Like the two characters from H.P.Lovecraft’s tormented tale of terror – The Hound – I joined fellow horror writer Thomas David Parker in pursuit of fiendish mood and haunted atmosphere
There is a place, where an empty field separates a stretch of lonely road from the small village a mile distant. Visitors who stay at the remote cottage along one of these mist-choked lanes are told to avoid the field… but sometimes the message isn’t passed on. A stranger to the area might decide to cross the field as a way of quickening their journey to the pub known to exist in the village, especially as the light starts to fade and darkness rushes in to join the dank mist. Bad things may follow.
Such was my introduction to the tiny hamlet of St B_____. This is where Thomas David Parker (also on Facebook) grew up and is the setting for his first short story, a contemporary Gothic horror framed as a modern interpretation of M.R.James (the best ghost story writer that ever put words to paper). When I read the short story a few weeks earlier I was mightily impressed. A really good first effort but Thomas absolutely nailed the atmosphere I’ve come to anticipate with any M.R.James tale. I’d just got back from Sicily and Thomas invited me to come over whilst he house sat for the weekend. I grabbed a late afternoon train from Bristol Temple Meads and he was there on the other side of the Severn to pick me up in his car. The drive took us through the edges of Wales and out the far side, into the Forest of Dean. The atmosphere changed and as we arrived at the place he grew up I could see why he was turned on by horror. I felt like one of the two characters in H.P.Lovecraft’s short tale The Hound, seeking thrills and experiences on the edges of the eerie and macabre. This place was certainly spooky.
May heaven forgive the folly and morbidity which led us both to so monstrous a fate! Wearied with the commonplaces of a prosaic world; where even the joys of romance and adventure soon grow stale, St John and I had followed enthusiastically every aesthetic and intellectual movement which promised respite from our devastating ennui. The enigmas of the symbolists and the ecstasies of the pre-Raphaelites all were ours in their time, but each new mood was drained too soon, of its diverting novelty and appeal ~ HPL
Getting into the cottage I discovered Thomas was very much like me when it comes to the role of host. He was preparing a fine supper, had Classic FM playing – evocative for the Gothic setting – and poured two large whiskies. Once the food was in the oven, he cranked the heat down to low and we headed out… to do the 1 mile walk to the pub, grabbing hats along the way. The walk, wrapped in mist, provided some great photo opportunities.
Only the somber philosophy of the decadents could help us, and this we found potent only by increasing gradually the depth and diabolism of our penetrations. Baudelaire and Huysmans were soon exhausted of thrills, till finally there remained for us only the more direct stimuli of unnatural personal experiences and adventures. It was this frightful emotional need which led us eventually to that detestable course which even in my present fear I mention with shame and timidity – that hideous extremity of human outrage, the abhorred practice of grave-robbing ~ HPL
I cannot reveal the details of our shocking expeditions, or catalogue even partly the worst of the trophies adorning the nameless museum we prepared in the great stone house where we jointly dwelt, alone and servantless. Our museum was a blasphemous, unthinkable place, where with the satanic taste of neurotic virtuosi we had assembled an universe of terror and decay to excite our jaded sensibilities. It was a secret room, far, far, underground; where huge winged daemons carven of basalt and onyx vomited from wide grinning mouths weird green and orange light ~ HPL
Crossing the field, used by Thomas in his short story, to get to the village I have to confess the hairs on the back of my neck prickled up. Or maybe that was the electric cattle fence he advised me was out there in the total blackness of an unlit night…
Reaching the pub, we were treated to some real locals. It was, a strange night. Getting back late, Thomas built up a fire with logs in the chimney grate, poured more whisky, and we watched Night of the Demon (1957), based on one of M.R.James best stories, ever – Casting the Runes.
The next morning I felt like I was back in my early teens again. Sitting up in bed with dense fog pressing up against the window, bright and atmospheric with the hint of forest beyond – it was Call of Cthulhu and all the horror films I grew up with.
Later, after a feast of a breakfast, Tom drove me to an incredible area of woods. Looks like a film set. Could be the Dagobah system.
In fact, they have been used for Doctor Who and the new raft of Star Wars movies. Large enough to get lost within, deep gulleys, moss-covered rocks and there, woven into the fabric of it all, walkways and bridges made from branches and vines – not necessarily all human. Great place to visit.