Delfont stood in the doorway of his establishment: The Smoke Room.
It was a new concept; a seething melange of soft lighting and
art-deco furnishings where one could sit, drink, listen to lounge
music, and smoke cigarettes. Or cigars, if one was nobby enough
to afford them. It was the perfect escape from the clamour of
city life. Not from the smoke,
of course -- but changing one smoke for another was, as the saying
went, as good as a rest.
Smoke Room was down in the business district, a few doors along
from one of the richest banks in the East End. It always puzzled
Harry how a bank could be `rich' when it was supposed to be filled
with other people's money. Nevertheless, it always boasted huge
profits in the local rag come Christmas-time. The employees would
come and spend a little here,
and that suited him just fine.
was going to be a foggy night. Already there were haloes 'round
the street lamps, and a chill was in the air. Harry slapped his
sides. He could easily fetch his coat and cap from inside, but
he refrained. It was part of his nightly ritual to wait at the
door for his first customer. He liked to make a warm, chummy impression;
which was ironic, considering he was freezing in his rolled up
shirt-sleeves and vest; his head bare to the elements but for
a wisp of grey fluff. He also liked to warn people about the step.
Two inches down from the pavement, and not quite six inches
from the door, it was a major flaw in council planning which was
trip his customers on their way out. Especially if they'd had
a few too many cocktails, or sat too close to the speakers for
any length of time.
sax and electric pianos tended to do that to people.
odd passerby, dressed sensibly in heavy coat and hat, passed by.
But it was the cometostays he was watching for. As he was just
ready to give up, he saw something vague from the corner of his
eye. Now a customer, as a rule, is never vague. To be fair, plenty
are vague in manner, and even personality, but never vague in
body. They're a proud lot in the business sector, finely
clothed, well-kept, and, above all, visible. What he saw swirling
at him through the gathering mist was, well, vague, in every sense
of the word. Just when he thought he saw a man, it wasn't; just
when he thought he saw a woman, it wasn't that either. Was it
leaves blown by the wind? Too vague to tell. It was a jumble of
intangible something -- or nothing -- passing through the fog
straight towards him.
left arm began to quiver, and not from the cold. Retreating to
the warm, currently smoke-free, interior of The Smoke Room became
first in his mind. More so, now that the approaching absence of
shape commenced shrieking like high-velocity wind. At least he
assumed it was shrieking, for the sound swirled, and he
couldn't be certain of its origin. Nor could he see anything capable
of making such a sound.
his terror, the cold, and the natural survival instinct he'd developed
as a bartender, he couldn't move. So, like any stout Englishman
facing such terrible unknowns on an empty wallet, he fainted;
slumping face-down on the pavement like so many of his lounge-addled
patrons before him.
awoke to the sound of soft music, and some tone-deaf git playing
a clarinet like his lungs were about to shoot out the end of it.
Having a splitting headache didn't help matters, but he knew instantly
where he was: in The Smoke Room. On the floor, to be precise.
Molotov," said a strange voice in an even stranger accent.
"What a player."
opened his eyes and saw, sitting on the edge of a table, a tall,
gaunt man in leathers; wearing a tattered black wide-brimmed hat,
knee-length boots, and a tartan waistcoat. He had a snow-white
goatee, and an eye-patch into the bargain. Hardly the sort of
person he'd expected to see, this far from Soho at any rate.
what's going on?" he asked, sitting up.
you've recovered! Good. I wasn't too late after all."
stranger sounded like a Scot who'd spent many years in deepest
Yorkshire; or a Yorkshire-man who'd spent years with the Scots.
Either way, he wasn't the easiest person to understand. He offered
Harry a many-ringed hand and helped him to his feet. Harry dusted
himself off, adjusted his shirt-sleeves -- one had unrolled itself
-- and remembered what he'd seen, or hadn't quite seen, before
his ungraceful tumble.
too late for what?" he asked. "Was that you out there
in the fog?"
stranger's lips creased into a smile and he laughed loudly; leaving
me... no, it wasn't me you saw. Allow me to introduce myself,
my good host -- I am Northumberland, also known as The Seeker."
'S a place in Dorset isn't it?"
stranger laughed again and wiped a tear from his good eye.
me once again. I've travelled far, and from such humble, obscure
parts that the quaintness of the world never ceases to amaze me."
Mr. Seeker, I'm much obliged to you for scraping old Harry up
off the pavement. I was waiting for my first customer, you see."
Harry looked about, and found The Smoke Room still empty but for
his eccentric guest. "And, by Jove, here you are -- first
customer of the evening. Take a seat; let me get you a drink and
something to smoke the place up with."
took his place behind the bar and reached for glass and decanter.
When he looked again The Seeker was still standing, preoccupied
with a crystal dangling on the end of a string.
a cigar man, thought Harry.
it be, whisky and a panatela?"
nothing, thank you. I have to be on my way before the trail grows
a night like this? Er, what trail?"
Seeker pocketed his pendulum and looked gravely at Harry with
that one icy eye of his.
trail of the Culgorney Devil."
Devil, you say?" Harry took a swig of whisky himself, and
gazed out at the dark, foggy street.
just a name, mind you. The Culgorney Devil is no more an actual
devil than the Devonshire Devil before it."
eighteen fifty-five. After a heavy snowfall, people awoke to find
hoof-prints scattered about the countryside for a hundred miles
around. The prints trampled through haystacks, across rooftops,
over walls, they even crossed a river and continued on the other
side. It was said the Devil was roaming that night, seeking out
not. It was a Scatherbott, same as what you saw."
sat down heavily on an upholstered bar stool, and reached for
the decanter to refill his glass. The Seeker now busied himself
uncoiling what Harry had mistaken for a scarf. It was a length
of black-pudding, and it looked a little worse for wear.
pursued it all the way from the Hebrides, ever since I detected
gracious!" said Harry. "That's on the edge of nowhere!"
I know what you mean. It's also why it's here. It's drawn to densely
populated areas. It body-hopped it's way through Scotland, through
the Yorkshire dales, headed southwest, hopped across to the Isle
of Man, then landed in Wales. I lost it for a time in Wiltshire...
lots of mystical forces at work there. And now it's here in London,
and my worst fears are realised."
the bleedin' 'eck's it want, this Scatherbott?"
power, a good time; for which it needs a suitable host body. It
would've taken yours if you hadn't fainted."
found himself shaking again, and took another swig of whisky.
above," he said, distantly.
Seeker crossed to the window and strung the black pudding like
tinsel across the blinds. Then he took out his pendulum again,
steadied it, and watched intensely as it did nothing at all.
it's not a rude question," said Harry. "Why have you
strung black pudding across my window?"
looking up, The Seeker replied: "It acts as a ward, and a
bit like vampires and garlic?"
little, except it has the opposite effect. Instead of keeping
Scatherbotts away, it attracts them. The blood content, y'see.
The Scatherbott, invisible, intangible, feeling its way blindly
through the world, homes in on anything flesh and blood and attempts
to animate it. So, by hanging black pudding in your window, or
around your neck for instance, you have a better chance of staying
free of its grasp."
are you going to do when you find the critter?"
it back to the hellish dimension it came from," said The
yes? I suppose you do that by dowsing it with clotted cream?"
said Harry, gesturing with his arms.
Seeker's eye became a mere slit.
saw yourself how powerful this creature is."
I meant no disrespect."
Seeker laughed it off. "To dispense with the Scatherbott,
it must first be rendered unconscious. As it has no form or structure,
this has to be done while it inhabits a host."
mean, you'd've coshed me over the head if it'd taken my body?"
but thanks to your weak constitution I never got the chance."
goodness... and that's it, you just wallop it?"
it's unconscious, the ancient words of dispelling must be spoken,"
he patted his waistcoat pocket, where he carried a little book.
these Scatherbotts... they can go through walls?"
yes. Walls, concrete, art-deco furniture..."
how are we to know it's not in here with us, just waiting for
a chance to slip into our bodies?"
the pendulum would start swinging figure-eights for a start. The
black pudding exploding would be another sign."
Seeker looked up from his motionless pendulum. "D'you have
got up and searched about. "What do you want them for?"
eat! All this talk of black-puddings has made me hungry."
we are--" said Harry, popping up from behind the counter
with a bag.
stared, awe-struck. The pendulum was swinging madly.
said The Seeker.
that moment, black pudding exploded across the room. The two men
dived for cover as bits of bloody sausage rained down. Howling,
like the wind through a chasm, filled The Smoke Room.
it had subsided, and all was still, Harry eased himself up off
the floor. The mess was considerable. It looked like someone had
been horribly murdered. The Seeker lay face-down beneath a table.
Harry moved towards him, and trod on something. He lifted his
foot, and saw The Seeker's little book; splattered with blood
and bits of gristle. He picked it up, and heard a low groan.
you all right?" he asked.
Seeker got to his feet, wobbled a bit, and opened his eye. For
a moment the iris flashed a fiery red, before becoming blue again.
last," said The Seeker, his voice jagged and deep, "a
body that suits my needs."
backed towards the bar, slipping the book into his belt.
er... how about a drink?" he said.
Seeker flashed a terrifying look at him, then smiled a grim smile.
Drink, and food! I have tasted neither for many moons."
scanned the shelf behind the bar for something heavy, other than
the liquor. The Seeker's shadow fell across the bottles. Harry
reached a shaking hand toward the largest decanter he had. It
weighed at least three pounds, and was made of imitation crystal.
you are, Sir," he said, pouring brandy into a glass, and
spilling as much again onto the counter and floor.
slid the glass forward, still holding onto the decanter, and The
Seeker downed the drink as if it were water.
Sir..." said Harry. "Good Lord, what's that over there?"
Seeker's head jerked around, and Harry raised the decanter. Before
he could bring it down, The Seeker leapt up with the speed of
a whirlwind and sent it smashing to the floor.
You thought to trick the Culgorney Devil?"
Seeker laughed, but not the jovial laugh of before; this one was
forged in the deepest, foulest caverns of the earth, and rattled
the speakers off the walls. The hi-fi system turned its tail and
strangled a jazz quartet in the middle of an extended jam.
Seeker, glaring, felt his pockets.
Er, gosh, must be on the floor somewhere..."
it over, if you wish to live!"
can I hand it over if I don't know where it--"
Seeker reached over the bar and lifted Harry off his feet. It
spun him around, retrieved the book from his belt, and let him
Seeker ran for the door with a hunted look. It attempted to pass
through it a couple of times, before it remembered the solid nature
of its host, and opened it.
watch out for the--" said Harry automatically.
its head half-turned towards Harry, The Culgorney Devil failed
to see the step, tripped, and fell head-first onto the concrete.
After he'd finished wincing, Harry ventured out from behind the
bar. The Seeker's body wasn't moving; he was out, stone-cold,
lying just beyond the doorway.
approached. The fog wisped about, crawling in through the open
door. The street looked deserted; if anyone was hanging about
they were obscured by fog denser than any Harry had seen. He prodded
the body with the toe of his shoe. There was no reaction, but
The Seeker was still breathing.
book! He dropped to his knees and searched The Seeker's pockets,
to no avail. The left hand was empty. The other was stretched
out into the fog. Carefully, he leaned over the body and felt
around. He feared that the Culgorney Devil would wake at any moment
and send his soul packing. It was with utmost relief that his
hand found purchase on the book, still clutched in The Seeker's
right hand. He tugged it free, then retreated a safe distance.
hurry," he muttered. He flipped through the book in the subdued
light. It was full of scratchy hand-written text. There were recipes
for cooking the various small, wild furry creatures that called
Britain home; and the rest appeared to be a condensed journal
of The Seeker's travels. He heard The Seeker gurgle, and flipped
through the pages with renewed
final page was filled with five words written in large, elaborate
script. They looked as if they'd been re-traced many times so
as never to fade. Steeling himself, he spoke the first word.
Seeker's body twitched. The fog swirled angrily.
said Harry, louder this time, more forceful.
wind came out of nowhere, shrieking dismally.
shrieking grew furious, and The Seeker's body convulsed.
cried Harry, competing with the noise.
reached the fifth word, but all he said was: "Uh..."
said a weak voice, The Seeker's.
yes, that's an `h.' Hakoon!"
deafening roar and buffeting wind stopped short, as if turned
off by a switch. The fog retreated at an alarming rate, and The
let me give you a hand," said Harry. "Are you okay?"
Seeker nursed a bleeding nose, but patted himself and smiled,
a little painfully.
alive, and I'm me, thanks to you."
puffed out his chest. "It was nothing. What about our friend
gone, back to its own dimension never to bother ours again."
taking the fog with it, I see. Perhaps now my customers will start
about the mess."
glanced at the black pudding strewn floor, listened to the crackle
of the dying stereo.
mind. A little smoke and no-one will notice."