By DF Lewis

Rachel Mildeyes bad been writing for a living since she could remember. A bit like sleeping…

Her first novel “Love In The Sick Ward” had been a successful feminist pot-boiler. She never cared to read it, however, simply because she could not understand it any more. Her mind was too convoluted and twisted for a straightforward narration. A beginning, middle and end (in that order) were not at all what the shrink ordered. She was confident that she had something growing inside her head, something sharp and incisive, but which could only best come out bent and skewed.

Thus, after a series of gradually compounding fiction sequences under various outlandish pen-names, at the age of thirty seven, she embarked on what she considered in advance to be her tour de force and raison d’etre. Not that it was written in French. The working title was “The Miscreant And The Moonstream”. She tried out a number of her old pen-names, but none seemed to sit well on the title page. Eventually, she resorted to her own name, believing this to be as good as any – though, of course, nobody could credit that Mildeyes was her real surname at all but merely an invention of a miscegenate heritage. She finished up calling the book “The Wild Man of Hurtna Pore”.

The epilogue came first, leaving the rest until later. She did not own a word processor, only a wireless continuously tuned into the Home Service as it used to be called. She particularly enjoyed medical programmes, but that was before the National Health Service had grown sicker than its patients. So, without a processor, she couldn’t juggle paragraphs willy nilly like the more modern moveable feasts with which creative writing seemed to have become endowed. What she committed to the old-fashioned typewriter stuck fast…but the first drafts were naturally nothing but meaningless handwritten deletions, insertions, scribble and scrawl.

She knew the epilogue was to end up the most important part of the piece, which could be easily skipped by the busy reader (a la Henry Fielding in Tom Jones), though woe betide any who should dare…

Incredibly, “Wild Man” was not a horror work. Her reputation had been built up, over the years, on plots with macabre incidents and bizarre cruelties. Some critics had called her pieces sick. Simply that. Sick. No mistaking that word, with its decided lack of innuendo: no double entendre nor finer feeling, there. No dodging responsibility under cover of ambiguity or deep symbolism

The new one was indeed a romance, any horror simply playing second horn in the wind band. It would doubtlessly be a disappointment to the fervent fans who were used to finding her works amid the latest splatterfests. But could the bookshops put it anywhere else? She feared not. A real rosy-tinted tear-jerker would not be seen dead back cover to front cover with a Mildeyes.

Her publisher clucked meaningfully as he listened to Rachel’s plans for “Wild Man”. He had a businessman’s head, but pretended his heart knew something about literature.

“I’m afraid a cheap romance will not do, Rachel, you’ve got a duty to the ghastlier, gorier side of human nature.”

She stared at his domed head, sown with tussocks of grey hair. She found herself thinking of a sub-plot where a huge rhinoceros horn suddenly burst through the top of his skull, scattering shards of bone shrapnel across the boardroom table and splintering the oil painting faces of the publisher’s past directors. Thus she failed to pay attention to what her current editor had to say. She did infer, however, that “The Wild Man Of Hurtna Pore” was to be relegated to the back burner of her fevered muse, until she had enough loot in the bank to finance it herself. And life was too short for earning money…

As she wound down the car window, the policeman looked puzzled. She was not the lay-by queen, after all. It was a complete stranger behind the wheel, with something missing. But what was missing he couldn’t fathom.

She asked him whether he needed to wear the tall domed helmet to hide his horn. It sounded to him as if she were speaking some form of French. He shrugged, patted her boot and waved her on. No clashing antlers with the likes of Rachel Mildeyes…

The night was so shallow, its dark wreaths were not much more than head height. Above this, as far as the eye could see, were apparent layers of a grimy sea of light. Salt-green shapes, at the same time like and unlike old-time aeroplanes, floated wirelessly through this luminous murk, lights flashing to warn off others…

She wrapped her scarf tighter round her neck, as the darkness through which she waded was cold to the skin’s touch. Red-flecked mist sprayed from her mouth as she breathed. Her feet were numb with the cold, being deeper in the mire of the sunken night. Her brow was feverish, but that came more from the dreams therein than the relatively warmer light to which it was closer. Her bones cracked with the same sound that often comes from inside butcher’s shops at the dead of night.

She had awoken in a strange bed. The curtains were undrawn, allowing the milky sun to stream through upon her head. She could see seven hundred and fifty-five thousand six hundred and twenty two dust particles riding in the slanted beams. Amazed at her perspicacity, she began to count the floaters in her eyes, the single petals on the wallpaper, the constituents of the bed sheets, the pores in the palm of her band, the split seconds that passed in so doing…

It was a pity that she didn’t know bow old she was. Or it may have been a boon.

The door opened and a young girl, dressed in a uniform, entered with a trayful of breakfast. She called the one in the bed by the name Rachel.

Head motioning downwards at the tray, she enumerated: gently coddled duck eggs fluted with the re-constituted ducks that had laid them; rare back bacon rashers interleaved with a sauce that was so strong the integrity of the bacon was in question; freshly squeezed citrus fruit laced with honey wine; doorstops of toast topped with whole kidneys and anchovies; a steaming urn with a medley of infusions from far off Erotica…

Leaving these beside Rachel’s bed, she quickly turned tail, allowing a glimpse of the cut of her behind. The shape of her bosom had been concealed by her uniform, but Rachel had noticed it was over-large, no doubt plum-tipped and graspable.

Every speck of food she counted down as she consumed it. Much harder to count in than out. She wondered if the young girl’s own juices had been squeezed over the food to season it. She recalled the dream of the half-hearted night which, at the time, she had felt was so cold. The blankets now were warmth itself, between which she had been embedded since she could remember. She was sick, simply sick.

Having breakfasted heartily, she felt heavy with child, for the food seemed to take on a life of its own in her belly, squirming, kicking, and, even, she was sure, squealing. Her bodily innards were strange creatures that passed in the night of blood.

When the slurry waters finally broke, several hours later, she feared for the integrity of the bed-clothes. Her headache was like an ingrowing horn.

She drowsed off during the late afternoon. She had given up hope of the girl returning to give her a blanket bath. Rachel was evidently sicker than she had originally thought and the girl, who was probably a nurse, was far too busy to tend to a dream. The dead may die, whilst the rest live only by the words they exchange.

Rachel returned to the earlier dream, where night had fully taken back its own. She could no longer see the floating salt-green shapes or even the cut of her own body. Impossible now, even to fish her out from more than one dream away.

No clashing hooks with Rachel in the moonstream.

She first typed out the epilogue and wondered whether it would throw any light on the rest of it. Probably not – (only thirty seven words, the last of which were in brackets any way, and therefore quite irrelevant).

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