Some writings P5: Midnight in the Valley

Hey everyone, here’s another later blog post of mine for the day. This one’s a complete shift of tone from the previous couple, I thought we could do with lightening the room up a bit. It’s pretty random, all things considered; I started writing it with no idea where it was going until– suddenly– it went places. It really puts my English degree to work, after all those Victorian novels, so I think I have the “I’m a pretentious douche” voice fairly downpat. It’s a dark, Gothic-style, English drama, you could say. I’m not quite sure how it turned out, I just had so much fun writing it that if you guys had half as much reading it, then it’ll be the best thing I post. Also the longest. Sorry bout that. All the same, enjoy!

 

Central England 044

 

Midnight in the Valley

 

            Sheffordshire had not seen the likes of her round these parts for years. Her rages trailed across the polished floors she was forced to tremble down, her spotted hands tried to hide her pale face. Sallow and stretched, the skin around her cheeks made her appear quite close to the grave. (But Jervis was not one for pity).

            “I swear sire. It wos’ all just for a look.”

            Jervis had to repress a shudder every time his ears were assailed by her cockney. “Really. You travelled across three countries for the gift of sight?”

            A blank stare across the polished table. “I loved the words ‘e made in all ‘is books. Mam read them to me when I was small.”

            Jervis leaned forward– risking the space between them and her hideous breath– at the chance of clarity. “You’re telling me you jumped across three fences, then proceeded to wait for the guard to change shits, all to cut into the house for a second, just because you couldn’t Goddman read yourself?”

            “Beggin, it was a very nice inside sir–“

            “Damnit woman!”

            In a silence only the tick of his clock could cut through, Jervis began to notice the unnerving motion of her hands. She roped and spun her fingers together, twirling enough to hover between the free spaces. It seemed to him as if she were trying to conjure a spell on him. Yet her eyes always grew smaller when she found her voice:

            “I… heard ‘e had healing powers.”

            With a  protracted sigh, he leaned back into his leather armchair. Now what were we going to do?

             Constable for six years, expert sergeant for twelve, Jervis was of the sort who saw that order in the law could only come from order in all walks of life. This extended to his pant leggings (exactly 1.1 inches from the ankle), his cufflinks (intarnishable), his shoes (unscuffable). He was a firm believer in the iron rule: the day he came to the office even minutely unkempt was the day he’d lose that carefully gathered respect; the day he lost his respect Sheffordshire lost the law.

            He knew his critics found this belief baffling. Sheffordshire was— he must admit– a special place: quaintest of the quaint, its rolling hills, bashful sheep, and kind or kindly ignorant villagers forced Punch magazine to declare it the “pleasantest county in Southern England.” Yes, he did recognize that pleasantness was of a particularly pristine form of pleasant. But… there’s always that but. Jervis was not the sort to lie under an apple tree watching the clouds– darkness hid in every closed door, every shadow of every fencepost. Mrs Maggie may bring pies to the hospital every Thursday, but if she found herself robbed that morning of all her pie supplies– well, what would stop her from despairing? How could she not begin to resent the fact that her husband chose those very hours of her pie-cutting and delivering to become so rowdy in the Pub she could hear it from her kitchen (the very reason she baked them in the first place)? Then, who would stop her from grabbing her own booze– this time from the comforts of her kitchen– and letting the demons take over? And once she were to allow such room for the Devil in the chip in her china, the creak in her bedpost, the crack of the window closest to the tavern, she’s already given herself over. So: what’s to stop her from giving her husband a little slap when he finally comes home, then slapping and kicking him a few more times after he’s collapsed to the ground and the fear’s taken over?

            Jervis loved Sheffordshire. In fact, he might even venture to declare it Heaven on Earth. But then what kind of a title is that? When one declares a place the best there is, isn’t it only possible for that place to descend or remain exactly the same? He kept his suits un-ruffled for precisely the sake of his people. That day– three years two hours ago (how could he forget?)– he let his top link come unbuttoned. That was the day Mr Mayhew’s bastard robbed Gretchen blind and, in giving her a thrashing, grabbed the valuables and was never seen again. That morning he’d made eyes with the bastard and the bastard had made a distinct gaze at his collar. To classify that as a coincidence would be madness.

            He was a part of the grand commonwealth, and every action he made implicated every other link in the chain– of law, of command, of country. All the way up to the Queen. To challenge it would be to challenge England herself.

            So who was this girl, and what was she willing to risk? It’s not as if he wasn’t a compassionate man, not as if his wife didn’t donate to Church funds when Church funds were due. But this girl had carried with her all the filth and misery of London. It filled him with unease.

            “Now I’m going to give you one chance: leave town now and I won’t charge you for the entry.”

            “Mr Allister doesn’t mind?”

            “Yes,” he lied; Mr Allister wasn’t in the country.

            “Oh gracious! ‘e is so kind isn’t he?” The motions of her fingers began again, sped up.”I never heard of a man so gracious, so godly, so close to–“

            “Yes yes well that will be quite enough, I really need to–“

            “Sir,” she said, in enough pittance to halt the breath in his lungs. “You been kind te me too, sir. But I do have just this one request,” her nails scratched along the table. “May I see him?”

            The indignation rising through him almost chocked his words,  only forcing out an “absolutely not!”

            “But sir, it would only–“

            “No, no , no! You are to escort yourself off these premises in the immediate or I will escort you to prison!”

            “Oh but you don’t understand– he’s all I ever wanted to see, all I ever want ta know, if I go back now I’ll–“

            His chair fell to the floor as his legs lunged forward, his spit flying across the table as he screamed, “Get out this instant! I swear if–“

            But grabbing his jacket she ripped the cufflinks and collapsed to the floor. Gazing up at him: “it’s all I promised ’em. The orphans. They’re so ‘ungry and Allistar said he’d help– he wrote about it he… and now you…. you–” a single sob broke her back. In the mop of rags with which she hid herself, only her wailing still showed she was human.

            Now, this was distressing. Yes, Mr Allister, Mr Allister. Not the type he could exactly arrest, was he? But he also wasn’t the type he could warm to either. Shortly after the first Punch award three years ago, Mr Allister swooped in and bought the land overlooking the valley. From the beginning, Allister was strange– sun-shades in the day, wandering among the construction site with either a purple suit or a flower bathrobe– but Jervis didn’t think much of it until he started to get a sense of what was assembling before the town.

            High above the village, a monstrosity grew. First he built a gate between two hedges formed of metal spikes which not only lined the top but jutted from its sides as well. Then the hedges began to be trimmed down into figures which looked a disturbing amount like contorted babies. Finally, the house itself. Respectable rich built their homes outward as far as their lot allowed, giving themselves a second floor at most. Allister had plenty of space between those hedges, so why he decided to build upwards was beyond Jervis’s reasoning power. By the seventh floor the manor– the tower– began to lean inwards, as if watching over the town. And yet, an eighth and ninth floor. And yet, the color– a twilight purple which only seemed to garner its full radiance in the moonlight.

            The disturbing implications only came after the roof was built, the gargoyles around the corners, the gold around the front door. The day after the goldsmith left, Mrs Bryant, upon going to fetch some eggs in the early-early morning, swore (to him later) she could hear muttering coming from the house. Chanting. The whispers of hundreds scratching their way across a stone floor. It was an inkling, only an instance and a flash of thought, but the sound sent shivers. When the sounds stopped– the first glimmer of red on the far hills– Bryant realized she’d made a yolky mess of the eggs across the floor. Now, Jervis was willing to excuse the woman’s story (Bryant had grown somewhat senile with her age), but Mr Evan’s account of flashing red and green in the windows made him begin to question.

             It was young Nancy’s charge that changed everything. She’d just finished her shift at the tavern (a good woman, yes, taking the extra hours to pay for her ailing father, not the sort who’d intentionally look for trouble or troubling men). But, coming home across the village by taking a shortcut through the poplars, she felt a hard clasp on her shoulder. “It was ice, Mr Jervis, like ice, I swear.” Already another hand reached in and under her shift, nails scratching along the skin. “I did the only thing I could, the only weapon God gave me. I screamed, I screamed I screamed and I cried.”

            That part he already knew. The screams got him running from his bed in minutes. By the time Jervis reached the entrance to the woods, Nancy was already being soothed by half the village’s midwives. But her dress hung loose around her side, and a free–scratched and bleeding– arm still covered her bare chest. The only evidence she could give was an arm as it escaped back into the night– an arm clothed in purple.

            Allister left, conveniently, for a book tour on the continent the next day. yet even if he were here, Jervis would be unsure about questioning him. Allister– he was told– had friends in every cabinet of Parliament; his aides included socialites in Paris, writers in Russia, and tycoons in America. Were he to go after him, who would he be challenging? Jervis thought he could stand a few fireworks if it meant keeping Sheffordshire safe from the rest of whomever was dastardly enough to consort with Allister.

            But this business with the cockney girl was something quite different entirely. She came in garbs of rags, muttering about false prophets and evil gods. And she wasn’t alone, or so she implied. Somewhere in a hovel in London, a hundred more girls lived off the words of a two-bit hack. Just what could he offer them? Worse, what was Sheffordshire in store for if this was the abode of a man promising salvation?

            He could see it now: tens, perhaps hundreds, would begin arriving and begin begging. Trails and trains of pilgrims would line up towards his tower and ask for something greater than a few words. Suddenly Sheffordshire would resemble one of those Asian monasteries. And nothing would be ordered, nothing would be clean clear plain pleasant or any other adjective he considered worth saying or saving.

            One thing had become clear and apparent: if anyone was to do something about it, it could only be him. Williams Jervis: constable of the pleasantest village in southern England. And damnit if it wasn’t going to stay that way.

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