“Deep Red Bells” sees St. Cyprian and Gallowglass battle an antediluvian ghost in Dorset. It appears in the Snow Books anthology, Sharkpunk, available via the publisher, as well as on Amazon.com and its international affiliates, and other online stores.
The room smelled of standing water and seaweed rotting in the sun. It looked as if a schoolboy had decorated it–books lay in piles everywhere, and tottery piles of copies of the Journal of the Society of Psychical Research occupied the corners. Display boxes of fossils of various shapes, sizes and colors occupied the walls and the top of the writing desk. Across the bed, a large window looked out towards the sea, and St. Cyprian could see that the weather had taken a turn for the nasty. Rain spattered the windows, and made interesting shapes on the glass.
Gussie had been strapped to the bed, and his clothes were stained with food and blood. His eyes were closed and his teeth were bared in a grimace so tight that St. Cyprian feared that the corners of his mouth might tear at any moment. He made a low, gabbling noise in his throat, like the sound a fish might make as it flopped in the bottom of a boat, and wriggled in his straps.
St. Cyprian pulled a stool over to the bed and sat down. Gussie was thinner than he remembered, and he smelled a good deal worse. Then, Gussie had long been a proponent of the school of natural odor, despite the complaints of various flatmates and paramours. This however wasn’t merely ‘eau de Gussie’, but something more pervasive and unpleasant. “By their smell can men sometimes know them near,” he muttered. He glanced at Gallowglass. “Can you smell that?”
“Foul, innit?” she said, waving a hand in front of her face. “Like dead fish.”
“It’s rather more than that, I should say.” St. Cyprian frowned. “Did I, or did I not, give you Harzan’s monograph on the detection of ab-human manifestations?”
“Was that what that was?”
He sighed and shook his head. “Sometimes I despair of you, Ms. Gallowglass.” He bent over Gussie. “Hand me the obsidian mirror, would you?” He held out his hand as Gallowglass rummaged in the Gladstone. She handed him a flat, polished, black disc, which he held under Gussie’s nostrils. He peered at the fogged surface for a moment before tossing it back to her.
“Reality, if you will, is a coral reef,” he said. “We are the fish that inhabit said reef. And while there are predators which lurk within the reef, they are neither numerous nor particularly hard to avoid, if you’re careful. But outside the reef, well…that’s a different matter entirely. Forces and presences born in the darkness, eternally hungering for the light of our fair world, donchaknow?” he said, prying open Gussie’s eyelids to peer into his eyes.
“So he is possessed, then?” Gallowglass said, placing the mirror back in the bag.
“Yes, but only God knows by what,” St. Cyprian said. “No two Saaitii manifestations are alike. Some are rather like psychic fungus, while others are a good deal more…ambitious.” He stepped back. “Let’s find out which one this is, shall we?”
Without waiting for Gallowglass’ reply, he traced the sacred shape of the Voorish Sign in the air with a finger and let his inner eye flicker open. The spirit-eye, Carnacki had called it, though Fitzgrace and St. Cyprian’s other acquaintances in the Society for Psychical Research insisted that it was merely a very focused form of extrasensory perception.
Whatever it was, it had taken him several years to learn how to utilize it safely. Humans were, by and large, as sensitive to the paranormal as animals were to earthquakes. They simply couldn’t process it as well. Humans needed reasons for things which animals took on instinct.
The inability of the human mind to correlate all of its perceptions was one of humanity’s built-in defences against the many, many predatory malignancies that swam through the outer void. But sometimes you were forced to shuck those evolutionary blinders first thing, otherwise you risked being snapped up unawares.
Augustus Fitzgrace, unfortunately, had possessed neither the training nor the ability to avoid being taken by whatever had come upon him out of the abyss. It had smashed its way into his undefended mind, and now lurked there, like an unwelcome tenant. Now it was up to St. Cyprian to try and roust the intruder out.
But first, he had to find out what he was dealing with. As he concentrated, the world became soft at the edges and yet more vibrant as his senses expanded to fill the void left by his thoughts and physical sight. He heard a rushing and a roaring, as if he were caught in a storm-tossed surf, and he felt, rather than saw, the shadow of some unseen shape pass over him. His eardrums began to throb painfully with a strange pressure. The throbbing sensation grew louder, and became distinct. He felt as if he were in a bell tower at vespers, and he clapped his hands to his ears unconsciously.
Then, out of nowhere, a thrashing maw lunged towards him, all triangular teeth and bloody froth…