This preface comes before the main section of the book with its chapters, paragraphs, lines and words ahead of it and not after it. It precedes what comes after it, including any appendices and index. It is just ahead of the contents, by only a couple of pages though. I think it performs its task well. Perfunctory yes, but with a certain style I find missing in other prefaces. They tend to wind and meander, taking the reader on a journey of hitherto unknown preliminary ramblings when all you really want to do is start the book. You can't though, because the preface is right there, bang in front of the start of the book! Still, although this book has one, I'm hoping it doesn't fall into the same trap as that of other prefaces, delaying you, the reader from starting the book. I mean, let's face it, you picked up this book to read the story, not the preface. Now, at this point, I have to stop and acknowledge a certain number of people out there who are fans of the preface. I absolutely, in no way want to offend 'prefacers' (and I hopefully have the politically correct terminology here) or ostracise them in any way. I welcome you into the fold, extending the papyrus of friendship and by including this preface, have hopefully assuaged your prefacical yearnings. Welcome.
So, in conclusion, now this is not the conclusion to the story, not a "Conclusion" with a capital C as such. See, this is just one of the problems we can fall into. We start the preface in all good faith but get carried away and before you know it, we're concluding and we haven't even started reading the story yet! I think there is a form of conspiracy, with collusion at the highest level, subverting the honest, law-abiding 'Johnny-public' into accepting sub-standard prefaces. We have to make a stand somewhere and I propose the line is drawn here! No more acceptance of misleading P's (I can't even bring myself to say the word). The Campaign for Real Prefaces - CamRePr
It was an uncannily hot, still day in the summer of 1919. No birds sang, no field animals moved from their nests and not a person could be seen about their business. The air hung with an expectancy. The only motion was that of a creeping fog that made its way into the quiet, forgotten backwater of Mingsport. "Was it a fog though? I thought it more of a light mist, suffused with particulate debris adding weight and body to the mass?" "No, that would have been a haze. If it had been thicker it would have been a smog, caused by atmospheric pollutants. A fog has a similar structure to mist but it's all to do with visibility, from a meteorologists point of view". "But it crept though?". "Meandered, I thought it meandered but it did have a creeping dimension to it". This fog, mist, haze call it what you will presaged the coming of what was to be remembered by locals as 'The Scary Summer'. Or to give it its full title; 'The Scary Summer Where Things Came And Scared Many People'. These were a simple folk.
There is a saying in these parts
That which is old
Pray not just laying down
for many ancient times
may still yet come around
There is also a saying that
You can't fish without a rod and line or you won't catch anything
There were many others but they didn't make much sense either so we will move on.
HPL The Writer
Harold Peter Leftcroft wasn't so much unkempt, as unkempt had got up, made for the door, managed to open it and run screaming, down the lane and out, over the hills and very far away indeed! Harold lived alone. A pretty woman had turned his head one day, had a good luck and then turned it back again the other way. He didn't have much luck with women. Or fish. He was a writer, a writer who guarded a deep secret and that guardianship was cleverly implemented by the absolute and encompassing disarray of any and every paper in the vicinity of his presence. He walked from the kitchen into the room and glanced toward the window which opened a view, down to the quayside giving the house its name; Quayview Cottage. Two brass ship lamps guarded port and starboard of the mantelpiece above the fireplace and a brass spyglass completed its nautical counterparts, casting a nod to the painting of a ship on the chimney breast above. The clock in the corner ticked. It paused for a couple of seconds, then continued its ticking still devoid of its tock. It was old though, needed a breather every now and then, only fair really. I mean, day in, day out, keeping time without a thought for himself (the clock was male, as confirmed by the female timepieces he kept company with and the large minute hand). Not easy you know, always having to be punctual, always putting a brave face on the precedings.
Harold was a writer, a frustrated writer. That is not to say he was frustrated at being a writer, far from it, he enjoyed writing, when he could. No, often he was frustrated from writing and found it difficult to get relief. Oh, that sounds decidedly dodgy, it wasn't meant to, it's not that kind of book. "Get on with it" boomed a disembodied voice from the ether. The narrator looked round (virtually of course because he didn't exist), he looked sheepish and felt like some other kind of animal and then drifted back into the pretext of the book...
Harold sat down at his desk to the task of writing as he had on many previous occasions. He was hoping that this time was going to be different. Before, he had sat and found that the pencil needed sharpening or to be out of paper or that the nib of his pen was broken. He would become distracted and go and do something totally opposite, like walk and feed the fish at the Quay (no-one else did so he felt it a good community-minded task to perform. Everybody in the community thought he was a nutter!). The clock ticked, marking the pass of time, slowly and excruciatingly climbing to the zenith of midday. It didn't tock though. "I must get that fixed" he thought "It puts me out for the whole day". However, funds were short at the moment. He had a small income from his one published work and it had to go a long way (a very long way, it felt like it was currently vacationing in the antipodes with no anticipated return date). The tick would have to continue, tockless for a time longer at present. This sparked an idea, a tick without its tock, alone, unrequited. Yes, the literary flow began to trickle. The damned pencil point! The trickle dried up, evaporating under the pointless midday sun.
With the writing on hiatus, Harold had risen from his desk and transferred to the bookshelf and picked himself a book he had been perusing on and off. The book in question was an extremely old book he had found in a trading shop, down in the town. It was entitled 'The Historical Significance of Coastal Customs', an innocuous enough title but it had piqued his interest and proven to be far more interesting than he had first thought. He was at a particularly relevant chapter in the book which dealt with devils of the sea, their myths and their pertinence to Mingsport and surrounding coastal towns. He sat in the winged chair he had, positioned in the corner of the room that afforded him a view out of the window, down across the town. A lord of the seas devils was presented as Dra'gon and this black deity commanded fish-like minions who could live half in and half out of the sea. This meant they could spend time on land, as well as time in the sea otherwise they would have had to spend all their time with half their bodies in the sea and half poking out, bobbing in the sea. That would have been a pretty pointless existence, like buoys warning people of their existence but unable to cause any devilment because they would have already warned people. Harold mused on this and was thinking about their female counterparts Guorls (pronounced Girls) when he drifted into a sleep, the warm afternoon sun piercing through the window. His dreams wove an enveloping blanket of fish-headed monsters basking on rocks out in the bay, reading from oozing books that appeared alive, talking in strange tongues and burning passing sailors with blinding orange light from their cold, piscean eyes. The sea troubled him, its cold, inky form swelling and falling, swirling around him like cold, dead hands trying to pull him to death. He awoke with a start, not from the maelstrom of sea and sound in his dream but because of some external noise. A bump, followed by a brushing sound. His heightened awareness in the now darkened room put prickles on the back of his neck. He stood, disoriented for a moment then moved to the window. Looking out across the town, toward the quay and out across the bay as he had done many times before he couldn't help thinking that something had changed. It seemed cold and callous although the stifling heat of the last few weeks had barely abated for the night-time. Lights twinkled as they had done but they seemed as cruel eyes and one in particular, out beyond the quay, in the bay, brighter than the others seemed to be beckoning to him. He stretched and thought no more of it other than the vestiges of dream. He walked to the stairs, ascended and went to bed. That night a cat crouched, ran and jumped in the garden chasing clever, cavorting flies. A black-winged bird flew from tree to tree as if searching for rest. It was upstaged by the silent, glide of an owl hunting food and finding it. Other, more fortunate food rustled in the hedgerow guiding the path down into the town. And many other, less wholesome creatures made their night manoeuvres under cover of sleep.
Harold awoke to the knocking on the bedroom window by a large, senseless gull that did not stop its knocking until Harold had dragged himself out of bed, stumbling across the rug and swung the window open (after first retrieving the shoe he had already thrown at the window, in hope of moving the bird on, to avoid getting out of bed as previously outlined). His mouth tasted like the spatter the bird had left across his window on departure ("just how had it managed to do that?" queried Harold), his tongue the texture of the rug his foot was brushing against as he started to dress and as dry as feathers. The thought of brushing scraped around the inside of his head until he vaguely remembered the brushing sound he had heard the last night. But morning dismisses the evening's queries as sun dismisses the early mist and he set off down to remove the bird from his mouth.
His mouth now tasting like his own, he set off to visit the university library. Harold was following up on some information he had found in the book he had been reading. He felt it may provide a hook for his next book and a little research was the order of the day. As he left the front door to pass along the garden path to the gate in the picket fence, he was struck by two things; firstly, by the uncommon mist that had for a second day had probed its way into the contours of Mingsport. Secondly and more pressingly he was struck by the jettisoning from that damned seagull that had woken him this morning. All over his jacket lapel. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to smear the mess making an impromptu 'buttonhole'. Mumbling, he turned and went back inside to make a better attempt at cleaning. He left once again but this time a little more cautiously but the bird must have returned to base for re-fueling. Closing the gate behind him, he set off down the lane and into the mist which rolled and lolled about the lane and alleyways of the town. The townsfolk that there were out this morning each eyed him with suspicion, he greeted them and accepted the eyeing as affirmation, the mist flowing with the walk of his step. He reached the bustop and after some minutes the bus to the university and beyond pulled up.
On the bus, the short ride passed pleasantly and pulled out of the mist as it rose up to the university.
The mist that had so unexpectedly appeared the day previously and now, again today had a cloying effect upon the people it met and who lingered in it. It clung like overly sweet tobacco smoke in damp wool but had an underlying sour aftertaste. It clasped whitewashed walls, coated windowpanes and brought a general uneasiness. Some people felt it was hiding someone, something that flitted just out of view as you turned to see it. Some ethereal Puck. Was it just mischievous tricks of the mind or something more sinister borne on the unnatural mist?
to be continued...