"@#$*!" I muttered, and went to rummage through the usual places, looking in the pantry, the compost and finally in the fireplace. It was nowhere to be seen.
"Great. I've got a deadline, Sid, and now's the time when you decide to take off." I took a broom and began poking under the furniture, trying to find out where it had gone. I knew it had been pouting lately, so I'd bought some Miracle-Gro, thinking that might perk it up. Perhaps I'd given it too much, and now it had thoughts of independence! My worries deepened when I finally found its pot discarded by the back door, with the soil and pebbles strewn over the tiles and rooty little footprints leading to the outside.
"Oh, boy." This had never happened before. Did Sid just up and decide that now it wanted to be a tree in some forest? I had promised I'd get another plant soon, really I was going to. Could it not just wait until I had some time?
I pulled on my shoes and ran out after it. "Sid!" I called. "Come back here right now!"
It hadn't left a very definite trail, but I did catch sight of flattened grass and the odd exotic leaf that didn't belong with the rest of the foliage outside. I didn't really know where the trail was leading, but I figured that a tiny little plant running on roots couldn't have gotten far.
Or perhaps it could have.
"I don't believe this," I said, as I approached an old-fashioned stone well, which I was absolutely sure hadn't been there before. On the cross beam of the well a strange symbol had been etched:
"Just when I was not in the mood for creepiness," I complained, but there was no help for it, so I took a deep breath, and swung my legs over the edge of the well.
I will never understand bungee jumpers. Freefall is the most unpleasant sensation in the world. Never mind the world, in the entire history of creation. Since the start of the universe. Or even before that, but I digress.
Landing is equally unpleasant, especially after falling through the dark and into a mucky bog, which you were hoping would be there to break your fall, but then hoping it wouldn't be there to soak into your clothes along with an ungodly smell. I was not at all surprised that there was a bank for me to crawl out onto, having jumped down what I was fairly certain had been a magical well. As I stood there, shaking off the mud and in a very bad mood, I gradually became aware that someone was walking towards me through the surrounding trees. He was a well groomed man, wearing a strange black suit with white piping around the tailored collar, and a circular white badge with the number 6 on it.
"Hello," he said in an English accent. "Welcome to the
"Excuse me," I called after him. "Who are you?" He slowed down a bit so that I could fall into step with him, then held out his hand.
"It's nice to meet you."
"And you," he replied.
"May I ask what this place is, and what you're doing here?"
"It's a place where artistic types come to think and get unstuck. Much the same as you, I'd imagine." He winked and flicked his collar. "We engage in a bit of cosplay, get the creative wit flowing. You don't recognize the outfit, do you?"
I shook my head.
"It's the official garb of Number 6, the character played by Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner. If you've got time, I'd recommend you have a look. When they make the movie of my life, it's McGoohan I'd want playing me."
"I see. You're an actor then?"
"Me? No, no. When I was very young, I wanted to be a stunt man in the movies. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star or a writer. I used to sing in a band, no spandex for me, mind you, but the writerly ambition's the one that won out. I'd still like to be on stage though. Perhaps someday, but then I'd also like to be able to fly. We can't have everything."
"One Among the Sleepless was my first. It's also a podcast novel. Ever been disturbed by noisy neighbours? Wondered which one of them it was and what you'd do when you found out? It's like that, along with a few mysterious disappearances.
"Then there's Hall of Mirrors. It's a collection of stories that draws on a variety of genres, from horror and the grotesque to contemporary fiction. I wrote 90% of the stories about nine or ten years ago when I was doing a lot of temp work: hotel portering, garbage man, grounds maintenance and grave digging etc. It was while working in these jobs that I started to see the stories that weren’t being told by anyone else, and I thought, ‘Ah-ha, now there’s a horrible situation.’"
"They sound like they might be funny."
"I suppose. However, I'd say they're more inspired by the macabre. Humour just sort of happens, rising naturally out of the situations. Often the more desperate or unpleasant the situation, the better the chances are for finding something to laugh at."
"Why did you have to come here? Are you not writing now?"
"Nothing right now. I may write a few more stories for Hall of Mirrors. Then I’ll think about starting my second novel. I kind of got out of the writing habit about seven years ago and I’m finding it hard organising my life in such a way as I can start up again."
"I suppose that's why Sid came. I must have been putting too much pressure on it. Expecting more than it could give."
"Was that the little green runt I saw running by? Your muse, was it?"
"Did you see it? Where did it go?"
"Probably where they all go. To see him. Come on, then. Let's go find your plant."
"This is starting to sound creepy. Are you sure it's safe?" Mike laughed.
"The only thing I'm afraid of is bureaucracy. And well, if I get knocked off, I'll be happy so long as they remember to play the theme from The Black Hole by John Barry at my funeral. Can't be worse than doing hospital laundry. I hated that job."
"Well, let's not get ahead of things. I just want to collect Sid and leave. None of this dying stuff. And who is this him person?"
We had left the murky forest we had been walking through, and were now traversing a dark street, where the odd wraith passed us by, and if there were strangers that shared it with us, they stayed in the shadows, not giving me a clear view of whether or not their feet touched the ground. With a grin and a flourish, Mike pulled a card of some sort out of thin air and showed it to me. It bore the same symbol as the cross beam of the well.
"He's a strange one, he is. Aliester Crowley, founder of the Argenteum Astrum. Member of the Golden Dawn, Freemasons and the Ordo Templi Orientis. For a time in
"What do you mean, 'his time'?"
"Oh, well, he's dead now, isn't he?"
"Hmm, well, I sort of write dark fantasy, but it's not really horror. This guy sounds rather beyond me. I'm not so sure I want to meet him."
"I wouldn't mind being related to him. All of my real relatives are all very normal."
"Mine aren't, but the ones I associate with are all still very much alive."
"Ah yes, the joy of being alive. But that's what we write for isn't it? We describe the dark to enhance the contrast of all that's best in life. Like my wife, the people who contact me and tell me that what I do entertains them. These demons we meet here will never leave the page, so not to worry. I think some of my favourite authors must have sojourned here. Philip K. Dick, Richard Brautigan, P.G. Wodehouse, Ian Fleming, Sarah Waters. Even if we don’t all write horror, we still need to struggle against the elements of the dark, or there is no story."
"Ah-huh." We had approached an imposing temple made of tarnished metal that rose up against a restless sky, silhouetted against black clouds swarming through a red night. The strange symbol again appeared at the apex of the roof, and inscribe across the entry way were the words: "All Ye Who Enter Here Shall Follow The Book of the Law, the central sacred text of Thelema."
"Sid!" I saw my little muse sitting on an overturned milk carton, munching on a leafful of nitrogen pellets. I ran over to it, scooped it up and tucked it into my sweater.
"Well, Mike. Thank you for helping me find my plant. I'll leave you to your visit with Mr. Crowley. Um, I just go back the way we came, right?"
"Yes, of course. Just make sure you watch out for the Chess Men. They tend to climb out of the ground and walk around at this time of night."
"Right. Thanks! Bye!"
I turned around and ran.
Get home safely!
Post Script: I've just emerged from the Hall of Mirrors podcast. Despite what Mike says, he is an actor, and quite a mesmerising one. It's really crrrrreeepy. And not for children. Just in time for Hallowe'en.