I write to you in a rather unorthodox capacity, on behalf of a man who is a rather eccentric individual, on the subject of a quite peculiar tale he has authored.
My name is Niall Robinson, I am a Drug and Alcohol Counselor working with a homeless man whose street name is “Choddy”; whose real name is Colin Gingham – we believe. I am here relaying to you, a fabulous story - one of many of his - that he has recounted to me and no doubt many others, which I feel might be worthy of your consideration for its sheer absurdity and creativity.
I should add, that Colin believes the events herein, as they affected him, whereas, I believe them to be the figments of his alcoholic and drug addled mind.
I simply ask that you read the transcript which I have rendered and let me know whether it is worthy of incorporation into a volume of short stories – certainly of the bizarre kind – and if so, what amount of remuneration might you offer? I can assure you that all of it would go to Colin.
Should Colin get a break as a writer, I feel it would transform his utterly dissolute life and remove him as a drug, alcohol, and welfare dependent, in our increasingly unraveling society.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Drug and Alcohol Outreach Officer South Camden Borough.
The Queer Fish at The Party: A true tale by Choddy.
I was loathe to visit that part of the world again but was thence bound by dint of an invitation, to a party hosted by some old acquaintances - the Rawlins - who I had known from Merton College Oxford where all three of us were cohorts.
I would have liked to renounce their hospitality but owe so much to David that to do this was anathema to my craven manners.
It is the Severn Estuary/ The Bristol Channel that I fear. I fear even the sight of it – even on a map - and would have to confront it, on the map, and for real, on the trip down to the venue in the village, Pictcroft near Minehead in Somerset, which overlooks that body of water.
Before I explain my phobia of the sea/estuary that separates England and Wales, I will inform the reader that it has the second highest tidal range in the world at around fifteen metres – it is disputed but just accept it is so please. This is surpassed only by The Bay of Fundy which has a draft of around seventeen metres in places, and boasts many treacherous features, such as, the reversing falls, which are tidal rapids flowing upstream like a bore but more chaotic, also, there is the Old Sow Whirlpool, which you simply don’t want to imagine as a mariner might.
Both of these seas have taken many a soul and continue to kill those knowing chancers who transgress its ways and, the unlucky and unsuspecting, who are prey, when they either take to the waters unprepared, or wander on to mud and are engulfed and taken by the rushing tide. There must be many a human bone below those swilling waters, scattered skeletons, bones bouncing; perhaps assorted by size/type as tides could arrange them: congregations of skulls, of femurs, of phalanges, ribs etc. Who knows what ossuaries lie in those fell depths?
My phobia of it stems from being a child of nine when it almost drowned me. Let me elaborate: One day in February my brother Patrick took me to the shore by the First Severn Crossing, to a spot down an unmapped ingress; it was all because he was bent on collecting the gypsum there which falls from the cliff, from a seam which you can see nestled between green and brown clay layers – there are people who come for the clay; that day there was a pair of unhygienic hippy types collecting it.
As you can imagine, Patrick was a very strange seventeen year old in that, whereas most people his age were doing proper things like getting drunk, high, in trouble or having sex, he enjoyed utilizing his formative years sourcing gypsum, heating it to make plaster of Paris – anhydrous calcium sulfate – and using this to make animal and anthropoid figures using rubber moulds bought from a strange shop – of course, he also painted them.
Patrick is now a woman – Patricia.
On with the story…On this beach Patrick was paring gypsum – removing the muck - and bagging the best bits, while I was by the lower shore; somehow drawn to walk out across the shingle flats to new realms, empyrean realms – dreamily intrepid – even though I knew there was a tide here, though it was so far out, that it seemed it could never steal up on me unawares, which was something I was horribly wrong about.
Off I went adventuring, oblivious to time and distance as I stepped over the muddy, rocky, sea bed, as I jumped over a shallow stream of incoming water – something I should have heeded – and scaled a stony outcrop and from here, surveyed the monolithic majesty of the Severn Bridge. I must have gazed at it for some time since I simply had not noticed the waters rising until my feet were cold and wet.
By the time I was aware of the peril it was too late to wade back. The tide was coming thick and fast, coming like a river, rising above my ankles on that high ground and so much deeper on the route back.
The panic fulminated; I hollered at Patrick, who was too far away and anyway, too ensconced in his activities – his goddamn gypsum. I was sure I would drown in the vile brown tea, rushing up with the force of the moon’s gravity, swelling into the valley funnel with untamed fury of millions of gallons of murderous sea invading the landscape.
At that moment I had a strange apprehension, that when I was dead, Patrick would cast an effigy of me and paint it and it would reside in the garden.
I was about to make a break for land and chance it – mostly sure I would drown – when I heard a great booming noise coming from the deeper part of the waxing channel, a noise was both natural sounding, in that it was creature-like, and also deeply discordant; like an animal in some kind of torment. It came again, resounding about the cliffs behind, echoing between the coasts like a fog horn, though plangent, like the whale song of the depths unleashed on the surface - perhaps.
I only had time for a brief glimpse in that direction before embarking for the shore where Patrick was still sorting gypsum – the bastard! And what I saw was incomprehensible: I saw shapes, animals or fish I could not tell. They were leaping about – they were huge creatures. There was a sort giant eel-like thing flapping about at some height not much lower than the bridge and it had two heads – one at either end - and they weren’t normal heads…more bulbs or growths but I suppose they were heads. The other creature, simultaneously aloft, was a great triangular plate of a fish or something, with a whip tail, and this somersaulted, before falling back making a great clap as it struck the water. All the while the deranged animal sounds came.
The next thing I saw a great dark blob suddenly jump out some fifty feet perhaps, splash back, and repeat the act. I simply couldn’t see what it was in any detail but saw that it had appendages of some kind.
There was one more thing I noticed in the melee and that was a sickle-shaped tail that must have been twenty feet wide, that swished about like a sort of inverted pendulum, and that made me think of a shark, but no shark that size exists and nothing anywhere near that size lives in those waters.
As I was about to go, I could swear that living things were swimming about my feet, tickling them, mild abrasion also. It became a real frenzy of contact which I feared. I could feel what I took for or crustaceans prodding me with their legs and pincers. There was some movement I saw that seemed to be of fish but nothing clear.
It was time to swim for my life and possibly die or most certainly die. I leapt into the water.
The tide took me up the estuary as I desperately swam for shore. I was bumped over gravel and rocks, and felt something other than the tide propelling me - sea creatures were with me. I was being ushered along, veering to the right, to shore.
I reached it cold, terrified and exhausted, and even here, had to move quickly to avoid the rising waters. I looked back and saw commotion where I had left the water – there were definitely fish there, flapping in the shallows.
I yomped back to Patrick on a track then a road that greatly diverted from the crow’s flight, so much so that I took over an hour walking what would have been a twenty minute journey along the shore.
When I returned, drenched, dirty and traumatized, Patrick was waiting in the car. Amazingly, he chastised me for wandering off and informed me that he’d almost left me here.
That is the background - the aetiology - of my aversion to this stretch of water: to wit, I almost drowned in that hideous tidal race; I witnessed some very strange creatures that I simply don’t believe can (should) exist; I was taken to safety by fish or other sea creatures.
I was on the road to North Somerset, to Pitcroft at a point on the sea not far from where the Severn Estuary becomes the Bristol Channel – there is an exact meridian I believe.
Near to the second Severn Crossing I turned off onto the M5 and drove west, destined for Taunton and soon passed Avonmouth, where those foul muddy waters were visible, glimpsed beyond the huge car park of imported vehicles. I shuddered at the sight of it and stared forward, avoiding the temptation to look. It was soon ok, the land intervened. I turned for Taunton and drove north to Watchet.
At Watchet I stopped. I parked by the harbor and confronted the sea, and determined to conquer the fear, I felt that I needed alcohol badly, so went into to town and found a pub called the Mermaid, which was set a little off the high street by a quaint little inlet, the ingress being under the street. The sea came beneath it, forced up into a small stream, filling a bowl shaped arrangement of walls that channeled the stream down and spread out like a harbor meeting the wall beneath the high street either side of the arch of the inlet.
It was delightful; to have that vicious sea coming in like that, filling the bowl, tamed here, and departing - doing it twice a day. I was entranced.
A reasonable gauge of the level of the sea here was evinced by a demarcation line where marine activity was clear from the presence of flaccid filmy seaweed – desiccated in the heat- and there was an encrustation of who knew what – barnacles, tubeworms, bryozoans....
But certainly the waters could rise up far higher at times hence the stone parapet on the inroad.
The tide was out then, the bowl empty, except for the piddle of the stream running over the shingle. I would have loved to have been here to see the cauldron fill, standing on the pavement, sitting in the high St tea shop overlooking it, or standing on the inroad or, maybe watching it from one of the windows in the houses that were so close to the water that one could drop a line down and fish. What a divine juxtaposition!
I went to the pub and, en route, noticed on the side of a house, a marker which attested to the extreme reach of the water, a combination of high tide and storm, that it had come some five feet above street level and thus inundated the pub if not protected then.
In the pub I saw another marker, which was actually a tide mark left by the waters, and this was annotated, but all I could read was a date which was 1924.
The Mermaid is somewhat of a cliché of the cozy West Country pub, being adorned with the trinkets, frippery and curios scattered about, that and portraits of hunting scenes – you know, the ones with stags racing across the moors and handsome spaniels with pheasants in their mouths. But this one was a seafarer’s pub and had its fair share of maritime paraphernalia such as binnacles and glass net floats and the like.
It was nice old pub that on this Friday was popular with the local fishermen and their acolytes, who were ensconced in an inebriated comity that no landlubber or townie could enjoin.
The barmaid was an exceptionally pretty woman, who looked completely foreign given her extraordinary Nordic looks - an Icelandic lady I would have ventured. But no, she spoke with a West Country accent worthy of a local; an accent, like most, that cannot be described without resorting to absurd imagery: I could say it sounded of dairy maids or cider or buttercups or any hyperbolic nonsense redolent of the country, but let’s just say it sounded bucolic and of Somerset and no phonetics can define it.
But she wasn’t from around here. I mused that long ago a Viking invader or invaders came and invaded further. I was sure of that even if she wasn’t.
I was sat at the bar with a pint of Kraken - a dark delicious ale - and was soon served crab sandwiches, and at the time, it seemed like that this was the very essence of bliss, of a parochial kind much removed from London.
From here I could clearly hear the collective banter of the seamen et al and the dominant expounding of one, who I saw was a characterful, grizzled, sea dog, drunken for sure.
This man, whose appearance spoke so much of the depredations of life at sea, went on about a confusing array of topics in a most rambling, platitudinous, tangential fashion that repulsed intrigue. It was so, until he raised his voice, making a prefatory exclamation that the audience acknowledged, and they were all attentive as he prepared to make his eminently edifying pronouncement, but first, he drained his pint. This spoke of some anxiety about the topic. I ordered another beer and was all ears with the others.
He staggered a little and reached for the bar then began “All youuuu…scoundrels and lily-livered dogs…Youuuu phony girls…All of You…” It seemed like a paralytic diatribe of no purpose, but strangely, the audience seemed rapt, as though this were some kind of cant that presaged a valid tale.
He had another beer before him now and after a hefty gulp was ready to continue. “I caught one of em yesterday...” There was murmuring and some sounds of disquiet. “I tell all e now, it were somthin unnatural – and ye know what I mean. That’s right, it were a manbeast. It were ‘n….It were like a….” He looked to the ceiling, face anguished, summoning the strength to continue. “…..a…gurnard and a man...it were like a gurnard and a man made same, married together” There were further sounds - shock and consternation. “E is a huge thing ‘n I Killed e quick with hammer and e screamed and I throwed e back into the deep….” He slammed his great careworn fist on the bar. “Don’t none of you laugh at this…Don’t like em manbeasts…I…Don’t know why God makes such monsters”.
The old man looked outraged by his exposition and drained his drink and stormed out, leaving the audience to talk amongst themselves in a sober fashion.
I was done here. I set off again, headed for Minehead.
As I reached Minehead the snob in me surfaced, for I don’t like the tacky little town, which I equate with Torquay, both being gaudy resorts where hard earned money is lost in frivolous activities, drunkenness and gambling.
I saw the sea ahead and a faint coast or apparition thereof – that of Wales - past the promenade, of the tacky resort-town, and was chilled by that vista of brown mud and brown water – indistinguishable from where I was - chilled to the marrow by notions of treacherous tides and the strange hybrids of humans and marine life, flooding into my mind - extreme discomfiture.
The hideousness of the town strip provided some distraction and therefore relief. It was strange that the presence of these grotesque humans milling about in their drink, in this tasteless town was a relief from the thought of the things out there. I was compelled to look out to sea through the gaps in the street.
Minehead was thankfully soon over and I wended my way up a steep road to Pictcroft, catching sight of the sea ahead and to the right and the land to the left – the south – when the trees afforded me the view.
From the height I was at I could see the roughness of the waters in the channel and that they were rearing up to come in, I could clearly see the Welsh coast from up here on this fine day.
Inland, I saw golden carpets of near-ripe corn and quilts of lilac flax – the rest of the patchwork was either nondescript green, or, the rusty brown of the soil here.
As I neared the village I closed in on a sports car, which I think was a Lotus. I followed it up to the village, passing a fleet of parked cars that spoke of city wealth, and parked behind it, a short walk from the house. I was hemmed in by a car that cost more than I earned in a year. These were the cars of the acquaintances of the Rawlins, who were most likely Investment Bankers – like David – or corporate lawyers, accountants, doctors (like Gillian), stockbrokers etc.
It seemed the village of Pictcroft had doubled in size – had been invaded. The last time I was there, for the wedding, the population had trebled and all hell broke loose.
The Rawlins’s house here was inherited from father Rawlins who was the Marquis of Porlock – it was he who had got me my job as a Research Assistant at the Institute of Bathymetry at Benfleet, where I gained a Doctorate and went on to teach.
I secretly hated the Rawlins for their success but suppressed my ill-feelings, aware of the favor gained.
As I approached the considerable gathering I fretted about what I would say to any guests that sought to chat with me. I didn’t want to bore on in a disquisition about Bathymetry, nor did I want to be bereft of things to say for myself.
I joined the throng of stragglers to the venue, the hub of which was a marquee in the generous front garden where groups of people were merry in their banter. I couldn’t see the Rawlins but suspected that they were in the middle of a large group, who were no doubt the sycophants they accumulated.
The congregation here was unappealing to me, I wanted to drink on my own, to avoid all contact – just be seen by them, that was all.
I found the bar which was a table of bottles and glasses manned by a pair of young men –students - who I thought were Spaniards or Italians, a flirtatious pair, entertaining the mostly not-quite-young women, who were flattered by their youthful attention, be it sincere or not.
I wasn’t interested in their banter so just went and grabbed a bottle of wine and unscrewed the lid, which the booze dispensing duo thought rude, I gathered.
What I wanted now was a niche in which to settle and drink and await the perambulatory nibbles and booze – none of which was out now.
It was a bottle of Malbec I had – no glass – a nice bottle, they never stinted. I sipped then slugged and it was solipsistic bliss – tasty, delicious bliss. I was confident that my dissipated deportment would deter others from approaching me. I was an onlooker of the intellectual cabals as they cavorted and communed.
In my little patch I watched them with a drunkard’s grudge, and though I was not yet drunk, I must have cut a slightly dejected figure down there; a young man of 27, drinking on his own, but the only thing of interest to those people, was the zone, where their egos were in play.
I was thinking about the women here and whether any of them were prey to my libido – perhaps later when drunk, was what I thought: women don’t like me – I am a lothario manqué – though drunken women can be very undiscerning.
After a long while I was out of wine and thoroughly bored of watching the party, and so needed to escape, at least for a while.
I knew where I would go - go down to the shore, to confront my nemesis, more wine first though.
Bottle in hand, I strode on down through crowds to the shore. I went with a sense of freedom, leaving the claustrophobia of the crowd and their cloying presence, was almost home and dry, when I ran into Marie Holstead, or she ran into me. I knew her as a Post Doc at Merton, she was thirty four back then, so must have been pushing forty now, and looked it, with graying hair and wrinkles- crows feet - which weren’t hugely diminishing to her countenance, since she never had any looks, just a nymphomaniac gusto, which I am ashamed to say I succumbed to.
Marie was gregarious and drunk, effusive; I tried to eschew her with the excuse that I was going to the shore to “confront my demons” but she wasn’t deterred, in fact, she opted to come along with me down to the sea, and I cravenly consented.
I filled her glass as we strolled, talking about the old days, but not the dalliance; history - boring history – she really was boring and I hoped she would go.
The path down was gentle, through sycamores, initially; then, there was a patch where sycamores became birches – a transition zone - before the descent through gorse, where it was clear from the sand of the trail, that we were on an old sand dune reclaimed by the flora.
In places the wind had scoured out large pockets in the sand, craters big enough to recline into and be very comfortable indeed.
Now we reached a juncture, a chasm in the sand which the lady would not be able to attempt.
She turned back here making here excuses and I made mine, then, vaulted the gap, escaping her, and landed in the sand without spilling a drop of wine.
I suppose I was drunk by now because, as I neared the shore, I tripped and landed in a sprawl, remarkably, I preserved the wine, barely loosing a drop – because, I instinctively put my thumb over the aperture.
The shore was there. I gamboled down the last part of the path and was on in the territory of the sea that almost killed me.
The sea was demarcated by a strand of concrete that stretched for some hundreds of metres in both directions and was cracked and subsided in parts, even missing in places where the sea had been at work.
I am sure that the sea had breached this band on many an occasion, since the shore was subsided in parts.
There was no harbor down here, just the great pavement of shiny conglomerate which I doubt many people would stroll down given the grimness of it all. That said, there were the remains of a decrepit pier to the left – west – which would have extended farther out, as evinced by the skeletal piles arrayed awry, and I don’t doubt that the pier would have gone farther still.
One can imagine young couples arm in arm wandering the shore and the pier, somehow impervious to abject ugliness of the water and the mud, but that must have been in the days of dearth when people were easily pleased.
The mud of the shore was about four feet below the concrete; a slope of rocks placed defensively reached it. The mud here must have been quite deep since, I saw the handles of a wheelbarrow sticking out of it like horns, almost vertical, so a metre of mud below the breach point at least is reasonable.
On the rocks were signs of life; seaweed and mollusks and things scampering around, sea birds – dunlins, sandpipers, that sort of thing.
Now it was nearing four and the tide was advancing over the flats at quite a pace; ruffling over the rusty brown mud, the water of the same colour more or less as the mud and the land.
I wandered along the concrete until I reached the ramshackle pier and stood before the boardwalk, the planking so rotted over time, and I asked myself whether, I was wise to tread upon this dubious looking, decaying, structure and considered in the negative, but that only spurred me on; something perverse in me made me go against my instincts – it was sense that if I could reach the edifice, the itch of curiosity would go away – the itch would be sated.
The destination looked like a ticket office, or perhaps a food outlet – I envisaged that once a man in a colorful stripy outfit with a straw hat had dispensed ice creams and cream slices, and the like to hordes of easily amused children.
A man from those days would be dead now. For an instant I imagined this place as it was, with all the people wandering about; all the color and mirth of the seaside resort – of Blackpool as it was in the photos. The fantasy dissipated and it was again the ghostly remnants of a pier.
The weathered, moldered, boards creaked a little, but were structurally sound, as I proceeded to the subsided building and I got there, didn’t fall through.
I soon saw that it was in fact the old Gentlemen’s toilets and could see from what remained opposite that the Ladies’ had collapsed and, I guessed it had been taken by the waters – but taken where...Might there be flotsam in some far away land...The fragments of toilet here, on some beach in Africa?
Inside I saw a litany of debauched industry, turpitude and desperation: I saw used condoms –a t least a dozen; I saw the stubs of joints; I saw three needles; I saw empty cans and bottles; I also saw two unopened cans of lager which I appropriated. It stank of urine and excrement in there. I urinated and left. I had had enough.
As I left, the whole building shifted gently, perhaps from the combination of my motion and that of the incoming tide shifting the piles.
On the walk out, the boards seemed much more perilous and I feared their collapse – it was as if I had learnt incriminating facts about the place and would be taken by it.
I ran the last bit and, back on land, drained the wine, and threw the bottle at the structure, hitting it obliquely, thus, it bounced off and fell into the sea, bobbed a bit, and drowned.
I was still intrigued down here, by the sea, somewhat drunk on the realm - drunkenness within drunkenness. I went back to where I had first approached the sea and sat, watching the tide advance, drinking the cans in quick succession, confronting the demons of the deep: the demons deep within me, deep within the sea. I smelt the sea now quite acutely, a heady fertile smell of things alive and decaying; iodine form the sea weed; sulfurous notes from the mud and the bacteria within – like when you dig that rich organic mud for clams.
There were many smells that defy my powers of description, but could not be confused with anything other that the sea.
The Welsh coast was just visible on this marvelous summer day.
I had field glasses, through which, I thought I saw Llantwit Major, which I knew from childhood visits. Picture Postcard Llantwit is a deadly place, where rocks fall from the cliffs on one side, and the tide can get you on the other. If you’re trapped there by the tide, there is a rusty metal ladder that you can climb, a hundred feet of cliff, if you dare – I think you might just die up there too.
That sound…! The same sound from my near drowning in the waters further up by the crossing. It resounded about the channel, I looked to the waters with a sense of horror, expecting to see those bizarre creatures, the perversions of the sea, and recalled the figments I had recorded, and these were displaced by the actual sight of one of those things.
It was a great globular thing that leapt up and I heard a demented yowl. In midair, I saw fins or wings, wriggling about, large nacreous extensions of some type. As it splashed back I saw more finlike things cutting the surface like triangular blades, either the same one many times, or there were many of them. Following that, a great eel thing flew up like an arrow and continued in a ballistic arch that must have been a considerable distance.
There was the same sort of booming sound. It seemed to fill the air for miles around, it was the emanation of some great monster out there. I glimpsed something, just in the frame of view, which popped up and fell; some gargantuan fish head which I thought might belong to a shark – a great white, the biggest - but it couldn’t have been that, it was something else. I stared on with trepidation, completely fixated, awaiting the next creature.
It came out like a blade spinning flat above the water, rising to quite a height, then down with a great slap as it impacted, and it did exactly the same again.
No words in the zoological nomenclature could describe this thing – no zoologist would want to! I have no idea what it was – a confused manta ray? No, it was completely untoward; completely alien.
The final creature, I just caught sight of as it somersaulted through the air. I cannot describe it because I don’t know what it was, but let’s say that it was like a hippopotamus mixed with a crocodile, except it had a huge sail fin above and below, the top ne bent over foppishly, like a killer whale’s tail out of water. I wasn’t a hippo, nor was it a reptile; no these are crude approximations, like saying that a bear is a dog.
I had almost seen as much as I could bear and was about to go, when I saw that hideous sickle shaped fin, swishing about like a shark’s at feeding time.
That was enough, I desisted in my study of the monsters far out, and looked instead to the sea below, which was now lapping at the concrete. Some tide it was that day – yes, the moon was full then, visible as a faint round mask peeking through the indigo tinted heavens.
The repugnant red-muddy waters seemed unstoppable as they riffled not ten centremetres below my feet and that riffling wasn’t quite normal – it was natural though. It was the movement of animals or fish – it was soon clear it was fish.
It was all manner of fish massing by the shoreline. I could
see their fins and bodies racing and thrashing and the wings of rays and those huge rays were surely skate; I saw the rhinestone backs of the thornback rays, their rippling wings and spiny tails spearing the surface of the sea; I saw spratty fish in great abundance; large flat fish I thought were halibut; sharks or dogfish; salmonids; cod – every natural fish type in these seas. It was like an exodus of marine biology seeking refuge on land, like fast track evolution incredibly sped up…No, not that…they were fleeing those monsters out there. No doubt there were other things below the surface – crustaceans, jelly fish and who knows what.
Soon I saw crabs and lobster pincering away at the stone, trying to climb; I saw prawns jumping and landing atop the pediment. Soon there were fish doing likewise, leaping up and out, fish flying past – a salmon hit me in the chest and I reeled in pain.
That was definitely enough; I made to leave but first looked back to sea, and saw more things flying about and above them seagulls wheeling in a huge flock. Again I saw the sickle tail swishing, many of them, flicking around as ships passed oblivious. There was a tanker moored not far off from them – it had Russian lettering and some in English. I mused that all aboard were paralytic while the “manbeasts” scrapped about.
Of course, their anchor was down in those depths, connected to them, a route up for something that could climb and live out of water – why don’t they leave? I screamed inside.
I saw one more thing before I left and that was a dead or dying fish – a halibut I think -floating shoreward, a halibut, not complete though, since it had a huge chunk taken out of the lateral side. It wasn’t a normal halibut…It had a huge blue human eye where there should have been two fishy ones.
There was another disturbing bellow from sea direction and I fled. In the context of this show of perverted nature, the company of those people, counterpointed with this, was now hugely desirable. They might have been pretentious city types, toadies and prigs, but they were reassuringly human.
Also, there was more booze there. I needed more…partly for hedonistic ends and partly to drown out experience of the sea.
My journey back was fleeting. I could hear the abominable sounds of the manbeasts out there, was chased off by that plangent song.
I reached base in a state, white as a lily, a sight that drew much concerned interest from the others.
At the bar I took two large whiskies and wandered about the people aimlessly, feeding on the safety of their life force.
Now I did want to talk to people and be distracted – the whisky did work but figments of the experience remained.
I reached the others who were in their groups, merry on drink and conviviality. I didn’t feel there wasn’t any niche for me in their cliques. Again, I went to the bar and got a glass of wine and sat on a hay bale next to a woman, who was excitedly talking on her mobile phone. When she had finished, she turned to me and bluntly asked for a cigarette, something I didn’t possess. She was a young lady called Grace who was a Texan lawyer working in London.
By now I was so drunk that conversation was almost futile, at least about anything serious. But that was fine because she was also blotto and complaisant – she was a self declared “slut”, a confession that took me quite aback.
I must have passed out, because I have no memory of laying my head on Grace’s lap as though it were a pillow. When I woke, I looked up like an infant into mother’s eyes and she back down to me, and she stroked my head like I was a child.
She smelt of perfume and wine. I felt queasy and rose and left her.
I staggered around a little, not much noticed; the others were all rather lost in their worlds. I bumped into a man who was not merry, not pacific in his drink. I apologized immediately, not even sure it was my fault, but something in his eyes and his mien told me that this was not enough. He said “Care to square?…Care to square?” I certainly did not “Care to square” thinking it his code for immense violence perpetrated on me and did not want a fist-face-interface with this ratty drunken lowlife.
I left in haste and got lost in an alley where a congress of the most intense affection was taking place from which I was piqued, shocked and jealous.
After much aimless wandering I returned to the crowd and after taking a bottle of red, headed off to the coast once more, but this time to the clifftop, past where the cars were parked.
I saw six people up here, gathered around what seemed a contraption set in the ground, from which I saw wires extending into the sky, to a huge kite and from it more wires or lines descended into the sea. The kite must have reached into the middle of the channel if not further.
The men were farmhands, adjutants, under the control of another, who was a sort of American City type, a trader perhaps, with a commandeering bearing and voice as he instructed others in the operation of the equipment.
His tone was peremptory: “You’ve gone too far out again Joe, bring it back. They’re in the middle…Just do as I tell you not as you think...now come on…Look, you’re going close to that ship – LISTEN…!” He was like a skipper.
It occurred to me that they were kite fishing and that they were trying to catch the nefarious manbeasts out there.
I was noticed but ignored. I sat and watched and after a while of nothing, but the sight of the kite and the channel this late afternoon, I drifted off.
I dreamt of horrible things beneath the deep, as I had seen them but worse. I dreamt of the lost souls whose bones swirled in the tides in great heaps where the waters had arranged them; I dreamt that there had been a some kind of radioactive release from Hinkley Point power station up the coast that had caused the DNA in the remains of those swallowed men and women to be mixed with that of the sea creatures and that new creations were begat.
When I awoke there was a commotion, they were reeling in the lines and the kite was coming back. I saw that the lines were now out of the sea and that nothing had been caught – at least nothing large; the two specks were more likely the bait - two out of four lines.
It took over ten minutes just to drag it all back against the prevailing northerly wind and when it came back, it came down gracefully, landing at the embarkation point.
The director of the operation spoke through the chatter of the others, pointing to the youngest of the group of five adjutants – a lad of nineteen or so – and said: “Go and get more bait James. One more try for the day and you can all go…go and get drunk”
There was some murmuring form the others. They waited until the lad James returned with a wheelbarrow containing five dead piglets, four of which were hooked on to the fist sized hooks and the whole rig was sent back to the sea, considerably more quickly than then retrieval.
I watched until bored and wandered off to another part of the cliff where a group of young men was picnicking, whom I avoided, and found a bench to sit on and swig my wine. They looked askance at me and I looked askance at the sea.
I saw the commotion out there again took out the field glasses and felt the curdling of my soul. Yes it was the same, the myriad heathen creatures, leaping about; it was Sickle-tail, at least three of them - huge demonic curved blades flashing about. And that sound, the picnickers heard it and left, not daring to look at the source of it.
Now I had to go back to the fishermen for I guessed they might have made a catch.
When I reached them they were all furiously engaged in manning the contraption, like sailors in rough seas; retrieving the lines and presumably the catch. “Heave it now…Look now…Look how the kite’s down, it’s a huge catch guys…Pull it slowly in against the wind…Raise it…” the boss commanded thus with elation, like a coxswain, urging them on for the greater good.
I could see that the kite sail – it looked more like a type of parachute - was lower now because of the great weight it bore, though it rose at times with the wind and the over adjustments of the lift. It was still too far out to make any assessment of the nature of the four possible creatures, though I knew they would be grotesque.
There was a hullaballoo and some cursing and the kite sank down dropping the catch back into the sea. The master shouted furiously at the crew and the kite rose and for a while the catch were dragged along the waters, bouncing along, and now I saw the sickle tails again. They were closing in on the dangling beasts, which I saw were writhing in panic. The kite rose some metres above the water but not far enough, for one of those gargantuan beasts - a giant shark? - leapt out and drove into the creature to my right and there was terrible report that indicated some for of injury.
There were gasps from the men as they saw this or understood it – none had glasses.
The catch rose further and was soon comfortably aloft and the winches were wound, and soon the rig was close to shore, still high up, flapping and thrashing away out of their brackish amnion.
It was slowly lowered and landed neatly a little in front of the winch-point, the kite was drawn down, the men quickly harnessed the writhing creatures using a material like that of seatbelts, frantically strapping them down onto holdfasts, using sheets and straps depending on the necessity.
Three of the men wielded long knives like flenching blades with which to dispatch the animals if necessary, though they were now subdued.
“Four manbeasts” uttered the governor, who walked about surveying them as the kite was folded up and stuck into a small box set on the ground.
I dreaded the sight of them but was compelled to see.
Here is what I saw from my right, to left:
The first one was an enormous thing that I thought was a type of turtle at first because it had a turtle-like head, though the head wasn’t that of a turtle exactly, it was like a turtle’s but had human features, like those of someone you might have met and remembered or seen around and about. The skin was a weird purplish color I equated with a type of viscid filmy seaweed I had seen.
I saw that what I had taken for the shell of a turtle on this creature was more like the shell of a bivalve – like a mussel; a slate grey color, slightly shiny and black as though varnished.
It was making an awful noise; a deathly groan that rose and fell. Its head lolled about from side to side, it fell and rested, then rose and looked on at the audience with the unrequited fury of a maltreated vicious beast trapped. The mouth was a circular arrangement of teeth that recalled those of a lamprey. The eyes were sludge dark, slightly sentient I thought.
I walked to the rear of it and noticed that the membrane between the carapace, shell, or, whatever it was, was that of the head and here on the side, I saw two flippers that were stunted looking and looked more like human hands, and they flapped aimlessly now, and I thought how ineffectual they must have been in the sea with that tide.
At the rear of the beast I noticed a huge bite mark which I equated with the creature that leapt at it. Viscera was leaking out, sort of ragged innards; I knew the creature would soon die.
The next one was an elongated creature which I can only describe and being like an Oarfish, again with a humanlike face, and this was the most normal countenance of the lot. It was quite alive though placid, with an expression which incorporated some sage humanity buried within the genes.
It was at least twenty feet long, a scabbard fish-like thing, mercury silver but with black spots, and with a bright orange cockscomb extending from a Mohican on the head to about two thirds down; within this – the membrane - the twines were flexing gently.
Suddenly, it shook violently, tail flapping at the uncovered back then it calmed down.
What was next to that was a dark green, roughly circular plate shaped thing around fifteen feet wide. I assumed it was a fish, since it had tubercles like a turbot, except its whole top half was a face with; a slant mouth like diagonal a gash that covered half of the diameter, with the eyes either side like a slightly skewed percentage sign (%).
It was flapping a little, bubbling from its mouth – silently – and there was movement from the underside which I could discern from the way it heaved up wards.
I knelt and could just see on the underside appendages moving. They were like small feet shuffling, clustered at the front.
That was enough of that.
The last animal was by far the most peculiar. It was a giant blob the size of a car, like a sea slug perhaps since it was like a mollusk and had little fins which were moving gently.
What I at first assumed was the mouth was hard to see within the confluence of lips and flaps, and was within a strange countenance, and that made me think it was a mouth. However, I went to the other end, and saw teeth – fangs - arranged in a flat mouth, like that of an angler fish, and there above it, was the whip-like lure flicking around. I think it had two mouths.
This creature made some noises from both ends and it was clear that it was a two creatures.
Now I zoned back into the realm of men and heard the master, who had been talking all the time to the others: “Get Dr Larson over here, he’ll want to see them…John go and fetch him…Callum go and get Mr Rawlins…” he said in his arrogant New York accent. He seemed very pleased with the haul and what it would mean to the others. He didn’t have to wait any length of time.
From behind came, in an authoritative tone, “Hank Lloyd…What have you got for me this time? I dont think any of them are particularly special”.
I turned and saw a man in his late fifties dressed in a tweed suit, and most peculiarly, he was holding onto the Texan lawyer girl who was looking at me with a mixture of smugness and scorn; the duo were amidst a crescent crowd that seemed to consist of a good portion of the guests.
“Go and do the honors Larson” David called grandiloquently.
Dr Larson came and inspected the creatures and spoke to the laborers - it was out of earshot - as he contemplated the implications of these things.
He came back and spoke aloud to Rawlins and the crowd: “I say we keep the middle two and feed the others to the pigs, eh?...Not much novelty in the others I’m afraid – seen it all before,” His eyebrows twitched in a way that augmented his authority.
A child in the crowd began: “Daddy, what are they…? I don’t like them. How can they be normal…?”
His query went unanswered. All were looking in silence except the few protagonists of this exercise.
“O.k., go get the tractor James and take the middle two away; put the eel thing in tank twelve and the other thing in tank nineteen”
Off James went with alacrity while Calum and John looked on eagerly at the two designated for the pigs.
“Calum and John take the other two to the pigs – but kill them first; John, kill them…Calum get the mini-tractor. Wait till the other two are gone – I don’t want them traumatised” he clinically asserted.
I stood watching the creatures and watching the crowd watching them. There was little movement now.
The sound of throaty plosive engine heralded the tractor driven by James who was now assisted by two others who were little more than children, who occupied the passenger seat.
The tractor pulled an articulated trailer holding two large tanks form which water sloshed a little over the sides.
The three got to work and attached the links of the cables hooked into the two mouths, and, hauled the beasts up in terns. As they rose, they both writhed but were silent. They were dropped into the tanks and the hooks promptly removed then the slammed down. The tractor revved up and left.
Calum went to work on the condemned, hitting them squarely with a great blow. The turtle monstrosity issued a horrible stifled sound with the impact. The other died in the dull thud. Another hand named Julian came with the small tractor and dragged the dead off for pigfeed.
That was all I wanted to know – I did not seek to see what they kept in the “Centre”. I went to my car and drove off in a most inappropriate state, risking death and conviction. I found a nice layby and spent the night there, dreaming that the sea had receded and the manbeasts were all exposed on the sea bottom; myriad nightmare forms flapping and wriggling and hobbling about, with attendant screeching and wailing sounds commensurate with their newfound purgatory – abandoned by the dreaded waters of the channel and the estuary.
I took to drink and drugs to cancel the memories and lost everything except the memories.
My name is Choddy and I live on the streets of Camden. I am a drunk and a junkie, and I tell this tale to passersby – the drunk and the young – who humor me. Sometimes I wonder whether it the story is even true. I don’t think I made it up, but they say I did; that it is from the LSD, shrooms and mescaline and all the other stuff in my head that this tale was born. I know I am a tramp and that I live here by the canal as Choddy.
The benefits lady says I am known Choddy, but my real name is Michael Gingham. I don’t know about that. She says I have been on the streets for twenty two years, variously in Lambeth, Chingford, Southwark and here. She said that there is a picture of me in a book of the strange people of Camden and I saw it in the market and here and I am unbeknownst to me, looking quite spaced out. She also, she showed me a police file of me in a young offenders institute and in prison – in prison for theft.
I hope this is true, because I don’t want to believe in this tale, yet I do. Yes, I can sometimes see them in the canal, things moving under the water, and I think they have come to find me – the fish my friends. The pigeons are no longer my friends.
I think the manbeasts are on their way.
If the drink and drugs don’t get me this year I will join them in the canal. Yes, headlong I will plunge.
Anything other than the manbeasts and this.