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The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic 2

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The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic 2

  The Alchemy Press Book Of

  Urban Mythic 2

  Edited by

  Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber

  Published by

  The Alchemy Press

  Also published by The Alchemy Press

  Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac

  Beneath the Ground

  Doors to Elsewhere

  In the Broken Birdcage of Kathleen Fair


  Kneeling in the Silver Light

  Merry-Go-Round and Other Words

  Nick Nightmare Investigates

  Rumours of the Marvellous

  Sailor of the Skies

  Sex, Lies and Family Ties

  Shadows of Light and Dark

  Swords against the Millennium

  The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders

  The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes

  The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2

  The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 3

  The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic

  The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic 2

  The Komarovs

  The Paladin Mandates

  Where the Bodies are Buried


  The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic 2 copyright © Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber 2014

  Cover painting copyright © Edward Miller

  This publication copyright © The Alchemy Press 2014

  Published by arrangement with the authors

  All rights reserved.

  The moral rights of the authors of this work have been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without permission of the publisher.

  All characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons is coincidental.

  First eBook edition

  Published by The Alchemy Press, Cheadle, Staffordshire, UK


  The Mermaid by Tanith Lee

  For the Memory of Jane by K T Davies

  Where the Brass Band Plays by Adrian Tchaikovsky

  How to Get Ahead in Avatising by James Brogden

  La Vouivre by Sarah Ash

  Trapped in the Web by Pauline E Dungate

  The West Dulwich Horror by Carl Barker

  The Cupboard of Winds by Marion Pitman

  Blood*uckers by Chico Kidd

  High School Mythical: Asgard by Christine Morgan

  Paradise Walk by Andrew Coulthard

  Death and the Weaver by Lou Morgan

  Contributors’ Notes

  Copyright Details

  ‘The Mermaid’ copyright © Tanith Lee 1993/2014. First published in Nightshades: Thirteen Journeys into Shadow by Tanith Lee. Reprinted by permission of the author

  ‘For the Memory of Jane’ copyright © Karen Reay Davies 2014

  ‘Where the Brass Band Plays’ copyright © Adrian Czajkowski 2014

  ‘How to Get Ahead in Avatising’ copyright © James Brogden 2014

  ‘La Vouivre’ copyright © Sarah Ash 2014

  ‘Trapped in the Web’ copyright © Pauline E Dungate 2014

  ‘The West Dulwich Horror’ copyright © Carl Barker 2014

  ‘The Cupboard of Winds’ copyright © Marion Pitman 2014

  ‘Blood*uckers’ copyright © Chico Kidd 2014

  ‘High School Mythical: Asgard’ copyright © Christine Morgan 2014

  ‘Paradise Walk’ copyright © Andrew Coulthard 2014

  ‘Death and the Weaver’ copyright © Lou Morgan 2014

  The Mermaid

  By Tanith Lee

  Michael was a quiet man with never much to say for himself. He worked at his father’s ironmongery business, which the old dad was now too frail to see to, and had taken on some new lines in hammer and nails and paint, which pleased the weekenders, who want their cottages all colours, and to hang up their trophy knick-knacks, their shells and dried weeds, and other dead hard things from out of the sea. It was the sea was the thing with Michael too, for though he would never tell you of it, she had bewitched him. As a child he was always on the shores climbing among the steep caves, fishing off the Rock, or just sitting staring away out to where there is nothing, you mind, but what the inner eye and the heart imagine. And it was the sea that gave to Michael the one long speech I ever heard him make.

  I had known him since we were children in the village. And when I came back from the city, soul-sore and drinking down a bottle a day, he was the first thing I saw that I knew, as I walked from the train along the street. ‘Hallo, Michael,’ I said, ‘how are you doing?’ And Michael nodded and said to me, ‘I’m going along,’ as if he had only met me that morning, when it had been three years and more.

  I began my writing then, up in the room over the Widow’s bakery, and for all I was told Watch out for the Widow, she did me no harm except in the pastry way, fattening me up. But it got me off the drink, so maybe it was not so bad a bargain.

  And as I sought my path back into the village, and they stopped their jibes about the city and the stranger, I saw Michael here and there, in his father’s shop, and in the pub sometimes of an evening, where I drank my two halves slow as cream, or walking along the shore at dusk, by the snow-blue water and under the ashy rose-petal sky, not grey, not pink, clearer than a washed glass, that only the sea knows how to bring.

  But Michael, as I say, was no talker. He would stand his round, he would play his game of cards, he would put on the odd bet, he would help you if you needed an item or two and had not the cash, and once, when one of the holiday couples lost a dog, it was Michael went down and found it under the Rock, and brought it in his arms. And when the woman held out a bright leaf of money, Michael turned it gently aside.

  But he would neither converse nor confide, not Michael. Nor he never married. And he was a nice-looking man, dark and blue-eyed and not yet much above forty. He could have had three or four but they had given up on him and taken elsewhere. There was never any idea, mind, that Michael had other tastes. He had even courted a girl, when he was a boy, but nothing came of it.

  And then, when I had been back a year, there came the storm. It waked me at three in the morning. I had forgotten how it would sound, the sea, when she was angry.

  I stood in the window and looked down the village to the shore, and there were the great waves like spiked combs and the sky tearing at them, and this sound of guns the water makes, and the tall thunder, and the lightning flash like a knife. It filled me with terror and joy, and I put on my clothes and my boots and went out, and in the street I came on others, drawn forth as I had been as if by a powerful cry. We spoke of what boats might be out and if they had got to safety, but there was a primeval thing upon us that had nothing to do with human sympathy or care. And in the end I went on down the street, past the pub, which had opened itself up again, and through the lane to the Rock.

  And when I reached the place, the wind was rending and it was like the edge of chaos, so I stood there drunk as I had not been now in eleven months, with my mouth open, half-blinded, until I saw Michael was there before me, down along the Rock where the spray was coming up and the water ran black as oil. He stood with his feet planted, looking out.

  ‘Come back a way, Michael,’ I called, ‘She’ll have you off, man, and into all that.’

  He turned and looked at me, and I saw he had my face, my drunkard’s face, and suddenly he grinned and he said, ‘Had me she already has.’

  But then a great bomb of water burst against the Rock. I saw him go to his knees and I dashed forward
, afraid he would be lugged over and lost. But he was not and he and I pulled away from the edge together.

  ‘You’ve the right of it,’ he said, when we stood back drenched on the track. ‘For she’s greedy tonight.’

  There are moments when you foretell suddenly a man will speak to you, that there is something lodged in his spirit, and now it will be shown. It may be a diamond or a severed head and there is no means to guess, but you must not gainsay him. Not for your own hope, you must not. And so it was with Michael now. For he waited by me, and he said, ‘I could do with a drink if Alec has the bar open.’ And then, making no move, he said, ‘You’re a writer, you could write it down maybe.’

  ‘Write down what, Michael?’

  ‘The mermaid.’

  So too when he puts the diamond or the hacked head before you, you do not say to him, Bloody rot, man.

  ‘A mermaid is it?’ I said. ‘I always dreamed there were such things.’

  ‘I dreamed it,’ he said, ‘since I was a boy, and the dad told me stories.’ His lashes were strung with water so I could not see his eyes to be sure of them. We huddled into a lee of the Rock. It was the pub our flesh wanted, the warmth and the lamplight and the company, if not the liquor. But our souls kept us there in the loud corner of the storm. We could not go away, not yet, till he was done.

  ‘When I was sixteen it was,’ he said at last, under the scream of the wind. The glass waves smashed upon his voice but could not drown him out. That is how it is when a man must speak to you. Though he whispers in the whirlwind, you will hear, like Job, or Moses on the mountain.

  His brain, Michael said, was once full of fantasies, day-dreams, and there were night-dreams too, very rich and beautiful, often remembered, all to do with the sea. It had been that way with him since he was a child, and his father told him sea-yarns of his fishing days, and some wonderful lies besides which to the child were no more than a proper truth, as perhaps in a sort they are. There were cities under the ocean, of coral and crystal and nacre, and great beasts like dragons that could swallow up a ship whole, and there were peoples, whose young girls swung upon the waves, as if upon a garden swing, combing their green-yellow hair the colour of canaries, singing, and if you stared you caught a glimpse of their pearl-white breasts and of their silken tails, for they had no legs but were fish from the belly down.

  ‘You know how it is,’ said Michael, ‘you’re coming to think of girls by then, and you get the strange feelings – between sweetness and sin. And it was those glimmer breasts on the waves, maybe. I’d dream of them after.’

  ‘Nor would you be the first,’ I said. ‘That dream began long ago.’

  Michael smiled. ‘With the first fisherman,’ he said.

  We paused in the storm’s corner, and the sea cursed us and all mankind. She was the very devil tonight, we said. And then he went on.

  It was near the end of the summer of his seventeenth year, and he had been fishing but caught nothing, though it did not greatly trouble him. He was walking back along the shores, with the tide behind him, but he had nothing to fear for he knew its times better than his own body, which was still a surprise to him. It happens now and then at that season, seals stray in and lie along the rocks like tabby cats to sun themselves, and in the afternoon water they play. He had seen them before and liked them, and when first he came around the headland with the old tower, and saw the shape out among the offshore rocks, he reckoned it was a seal, and went carefully.

  The sun was westering, and the water gleamed and the objects upon it and in it were dark. But then a big mallow cloud passed over the sun and the light softened, and he saw that on the rocks there sat no seal but a woman, naked as a baby, and with a hank of long hair down her back.

  He took her for a holiday-making girl, who else would be so brazen as to swim without covering, and this was strange, for he had eyed the holiday girls all summer, and they him indeed, and he thought he knew them all, but this one was different. Her hair was very pale for one, and then, although he was too far off to see anything of her well, her skin seemed pale in the same odd fashion, but perhaps this was a trick of the glare upon the ocean. Just at that moment, the sun came out again, and she turned to a silhouette.

  Michael stayed, wondering to himself if he had the nerve to go near and take a fair look. He had never seen a woman bare, except in his fancy with the aid of a few pictures picked up round and about. His pulses were beating, and he tingled at the notion. But what if she saw him? Could it be she would not mind? He had heard stories too of the loose girls from the towns. Michael began to tremble at this, as a young man will, and many an older man if it comes to it. He did not know whether to go nearer or to take himself right away. And it was as he was arguing it out that the girl herself decided to be off. Her exit was a simple one. She merely dived from her rock into the sea. He beheld her pale body and hair spring and turn over, and then the upending of some­thing that curved up like a bow against the shining sky, flickering a fan of silvered paper upon its utmost end. Then everything was gone down into the blaze of the water.

  Michael stood amazed. And told himself he was seeing things, then that he had seen nothing at all, then that it was a seal, and next a girl, and lastly that he had looked upon that creature of the myth, the innocent, sweet sin of his adolescent lust, the mermaid. ‘I never slept that night,’ said Michael.

  ‘I never thought that you would,’ said I, softly. ‘But did you tell a soul?’

  ‘Not one. What could I tell? The dad would have thought me cracked, for all he claimed to have seen them himself in his sea days. No, I was ashamed. I was afraid.’

  ‘And then, how long did you hesitate, till back you went?’

  ‘Only the one day,’ he said.

  He returned in the afternoon, to the same spot and better, finding himself a vantage where the cliff comes down to the water and there are the caves. He lay about along a ledge and watched for her and knew she never would come, but as the sun moved over into the west and the sea began to sheen, come she did, up out of the slick mirror of the water, pulling herself he said like a live rope. And she sat upon a green rock and he saw her clearly now and near enough, if he had gently thrown a stone, he might have hit her. That was not near enough that he saw her face beyond the form of it that was a woman’s, or the details of her body, beyond that she had a narrow back, slim arms, two breasts upon her like little white cups and spangled with wet, and her long hair, and that she combed her hair with a spiny shell, and that below her flat belly she had no legs but a fish’s tail, which coiled over into the sea-froth, glittering and tensing with muscle, and alive and part of her.

  ‘She didn’t sing,’ said Michael. ‘That was all I missed. She made no sound, though once a gull went by, crying, and she raised her head in the way a cat does after a bird. But she was real as my own skin.’

  And then his lust, for he did lust after her, this made him do a pragmatic, cool thing. It made him look at her in dismay, thinking that if she had no legs, then how might it be possible... But there were some markings on her tail, he saw, like the flowering apertures of dolphin. In a boiling rush of embarrassment, he knew what they were, and because of it, not even knowing what he would do, he stood up and shouted at her.

  She moved her head, quite slowly, as she had at the passing of the gull. There was nothing shy or timid in the gesture, but something feral there was. Although he could not see her eyes, he saw she stared at and beheld him.

  It was a long moment. Every second he expected her to fling herself over back into the sea. But she did not do it until he had taken five or six strides down from the ledge. And then the curving body, the flaunt of the tail, were limpid, nearly flirting.

  It was as if she said, I know your kind, as you know mine. 1 say no, now. But perhaps not, tomorrow.

  For if the holiday girls were amoral, what must she be, this fey half-being out of ocean?

  He had seen her hair was green, too. Pale, pale green like those cream peppermin
ts you can buy in chocolate. Her skin looked only lily white and her tail like the grey-silver foil that wraps up tobacco and coffee.

  Well, he would woo her. He would court her. And he knew how it must be done. For where he would take the mortal girl a carton of talcum or a bunch of flowers, he would bring this one the fish of his catch, raw, as of course she would want them.

  He had ‘some pains over it. Going out at dawn the next day, baiting his line for the lovely dainty fish they call along the coast fairies, and catching them – because he must; filling up a crock with them, and carrying it down to the offshore rocks where she would come back – because he would accept nothing other.

  The water was mild as milk and the beauty of the full-blown summer lay like a kiss upon the sea, the cliffs, the sky. It was a magic time, and anything might happen in it. This he had always truly believed, and now it had been given him to know it for sure.

  When he went off he did not go far, only to the shore’s edge where the wet sand sank between the claws of the rocks and their emerald gardens, and everything of the land ran out into the water, which looked blue now as the sky was gold.

  She came early. He saw her, lifting her effortless, spilling body from the sea. She scented the fish at once, and though she acknowledged Michael with one upraised, untremulous glance, she hurried instantly to the catch and began ravenously to devour it.

  Even now he was not near enough to see her sharply, only the suggestion of her features. And that she ate like a wild beast did not alarm or disgust him. She was a creature of the sea, and she was hungry.

  When she was finished, she did something exquisite, too, as if to make up for the ravening. She rinsed her face with her hand, in the cat-like motion that seemed most ready with her. And having done this, she turned and stared towards him. She seemed to be considering, Michael thought, if he was anything to her or not.

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