Dreckly (Part One)
McLaurin Rowe glanced at the new email and misunderstood its single word. His disbelief did not diminish after opening and closing it several times. The sender’s address was just a gibberish jumble of letters. He snapped the laptop shut abruptly, as if that would contain it forever. From beyond his office came a disconcerting cacophony of knives sharpening on grindstones, followed by a waft of sulphuric heat, then the more comforting infusions of alchemical scents associated with his kitchen staff worked on the evening menu. But the reality of the restaurant seemed to distort in the atmosphere, and even the grey Edinburgh streets, stark beyond the windows, began to distantly recede.
He had always hated the sound of this word which had been forced upon him: Dreckly. Even before its appearance in this email he felt something sinister in the sound of it. If ever a spider could speak, he was sure it would hiss that word. It was even more perverse because it signified the opposite of how it made him feel. To friends in Scotland he would have to explain that Dreckly was a diminution of ‘directly’, a motto for the philosophy that life should be taken at an easy pace and all things would be attended to, delivered and received in due course and not before. Nothing was to be forced or rushed, the Cornish national equivalent of manãna.
Now here was this mantra sinisterly communicated in an anonymous email. No one alive knew the connotations it had for him. But Rowe knew what it signified and where it came from. The word, contrary to its normal usage, meant come at once. And the person who had sent it, the only one who would have done so, was inconveniently dead. When the demanded summons embedded itself in his consciousness and would not be dislodged he booked a flight to Newquay. When he tried to find the contacts associated with his old friend in his old address books he sourly surrendered to Facebook and waded through an army of imposters until he found the right person.
Patrick Trebillick was the son and duplicate of his old friend, Paddy, judging by the posted pictures. Face, hair, huge frame, open expression, all the same. In the most recent photo, apparently taken in one of Newquay’s more insalubrious bars, there was the lad (he must be twenty-five now), surrounded by friends, wearing a t-shirt which actually had a picture of his dad in his Cornish bard’s robes, captioned with the revealing legend: I am NOT my father! That physical similarity, together with his father’s overpowering personality and local fame, made it difficult for young Patrick to thrive in his shadow, even after his death.
‘You’ve been dead ten bloody years,’ McLaurin accused the shadows. But saying it did not stop the insanity of the situation dragging his mind down to a grim level. He messaged Patrick, saying he would be down south on business for a few days and received a cautiously welcoming message back. Back in the nineties, when he had been a sous chef down there, him and the Paddy had been relentless drinking companions. He shuddered to think what tales Paddy’s ex Sarah had passed down to the young lad. But there were other background issues between father and son, he knew.
McLaurin looked at the t-shirt picture again. He remembered how proud Paddy had been to be made a bard at the gorsedd, and he remembered he’d stashed half a bottle of voddie beneath the robes, ‘just in case things need livening up’.
‘Ah, you went too soon, big man,’ Rowe mumbled. ‘But I can’t say I’m glad to see you back in the circumstances. But just one word? You were never that coy. Mind, there may be some barriers to free communication where you are.’
Paddy’s face gurned back in black and white from the t-shirt. It was a joke from the son: everyone who saw him thought it was his dad resurrected, until the look of disappointment on their faces when he proved himself unwilling to be the larger than life legend.
On the plane he considered Paddy’s downfall. There was the affair of the extraneous involvement with the lassie called Tara from Wadebridge, but that was only the dressing on his downfall. The great community leader, the Restormel partisan, man of the people, was seen as a bit of a traitor in the final days. Rowe had abandoned him to take up an undeserved chef’s job in Edinburgh. But the real reason to go, he and Paddy knew, was to break their mutually destructive bond.
‘You’re the only man who ever went to Scotland in order to give up drinking,’ Paddy berated him sadly.
‘But it’s where I’m from,’ McLaurin answered. ‘The blood is strong and all that.’
‘It is that,’ Paddy said and surrendered. They both knew, besides, that Paddy had plenty of other friends, drunk and sober, and that he was moving into darker waters with his life anyway.
He shook Rowe’s hand, then said, ‘I wish I didn’t have this attachment to this bloody place at times.’
He had forgotten the deep translucence of the Celtic Sea, the foreign, crooked look of the stone hedged fields as the plane circled down to St Mawgan. There was a B&B he knew in a village two miles from the coast, so he took a taxi there and was greeted as the prodigal libertine, since it used to be a famous bolt hole in the old days. He avoided a welcoming drink, feigned tiredness from the journey and retreated to the cold bed immediately. The window was open and the curtains wouldn’t meet. He stared at the immediately wild tangled gorse of the moorland, then his vision was caught by the three huge wind turbines in the middle distance, spoiling it. Rowe fancied he heard the blades dissecting the air and the salt driven wind bitching terribly at the desecration.
The pillars of the turbines loomed terribly as he attempted sleep. They twisted over and intruded into the room. He remembered that Paddy’s supposed cardinal sin had been to swing the parish council of St Cadroe’s in favour of giving permission to erect a wind farm along that part of the coast. To compound his dreadful legacy he had also arranged for a disastrously hideous solar farm to defile the east side of the unspoilt Nantgollan Valley. Most of the locals never forgave him, but he had the last laugh by snuffing it three months after the news of both developments broke, depriving them of the conviction that he would come to his senses. There was a story that he wanted to be interred beneath the flagstones of the village pub, so he could be sure to keep a haunted watch on the quality of the ale, but the brewery wouldn’t sanction it.
In the morning he astonished Lizzie the landlady by asking for a bible instead of a cooked breakfast. She eventually fished one out of a sideboard, making the excuse that it was certainly not her own, but left behind recently by an American guest. McLaurin thanked her and took himself to the lounge to escape her disapproval. He had dreamed during the night that Paddy had returned, bearing a bottle of mead and a biro. After he handed over the drink he fondly scribbled something on Rowe’s forehead, so the Scotsman cursed in his sleep and ran to the mirror in the bathroom. The squiggle was not only the wrong way round, it was also upside down. He could not figure it out until the moment when he woke:
John 9: 4.
The bible gave the translation: We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work.
He cursed his friend fervently. Lizzie heard him and smiled at him forgivingly through the doorway in passing, relieved that he didn’t really have a dose of religion. Rowe called a taxi and went to Newquay. Thank God it was nearly winter, he thought as he drove through the town. He couldn’t have withstood the throngs of holidaymakers and jeering, leery teenagers. Even the fudge shop was closed for the season, he noted with grim approval. While he waited on the blustery coastal path he looked up at the imposing Headland Hotel and thought about the film ‘The Witches’. He and Paddy and the gang had turned out to see if they could get parts as extras at the time, but there was nothing doing. While he lapsed into a reverie about Angelica Houston turning up and sitting beside him, instead there was Patrick, staring at him quizzically. He had two dogs, a Labrador and a King Charles spaniel. They were pulling him in contrary directions, so with that and the prevailing wind, it took some time to establish communication.
They zig zagged along the sandy path between the cliff and the golf course, trying to get through to each other. From what he gathered, Patrick was engaging in one of his jobs, as a dog-walker. He was also, on and off, a surfer, barman, security guard, still life model and care worker. ‘Anything to make ends meet, innit?’ he howled into the wind.
‘But I thought your dad had a few quid tucked away.’ McLaurin screamed back. ‘He was always canny for money, despite all his faults.’
They went to a cafe near Fistral, for the sake of their hoarse voices and sadly stared at the brave surfers gambolling in the monstrous foam below.
‘Bloody eejits,’ McLaurin said, shivering.
Patrick explained that the family had thought his dad had a wad stuffed away, but he blew it before he died.
‘Not on the wee woman from Wadebridge?’ he asked.
‘No, something else. He bought up a lot of useless land in the valley, by the village. This was after he got everyone’s back up by letting that corporation put up the turbines and the solar panels on the land. Some locals thought he wanted to sell it on to the company at an inflated price for more vandalism. Other people believed he was trying to say sorry, buying up what remained to preserve it from development. But if that was it, why plant it with a load of ugly conifers and quick growing shrubbery that had no return coming from it?’
McLaurin stated that he didn’t know. He asked Patrick whether he would accompany him back to his home village. But he vehemently refused and the dogs in his care got yappy because of the anger of his refusal. Paddy’s looming shadow was worst of all there, he said: couldn’t move for the old friends of his father saying how much he looked like his dad, how much he really wasn’t like him, and on and on.
‘But you go on back there is you want,’ he said in a kind of sing song, warning way. ‘I’m sure they’ll welcome you back.’ Then a bad pause. ‘I know she will.’
By the she, he meant his mother, Sarah. There was some kind of bad interface between them, worse than the tangled web, forever irresolvable, between him and his father. Rowe could not remember the details of what the root cause might have been, and while he was batting this backwards and forwards in his mind, and also wondering why they’ll sounded so sinister, the lad bolted up and was gone. In a cartoonish way it looked like the hounds had freaked right out at the tenor of the conversation and dragged him out the door.
‘Nothing like his dad,’ he commented as he paid the waitress, and she knew precisely what he meant.
‘Oh, it’s you again,’ Sarah said, not unkindly, when he pushed the door and came in. As if he’d just wandered off for a week, ten years ago. There were two glasses of cloudy, aniseedy rum waiting on the table. She somehow knew he was coming, though nobody had told her. Her psychic shrewdness wasn’t developed to the extent of knowing that he had given up alcohol. When he told her this, Sarah said ‘oh well’ and knocked back both measures. Then they went upstairs to bed. It was as much punishment as it was atonement, and when he ruefully confessed, in a bruised voice, that it was a wonder the old cottage walls were able to withstand the tremor of their coupling, she just laughed.
‘This place has seen off more than you and me and him as well,’ she said.
There was a silence in which he next heard the guillotine sounds of unseen wind turbines slicing the air.
‘Can I go to bed, properly this time?’ he asked.
Lying there miserably he was replayed the vista of the journey here down the valley. Again, the sight of the landscape which had once been so familiar was surprising to the point of occasional alarm. There was that exposed line of trees at the periphery of a field which had been frozen at a windblown angle, looking like a queue of gape mouthed old men, cloaked and bent away forever from prevailing sea gales. Then the half awake mind projected a colossal image of his friend striding across the wasted landscape, sixty feet tall, declaiming something which could not be heard above the wind. Ludicrously, Paddy’s enormous face was overwritten with dread and he began to run down the valley and jumped into the sea with a prodigious leap.
‘Paddy, I wish you’d hurry up and tell me what it is,’ he moaned in the dark, and he heard his dead friend weeping in the depths of the Atlantic.
He woke at the window when it was neither day nor night, waiting for something which might have been a memory. Then the recollection came at the same time, in parallel, with a fresh event. The memory was of sitting, years ago and fevered, at this very window, staring out expectantly. He had been awash with lightheaded-ness and tedium, without the energy to do anything else but sit and nod and wake up worse. (Those were magical days, before the internet, he thought sourly, recollecting.) Each time he retreated from sleep, he came into consciousness with an increasingly loud scream, inspired obliquely by the fever. But no-one answered him or gave him cause for the nightmares. Paddy had gone to Falmouth on business; Sarah was enjoying a respite break from him in Ibiza.
On the last awakening he dislocated himself from the armchair in the window alcove and landed with many curses and confusion on the bare floorboards. This time Paddy had arrived and dragged him up from the floor.
‘So, you seen him as well now,’ Paddy said grimly. ‘About time someone did.’
‘What is the thing?’ Rowe, awed, asked the empty room.
Paddy was of course not there, but the other presence was most definitely evident in the landscape outside. It was the only creature moving there, as if every bird, beast and human had deserted the valley on purpose when they felt it coming.
‘Better we say that we don’t know what it is,’ Paddy said softly in his memory. ‘Let it pass.’