Prelude to a Gloom Feast
This is a short prologue to my full-length novel Anthology, Gloom Feast, available on the Amazon Kindle store.
An uncle I hardly knew passed away recently, and in his will, he bequeathed me ten acres of land on the southern coast of an isle far in the north. I arrived to survey its value and at first wondered if I'd inherited a giant clump of overgrown trees and vines. I could scarcely see the cottage itself, hidden behind years of overgrown brush. The shutters sprouted vines and dirt covered most of the floor, making it clear that I'd bankrupt myself before selling the place.
As I poked around inside, glancing over the antiques and the meticulous way my uncle left everything, it occurred to me that I should hold onto it for a little while. Being there gave me a feeling I couldn't describe. It was all mine; the property taxes were ridiculously low for a coastal property, and I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that it could be my Walden.
I told my employer I needed a month away. Secretly, I knew it might be longer.
After I arrived, I tossed the contents of my suitcases into some musty wardrobes, swept where I could, straightened up, and stayed indoors for weeks. I let my beard grow out and scribbled out some rambling in a notebook. It took me a full two weeks to venture out past the cottage gate and toward the coast. On that first day, from the edge the property, I caught sight of a distant bay, then past it, clumps of trees, low hills huddled together, and misty moors. Lazy wisps of smoke drifted up from far off. It was my first real epiphany since I'd arrived. It gave me something to investigate. A reason to walk. A reason to really be there.
It was on a tiny beach where I found an ancient path obscured by sand and gravel. One could scarcely call it a path - rather, planks of wood bound by posts clinging to the hard soil at intervals, leading all the way up from the water and straight up over an impassible trench of thorns and boulders, and right into a small grove of cypress trees above. The path led from the water, across the beach, and up over the thick tangles as if purposed for some imaginary procession, but the coral littering the bay made access from the sea impossible. When was this path constructed, and for whom? Why was it here?
At first, this curious remnant of wood and twine meant little to me, but something else seized me as I got closer. When I gazed down across the old inlaid carvings, I felt all the weird nostalgia that comes with discovering something at once spooky and hauntingly familiar. It reminded me of a lucid, uncovered memory, like a strip of untouched wallpaper in a decrepit house. I trudged up toward the trees where the path disappeared.
As I stepped upon the first plank, I imagined it would sink into the sand or crack underfoot, but it held my weight. The sand on either side of the path appeared to slip away as it inched upward, a precarious bridge over the trench. I grew dizzy, perhaps from a sense of the thousands of thorns that might prick me if I fell; or perhaps at the thousands of people that might have trod the path in ages past. When I reached the grove of trees, it was as it I'd reached a secret clubhouse, a serene place of respite no one else could go. Past the trees, the path remained, winding through low brush and overgrown, open fields. There was scarcely any civilization save for the wooden planks, which now ran up a low, dandelion-dotted hill of grass. They'd become stairs to help me up the side of the trail.
From up high, I looked out back in the direction of the bluff, where my cabin lay hidden. All I saw were shadows and silhouettes playing tricks on me. I should have left a light on in the cabin; a beacon to find my way back after sundown. Oh well. Too late. I'd arrived at what felt like a destination, and oddly enough, I smelled cooking.
A scent like roasted meat boiled in broth hit my nose first, followed by the fresh astringency of kale and cabbage. When the path rose up enough for me to see the center of the top of the low hill, I spotted the table and the shapes around it. It was like a picnic, only finer. Thin metal wires rose up out of the ground and sputtered out torches like fireballs. At the center of the table lay a large, golden roast on a metal sheet. Figures like glass or ice sculptures lay everywhere in the dark. I leaned in to touch one and instead of hitting the smooth or cold as expected, my fingers went straight through it.
I felt no fear and sensed no menace from any of the wraiths. Some of the spectral forms lingered at the edges of the hilltop and others lay in repose on the grass in the center. The bubbling stew pot was real enough, and the table settings solid and opulent. The spectral forms were just real enough to discern colours and shapes in their midst.
I saw a young girl, lithe and in repose, long red hair trailing behind her like a curl of sputtering flame. Cloaked in red, she strode around the bluff with a fixed, determined gaze. Two men in suits crouched low just before the bluff dropped off into a sharp cliff. They whispered conspiratorially to each other, pointing out over the sea past the ridge. A woman in a dark jumpsuit held a metal rod - she looked inland for some unknown purpose.
A group of small children gathered just past the table, clutching torches made of paper. They looked frightened. A figure in an enormous cosmonaut suit wandered slowly among them all, as if drifting through the air. Behind him, more men in space suits - different ones - wandered, vague weaponry in clutched gloves. Some men in ten gallon hats strode on the east side of the bluff, thumbs jammed in suspenders.
I even saw a cat - trotting low to the ground, barely visible. He flitted between the ghosts' feet, and jumped up on the table and began to lick some cheese off one of the metal trays. Behind him, a girl, barely five, gazed at him with a tiny smile on her face. She looked lost and sad. She then looked up at me, and saw me. Her face changed to something almost frightening.
The redhead in the red cloak turned to face me. Her face took on the visage of a wolf. The men in spacesuits drifting up into the air, and the two suited conspirators entirely disappeared. The cat hissed and growled. The men in old west gear trained their guns on me. I took a step back toward the path from whence I'd come, and noticed my hands and arms went semi-transparent. The path behind me faded, and the bluff expanded. Deep color filled my field of vision. 20 or more figures milled about me now, realer than ever, solider than ever. The table seemed larger than it had been at first.
Even the kids sat down with us. One of them hoisted the tomcat up onto the table. Other figures joined - a wispy old man, a tall, muscular figure made of fire. I couldn't place their time or place or purpose. None of them spoke to me directly; only to each other. But the voices came furious and quick as they sat down at the table. The aroma of food compelled me to sit with them. The air around us grew still, and suddenly I felt like part of a community; a group. The cosmonaut raised its helmet and the redhead threw back her hood. I noticed the two men in suits - one short and thin, the other larger and blonde - had returned. The five year old girl sat between them now.
The jumpsuit-clad woman placed the metal rod down next to her plate. She spoke louder than the others, and so clearly that the others stopped speaking and merely listened. I knew all the others would have a chance to speak - some for themselves, some for those who could not speak. By the time they finished, I knew the food would be gone, and they'd bind themselves to the earth at my expense. I stayed and listened until their stories ended, their corporeality overtook the bluff, and my own grew to the size of a candle flame and held fast there, flickering for life.