Four tales of occult fantasy.
A doll whose life is all work and no play has her life changed by two ghosts, an eccentric psychic and a muse.
A farm is brooded over by the creatures of the Cthulu Mythos.
A chaos magician alters the entire landscape of outer London by mistake.
The story of a band of spirit pirates who make mischief every spring, told by their captain.
Excerpt from The Peat Bog:
The marsh was waterlogged. Peter picked his way across the mud runnels at the edge as he headed towards the farm. It was a farm owned by his cousin Ben that his family had worked for generations, and he had offered to help out there today.
Peter thrust his hands into his pockets and brought out a handkerchief to wipe the mud from his boots and ankles. He hoped he wasn’t going to end up looking and smelling like a dirty navvy today, and Pam would wrinkle her nose and move quickly away when he came home.
The farm was a bright place usually, built at an advantageous angle to the sunshine and winds. It lifted his mood to see it outlined against the hills in this pleasant part of Wales.
There were puddles and runnels full of peat everywhere on the ground as he walked towards the main farm building. The mud clinging round his boots gave him a tugging sensation, as if he was going to be pulled down beneath the marsh. That’s what it always came down to whenever he visited the farm: mud, and a drawing down to whatever lay beneath.
The people of these parts were superstitious about such things. Their fear went back centuries, to the time when there were more bogs than human beings, and the mud was untamed, in its free natural state.
As he drew nearer and the farmhouse door became larger, he could see its solid oak wood and the brass door handle and fittings. He had been opening this door to let himself in since late childhood, for his cousin Ben was ten years older than him and had acquired the farm before he had finished growing up. The heavy creek of the door was comforting, like a friend, and he knew Ben and the farm hands would be even more welcoming when they saw him.
The squares of peat that were laid out drying by the fire had always been there since he was young. Nowadays they were mainly purchased for gardening, but in the past there had been other traditional uses.
He washed his hands at the sink in the corner of the old pantry room that led out into the fields. The mud from his boots came off, and swirled around before gurgling down the plughole, and then he was free to join the labourers in the fields where they grew crops of barley and rye.
“Hello, Peter,” said his cousin, and taking off his rubber gloves he shook him by the hand. Ben always treated hm like a gentleman who was visiting the farm, which Peter thought was lovely.
“What can I help you with today?” he asked.
“There are some seedings need planting,” said Ben. “I’ll take you round by the orchard and show you where they are.”
They walked slowly round to the orchard, Ben swinging his arms and Peter with his hands behind his back. On the way they passed some of the crop fields and saw some of Ben’s men bent double picking weeds. It was one of the largest farms in the area and quite prosperous, with many men working on it.
Peter was actually hoping to inherit it, because he had no brothers and Ben didn’t have any children, having never married. But he liked to think that wasn’t his only reason for helping out on the farm. Far be it from him to have an ulterior motive; he genuinely wanted to help his cousin.
Pam would love it if they owned property, especially something as large and substantial as a farm. She didn’t really like their two up two down flat, even though it was in a rural area, far from the huge towns that she hated the most of all. He could imagine her ordering the farmhands in an imperious tone to go and pick fruit, and to bring her back a couple for the tea table. It was a shame she hadn’t been born into a position like that-her talents as a lady landowner were being wasted.
Sometimes Peter wished that Pam would come and work on the farm with him, but she never felt inclined to do anything like that. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to get her hands dirty. She didn’t mind when it was something like gardening on her allotment, but she didn’t like the social life of the farm with its community of labourers.
Peter was working by the fruit trees now, and at the direction of Ben’s farmhands he started to do the weeding under the trees. Those who are not farming folk don’t realise that weeding under the fruit trees is just as important as pruning them and picking the fruit.
As he cleared away some sturdy dandelions, he reflected that the ground must be good and fertile here as it produced so many weeds. Ben was certainly lucky with the quality of his farmland.
The weeding was soon finished, and then he went to plant the seedlings at the side of the orchard. More plants here would help to anchor the fruit trees in the soil and prevent any erosion that could occur if it was to rain a lot one year. The orchard was a great investment for the future and needed to be kept in top condition.
Later, when himself and Ben were eating warm toasted muffins in the farmhouse, they discussed how good the apples looked this year. They were coming along nicely, and by the time they were ready to be harvested they would be plump and juicy. Peter felt in his pockets for some scraps of bread and margarine to eat with the muffins, and finding some he chewed on them and threw the remaining two or three to the birds that hung around and fluttered in the dust outside the back door of the farmhouse.
It was dark when Peter set out to cross the bog again. He could hear a distant gurgling that brought up the old superstitions and primal fears, and made him think of monsters at the bottom of the bog waiting patiently for those who would fall down, after becoming stranded and sinking in the mud.
He knew his way across the peated areas, and had known it since childhood. No-one had ever removed enough peat from those areas to make them dangerous. Instead they took it from the drier and more open fields that divided the bog from the miles of farmland climbing the valley, and the ridges further away.
Of course, there had always been the stories about hands pulling you under the swamp, even in places where it was supposed to be safe. He liked to think he had never paid any attention to those. But there were niggling fears at the edge of his consciousness, where his own mind faded into the collective mind and became part of the stuff of nightmares.
Peter had always been reticent about these things, and if he felt the fears he didn’t share them with others. He kept them locked in a secret place in his mind, like a cupboard that no-one else but himself got to open. As he walked, he thought about his boots which he had only imperfectly scrubbed that morning, and how they might even be liable to slide off in the grip of a particularly strong patch of marsh.
Pam always told him to be careful when he set off, but she never seemed particularly worried, for she had grown up in this area herself amid the peat bogs and sucking marshes, and had always been all right through heeding the instructions of her parents.
He passed the final fencepost that marked the outermost boundary of the farm. The sun was low in the sky and had almost vanished below the horizon, leaving streaks of pale light across the sky which barely illuminated the fields.
Peter felt the first sucking sensations under the soles of his boots, which signalled that he was getting near to the bog. Then, unexpectedly, something clamped onto his boots. It didn’t feel sticky like the mud, more like a vice gripping them. It quickly pulled one boot right off.
Now he knew he was in trouble, for he needed both to navigate this terrain. Bending down, he squinted at the ground to see what had got hold of him. He lifted his other foot, and there was an octopus-like sucker clamped to the underside, with a long, stringy tendon leading away from it and beneath the surface.
At once he wanted to cast off the other boot as well and run, in the hope that whatever it was wouldn’t have time to let go of the boots and then take a fresh hold on him. But that might not be the best plan, out here in the bog.
Involuntarily he yelled out, but it echoed strangely across the landscape, and he knew he was too far away from the farm for anyone there to hear him, and on the other side there was no-one for many miles.
He couldn’t see his missing boot-it must have gone below the marsh. Turning around as quickly as he could he began to walk as fast as he was able back in the direction of the farm, one foot paddling and soaked through, the other being pulled with a twisting grip at every step he took.
But before he had got very far, he fell flat on his face. Mud seeped into his ears and into his eyes, stinging them. His arms were pinned to his sides, wallowing in the slush.
He kept his mouth closed because he was afraid of choking if he opened it, and he turned his head to one side to reduce the chances of that. But the position was still extremely uncomfortable, and the rhythmic pulling on his right boot told him that the creature with the sucker had not given up.