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Authors: Jeffrey Thomas

Nocturnal Emissions

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NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS

by Jeffrey Thomas

ISBN: 978-1-937128-89-0

 

T
his eBook edition published 2011 by Dark Regions Press
as part of Dark Regions Digital
.

 

http://www.darkregions.com

 

Dark Regions Press

300 E. Hersey St. STE 10A
 

Ashland
,
OR
97520
 

www.darkregions.com

© Jeffrey Thomas 2010

 

Cover Design by
M. Wayne Miller

 

Ebook Creation by Book Looks Design

 

http://www.booklooksdesign.com

 

 

 
Premium signed and limited print editions available at:
http://www.darkregions.com/books/nocturnal-emissions-by-jeffrey-thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publishing Credits

 

Godhead Dying Downwards
first appeared as a chapbook from Earthling Publications, 2003

The Hosts
first appeared in the anthology
Waiting for October
, Dark Arts Books, 2007

The Pool of Tears
first appeared in the anthology
Crypto-Critters Volume 1
, Padwolf Publishing, 2006

The Night Swimmers
first appeared in the anthology
Crypto-Critters Volume 2
, Padwolf Publishing, 2007

Thirteen Poems
first appeared as a bonus hardcover entitled
Thirteen More Specimens,
accompanying the lettered edition of the collection
Thirteen Specimens
, Delirium Books, 2006

Star est Control
first appeared in the anthology
Waiting for October
, Dark Arts Books, 2007

Demeter
,
The Possessed
and
Nocturnal Emissions
are original to this collection

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

The author would like to thank Walter Egan for kindly allowing use of the lyrics for his song
Tunnel O’Love
(from his 1977 album
Fundamental Roll
)—and for the use of his persona—in the story
Waltered States
. A thrill and an honor! Thanks, too, to my brother Scott Thomas for devising the character

“Detective/Psychiatrist Jabronski.” Yet more thanks to Paul Miller for allowing me use of my novella
Godhead Dying Downwards
as a reprint, and Matt Schwartz for allowing me to use my novella
The Possessed
for its first appearance. Thanks to M. Wayne Miller for the use of his gorgeous painting
Offering
for the cover. And as always, thanks to Dark Regions’ guru, and my friend, Joe Morey for his nearly rabid enthusiasm for my work. Rock on, one and all.

 

 

 

Program Guide

 

Channel 1: Godhead Dying Downwards

Channel 2: The Hosts

Channel 3: The Pool of Tears

Channel 4: The Night Swimmers

Channel 5: Demeter

Channel 6: Thirteen Poems

Channel 7: Star est Control

Channel 8: The Possessed

Channel 9: Nocturnal Emissions

 

 

 

Channel 1:

Godhead Dying
Downwards

 

Has some Vast Imbecility,

Mighty to build and blend,

But impotent to tend,

Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?

Or come we of an Automaton

Unconscious of our pains?…

Or are we live remains

Of Godhead dying downwards, brain and eye now gone?

—Thomas Hardy, “Nature’s Questioning”

I: The Sheep’s Head

 

When they saw the priest strolling along through the fairgrounds, some of the attendees of the Woodbury Fair became self-conscious, uncomfortable, as though black storm clouds had slunk in to eclipse the bright blue heavens.

With its origins in the thirteenth century, the fair on Woodbury Hill had declined somewhat over recent years. Though its focus was still on the selling, in great numbers, of sheep and horses, each year these practical matters were further impinged upon by an increase in the tented stalls of merchants. And over time, the products offered evolved—or devolved as the case may be—from clothing and hats and the like, to toys and trinkets. In addition, there were now penny peep shows, fortune-tellers, wax figures like grotesque golems one might imagine coming to life and wandering the fairgrounds after its many human visitors had retired to their beds.

In this year of 1883, there was much drinking at the fair, and rowdiness, and performing girls in scandalous outfits riding or standing on horses. It was little wonder, then, that some might be made to feel uneasy at the sight of the young priest in his spectacles with their odd red lenses. Had he come to cast his verbal displeasure on the proceedings? To preach to these lost souls? Or simply to inspire guilt and self reproach in the masses by his gloomy presence alone?

It was not only his clerical garb that inspired such unconscious resentment, however, but also the fact that he was specifically a priest as opposed to a minister. It had been many years since 1850, when amid much controversy and outright fury the Catholic Church reestablished its hierarchy in
England
, after years of lurking in the shadows of the Protestants’ Anglican Church. It had been thirteen years since the
Vatican
had incited further bitterness by declaring that the Pope’s views were incapable of error. Despite the passage of time, however, Catholicism was still not the bent of most churchgoers in this land.

This priest, named Father Venn, had not come here with any particular intention, whatever the concerns of his fellow fair-goers. He had been wandering through the parish of Bere Regis, returning to Dorset from several months spent in
London
, twelve miles distant. He had quite forgotten that—it being the eighteenth of September—the well-known Woodbury Fair would be underway on its hill a half mile from Bere Regis village. He had found himself more or less drawn along with the flow of those others who were following their annual exodus to that hill and that fair. Horses, carts, flocks of sheep climbed the hill’s gentle slope in a fog of raised dust, like apparitions of the many men and animals who had climbed this hill in decades and centuries past.

Venn had climbed the road behind a man who drove along a group of cows, occasionally thrashing the hindmost and apparently most recalcitrant of these beasts across its rear flanks with more force, and more relish, than seemed necessary. Finally Venn came up alongside the man, who looked at him in surprise, and jerked his stick out of his hand. For a moment, Venn thought that he might strike the man across the face with a backhanded blow from the stick. Such a desire in him would have seemed impossible in an earlier day, unthinkable from a man of God. But Venn no longer knew what behavior was appropriate for such a man. What God might expect or want from him. If anything.

Instead of striking him, Venn flung the stick off into the hedge lining the road, and walked ahead of the mystified and plainly frightened man. As he went, he ran his hand over the cow’s neck. He hoped his touch soothed it, and gave it a second opinion of his species.

Now, having reached the fair itself, Father Venn found himself standing a short way from the steam-driven roundabout, watching the spinning of the beautifully carved and gaudily painted dobby horses, which chased each other round and round like an ouroborus swallowing its own tail. The roundabout’s organ played so enthusiastically that at times it leapt into a positive cacophony that could scarcely be called music. Venn smiled sympathetically down at a boy who stood with his hands clamped over his ears, clearly both longing to ride on one of those wooden ponies, and at the same time terrified of the frenzied speed and noise of this unnatural machine.

Venn thought of himself half-disgustedly as one of those dobbies, just then.

Back in his home
territory
of
Dorset
again. Back pursuing the same fruitless avenues. Chasing his own tail round and round endlessly, pointlessly. Getting to no destination. And like those dobbies, pretending to life, but only imitation.

Turning from the whirling machine, Venn found his red-dyed gaze shifting to a string of luridly painted posters advertising a side show. To himself he read softly, “The Aztec Skeleton Girl.” She didn’t sound very comely.

Still, he found himself almost against his will drawn in that direction. Before he reached this side show tent, however, a smaller one just beyond attracted his gaze. Or was it his gaze that had been attracted? It was almost as if a ghostly hand had taken his chin, to point his face in that direction. Venn found himself suddenly rooted to his spot, so that others had to bend their way around him. He read a banner strung over the opening to this circular tent, that read: “Curiosities and Marvels of Nature.”

Just as he had seemed to be directed by another force to look this way, so did Venn find that his feet were now carrying him toward the tent of garishly advertized mysteries.

Nearing the tent, Venn smelled straw and animal manure from its gloomy interior, but his way was blocked by a man accepting admission at its opening.

Near him, on a chair by the entrance, sat a woman in a shockingly short skirt, which due to her sitting had risen up to bare her knees. She was a side show performer of some kind, no doubt. A mother with two children, approaching the tent to view these anomalies of nature, spotted the costumed woman and quickly diverted her children to another attraction. Apparently, whatever monsters might lie within the tent were less horrible than the sight of this wanton young woman, whose eyes were now fixed on Father Venn.

“Well hallo, there, good Father.” She smiled. Her hair was thick and full but her face mannish and hard, and even from here Venn could smell the rot of her teeth under the liquor on her breath. Her corset almost pinched her into two pieces, exaggerating the fertile promises of her hips.

At her words, the man taking admission lifted his eyes and saw Venn in line before him. He straightened his posture in a jolt of shock. “Hallo, Father. Ah…do ye wish…to see…” Faltering, he gestured self-consciously over his shoulder.

“Yes,” Venn told him. “How much is it?”

“Oh…how much? A penny, sir, but for you…no, sir.” He waved at the coin Venn started to present. “No cost to you, sir. You go on in…”

The seated woman swatted the man’s back. “Fool,” she whispered, not softly enough. But she smiled at Venn once more, either trying to charm him or else charmed by him. He was a very good-looking young man, with hair black as a crow’s wing. “If you be scared to venture inside alone, Father, I might take your hand.”

Venn tried to keep his smile pleasant. “No thank you, madam…I’ll be quite all right.”

Her eyes flicked up and down the lean black length of him. “Tell me, Father, as I’ve always been curious—why is it that your lot remain celibate as a monk, and without a wife? Seems an awful shame. Particularly in your own case, as fine a gentleman as you be.”

“It’s a commitment to my calling, madam.”

“And don’t ye ever regret it? Don’t ye ever see a pretty maiden, and feel the urge to convert to a more obliging church?”

Before Venn could formulate any kind of an answer, the admissions man groaned, “Lizzy!” Then, to the priest: “Please pardon my sister, Father. Go on in…as my guest.”

Venn nodded to the man, then to his grinning sister, and proceeded ahead.

As he slipped into the tent, out of the brisk autumnal breeze atop this hill, he removed his peculiar red-lensed spectacles and folded them away, the better to see in the murky interior.

Near the entrance, in a little pen, a small and scrawny black dog was curled in the straw which covered the dirt floor. Upon seeing Venn duck into the tent, it jumped up to its legs, of which it only possessed two: a single leg up front, on the left, and a single in the rear, on the right, giving it at least some kind of balance. Venn couldn’t tell if it had been born that way, or if its condition was the result of some mishap. In any rate, it greeted him happily and he leaned into its pen to let it lick his hand.

In another pen was a black goat with a single thick horn growing out of its forehead. Predictably, a sign advertized it as a unicorn, though it was less exotic in appearance than that. Its disturbing eyes with their uncanny irises (perhaps, the priest thought, the reason the Arch-fiend was given a goat’s head) watched him hungrily but also warily, as if expecting some mistreatment.

There was a mottled pig with an extra leg hanging out of either side of its body. A rooster in a cage with a crooked extra leg tucked between the other two.

But not all the exhibits were alive. A table had been set up to one side, and Venn drew close to examine its display like a buyer perusing a merchant’s wares.

In a box there was a snake skeleton with two heads. Pickled in a jar was a pig embryo with no hind legs—a grotesque miniature mermaid swimming in alcohol. Like the unicorn, an exotic chimera of myth revealed to be, in reality, merely pathetic and sad.

Venn turned to the last item on the table—the head of a lamb also preserved in alcohol, sealed in a big mason jar. Frowning, Venn rotated the jar slightly and bent nearer to it. The lamb had been born without eyes. There was barely an indentation where each socket should be. If God was the artist who had created each plant and animal on this earth, how did mistakes like this one slip past His notice? Or did He create these intentionally, to make some kind of point, to get across some sort of message that was simply lost to him?

He straightened and was about to leave the tent, but he found it hard to remove his gaze from that eyeless disembodied head. A strange impulse came over him, then. Like the impulse that had directed him to this tent in the first place. He peeked over his shoulder to be certain that he was alone, and that the siblings weren’t peeking into the tent at him. Then, he slipped out and unfolded his wire-rimmed spectacles with their deep red lenses, and put them on his face.

Now that he had the spectacles on, he could see that the lamb’s head possessed two eyes after all.

The eyes had sclera that were a blood red instead of white, and within these were pupils of an almost metallic silver. These silvery pupils rolled to look up at him, followed him as he took an unconscious step back in repug-nance. In fear.

When Venn stepped out into the light, still wearing his odd specs against its brightness, the show girl was grinning at him as if she sensed and enjoyed his unease. He asked her and her brother, “That sheep’s head, without eyes.

Where did you acquire it?”

“I bought it from a farmer in Candleton, sir,” said the man. “People sell me these beasts, sir, knowing as I can make use of them, where they can not.”

At the name of Candleton, Venn had stiffened imperceptibly. “Do you recall the man’s name?”

“Er…” He looked at his sister helplessly. “I think his name be Brook, sir.

Brook, yes, that be it.”

“And do you recall anything about this Brook?”

“Well,” the man replied somewhat reluctantly, as if afraid of the consequences, “he had a few drinks in him, as I recall, and was of quite an unpleasant temper, haggling as he did with me over the price. Fearsome eyes, he had, if I remember the man rightly, Father.”

BOOK: Nocturnal Emissions
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