I've seen announcements for the journal Supernatural Tales for several years. But issue 41 is the first I have purchased and opened. (I am usually wary of contemporary genre writing, but that's another story). Issue 41 has two stories by writers I esteem very highly: James Machin and Steve Duffy.
His story, "The Sea Man," is a nesting-doll of a story, framed by a scholar's morose anecdotes, but at the heart a 14th century letter from a titled lady in one of the Kent Cinque ports, to her husband, travelling in Canterbury.
The story she tells, weird and beautifully unresolvable, details the collision of locals with a "man from the sea."
Naturally, he is held captive.
....His bindings at the wrists still allowed him movement, and he lifted his hands, his palms towards his face, and extended all his fingers, moving them like worms, or eels, like no man should. He extended his arms towards the sea, and fingers still moving like eels, right strange, he drew his hands slowly towards himself. He then looked at us, a smile on his face that seemed most wicked. I could not prevent the bailie from striking him across the face, but felt no pity since I too beheld only insolence and mocking spite in the sea man's countenance. The bailie peaced but sayeth to the sea man ye are no Christian. The sea man seemed not to feel the blow, for he recovered at once. He then, with some effort, began pushing the sand upon which he sat, into a small pile next to him. He made gesture at the pile, then up at the cliff, upon which St Mary's stands, smiling all the while. He then, with an awful fury, beat down with his bound hands upon the pile of sand until it was wrecked utterly, and he was dragged crazed and howling back to the barn....
"No Passage Landward" by Steve Duffy
Phoebe, spending a free day aimlessly sightseeing on a Welsh headland, oversleeps and fails to exit the area by the 5pm closing time; she finds the toll gate padlocked shut.
....Hunching into the folds of her thick woollen cardy, Phoebe walked down to the shingle beach on the north side of the headland. Her sandals were too thin for the pebbles, though, and so she made her way around to the rocky foreshore that lay below the three houses, taking care not to slip on the strands of dark slimy laver. Across the mouth of the strait, she could see the headlights of cars on the A55. It was the most curious feeling, to see the modern world within touching distance, almost, and yet to be trapped here on the strand. Was it reassuring, or would it get on one's nerves after a while?
She enters one of the houses on the isolated headland. The house is occupied by a woman.
"Isn't there any way of getting in touch with outside? Somebody must be in charge of that barrier?"
"Someone will be along," the woman said. "But not now."
There's lots more of that kind of cross-purpose dialogue, which is for me a pleasure of the classical UK horror genre. The woman also says, "I've been here time and time again."
16 November 2019