Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Weird Wednesday

Sneak peak of issue 51 of Paranormal Magazine, on the shelves this weekend. I don't know whether this really counts as a Weird Wednesday entry but I'm a bit hassled because I'm going away for a long weekend. Next entry will be Tuneful Tuesday.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Monstrous Monday x 1

I've a couple of dozen volumes of the Victorian/Edwardian editions of the Wide World Magazine but I bought this single issue of eBay because it had such an ace monstery cover. The early editions do have some weird stuff in them, including juicy cryptozoological stuff, so was hopeful about this apparent bipedal lizard on this edition from January 1958. Alas, it's all a con - the 'monster' was just a big monitor lizard that had escaped from its cage; very much flat on its belly and about a third of the size of the critter picture here. Oh well, it was only a few quid and interesting to see one of the later copies - The True (sic) Adventure For Men lasted till the 1960s.

Monstrous Monday x 2

More good news for Louise - Felt Mistress monsters are now going to be stocked by Selfridges in London! More info at That just leaves Harrods - or should that be Hairods?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Spooky Sunday

This is the local haunted site to me, Deborah's Well, a mile or so from the centre of Gwernaffield in Flintshire towards Cadole. The site is a bit of a mystery: how long it's been named after the legendary Deborah and how genuine a historical character she was remains elusive to me. Although Deborah's Well is considered the local area's top spooky site, I have only ever been able to find one written record of a ghost allegedly being seen here and that took place in the 1970s.

This sighting was reported in The Chronicle newspaper and involved a couple stopping their car near Deborah's Well so that the man could answer a call of nature. While he was behind a tree hsi wife saw the apparition of a woman with her hair on fire. The witness ran to find her husband and dropped her handbag while doing so. The fact that the couple then drove away, leaving behind the bag , is the detail presented to give assurance to the truth of the encounter. The police retrieved the bag the morning after, we're told, to find the lady's £90 cash still inside it.

Deborah is supposed to have been a 6th century woman running some sort of hospice nearby. I'm rather dubious about this, simply because we know so little of Dark Age hospices or nunneries. Or indeed anything from the 6th century. The tale has it that the hospice was burnt to the ground and Deborah perished in the flames - hence the appearance of the ghost.

I discovered Deborah's Well almost immediately after Haunted Clwyd came out in 1992. I was embarrassed about its omission at the time because so many people seemed to consider it a well-known haunted spot, one I should have known about. So I was quite relieved when I looked into it and found there was just this one story attached to the place (although that one yarn has proved quite sufficient for the kids growing up here in the 80s/90s to view the site as desperately haunted). I would like to know more about the putative Dark Age hospice, though. If genuine, that would be interesting indeed.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Saturday Matinee

When in doubt, stick a lass in a leotard and call her a 'she-thing'! The Astounding She-Monster, also called Mysterious Invader, from 1957, and Terror From The Year 5000, from 1958 - and both crap, although I rather admire the She-Monster poster.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Found Friday

My adolescent Dr Who obsession took on a bizarre and perverse incarnation in the late 70s in the form of 'Ductor Who', a series of 'radio programmes' (ie cassette recordings) featuring me and my best friend at the time Joe McIntyre. They featured the classic early Tom Baker gang of Sarah and Harry, together with K9. It was all very filthy and stupid (and therefore great fun when you're 14).

The Ductor was basically a dirty old man, Sarah was a 'nympho' (who started off as a kind of rip-off of Karla from Kenny Everett's 'Captain Kremmen'), Harry was gay as ninepence and K9 was... just K9, since his dialogue consisted entirely of what I'd managed to record off the telly.

Here is one of the script books, for want of a better term, for 'The Three Crystals of Gettakwikiss' (oh god), presumably based round the recently shown Key to Time season. A glimpse at any page of 'script' within this book is deeply shameful... you can almost feel me and Joe scratching our pimples. And it would certainly come as no surprise to anyone reading through it that both youths involved in Ductor Who should grow up as gay as... well, as gay as Harry.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Wordy Thursday - Spamalot

When you get spam mail the subject line often consists of two randomly generated words. One morning I found an email in my Inbox on this apparent subject:
Leper Foreskin
I don't get much spam now but that gloriously gruesome twosome made me start collecting other random pairings as they started to pop into my JunkMail. None reached the heights (or depths) of Leper Foreskin but several presented an apt or otherwise pleasing combination; a few sounded like prog rock band names. Anyway, here are the others I collected till my spam filter improved:
Handsome Unbelievable
Enchanted Clergyman
Fruitfly Ephemeral
Obligation Hilltop
Oyster Tongs
Succor Translucent
Entertainment Warmonger
Muppet Mortal
Surfboard Hypochondria
Thyroid Trashcan
Generalized Spongecake
Sneak King
Dog Nonchalantly.
Then I got a few with more complicated subject lines, starting with 'Separate yourself from other men', which naturally amused me, but then reaching new heights of surrealism with:
The crab tower, the crab cakes, the beer
And here's an excellent knitted plush squid from Sonya.
Finally I got classily insulted with: Snotty upstart bug-eyed alewife. Fair comment.
There were a few good randomly generated names attached to some of the above subject lines, including: Norbert Grimes, Leonard Dowdy, Roberta Boggs, Fabian Looney, Madison Pooh, Violet Colon, Tiffany Boykin, Hung Marshall and Nicholas Ponce, whose subject line was simply 'Lower Class'. I also got an apparent email from one Darwin Charles who told me in the subject line: 'I Wanted to Give Someone a Sexually Transmitted Disease'.
And of course no collection of spam would be complete without the adverts for penis-enlargement gizmos. The subject lines intended to attract the smaller man ranged through the crude to the wannabe corporate to the almost poetic. Here are my favourites:
There's no need to enumerate all the advantages of the thicker penis
Make your trouser snake look like a real Royal Python
Sail down the love canal more confidently
Beat her womb with your new big rod, so she knows who wears the pants!
And if that last one was still too subtle, this one got straight to the point:
Don't you think it's time you stopped being a loser with a tiny penis?
Hard sell, eh.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Bulldog biffs Sherlock

Exit Sherlock Holmes, enter Bulldog Drummond. The cover of the March 1928 edition of The Strand. We'll see no more Holmes and precious little Conan Doyle for, of course, he dies in 1930. The only 'detectives' left seem to be chaps in sharp suits who proved themselves handy during the War, don'tchaknow, and solve crimes with plenty of fisticuffs. Ah well.

Weird Wednesday

16th century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo came up with an odd specialism - painting allegorical pictures of people using set themes such as the Four Seasons or the Four Elements. The person representing Spring would be made up out of spring flowers, Winter old bark and fungi etc, Water out of fish, Air out of birds etc. Old Arcimboldo was somethig of a surrealist centuries before the term was invented.

The Four Seasons are pretty well-known but this is one of my other favourites, The Librarian. It reminds me of medieval representations of The Book Fool, a guy who surrounds himself with books but doesn't read them. I'm abit like that, in that I keep buying books even though there's a growing number on the shelves I intend to read - but haven't yet. There's something very cold about The Librarian, and kind of creepy. I'd probably get on with him, though.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Cheerful ads

Just in case that last pic creeped you out, here are a couple more jolly ads from the Strand Magazine (December 1927). A much more appropriate one for Bovril than the last one I posted. Birds Custard on the the other hand always seemed to produce attractive ads.

Monstrous Monday

I love this picture. It's an illustration by S H Vedder of a story by a writer I don't know, S Carleton, for a story called The Wolf. You'll not be surprised to learn that it's a werewolf story, or more precisely a loup garou (or perhaps wendigo) story, since it is set in Canada. It's an effective little story and the illo shows the scene in which a priest cursed with lycanthropy is desperately seeking shelter in an isolated hut before he completely changes - but to his horror, he sees a light on in the cabin! He knows that whoever is in there will not be able to escape him once he transforms. Werewolf stories are comparatively rare in Victorian/Edwardian literature - this one appeared in Pall Mall Magazine in December 1901 - and this is certainly the best werewolf image I've seen from the period. Imagine my annoyance though when I saw the illustration had found its way on to a recent collection of short stories published by Wordsworth - someone else found it!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Saturday Matinee

Starring Drew Barrymore's dad (I think) and Charlie Chaplin's son. But putting Jerry Lee lewis in a film like this is surely asking for trouble! (Mind you, judging by the aged juveniles in most films of this period, he probably wouldn't have found anyone young enough to appeal to him.)

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Wordy Thursday - The Accursed

OK, it's finally about to go out to literary agents - but is it good enough?


On the morning of my thirteenth birthday I awoke to find that I was dead.

My skin was as cold as death.
My nostrils were filled with the stench of death.
My mouth was full of rottenness.
I opened my eyes and found I could not see.
When I tried to move, I found I could not move.

So I lay, dead.

Cold blackness surrounded me. Time seemed to pass, age after long age, in silence and stillness. I seemed to float, empty and without thought, drifting unthinking until somewhere far away, from some muffled distance, I heard a soft, steady sound. The five chimes of a clock.

Then something unseen scuttled past my head. I felt little claws scrabbling against me. My heart jolted in horror.

It started to beat.

As my heart began to beat, so I began to think. Why is it so dark? Why is it so cold? Why do I smell decay and taste death on my tongue?

I cannot be alive. I must be dead. If I was alive, I could move.

As I struggled to move, my mind struggled, too. Like coming round after an operation or waking after a long illness, suddenly I became aware. And I realised why I could not move. I had been tied up. My arms were bound tightly to my body, my feet were strapped together. I could not see because I had been blindfolded.

I strained against my bonds and tried to shout for help. But I was unable to make a sound. My mouth had been gagged and it was stuffed with something damp and foul. The straps refused to break.

I struggled again, in vain. My heart was pounding, proof that I was alive. Yes, I thought, but like this I might as well be dead.

Then something squeaked in my ear and I felt it move across my body. Horrified, I thrashed from side to side to dislodge the thing. Choking with revulsion and rage, I fought against my bonds, forcing my arms against them, finding new strength. At last, just as I was weakening, I was rewarded with a sharp snap! and then a multitude of cracklings.

In the space of one new heartbeat, I was free.

My arms sprawled out and I clawed at the gag on my face, ripping it away. I spat out the bitter-tasting mess in my mouth. Propped on one arm, I rested, listening to the sound of my breathing. Then I pulled the blindfold away from my eyes.

But still I could not see.

My eyes roamed around the blackness, seeking some hint of light, some detail, but the dark, like the chill, musty air, was all-encompassing.

More questions crowded my head: Who has done this to me? Why? Where am I? Fighting a rising panic, I reached down and grabbed the cords binding my ankles and tore them in two. Then with shaking hands I explored my invisible environment. Beneath me there was a hard, cold surface covered in grit and dirt, but above me I could feel nothing, except perhaps a stray wisp of a cobweb drifting against my fingertips.

My throat felt dry and tight as I tried to call out into the dark. I made a small croak, hardly a noise at all. Swallowing hard, I tried again: ‘Help!’ And again: ‘Help!’ And again: ‘HELP!’

Each cry sounded dull and smothered. I felt sure there was no-one to hear me. I knew I was entirely alone.

I collapsed back into the dust – and my elbow struck something, something which made a metallic sound. I scrabbled for it, clutched at it and realised at once what I’d found. It was a candlestick – and there was a candle in it.

I could have light!

If there were matches.

I hunted around in the dirt with my fingers until they brushed against something else, something small that rattled. I snatched it up. Clumsily, almost feverishly, I fumbled open the box. I felt the matches tumbling from it, but caught one – two – and attempted to scratch them into light on the cold, damp surface below me. It seemed to take an age, but at last they flared up.

I flinched as my eyes reacted with shock to the sudden flame. Blinking, trembling, I raised the matches to the candle-wick. I could hardly control the shaking of my hand as I saw the fire burn down the wood, turning blue, ready to burn my fingers, or go out, as I concentrated on bringing the flame to the candle. It was as if my body and my mind were out of kilter, awkward through lack of use. But the feeble, last blue glow along the thinning charcoal was just sufficient, and as I dropped the matches, the candle took hold.

The intense darkness now gave way to light and I was able to look about me.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Bertie in trouble

The opening colour (sort of) spread of The Strand December 1927 issue. A new Jeeves story by P G Wodehouse would have been worth holding back for the Christmas number. In the illustration it looks like Berie Wooster's been nabbed by The Hood from Thunderbirds.

Weird Wednesday

OK, this is the last time I'm going to do this, I promise, but I just love these two illustrators so much, I couldn't resist. The Poe tale this time, of course, is The Premature Burial. Harry Clarke's version (above) is as strikingly, creepily gothic as always but Rackham's more abstract take on the subject (top) is more imaginative and perhaps even more striking - and would look good on a T-shirt, too.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Monstrous Monday

I enjoyed my Rackham-Clarke face-off so much on Weird Wednesday that I've decided to do it again on Monstrous Monday. Here we have pretty much the same scene from Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue, with the killer ape on a razor-wielding rampage. Personally, I think Clarke (above) wins out here - Rackham's (top) is a bit too straightforward, but I do like the fact his ape looks like King Louie on a crazed cocaine binge. 'Oo oo oo - I just wanna slice into you you you!'

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Maracot Deep x 2

Two more illustrations from Conan Doyle's Atlantean adventure novel The Maracot Deep, serialised in The Strand in 1927-28. In the first a lobster monster clamps down on the diving bell and in the second an Atlantean lady bobs up to the surface in a big glass aqualung-type thang.

Spooky Sunday

My article for issue 51 of Paranormal Magazine on weird apparitions developed a theme of deformed or grotesque human shapes, before shifting to strange animal forms. Here is a short extract:

Sometimes only parts of the body are seen. The Well of the Phantom Hand on the eastern shore of Loch Ness, for example, is named after the hand of gigantic proportions that is said to reach out and startle people gathering water there. This odd phenomenon has been reported for the past 200 years.

Regular readers may recall the letter in issue 48 from a Mr Patel about a disturbing haunting in his shop, which included a spooky eye that would peer at his family from various parts of the building. His wife saw it watching her through a crack in the door and his son saw it peeping through a hole in the garden fence. Mr Patel wrote: ‘Things reached fever pitch when I was at the kitchen stove one lunchtime and I noticed from a knot-hole in the floorboards a human eye watching me, so I took a kettle of boiling water from the stove and poured it through the hole, but the eye was back several minutes later.’

Remarkably, this is not a unique experience. In 1958, Mrs Violet Nicholls of Pattingham, near Wolverhampton, found her five-year-old son staring at a large knot-hole in the floorboards in his bedroom. Peering back at him was ‘a pale blue, unmistakably human eye’. According to Peter Moss, in his Ghosts Over Britain (1977), the eye ‘at first seemed to be frightened and then cautiously watchful’ as it ‘glared unblinkingly upwards’. It moved about as if trapped in the confines of the knot-hole then, after five or ten minutes it faded away never to be seen again.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Saturday Matinee

This is fantastic, I think. Presumably intended for a cinema lobby, a massive poster for Forbidden Planet, showing Robby the Robot in the alien landscape together with the flying saucer and the Id Monster. Without words or sells of any kind - brilliant. And it makes a great desktop pattern.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Found Friday

I love this bookmark. It dropped out of a second-hand paperback I bought last year. Intended to promote book tokens, the artwork is wonderfully 70s - dig that kipper tie and those zooming stars. It's all very Look-in. It's also just the right size to fit inside a Penguin book or similar sized paperback.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Maracot Deep

Colourful front cover to the October 1927 edition of The Strand Magazine plugging the first instalment of Conan Doyle's The Maracot Deep. Another Atlantis story - there were a few of these in The Strand in the twenties for some reason - and not a patch on The Lost World. There's bound to be a few good illos from it, though.

Wordy Thursday - Roundabout

When I found myself back in the 9-5 in 2004, I had a go at chanelling my disgruntled feelings into a kind of monologue that I hoped might become a short novella... one equally pissed off bloke's thoughts as he leaves his suburban home and the wife he doesn't love anymore to make the commute to a job he hates. Cheerful, huh? Yet another of my stalled projects (is that a pun?). Maybe it was just too depressing. Here is a brief extract.

And now we come to the roundabout. And roundabout … and roundabout … and roundabout we go.

Or rather we don’t go.

We ease to a nudging, begrudging half-stop. Indicators click impatient. And we wait and crane our necks and mutter at the free-flowing cars from the bypass just as the lower orders have always cursed those in the privileged classes above them.
I wonder what pattern we make from space? Five lanes, a star from space. A pentagram of waiting frustration. How many such pentagrams are there, now, at 8.42 am? How many worldwide at their designated herding times? Perhaps we create one vast pattern, an interlacing smoky grey of tarmacked Nazca lines across the face of the globe.

Perhaps it is part of The Control. Are we, all of us commuters, part of the same mass cosmic plan? Have the hidden mystics who really control the world brought us to this halt through centuries of training? The trap of commerce and industry, wage structures, loans and mortgages … have forced us all into being part of this design, this cabbalistic web of pentacles across the northern hemisphere, which, at it reaches its mystic perfection, causes the Ancient Ones to sigh, cosmic-orgasmic.

At this precise second every morning evil harmonises and the demons the wizards serve are satisfied, the spell impels them to grant again their power, luxury and vice to the controlling few. And we, the unwitting slaves of the mystics, blink our indicators and rev our engines and drum our fingertips in an unconscious tattoo, a primordial rhythm to placate the Beast.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Just the thing for sore throats

Well, for the past week I've been suffering from a sore throat and a really bad cough and I've found nothing that will soothe or shift it. And all the time the answer was obvious - I should have taken up smoking! These Craven As were made specially to prevent sore throats, apparently. I must rush out and buy a box at once - if I'm quick I'll also get this handy quill and ink set so I can write out my will at the same time. (From the December 1927 Strand Magazine).

Weird Wednesday

Interesting to see how two highly regarded illustrators both approached the same subject. In this case we have Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) and Harry Clarke (1889-1931) both illustrating the moment when The Red Death arrives at the ball in Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. Rackham (top) is the more famous illustrator but has Clarke tackled the subject with more elan? Does his version have more of a suitably Gothic atmosphere? But does Rackham's have more impact? Which is the most effective? There's only one way to find out... you decide!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Roaring twenties

This rather handsome advert for Douglas motorcycles appeared on the back of the May 1927 edition of The Strand Magazine. I don't think I'd heard of Douglas bikes before but fins on t'internet that they were an important British manufacturer during the First World War; were the inventors of the disc brake; and pioneered the production of dirt-track bikes. How many of their customers rode them wearing kilts is another question - actually the chap seems to be putting the Vs up to anyone who'd dare ask.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Monstrous Monday

Been working on an article about the bestest or worstest (depending on your point of view) monster of them all - the Devil. An expert on witchcraft and the like, Dr Leo Ruickbie, has written a two-part article on the history of the Devil for Paranormal Magazine. Excuse for me to scan some devilish imagery. Here's a couple of the old tempter at work: whispering into the ear of the Antichrist (detail from the famous Orvieto fresco by Signorelli, 1499-1504); acting rather like a second-hand car salesman in a 15th century Flemish 'Temptation of Christ'; and having a cosy 'Why not? You might as well' type chat with a peasant in a 13th century Bible.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Spooky Sunday

In the current issue of Paranormal Magazine there is an article by Richard Freeman on particularly weird ghosts. I'm going to have a crack at coming up with a similar selection in the next issue. First port of call for me is the works of the Rev Edmund Jones, known as 'The Old Prophet', who lived in South Wales in Georgian times. He claimed to have seen fairies as well as ghosts and believed that to deny the existence of such supernatural entities was the first step towards disbelieving in God.

In his books An Account of the Parish of Aberystruth (1779) and the following year's Apparitions of Spirits in the County of Monmouth &c, as well as a later unpublished manuscript residing in the National Library of Wales, Jones recounts a number of stories by his congregation and neighbours of encounters with a number of, frequently very bizarre, spooks. They make up the strangest body of ghost stories from Wales and yet are among the best attested, in that Jones is able to give precise information regarding locations, dates and biographical details of the experiencers, who were all known to him (and, of course, whose truthfulness was always above question!).

Among the spooks described are apparitions of bestial beings crawling on all fours, or on their hands or turning over and over 'topsy-turvy' fashion; incredibly tall or massive figures; half-formed silhouettes of people; shapeless things and floating black 'bowls' (balls). Perhaps the strangest - and the one I will be using in my article - is the follwing account from a farm in in the parish of Trevethin, near Pontypool. I quote from my Haunted Wales (2005). Watch out at a later date for the illustration, which will be by my friend Jonathan Edwards.

[A milkmaid] saw it loitering by a holly tree one evening as she went to milk the cows. It was approximately the shape of a man but ‘very big in the middle and narrow at both ends’ and when the girl’s dog approached it, it shot out a long, black tongue, scaring it away. With a heavy, earth-shaking tread, the monster marched off in the direction of a well suspiciously named Ffynnon yr Yspryd (Well of the Ghost), where it disappeared.

Devil's Dictionary

KLEPTOMANIAC: A rich thief.

SUCCESS: The one unpardonable sin against one's fellows.

Ambrose Bierce
What with picking away at my unpublished novel prior to sending it out to agents and coughing my guts out in between thanks to this hideous virus I've caught, I forgot to add the Devil's Dictionary quote last night. Here then, are the final two pithy definitions, fro today and yesterday - two of my favourites. Tomorrow I'll start posting something different.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Saturday Matinee

I liked the look of this film but had never heard of it before. With good reason, accoriding to the reviewer on IMDB. It's crap. Written by 50s sci-fi/monster movie superemo Curt Siodmak, it is also directed by him and it would seem he did a rotten job. Although it's filmed on location in Brazil, the effects are rubbish and the actors more wooden than the rainforest.

I'm intrigued, though, that it it appears to be based on a genuine crytozoological mystery. Richard Freeman wrote about weird beasts of Brazil in Paranormal Magazine issue 43 and mentions the Mapinguari, which the local people describe as being a huge furry critter with long curving claws, an armoured hide and a loud roar. Its footprints appear to point backwards, they say. Oddly enough it's this latter detail that makes it more convincing as real rather than imaginary, because fossil footprints of the giant sloth (mylodon) do look as if they're facing the wrong way, and Mapinguari does sound very like a mylodon, an animal that was prevalent in South America thousands of years ago. The giant sloth also had knobs of bone under its skin, which would serve as a kind of chain armour.

Does a species of the animal still survive in the depths of the Amazon Rainforest? Who knows. But at any rate, 'Curucu' sounds very like the Mapinguari and one can only assume that somehow Siodmak had heard of it. The film was made in 1956 and isn't available on video/DVD.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Devil's Dictionary

ERUDITION: Dust shaken out of a book into an empty skull.
Ambrose Bierce

Found Friday

Been chatting to my chum Rich Owen quite a bit recently. He's an editor with Future Publishing down in Bath. In light of this I rummaged out again the notebook I used to start Found Friday, which featured quick sketches by Jonathan, Darryl etc. Well, Richard doodled in it too, back in 94, and this is the result. I have no idea what 'plap' means.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Devil's Dictionary

OPTIMIST: A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.

Ambrose Bierce

Wordy Thursday. 'Annabelle: A Sensational Novelette'

The final module of the MA in Creative Writing course I followed at Chester University was one Victorian Sensation Fiction - ie, like so much of the course, bugger all to do with creative writing, rather than the history of English literature. Just two students attended the classes, myself and a girl who also felt sorry for the very nice lecturer on to whom it had been dumped. She asked us to write something short in the Sensational style, which naturally opens itself up to having the piss taken out of it. I enjoyed writing this, obvious a joke though it may be.

Despite the trembling of her fingers, Virginia succeeded in turning the key silently in its lock. She leant her cheek against the door’s rough green baize in an attitude of listening, although she had no expectation of eavesdropping on murmured conversation, nor of discerning soft cries of passion through such a substantial barrier. That her husband was not alone, however, she knew. Annabelle was with him. Annabelle: still no more corporeal than a name, whispered in sleep, yet the fount of all Virginia’s fears, an invisible well-spring that had been steadily undermining the foundations of her marriage this long year past. Today – this minute – Annabelle would be exposed. She would become flesh.

For a moment of quavering uncertainty, Virginia seemed to flutter against the door, like a moth against a windowpane, desperate to reach the illuminating flame that would serve only to destroy it. She whispered a prayer, steeled herself and then, with the instrument of her pale, fragile shoulder, forced open the door in one decisive movement.

At last she had penetrated Archibald’s inner sanctum, his secret world. At first all her fevered senses could discern of it was a blur of candlelight glimmering on mahogany and costly ornaments, enriching the shades of damask upholstery and bed curtains. Her eyes came to focus on Archibald, upright and indignant in the centre of the room. Then she saw, standing beside him, Annabelle. The reality of her husband’s lover was so contrary to any expectation she had conceived that she was almost robbed of the power of speech.

‘I thought…’ but she was unable to express what she thought. It was left to Archibald, recovering from his surprise more smoothly, to do so on her behalf.

‘I know what you thought, my dear,’ he said. ‘You thought I had a mistress. Well, you were not mistaken. This is my mistress. This is Annabelle.’

‘Your mistress?’ Virginia choked out. ‘A mistress I could have borne. But not this… this apparition.’

She could find no other word to describe the parody of a woman now flouted before her. There was rouge, yes, and scarlet lip-gloss; an auburn wig; a selection of fine woman’s undergarments: a pink silk slip, suspenders, a rakish garter. But it was not a woman who wore these becoming attributes of a woman. It was not a woman who regarded her across the chamber, blinking shyly as if waiting to be fawned upon by the outraged wife rather than reviled by her.

Virginia wished to scream, to rage her disgust at this simpering creature, but her horror stifled her. Covering her eyes, she staggered back and her bustle collided with a delicate marquetry table, unbalancing an Oriental vase. The ornament shattered in an explosion of eggshell china. The shock of the crash released Virginia’s pent-up emotion and she began to wail her torment.

Annabelle, too, became distressed and Archibald hastened to calm his mistress, rather than his wife. He fell on one knee and patted Annabelle’s neck, dislodging her wig.

‘There, there, my little one,’ he crooned. ‘It’s just my wife; my horrible, noisy wife.’

Annabelle drummed her hooves in panic and a cascade of pellets pattered onto the carpet. At the sight of this, Virginia collapsed in a faint among the fragments of the vase. In the ensuing peace, Annabelle grew calmer and allowed herself to be comforted by her fond patron. Ruminatively, she began to chew her wig.