by DF Lewis

(Published in NEMESIS in 1989)

Hyacinth Manning was in bad odour with the rest of the neighbourhood.

But she was not one to worry, because she was expecting a husband to turn up and defend her against the barbs and arrows of any fish-wife feud. Such a husband was, if he existed at all, not yet in sight and, perhaps, he, whoever he turned out to be, had not yet received the call. Her startling beauty, if it were to be reported, had not yet reached him, and he did not know he was to be destined to be her husband and, if he did, he’d probably fear the worst, since all reports of such startling beauty was likely to come via the newspapers, and we all know (from the newspapers you have on Earth) what that means, and he’d be the first to suspect the veracity, especially as a nosy anonymous neighbour had already forwarded to him a photograph of Hyacinth in a plain envelope.

This would-be husband was called Roger de Cthuleau. He lived further south on the same planet as Hyacinth, one which was smaller than Earth but otherwise reasonably similar.

Nobody could understand why this Roger had so many outside privies. You know the sort: narrow wooden sheds with designer holes in the plank-doors to allow the smells out. Such sheds were scattered around his smallholding, a veritable land of lavatories, a township of toilets. He wandered among them, calling through the holes to the creatures that evidently were inside. Their names, for he had to call something through each vent, were strange. He once wrote to his niece about them:

Dear Roger’s Niece,

I’ve built them now. I took the bit between the teeth. The neighbours think they’re loos, but you and I know different. The one with a triangle in the door houses Nomicos-Inge. The star has Passiflora. The oblong betokens Reyn-Bouwe. The square, Nygre-Maunce. And the circle, Etepsed-Egnis. And so on. They squat nicely inside the loos, their noddles and beaks press tight up to the roofs, their claws and underhanging parts droop and dangle across the floor and into the lavatory pan itself. Their bodies are flush to the door, and I feed them through their fleshy orifices that exactly match the holes in the doors. Neat, eh?”

Roger’s general term for the creatures was Great Old Ones. He was breeding them to grow and fatten, finally to burst asunder from the toilets and reach out into the heavens, with Roger himself upon the Kitehead One. He had his favourites among the brood, but even he did not know which would emerge as the natural leader. They were all Heads in any event. He suspected Nomicos-Inge, for this one preened himself and carefully held back his innards from disappearing down the bowl; unlike his mates, who were ever finding long extrusions of themselves clogging up the area’s sewer-systems, much to the consternation of Roger’s neighbours, who often experienced explosions of unrecognisable muck coming up at them in their most private moments.

Often, he traipsed between each tall shed, whispering delights and dreams of future worlds, for which he was incubating them. His black shape was etched against the twin moons’ silvery light as he wandered among his own personal stonehenge of gurgling monster-life. He offered them all sorts of treats, such as cod ‘n soul, and long pieces of semi-diluted meat fit to nourish King Cat itself.

Then the day came; and Roger wrote again to his niece:

“Dear Roger’s Niece,

The first one to come out of its wooden egg was Passiflora. The tentacles and gapes and blobs and coxcombs were positioned in such a way that I knew it was male, despite the name. I strode up to him, sponges ready, for he was covered in afterbirth, or what I took to be afterbirth. But, having cleaned him, he turned out to be a fine specimen of an Old One, worthy of the epithet Great. He stood taller than the tallest shed – so much so, I wondered how he had kept himself so much to himself within the narrow confines. Anyway, no time for wonder, I got a grip on his wattling and told him to take off. He shrugged and unloaded me unceremoniously, for he needed his pals, but they were apparently not ready to hatch out. But soon, Roger’s Niece, I’ll be leaving you for new worlds, and I will not be able to write to you from there, and sometimes I’ve wondered if you receive my letters and, if so, whether you are real enough to read them, farewell, your loving, hopeful Uncle of Roger’s Niece. xxxx”

Meantime, Hyacinth Manning knew none of what was going on down south of her on the small planet. She continued to hope and pray that her husband-to-be would come out of the blue, when she was least expecting. The Women’s Institute had surrounded her house with canvas bivouacs and sentry-boxes, so she could not escape and run riot. But she was not scared: her handsome prince would surely ride this way on his comely steed. She looked skywards on occasions and often saw a few specks heading towards outer space. They were part of the dancing madness on her retina … and she sighed in misgivings of expectation.

Roger’s Old Ones all finally hatched from their eggloos. And putting the photograph of the woman who was to be his destiny behind the cistern in a now defunct outhouse of splayed planks, he climbed on board my wattled neck and, with the others fanning out behind, took an easy glide away from the only world he’d known towards another where the roofs were much higher, the toilets more withdrawn and the people shyer.

We Great Old Ones roosted your roofs in fact for a generation of entropies; and pity for you that you did not tap us for what we were worth when we were at our most fecund.

Roger de Cthuleau sold cod ‘n soul from a barrow – and remembered the smaller planet where he had left the snapshot of his future wife. I threatened to return to fetch the very source of that image, if Roger did not scoop out our slimy offloadings from the city’s gutters just before each and every dawn.

My name is Passiflora and I am of course a Great Old One.

Many would call me a monster, if they actually saw me, since I am fitted up with feathers, feelers, beaks, wattles, fangs, claws and stained tail-piecings. And my body is a mass of runnels, crenellations, corrugations, gutterings and downright twisted mockeries of half-cocked, half-cooked, half-bad poultry. I could tell you that I came from outer space, along with all my mates – and it’s not a coincidence that they look rather like me. Roger was the sole-standing near-miss of a human being who lived on a small planet. But you should all know that, since Roger’s legendary Niece is now your Queen (or is it Prime Minister or something else?). It’s in your very water, as it were. In any event, without beating about the bush, if Roger had his way, his small planet is the centre of all particular universes of which your paltry solar system is simply a minor character thrashed from pillar to bed-post by a Falstaff or a Hamlet or a “Cry God for King Harry, England and St George”.

So, you see, Roger (once arrived on Earth, upon my sturdy, rippling back, and taking advantage of my wings as if they were his own) had to put himself around quite a lot: planting a past that had never existed and creating women in men’s image as their playthings to while away the interminable nights bedevilling Earth (and these women, shocking to report, were modelled on his once intended Hyancinth Manning, left to moulder away on that distant small planet from where he had flown to Earth on my wide, shifting hips – and Hyacinth was nothing to write home about either, not worth a second glance, nor the first come to that); finally, ensuring that the roosting-points of us Great Old Ones were safe from the inquisitive groundlings, who knew not their house-roofs were so populated with us refugees from that naughtier, if more fruity, precinct of reality unknown even in myth or legend, let alone in the more sporadic imaginings of loonies that thought Art more important than Life itself.

As I perch here on the top of St Paul’s Dome I wonder if Hyacinth Manning is just one more name for Roger’s niece. Even in my confused world, that makes at least a smidgeon of sense. In any event, all the Great Old Ones have scattered their berths from the tile-trees and slate-slopes of South London to the more salubrious office-tops and roof-gardens of the City. Here, around St Pauls, our human zombie collaborators keep vigil to ensure that others do not track down the tell-tale, glistening trails of our slug-arses slicking the windows and glass-walls of the more outlandish forms of architecture now gracing England. Yes – where was I? – we all have names: I, Passiflora, was the self-confessed Kitehead One (on our drifting lunge from planet to planet, universe to universe, eternity to eternity, beyond the reach of any entropy that some likely lad of a misbegotten god was even now scheming). The others – well, you’ve stumbled across their names before, Nomicos-Inge, Nygre-Maunce, Reyn-Bouwe, Etepsed-Egnis et al.

Back to the women. We have sowed millions of them across the land (using the infamous Manning template). And with their inclusion as an ingredient in the vasty patterns and incontravertible, timeless karmic netbergs that only your universe can boast, they created the worst form of disharmony in the souls of you men, leading to inevitable death and dismay (a dual plague that had previously dodged the otherwise civilised areas of which the Earth was once so duly proud).

I, Passiflora, have put it into print, so that you know it must be true. And, what’s more, I’m a fine figure of a Great Old One, one with a certain je ne sais quoi: a certain aspect of horror, to put it bluntly, which is reflected off mirrors like the icons of your communal nightmares, even becoming cross-breeds with your werewolves, vampires and politicos; and I was amazed when I was accused of frightening your children by squatting under their beds, disguised as a chamber pot.

Well, I’m more scared of you, than you are of me. There, I’ve said it! And while you’re pondering on that, let me tell you that Roger now turns a nice French letter (since he misses his erstwhile correspondence with his niece, even if it were an imaginary niece, or one masquerading as an imaginary niece), and he has a froggy bit of skirt to tease his attentions away. He has in fact forgotten all about us Great Old Ones. He even believes that he was always a Earth man. If the truth were known, your planet has less credentials for existence than that small one on ‘tother side of night. Whatever the case, we Roger’s one time pets and steeds strain our innards out across the roofings of a growing city: growing, yes, but the taller the buildings get, the thinner their walls, the more meagre their intrinsic life force, their lift-shafts mere hollow ribbing.

In the end, I decided to put paid at once to the emergent race called women. I vowed to seek out their Queen Bee and wrap her up in the ever-burgeoning flesh-heaps of my full-rounded bummings.

If I am horror, Queen Manning (as she is known in masonic circles) is horror squared. I wanted Nomicos-Inge et al to be my cohorts on such a venture of vengeance, to stand by the down windows as I searched the upper rooms for her snoring form. I telexed Roger, but he was too busy on the Rue de Rivoli. I did manage to get the help of a council muck-raker. He was promoted from head zombie, since he seemed to relish the offal that came off the hindparts of us Old Ones for its own sake – as honest-to-goodness shit.

It’s about time I started my tale. The muck-raker and I slid along the slimy pavements. We guffawed. We slapped each other on the back. And when one of us slew off into a particularly sticky patch of Old Droppings, we ran our fingers through it in sheer delight and stuffed its finer parts into our ever gaping orifices (which, in his case was a mouth, I suppose, but in mine was the cause of my dear old myth of a mum saying that I’d got my mouth too near my own bum for my own good).

“To be or not to be, that is the question.” But is it a question at all? You can be both. As was Queen Manning when I found her in the boudoir, after I had been legged up to it by the muck-raker. This woman had been called many things in your newspapers but, tonight of all nights, she had transmogrified into the very bed in which she tossed and turned: an eight-poster.

I proceeded to sleep in her and stirred for a long night, fought a good fight with the devil’s bedding of my own wings, shat myself stiff. The chamber pot under the bed was already chock-a-block with stuff: it burped and bubbled in its own inimitable style.

The faithful muck-raker gave up waiting for me and went off, with his new-found freedom of spirit, to seek out further closet women – but whether they will have sufficient night soil in which to grow his manhood, nobody knows.

Roger de Cthuleau, he’s still in Paris with an enormous following. In his dreams, he still rides a steed across the universes, but it’s his image of one called Hyacinth who remains his one and truly love. But he has surely forgotten what she really looked like. And I’m pretty well confused about her role in things myself … ever since my own aunt became one of those sentry-boxes outside her house.

Well, I would have loved Roger – if he’d let me. Meantime, I’ve gone back to roosting the roofs, along with a few other desultory packs of crabby Old Ones, disillusioned with what’s growing up from below us. Queen Manning no doubt escaped the clutches of the bed-posts (and even the bivouacs could not have contained her). But she did leave her brain behind, with her teeth, steeped in the chamber pot overnight and forgotten at dawn.

The gutters are full with our leavings and droop dangerously, but Roger’s due back soon on the Channel Packet and he’ll put it all right again, won’t he?