Part of the Landscape

May 6, 2009 by
Filed under: News, Stories 

gibsonsquareBill Hussey, Joseph D’Lacey and I have put together a chapbook for the Horror Reanimated Tour taking place this May to celebrate the release of Bill and Joseph’s new horror novels.

The chapbook features a piece of fiction from each of us, and is called Echoes. It will hopefully be the first of several we publish as Horror Reanimated.

My story is called Part of the Landscape, and is more of a novellette than a short story, coming in at just over 10, 500 words. The story is based on my walk to work, back when I lived in Islington in central London.

Walking from my flat in Devonia Road just off Upper Street, N1, and then Richmond Avenue off Liverpool Road all the way to Charlotte Road in Shoreditch, my route took me via Gibson Square, back streets, the Packington housing estate, over the Regents canal and across a main road or two. A bog-standard 30 minute route, one that I varied regularly over the couple of years I walked the route as per my moods and the weather, as one route was a few minutes shorter than the other.

pack11These walks gave me an hour a day to lose myself and I would find I was almost walking without thinking, suddenly snapping into focus, becoming aware that I was nearly at work as I turned into Charlotte Road, EC2.

But I did notice things during that ‘lost time’: almost without fail, whatever the weather, old men sitting on benches on Murray Grove. And it got to the stage where I wanted to say morning to them, but I never did, mainly out of their apparent disinterest in me. They looked busy, lost in their own thoughts, and I didn’t want to disrupt this state.I noticed the rubbish and the decay, the graffitti and the animals snaffling out an existence in the urban grey. And I saw these animals, dogs, cats, foxes, pigeons in the same place at the same time, following their own rhythms and their own paths.

Time permitting, at lunch, I would walk for a few minutes to clear my head of work-stuff, always pausing at a burnt out factory that sat across from my office, on Great Eastern Street. The most interesting aspect of this place, for me, was the basement area that’s been boarded up and allowed to grow wild over the time I worked there (about 9 years). You could pop your head through a gap in the boards and get a glimpse of a tree, and undergrowth and loads of rubbish that had collected in layers. You can still see this factory, just wander along Great Eastern Street. I’ve always wondered why nobody’s bought the land and built yet another office block. But, I have to say, I like it just the way it is.

img_2652A couple of years later, now living in Surrey, I was walking back from the train station, down a path I call ‘Squirrel Lane’ as it’s one of those paths where the trees meet in an arch overhead and bushes surround you on both sides, allowing the inhabitants of the green to scamper up and down and all around you. It was dark, about 9pm, and the bushes rustled as I walked by; there was a growling and as I stepped back a little, something barked at me almost lunging from the darkness of the bushes. But it wasn’t a fox, it was a man, sitting hidden towards the back of the foliage, barking and laughing and growling at me. It sounds plain weird, but this is a true story. And it got me thinking about why he chose to ‘communicate’ with me; about those old men, the ageing, decaying buildings , the routes animals and humans take, and the influence we have on them, and they upon us, as the 9-to-5 grind goes on around them; and so Part of the Landscape came together…

Here’s an excerpt from Part of the Landscape

City landscapes change quicker than any environment on earth, so walk to the end of this street and turn the corner; head south for five minutes and Howard entered a half-derelict estate. A blast of wind welcomed him, penetrating his clothes, skin, icing behind his eyeballs, settling in his bones.

Blocks of flats forced themselves upward, monstrous brick and beanstalks with black holes for windows; he couldn’t tell if there was glass in the frames, too high, the light gloomy this early autumn morning. On a balcony halfway up, three high-rises away, a wind he could not feel blew someone’s washing dry with someone else’s dirt. Had a figure stepped back from a window, hole, up there?

A plastic carrier bag wafted into his view, moving swiftly at head-height, a substance dripping from the flapping edges. Again he felt no breeze. He stopped and watched the bag’s silent progress: miraculously it avoided obstruction and drifted into the distance. Perhaps someone would meet it headfirst as it flew around a corner, picking up pace, escaping the estate.

pack2He became aware of the estate’s acoustics, temperature. It was a raw place: the air turbulent but secretive; wind whistled around corners, bringing hip-hop music, at 7am?, on unseen currents that also carried tainted moisture from the nearby canal. A dull thud: somewhere close someone kicked over a half-full can of something. The thud was followed by a yelp, or was it a bark? Startled, he looked around, nobody about that he could see; on an estate like this the sound of a can being kicked was like a battle cry. He was sure curtains were twitching up and down the rows of windows that surrounded him. Was it the wind again, a wind inside buildings? Streetlamps winked off one-by-one as the morning grew. The buildings looked uncomfortable, embedded on gradually disintegrating foundations of mouldy brick. Litter scraped and crawled across the cracked concrete, pinning itself against pointless knee-high fences of thin wood protecting muddy, well-trodden verges and patches of thinning, unhealthy grass.

A muscular dog pissed against a wall, looked over, smiled, waddled off, claws skittering on the pavement like teeth. Steaming terrier urine puddled in a shallow hollow, not enough volume to reach a nearby drain. Howard wondered if the dog used the same place as a toilet every day, eroding both the wall and pavement. All those dogs; all that piss. There was a prodding at his ankles, he was forced to wade through a mound of fast food boxes. He hadn’t noticed them earlier; urban cardboard tumbleweed blown across the City, waiting for the next pedestrian to trip over them, then moving on. Their bright red and white packaging was a shock to his monotone-accustomed eyes; but it wouldn’t be long before the elements drained the colouring into the uneven pavement, like the entire estate, that dog’s piss. The whole City is bleaching into the ground. Fucking dump. He wouldn’t miss this City if it fell off the face of the planet, nor any of the people in it.

Through a doorway he glimpsed an ethereal figure flitting from right to left in the half-light, crouching at low-level, from one high-rise to another: a paperboy, perhaps. He quickened his pace and walked towards the little humpback bridge that traversed the canal, marking the end of the estate. He wanted to check over his shoulder, the squat figure’s twisted gait had unsettled him, but he wouldn’t let himself. His tired mind was working overtime in an attempt to avert apathy.

He passed several sorry benches on his approach to the canal. Of course they were unoccupied at this time of day, broken-backed and empty with a thick coating of graffiti, or bird shit, or both. Their emptiness seemed appropriate; this route was too quiet, eerie. At least there were people on his usual walk to work. Like that old man who sat on the bench; he was slightly more animated than the gaunt buildings in this part of the City, casting their heavy shadows that made Howard stoop unconsciously whenever he was out and about, but certainly less so than the streamers of rubbish that twisted in the wake of countless cars: paper, chicken bones, sticky messes curling and choking, cooking in exhaust fumes.

The water in the canal was heavily coated with an oily grey-white weed. A shopping trolley protruded from the mixture, the weed thick enough to prevent it sinking to the canal’s bed. Polystyrene chunks and several pieces of wood adhered to the crust like croutons. This City’s soup was sluggish, almost stagnant, rich in flavour and odour. The surface undulated imperceptibly. Howard waited for a minute or so, but nothing broke through the weed.

He wouldn’t come this way again.


Part of the Landscape is currently only available in Horror Reanimated 1: Echoes, limited to 200 illustrated, signed copies.


One Comment on Part of the Landscape

  1. themadblonde on Wed, 6th May 2009 7:14 pm
  2. awww. you make it sound so purty. 😉

Tell me what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!