Christmas Takeover 22: Michael Bray: With These Hands

With These Hands

A Story by Michael Bray
5,788 words

Helen was dead.

Brixton felt the scream coming from deep in his core and unleashed it into the warm December Tobago night. He had been thrown clear of the car when it had rolled and escaped with a few cuts to his hands and face. Some might call it a miracle until they saw the pulpy mess that still sat in the passenger seat of the mangled Mercedes. He struggled to believe that the lifeless pulped meat was once his wife. A woman he had loved, a woman who he had shown his innermost self, the one normally hidden away from people he knew. He sat in the road, vaguely aware of the growing crowds, locals mostly, their rusty, old-fashioned cars abandoned as they surveyed the scene. It was a clear night, and glass shimmered on the ground, miniature diamonds of artificial light surrounding his dead wife and the remains of their hire car. He stood up, unable to believe the contrast in their fortunes and hating the bitter cruelty of the trick God had played on them. Christmas abroad, a way to repair the fractured foundations of the relationship. He looked into the car, blonde hair split, brains exposed to the humid night, and was dimly aware there would be none of that. No bickering, no compromises to find common ground. She was now a shell, a lifeless thing made of flesh. A puppet without strings, a marionette without its master. Everything that she had been was now gone. He clenched his fists, looked up into the cloudless star littered sky and screamed again.

“What happened?”

Brixton looked across the table, locking eyes with the police officer. His name was Peters, and he was a large man, narrow sloping shoulders giving him an apish appearance. His skin was dark, eyes curious and unsympathetic. Brixton glanced at the man’s hands and the gold wedding ring on his finger. He, at least, would go home to someone at the end of his shift. For him, it would be business as usual.

“Mr Brixton?” Peters repeated

He blinked, and tried to focus his attention on the officer and his questions. There was a noise, an annoying buzzing irritating him. He glanced at the strip light overhead, the foggy ghosts of long dead flies inhabiting its outer casing. “We were on holiday,” he croaked, forcing his attention back to the officer. “Christmas in the sun. We thought it would be good to leave the cold of home behind.”

“We recovered your passports from the car. You’re English?”

Brixton nodded.

“Mr Brixton, I need you to verbally respond for the benefit of the recording.”

He glanced at the tape recorder on the table, then at the Peters, who was unreadable. “Yes, sorry. We – I’m from England. Both of us are. Were. This is so hard.”

“I understand how difficult this is, but I need to know what happened, Mr Brixton.”

“I know you do. I’m trying.”

It wasn’t the answer expected of him, but it was the best he could manage. He knew that he would have to discuss it, and as much as he was desperate to put it off, knew it would only work for a while.

“We were arguing,” he said, placing his hands flat on the table, marvelling again that the few grazes and scratches were his only injuries from the crash.

“Go on,” Peters said, shifting position.

“We’d been out for a meal on the other side of the island. We’d been having problems at home, and this was supposed to be us getting back on track. Funny thing is, she didn’t even want to come here. She wanted to stay closer to home, go to the coast maybe. It’s all-“

“Mr Brixton.”

Brixton stopped speaking and stared at Peters, trying to make him understand how difficult it was for him. “Sorry, I’m getting side-tracked.”

“I understand. Please, tell me what happened with the accident.”

Brixton cleared his throat, and then stared at his hands. Unable to handle looking at how little pain he suffered from the crash, he moved them under the table out of sight. “We were arguing. I get jealous, paranoid sometimes. Anyway, I thought she had been having an affair with a guy she knows at work. That was why we came out here. A last ditch attempt to fix things. Anyway, I was sure she had been looking at this guy in the restaurant. I lost it and we were asked to leave.”

“Which restaurant?”

“I can’t remember the name. Does it matter?”

“We need to know. For the investigation.”

“I wasn’t drinking if that’s what you wanted to check. I didn’t have a drop.”

“We know. We tested you at the crash site. Do you not remember?”

Brixton frowned and looked at the table top. “Of course. Sorry, I forgot.”

“We can get the details of the location later. What I want to know is what happened that caused you to crash.” The officer said, still calm and patient.

“We had argued in the restaurant about her looking at this guy. We were asked to leave, and the argument continued in the car on the way back to the hotel. It got heated. She was screaming at me, I was screaming at her. I suppose I must have been speeding. Maybe because I was angry. Anyway, I lost control of the car on a bend. It happened too fast for me to react. I felt it start to flip over, then…nothing. Next thing I remember I was lying in the dirt surrounded by people.”

“Is there anything else you can tell me?”

“I don’t know what else I’m expected to say,” Brixton muttered. “Will I go to jail?”

Peters shook his head. “No. You were sober, of sound mind to drive. This looks like nothing but a tragic accident. You are free to go Mr Brixton.”

Brixton made no effort to move. He stared at Peters, trying to force out the words.

“Was there something else?”

“Can I see her?”

For the first time, Peters looked uncomfortable. He shifted position and looked at the clock on the wall. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Mr Brixton.”

“Please, I just… I need to see her.”

“Don’t put yourself through it. Perhaps it would be better to remember your wife the way she was?”

“I can’t,” he choked on the words, and felt the hot sting of tears. “Whenever I think about her, all I can see is her sitting the wreck, all broken. That’s not her.”

“Mr Brixton-”

“I can’t remember her. Don’t you understand what I’m saying? I don’t remember what she looks like.” He wiped the palms of his hands under his eyes and stared at Peters.

“I understand, Mr Brixton. But trust me when I tell you I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s better for you to remember your wife as she was in life, not in death.”

“Are you saying I can’t see her?”

“Legally I can’t stop you, Mr Brixton. All I can do is offer advice. Will you please get some rest first? Go to the mortuary tomorrow? Much better to do such things with a clear head.”

Brixton considered for a moment, turning his attention inward. He was exhausted. The problem was, he couldn’t imagine where sleep might come from. “Okay,” he said, slumping in his seat. “I’ll go tomorrow.”

“Good idea. Would you like me to have someone take you to your hotel?”

Brixton shook his head. “No, I’ll walk for a while then get a taxi.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes. I’m sure. Can I go now?” Brixton said. He couldn’t breathe, was too hot, and didn’t enjoy being so close to Peters. He hated the shifty way his eyes moved like he was always looking for a lie.

“Go ahead, Mr Brixton. We will need to speak with you again before you leave. Are you happy for me to hold on to your passport until we speak again?”

Brixton was hardly listening. He was only concerned with getting out of that tiny room. “That’s fine. I’m here for another two weeks anyway, or at least, I was supposed to be. I don’t know what will happen now, or where I’ll go.”

“It takes time, Mr Brixton. Horrible things like this do get better. I know it’s a cliché, but it is true. Go get some rest.”

Brixton was hardly aware of anything as he was led out of the police station. He stood outside on the pavement, the harsh white glow of the lights inside at his back throwing his shadow into a waif-like skeleton across the road ahead of him. It was a warm sticky night, and even though it was late, people still went about their business. People whose lives hadn’t been destroyed in one crazy incident. He started to walk, aimless and without purpose. Staring at his feet and trying to untangle the knots in his brain. He didn’t return to his hotel but found himself on the beach staring at the pale white moon and listening to the gentle lap of the ocean on sand. It should have been beautiful, but for him, such things would always be associated with horror.

He didn’t remember moving, but when he next became aware of his surroundings he was standing outside a low yellow building with cracked and peeling paint. A tired door with a grubby window pane between him and the dark and shadow-shrouded space beyond. He stared at it, the ghost of his reflection staring back at him with just as little idea about what to do or where he was.

“Are you all right?”

Brixton blinked and looked at the boy beside him. He was in his mid-teens, dark skinned and skinny. He had kind eyes and an old faded scar on his right cheek.

“I’m fine,” Brixton said or thought. He still wasn’t sure.

“The mortuary is closed, sir.”

“I know.”

Brixton sensed the boy’s confusion and felt obliged to elaborate. “My wife is in there.”

“From the crash earlier?”

Brixton looked at the boy. His gaze was met without fear.

“Yes. How did you know about that?”

“Everyone knows, sir. This is a small island. Also, my father owns this business. He attended the accident earlier.”

“What’s your name kid?”

“My name is Kendon, sir. Can I ask you why you are standing out here at night? I thought you were a robber, not that there is anything to steal inside.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not here to rob anything. It’s just… This is the only place I feel close to her. I just wish I could tell her how sorry I am. How much I regret being so paranoid and causing the crash.”

“Guilt is not an easy thing to live with.”

Brixton looked at the boy. He seemed too young to deliver such a statement. “Not much I can do about it now.”

“What if I said I could help you?”

Despite the stifling heat, a chill swelled inside Brixton. He stared at Kendon, who was looking right back at him.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you have money?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Just answer,” Kendon said.

“I do.”

Kendon nodded. “Bring five hundred American dollars here tomorrow night. Midnight.”

“Now it sounds like you’re trying to rob me.”

Kendon shrugged. “I’m not. I’m trying to help you.”

“Five hundred American is what, three grand over here?”

“That’s the price. If you want my help, that’s what it will cost.” Kenyon was flat and calm as he said it.

“To do what?” Brixton said, wondering why he was still even having the conversation.

“You will find out if you come back. It’s up to you.”

“Midnight tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Kendon repeated. “Bring the money and I will help you.”

There were questions that Brixton wanted to ask, but before he could, Kendon slinked away into the night, gone like some kind of apparition.

There was no sleep. He had sat in his hotel room, surrounded by Helen’s things, constant reminders that she was gone. The lipstick on the dresser would never be used again. The new clothes she had bought for the holiday which were still in her suitcase would never be worn. Brixton had sat on the bed, watching night fade into day, and then back to night. He made the decision that he would meet Kendon sometime before dawn. The money didn’t matter to him, nothing mattered to him. Already Helen was fading from his memory, she was becoming distant, a ghost from his past. Whenever he tried to think of her, all he could see was the bloody mop of blonde hair slumped in the passenger seat of their mangled rental car. He reached the mortuary just before midnight. As it had been the previous night, it was shrouded in darkness. A flicker of something in his belly, nervousness, or maybe even fear almost deterred him and caused him to turn back when Kendon appeared from the side of the building.

“Did you bring the money?” he asked, looking beyond Brixton towards the street. Unlike the previous calm demeanour, Kendon was tense and appeared nervous.

“I did.” Brixton pulled the bundle of notes from the oversized pocket of his shorts and handed them over. Kendon counted it, then shoved the notes into his own pocket.

“Wait here,” He said, then moved back into the shadows behind the building.

Brixton waited, dimly aware that if this had been some kind of scam, he had fallen for it. He was psyching himself up to follow Kendon into the shadowy darkness beyond the building when he reappeared.

“Come on. This way,” he said, then retreated into the dark. Brixton looked back at the streets, and then followed Kendon into the dark. He followed the teenager down the alleyway, past dumpsters piled high with garbage. They came to a recessed door at the rear of the building. Kendon knocked on it and waited. The door opened, spilling a dim yellow light out into the alley. A man came out, tall and slender, and obviously some kind of relation to Kendon.

“This is my brother, Richard,” Kendon said.

Brixton held out a hand, but Richard kept his own in his pockets. He looked at the offered appendage then turned to his brother. “Come on, inside.”

Brixton followed the two brothers into the back door of the mortuary. As it was closed and locked behind him, he wondered if he had just made a huge mistake.

The back of the mortuary was a workspace office. A dull yellow lamp cast an eerie glow around the room. In one corner, an old wood desk, its surface pitted and stained from years of use, held a computer, its screen dark. In the opposite corner, a Christmas tree laden with lights and tinsel which seemed out of place in such a building devoted to death. Separated from the front of the building by a heavy cloth curtain, the back office was also the functional area of the mortuary. A row of rectangular drawers was set against one wall, a familiar sight to anyone who has ever watched a police television drama. In the middle of the room sat a stainless steel table, its bed recessed, a drainage hole at its foot leading down into the floor. Brixton stared at it, then at the two men.

“Take a seat,” Richard said, pointing to the desk in the corner.

Brixton did as he was told, his legs feeling heavy. Richard took a small stool and set it in front of him. Brixton noticed that he was wearing gloves, which he found strange considering the heat.

Richard sat down, his face a flickering mass of shadows in the dim light. “My brother tells me you recently lost your wife.”

“Yes,” Brixton said.

“He also said you had certain regrets. Things you wished to communicate to the deceased but were unable to in life.”

Brixton nodded, his eyes drawn to the gloves on Richards’ hands. Everything else in the room seemed to fit apart from those. They had no place there.

“I can help you achieve this. I can pass on those messages.”

Brixton sighed. “Look, no offence, but if you’re some kind of spiritualist, you can forget it and give me my money back. This isn’t what I had in mind.”

“No this is nothing like that.”

There was a calm assurance about Richard that made him willing to listen for a little longer.

“So what is it?”

Richard leaned closer, banishing some of the shadows from his face. “I have a gift. A real gift. Something that has been passed down through my family.”

“What kind of gift?” Brixton asked, unable to ignore the change in atmosphere within the room.

Richard said nothing. He removed his gloves and held his palms up to Brixton. “I can communicate with the dead by touch.”

Brixton stood. “I’ve heard enough. People like you should know better than to prey on people who are grieving. It’s sick.”

Richard seemed unaffected. He didn’t argue or try to fight. “Please, sit down. I understand belief isn’t something you can take on faith. A demonstration perhaps.”

Brixton sat down, still angry but also curious. “What kind of demonstration?”

“A question. Something specific. Something only your wife would know the answer to. If I could get the answer to such a question, perhaps then you would believe in my gift.”

“All right, I’ll play along,” Brixton said.

There were a lot of things he wanted to ask her. Things that still nibbled away at him. Questions like if she had really had an affair if she had been unfaithful to him. For the purpose of this, he wanted to think of something trivial. Something minor. He knew all about mediums and the way they would cold read their targets. Although he wasn’t certain it was the same scam, he wanted to be sure. Something came to him, something that nobody else in that room other than him could know.

“All right,” Brixton said. “As a test. During our flight over here, something happened on the plane. What was it?”

Richard nodded and got off the stool. He seemed different somehow. Taller, longer. He walked to the drawers at the back wall. Brixton knew what they contained. He knew his wife was in one of them. Richard stopped beside one of them and stood, hands folded in front of him. “Come closer please,” he said.

Suddenly he wanted no part of it. He wanted nothing to do with whatever Richards’s gift may be, however, he was still curious enough to go along with things for now. He stood and crossed the room, his legs heavy yet feeling like they would give out at any time. He stood in front of Richard, the steel drawer between them.

“To do what I have to do, I need to put my hands on the body of the deceased. It will not be intrusive; I need only touch an arm. I need your permission to do so.”

“Why, I don’t understand what you’re saying to me.”

Richard spoke patiently, like a man who has had to explain this same procedure countless times before. “To connect the world of the living with the dead, it becomes necessary to form a physical bond. I am a conduit, a bridge between the two worlds. I channel this through my hands.”

“And you can ask them anything?” Brixton asked, unsure why he was so willing to believe such craziness.

“There are different levels. It depends on how willing the person is to divulge the information. A question such as yours can be answered by a simple touch. Some questions require a deeper reading, which is something, as a rule, I do not do. For your purposes, none of that will be necessary. I just need your permission to proceed.”

Brixton looked at the steel drawer in the wall that stood between them, then at Richard. His throat was dry. He glanced at the Christmas tree in the corner of the office, then looked away. He couldn’t bear to think about it just yet.

“Okay, you have my permission.”

Richard nodded. “I’m going to open the drawer now. Please do not be alarmed. I did the best I could to fix her after the crash.”

Brixton didn’t reply. He was staring at the drawer, dull steel reflecting the hazy reds and greens of the lights of the Christmas tree. Every sense was alive, every emotion fighting for dominance. He watched as Richard slid the drawer open, revealing the purple body bag beneath. Brixton drew breath. He couldn’t see her yet, but to know he was in such proximity to his dead wife made him feel nauseous. He closed his eyes and saw flashes of her bloody mangled face, which forced him to open them again. Richard had stepped away from the drawer. He was holding his hands up, palms out. It made Brixton think of a surgeon washing up before going to the operating theatre. Kendon moved in front of his brother and unzipped the top of the bag.

“Are you sure you are ready to see?” he asked, looking across at Brixton, who could muster up only enough energy to nod.

Kendon returned his attention back to the bag and pulled it back, resting the cloth just above the chest area of the body.

Brixton inhaled, then forgot to breathe out. He stared as the reality of the situation hit him. There were no mistakes, no confusion. His wife was dead.

Despite the horrors he had pictured in his head from the last time he had seen her in the wreck, Kendon and Richard had done an incredible job of presenting her as she was in life. She looked almost peaceful, eyes closed, skin pale. They had even managed to repair the ugly crack in her skull, and although it was still misshaped, she was still recognisable. The only major difference was her hair. It was brushed back away from her face and looked different. He was about to ask why then realised it was because they had washed it. Probably to get rid of the blood and brains.

“Are you ready to proceed?”

Brixton looked at Richard. Something in him had changed. He was physically the same, yet somehow seemed bigger, more intimidating. Brixton nodded.

Kendon moved out of his brother’s way and took his place beside Brixton. “Don’t worry, he knows what he’s doing.”

Brixton couldn’t answer even if he wanted to. He was both mesmerised and appalled, horrified and intrigued. The yin-yang of emotions screamed around his brain looking for an outlet he could not provide.

Richard stepped forward, hands still held out in front of him. “Tell me again your question.”

Brixton tried to speak, his dead tongue and dry mouth making such a simple thing difficult. “When we were flying out here to start our holiday, something happened on the plane. What was it?”

Richard stepped to the edge of the table. He put one hand on Helen’s forehead, the other on her shoulder, the contrast between the two skin tones something Brixton knew would never leave his memory. He watched as Richard closed his eyes and began to mouth words, his lips moving silently. Brixton looked at his wife. She was a shell, a thing on a table. As he looked at her, he found more new reasons to hate himself. He was about to call the whole thing off when Richard spoke.

“There was a man on the plane in the seats in front of you. He was a large man and was snoring. She says you were both laughing at him as it reminded you of her uncle.”

Until that point, Brixton didn’t believe any of it could be true, but as Richard said the words, he felt his body weaken from the feet up. His legs buckled, and he would have fallen if not for Kendon grabbing his arm and leading him to the office chair.

“It’s okay,” Kendon said as he helped him to sit. “This happens all the time. When people realise this isn’t a game.”

Brixton looked at Richard, then at his wife and finally at Kendon. “What do I do now?”

“My brother has made the connection. Now you speak. She will hear your words through him.”

He looked at the table again. His pale wife’s body unmoving, Richard with his hands on her, eyes closed and waiting. Now that the time had come, he couldn’t think of anything to say.

“You must do it quickly,” Kendon said. “The connection can’t be held for long. To do so will cause the spirit to return to the body permanently and be trapped forever.”

“I… I don’t know what to say.”

“Yes you do, or you wouldn’t be here. Tell her now what it was you wanted to say in death.”

Brixton cleared his throat, and then looked at her, pale face in profile from where he sat. “I’m sorry,” he said, eyes stinging. “I’m sorry for doubting you, I’m sorry for saying those things I said. I’m sorry for not telling you I loved you before you died. I’m sorry for being a bad husband. I want you to know I didn’t mean any of it.”

He waited and watched. Richard opened his eyes and looked at Brixton. “She says you shouldn’t feel bad about the accident. She says you are to go on with your life and remember how things were before everything changed. She says she is also sorry. She says there are things she should have told you. Things you ought to have known she wished she had said.”

“What things, what kind of things?” Brixton said.

He frowned, and shifted position, now placing a hand on each of her shoulders. “She said it doesn’t matter now. She loves you and that’s all that matters.”

“I want to know. Tell me what it is.” Brixton said, unable to control his anger. He watched as Richard moved again, this time pulling one of her arms out of the side of the bag. He lifted it to his face, smelling it, pressing his cheek against it. Brixton tried to stand, but Kendon put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. Both of them watched, waiting for the answer. Richard lowered her arm, opened his eyes and took his hands off her.

“It is done. Finished.”

“What do you mean finished? She didn’t answer my question?”

Richard went to the sink and started to wash his hands. “Trust me, Mr Brixton. Some things are better left unsaid. Sometimes, the secrets of the dead are better left that way.”

“What secrets? What did she tell you?” he was angry and upset as half-forgotten suspicions and accusations started to creep back into his mind.

Richard finished washing, and squirted some antibacterial gel on his hands, rubbing it into the skin. “Our time here is done Mr Brixton. I agreed to let you speak to your wife and tell her how you feel. It is not my place to get involved with other matters of your life.”

“But you know don’t you? You know?”

Richard once again pulled on his gloves. “I can relay only what they tell me. The dead bury their secrets deep. I am not one to go digging for them.”

“But you could?” Brixton said as Kendon returned to the body and sealed it back into its bag then closed the drawer.

“Please, say no more about it. We are done here.”

“She was hiding something. I’ve known it for a while, she denied it but… she wants me to know.”

“Anything your wife wanted you to know would have been said.”

“I’ll pay you. I have more money. Lots of it.”

“I don’t want your money. I just want you to leave.”

“You have no right to hold this back from me. She was my wife. I deserve to know. I-”

“Mr Brixton!”

The room fell silent as Richard approached. He crouched beside the office chair, eyes locked on Brixton, voice a low rumble. “You do not understand how this works. No idea what you’re talking about. Find out you say. You demand to know, you say. Do you know what that would entail?”

Brixton shook his head.

“I’ll tell you what it would entail. For many years, I worked for the government. They would bring me people, bad people, and it was my job to extract from them what they knew. They were unwilling to divulge this information even in death, so I would have to dig deep and extract that information. Do you want me to have to do that to your wife? To tear her apart and find out what you want to know? Do you want her to suffer again even in death?”

“No, of course not, I just…”

“Then let this go, Mr Brixton. There has already been enough pain and suffering. The past should remain so. You now need to concentrate on moving forward with your life. The gift I have with my hands can also be a curse. Sometimes not knowing is better.”

“I was just-”

“Please just go.”

Kendon put a hand on Brixton’s shoulder. “Come on, I’ll show you out.”

Brixton let himself be led out of the same door he came in, too dazed and confused to fight it.

Christmas didn’t apply to those in the death trade. For Kendon and his family, it meant working every day, including Christmas day. Kendon unlocked the door to the low yellow building and flicked on the lights. Rows of display coffins lined each wall, priced according to how luxurious they were. Kendon walked through the silent room of death beds and went through the curtain at the back of the building, almost falling over the Christmas tree, which was on its side. He grunted and reached for the light switch, flicking it on and illuminating the room.

The first thing he saw was the bag. It was screwed up in the corner by the back door, which was splintered and ajar. The remains of the woman were on the table, a snake of innards on the floor, chunks of flesh littering the ground around it. Her eyes had been plucked out, leaving just two glaring hollows. Kendon took a step back and bumped into his brother, who was coming in the opposite direction. The two of them stared at the mess in the room, open-mouthed and disbelieving.

“I wanted to know.”

They both turned towards the noise. Brixton was sitting in the office chair, his arms and clothing covered with blood. There was a three-quarters empty bottle of scotch cradled against his body. His eyes were wild, stubble face pale and gaunt. “You should have just told me. How could I go on and not know who she cheated on me with?”

Richard put a hand on his brother’s shoulder and stepped into the room. Kendon went the other way, back into the front office to call the police.

“I told you to let it go, Mr Brixton,” Richard said, calm despite the destruction.

“I thought I might be able to do what you did. I remember you saying you had to look deep. I tried and nothing happened.”

Richard showed Brixton his gloved hands. “Like I told you, these are sometimes a curse. Not all gifts are ones which are wanted, Mr Brixton. Sometimes they can cause more damage.”

Brixton took a swig from his bottle, then glared at Richard. “You should have just told me. None of this would have happened if you had just confirmed what I already knew. She’d been acting odd for weeks. I needed this for closure.”

“Your wife wasn’t being unfaithful to you, Mr Brixton. She told me that willingly. She had done nothing to go against the vows of your marriage.”

“Lies. Everyone lies.”

“The dead cannot lie, not to me at least. I see through it. Everything I see is the truth.”

“You didn’t know her. She was up to something, I know it. It’s like an itch, one that won’t go away no matter how much you scratch it. Don’t you stand there and tell me she wasn’t lying. You have no right to protect her. Look at what you made me do.” He began to weep and took another drink.

Richard looked around the room and the parts of Helen which were scattered within it. He turned back to Brixton. “Your wife wasn’t being unfaithful to you, Mr Brixton. She was acting strangely because she was pregnant and wasn’t sure how to tell you.”

Brixton couldn’t breathe. He blinked and stared at Richard. “What did you just say?”

“She was carrying your child. That was why she suggested the holiday. She was going to tell you here.”

“But… I didn’t know. If I’d known sooner… I’d have been different.”

Voices filtered through from the front of the mortuary. Peters with his voice loud and booming as he came closer.

Richard crouched by the chair and laid a gloved hand on top of Brixton’s bloody one. “You see now when I tell you that some secrets are better left with the dead? There are some things that knowledge makes worse. I wish you had listened to me, Mr Brixton. I truly do.”

Richard stood and let Peters and his men into the room. Brixton didn’t fight as he was handcuffed and led away. He deserved it. He glanced over his shoulder as he was taken through the curtain. He saw Richard, gloved hands clasped in front of him, Kendon at his side. Behind them, the remains of his wife ravaged and violated at his own hand. It came to him then that somewhere in the room, was also likely the tiny nugget that was his unborn child which he had discarded in his frenzy and quest for answers.

He stepped on something that crunched underfoot, snapping his attention back to the present. He stared at the plastic star which had fallen from the Christmas tree, its glitter-covered surface now in broken pieces. He knew this time of the year would never again be one for celebration or joy. It would always be the day the man he had been had died along with his wife. Something in his mind snapped. He felt it break. It was then that he started to scream. He didn’t think he would ever be able to stop.

Michael Bray is a bestselling author/screenwriter of more than twelve novels and numerous short stories. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, and Brian Lumley, along with TV shows like Tales from the Crypt and The Twilight Zone. His work touches on the psychological side of horror, teasing the reader’s nerves and willing them to keep turning the pages. Several of his titles have been translated into multiple languages including a major bookstore distribution deal in Japan and his biggest selling title, Whisper, has, on numerous occasions topped the overall horror charts for Amazon titles in both the UK and US with thousands of copies sold.

His work has been featured in anthologies alongside such horror greats as Clive Barker, Adam Nevill, Shaun Hutson, Brian Lumley, Paul Tremblay, Ramsay Campbell, Ray Bradbury and many others and he continues to be an active and popular member of the horror/suspense genre.

A feature film written by Bray based on his co-written novel MONSTER starring Tracy Shaw (Coronation Street), Daniele Harold (EastEnders), and Rod Glenn (American Assassin/World War Z) was shot in January 2018 whilst another of his titles, MEAT is currently with a leading Los Angeles based production company with a view to production in 2019.

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Halloween Extravaganza: Paul Flewitt: Clive Barker, Dark Dreamer Pt 1

When I invited Paul Flewitt to take part in this year’s Halloween Extravaganza, I never could have expected the guest post that he sent me. We discussed it several times over the past few weeks, and every time he would tell me that it was almost done, send me over a small portion of it, and ask me what I thought. When I received the final copy, I immediately sat down to read it – a retrospective on one of my all-time favorite authors? – and could not believe just how good it was. Weighing in at 69 pages, 40,227 words… it’s definitely the largest, most researched blog post I have received in my seven plus years of being a blogger. I have broken it up into six days, so sit back and enjoy.

Clive Barker, Dark Dreamer:
A Retrospective
Part 1

Hi everyone, and happy belated Halloween. Thanks to Meghan for inviting me to write this, admittedly rather lengthy article.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that, given the opportunity to do so, I would write an article about Clive Barker. I have never made a secret of the fact that I love his work, and that I hold Barker in high esteem as a writer, artist, director and human being. I think every interview I have ever given has included Barker in some way or another – how could it not? He is a huge influence on my writing, as is reflected in many reviews of my books and stories. It would be utterly remiss of me to refuse to celebrate him in any way that I can. So when I discussed with Meghan the kinds of spots she wanted for her Halloween Extravaganza, and a Barker retrospective came up in the conversation, I leapt at the chance to be the one to write it. I do hope that you take as much pleasure in reading it as I have in researching and writing it.

I have tried to be concise, to keep this from becoming an unauthorised biography running into many thousands of words, but there is a lot of ground to cover. Clive has been an insanely prolific artist over the last 40 years, and to fit absolutely everything into a blog article in the detail that each project deserves would be inadvisable. I have written here a potted history of his books, some selected movies, and mentions for plays he has written. You might see this post as a jumping off point for further research. I recommend Douglas E. Winter’s authorised biography The Dark Fantastic, Clive Barker’s own The Essential Clive Barker, and also the Barkercast and Revelations websites for further examination of his wider work.

So, all of this said… shall we begin?

Liverpool, UK in the 1950’s and 60’s was a city in transformation. The year of Clive Barker’s birth, 1952, came seven years after World War 2 ended; Liverpool was still rebuilding and regenerating after being gutted by bombing and the docks, which once provided the lion’s share of the city’s economy, were slowly dying. It was a city catching up with the modern world, and was a hotbed of artistic creativity. From this soup would be fermented bands like The Beatles, The Merseybeats, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and writers like Phil Redmond and, of course, Clive Barker.

The young Barker was a creative, artistic boy. His bedroom was filled with scribblings, doodles, and models half-built. He created for himself different worlds to inhabit and take him away from one that made very little sense to him, which probably gave a clue to the man that he would become. He was an intelligent child; was one of only ten children in his primary school to pass his eleven-plus exam and be admitted to Quarry Bank Grammar School. The headteacher of Quarry Bank was William Pobjoy, a man forever remembered in history as the guy who allowed a young lad named John Lennon to form a little sciffle band while at school and play during lunch periods; The Quarrymen would pretty soon become The Beatles. Pobjoy was described as a “pompous prick” by Barker, so he clearly didn’t enjoy the same rapport with the man as Lennon did. Of course, Clive also described himself as a “snidey little bastard,” so his criticism is not only reserved for his headteacher, but turned upon himself too.

In his first years, Clive was absent from lessons more than he attended them, a fact that was mourned by one teacher who remarked that the class was “lesser for Clive’s absence.” He hated sports, and the class system which pitted child against child. The enigma to teachers was that Barker was a talented pupil, far from a dunce. He performed well in exams and in class… when he deigned to show up. Put simply, academic pursuits held little relevance to the young Clive Barker; the arts and words were where the world made sense to him. In time, he came to a compromise with his parents that he would knuckle down at school, if he could also pursue his art. As long as his mess was confined to his room, a deal was struck.

Clive’s English teacher, Norman Russell, immediately saw something very different in the young Barker, famously refusing to mark Clive’s assignments because “he had moved beyond the curriculum and could not be marked.” Russell was the man who encouraged Barker’s exploration of his imagination, supporting his endeavours on stage. Clive was cast in school plays throughout his time at Quarry Bank and was permitted to put on his own fringe plays, many of them written by him and his friend Phil Rimmer. This was also where Barker first met a boy two years his junior, but would become a lifelong friend, Doug Bradley. Most memorable of these self-produced plays was Neongonebony, a play entirely improvised by the students.

In these plays Barker and his fellow actors showed a forward-thinking and almost revolutionary philosophy toward the arts, seating the audience on stage while the play was enacted on the floor, lit by candles held by the actors and with horrific special effects designed by Clive and Phil.

Clive left Quarry Bank with the intention of attending Liverpool College of Arts, but at the insistence of his father who wanted him to get a proper education and some possibility of gainful employment, he went to the University of Liverpool instead. This dismayed his English teacher, Norman Russell, who had hoped to see Clive accepted into Oxford or Cambridge, but as Barker himself concedes “I lacked the application… I didn’t want to be an MP or justice of the peace…” University did not stop the young Barker from creating; writing plays and even a short novel, originally entitled “The Company of Dreamers;” later released as “The Candle in the Cloud” and dedicated to his friends: Julie, Sue, Anne, Lynne, Doug, and Graham; his fellow actors from school.

Throughout his years at university he continued to act, forming his own theatre company with Doug Bradley, Peter Atkins, Phil Rimmer, and others. The company started out as The Hydra Theatre Company after Clive and Phil Rimmer made a series of experimental short films, which included Salome and The Forbidden. The company occupied much of Clive’s spare time throughout the 70’s, mutating into The Theatre of the Imagination. Under both guises, Barker put on a number of plays. At this time he also wrote The Adventures of Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus, a short novel for young adults which was eventually released in 2009 and loosely based on his theatre company and friends. The theatre became more of a full time focus when he graduated from university in 1974, and they built a solid reputation for themselves.

Liverpool could not contain Clive Barker for much longer, however, as travel to cities like Paris and London showed him the wider world. It took some persuasion – Barker believed that living in Liverpool offered a unique mystique that being in the London scene would not afford them – but he was persuaded and was first of his friends to move, with his partner, John Gregson, to London in 76. Doug Bradley moved in 78, as did Phil Rimmer and the rest of the company. The troupe morphed as new members joined, becoming The Dog Company and performing several Barker-penned plays including “History of the Devil,” applying for funding from The Arts Council and touring to places like Edinburgh and Holland to perform. Barker and John were never particularly well off, but got by on John’s salary, Clive’s welfare checks, and whatever small income he received from performing. He also supplemented his income writing for a small S&M magazine, copies of which were seized and burned, much to Clive’s delight. It was these stories and articles that would later inspire, in part, Clive’s most famous creation, Pinhead.

More plays followed in the early years of the 80’s, with “Paradise Street,” “Frankenstein in Love,” “The Secret Life of Cartoons,” “Crazyface,” “Subtle Bodies,” and “Colossus” being written and performed in 81, 82 and 83. By now Clive had withdrawn from acting, taking on the role of stage director and principle writer in pursuit of more singular recognition for his writing.

1983 and 84 proved pivotal years for Barker as he began working at night on short stories. His days were still spent on plays and the theatre, the stories being more a distraction and something to share with his friends from the company. He explored his imagination in a much deeper, unreserved way in these stories, giving no thought to publishing any of them. That was, until he saw the Dark Forces anthology in a bookstore, containing short stories by Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ramsey Campbell. This anthology set off a lightbulb for Barker and he immediately set about, with his theatrical agent, to find a publisher for his stories. It was a tough sell; the industry opinion was, and still is, that anthologies don’t sell. Sphere Books took a chance on them however, and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood were published. A new Imaginer had arrived, and took the world of horror and dark fantasy by storm. Ramsey Campbell wrote; “I think Clive Barker is the most important writer of horror fiction since Peter Straub,” and Stephen King wrote; “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.” It was a phrase that Barker says “changed my life forever…” but also proved to be something of a curse.

Books of Blood (1984)

Of all Clive Barker’s works, Books of Blood is the one I see most frequently recommended in online groups to initiates into the world of Barker (or The Barkerverse, as I term it) these days. I can see why too; Books of Blood gives an overview of everything that might be expected from Clive’s work. There are claustrophobic horrors and epic fantasies, peopled by monsters of both the human and distinctly non-human variety. If you’re going to like any Barker at all, you will like a lot of what’s contained in these volumes.

There are a number of releases of Books of Blood: individual volumes and omnibus editions which collect volumes 1-3 and 3-6, all with differing cover art. Really, Barker is a collectors’ dream when it comes to interesting cover art. Like Pokemon; you’ve gotta catch em all.

Stand out stories for me here would be: Pig Blood Blues, Rawhead Rex, Dread, The Forbidden, Book of Blood, The Body Politic, Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament, Son of Celluloid, and In The Hills, The Cities. Honestly though, there isn’t a bad story in the whole bunch. As an introduction to Barker’s work, you really can’t go wrong here.

The release of Books of Blood proved something of an anomaly in publishing circles; for a writer to debut with a short story collection was unheard of in the modern era, for them to be a critical success unprecedented. It wasn’t an astounding commercial success, but sold enough for Sphere to want more from Barker: a novel. It was a daunting prospect for Clive to write a full length piece, but he set to work and produced a synopsis entitled “Out of the Empty Quarter.” This was proposed to begin in the Arabian desert; an explorer discovers the ruins of Eden inhabited by a lonely angel. The explorer returns to England and unleashes a horrifying force, which turns out to be more angelic than demonic. Sphere rejected this idea, finding it more akin to fantasy than horror. Unperturbed, Barker came up with something else: “Mamoulian’s Game,” but we would come to know it as “The Damnation Game.”

The Damnation Game (1985)

The story begins with a thief wandering through the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto, searching for a legendary card player. Stories have been told of the European, the greatest card player they have ever heard of who never loses, and the thief is skeptical. Of course, he wants to meet this man himself and disprove the fable… and play him himself. He has tracked the European to Warsaw, and here he will find him… and win. The prize for winning against the European is wealth, fame, and long life, a prize that the thief accepts eagerly.

Years later, Marty Strauss is in prison for armed robbery, closing in on parole and determined to see out his sentence in peace. He is summoned to a meeting with the governor of the prison and is greeted by William Toy. Strauss is soon made an offer he could scarcely refuse: early release, in return for his services as bodyguard to the hermetic millionaire, Joseph Whitehead.

Strauss is taken to Whitehead’s Sanctuary by Toy, where he will live as Whitehead’s right hand man. He meets Whitehead and, quite frankly, cannot believe his luck. He is paid well for his services, lives in a grand mansion, and can live his life again. All is going better than Strauss could have possibly dreamed… until Mamoulian comes to call.

The Damnation Game is a Faustian tale of redemption and… well, damnation obviously. Marty Strauss is portrayed as a normal guy, thrown into some very unusual and terrifying circumstances, used by a man who considers himself above the common. Mamoulian, the Last European, is characterised as an eloquent, melancholy, and ill-used antagonist in the piece. There is a lot to like in this story, as bleak and morbid as it turns out to be. It is certainly a great debut novel from a writer finding his feet and discovering his style.

Once again, Barker’s work was praised by the genre critics, but wasn’t so much a commercial success. Sphere marketed it as a middle-ranked book, giving it a little marketing and hoping that Clive could sell it in personal appearances. They were hoping to sell movie rights, but they never materialised. It certainly engendered a response, with one critic calling it “spiritually bankrupt,” while another said it was “Zombie Flesh Eaters written by Graham Greene.” Characteristically, Barker revelled in these critiques. “What you can’t do to most of the images in my books is ignore them…”

If nothing else, Barker had announced himself on the scene as a major writer of dark fiction, and his contribution was recognised in 1985 by the British Fantasy Society and World Fantasy Society, awarding him Best Collection award for 84’s Books of Blood.

Now it was time for Barker to cement his place in the pantheon of British horror writers… but not before a little distraction in the form of movie-making.

1985 also brought Barker’s first feature film through Green Man Productions: Underworld. A futuristic horror, it was doomed from the beginning by interfering producers which led to a disjointed affair. Barker wrote the script and friend, George Pavlou, directed with a shoestring budget; neither was in control of the money and Pavlou was even barred entirely from the editing suite during post-production. A second writer was brought in to rewrite Barker’s scripts (which began as unfilmable since Clive had previously written for stage and had no experience of writing for the screen), but the new writer turned it into a more 80’s themed, low budget action romp. Pavlou tried to sew the two scripts together in an effort to create a coherent script… and ultimately failed. Barker saw the movie in the theatre and couldn’t watch, seeing the butchery that had been committed on his vision, which gave a preview of themes that he would revisit in Nightbreed.

Barker had sold the rights of first refusal to Green Man Productions for five of the stories from Books of Blood: Rawhead Rex; Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament; Confessions (From a Pornographer’s Shroud); Sex, Death and Starshine; and Human Remains.

Pre-production on Rawhead Rex would begin in January 1986.

If Clive thought that Rawhead Rex would be a happier, more successful experience and that Green Man Productions would have learned from the errors made with Underworld, he was mistaken. From the outset it became apparent that this would be another difficult production. First, the producers re-set the movie in Ireland instead of the south of England, then announced a budget of £3m, but the reality was rather less. Barker wrote the screenplay, which director George Pavlou loved… and that was essentially the end of Barker’s involvement in the project. He was never invited to the set, nor was he even called for advice. Clive presented the artists with sketches for the Rawhead character, but the producers had other ideas. The make-up artists designed an elaborate twenty-piece suit for Rawhead which would take seven hours to dress, but these were also rejected for being too expensive by producers. Instead, they went with a single piece suit which took fifteen minutes to dress… and it showed. Shooting took place during the worst storms Ireland had seen for years, meaning filming was a torturous experience. The movie took seven weeks of eighteen hour days to make in terrible conditions.

Needless to say, Rawhead Rex was far from the movie that it could have been, and once again Clive was disappointed with the result. What could have been a fine inclusion into the pantheon of monster horror was resigned to the B-movie comedy bin. Barker was not bitter about the experience, however; he had been taught an important lesson: if you want something done right, do it yourself.

1986 also saw Barker’s work return to the stage, and this time in the West End. The Secret Life of Cartoons had been received well at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1982, and now there were producers who wanted to put it onto the bigger stages in London. So it was that Tudor Davis directed the play at the Aldwych Theatre in October of 86. Barker expanded the play to two hours from its original one, and the play starred Una Stubbs (Worzel Gummidge), Derek Griffiths (Play School), and Geoffrey Hughes (Coronation Street). Unfortunately, the critics were not kind to Clive’s venturing into farce and the run was a short one.

1986 was a year of learning harsh lessons indeed… but 1987 was a year where everything would change and Clive Barker would put the lessons he had learned into action.

The first seeds of Barker’s rise to prominence on the world stage were sown in 1986, when he began writing the novelette that would kick his career into the stratosphere. So far, while his written work and stageplays had been moderately successful, his movies could only be viewed as interesting failures. 1987 would be the year that all of that changed… but Clive had to raise some hell first…

The Hellbound Heart (1987)

Clive Barker’s next release came with little fanfare: a novelette published in the Night Visions 3 anthology. This was a small press release, and very limited, so Barker could not have known the impact that this small (only covering around 100 pages) Faustian tale could have on his future. Night Visions was re-released in 1988 as The Hellbound Heart; the story itself not released individually until 1991, at the height of the movie’s success.

The Hellbound Heart begins with Frank Cotton, a man fuelled by excesses which are no longer sated by normal human pursuits. He travels in search of the next experience, the next excess with which his desires might be relieved. He is given a small, plain black box in Dusseldorf by a man named Kircher, who promises that to open the box is to travel… or something very like it. Of course, Frank wastes no time in finding the solution to opening the box and summoning the Cenobites of The Order of the Gash, explorers of the outer reaches of pleasure and sensation. They take him to their realm, to discover the limits of his own desires.

Barker takes inspiration for the Cenobites appearance from the homoerotic S&M magazines that he had written stories for previously; their scarred and disfigured appearance, bound in leather recalling the most extreme body modifications. He is here calling to outsider culture in the most direct terms possible, and perverting their activities as only Barker can.

Rory and Julia Cotton move into a house left to Rory by his missing brother following his disappearance, helped by their old schoolmate, Kirsty. Julia has grown to dislike Kirsty, her dour demeanour and endless fawning over Rory, and isn’t exactly happy in her marriage either: her thoughts are often drawn back to the day that she had succumbed to the advances of his brother, the irrepressible and missing Frank.

Rory cuts himself on a nail during the move and blood drips onto the floor of the house, unwittingly inviting a visitor into their new home. That night Julia is drawn to a room at the top of the house, the wall peels back to the sound of tinkling bells and a strange, flayed form is revealed; Frank is back.

What follows is a tale of love and lust. Julia agrees, reluctantly at first, to bring men back to the house so that Frank can feed. This she does and, over the course of the next few days, Frank grows stronger and ever more persuasive… what he needs next is flesh, and there is a donor living in the house with them.

Rory has asked Kirsty to look in on Julia, concerned by her suddenly erratic demeanour and distracted mood. When Kirsty does, her curiosity overcoming her. She explores the house and finds the puzzlebox that had undone Frank and the husks of Julia’s victims. She comes face to face with the skinless Frank, who lusts after her and sees her ripe for corruption. Kirsty escapes the house with the puzzlebox, fully intending to warn Rory before it’s too late, but she faints on the street outside the house.

She awakes in a hospital and notices the puzzlebox on the table beside her. She studies it to pass the time, her fingers moving across its lacquered surfaces. Unwittingly, she solves the puzzle, the box begins to open, and the Cenobites arrive. Of course, Hell’s servants must take Kirsty back to their domain, but Kirsty manages to persuade them to take another in her place.

Kirsty returns to Julia’s house, hoping to save Rory from a fate similar to the men whose remains she had seen. When she gets there, she finds Julia and Rory, with blood on his face, drinking brandy. Rory tells her that he has killed Frank, and knows all about Julia’s actions of the last few days. He then utters a phrase which betrays him – “Come to Daddy…” he says, belying the man who really lived beneath the borrowed flesh. Kirsty argues against him, and Frank gives chase through the house until they reach the upper room. There, Frank unwittingly names himself and bells begin to toll as the Cenobites arrive to take their errant pupil.

While Barker didn’t write the story with any thought toward making a film of it (it was written to exorcise the ghost of his ended relationship with John Gregson after ten years), he soon realised that it would translate very well to a low-budget film. Clive first approached George Pavlou, but was also introduced to Chris Figg, who was interested in making a horror movie and had ambitions toward production. Learning from past mistakes, Clive insisted on directing the movie. Figg knew that insistence meant that the project would be small scale, low budget – no one would offer cash to a first time director. So, they set about trying to convince financiers to invest. Barker set about writing The Hellbound Heart as a screenplay and, via a circuitous route they came to Hollywood. After a deal with Virgin Films fell apart, New Line Cinema stepped into the breach and committed $4.2m to the project. Filming began in 1987, less than a year after Clive had conceived the story.

The movie version of Hellraiser was approached in much the same way as Barker approached his work with The Dog Company: it was a family affair. He drafted in Doug Bradley to play Pinhead and his cousin, Grace Kirby, played the female Cenobite with Nick Vince and Simon Bamford as Chatterer and Butterball. Clare Higgins was enlisted to play Julia, with Andrew Robinson as Larry and Ashley Laurence as Kirsty.

The movie is fairly faithful to the book, aside from the relationship of the principle characters being changed: Kirsty is now a teenage firebrand daughter of Larry (Rory) and Julia Cotton, not the dowdy old school-friend. The roles are perfectly played, particularly Kirsty, Julia, and Pinhead. Doug Bradley particularly understands the understated quality of Barker’s invention; equal parts Karloff’s Frankestein’s monster and Christopher Lee’s Dracula, he presents Pinhead as an aloof figure, intensely eloquent and with a quiet aura of threat and promised violence. Andrew Robinson, too, provided two improvisations which have proved to be iconic moments in the films; as he chases Kirsty through the house, he growls “Enough of this cat and mouse shit,” and as the Cenobites deliver their coup de gras, the tortured Frank utters the famous line “Jesus wept” moments before he is ripped apart by the hooks and chains which bear him up. It is these improvisations which show the spirit of collaboration that Barker brought to the project and work to make Hellraiser one of the most faithful and best adaptations of a horror story ever produced.

Much to Barker’s surprise it was not the character of Julia or Frank which captured the imagination of the audience, but the monster, Pinhead. The striking appearance of the Hell Priest gave rise to tee-shirts, jigsaws, comic books, a short story anthology and several more movies (declining in quality as they move further away from Clive’s initial intention,) models and trading cars. What Hellraiser ensured was Clive Barker’s equity as not only a writer, but a director and imaginer.

Hellraiser was not the only creation that worked to cement Barker’s reputation in 1987; the year also saw the release of Barker’s second novel. Amidst the praise and furore which surrounded Hellraiser, Clive released Weaveworld.

Back in 1986, Clive had signed a lucrative new publishing deal with HarperCollins, and they were keen to capitalise on the exposure that Clive had received with the movie. The PR department went into overdrive, putting everything they had behind the UK release and were rewarded with a number one bestselling book. They eschewed the “horror” tag and marketed the book for what it was, not for what Barker had become known for. There was a nationwide tour, television appearances, and the commissioning of a carpet from the Royal College of Art.

In the US, Simon & Schuster were more reserved, preferring to cling to the horror angle. This led to critical confusion and a more lukewarm reception from critics and readers alike. The Stephen King quote, “I have seen the future of horror…,” became a millstone around Clive’s neck, rather than the lifechanging gift that it once was. It is an issue that has plagued Barker ever since, as new readers on discussion boards the world over mistake Clive for a linear horror writer, not the fantasist that he really is.

Weaveworld certainly sold in the States upon its release, but was not the phenomenon that it was in the UK.

In the UK, it made Clive Barker a household name.

Weaveworld (1987)

Cal Mooney is an accountant yearning to dream, and for his dreams to come true. He has returned to Liverpool following the death of his mother, to care for a father who isn’t dealing well with his sudden widowhood, and his beloved racing pigeons. It is a setting familiar to anyone who, like me, grew up in the north of England.

When one of the pigeons flies off for adventures of its own, Cal chases the bird and tracks it to a house being emptied to pay for its occupants’ nursing costs. In the backyard is laid a rug from the house, its design facing upwards toward the sky. Cal corners the bird on a window ledge, climbing up on a wall to catch the errant creature. Cal falls while reaching to retrieve the pigeon, falling onto the carpet and catching sight of another world in the warp and weft of the rug. It is a sight that changes Cal’s life, and colours the future events of the story. He meets the grand-daughter of the occupant of the house, Suzanna, a potter with a free-spirit and memories of her grandmother’s tales of other places and magic. She has a book of fairytales, passed down to her from her grandmother, and strangely evocative of the world Cal has seen in the carpet.

Shadwell is a salesman, the emissary of dark witch Immacolata the Incantatrix, and her horrific sisters. He wears a dazzling jacket which has the power to produce the wildest wish of whomever views its lining; all you need do is look and your dearest wish can be yours. Shadwell’s greatest wish is to find the Weave and to sell it. This puts him at odds with his mistress, whose undying ambition is to exact revenge on the people inhabiting the carpet, the Seerkind, for rejecting and fighting against her ambitions to rule them and exiling her from their world, The Fugue. Together, Shadwell and Immacolata steal the carpet, tearing it in the process.

Cal and Suzanna find a deep attraction to one another, and make love. While they sleep, the fragment of the carpet unravels, releasing three inhabitants from The Fugue… and so the story proper begins.

Weaveworld is an ambitious work of fantasy, epic in its conception and execution. Barker introduces us to a Liverpool instantly recognisable and relatable, before taking us on a flight into his own imagination. Weaveworld involves themes that will become familiar in Clive’s subsequent work: magic being shunned by a world grown banal and ordinary, the fantastic hoping to live side by side with the ordinary, the struggle for the acceptance of difference, and the wonder of the weird. Like Books of Blood, Weaveworld is a book that I see recommended frequently to readers new to Barker’s work, and one that most Barker fans have taken to their hearts as a true modern classic.

1987 was a pivotal year in Barker’s progression as a writer, seeing the success of Hellraiser and the release of his first bestselling novel. As we know, Barker is not one for resting on his laurels and the need to move forward was as strong as ever.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this fantastic retrospective on Clive Barker.

Paul Flewitt is a horror/dark fantasy author. He was born on the 24th April 1982 in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.

Always an avid reader, Paul put pen to paper for the first time in 1999 and came very close to inking a deal with a small press. Due to circumstances unforeseen, this work has never been released, but it did give Paul a drive to achieve within the arts.

In the early 2000’s, Paul concentrated on music; writing song lyrics for his brother and his own bands. Paul was lead singer in a few rock bands during this time and still garners inspiration from music to this day. Paul gave up his musical aspirations in 2009.

In late 2012, Paul became unemployed and decided to make a serious attempt to make a name for himself as a writer. He went to work, penning several short stories and even dusting off the manuscript that had almost been published over a decade earlier. His efforts culminated in his first work being published in mid-2013, the flash fiction piece “Smoke” can be found in OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes: A Tribute To Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.

2013 was a productive year as he released his short story “Paradise Park” in both J. Ellington Ashton’s All That Remains anthology and separate anthology, Thirteen Vol 3. He also completed his debut novella in this time. Poor Jeffrey was first released to much praise in February 2014. In July 2014 his short story “Always Beneath” was released as part of CHBB’s Dark Light Four anthology.

In 2015 Paul contributed to two further anthologies: Demonology (Climbing Out) from Lycopolis Press and Behind Closed Doors (Apartment 16c) with fellow authors Matt Shaw, Michael Bray, Stuart Keane, and more.In 2016, Paul wrote the monologue, The Silent Invader, for a pitch TV series entitled Fragments of Fear. The resulting episode can be viewed now on YouTube, but the show was never aired. The text for the monologue was published in Matt Shaw’s Masters Of Horror anthology in 2017.

Paul continues to work on further material.

He remains in Sheffield, where he lives with his partner and two children. He consorts with his beta reading demons on a daily basis.

You can find more information on Paul Flewitt and his works here…

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