Notation


Notation

These final notes detail the circumstances that led me to this fugue of wracked obsession, one which I could never declare to be the work of mere chance, if such a petty and thoughtless concept could be taken seriously by any who have seen behind the curtain of the mundane; and although no man will ever read this statement, I must compose it nonetheless, so as to document the ethereal sequence of that ghastly notation. The cadence starts in C, as if to tease the major scale; yet it suddenly takes a shift Locrian, losing all tonal sense thereafter. The instrument it is played on does not exist: could not exist. So it is that the music has, at last, returned: I have spent days, weeks in my squalid house, preparing immense reams of variations of sheet notation for the piece, but when played back on the piano, they have never even started to come close to those bleak scales that shift eternal in the dark distance. Although: I am sure that they had sounded right in my head. I am sure of it; yet none of this matters now: the piano and the library’s worth of notation is destroyed withal, for what good that may achieve. I fear it is too late for me, and so all I can do is write these final words.

I began learning piano when I was seven years old. By age eleven, I could read and write music at a grade that I had not achieved even in English and Latin. I was thirteen when I first played this wrecked piano in front of me. It had belonged to my school for as long as anyone there could remember; yet, I had never observed it being played by any of the music teachers, nor tuned by the blind pianist who came in every Friday morning to play for us during our otherwise dull assemblies. It was a pitiful orphan instrument: unloved, uncared for. I was drawn to it, being myself bereft of mother and father.

I felt its presence from that first music lesson; every key that I struck on the Casio keyboard seemed to resonate instead from the piano, not from the piece of cheap plastic in front of me: and every note played sounded tortured, and ringingly out of key.

When I inquired about it, my teacher told me that it was impossible to tune; not that they had not tried: even the blind man had attempted long ago and failed, and he had since stayed far from the withered, dusty beast. I asked why they kept it around: I never once heard a clear answer to that question, and my attempts to play it during class were met with refusal.

One day, in my third year at the school, after classes had finished, we were called to the main hall for an announcement; the students were to be questioned and perhaps scolded after a number of hideous, perverted images had been found scrawled in the boys’ bathroom. As the droves of students made their way there, I slipped rank and made my way across the empty school grounds and over to the music hall, which stood alone next to the south gate.

I entered the desolate classroom, accompanied by the light creak of rusty hinges. The piano sat in the corner, dust on every inch of the housing and lid. I pulled over a chair, raised the lid and sat down. I played a note.

The note echoed its dissonance. There was no other sound like it: it tingled every fibre of within my being. I closed my eyes and let the feeling in: the shared harmony of two lost souls, reunited for the first time. I played another note, higher up. My left hand formed a chord. My right hand scaled up. That progression I now know so well, yet could not replicate. I could feel it crawling up my skin, crawling up the walls.

In the subsequent days, I tried to remember what notes I had played. Even with perfect pitch — inherited, according to my uncle, from my mother — I could not figure out how to reproduce the off-key phrases that I had played. But it was more than that: I could not hear what I had heard that day. I could feel it, but I could not hear it: it was more than mere music.

The piano was removed from the room. Nobody mentioned that it had been played, although the removal of the dust from its coat must have been noticed. A year later, myself and another student were sent to the storage room under the main hall to retrieve a bag of sports equipment. The piano was in the corner, behind stacks of newspapers and academic books. A memory of a melody twinged behind my ear, and then crawled out of earshot. In my last year and a half at the school, I tried to access the storage room a number of times, but to no avail. I found no success, and after graduating, I attended a prestigious music college, and then went on to study composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

It was around this time that I began learning the electric guitar. It gave me a chaotic and loose respite from sheet music, and with help from a cheap fuzz pedal and a glass slide I found myself closer to finding sounds similar to the music that permeated my penumbral thoughts; yet, they were cheap imitations, and far from satisfied my cravings. I used a reel-to-reel tape recorder that I had bought at a car-boot sale to create loops of decaying noise, spending every moment that I had outside of my studies on this pastime, eventually even skipping lessons to partake in the creation of these layers of dissonance. It did not ease my mind, and eventually I was asked to leave the university due to continuing noise complaints and a lack of attendance.

Two years later, I was working a desk job for a phone repair company. I had enjoyed the work as far as I could have, and I had thought neither of the music nor the piano for a number of months. I had been relaxing in bed with a book when I heard something outside. My neighbours often had parties, so I thought it must have been them starting another one up, despite their last one having been the night before. I was wrong. It was not their music. It must have been emanating not from outside, but from my own subconscious; for it was that cadence, the very one I had heard in my first encounter with the mysterious orphan piano.

It had finally returned to me! I sat up and took a writing pad from my desk and started to jot down notes. But as soon as I had begun notation, it was gone, lost once more to memory’s haze. I cursed my recall and took my sleep.

I woke up an hour or two later: the music was back. I had not heard it in my head: no, it was outside; somewhere in the distance: I threw myself from my bed and ran out into the black night, following the sound. But even as I ran, the familiar, eldritch sequence did not gain in volume, nor did it lessen, as if it was always hanging just out of my reach. I walked the streets for an hour, but no turn took me any closer to my destination. I went home and slept, although the music kept its flow.

The next night, it returned once again. The same phrases, tantalising, mocking. I set up my tape recorder and kept it running after I was asleep. When I played it back, I heard nothing.

This continued for the following months, and my every attempt to find it or record it resulted in abject failure. It was at this time that I made a pact with myself: my life was in a pitiful rut, and as stable as my job was, there was no true enjoyment to be found. So I decided that I would set myself upon the music that haunted and taunted me so, discover its secrets entire, and then I would take it to the Royal Conservatoire, to show those so-called experts, scholars, that nothing like it existed in the human spectrum of musical experience, that only I can play it, and that I should be bequeathed a substantial grant to further explore these new, alien modes. Once again, I had a purpose to my wormlike existence.

I wrote hundreds, thousands of sheets of music, each work an attempt to recreate those sounds, each piece one that I would have once considered an opus but now saw as less than worthless. I quit my job, took my final month’s salary and travelled down to my old school. I met with the new headmaster, and questioned him about the old piano. He did not know of its existence, so I told him where perhaps he might find it. He replied that he was a busy man. My monetary offer changed his mind. In the evening of that day, the deliverymen carried the piano up to my room. I started playing immediately.

Nothing came out. Just sour, twisted notes that fell dead on my ears. I played for hours, to constant and unremitting failure. I closed the lid and got into bed. As soon as my defeat had been sealed, that was, of course, when I heard it again: it was out there, laughing somewhere beyond the window’s glass. It was closer now, albeit incrementally. I pulled the piano over to the window, tearing the carpet in places, and sat down again. As the impossible fugue started over, I played back to it. But still the notes collapsed as soon as they had left the instrument. I eventually had to stop at three in the morning after the next-door neighbour hammered against the wall.

I ignored the music and the piano for a week. On the seventh day, I received a phone call. My uncle had died. I should have wept. I went down to attend the funeral and left before the wake. He left me his cottage in the will, so I made the correct arrangements and before long I was living just outside of Penrith, finally alone with my music.

The country air did my lungs a world of good after living in the damp of my old house for so long. I took daily walks, still continuing to ignore the music. But every night it came closer still, until finally I could no longer stand it. I left the house and ran to the woods past which the noxious music seemed to originate. I tripped over branch and root until I got to the other side of the trees. I looked out at the night sky. The stars bowed down over me. The music screamed. The shapes in the sky took the form of the notation, like no notation known by name, written in a hideous, aberrant alien script: it had finally been gifted me, finally there for me to take as my own. I checked my pockets. In my hurry, I had left all of my pens and paper back in the house. I ran back, further harming myself on the way, spraining an ankle and bruising a wrist. I took my fountain pen and a large pad of paper and made the trip again, avoiding any more extensive damage. I stared at the sky. It was gone: only the shadowy, endless void welcomed me, even that seeming to stare down at me in disgust.

The music had stopped. I was alone, truly alone. I walked back to the house and sat down at the piano and wracked my all too human memory. I played for ten hours, until I finally slumped over the keyboard and passed out.

I started to drink whiskey, attempting to channel the music in a drunken fugue state. It did not work; nothing did. Every day my body grew thinner. Food no longer had any taste, not after the experience of having seen that mystic, unearthly, Stygian music with my own eyes, only to have faltered and lost it once and for all. The music did not play outside for many weeks. I was naught without it. I knew that if it returned, if it graced my decaying mind with its echoing laugh, it would be for the final time.

In a rage, I felled my adversarial instrument: the piano connected to the ground with a discordant crash, broken but yet still living. I took to it then with a hammer. I did not stop until the damage was irreparable. I destroyed all of my notation, and my recordings. By this point, even water tasted foul to my sensibilities; I would not imbibe a drop. So I waited in darkness, day and night, for that final, wracking hymn, and composed this document for posterity’s sake, although I believe such matters are relevant no longer; nonetheless, I am glad to have written these words, to purge my guilt over chasing this cacophonous destiny. I shall not know peace again; there will never again be silence.


Tonight, I was woken by the smallest of sounds, far beyond my window and over the horizon. Despite its distance, I could feel its immensity. It continued to get closer, the spread of the sound multiplying and diffusing into the air. It is nearly right outside my window now. I feel that I now realise what this ravenous requiem has been trying to tell me all along.

It seems to laugh at me yet, that scraping, mirthless rattle. I feel it shake the windows. There is not long left. I take my pen and pad and stumble through the corridors and throw my door open and allow myself to exit the house and be embraced by the cold air outside. But the air is not cold; in fact, there is no air. There is no view. Only blackness, a stretching everfurther abyss. Then the shapes emerge, those ghastly notes: they crawl through our spacetime dimension; they are all that there is left; I am the last of my kind, and I am the one who wrought this. It should have never been heard. But as I start to write it down, I know that all of this, the sacrifice that I have made on behalf of humanity, has been worth it. Nothing has ever existed that held such horrible beauty. There is nothing but the notation. And as I finish writing it, as the pen scrapes across the paper for the last time, I know my purpose has been fulfilled. I was the gatekeeper, and I opened the door. All that is left now is the unending coda: the music that will scream alone for eternity.


The Groop

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The Groop

The Debut Novel by A. J. Sahnow

People are going missing on a world-changing scale, and only one man seems to care. Lydia Dove has been missing for four months. Sean Mallory, stuck in a dead-end job and afflicted by invasive dreams, believes that if he can find her, then maybe he can find others. Taunted by anonymous emails and troubled by his past, even he doubts his ability to see it through – but the ever-growing mystery of the missing is too alluring to resist.

Through his trips to the nearby city, explorations of the surrounding small towns, and interactions with individuals who seem to know more than they let on, his grip on reality is starting to falter. Perhaps trying to find Lydia is the last thing that he should do.

The first novel by A. J. Sahnow, a London-based writer and musician, The Groop is a mystery/thriller influenced by horror and weird fiction.

Groop Kindle Art 07

Available at:

Amazon.com
Paperback | Kindle

Amazon.co.uk
Paperback | Kindle

Author’s Word:

This is a project that has taken a long time to come to fruition: I wrote The Groop originally between Feb 2014 — Feb 2015. It was, in fact, the first major writing project that I ever undertook, and it predates all of my short stories and poetry. To have it finally out there is strange, and somewhat terrifying. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers and horror, or weird fiction in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, I believe you will like The Groop.

If you read it, and enjoy it, please consider leaving me a review on Amazon! Reviews can go a long way in helping to establish new self-published authors, so I’d really appreciate it if possible. Either way, I’d be interested in hearing what you think of it — drop me an email at aj.sahnow92@gmail.com, or find me on twitter @SahnowScribbles.

If you want to support me further, I also have released eclectic rock music on Bandcamp as Noun Verb Noun: https://nounverbnoun.bandcamp.com/

Thank you again for your support.

— A. J. Sahnow

Ice Jesters of the Anti-Moon

Ice Jesters of the Anti-Moon

 

I

As I walked through a pallid grove at night,
   Past trees the chalken moon did spread its glow;
   ’Tween fulvous cedars something seemed to shew:
   Intruder moon crawled from our own moon’s light.
Now miles apart in my own view it shook:
   This second moon ’came coloured as the grave
   And birthed new sky ’round sable architrave;
   Shadows grew gaunt upon the woodland brook.
Had mirage or daydream entranced my mind—
   No hashish daze could bring such sights abound,
   To create a twinnèd mantle of rays
One half stars, the other colours that bind.
      I could not fathom that unearthly sound;
      The colours changed ’fore my confounded gaze.

 

II

Then, from behind the cursèd satellite
   A sheen of zymotic shades did gather;
   In their wake came forms of lunar lather:
   Born of anti-moon, they grinned in cruel might—
White, skel’tal ice-clowns hung from above
   And stared down at the earth in base hunger:
   Their crude claws of basalt were no younger
   Than the earth that upon we lived and loved;
I saw our fate was clear, an ancient feast
   For grinning idiot monstrosities—
   Aberrant jesters of the anti-moon,
Primal gods insane as daemonic beasts.
      I kneeled before solar atrocity,
      Doomed under the glare of imposter lune.

 

III

What fate was this — to die alone in fright,
   Whilst all my loved ones gathered together
   Staring high at stars, not knowing whether
   They were prey to dreams, or to die that night.
These wicked comics knew not what they took—
   Without absolution, resolution,
   At beast-jesters I screamed retribution;
   But still with rude, rabid hunger they shook;
Still their stretchèd masques stared down, reveling
   In pungent fear our species did exude:
   Their cosmic cackles then filled the night air,
Echoing through atmosphere, levelling
      All man’s cities; so numb was my mind’s mood—
      In death, I could only think it unfair.

 

The Throne of Elias

The Throne of Elias

I had to find myself: that, I knew, but I had only the slightest, mistiest and most oblique inkling of how to do it. I had only just started to realise how lost in it all I truly was, and how time was catching up with me in a manner that could be considered hostile. My grandfather’s voice in my ears: explore, excavate, delve deep – when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself. They were solemn words that I tried to live by, in at least a social sense. However, I had found that my modes of speech often put people off; most people do not like to be so prodded and jostled with requests for deep truths. Thus, I never felt comfortable, and I never felt like myself, which must have meant that I wasn’t living life as myself, as my best possible self, the Self that can be quantified in psychological examination and cross-examination, form after form, check after check; no, it was no wonder that time was crossing the street with dagger in hand, seeking to cut me down: I was losing, I was a loser.

I had to do something, fast. I had been living in the city since birth, quickly approaching my twenty-third birthday, and I had no job and scant qualifications to my name. My parents’ earnings were wearing thin: I had been hanging off of the back of their lives for too long now, and my debt was piling up. Before I moved into the alien territory of employment, I had to open myself to life itself, in all of its glory.

But I saw no glory in life’s pickings: small talk at the coffee table at some distant or nearby office workspace taunted me like a lingering sickness, absent for a day, but here to stay tomorrow. I was the reigning faux-pas laureate, christened, crowned and celebrated in countless pubs and lecture halls; sharp, nervous titters followed my step in lessons and family gatherings alike, and eyes followed me unblinking, awaiting my next drink spillage or drugs-tray disassembly. Many bearded men had beaten me to the punch, and even those with weaker facial hair than I had laughed victorious over my own paltry efforts. Even those fatter and uglier than I seemed to achieve a semblance of success in their own individual groups, whilst I sat alone, drinking too fast and perhaps even blacking out and finding myself drifting to and fro upon a railway system far from home.

There was but one choice: to know myself, I had to know my country. If I felt so aberrant to these people, then it must have been due to my own misconceptions and presuppositions about the direction that encounters should take you: it could not be them – a phrase close achieving cliché says that if everybody you meet is boring, then it is you who is boring; as such, if everybody I met seemed darkly aberrant and appearing to belie through their smiles a deep, endless mood of isolation and cynicism then it was actually I who was the arduous, anomalous and offensive spirit, not those who I attempted to speak to day by day.

The solution was simple: I would borrow one last sum of money from my ailing parents, and make three journeys across England, in an effort to drive this possessive abomination of spirit from my Self. After this, I would spend a week alone in my room, reflecting upon the joys and revelations I had encountered; finally, I would return to the world, finally at one with myself, my Self, and my fellow people. I would finally wipe out the remaining traces of racial prejudice and colonial guilt, learn the mathematic divines of beats within social discourse, love thy goddamn neighbour and love goddamn God him or herself, saunter to the coffee table at work in some faceless call centre and finally feel at home, not prominent but certainly achieving a final sense of loose, soothing belonging.

My grandfather spoke to me of such matters a great deal when I was younger. Through our many holidays to my ancestral home in Derby, where my grandparents lived, I would be delivered sacred, sage advice from my mother’s father; information passed down from generation to generation, lessons that any sane person should heed, else expect nothing but desolation. I welcomed these lectures, temporarily taking the place of the fantastical bedtime stories of my mother’s conjurations; my grandfather’s warm, slightly shaky baritone lulling me to sleep; they were some of the few nights a year that I didn’t experience night terrors, and as such were some of the few nights a year that my parents didn’t have to take turns falling asleep in the chair next to my bed. Even at age sixteen, the unremembered nightmares would rise up, sending me into frenzies that took the lives of countless duvets, pillows and blankets. But even after the night terrors stopped, I still missed the many lectures that my grandfather had stored away in his soul.

My first journey started simply enough: I opened an arbitrary page of a road map of England, and pointed at a random location with a pencil. It turned out not to be too far from the city, just a few trains away, and perhaps a couple of buses, too. My pencil technically struck an unmarked piece of map, so I did move it a few miles to the nearest town: Yuggeshall, north of Dunwich Forest. And so it was to be, my first flying of the coop: a smiling farewell from my steadfast father, not a tear shed by my proud mother, and the family cat, Wermret, almost seeming to nod a blink my way as a parting gift. I would leave a novice of the world, and return a novice of the world; but return one with the first, slightest and mistiest inkling of how to change his position in life.

I packed very little – just three nights’ change of clothes, my toothbrush and toothpaste, my journal to note in and my music playing device to soundtrack my development into a nascent form of Individual Self. I took an overground early in the morning, the train so packed with humans to bring to mind an overstuffed pig-truck headed for the Death House; panting dogs longed for water, and kids restlessly worked their ways through a plethora of lollypops and ice-cream cones. Young adults looked down at their shoes, never meeting my gaze.

A change at a particularly busy stop, and then I was travelling on a type of train I had never been on before. Not to say that it was out of the ordinary; it was just a different type to the one that took my parents and I to Derby, so it naturally felt somewhat foreign to my senses. I chose apt music and scrawled descriptive notes of the landscapes sweeping around me; however, these written descriptions were too fanciful to relay to any critical and discerning audience, and of a form of prose too regally purple to stand beside my more constant, minimalistic and, in my opinion, pertinent literature. After an hour and a half, I arrived in the sea port town of Low Croft.

This town – city? barely – smelt like nowhere else I had visited; it was a stink too distinct to call home to anywhere but Low Croft. I had experienced and grown to subversively love the country smell, that of fermenting manure; but Low Croft smelt like a sewage pipe’s rear end, filled with scum-drowned otter corpses and rusty syringes. I took a quick toilet break before moving on; inside, the floor was wet and dirty, muddy boot prints trailing indistinctly. I noticed around the sink hole a substance that could have been blood; whatever it was, I avoided washing my hands near it, and opted to dry my hands instead in the pockets of my jeans, lest the electric hand-dryer spread some bubonic-originating plague upon my pure, un-pocked skin.

This toilet escapade resulted in my missing the bus by seconds. I looked around to find a bus timetable, but not one was present. A blinking electronic sign told me that the next bus heading my way wasn’t due for another forty minutes. Unencumbered by my usual travelling weight, I felt a spring beneath my soles lift me up and into the main square of the town: although quite small, I found Low Croft to be abundant in specific types of shops: hair salons, nail parlours, and pubs. There was a large Wetherspoon opposite the station, but I quickly struck it from my immediate list and took the main street up as far as it would go; I found a pub signed as the Heart of Darkness, its low-hanging sign emblazoned with a ghostly ship in a storm.

The lights inside were dim, and few patrons stood at the bar; I realised that it was still early, and that most of the regulars were probably still at work. I drank a half-pint silently to myself in the corner, and scrawled confused, scared and immature prose in my journal. A cowering animal, returning to a falsified mental habitat when presented with the truth; how ridiculous I must have looked. I know, now, that this fear was just from lack of understanding; lack of knowledge. But it angers me still, to think of myself as so blind to the world going on around me, the world that had always been there, hidden.

I abandoned the Heart of Darkness and took the main street back down, taking a right that would eventually lead me back around to the bus stop. On the way, I passed a closed newsagents; on the news billboard outside, it read: Second Low Croft Murder, Suspect Not Charged. Steps later, I saw an estate agents by the name of Savege. This struck me for one and only one reason: other than the surname of a once-popular television presenter, it was also my own family name. I had never seen it anywhere else, and had not anticipated seeing it in Low Croft of all places. I felt an urge to go inside and ask for Savege him or herself, but I eventually decided against it.

A creeping sense of intense loneliness was falling over me. I could barely stand it. I had to think again on the words of my grandfather, that stalwart figure he was, that soothsayer and truth-sayer. It was not so much specific phrases that I remembered, but feelings and tones; the man could mull over vast, dark corners of human history and human behaviour in just a few short sentences, leaving unanswered questions thoroughly debunked and unfortunate truths laid bare for only his audience, that being me, to alone understand and benefit from. These unsurfaced realities brought me through the darkness of my sweeping loneliness, and put me back into survival mode: explore, excavate, dig deep. Enact these truths, these realities, upon the world, and upon your own mind: find that desperate, confused notion known as maturity and climb yourself up on high, above all of the Sad Egg Men and pitiful wretches.

But some of my Old Thoughts, those Dark Thoughts, resurfaced once I got back to the bus stop; for at the bus stop, waited three Sad Egg Men. These Egg Men, bulbous and round, grossly plump – why, I thought, if only someone were to crack them open and shed their yolk onto the ground; then we would see, then we would see. And more arrived, all waiting for the bus I meant to take: dumbbells, wingnuts, the ill-bred, the insane and the degenerate…

But I waited all the same, and boarded that bus with a smile for the driver, although he did not have one for me. The bus took speed, and floated across those Low Croft streets, taking me past the sea front and through a series of streets that teased at me the ocean beyond the glass; somewhere out there was a ship sailing, a real, an old ship, a sailboat, a galleon! Its purpose I never discerned, but its form I was so taken with that I exclaimed aloud about how wonderful a vessel she was. An Egg Man replied to me, in a lilting and uncoarse country timbre, that she was indeed a fine lady, and that she sails just beyond these shores often.

‘What life you must have here,’ I said; the Egg Man seemed unsure of my tone, perhaps there was unresolved but unintended pretention in my voice – but he smiled back nonetheless, and I felt a twang of guilt rise up. Of course, I had been judging these Egg Men, these dumbbells and wingnuts by such specific and cruel standards – they were good folk, simple, but honest, and above all, they were people, goddamn it. I did not continue to speak with the man, and instead took my time observing the world beyond the glass; we strode down forested lanes and stopped at quiet country waysides, crested small hills and passed through many villages and hamlets so picturesque they could not have been real. On one of the signs we passed, one signalling the imminence of Yuggeshall, I saw a smaller wooden sign, much smaller than the metal sign to which it was connected: it read Crake’s Hideway.

With my specifically-curated music dancing in my ears, a nostalgia shook me. That name: Crake’s Hideway. It meant something…I could hear it being said in my mind, and the name softly insinuated itself into the rhythm of my music.

I turned to the bus of well-meaning and likely hardworking wingnuts and dumbbells and said, somewhat quieter than I had anticipated, ‘What of Crake’s Hideway?’

Their faces barely met mine. A few moments of short connection, but it was nothing of value. Then, the last Egg Man on the bus said:

‘There’s nothing there. You can’t get there.’

I looked out of the window for another sign, but one did not appear.

‘Very well,’ I said.

The bus soon pulled into Yuggeshall, a town much less threatening than its bizarre name; some bunting hung loose between the houses, and the occupants seemed lively enough to be populating the streets in welcoming numbers. This was it: the first destination in my plan, my plan to evolve, to find myself and my Self. A simple town, but one with a purpose; although I did not know that purpose, I felt safe thinking that this place, so alien to me, so alien to me, was just another place where life happened. People had jobs; people toiled; people met, and spoke, and did their bit, and drank, and got up on Mondays like the rest of the civilised world, and got on with it, no matter what. I thought of these people: each one of them could be suffering, and I wouldn’t know it. And, frankly, that was a good thing: because life went on. Day after day. Life is all around us: it may seem alien to us, alien to us, but it is actually the least alien thing of all; it is, to use a phrase so quickly decaying to cliché, what it is.

I approached somebody on the street, a woman of forty, somewhat round, but who I assumed to be a good person.

‘How do I get to Crake’s Hideway?’ I said.

Her face read little, and her voice betrayed even less:

‘A walk around a few miles, I reckon. Maybe two hours, thinking about it. You just follow…that road.’

And she pointed at a street that swiftly left the town, out into wooded rises and falls led by loose cobbles of yesteryear and the entropy of the centuries; and I followed this path, as if by magnetic impulse, my loose possessions on my back. The day was just beginning to sign its farewell; there were still hours left, but only scant few.

During this walk, I thought more of those stories that my mother used to tell, bedtime stories: of the village of Crake’s Hideway, where the dalliances of romantic nature merge with human strife; where the ants crawl beneath, moving the settlement ever further south; where the blistered and tattered Black Shuck stands by the Throne of Elias, waiting for its former master; where Odin’s deformed bastard son Sigorre dwells and plots in the secret tunnels of the River Rat; a town where Tryth has no sway, no hand in setting things right, no matter how hard she try; and, of course, the impossible and fractal harmonies of the pained gulps of the landrails themselves. Crake’s Hideway may have been a fantasy, but to visit a town of its name seemed such a beautiful coincidence that it had to be the perfect end to this first day, a day already full of learning and examination.

My grandfather had always given me the inspiration to seek my path, and although I had done it wrong all of the years that he was alive, I now had this chance to prove that could fulfil the potential he had always seen in me. It was just weeks after the funeral that I first envisioned my spiritual journey to the three locations, the effort to discover myself, by exploring, excavating and digging deep; and but weeks later still, I was here, walking, talking, exploring, excavating, and digging deep, deep. This was just the first step, but soon, I would know myself; I would know my Self.

Terror twilight settled in, soon followed by daemon’s dusk. It was in this stage of evening that the road finally gave way to Crake’s Hideway: a town out of time, wooden structures standing crooked in the failing light. The winding streets were lined with old gas lamps, every one lighted. Yet, not a single light played behind the curtains of the houses: they slept, I believed; it was a strangely certain feeling. I could hear the corncrakes rasping in the fields, like a sign from God: they buzzed alongside the crickets, a grand toneless melody croaking out from beyond, into the night. I espied not one rail, but I needn’t’ve to have ensured my knowledge of their distinct presence.

I careened through the mystical town, the dusk mist sinking from heaven and wreathing the ancient wooden structures in scarves of silver. How could it be that I felt at home, so far from home? The birdsong in my ears drove me on through the streets, searching for my kin. But for all of my searching, there was nobody: not a soul stirred in Crake’s Hideway.

So many times I heard my grandfather’s tales, lectures and parables that it is no surprise that I frequently dreamed of him, speaking to me; yet, I only remember two instances: the first happened when I was young, just after my parents lost all of their money and our bi-monthly trips to Derby were cancelled; as I lay sleeping, or almost sleeping, I envisioned my grandfather by my side: he said to me some words. Although my memory grows hazy, I feel that I remember most, if not all, of them: Exploring is not the only route. You must also wait. Waiting is our lord’s grandest virtue: it is what defines mankind. Find the Throne: when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself.

The second dream came just those couple of weeks ago, just days after we said goodbye to him for the last time. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: Young Savege, this is not the end. That was, technically, the last time that I saw my grandfather. It is what spurred me onto this mission of self-discovery, and what I will live by, no matter what. This is not the end.

Regarding the truth behind my mother’s tales, Crake’s Hideway did not reveal too much of itself too soon; as I walked through that croaking town, I heard not the growl behind the barbed knives of the Black Shuck’s dripping teeth; nor the deranged, hysterical whisperings of Bastard Sigorre – but I could feel the town moving with the ants, and I could feel the flirtations of nature’s spirits, and so I railed on, into the dying light.

Through so many alternating paths I wandered, the night finally calling its due and taking control. In this final breath of incandescence, there opened up the last stretch of my journey: the house, so longing on the hillside, breathing in time with my own mortal lungs. I crossed the threshold of darkness, and up the path of my ancestral home; how mighty it stood, such grand architecture! Through the doors I swept, dust billowing as cold wind touched the stale air for the first time in what must have been centuries, the floorboards creaking, finally finding human feet again.

In the upstairs suites I found the paintings: the ones of my ancestors. Elias, Jeremiah, Helen, Barin, Chass, Gerald, Mikeen, Selah: then my grandfather, followed by my mother; both of them captured in perfect oils, their eyes following mine, not seeking to find any missteps, nor judging any of my past failures; then was my own portrait: much older, greyer – my own eyes meeting my own eyes, a distinct sense of belonging…and yet, still…some sense of disconnection, as if I could not quite keep my own gaze. I traced the wrinkles down this vision of myself, of what could be my Self – and without hesitation I moved on, to the pictures of my children, my grandchildren, so beautiful they were, but they, too, were old, and yet somehow could not keep my eyes, as if they could not bear to look at me, their own Godly ancestor! – what terrors swept inside me, and I turned away, away from their judging eyes, my own eyes passed down through endless generations: each gallery led to another, another set of portraits of my own spawn, each one staring me down, the dread passing through me – and finally, I found my way out, and I descended the stairs, leaving the unexplored ground floor, too – and, choking in the dust, I collapsed down the stairs into the darkness and solitude of the basement level of the mansion.

The last story my mother told me of Crake’s Hideway was that of Prince Dunston: it is his purity of soul and his understanding of evil that finalises the Three Moon Prophecy; once he takes the throne, the Black Shuck grieves no more for its lost cubs, and Bastard Sigorre repents his treasonous ways. From out of the Darklands, dancing figures appear, grey flags held in their six-fingered claws; these beings share the stage with the Amber-Eyed Parade, who are the true signal of change, and their appearance is the emotional climax of the story; there was much feasting after the Amber-Eyed Parade had dispersed, but their tricks, their dances, their songs, their chants, they all remain, for they are the Truth at the End, the signal.

In the basement room, a candle flickered below. There was no wind, and yet the candle flickered, drawing shapes in shadow: portents, harbingers of things unspeakable; acts too cruel to look away from. I moved over to it and wet my thumb, ready to extinguish its sadistic shadowplay. But I could not bring myself to do it. Instead, I turned to the darkest corner, and walked.

I soon found myself traversing limestone corridors, the distant candle still offering its dim, shuddering glow to aid my step. Slowly, the limestone broke out into red brick, the path leading deeper into the frozen earth. I inspected the red brick, hidden so far beyond the cyclopean architecture of the limestone: it was of perfect modern design, cemented as if by a three-dimensional printer; not a lick of cement was out of place, and I could discern not a single flaw or mottle in any of the bricks.

I scraped my fingernails along the walls as I crept further, deeper, into this labyrinthine basement. Even if I wanted to turn back now, there was no way I could find the right path; even the candle light seemed to come from nowhere, everywhere; just like me, it had lost its way.

At last, the tunnels broke out into something more definite: this room, a perfect cube of red brick masonry, pulsed somehow; I felt that if I were to cut the walls, they would certainly start bleeding. More definite still, standing so lonely in the centre of the cube, was the throne.

I walked to it, moving around it, inspecting its improbable facets: not one part of the throne spoke to another – a grotesque detritus on first inspection, but an endless gift to the patient of mind and spirit. The brutal patchwork sections also contained their own smaller patchwork sections, revealing a level of fractal detail too intricate for the feeble human eye. I knew that if inspected by one worthy, the Throne of Elias would surely divulge any and all secrets of the universe amongst its tapestries of love and war, life and death, corruption and purity; it was a library for only the divinely enraptured, the worthy, and decisive: things that I could possibly never be.

And I felt a deep anger at the throne, as if it was telling me that although I was descended of Elias, I could not handle the truths of my ancestral lineage; it was as if the throne was mocking me, laughing, telling me that I was not allowed to pass the threshold any further, that this was the end of my journey, my story. I had explored, excavated, dug deep! Did I not deserve the fruits of my personal development, the ones I had planned to reap so thoroughly in the wake of my grandfather’s passing? Yet, somehow, I felt the throne welcoming me; perhaps in a mocking tone, I could not be sure; because the throne’s eyes – which I knew it had, hidden under that upholstery – would not meet mine.

So be it, I thought, and I dared to challenge it: whether or not I truly was Prince Dunston Savege of ancestral legend, this throne was mine, it belonged to me! I alone inherited the name, and so I would be the one to take the rightful place upon its patchwork cushions; the Amber-Eyed Parade would come for me, and the dancing figures would appear from the darkness and twirl endlessly in my honour. I alone would control Shuck the Dog-fiend, and deliver those who wished to do Crake’s Hideway harm into the Shuck’s salivating, starved maw, its razor teeth ready to tear the flesh from the naysayers brittle bones; I alone had the right to pardon or request the execution of Bastard Sigorre, the bitter and hopeless traitor whose mutterings I imagined deep beneath the earth, echoing through the subterranean caverns of the River Rat; and I alone would conduct the Crake’s Orchestra, bringing the cadence to its final crescendo, the croaks and crackles of the landrails finally silenced by the coming of their King, King Savege!

I am here still, waiting in the Throne of Elias, a great deal of time after my ascension to this position of isolated royalty. I am growing weak. My stomach roars in starved dysphoria; silent atrophy is spreading from limb to limb. I can hear not the crakes nor the crickets; but still I wait, for waiting is our lord’s greatest virtue; I am no closer to meeting the lumbering canine form of the Black Shuck, but still I wait, for I have found the throne, I have found my purpose; scarred, twisted Bastard Sigorre whispers not to me, but still I wait…I wait for the Amber-Eyed Parade to sing my glory, to bring me a crown worthy of my name, for waiting is a virtue, God’s greatest gift; and good things – to chance once more upon a phrase teetering on the edge of cliché – come to those who wait. This is not the end. I will have my parade. I will have my feast. I must just wait a little longer…