The terrors of the night had come to me. I tossed and turned within my suffocating bedsheets, which were sodden with my sweat, the cotton constricting around my chest and throat like a damp white snake.
I existed within a limbo slumber, lurching between terrible, brutal dreams and short periods of half-waking. Each time I thought myself escaped from my nightmares, they would claw me back into their wicked embrace, their savage laughter assaulting my mind with a hissing snarl.
Such was my lot, nowadays, pede claudo ‘seldom has punishment, on limping foot, abandoned the wicked man’. My past, and also more recent, indiscretions of morality now haunted me in the night, sending hell borne creatures of torment and devilment to batter my inner self, and curse my evenings where any normal, and God fearing man should be content in restful sleep.
If I were a better man I would have long since tried to settle my account, to repay what I had taken from the world in such a gluttonous and self serving manner, but better man I am not, and as such my crimes would make me suffer - until such time as I was dragged broken into the arms of hell.
When I did wake it was with a start, I was not alone in the room, and at first I thought that the devil himself had come to take me to his home. It was not Satan however, but my butler, Manson.
‘I heard screaming, sir, and for once it was not coming from one of your house guests.’ He said, a look of genuine concern on his face. ‘Would you like me to fetch you a cup of tea? … or perhaps some ether?’
‘No!’ I cried, still unsure as to whether I was woken or simply taken to another nightmare. ‘I fear that if I imbibe anything at this time of night, then I shall surely vomit.’ I released myself from my clinging bedsheets, with difficulty, and not a little anger. ‘Tell me, do we still have that odd fellow in the cellar? He was one of those authors who came here wishing to peddle their wares. You know the one, called himself Conlon or something, funny looking man with beard?’
Manson looked a little confused. ‘I think so, my lord. What I mean is that he is certainly here, but whether he lives or not I cannot say. You told me to throw him into the deepest dungeon and throw away the key. I doubt her has survived the past three weeks - you also told me not to feed him.’
‘Go and have a look anyway, if he lives bring him to me and tell him I want a story to help me sleep soundly. Oh, and Ive changed my mind, bring me a tea, one sugar, no milk.’ I stood and noisily used the chamberpot, whilst I waited. It’s my age you know.
It was twenty minutes before the butler returned. By his side, and still in chains, was man I had sent him for. I was surprised for, although dirty, with matted hair and the eyes of a man who had visited the dark side, he looked well fed.
‘Rats, sir.’ Said Manson as if reading my mind. ‘Rats, and fat spiders. He seems to have developed a taste for them. I think perhaps he would have eaten them whether I’d have taken him food or not.’
I laughed aloud, and asked him to sit at he foot of my bed. Manson left in somewhat of a hurry.
Our conversation, on that terrible night, is recorded as follows:
Did you bring me a cup of tea? Oh and… Who are you, and where is the butler going?
I am the blot on your landscape, the mote in your eye, the stone in your shoe. I bring you tea squeezed from a dream-bruised night and it stands steeping in the sweat of your fears. The butler has run away with the spoon but he did ask me to bring you some cake, so let’s tuck in.
A book? I adore books, especially ones with pictures. Has your one got pictures in it? Tell me all about it in no more than 20 words.
Badtime Stories is fifty glimpses into the fears of twins, Jacob and Jacob. Fully illustrated it’s Gorey meets Burton.
I love a good villain, some would say that I’m one, but I’d disagree shortly before locking them in the dungeon and letting the rats have them. Who’s your favourite villain either literary or Film and TV? Would you be happy being one of their evil goons, or would you want the crown for yourself?
Everyone is a villain from somebody’s perspective and watching them struggle against those who would stand in their way is endlessly fascinating. Like spiders in a jar. But my favourite villain is Jack. You know, the Jack who played with fire by jumping over candlesticks, the Jack who defiled pies with his thumb, and the Jack who (in a most magnificently dark deed) murders a giant after stealing his gold and his goose and his harp and then gets away with it! Jack is the trickster god, on his way to becoming the devil.
I’m thinking about starting my own cult… I mean club. Only the most select would be able to join my club, they must of course worship me (or a lesser god such as Bobby Davro) and there would be very strict rules on bad behaviour and acceptable clothing (I’m thinking must have criminal record and wear ladies underwear). What would be the name of your club? Tell me a little more about it, I may wish to join.
My club is called Schemes and Dreams and admission is granted to anyone who has a drawer full of half-formed ideas. Novel outlines, snippets of poetry, plots to kill people, these are the orders of business with us. These are the fuel which will power us to the stars where we plan on drifting forever in an infinite sea of what-ifs and wouldn’t-it-be-marvellous.
My castle is apparently haunted. I’m not so sure, as it might just be sightings of me prancing through the halls dressed in a toga. Would you be prepared to stay the night in a haunted house? Would you scream and quiver like a terrified monkey, or would you be there hero of the night standing up to the ghosts and pulling off their faces like some pesky kid from Scooby Doo?
As much as I write about fear - like the clowns who laugh in Jacob and Jacob’s wardrobe, or the shadow spiders on their wall, or what happens in the house after they have been put to bed - I’m not great with scares. Fully awake I might be able to rationalise the bumps and moans but true horror patrols the half-light between consciousness and slumber. That is when the cracks appear and the events you thought well behind you manifest into lipless gardeners and genies made of ash. So no, sorry. You’re on your own. In fact you have been for the past twenty minutes. That husk sat in front of you, veiled in shadows, that is something else entirely.
Who, when faced with a fridge of endless joy, thinks about sandwiches? Sandwiches are the smalltalk you have to endure before going out to play, and play is in the eternal park of cake. A Victoria Sandwich would be my only nod to your frankly odious choice. My fingers would be grasping for cream filled patisseries, great slabs of almond iced frangipanes, and sticky gob-fulls of jammy donuts.
I would land on Ursula Le Guin’s wall and marvel at how she has created some of the most beautiful stories with the most sensible worldview there is. I would watch her work in the hope that one day I might regurgitate some of that skill into the food of my own writing.
Father Christmas is Real!!! It’s true I tell you, I caught him climbing down my chimney last year and have put him in the dungeon for safe keeping. I’ve promised to let him out in time for Christmas Eve, but only if he provides my guests with presents. What do you fancy? Only the most creative are rewarded.
I need no convincing, each year I write a slightly dark Christmas story because he leaves me a note asking me to tell it from the other side. I ask nothing in return but I would quite like a Bubble of Missed Past to sit in when life becomes a little difficult. These Bubbles are filled with yesterdays when you didn’t realise how lucky you were or when everything was peaceful but you were too impatient to DO something or BE someone. There are no words in a Bubble of Missed Past, only the perfect soup of silence.
You are travelling by train on a long journey. There are five other people in your carriage. The train breaks down and you are stuck for hours. Who would you want stuck in the carriage with you? And how long before you thought about persuading them to draw lots to see who gets eaten?
Being stuck in a carriage for hours sounds like heaven. I’d like nothing more than to sit back and dream and write and read. So this needs to be a carriage without any phone signal - that pretty much covers the Manchester to London route. As for people, well I’d rather there were none. I don’t need much to eat and humans are, in my experience, tasteless. The temptation would be to choose people I admire but I admire them for the things they’ve done, the books they’ve written or the cakes they’ve made. I’m not too fussed about meeting them, although perhaps that would make it easier to kill and devour them. Wait! What am I thinking? Pastry chefs! I’ll have five of those please. Fully stocked with ingredients.
Where else in the whole bleedin’ World Wide Web can I find out more about you? Do you Insta? Tweet? Snapthingummybob? Tell me where I may stalk you further.
I’m everywhere. You can read stories and poems on www.inkology.co.uk or follow me on Twitter @dom_conlon or on Instagram @domconlon. I do the Facebook thing half-heartedly but I can be found there - just look for my name and a beard. Also, I should warn you, I’m stood outside your house now, watching you...
My questions finished, I settled down in my bedclothes and asked him to tell me a story. I will not recount the exact details of the tale he told, for that you must support his book, but I will say that I slept soundly that night, for the first time in weeks. It was a deep dreamless sleep, the like of which I had not experienced for such a long time.
When I woke the next morning, refreshed and happy, he was still at the foot of my bed (although he was curled up in slumber like a cat).
I rang the bell for Manson and ordered him to take Mr Conlon, bathe him, feed him (something other than rats and spiders if he wished, perhaps a jammy doughnut) and to set him free. I resolved to give my support for Badtime Stories, something which I would encourage you to do in the strongest possible terms.
I watched him trot merrily over the drawbridge, a bag of rats over his shoulder given as a present, and hoped that it would not be too long before he paid me another visit. I would probably not lock him up next time.
If you have enjoyed this blog and the others in this series, please consider supporting my own work, Domini Mortum, which can be found here www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum
I need all the help I can get, and yours will be gratefully received.