Category Archives: dark

The Fog

fog

“Hereabouts, fog can come suddenly, with little warning to those who don’t know the signs. It rises from the boggy moorland, wrapping the unwary traveller in a damp mist far deeper than that which exists between waking and sleeping, and a silence drops. This silence is eerie, but you should be glad of it, for it is far safer than the sweet songs of those devils who live within the fog, stealing their sense of direction and leading them astray. You may think yourself too familiar with the landscape to be fooled, but you are wrong. Many have made that mistake, to their cost. Dan, over at Bolden farm – his folks had lived hereabouts all their lives, worked the land, knew it like the back of his sinewous hand, never strayed further than Bodmin, and yet last October he drowned in the bog just ten minutes from his home. It was a horrible sight; some animal had found him and ripped out his heart, right through his rib-cage. I tell you, he knew his way blindfold.”

While vague pictures form in my mind of the last time I saw Dan alive – on a night rather like this, in this same bar room – old Albert pauses for another sup from the tankard which has been refilled and laid quietly on the table. A creeping unease causes the landlord of The Shrinking Fox to keep Albert’s tankard filled to the brim. There’s no charge, no comment from the landlord, and no thanks from Albert.

Although Albert is undoubtedly old, it’s hard to fix my mind on his likely age, since his features seem to change, his wrinkles blurring and travelling across his face, his nose growing bulbous and then shrinking in the dimming light. Whenever I try to focus, it feels as if the fog of which he speaks has entered my brain.

Seems like I’ve been hearing his stories ever since I was old enough to drink in the Shrinking Fox, and yet when I try to remember the last time I saw Albert, my thoughts slip away from me. He draws me back into this story and I’m unsure of whether I’ve heard it a hundred times before, or if this is the first telling.

Albert slowly puts down his drink, and glances at the eight men in the room. All eyes are on him, as his listeners wait. Satisfied that he has our attention, he continues:

“Even dogs get lost in the fog. Next day they’ll be found with their hearts ripped out – always the hearts, never any other part. It’s the work of the Devil, I tell you.”

I feel a chill, and glancing toward the window, I see the grey fog swallow the world outside. Even the stunted apple tree whose closest branch scratches at the flyblown glass is concealed, save for one immobile twig which touches the glass, pointing, like a warning finger, towards the listeners inside. I briefly focus on that word, ‘warning’, before turning back towards Albert, who’s gone silent. He’s looking at the fog, and the other watchers have followed his gaze. A dismayed “Oh,” comes from the youngest man in the room – he’s only a boy, really, and I fancy I see Albert eyes flash, hungrily, and the hint of a cruel smile… but no, it’s my imagination.

Again, I wonder why I know so little about this man who is so familiar to me. Where does he live? Does he have family, and have I really seen him before, or only dreamed of him? His voice brings my attention back to the present.

“They’ll be out tonight,” he says, gruffly. “It’s a good thing you all live in the village, where you’ll be safe. They never venture this close to human habitation.”

We must all have been holding our breath. The quiet room fills up with relieved sighs, then we look at young Cyril, catching his pale face, hearing a strangled sound issue from his throat. We look away quickly. None of us wants to offer to walk with him to his home. It’s almost two miles away, and Albert’s talk has us all on edge.

Albert is the one brave man among us. Putting us to shame, he turns a gnarled, but kindly face in Cyril’s direction, and says:

“Come on, lad, I’ll get you safely home. I’m the oldest person hereabouts. I’ve heard the devils that live in the fog. They’ve not harmed me, and I have no fear of them. They’ve given up on these old bones.”

Albert is right; we’ll come to no harm as long as we’re in the village, but all the same, to a man, we stand up and follow Albert and Cyril out through the door, and walk close behind him until we reach our homes. By the time I get to my place, there are only the three of us left. I say goodnight and go quickly indoors, before Albert and Cyril have had time to walk away.

The next day, Cyril’s mother finds his body in a boggy area near where she lives; a bloody hole where his heart should be. I keep running through the events of the previous evening, and every time, self-disgust washes over me. I don’t remember much, but I know that we all left the Shrinking Fox together, and I clearly recall everyone else going into their homes, until only he and I were left, then young Cyril walked all alone into the murderous fog. I should have gone with him. I could have steered him safely home – although, with his knowledge of the moors, I can’t understand how he got lost.

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Cyril’s been gone for over a year now. For a while people stayed indoors in the evenings, huddled safely away from their superstitions, but the landlord has whitewashed the bar-room in the Shrinking Fox and it looks more cheerful these days. Maybe that’s why he has more customers. It’s back to the way it used to be, with Albert sitting at the table, reeling out yarns, making us all uneasy. Seems like I’ve seen him here a hundred times before, but I can’t remember when. He takes a drink, surveys the room to make sure he still has everyone’s attention, and he continues:

“Even dogs get lost in the fog. Next day they’ll be found with their hearts ripped out – always the hearts, never any other part. It’s the work of the Devil, I tell you.”

The room dims. Looking through the window, all I can see is grey fog. All eyes follow mine.  One of the men, James – who lives way outside the village – gulps nervously. I fancy I see a hungry look in Albert eyes, and the hint of a cruel smile… but no, it’s my imagination.

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Written for The Daily Post #Foggy

©Jane Paterson Basil

A Different Poem

You aimed your insipid quill at my head,
scratching for glib metaphoric descriptions of shallow waters,

scribbling ill-conceived inaccuracies
while your bitter heart
flattered you with fairy tales of poetic skill,

piddling insults on exercise paper
with the optimistic aid of a gold-plated pen,

pretending Dylan depth
where only an inch of silt sprawled.

Have your short-shrift eyes ever stared into a clear sky,
while you pondered your dimensions,

Have you held a silvery moon in your hands,
and just for one instant, did its supreme beauty
sweep away the stench of snarling beasts,

have you reached for a penny to feed your soul,
felt it slither between your fingers,
seen it plummet to the chasm beneath your feet,
and felt yourself slide.

have you spooned tatters of fading glitter into your heart
just to keep it beating,
even as your head fought a call for six feet of crushing soil,

have you asked the question, and heard silence in reply,
and did you find your way to the next chapter
through a tangled network of collapsing tunnels.

Have you safely reached a clearing filled with spring fragrance,
and known that you were only a guest in this calm haven,
resting for the next leg of your journey.

Did you breathe deeply of the clean air,
and appreciate the fragrance of wild rose and meadowsweet,
fixing your mind on the vision of delight
while mud sucked at your feet.

Did you.

If, since your last effort,
you have travelled in my vicinity,
I give you permission to write a different poem
about me.

Written for The Daily Post #Shallow

©Jane Paterson Basil

A Flurry of Dust

padlock-1

This is all that is familiar; this prison and its skeletons, the barren garden, and the gate; the gate, its frame aggressively clinging to walls too high to climb, its peeled paint drawing the shape of a threatening grin, its rusty padlock keeping her in, and the knothole in the middle, like a single eye, watching her as she plots.

She makes scattered plans that she doesn’t believe in; she’ll scale the wall too high to climb, smash the locked gate, eradicate its seeing eye.

Her brain is distracted by the ticking of a long gone grandfather clock.

Yellow macs and matching hats and days when rain brought indoor games and laughter shaped her every day and noses pressed upon the panes. Breathing misty, steamy shapes, fingers doodling crude cartoons, dismissing hints of stormy gloom, while mother in another room cooked a meal and baked up treats, and weekends seemed to last all week and freedom was a word she heard, and she believed that it referred to prisoners set free, but now she knows that it described the way life used to be.

She shakes away the memories, looks through her glazed prison window, scrabbling for the gist of her plan. Like all others, it has crumbled, or it lurks in the towering wall, somewhere in the cracks where dusky shadows imitate the faces of those she has known.

But no, the past cannot free her now.

Staying inside where she feels safe, she studies the gate, muddied by splashing rain. She longs for escape, but has no faith in her capabilities, so she waits for something to change; for the hinges to give, the padlock to rot away, the timber to splinter and break; meanwhile occupying her spare time with dreams of what has been.

Years go by. Time paints the grime of existence on her window pane. Spiders weave their webs and hide in wait for flies. Bit by bit, her view of the gate is obliterated . Coming to terms with the increasing murk,  she gives up on the window.

Drips from yesterday’s deluge leave a fading patch on the floor. Above it, bright canary coats and hats hang against the door. Scribbles appear in the glazed mist, brightened by a backdrop of trees rinsed clean by a summer shower. She holds a tea party for plastic people with vintage clothes and poseable limbs, plays tic-tac-toe with her sister, totters, giggling, in grown-up clothes and shoes. She revels in the sound of laughter; feels it teasing her throat. She inhales the scent of vanilla. Her  mother calls from the pantry, and she follows the aroma of freshly baked cakes.

Beside the gate, a dandelion breaks through arid land; its brave petals opening to embrace life. The gate swings wide, and the world waits outside for one whose sentence was self imposed. The bolt had not been shot. The gate had not been locked.

Yet, free at last, her spirit eats cake, savouring every last crumb, while in the lonely room, her body slumps, to be welcomed by a flurry of dust motes which briefly float free, and with soft caress, come to rest on her cooling flesh.

The Daily Post #Gate

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Ballad of Dreadful Cecil

pestle-and-mortar

Cecil was a vile pretender
whose cruel disguise was retail vendor;
in market stalls all round the county,
he set up alluring bounty
of stone and marble kitchenware,
then sat in wait upon a chair.
He displayed to avid eyes
pestles and mortars of every size.

On his stall, the largest vessel
was devoid of matching pestle.
“Where could it be?” I hear you ask –
Why; in his hand, and tightly grasped.
Before I tell you of his ruse,
you need to know it won’t amuse,
for he was evil to the core –
a scofflaw who loved blood and gore.

If a housewife took a shine
to a pestle quite divine.
he didn’t sell it as he aughta,
but hit her with his mighty mortar,
then hid her underneath the table
just as fast as he was able,
making sure that no-one saw
her collapse upon the floor.

It gave him joy for many years
to cause such agony and tears –
but one fine day he came a cropper
via a woman in a topper;
when he hit her on the head
she pretended she was dead.
He didn’t know that her dark hat
had deflected his hard bat.

He had caught a clever sort
strong of body, quick of thought;
She jumped up and pushed him under –
was that lightning, was it thunder
he heard crashing in his ears,
summoning his deepest fears?
No, the poor old wormy wood
had taken all the weight it could.

The table smashed to smithereens
to the sound of Cecil’s screams
from beneath the splintering table –
it was like the fall of Babel.
Stoneware hit his back and head,
turning concrete bloody red.
As he desperately wrestled
He got tangled in the trestle.

So enmeshed was dreadful Cecil
he was buried with his trestle.

My best friend challenged me to write a poem with the last two lines ending, respectively, in Cecil and Trestle. This was the result.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Gotcha

abstract tree_cave

.

The tunnel shimmers with a tempting threat;
….its marbled darkness beckons and repels.
……..Her instinct is to flee this place, and yet
…………some hunger in her quickening soul rebels.

She stoops to taste the water at her feet,
….and gasps at fruity flavours rich and rare,
……..Bending low she sups the nectar sweet,
…………then steps into the cave without a care.

Reflections from the water light the walls,
….to.dance with twisting shadows of the tree,
……..Behind her, warning silence weakly calls,
…………But she’s enchanted by the leaping filigree.

The air grows dank, and scratches reach her ears.
….She hears an evil grunt, and rasping breath,
……..a distant, deadly scream awakes her fears,
…………then silence reigns, as if a breath is held for death.

The grunts resume, and splashing sounds ensue
….like clumsy footsteps searching out their prey.
……..Her horror deepens; she cannot construe
…………from whence they come; they echo everyway.

The light retreats and deepest darkness falls
….within the depths of that unhallowed hollow,
……..while lumbering evil bounces off the walls;
…………she knows not which dread trail to follow.

All at once she sees the apperition,
….the gnashing teeth and angry threads of drool.
……..She screams in fearful recognition…
…………the teacher drags the truant back to school.

.

Gotcha… (inspired by an image I put together in an idle moment)

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Wolf

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Three bodies sat around a table;
a wolf disguised, as in a fable,
a bloodied victim, half chewed away,
and the predator’s next intended prey.

The bloodied victim had the audacity to survive. Bravely, she spoke to the intended prey, describing the tactics and weaknesses of the wolf. The wolf stammered excuses, but the woman in his sights was not a fool.

I was one of the three,
and, yesterday, I aquired a pile of knives.
Each one was etched with a
different
crime
against my sex
All the sins committed by you, the wolf, were represented.

I sharpened my knives with a fine whetstone.
Aggression and affection rubbed together, each clearly defined.
I had no love for you, only the desire to save a life.

Today I examine my prospective weaponry, silently interviewing every well-honed applicant for the post of accomplice to rough justice. Each stretch of steel sharply translates the rays of sun into a gleaming silver streak of lethal dreams.

I select the most stylish knife in my armory;
fashioned for filleting, its sleek blade
emerges, confident, from a welcoming wood handle,
elegantly narrowing
to a
pin
p
o
i
n
t
more threatening than Madonna’s famous bra.
Tenderly, I stroke it with my thumb.
I name it for you.

I picture a glistening film of crimson, the viscous drips weeping their shame at your lack of remorse.

I’ll hand you the knife, and wait
for the cutting slash, the stabbing thrust that will drive the spike through your flesh, into the unsleeping, penile heart of the matter.

I’ll watch your dispicable spirit simmer –
see you spit, but your spit will not reach.
You will have been hoisted by your own petard.

I’ll raise a victorious fist
for womens’ solidarity.

Finally,
I’ll drink (coffee) to the health of my new friend.
She drinks weak tea,
but with my tolerant nature
I view that as a minor misdemeanour.

The Daily Post #Spike

©Jane Paterson Basil

Dinnertime

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Showered and fragranced, she slips into well-chosen clothes; clothes with the perfect mix of sexy and casual, as if it’s only by chance that she looks that way. She smoothes down her hair and applies the right amount of make-up – not too much; she doesn’t want her look to appear contrived. She checks in the mirror, and sees the reflection of a naturally alluring woman with a lovely figure. Her disguise is perfect. She leaves the house, and walks slowly down the road, with the merest suggestion of a wiggle, a carefully designed expression of uncretainty on her face.

She catches the eye of every man she passes. They look interested, but always, something startles them, and they recoil in horror, before making a wide berth – sometimes even crossing the road to avoid walking past her. She’s getting hungry; it’s been days since she’s managed to lure anybody back to her lair.

Presently, clouds cover the sun. Shadows fade. She spots a meaty giant of a man walking her way. He sees her lost-little-girl look, and pauses to ask her if she is OK. She gives him her well-worn story about only having moved into the area the previous day, and not being able to remember her way home; it always works. He asks for her address, and offers to walk her there.

Her sensitive nose picks out aftershave, lemon soap, coffee, fresh bread, ham, the ingredients of coleslaw, an encouraging tang of lust, and knows she’ll have no trouble. Beneath those ugly scents is the delicious perfume of blood type A, rhesus positive; her favorite flavour.

She sighs in anticipation of her feast.

Written for Michelle’s Photo-Fiction Challenge

©Jane Paterson Basil