Urban legends

Halloween in the Hall of Corpses

If you follow some of the Team Mushens (as in Juliet Mushens, our lovely agent. Yes, she has a posse. I know.)  group on Twitter, you’ll probably have heard about the Halloween Shorts thing we’ve got running, arranged by the marvellous @mygoditsraining.

I say “we”, because I’m kind of cheating on this one and going slightly off-campus. While the others have all been terribly good and clever and written proper actual new short stories for Halloween, I’ve not had time and am horribly disorganised and, well, me.

However, the other day while I was rummaging through my hard drive looking for yet another file that I’d managed to save to completely the wrong place and then lose (because – again – me) I came across this. Think of it as something from the catacombs.

Murderess Lane is an old story of mine… I must’ve written it around 2009, 2010 – something like that and it was published online by Hub Fiction magazine. I’m very attached to it, partly because it’s set in Smithfield and the City of London. This has long been one of my favourite places and I’ve both lived and worked there. It’s part of my history – which is probably why I feel an incredible urge to go back and mess with it. This is also the story which introduced the Hall of Corpses – which is the closest thing to a mythos I’ve got. It’s turned up (either alluded to, in disguise or flat-out as itself) in a couple of things I’ve done, for no other reason than my idiotic affection for the idea.

So, ahead of Halloween (and posted now because come tomorrow I disappear down the convention rabbithole for a week)… welcome to Murderess Lane.

 

MURDERESS LANE

 

I once met a man who had a habit of finding strange places. I say “habit” rather than “gift” although that’s what I’d call it, myself. He was a man who could be found next to a bar – no matter the time of day or night; the kind of man who, if asked the right sort of questions and given the right sort of drinks, would tell you anything you wanted to know. Just the kind I was looking for.

I met him in a pub in west Smithfield, where he was slowly but steadily working his way through the row of bottles behind the bar: he wasn’t especially pleased to see me, but I sat down beside him anyway and began by asking if he was the man who had found the Hall of Corpses. The question didn’t surprise him, and instead he squinted across at me, then laughed. “So you know about that one, do you?”

(more…)

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Rue Morgue & the Door to Hell

I’ve been a bit sporadic on here of late – mostly because I’m seriously getting into REBELLION, the follow-up to BLOOD AND FEATHERS at the moment. So that means you’ll see less of me online. In theory. I still waste far too much time on Twitter, partly because it’s become my office watercooler, really, and if I didn’t have that I’d be reduced to just talking to the cat. Or possibly waiting for him to talk back to me.

Meantime, you can find me talking about BLOOD AND FEATHERS, Buffy and many other things in Hell’s Shelves, on the Rue Morgue site.

And for your very entertainment, seeing as we’ve mentioned the “H” word, might I present the “Door to Hell“?

It’s a crater in Turkmenistan, discovered when Soviet geologists were drilling for gas in the 1970s (or so the story goes). The ground beneath the rig collapsed, taking all the equipment with it. Fearing a poisonous gas discharge, the scientists decided to try and burn off as much as possible, assuming it would take a couple of days to burn out.

It’s still burning today.

S’mores, anyone?

The Legend of Bleeding Heart Yard

One of my favourite London street names is “Bleeding Heart Yard”. It’s just off Hatton Garden, right at the edge of the City of London – and not far from the Barbican, where I used to live. Its unusual name stems from a particularly grim London legend.

The land was given to Sir Christopher Hatton by Elizabeth I. When he married, his wife’s dances became a high-point of the social season. One night, as a great ball was in progress, a black-robed man with a twisted hand threw open the doors to the ballroom and walked among the dancers until he found Lady Hatton; first, sweeping her into a dance, then leading her from the room.

Suddenly, there was a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning… and the assembled company heard a piercing scream from outside. Rushing to the aid of their hostess, the party were able to find no trace of her… except for her still-beating heart in the courtyard.

Lady Hatton, so the legend goes, chose to dance with the devil – and paid for it with her soul.

 

The Curious Legend of Dirty Dick

There’s a funny little pub on Bishopsgate in the City of London called Dirty Dicks. It’s narrow, but it’s easy to spot–partly because it’s got a bright red neon sign above it, and partly because there’s always a stag-night party in one stage of pissheadedness or another having their photo taken outside. It’s called Dirty Dicks (and, by the way, if you’re googling it, I cannot advise you strongly enough to check you have “safe search” enabled. Promise me you’ll check first? Please?)

It always used to fascinate me when I walked past it–usually on the way to the even more exotically-named Woodins Shades… what can I say? They had pool tables… and I figured there had to be a reason for giving a pub a name like that. Besides luring in men of a certain age wearing red polyester wigs, that is.

“Dirty Dick” was, in fact, Nathaniel Bentley, an 18th-Century merchant who owned a hardware shop and warehouse on Leadenhall Street. He was something of a dandy: stylish and well-dressed, he was nicknamed “The Beau of Leadenhall Street”.

This changed with the death of his fiancee: according to legend, he refused to wash or to change his clothes after that day, and became a complete recluse. When his cats died, he left their corpses to rot where they fell. Some versions of the story tell that his fiancee died on the very eve of their wedding and–distraught and heartbroken–Bentley simply locked the door of the dining room, leaving the table laid and the wedding breakfast to moulder within…

Sounding familiar yet?

The long and short of it was that Bentley became a celebrity of sorts–any letter addressed to “The Dirty Warehouse, London” automatically found its way to Leadenhall and that nickname, “Dirty Dick”, stuck.

Bentley ceased trading in 1804, and died shortly after. But his legacy of filth lived on: so infamous had his warehouse become that the owners of the Bishopsgate Distillery in its various incarnations bought the contents of the building and, after its demolition, moved them (cats and all) to another location nearby: the Old Jerusalem pub, which in due course changed its name…to Dirty Dicks.

As for the cats–and everything else–they used to be on display in the bar (in some instances, on the bar), although today they’re tucked away in a glass case.

Deadly Town

(or the town so haunted, it died)

On the outskirts of Cornwall, Connecticut, if you look hard enough–and are brave enough–you’ll find Dudleytown. Named for the sheer number of Dudleys (allegedly descended from the Dudleys who got into so much trouble in the 16th Century) settled there, it was an isolated community which legend says was so cursed that it killed the town. Strictly speaking, of course, it’s technically not so much a town as it is an outpost of the Cornwall township, whose church served the community.

A run of bizarre deaths–barn-raising accident, attacks by hostile Native Americans, cholera outbreaks, lightning strikes and suicides–swept the town through the 18th & 19th Centuries, along with tales of missing animals, dementia and madness, and finally the disappearance of two children (who were never found). There were rumours of hauntings and demonic activity and slowly, the community dwindled.

Its location can’t have been much of a help: surrounded by hills and forest, winters there were long and harsh, the soil was rocky and the ground swampy. Not exactly the ideal spot to build a town. But the stories that came from Dudleytown left their mark and soon it was deserted.

In the early 20th Century, so the story goes, a Dr Clarke from New York bought the land in which Dudleytown sat and built a second home there. He and his wife would spend weekends and summers there–until one weekend he was called away to an emergency, leaving his wife behind. When he returned a day later he found his wife completely insane, raving about terrors that had come from the forest. She took her life soon after.

The land is now owned by the (ominously named) Dark Forest Entry Association, who have closed it off–not that it stops the tourists, ghost-hunters and thrill-seekers. The remains of Dudleytown still stand, although in recent years they have been vandalised: like they haven’t had to deal with enough.

Whether you believe the stories or not–whether it’s ghosts and demons, or whether it’s plain bad luck and a collision of circumstance–there’s something odd about Dudleytown. Visitors who have braved the considerable wrath of the DFEA report a strange atmosphere about the place, of hearing strange sounds, of being touched or even scratched by unseen hands.

Maybe it’s all just a legend, something built upon with each telling. Or maybe not. But whatever might have caused the place to be abandoned, it seems that it still has plenty of ghosts…

 

But You Can Never Leave

Now you’ve done it. You’ve got me onto The Rawk. This could be either good, or bad, depending on your opinion of classic rock.

Amongst the dusty recesses of my (virtual – the Other Half has put all our cds onto a hard disk the size of a planet–that’s why they call it a terabyte, isn’t it?–which I somewhat predictably cannot work) record collection, you will find a copy of the Eagles’ “Hotel California“. God, I love that album.*

Thing is, I was poking around the internet the other day, as you do, and I stumbled across all the urban legends connected to it–mostly to the title track and the album artwork. I had no idea.

They’re even more fruit-loops than most internet rumours: that the song is about Devil-worship (really? Really?); that it’s a hymn to an actual hotel, or an asylum, and that the album artwork is full of images of the dead and Anton LaVey (ooookay).

The interpretation’s obviously a sore point. For an example of the most incredible songwriter-smackdown, read Don Henley’s response to a music critic’s comment on the lines: “So I called up the Captain / Please bring me my wine, / He said: We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969″

“Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention—and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”

Ouch.

Mind you, growing up with it (which I did) I always had it pegged as a song about the descent into addiction, so what do I know?

Whichever way you cut it, it’s still a damn fine song.

Even in Spanish.

 

*with the possible exception of “Try and Love Again” which is, you know, a bit meh.