an extract from the novel
What is the shadowy beast that roams
the lonely moors? Why does a mass-produced painting leave its owners
horribly dead? Why does
no-one speak of the lost girls living on a small island in the middle
of the duck pond? Who sits in the sinister black cars that watch the
And what secrets does the man with the violin
These are the mysteries which set a young journalist
lurching away from the normal, everyday life he leads and into a nightmarish
world he never knew existed, yet which hides in plain sight all around
And at the heart of it all, a nightclub where
those who walk paths unknown to the rest of us party on, through day
and night and towards the end of the world.
The blurred edges of this strange, mythic world
are brought into sharp, horrifying focus as one man discovers that scratching
the surface of normality can throw up all kinds of surprises - and not
all of them pleasant.
Whether the enigmas herald a terrifying conspiracy
that threatens the lives of innocent people who just happen to take
too much notice of the world around them, or are simply the signposts
to drug-fuelled insanity, the question remains: Once you've noticed
just how weird life really is, can you ever go home again?
Eleven: Et In Arcadia...
"They say you've got to be a bit... I don't know, special
to even find Arcadia, let alone get in. I'm very impressed, Mr Reporter.
Maybe you're not as straight as you make out."
Cheryl's words haunt me. I'm starting to become convinced that my life
went straight down the toilet the moment I stepped inside that club.
But what do I mean by that, really? Sure, there's the stuff with Mags
and Emma, but then that's always been there, and all the weird stuff
like the Beast and the Crying Boy, and poor Colin. Of course, you can't
really legislate for things like your friend dying in a house fire,
but everything else... maybe it was always like that, and I've just
been papering over the cracks. But I can't shake the feeling that Arcadia
was the catalyst for it all, that if indeed my life was a little insane
before and I just never noticed, it was Arcadia that finally opened
There's only one thing to do. I've got to go back.
Which, of course, is easier said than done. I decide to
take the day off, and then I realise with a start I don't even know
what day it is exactly. I start trying to count the days from the Saturday
night when we went to Arcadia, but I can't quite make it all add up.
I telephone the office and leave a message with the switchboard that
I'm "still sick". Besides, I've got Colin's funeral tomorrow, so no
point going in today and then missing another one. I'm sure George will
I try to find Arcadia first in the phone book and the Yellow Pages,
but I'm not really surprised when there's no entry. Digging out my A-Z
map, I search in vain for Lethe Lane and Fugue Street, but it's like
the taxi driver who took us home on Saturday night said, they're just
not there. I follow Segg Way with my finger to the end of a page, turn
over, and Segg Way has merged into a whole host of other roads, none
of them Fugue Street or Lethe Lane. Forgotten, even by the map-makers.
I sit in silence in my flat, pondering. Two streets can't just not exist,
especially when I've walked on them. And in a litter-blown alley just
off Lethe Lane, there's Arcadia. Well, I've talked the talk, and now
there's only one thing for it. I'm going to have to walk the walk.
The day is dull and darkening by the time I pull the car
up on Segg Way. The road is quiet, fields off to one side and low factory
units, all looking shut-up, on the other. No people walking their dogs,
no workers coming on for the afternoon shift, no other cars on the road.
I consult the map again. If I've got it right, this is just about where
Segg Way turns on to the next page of the A-Z, by rights where Lethe
Lane should be. I frown and look down Segg Way. It just goes on for
what seems like an impossible distance, fields to the right, factory
units to the left. The more I stare, the more I frown. The very act
of looking down the street is making my head hurt. I can't seem to focus
properly, in fact it's almost like... almost like...
It's almost like I'm looking into a vast mirror, the same stretch of
fields behind me reflected ahead, the same blocks of shuttered factories
repeated again. Only I'm not in the reflection. The more I stare, the
more unreal it seems, like a huge stage set, and the more my eyes hurt.
I pinch them tight between my fingers, and shake my head. When I open
my eyes again, the street looks almost normal. But as I try to stare
down Segg Way again, I get the same feeling, almost nausea. I have to
look away, rubbing my temples where a dull headache has begun to throb.
Still, I've come so far, not going to let a little exhaustion put me
off. I turn the ignition and gun the engine, easing away from the kerb
slowly. There's a protest of gnashing gears and the fan belt begins
to squeal. What the fuck? I try to ram the car into second gear but
it won't go, almost refusing to inch forward despite me stamping hard
on the accelerator, causing the engine to whine unhappily. I give up,
pulling back to the kerb, and kill the engine. Looks like I'll have
to continue on foot.
I stand beside the car for a long time after locking up, trying not
to look straight ahead down Segg Way. A fierce wind has whipped up,
howling down the road towards me, driving grit into my eyes and creating
violent little eddies of litter and leaves. Suddenly I'm aware of another
presence, a small dog that's padding up the pavement on the other side
of the road, heading in the same direction as me. It's some scraggy
little mongrel, the wind flattening the wiry russet hair on its face.
I watch it walk slowly up the road until it's level with me, where it
stops, sniffing the air and struggling to stand still in the howling
wind. The dog tries to nose forward, then gives up and turns around.
And then it looks at me like I've never been looked at by a dog, gazing
at me levelly, its eyes full of almost human understanding, unflinching.
I nearly speak out, unformed questions rising on my lips. What? What?
What is it trying to tell me?
Then it gives up, both on me and its chances of getting down Segg Way,
and turns tail and bolts back the way it came, disappearing into a side
street far down the road. I watch it go for a long time, wondering what
it knows, what it was trying to communicate. Was it trying to show me
the futility of my actions, trying to tell me that if not even a dog
can walk the paths I'm choosing for myself, then what possible hope
can I have?
No. No. It's just a dog. Dogs don't try to tell us anything, except
when they want to eat, or shit, or take a run in the park.. I slump
on to the car, suddenly completely exhausted, half ready to crawl back
into the driver's seat and sleep right there. But I won't be beaten
by this. I fumble in my pocket and my fingers close around a tight paper
package. Speed. Pulling it out I shield it from the wind inside my coat
and unfurl it, quickly licking the bitter powder in one go, grimacing
as it textures my tongue, almost making me gag.
Zipping the coat up to my chin, I close my eyes and push forward into
the wind. It howls harder, pushing me back, whipping my breath away,
but I don't care, I forge on relentlessly, Cheryl's voice urging me
forward. "They say you've got to be a bit... I don't know, special
to even find Arcadia, let alone get in. I'm very impressed, Mr Reporter.
Maybe you're not as straight as you make out."
The amphetamine kicks in almost immediately, adding power to my legs
as I push on through the wind, eyes still tightly clenched. The powder
is cleansing the fog in my brain, rushing through my veins like a tornado,
matching the gale gust for gust until I'm not only fighting against
the wind but working it, shaping it, folding it behind me and letting
it carry me on.
And then it's over. The wind dies abruptly. I open my eyes. I'm still
on Segg Way, my car's ten yards or so behind me, but something's different.
Where this side of the street seemed unreal before, this time my car
and the factory units and the fields which merge off into infinity look
as though they're the mere painted backdrop of some false life. I've
crossed over, it feels like, made the leap into the unknown. I turn
and look down Segg Way, and notice things I hadn't seen from the other
side. The road doesn't seem half as long as it did before, I can see
it curve round to the left, a wooded area nestling at the end of the
fields on the right. There are shops, and streets meandering away from
the main road, and the vague hints of movement on the far edge of the
limits of my vision.
And then I'm laughing, almost hysterical, but not caring because there's
no-one here to see me. I've just had one of those super-lucid speed
moments, when something is so obvious that you've been missing it and
then it comes and smacks you right in the face. Segg Way. Segg Way.
I haven't just moved somewhere else physically, I've segued there,
shifted from one state to the next, almost seamlessly, but just about
noticeable. Here, where I stand, and there, where my car sits, are all
part of the same tune, but played at different tempos. It's symphonic
in its hilarity. Much jollier, I set off at a jaunty pace down towards
The speed is kicking in now, coming up much faster than
I anticipated. I feel out of step with myself, as though I'm watching
one of those TV shows filmed on video which always looks a millisecond
slower than real-life. The dusk is landing heavily, and streetlights
are buzzing into life, dull orange embers warming slowly to yellow.
A car, a blue Triumph Dolomite, cruises slowly past me, the driver looking
at me intensely then gunning the engine and driving on. I'm coming up
to where Lethe Lane cuts across Fugue Street, where there are shops,
and a pub, and houses. I pass a small corner grocery store, tins and
jars displayed in spartan fashion in the window. Behind the counter,
an old woman looks impassively at me, meeting my stare. At the doorway
a mother and a small child appear, looking at me in the same measured
yet disinterested manner. They seem to be waiting for me to pass before
they'll step out of the doorway. The child has a small lollipop in his
hand. Without smiling he offers it to me and speaks.
I don't know what he's saying. He forms his words as a question, but
they make no sense to me. He proffers the lollipop again, repeating
his words, which seem to be formed of all the wrong vowels and letters.
Not exactly a foreign language, just a... different one. He begins
to laugh and his mother looks mirthlessly on at me. I shake my head
and move away, conscious of the shopkeeper staring through the window
at me until I pass by her line of sight.
Suddenly, the street seems full of people, milling aimlessly, a quiet
hum of unidentifiable conversation rising all around me. I strain to
pick out words, but I can't. Christ, I feel fucked. It's cold but I'm
sweating, and I know I must look as pale as a corpse. I think I'm whiting
out. I stop and steady myself on a lamp-post. It buzzes harshly, flickers,
and goes out, causing shadows to dance and submerge. An old man stands
in front of me, waving his walking stick and jabbering animatedly without
uttering a single sound. He seems to be pleading with me, gesticulating
wildly. Someone else pulls him away, glowering at me and tracing a convoluted
symbol in the air in front of my face. There's a sound of tinkling laughter,
as though heard at a party from another room.
I push on and the crowds, now thronging the darkening pavements, open
to let me through. My head's thumping and my throat's as dry as sandpaper.
Need a drink, anything. I'm sure I saw a pub around here last time and
I cast about, looking for it, until I spot an illuminated sign creaking
softly in the wind across the road. The picture on the sign hurts my
eyes, all the angles are wrong, writhing shapes turn in on themselves.
I squint and try to read the name of the pub, but the letters won't
stay still, swarming over each other like living things. Regardless,
I force myself across the road, my tongue feeling thick and dry inside
my parched mouth. The door is open and I stagger into the almost Stygian
gloom of the vault, my feet sucking on the sticky carpet. There are
shapes in here, people huddled around tables. The bar is faintly lit,
but darkness seems to be pressing on the periphery of my vision. I lean
on the bar, digging for cash in my pocket. A thickset man framed by
a dull halo of lights from the optics frowns at me, looking uncomfortably
at the other unseen drinkers, as though seeking guidance as to how to
deal with me. I slap a handful of change on the dark oak of the bar
and beseech him wordlessly, imploringly, for help. Seemingly at some
signal from somewhere behind me, the barman reaches under the bar and
brings out an open bottle, pouring me a measure into a glass. He doesn't
take any of my money, and I slug the liquid down in one go, the harsh,
bittersweet taste scalding my throat, but at least offering some measure
of relief to the desert on my tongue. The alcohol in the drink hits
me a second or two later, causing my head to swim as in a nightmare.
I feel surrounded by the other punters, hemmed in, claustrophobic. The
bar man proffers the bottle at me again but I shake my head. "Arcadia,"
I say, the act of enunciating the words alien and painful. "Where is
Then he's laughing at me, throwing his head back and roaring, but the
sound's muted as if we're underwater. The other drinkers join in, slapping
each other's shoulders and rubbing tears from their eyes, the dull howl
building up until it needles into my head. My ears are sore, and I can
feel something wet trickling down my jaw line. I touch my face and draw
my fingers back. Blood. My ears are bleeding. I shout at the barman,
at all of them, but even my own words fail to make any sense to me now.
Turning, I stagger out of the pub, on to Fugue Street.
Which is now deserted.
Except for a single car. A shiny black car of indeterminate marque,
the windows tinted, parked up with its engine idling across the street,
pooled under the light of a lamp-post. Where did all the people go?
The street is deserted, litter blowing unsteadily on the cracked pavement,
the shops and houses darkened. I glance at my watch, but I can't compute
the patterns of hands and numbers into anything that makes sense. Suddenly
I feel very, very afraid. I turn back to the pub, but someone has closed
the door behind me, and the building is shrouded in darkness.
I'm not wanted here.
But I won't go until I find what I came for, until I find Arcadia.
There was an alley, I remember, long and tight, which opened up on to
this very street. I cast around for it, half-spotting ginnels and passages
on the edge of my sightline, but when I try to focus on them, they aren't
there. The whole street seems to twist and move, re-shaping itself constantly.
From the corner of my eye I spot an alley, and then look away, not gazing
at it directly. It's still there on the outside of my field of vision,
and I edge towards it, not looking full on. When I think I'm but a yard
away, I reach out my hand and can't help turning my head to the uninviting,
dark passageway. My fingers touch cold bricks, a section of an unbroken
and uninterrupted wall. There is no alley.
The car is still there, the unseen occupants watching my strange, uncertain
ballet on the darkened and deserted street. I could go up to it, bang
on the window, ask them for directions. But I don't want to, I don't
want to approach the car at all.
In fact, I want to get out of here.
And that's exactly what I do. Sweating yet cold, I start to walk back
the way I came, and it's mere seconds before I'm breaking out into a
jog and then a full sprint, my breath jagged and rasping as I run away,
back to my car, back to real life. The running and the speed are making
my heart hammer, beating in cadence with the slapping of my feet on
the cold, cracked, empty pavements. I run and run, seemingly for longer
than I walked to get here, until I see a car. My car. I get to it easily,
no pressure or resistance like when I tried to get to Fugue Street.
And suddenly everything seems normal once again. I lean on the car,
trying to regain my breath. The same fields roll off to one side, the
same factory units shuttered and darkened on the other. I can read the
signs. SMITH FABRICS. EMPIRE TECHNOLOGIES. The graffiti is refreshingly
mundane. FUCK U. Fumbling for my keys, I open the door and sink gratefully
into the driver's seat, exhausted. I put my head in my hands and close
my eyes for a moment, and seem to sleep.
I awake with a start. Everything is as it was before. My watch, no
longer an alien dial of incomprehensible messages, tells me it is nearly
seven-thirty. I glance along the gloom of Segg Way. Did all that really
happen? Did I even get out of the car, or have I dreamed it all?
I make a mental note to discuss this latest turn of events with Colin.
And then I remember.
© David Barnett 2005, 2006.
Hinterland was published by Immanion
Press in April 2005.
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
Elsewhere on the web: