Ten of Wands

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Ever since I was twenty five, I’d become the host of a strange little creature. When I say “host”, I don’t mean he had taken up residence in my home – helping himself to my custard creams and getting his muddy feet on my sofa, outstaying his welcome for ages and ages. Nor do I mean he had burrowed under my skin as a parasite would – burrowing into the pond-softened patches of my skin, through my bone marrow and finding its way into my cerebellum. No, I don’t mean either of these.

The little creature had wrapped its arms around my shoulders with its stubby fingers clasping together around my collarbone, and its fat little legs gripped around the base of my ribcage. Of course, when I say “little”, I don’t mean little like a small beetle is little. No, what I mean by “little” is more in the way that a mini beverage fridge is little compared to your average refrigerator. Compact, but still heavy. Heavy enough to make a *click* in my vertebrae every so often, as it was basically a fleshy backpack that sang in my ear;

 

Walk and walk and walk all day!

                No, I don’t mean to cause you such dismay

                           But you intruded, and so there’s hell to pay

                                       No, it’s your fault that I’ll never go away!

 

I used to live in a town, a place where there were actually shops. That was ages ago, though – after a confrontation with my family meant I couldn’t bare to show my face around there anymore, I packed two bags (one of them was just a canvas shopping bag) and took the first bus out to the country. A small village, if you could call it that, on a one-way road (which, in that area, was too much – no cars ever used it) waited in ivy-vine walls and mossy cliff faces following a two hour trip (which is to say a bargain for £3 at that distance). From where I stood by a mottled red phonebooth that hadn’t seen use in years, I reckoned I could have seen literally every building in the minuscule hamlet, and that was speaking of a completely flat land.

  • A pub, I think
  • A post office – closed
  • What looked like a florist, but the plants had no petals
  • Four, or maybe even four and a half, residential cottages.

At that time (6ish) I felt the only place that would welcome me at all would be the pub. I could see if they had a room for rent and in the morning I could scour the area to see if one of the cottages might have been a bed and breakfast.

It was a situation where I’d have expected a pianist to completely stop what he was doing and all the locals to turn and glare at me – but there was nobody in there. None at all. A barman, perhaps, but none at all.

“G’murnin!” he said in one single syllable (it was past 6pm).

I asked if he had any rooms to rent.

“Well, we’re a pub, y’know. Not an inn.” He scratched his face. “But we’ve a guest room free. My eldest lad used to use it. But he left. He left a while ago.”

I asked if there was anyone else here.

“Just me, always. And my young lass, always. And my wife, sometimes. But she died.”

“Oh.”

A small face emerged from behind the bannister of a balcony-come-hallway that overlooked the bar – a tiny child, must’ve been about six or seven, who had come to investigate the fact there was now more than one voice in her world, contained by rotting fences in a far out pasture. As if he could smell her, her father looked up at her from below.

“Well ‘ello!” he almost sang, and she flinched. “Well, say hello to our new guest! He’s going to be taking you brother’s room.”

“H-h-h…”. I could tell she was trying so hard on that first word, but it wasn’t going to happen. She ran off into the only other room in the building. It was one of the last times I’d see her, and I grabbed a swift drink and brought myself up the staircase flanking the bar and up into the guest room. There wasn’t any point in unpacking, I thought – chances are I’d move on in the morning (I was right) and it would just be easier to sift through them to find what I needed that night and leave them contained in their bags. However, I unpacked myself from my clothes and threw myself onto the bed.

And

Drifted

Into

A

Shallow

Slee-

 

***

 

A creaking woke me up. A creaking woke me up at about four in the morning, and caused my lids to snap open like broken shutters with an audible dry ripping of the sleep sand piled in the corners. A monstrous presence made itself known in every particle of dusty air in the guest room and drew me shakily to my feet. My shins sobbed as the felt my weight, throbbing from under my pale dry skin – but my sleepy waking semi-dreams could only spell out the letters;

S O M E T H I N G S W R O N G

And I left into the hallway to escape the choking thickness of the evil air. But turning the doorknob only let more pour in, and soon I began to drown in it. This air, like torrents of monsoon water, knocked me from my feet and lifted me three-feet from the ground without my control – and the path down the hallway was thick with the clouds of hovering microbes. The door, the door on the other side of the corridor, what was behind it – what was flashing that red and fleshy pink? What could have howled that foulness of a drunkard’s skin? I swam, I swam to the creaking on the other side of the corridor. I swam breast-stroking my way through wood and dust, high above the creaky floorboards that could have otherwise given way under my heavy feet. Wherever this air, this damp presence of sickness, was coming from – it was in the far room. I turned the handle. Flashes of pink and red. Skin, skin, skin and unearthly yowling.

 

***

 

Walk and walk and walk all day!

                No, I don’t mean to cause you such dismay

                           But you intruded, and so there’s hell to pay

                                       No, it’s your fault that I’ll never go away!

 

It whispers in my ear, all that time later. It clings on tight to the sides of my chest until my lungs want to scream. I’ve been walking for what seems like years now, ever since I’d seen what I shouldn’t – ever since a fat little gremlin manifested itself onto my back and rolled its awful tongue deep into my ear til it popped. I want to tear my hair out since I can’t possibly touch this thing with my own hands – and I’ve started to without even noticing. I look down sometimes and find clump after clump of greying hair caught between my fingertips and beneath my nails. I can feel the skin around my cheeks tightening.

So I walked and walked and walked away

It was what I’d seen that caused dismay.

When I intruded on that fateful day

It was all my fault, because I didn’t stay.

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