The English Dark
by Gareth Spark
She’s quiet now, Goodwill’s girl, and I’m glad for it. I’m sitting in the upstairs of the cottage looking out of the window at the great burning flat land running down to the coast and the sun’s like a gold sovereign over the water of the beck, something hot and hard, that you can’t take your eyes off. I do it, though, look back to her laid on the floor, dressing gown open and bloody around her white thighs. Her marble-hard gaze has fixed on me though the white of her left eye is red as a post box. She was 16 years old, my age; she was in my class at school, I think. I don’t have much of a memory.
Mick brought her up to the cottage last night and all she’d done is cry. She’d cried so much that her face shone, wet and slimy under the naked bulb, and her voice had broken from all that pleading and begging until it was a squeak; a death squeak that piped through the rag over her mouth. Now she’s quiet and I’m fucking glad of it. I couldn’t think, couldn’t get my head together with all that bloody noise; even her breathing was doing my head in.
Mick had tied her to the chair in the back room with an old washing line. I watched him do it and he did it in a way that made me see he’d done it before; without hesitation, as he does everything in life. It was nearly two in the morning when he pulled up with her slung in the back of the old Datsun Cherry. She’d been out cold, and her breath made little clouds in the starlight. I’d been waiting at the cottage since ten when he’d dropped me off and had gone through nearly half a pouch of ‘baccy waiting for him to get back. She had a dirty rag around her eyes, and she wore a fancy dress, as a woman in a magazine might wear. I looked down at my grey shell-suit bottoms with the hole in the knee and hated her a little. I lit a rollie but couldn’t take my eyes off her blonde hair; the way it caught and cracked the light like treasure, something men would cross oceans and kill for. Mick’s older than me by fifteen years, my brother, my only family. ‘Now Karl,’ he says to me, ‘you watch her like a hawk, yeah? Don’t listen to anything she says, don’t even give her a drink until I get back, all right? I’m serious, boy.’
‘I know what I’m doing.’
He looks at me for a long time through the shadows. He stood behind her, his hand around her neck. He’d worn an old balaclava when he took her from outside the school prom, and it sat on top of his head now like a gnome’s hat, pulled up from his face. ‘I wish to fuck I didn’t have to rely on you.’
‘Don’t be like that.’
‘No,’ he said, looking at me all serious, ‘come on kidder, I didn’t mean that. I just mean you’re a bit slow an’ that.’
‘I’m not slow.’ I flicked the fag at him. It hit his chest and burst into bits like a firework in the dark of the empty room. Everything seems louder when there’s no furniture, no curtains and that, and I clamp my lips shut in case I shout again.
‘I know you’re not; I’m just saying there’s a lot riding on this. I’ve taken a great bloody risk tonight and I’m counting on you. There’s money in this, enough money for us to get the fuck out of here for good, you hear me. We fuck this up, mind, and the pair of us is fed to the pigs, yeah?’ I mumbled something and he repeated, ‘Yeah?’
‘I just want you to watch her and make sure she doesn’t get away. I’m off to town to let the fat get know we’ve got his daughter. I’ll be back tomorrow night when I’ve sorted shit out. All you need to do is watch her until then.’
‘You can count on me.’
He looked down at her and said something gross about her that an older bloke like him shouldn’t say. Then he said, ‘When she wakes up, she’s going to be fucking upset, boy.’
‘I bet she bloody will.’
‘Don’t let her get into your head, be cool, yeah? And don’t let her see you, whatever you fucking do.’
A vixen called out in the woods outside, the black-trunked winter-beaten wood losing all it had to the mud and moonlight. I fancied I saw it through the single pane; a sharp thing darting through the blue early morning grass to hunt God knows what in the English dark. The dark seemed to breathe in and out, seemed to shake beneath the stars like some giant thing alive and sleeping, the endless dark I love.
I’ve been a little forgetful ever since Goodwill run me off the road when me and the lads were on our bikes in Spital Lane, in the centre of town. That was when I was ten before Mam got cancer. Mick used to say it was the stress of watching me through hospital glass, not knowing if I’d live or burn away like fag paper, that wore down her body and weakened her enough for the tumour to burst out. He brought me up from being twelve, went to the doctors with me, went to the school when I’d got done for punching a lass. He said it wasn’t right what I’d done. Said I’d come back from Death’s door with a little of the grave-cold in me, but I knew better, I knew it was the dark, lodged in the place where there used to be gold, deep inside, like the black in the middle of your eye, a dark thing, flashing like a wet rock in the light. He didn’t know that all the cats missing from the estate were now bones and fur in the woods, because of me. It’d do his head in if he knew what I’d done to them.
Goodwill’s a big fat bastard owns the town, takeaways, arcades, pawnshops, a loan company and a ton of crooked things aside. Mick worked for him back when I got knocked down. Goodwill had a bunch of Illegals living in sheds on his farm, Chinese, Afghans, the lot, and he rented ’em out to work the harvest. A couple died and Mick said Goodwill fed ’em to the pigs; said that’s what he did with folks who fucked him over. He got rid of a few dead ‘uns for city gangs too; big blokes with heavy gold jewellery, tattoos and knife blade eyes. Mick wanted to get back at Goodwill; said it was for me, for Mam, but I know better. Mick never did anything for a soul but himself.
I hear him pull up outside, long after midnight. I finish my fag and look down at the girl. Hannah was her name, and for the first time in many years, I feel whole, feel like the part of me that went down into the fucking unknown when I was in that long, long sleep has filled up with something else, something black as oil. I should tell him she’d tried to escape or some shit, but he’d see through it. He’s yelling to me. ‘We’ve got to get her out of here, Karl; they knew it was me, for fuck’s sake. They’ll be coming.’
‘How would they know?’ I shout down. I stand and get behind the door holding the shovel I’d found in the shed. It’s caked with dried concrete, which makes it a little heavier. I swing it to test the action and then wait.
‘I don’t know! There’s no way they could have known!’
‘Maybe somebody told ‘im?’
Mick opens the door and steps into the death-stink of a room decorated like a butcher’s shop with the girl’s blood. The gasp he makes is almost funny and he gets out a… ‘What the f…?’ before I give it ‘im on the back of the head.
He goes down like a sack of dirt, the breath rushing out of him like a Rook’s bark. I check his pulse, then take the money from his pockets and stand. I smile and look out to the main road. The sun’ll be up in a few hours and already the dark is paling to the east, but there’s a dark that sun won’t ever reach.
I watch Goodwill and his men turn up ten minutes later. The big man’s wearing a suit and his lads have guns, and not shotguns neither but proper ones, like in the films. I’ll have to get one of those. I’m standing in the black of the wood, almost part of it, hardly even breathing. I hear the big man scream from inside the cottage and let a smile break on my lips. Now he knows what it’s like to lose your soul, if a soul exists; maybe not a soul but something in you that keeps you in the light, whether that’s a God like Mam thought, or the foggy rules Mick followed. You lose that, and you’re something other than a person, something less but at the same time more.
They drag Mick out. He’s wobbly on his feet, just coming around, just starting to figure out what’s going on. One of the lads decks him and then lifts him back up. I can still hear Goodwill screaming; it’s like the Vixen’s bark, a cold and pure sound against the night, it’s beautiful. They throw Mick into the boot of the first car and I can hear his fists banging on the inside as they drive past me. Goodwill and one of his boys are in the house and I know the cops will be on their way before too long.
I fade backwards into the dark, feet crunching on the wet leaves. The moonlight silvers the branches of the trees and I light my last fag.
The author has kindly allowed Horrified to reproduce The English Dark. The story was originally published in The Dark Earth of Albion, his collection of tales tuned to a strange and savage folk horror frequency. Stories which have crawled from the mud and now stand dripping on your bedroom carpet watching you sleep. Stories that have the power to haunt, like the warning cries of crows on a cold northerly wind. The Dark Earth of Albion is available to purchase here.
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