The night was the colour of a raven’s wing. Soft, insistent drizzle fell gently from the cloud-covered sky. While the world slept, while Alison Fenway twitched dreaming in the arms of her lover, two figures walked slowly out of Sterning Wood and onto the Beulah Minnis. A lone, furtive badger fled from their approach, smelling on the night air something it recognised and feared. The stench of modernity, of complex hydro-carbons poised between stasis and chaos, sloshing inside a metal can, accompanied these two as they walked, silent, but not unnoticed. A barn owl rose pale and ghostly from a low tangle of bracken and field maple, dropping the struggling shrew from its talons as the strange, noxious smell attacked its nostrils and spoke of that other earth, beyond the Minnis, on the plain. The racket of its wings beat up a vixen, crouched low and silent behind a thicket of wild marjoram, fighting to decode the night’s blackness with its twitching nose, listening for the tell-tale thump of a buck rabbit trying to warn the warren or the measured rattle of a wakeful pheasant.
The animal bolted, brush erect, dashing beneath the bracken, fleeing this foreign stink and the unwelcome presence of the intruders. They moved on, across the deserted common, passing the still, dark shape of Crabtree Lodge where every light was out, where mother and child slept in the same small room. Sara Harrison lay dreamless in an ancient double bed, with an ornate metal frame and soft, down mattress where, almost a year before, the beloved infant was first conceived in a short, passionless, frenzy of physicality. Jamie twitched and turned in a wicker Moses basket by the bedside, dreaming dreams more inchoate than any that had previously entered his head, seeing images and faces he could not begin to understand, sensing, on the chill early summer air that blew in through the cottage’s patchy tiling, the same foreign scent that had dispatched the fox across the Minnis, sent the owl scuttering for the invisible moon, its talons bare save for the worthless stain of animal blood. The child awoke, screaming, incessantly, a cry that brought his mother back into the world, hushing and tutting, offering her breast through the open-fronted gown, wondering at the suddenness of his urgent, terrified squeal, wondering too why he pushed the breast away, became calm, then fell asleep almost as soon as she was there.
The figures and their stench moved on. Past the Tyler’s house, past the empty, neatly tended pitch. Here there were more houses, more people, but these were adults, their senses flattened, coarsened over the years. No-one heard the velvet footsteps on the grass, no-one noticed the alien reek they carried with them into Beulah’s universe, not until it had transformed itself, sought another state of chaos, and by then it was too late. The transgression, the rape of Beulah’s sanctity, had begun.
Fresh, white paint caught the stench of the incomers, recognised some familiarity there. And, with an aching, final inevitability, the two conjoined, atom upon atom, molecule upon molecule, married in a metamorphosing heat.
Alison Fenway awoke, screaming, leaping out of her lover’s arms. Her head was full of fire, the fire of Burning Man, a blazing, angry fire that consumed and transformed everything in its path.
Thirty minutes later, while she was still disconsolate, for all the comfort he could offer, the phone rang. Justin Liddle, white-faced, confused, reached for his uniform.
(c) David Hewson 2012