Thirteen tales of terror by the author of Blood Brothers features a story about two boys who learn about fear and death and a quiet country lane that becomes a trap for an unwary motorist. By the author of Demogorgon.
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Brian Lumley is the author of the bestselling Necroscope series of vampire novels. The first Necroscope, Harry Keogh, also appears in a collection of Lumley's short fiction, Harry Keogh and Other Weird Heroes, along Titus Crow and Henri Laurent de Marigny, from Titus Crow, Volumes One, Two, and Three, and David Hero and Eldin the Wanderer, from the Dreamlands series.
An acknowledged master of Lovecraft-style horror, Brian Lumley has won the British Fantasy Award and been named a Grand Master of Horror. His works have been published in more than a dozen countries and have inspired comic books, role-playing games, and sculpture, and been adapted for television.
When not writing, Lumley can often be found spear-fishing in the Greek islands, gambling in Las Vegas, or attending a convention somewhere in the US. Lumley and his wife live in England.
Fruiting Bodies and Other Fungi
Fruiting BodiesThis first story won a British Fantasy Award in 1989. It had some stiff competition, and I count myself lucky to have won. Whether it's frightening or not is for you to decide. If it's entertaining and gives that certain frisson, then I'm satisfied. One thing's for sure: there isn't any blood here. Mushrooms don't bleed.
My great-grandparents, and my grandparents after them, had been Easingham people; in all likelihood my parents would have been, too, but the old village had been falling into the sea for three hundred years and hadn't much looked like stopping, and so I was born in Durham City instead. My grandparents, both sets, had been among the last of the village people to move out, buying new homes out of a government-funded disaster grant. Since when, as a kid, I had been back to Easingham only once.My father had taken me there one spring when the tides were high. I remember how there was still some black, crusty snow lying in odd corners of the fields, colored by soot and smoke, as all things were in those days in the Northeast. We'd gone to Easingham because the unusually high tides had been at it again, chewing away at the shalecliffs, reducing shoreline and derelict village both as the North Sea's breakers crashed again and again on the shuddering land.And of course we had hoped (as had the two hundred or so other sightseers gathered there that day) to see a house or two go down in smoking ruin, into the sea and the foaming spray. We witnessed no such spectacle; after an hour, cold and wet from the salt moisture in the air, we piled back into the family car and returned to Durham. Easingham's main street, or what had once been the main street, was teetering on the brink as we left. But by nightfall that street was no more. We'd missed it: a further twenty feet of coastline, a bite one street deep and a few yards more than one street long, had been undermined, toppled, and gobbled up by the sea.That had been that. Bit by bit, in the quarter century between then and now, the rest of Easingham had also succumbed. Now only a house or two remained--no more than a handful in all--and all falling into decay, while the closest lived-in buildings were those of a farm all of a mile inland from the cliffs. Oh, and of course there was one other inhabitant: old Garth Bentham, who'd been demolishing the old houses by hand and selling bricks and timbers from the village for years. But I'll get to him shortly.So there I was last summer, back in the Northeast again, and when my business was done of course I dropped in and stayed overnight with the Old Folks at their Durham cottage. Once a year at least I made a point of seeing them, but last year in particular I noticed how time was creeping up on them. The "Old Folks"; well, now I saw that they really were old, and I determined that I must start to see a lot more of them.Later, starting in on my long drive back down to London, I remembered that time when the Old Man had taken me to Easingham to see the houses tottering on the cliffs.And probably because the place was on my mind, I inadvertently turned off my route and in a little while found myself heading for the coast. I could have turned round right there and then--indeed, I intended to do so--but I'd got to wondering about Easingham and how little would be left of it now, and before I knew it ...Once I'd made up my mind, Middlesborough was soon behind me, then Guisborough, and in no time at all I was on the old road to the village. There had only ever been one way in and out, and this was it: a narrow road, its surface starting to crack now, with tall hedgerows broken here and there, letting you look through to where fields rolled down to the cliffs. A beautiful day, with sea gulls wheeling overhead, a salt tang coming in through the wound-down windows, and a blue sky coming down to merge with ... with the blue-grey of the North Sea itself! For cresting a rise, suddenly I was there.An old, leaning wooden signpost said EASINGH--, for the tail had been broken off or rotted away, and "the village" lay at the end of the road. But right there, blocking the way, a metal barrier was set in massive concrete posts and carried a sign bearing the following warning:DANGER! SEVERE CLIFF SUBSIDENCE. NO VEHICLES BEYOND THIS POINT ...I turned off the car's motor, got out, leaned on the barrier. Before me the road went on--and disappeared only thirty yards ahead. And there stretched the new rim of the cliffs. Of the village, Easingham itself--forget it! On this side of the cliffs, reaching back on both sides of the road behind overgrown gardens, weedy paths, and driveways, here stood the empty shells of what had once been residences of the "posh" folks of Easingham. Now,even on a day as lovely as this one, they were morose in their desolation.The windows of these derelicts, where there were windows, seemed to gaze gauntly down on approaching doom, like old men in twin rows of deathbeds. Brambles and ivy were rank; the whole place seemed despairing as the cries of the gulls rising on the warm air; Easingham was a place no more.Not that there had ever been a lot of it. Three streets lengthwise with a few shops; two more, shorter streets cutting through the three at right angles and going down to the cliffs and the vertiginous wooden steps that used to climb down to the beach, the bay, the old harbor, and fish market; and standing over the bay, a Methodist church on a jutting promontory, which in the old times had also served as a lighthouse. But now--No streets, no promontory or church, no harbor, fish market, rickety steps. No Easingham."Gone, all of it," said a wheezy, tired old voice from directly behind me, causing me to start. "Gone forever, to the devil and the deep blue sea!"I turned, formed words, said something barely coherent to the leathery old scarecrow of a man I found standing there."Eh? Eh?" he said. "Did I startle you? I have to say you startled me! First car I've seen in a three-month! After bricks, are you? Cheap bricks? Timber?""No, no," I told him, finding my voice. "I'm--well, sight-seeing, I suppose." I shrugged. "I just came to see how the old village was getting on. I didn't live here, but a long line of my people did. I just thought I'd like to see how much was left--while it was left! Except it seems I'm too late.""Oh, aye, too late." He nodded. "Three or four years too late. That was when the last of the old fishing houses wentdown: four years ago. Sea took 'em. Takes six or seven feet of cliff every year. Aye, and if I lived long enough it would take me, too. But it won't 'cos I'm getting on a bit." And he grinned and nodded, as if to say: So that's that! "Well, well, sight-seeing! Not much to see, though, not now. Do you fancy a coffee?"Before I could answer he put his fingers to his mouth and blew a piercing whistle, then paused and waited, shook his head in puzzlement. "Ben," he explained. "My old dog. He's not been himself lately and I don't like him to stray too far. He was out all night, was Ben. Still, it's summer, and there may have been a bitch about ... ."While he had talked I'd looked him over and decided that I liked him. He reminded me of my own grandfather, what little I could remember of him. Grandad had been a miner in one of the colliery villages farther north, retiring here to doze and dry up and die--only to find himself denied the choice. The sea's incursion had put paid to that when it finally made the place untenable. I fancied this old lad had been a miner, too. Certainly he bore the scars, the stigmata, of the miner: the dark, leathery skin with black specks bedded in; the bad, bowed legs; the shortness of breath, making for short sentences. A generally gritty appearance overall, though I'd no doubt he was clean as fresh scrubbed."Coffee would be fine," I told him, holding out my hand. "Greg's my name--Greg Lane."He took my hand, shook it warmly, and nodded. "Garth Bentham," he said. And then he set off stiffly back up the crumbling road some two or three houses, turning right into an overgrown garden through a fancy wooden gate recently painted white. "I'd intended doing the whole place up," he said, as I followed close behind. "Did the gate, part of the fence, ran out of paint!"Before letting us into the dim interior of the house, he paused and whistled again for Ben, then worriedly shookhis head in something of concern. "After rats in the old timber yard again, I suppose. But God knows I wish he'd stay out of there!"Then we were inside the tiny cloakroom, where the sun filtered through fly-specked windows and probed golden searchlights on a few fairly dilapidated furnishings and the brassy face of an old grandfather clock that clucked like a mechanical hen. Dust motes drifted like tiny planets in a cosmos of faery, eddying round my host where he guided me through a door and into his living room. Where the dust had settled on the occasional ledge, I noticed that it was tinged red, like rust."I cleaned the windows in here," Garth informed, "so's to see the sea. I like to know what it's up to!""Making sure it won't creep up on you." I nodded.His eyes twinkled. "Nah, just joking," he said, tapping on the side of his blue-veined nose. "No, it'll be ten or even twenty years before all this goes, but I don't have that long. Five if I'm lucky. I'm sixty-eight, after all!"Sixty-eight! Was that really to be as old as all that? But he was probably right: a lot of old-timers from the mines didn't even last that long, not entirely mobile and coherent, anyway. "Retiring at sixty-five doesn't leave a lot, does it?" I said. "Of time, I mean."He went into his kitchen, called back: "Me, I've been here a ten-year. Didn't retire, quit! Stuff your pension, I told 'em. I'd rather have my lungs, what's left of 'em. So I came here, got this place for a song, take care of myself and my old dog, and no one to tip my hat to and no one to bother me. I get a letter once a fortnight from my sister in Dunbar, and one of these days the postman will find me stretched out in here and he'll think: 'Well, I needn't come out here anymore.'"He wasn't bemoaning his fate, but I felt sorry for him anyway. I settled myself on a dusty settee, looked out of thewindow down across his garden of brambles to the sea's horizon. A great curved millpond--for the time being. "Didn't you have any savings?" I could have bitten my tongue off the moment I'd said it, for that was to imply he hadn't done very well for himself.Cups rattled in the kitchen. "Savings? Lad, when I was a young 'un I had three things: my lamp, my helmet, and a pack of cards. If it wasn't pitch-'n-toss with weighted pennies on the beach banks, it was three-card brag in the back room of the pub. Oh, I was a game gambler, right enough, but a bad one. In my blood, like my Old Man before me. My mother never did see a penny; nor did my wife, I'm ashamed to say, before we moved out here--God bless her! Savings? That's a laugh. But out here there's no bookie's runner, and you'd be damned hard put to find a card school in Easingham these days! What the hell," he shrugged as he stuck his head back into the room, "it was a life ... ."We sipped our coffee. After a while I said, "Have you been on your own very long? I mean ... your wife?""Lily-Anne?" He glanced at me, blinked, and suddenly there was a peculiar expression on his face. "On my own, you say ... ." He straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath. "Well, I am on my own in a way, and in a way I'm not. I have Ben--or would have if he'd get done with what he's doing and come home--and Lily-Anne's not all that far away. In fact, sometimes I suspect she's sort of watching over me, keeping me company, so to speak. You know, when I'm feeling especially lonely.""Oh?""Well." He shrugged again. "I mean she is here, now isn't she." It was a statement, not a question."Here?" I was starting to have my doubts about Garth Bentham."I had her buried here." He nodded, which explained what he'd said and produced a certain sensation of relief inme. "There was a Methodist church here once over, with its own burying ground. The church went a donkey's years ago, of course, but the old graveyard was still here when Lily-Anne died.""Was?" Our conversation was getting one-sided."Well, it still is--but right on the edge, so to speak. It wasn't so bad then, though, and so I got permission to have a service done here, and down she went where I could go and see her. I still do go to see her, of course, now and then. But in another year or two ... the sea ..." He shrugged again. "Time and the tides, they wait for no man."We finished our coffee. I was going to have to be on my way soon, and suddenly I didn't like the idea of leaving him. Already I could feel the loneliness creeping in. Perhaps he sensed my restlessness or something. Certainly I could see that he didn't want me to go just yet. In any case, he said:"Maybe you'd like to walk down with me past the old timber yard, visit her grave. Oh, it's safe enough, you don't have to worry. We may even come across old Ben down there. He sometimes visits her, too.""Ah, well I'm not too sure about that," I answered. "The time, you know?" But by the time we got down the path to the gate I was asking: "How far is the churchyard, anyway?" Who could tell, maybe I'd find some long-lost Lanes in there! "Are there any old markers left standing?"Garth chuckled and took my elbow. "It makes a change to have some company," he said. "Come on, it's this way."He led the way back to the barrier where it spanned the road, bent his back, and ducked groaning under it, then turned left up an overgrown communal path between gardens where the houses had been stepped down the declining gradient. The detached bungalow on our right--one of a pair still standing, while a third slumped on the raw edge of oblivion--had decayed almost to the point where it was collapsing inward. Brambles luxuriated everywhere in itsgarden, completely enclosing it. The roof sagged and a chimney threatened to topple, making the whole structure seem highly suspect and more than a little dangerous."Partly subsidence, because of the undercutting action of the sea," Garth explained, "but mainly the rot. There was a lot of wood in these places, but it's all being eaten away. I made myself a living, barely, out of the old bricks and timber in Easingham, but now I have to be careful. Doesn't do to sell stuff with the rot in it.""The rot?"He paused for breath, leaned a hand on one hip, nodded and frowned. "Dry rot," he said. "Or Merulius lacrymans as they call it in the books. It's been bad these last three years. Very bad! But when the last of these old houses are gone, and what's left of the timber yard, then it'll be gone, too.""It?" We were getting back to single-word questions again. "The dry rot, you mean? I'm afraid I don't know very much about it.""Places on the coast are prone to it," he told me. "Whitby, Scarborough, places like that. All the damp sea spray and the bad plumbing, the rains that come in and the inadequate drainage. That's how it starts. It's a fungus, needs a lot of moisture--to get started, anyway. You don't know much about it? Heck, I used to think I knew quite a bit about it, but now I'm not so sure!"
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