserving of sympathy from someone less conscious, less than myself, but I’d been shocked just slightly by the tenderness in myself and the risk it posed, and the need was on me to show how safely, relentlessly monstrous I could be. I could see as I backed him against the wall between the toilet and sink that he mistook my needs for his. That was fine with me. He wanted to be kissed, embraced, loved, carried far from the cruelties and the incomprehensions of his young life, and my kiss would help him forget about all of that.

 

THE WOLF CUB: Poofy? You in there?

 

JOHN: Even as I was drawing the lad closer, the sound like the baying of a young wolf reached us from outside. The boy tensed, huddled back against the wall.

 

THE WOLF CUB: Poofy? You in there? You fucking queer, hiding in the fucking shit-house, you fucking wide-ass faggot. ‘Ey, ‘ey? You take that one, I’ll take this one.

 

JOHN: The door of the next toilet in the block was kicked open. The boy quaked against me. Another door kicked open on the other side of us.

 

THE WOLF CUB: Oh, lady boy! You in there? Let’s see.

 

A door is violently kicked open.

 

THE WOLF CUB: There he is. What you doing in there, you fucking pink-titted pansy? Found some fucking company, have you? Fine with me if it’s a night for kicking two fucking poofs around, two for the price of one, sweet fucking deal. Turn around, you fucking homo whoever you are, turn around and let’s see the fucking sweet touch I’ve got for you.

 

JOHN: I turned. He saw me, his rat-like face paling around the livid scab I’d put the length of his nose earlier in the day, his bravado rocking half a step back through the doorway. Two other figures, just outside, appeared behind him: one was the ginger-haired lad who’d been with him that morning, the other a tall, gangly, stubble-headed lout, stupid eyes but malice in the set of the jaw and brow. The first lad blanched at them, realizing how little choice he had but to press on, prove the man he was.

 

THE WOLF CUB: Thought we’d catch up. Didn’t you see us spotting you there, back on the prom? Saw you looking over your shoulder at something, anyway, again and again, and looking back and running away, running like the fucking gutless poof I’m clocking right here. Now the gut’s in me. Got a bit of warning: you we’re after, see? Following you, we was, discreet-like. Two of them had fucking lost you ass-end of Talbot Road only for this sweet little darling to come out stumbling out of the gay club, tripping us up and getting what he fucking asked for. ‘Cept he hadn’t got it all yet. The rest’s coming, sweet, as soon as I finish what needs to be finished with your fancy man. Let me show you what I fancy doing with him.

 

JOHN: He flicked out a knife and made a lunge. I grabbed hold of him, swung him round, smashed his face into the mirror above the sink.

 

Glass is violently shattered.

 

JOHN: The glass cracked. Hurling him back towards the door, I heard his skin rip on an edge of the broken glass. He collided with the others, all of them tumbling back. Stepped after them. Collectively they stumbled back across the pavement outside, nudging one another to a fresh attack. The tall one came at me: I caught him, hurled him head-first against the brick wall of the toilet block. The ginger-headed kid ran away around the corner of the building, leaving behind my original opponent, who tried to mop blood from his face with the back of his wrist. He was trembling, on the edge of making a forward move when the taller boy leapt upon me from behind, bloodied skull and all. I shrugged free, caught hold of him, slammed his skull harder still against the wall of the toilet block. He slid to the wall’s foot, one hand stupidly groping at his blood-streaming brow, a pinkish bulge of brain leaking between two of his fingers. The other kid, seeing this, thought better of the further attack and swayed about, started a run across the road. A car coming off the round-about smacked into him, threw him up into its bonnet, bounced him off its windscreen, and sent him dropping down into the middle of the road. The car continued a short distance then stopped, its occupants plainly debating whether to lend help to the boy they had hit.

 

THE WOLF CUB: Fucking bastards! I’ll kill you all!

 

JOHN: He cried bloodily from the road. The car sped away.

 

A car speeds off. The Wolf Cub yells in pain and fury, his breathing laborious. 

 

JOHN: He realized how alone he was with me, began dragging himself up from the road’s surface, one leg broken, crawling and limping his way towards the cemetery on the other side of the road. I was about to start after him when I heard the other kid crying for help from the patch of grass and trees and bushes behind the toilet block. A window or two lit up above the shops facing the top end of the round-about. I strode round onto the grassy triangle. The ginger-haired boy, feeling my shadow across him, fell silent: he looked round, his lower lip trembling as he attempted to mouth some plea for mercy, a piss-stain spreading darkly down one leg of his tracksuit. Mercy not being on my mind I stepped directly up to him, seized him tight, fixed my kiss upon his lips.

 

Rain steadily falling. A few long, exultant breaths, rumbling around the edges with a low growl and monstrous, wet clicks.

 

JOHN: He shriveled and melted, so swift; the mask briefly caught light as it slid, smoking, away from his bones. His soul, such as it was, sliding, kicking and pitching down into my gut.

 

Another exhale, slower and heavier still.  

 

JOHN: I wiped my mouth, turning away, moving swiftly back around the front of the toilet block. The remaining kid had dragged his broken leg all the way across the road and disappeared somewhere into the vicinity of the cemetery, but the bloody spots and smears he had left on the road and the pavement weren’t hard to follow. He had gone through the main gates; I stepped through them myself and started up the main driveway, but my trail veered off to the left, towards the trees and the grandest of the Victorian memorials clustered that way just within the fence. I found him huddled at the foot of a slender obelisk, hugging his leg where a jagged portion of shin bone stuck bloodily through both his skin and his jeans…and what with the mess I’d made of his face, it looked as though he were weeping blood.

 

THE WOLF CUB: F-fuck off. Y’hear? Leave me! I’m not afraid of ya, I ain’t scared of… You’re a fucking poof, a fucking pedo, (…), right in the…right in the… (…)! That my bone, is it? Fuck… Head’s spinning. What’re you doing to me, mate? What are ya…fuck’s sake, who are you? What the fuck? Don’t look at me, not like that, get the fuck away. I don’t want to...oh God. Please, I-I’m just a kid. I’m just a fucking kid. I don’t mean to, g-go fuck yourself, you! Mum! W-wait ‘til she sees this, fuck… I need a hospital, I need… When she sees… She’s at home, she’s worrying! Curse of her fucking life, I am, fucking cow! Mum! D-don’t, don’t. I’ll fucking smack you, I’ll kill you, mate. I…don’t, don’t kill me, I’m frightened, I’m just a fucking kid and I’m frightened of the dark! The look, that look on you. I should’ve known. No!

 

JOHN: I forced a kiss on the bloody mess in his face. He twisted under me, shoving more bone clear of the flesh of his leg, and then both his flesh and his bone were bubbling, curdling, melting away into the graveyard below, leaving just the wrinkling of his antique clothes upon the grass. I stood. This had been impetuous of me. The scant remains are always harder to get rid of inland than by the sea, but in a world so low and squalid it’s a pleasure sometimes to turn shark and bite it hard. And with two souls, however lowly, burning in my gut I stood taller, securer on my feet then when I’d fled the seafront, hungering without knowing what I hungered for.

 

The rain continues.

 

JOHN: There was one of my assailants left, the tall lad, dead, skull smashed, but, so to speak, unconsumed. I thought it better to leave him as he was rather than risk venturing back across that open road, what with the other boy, the assaulted one, having said he’d called the police. Indeed, I should be- But where was that boy?

 

THE LAD: I saw.

 

JOHN: He stood there, not far behind me, rising from behind the tombstone he’d taken for a hiding place.

 

THE LAD: Saw you there with him, with him and the other one behind the toilets. Who are you? What did you do to them? I saw what you did, it was… I-I don’t know, bloody horrendous! But… but bastards, they were, bastards to me, me and anyone like me I’ll bet. I saw it and I thought, t-that’s fucking beautiful! Beautiful, like they deserve! Are you the devil, something like that? I believe in the devil, it’s me upbringing. Didn’t think he’d look like you, but who knows? The devil was an angel once, so they say, fell a long way into a heap of shit, picked himself up best he could. Don’t… Don’t do it to me. You saved me! Saved me life, maybe. My guardian angel! D-don’t, please…

 

JOHN: And I might have let him go, almost. Could I afford another Maudie? Young and male this time, of course, and one who could speak a coherent sentence, anyway. And yet...well, he was an innocent soul. By that point in my lengthy career, innocence like his was an extraordinary a thing as a ruby kicked in the gutter. But then I heard the sirens of a couple of police cars, the cars he had summoned, speeding towards us up Talbot Road. The boy looked that way, remembering his own phone call, and then he looked at me. Then, plainly, deciding which rescuer he was likely to be safer with, he turned and he started to run. I leapt, caught him, kissed him.

 

THE LAD: No!

 

JOHN: Killed him.

 

Amid the drizzling rain and the police sirens now blaring, The Lad cries out in fear and pain, begging for help.

 

JOHN: The life in him swelled and broke like a bubble, but the police were scoping already over by the toilet block. My reckless move that evening demanded further recklessness yet to survive it.

Chapter Text

 

 

Rain is pouring, and multiple police sirens wail.

 

JOHN: The police, four of them, leaping out of two cars clustered around the bloody-headed, brain-leaking lout I’d left by the wall of the public toilet. A sight, one could tell from their exclamations, that was beyond the customary challenges of a Blackpool policeman’s beat. I crept deeper among the headstones and (…). The cemetery’s broad expanse offered any number of points of escape onto a range of neighboring roads, so long as I headed swiftly and directly towards the far end; I began doing that, but these were provincial English graves, mostly modestly-scaled headstones, and the only way to stay totally concealed would have been to crawl on my knees…and I am not a man to crawl.

 

POLICEMAN: Oy! You there!

 

JOHN: The beam of the policeman’s torch caught my shoulder. I started an onward dash.

 

POLICEMAN: Stop, stop! Police!

 

JOHN: I heard them starting their cars, swerving up the broad main drive of the cemetery. I ran faster. Within seconds the blue flicker from their flashing lights was falling around me. I swerved into the thicket of gravestones at the left of the main path. The police car closest behind pursued too enthusiastically and crashed into one of the bulkier headstones. I ran on, weaving in and out of the headstones. The other police car drove past, but only to swerve onto the nearest of the side paths, keeping parallel to myself.

 

POLICEMAN: Stop there!

 

JOHN: The police from the crashed car had leapt out and started running after me. Looking over my shoulder I saw one was so overweight he couldn’t have caught up with a snail on the pavement, but the other was leaner and fast and making a (…) job of closing the distance. I ducked behind a monument, my toe knocking a chunk of broken masonry in the grass: I grabbed it. The lean fellow drew near. I swung around the monument, smacked the stone into his face, his skull burst bloodily open and he dropped to the ground. I ran on. The other car was close alongside me, but the fence neighboring that side of the graveyard was also not far ahead: it skidded to a stop, its occupants leaping out. On the near side of the fence were tall trees, the nearest one with its branches overhanging the garden on the fence’s far side. I leapt to the lowest branches and started dragging myself higher. One of the police was dragging himself up after me. I tried to kick him off, but he kept clambering.

 

POLICEMAN: Get him! Get the bastard!

 

JOHN: He threw himself at me, grabbed me, the two of us almost flipping from the branch. I grabbed the back of his neck, tried to fix my kiss upon him; my lips had barely brushed his face before the first shock of contact hit him and, flesh only just beginning to seethe, bubble, and melt, he slipped from the tree, thumping other branches on the way down and landing with a contorted thump and bounce like a carcass in a slaughterhouse slipping off its hook. I heard one of the police below scream, a woman from the sound of it. I continued on, leapt into the darkened garden on the other side of the fence. Before me lay a child swing on a frame, a small trampoline around the house itself, its windows darkened, though a light came on upstairs as I started to move through the narrow gap along the side of the house, a high gate at its far end. I’d only gone a step or two when I heard the fence rattling at my back, and looked around to see that fat-ass policeman clambering after me. Of course I could easily have been along the side of the house and over the gate before he finished climbing into the garden, but as I moved to make that so, a grand floor light came on behind the couple of sliding doors, its glow hitting my features as I glanced back at him. Reckoning he might have got his best glimpse of me yet, I crept instead out of the line of the light and into the dark by some bushes, out of sight of whoever might come to that window but not of the policeman. Now I wanted him to come to me, and come he did.

 

POLICEMAN: Who the hell are you? What the hell happened to that lad back there? What did you do to my mates? Who the fuck are you?

 

JOHN: I told him, quietly, to come the fuck across and see. He hesitated a moment, then charged with all his waddling weight. I kicked the feet out from under him. He dropped back, his bulbous skull hitting the a-frame of the child’s swing, the second swing swaying on its chain. He hit the ground. I sat astride him. I fixed my kiss.

 

The policeman struggles with choking, dying breaths, the rain falling around them.

 

JOHN: Within seconds his weight of fat was melting away into the grass, his uniform deflating, the mess stinking of his last drive-through from McDonald’s. I raised my head from the milky fizzing of what was left of his jawbone. At that illuminated sliding-glass door, I could see a young man and woman, both in their nightclothes, peering through the glass and into the darkened garden. I drew back further, confident that other than the narrow lit strip cast across the grass, all that they would be able to see would be their own reflections. Sure enough they retreated swiftly into the depths of their own beyond. I made my own start to climb over the gate, only to glimpse, sidelong, a pajama-d child stepping to the glass, a teddy bear under one arm. As I moved off, I caught a sidelong glance from her and wondered if her wide gaze caught me darting through the glass. I wondered at the life I might lead in her nightmares, and for the rest of her long life, but what life was longer than mine? I had my own nightmares to worry about.

 

JOHN: I ran, clambered, quick over that fence and hurried up the quiet residential road beyond. I had walked briskly through a couple of these streets, all the time tensed from the sound of the sole remaining cop, the woman, attempting a run after me. But what I heard instead, after a while, was the siren of her car. I broke into a run; ahead, facing me across the T-junction, a fence (…) a car park, and a cluster of industrial buildings, the Burton’s Biscuit factory. I clambered over the fence, heard the car skid past, heading for the factory gate. It sounded its horn at the closed gate, trying to alert whoever was on security duty. I ran off across the car park and through the narrow alleys between the factory buildings. I had gone some way before I heard the police car again, now audibly screeching my way among those same buildings. I ran into another gap between tall buildings, the thick smell of sugary biscuit bulk. Past the far end of the buildings a short embankment climbing up, and at the top of the embankment…train tracks, leading straight back towards Blackpool North. I ran on. The gap I ran through was narrow, but not narrow enough: the police car was following me, its wheels barely avoiding the scrape against the walls to either side, the blue flashings from its lights blazing through the shadows. Still, I was almost at the end of the two buildings, almost at the embankment, which no car would be able to drive up-

 

A VOICE: Gotcha!

 

JOHN: Out of nowhere came some great bald lump of what I took for a security guard, grabbed me from behind, wrapping densely-tattooed arms around me. The car drew near.

 

SECURITY GUARD: I’ve got him!

 

JOHN: I grabbed the guard by the collar of his shirt and pulled him clean over my shoulder. He dropped to a sitting position before me. I wrapped my own arm around his thick neck and seized his skull with my other hand, and as he tried to struggle up, I snapped his neck. The car was very close, beginning to skid to a stop. I hurled the guard’s weight directly into the windscreen.

 

John grunts with effort; something heavy crashes through glass. The police car swerves with its tires screeching on the pavement.

 

JOHN: The car skidded into the wall to my right. Sparks flew. Something under the bonnet caught light. The driver seat door flapped open, the figure inside, the police woman, tumbled out onto her hands and knees, her face and eyes full of glass. As she groped about on the ground I thought of finishing her off as thoroughly as I’d finished off the others, but more police cars were approaching, and I could see by the blue flashings from her own vehicle how sorely she was bleeding, slumping flat on her face in a carpet of shattered glass and lying quite still. Perhaps she was dead already; perhaps I was full enough with stolen life; perhaps I was a rather merciful fellow, all-told; perhaps those other police cars were sounding a little close. I turned, I sprinted up the embankment. At my back I heard the crashed car explode. I dropped onto the railway low and began skulking my way back into the town by that route.

 

+++

 

KATE: I hate that sound. Nights when I’m home alone, Tom out on shift, police cars wailing up and down the prom. Some fight outside a pub, some backstreet drug deal rumble, somebody’s escape to the seaside turned into the tightest kind of trap. Blackpool, perched between what passes for civilized England and the wild ocean night; things happen round here, faster and more surprising than things that leap out at you on the ghost train. I didn’t feel like going to bed. There was nothing on TV. I stood at the window, catching the most recent of the police cars flashing by. Further away, back down towards the central pier, it looked like a helicopter was shining a search light around the seafront. I stepped back.

 

The soft din of the television abruptly cuts off with a metallic pop.

 

KATE: All the lights, all the power in the place went out. Ugh, I hate it when it does that! Bloody cheek-chiseling invisible bloody landlord with a building full of dodgy wiring, heat and lights popping off and on all kinds of odd hours, not to mention how dodgy the gas is. Could hear the dope-head couple in the bedsit next door start to freak out. How the spiders in their minds must have been climbing the walls. They’d be chucking stuff around before long, making the evening complete. I opted to risk a walk downstairs to the fuse box before things got really freaky here at night in the towers, but I barely stepped out into the ink-dark landing before the lights flickered on again. I was about to creep back into the flat when I heard someone coming up the stairs. I think I sensed who it would be. His shadow came first; the man himself appeared soon after, a smile as gentle as his shadow was dark.

 

JOHN: Oh, nothing to be frightened of, just a fuse as usual.

 

KATE: He said. I wasn’t frightened, I replied, which maybe wasn’t the entire truth. Just a little pissed off about it happening every time you’re trying to watch a film on TV. That last bit not being true either. I wasn’t sure yet how honest I wanted to be with it.

 

JOHN: Well, I fixed it.

 

KATE: Thanks! Through the wall might be a bit quieter if they can see to stick a needle in.

 

JOHN: Sure you’re not frightened?

 

KATE: He said, and it was like he was looking, there on that shabby landing, clean through to the part of me most fragile there in the night, being gentle with what he found there. Well you know, I said, you know this place and its shipwreck clientele.

 

JOHN: I do, yeah. Your, uh…partner…?

 

KATE: Tom? Tom works nights.

 

JOHN: Oh yeah?

 

KATE: At the Pleasure Beach. Security guard.

 

JOHN: Oh.

 

KATE: He works nights, I work days. Perfect arrangement.

 

JOHN: Is it?

 

KATE: No, but life wasn’t perfect last time I looked. You make the best. I mean, listen out there.

 

JOHN: Listen?

 

KATE: The sirens. Police wouldn’t make that kind of racket in a perfect world.

 

JOHN: I suppose they wouldn’t.

 

KATE: What do you reckon it is? That’s more than the usual commotion.

 

JOHN: It’s Blackpool. Sometimes the fun gets a little out of hand.

 

KATE: I’ve noticed. Maybe it’s that kid you thumped this morning.

 

JOHN: The kid?

 

KATE: You had his blood on your knuckles, remember?

 

JOHN: Oh yeah.

 

KATE: Well, I’m just saying. He went down with a lot of anger in him, got up angrier still. Maybe he got himself into a little more trouble out there.

 

JOHN: Maybe he did. Well, there’s more than him out there to cause that kind of racket.

 

KATE: Of course. Did you catch her up, by the way?

 

JOHN: Did I…?

 

KATE: The old girl.

 

JOHN: Yeah. Yeah, I caught her up.

 

KATE: Well, I hope the rest of your day was less eventful.

 

JOHN: Quiet, really. Yours?

 

KATE: At the café? Oh, a whirlwind of delight. Like afternoon tea at the Ritz, only we’re baking (…) cakes instead of cucumber sandwiches.

JOHN: And now you sit alone, listening to police sirens.

 

KATE: If I had a palm tree outside me window, it’d be paradise.

 

JOHN: I’d better let you get back.

 

KATE: I still owe you.

 

JOHN: Owe me?

 

KATE: For knocking that kid down before he did worse to me. The going rate on ‘thank you’ was tea and a donut, remember?

 

JOHN: Yeah, I remember, I… I thought we could do better than that.

 

KATE: Just as well, maybe. I’m clean out of donuts. I can buy you a cuppa? Come through, we’ll listen to the sirens together.

 

JOHN: We can do better than that. I’ll knock at your door in five minutes.

 

KATE: Five minutes?

 

JOHN: I need to, uh…change out of these things. It’s been a long day.

 

KATE: Well while I’m putting on the kettle, should I be getting into a ball gown, or…?

 

JOHN: You don’t need to put on the kettle. Five minutes.

 

KATE: And then he was shifting up the stairs, taking that slender, elegant shadow with him, and I was stepping back into the flat, softly closing the door, wondering what the hell I’d just said yes to.

 

+++

 

KATE: Exactly five minutes later, there he was: his suit jacket pulled over a black sweater, the man himself nicely combed and freshened up and looking like he’s the kind of man who’d come to your door in an old movie. You know the type. Offer you the world and a ribbon wrapped around it, in elegant black and white. It was a kind of a shock to how handsome he looked with that old overcoat and shabby-looking hoodie stripped away, tall and lean and carved strong around the face and shoulders, all soft, dark shades and a smile gentle as a candle lit in some dark corridor you’d get lost in. Silly cow that I was… Silly cow that I was and, maybe just the mood he’d caught me in, but that’s how I felt. And he had a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses, and that was nice too. I asked him in.

 

JOHN: No.

 

KATE: He said.

 

JOHN: Lock your door, follow me.

 

KATE: So what was I to do but follow him? Follow him down the stairs all the way to the ground floor, to that great, shabby, shut-up nothing of a place that had once been the hotel lobby back in the day, when the Toledo was an elegant holiday destination, not the end of the road for us who had barely got enough wages or benefits to get through the wet week at home. On the back wall, past the chipped, moldy bulk of what had once been a reception desk, there was a great line of towering folding doors in dark, worm-eaten wood, doors I’d never seen unfolded. Doors that weren’t just locked but padlocked where the two halves met. He put the bottle and the glasses on the corner of an old desk, then drew out of his jacket pocket a great bunch of keys on a ring. You’ve got a key? I asked.

 

JOHN: I’ve got a key.

 

Keys jingle as one of them is selected and slipped into the lock.

 

KATE: He replied, unlocking the padlock on the lock of the folding doors themselves.  He told me to stand back and then began heaving the doors open.

 

The doors are opened with a heavy metallic creak.

 

KATE: Dust rose off them. Behind, well, I’d seen those great door shut so long I’d have expected to see King Kong on the other side, at the very least, picking his fleas, but there was a line of glass doors, French window-type things, the panels all dusty with darkness on the other side. With another set of keys he unlocked the central door, rattled it open. The smell reached me from beyond, dusty yeah, but kind of sweet too, a smell like old dreams shut away.

 

JOHN: Step through. Don’t worry, I’ll put my light on. You might get a pleasant surprise. Bring the wine over.

 

KATE: As I followed him through, he stepped to one side in that dark and clicked a switch: a light came on, or several lights, the bulbs set in some kind of chandelier that hung from the ceiling, a chandelier with a white sheet draped over it so the light came out in a dusty glow like a ghost was floating up there. And the glow showed, well…I suppose it was some kind of dance floor, all laid with wood that showed a dull kind of reflection, the edges of the floor lined with one snazzy carpet heaped with jumbles of furniture all covered in the same kind of sheets.

 

JOHN: You don’t mind if I close those doors after us? We don’t just want anybody wandering in, do we, it’s a place full of anybodies.

 

KATE: I know the anybodies you mean. Go ahead. So I let him go ahead and clunk those great doors shut, sealing us in together. Did I trust him? I’m not sure I’ve ever trusted anybody, not really, and maybe not trusting him wholly gave the whole thing that extra thrill I could feel tingling my skin.

 

JOHN: There, that’s cozier. Come over here, let’s really make ourselves at home.

 

KATE: He was stepping to the far corner where there was what was left of a bar, empty optics lining the wall behind, a framed painting of a bullfight hung just above. He pulled the sheet off one of those sheeted heaps, stirring thicker dust into the air, revealing a table with upside-down chairs heaped on top. He began lifting the chairs off, carrying the table out onto the dance floor, setting it down.

 

JOHN: Give the dust a moment to clear. Bring over the bottle.

 

KATE: What is this place, a ballroom?

 

JOHN: Yeah, of course. This rabbit warren of bedsits was once a rather classy hotel, didn’t you know.

 

KATE: I noticed! I mean, I know what it looks like from the outside, what it looks like to the door of my own bedsit slammed shut at my back.

 

JOHN: See the paintings on the walls? Picture’s (…), but it’s supposed to be scenes from Toledo in Spain, painted by some nobody who’d never been nearer to Toledo than a chip shop in (…) but was glad of the break from painting cartoon characters on the rides in the Pleasure Beach. We all dream of a better world elsewhere. Dust’s clear, more or less. Bring the bottle over.

 

KATE: I did, handed him it. He had an old-fashioned corkscrew bottle opener in his jacket pocket, popped out the cork, poured us two glassfuls, darkest red, encouraged me to sit, sat opposite me. I asked him how he knew this was here, how he had a key.

 

JOHN: How? Um... I own the place.

 

KATE: You what? You’re not the fellow I pay rent to.

 

JOHN: I pay that fellow, and it pays to delegate.

 

KATE: But you’re a tenant here.

 

JOHN: No, I live here. Quietly, discreetly. Owning the place and delegating helps me to do that. I’m telling you this, by the way, because I trust you. Hope you’ll help me maintain my privacy.

 

KATE: You hardly know me.

 

JOHN: I hardly know anybody; that also helps me maintain my privacy. But I know you just enough to think I can confide in you.

 

KATE: I’m flattered.

 

JOHN: I’m good at first impressions and acting accordingly.

 

KATE: You’re more confident about knowing me, maybe, than I am about knowing myself.

 

JOHN: No one ever knows themselves straight through, least of all all those who think they do. There is always some corner where the shadows fall.

 

KATE: Or a ballroom under the bedsits.

 

JOHN: There’s more than a ballroom; come! Bring your glass.

 

KATE: And he led me across the ballroom, through another set of glass doors at the back into some kind of hallway, all white arches and broad steps descending. I suppose I hesitated before following him down.

 

JOHN: I know how you feel. This is not the simple, friendly drink you were expecting.

 

KATE: It’s like a dream.

 

JOHN: You don’t like dreams?  

 

KATE: Well, it depends on the dream.

 

JOHN: It’s no dream. We’re in Blackpool; nothing, nowhere is as simple as it would be elsewhere. The most ordinary building can hide a hall of mirrors, a Pleasure Beach. Come down here and see.

 

KATE: And so I did. He led me on down into some great echoing dark, and when he clicked on the lights down there, I almost gasped.

 

JOHN: Quite something, isn’t it?

 

KATE: It was a grander space than the ballroom above: white pillars lining the walls, a great swimming pool sunk into the floor, more of those paintings on the wall of fake scenes from old Spain, lovers canoodling in sunny meadows, a guitar or two getting in the way. Between the pillars on one side of the room were little cabinets like confession booths, all closed in with frosted glass panels, set up, I suppose, for swimmers to get changed in. Along the edge of the pool there were these lounger things for people to relax in, all sagged cushions and tassels. The pool itself, of course, was empty of water, except for a long, gray puddle lining the angle of the deep end. There was a rat or a pigeon lying there half-submerged too, too matted and rotted for me to be sure which it was. The mosaics on the floor of the pool showed a whole orgy of mermaids, gold against green; some of the green, I suppose, was the mold.

 

JOHN: More kitsch, of course, but in the old days, oh…those up-market sea sailors had a ball. Lads had their waltzes up above, leisurely dips and daiquiris down here before dinner in La (…) Room. But I haven’t shown you that yet. Sometimes rats get in there, maybe overcooked meals of ghosts too, attracting them.

 

KATE: Too?

 

JOHN: Too?

 

KATE: You mean there are other ghosts here?

 

JOHN: Can’t you hear them?

 

KATE: What am I hearing?

 

JOHN: Nothing. Nothing, really. People came and they went, as people do, flesh and blood groping after a few days free of the grind elsewhere, play-acting life being a sweeter dream than it is.

 

KATE: How do you know?

 

JOHN: How do I…?

 

KATE: You sound like you were there.

 

JOHN: Maybe I was.

 

KATE: It sounds like it was a long time ago.

 

JOHN: Then I must have been very young,

 

KATE: Seriously? What, you were here? You can’t have owned it then. This place was, what, in your family or something?

 

JOHN: Don’t have a family. Never had a family.

 

KATE: We all have a family, however tough it is to forget them.

 

JOHN: Maybe I’m very…very good at forgetting.

 

KATE: I had a family. Well, it worked out in the end it was just me and my dad, and that he…but I shouldn’t be talking about that, not to a stranger.

 

JOHN: We talked our way past being strangers, surely.

 

KATE: Maybe it’s the wine talking.

 

JOHN: We only brought one bottle down. Here, help me finish it.

 

KATE: Maybe it’s something more than the wine.

 

JOHN: Such as?

 

KATE: Well…you know? A feeling of stepping through the looking glass.

 

JOHN: Ah, the looking glass. In my experience, it only ever has one side; it’s a matter of having the nerve to face what you see there.

 

KATE: I’ve never had that kind of nerve.

 

JOHN: So few do.

 

KATE: What about you?

 

JOHN: Oh, I’ve seen things in that glass no one else would care to see.

 

KATE: I’m stood right next to you. What am I seeing?

 

JOHN: Nothing. I shouldn’t have brought you down here.

 

KATE: I’ve drunk too much wine to be afraid.

 

JOHN: I wouldn’t want you to be afraid.

 

KATE: Were you ever afraid?

 

JOHN: What?

 

KATE: Down here, I mean.

 

JOHN: Down here?

 

KATE: Did someone hurt you, all those years ago?

 

JOHN: Hurt me? Uh…not here.

 

KATE: But-

 

JOHN: Not here, I said.

 

KATE: If we’re not strangers, can’t you tell me?

 

JOHN: Thought I just did.

 

KATE: Sorry. I’m trying to understand…

 

JOHN: Understand? Well maybe that’s what I’m afraid of.

 

KATE: You don’t have to be afraid of-

 

JOHN: Then the lights went off. Those damn fuses; the owner of that place ought to have been shot. And the dark down there was deep, (…). What did I think I was doing down there with her? After all that slaughter, that reckless taking of risks, rather than think about…think about her. I was, of course, more than (…), full of souls swallowed whole and white-hot yet within me, gifting me the spirit to…what? Take one more risk with her? What risk? She reached for me blindly and I found myself taking hold of her, and though it would have been so simple, so final to kiss her hard on the lips, crushing the life in her to ash, I found myself embracing that life with a tenderness to make me…sick. There, in that sudden dark, what kind of very different monster was I becoming?

 

KATE: It was such a darkness, so deep and sudden it was just instinct, I suppose, to reach out, take hold of him. And he held me just as sudden, and it was a hold warm and strong, wrapping itself right around me like a sweet dream on a cold night. I was crazy enough to try and kiss him, then something slipped.

 

Glass shatters on the ground.

 

KATE: It was the wine bottle: it must have been set down on the edge of the empty pool. He or I kicked it over, then my feet were slipping off that edge, slipping into the emptiness-

 

Kate screams.

 

KATE: But then he had me, held tighter, holding me a moment over that drop with its mermaids and its dead rats before raising me up, helping me to get a footing on the poolside. And there, in that blackness, all made of soft, whispery sounds and warm, violent touchings, anything seemed possible. I felt him kiss at my brow, shift the kiss towards my cheek, and then slowly, slowly towards my lips.

 

JOHN: Yes, it would have been so easy: a kiss at her lips or the eyes or the ears, even, any of the usual portals lets this snake suck the egg dry, and the matter would have been settled safely enough if I cleaned up afterwards. Safe. I could have stepped above, settled back into my murderous solitude, locked the door in that loneliness no mortal soul is ever, ever allowed near, but no. No. That simple thing, her utter destruction, seemed suddenly impossible. Why? Who was she? She was alive, and suddenly…so was I.

 

KATE: He turned aside from that kiss. I tried to chase it with my own kiss, but we were shifting beyond kissing, anyway. Stumbling, fumbling over way down onto one of those lounger things by the side of the pool, shedding clothes as we went, and suddenly that dark was just as deep and dangerous as I wanted it to be.