My Pact with the Goblin Queen
This story was conceived and written in a
single day on Sunday, April 18, 2004. First published here on goblinsearch on
May 4, 2004.
story by Zsolt Kerekes © 2004
I'm writing this story as a result of a pact I made with a goblin ghoul last night as I was walking home up the hill near Withdean in Brighton. Every part of it is true and exactly how I remember, though the events of last night now seem like they happened in another world. As I look at these words it seems strange that I could be writing them. Who will believe what I have to say? You, Dear Reader, safe in the daylight or under the protective glow of your electric light can have no conception of the horrors that dwell so close to our twenty first century civilisation, just beyond the reach of the shadows. But I must hurry. My life depends on completing this tale before she returns.
I'm a third year undergraduate studying literature at a university which was as eager to get my tuition fees as I was to get a reprieve before deciding what I really wanted to do. I really wanted to be a writer, but that's not a career. I was sure now that I hated literature, but would see things through for another six months to collect the academic rubber stamp which was my due for good behaviour.
It was the week before Christmas and I'd gone home to my parents' house in Hove to spend a couple of quiet weeks drinking and relaxing with my old mates from school. My parents had gone away for a skiing holiday but had left instructions that my allowance and other things might well be cut off if I dared to use their place for another party while they were away. The house had been trashed in my first year and had needed redecorating. Horror of horrors I had been made to help with the painting. If I had ever wanted to be a painter then a week of slapping on magnolia emulsion would have been enough to cure me of that notion.
Anyway, most of my interesting school friends had parents who lived on the other side of the London Road in the less pretty parts of north Brighton, and as there were more of them than me, that's where we usually ended up.
Last night was no different to usual. As it was the end of term I'd just about run out of cash, and my parents seemed to have forgotten to leave me any money in the jar before they went away. So in order to get the maximum benefit from the little I had left I walked the three miles or so to my friends' house, and converted the cash I had into the cheapest vodka which I could obtain from one of the off licenses on the way. My friend's parents were working overnight doing do gooder church work aimed at drug addicts who ended up on Brighton beach and they would be back in the morning, so we couldn't sleep over, but we could had a carefree night of it.
We listened the same old records and talked about the dwindling number of friends that we still made the effort to keep in touch with. We got completely rat arsed on lager and wine and Bacardi and vodka and whatever else we had scraped together for the evening. A good time was had by all. We were in philosophical mood and apart from the odd couple of engineers and wannabe medics in our group who still had years of university still stretching before them, what faced most of us, a bit like the hangman's noose in the morning, was the prospect of six months of hectic activity, followed by final exams and then... what?
It was three o'clock in the morning when I realised that I was the last one left. My friend had gone to sleep at some point earlier in the conversation and I knew it was time for me to go. I knew their house well, and made myself a strong coffee. Then it was out into the dark December night. Luckily this was one of those warmer spells you get just before the real freezing weather sets in at around New Year. No snow, no ice. Just a pleasant crisp touch to the air which woke you up no matter how much you had had to drink just before.
There's something magical about walking alone through the empty streets of a city late at night. My route would take me through quiet streets which would change from having their front doors just a few steps up from the pavement through to the leafier suburbs where the buildings were set back from the road down winding drives which became longer as my route progressed towards the London road. And then it would reverse and change again.
I was feeling philosophical. Christmas would be lonely and miserable as usual with most of my friends doing their duty and staying with their parents, at least until Boxing Day when everyone would feel that duty done they could spill out to walk up and down the promenade on the beach and get blown about by the wind. If I was lucky I might find that the cafe on the sea front would stay open and spend a few hours eating chips and sipping coffee in the freezing salty spray.
My love life was non-existent and I was single. My idea about being an author sounded romantic, but didn't stand up to much scrutiny. I had been between girlfriends for most of the last year, and had decided to stay single till the finals were out of the way. The girls I fancied used to dump me after a few weeks closer acquaintance, saying I was too shallow and unrealistic and should grow up and get some more serious ideas about my future. The ones who fancied me usually turned out to be change control freaks or religious nuts who wanted to change my appearance, the books I read, my religion, my friends, the football team I supported and my future. It seemed a high price to pay and I had never hung around long enough to see what they would want to change next. I did have girl friends who were just friends. But mostly they were just as unsure what they wanted to do with their lives as I was. Misery finds company, and we would spend rainy afternoons talking about our failed relationships, eating chocolate biscuits and watching crap soaps on TV.
I had got to the part of my journey now where the downhill bits ended and I was walking across the London road just before the hill leading past the old Withdean sports stadium. This place is active enough on a Saturday afternoon when there's a football match on. It's heaving with fans and police. But it's lonely and desolate at four o'clock on a winter's morning. The fog shrouds most of the route in mystery, and you wouldn't recognise it as being the same place by day. Even as a teenager, before going to university I had always felt uneasy walking up this road at night. I wasn't worried about being mugged, I rarely saw anyone and I thought I could handle myself if I ran into trouble. But I always got a cold feeling down my spine as I started walking up the hill, as if it were haunted.
Most likely the cold feeling was due to the effects of my liver struggling to deal with large quantities of alcohol, and tiredness and the night air. But I couldn't help feeling apprehensive whenever I walked up this way. But the alternative route, was a much longer walk, and that's why I always shrugged and carried on despite my misgivings.
Just then a blue flashing light appeared and a police car drew up on the kerb beside me. I don't know why I felt nervous about that. After all I was walking, not driving. And in England you are free to walk while being over the limit. At least they hadn't changed that part of the law as far as I knew.
"Evening officers" I said, in the loud way that people do when they have been drinking too much. Internally I kicked myself. It's always best to wait until spoken to by the police. Otherwise you just look guilty.
"It's a bit late to be walking the dog sir" said the first officer as he stepped out of the car, in that smug sarcastic way that the police use when addressing students. It's all the more galling when you know that they've not long been out of school themselves.
"I'm just walking home. Better than drinking and driving."
"Been doing a lot of that have your sir?" said the second policeman.
"Just the usual."
"And where would home be?" asked the first one.
"Why do you want to know?" I said.
"We're asking the questions " said the second one.
"We're just asking for your Cupertino" said the first one. "There have been some incidents in this area in the last few months." He laid special emphasis on the word incidents.
"I wouldn't know, I've been away at uni. I've just come back for Christmas."
"What are you studying? Not law by any chance?" said the second one. Our boys in blue despise smart alec law students.
"English Lit" I said. This answer seemed to make them more relaxed. They didn't have to be so guarded.
"The Evening Argus may not qualify as English literature" said the first one. "But some of these incidents also made the nationals."
"I've been too busy studying" I said. "I've got my finals in the summer."
They shone a torch at my face.
"Would you mind unbuttoning your coat please sir, and taking it off."
When you've got a bright light shining in your eyes, and are being interviewed in the early hours of the morning next to police car with its blue light still flashing, there comes a point where you just give in and cooperate to get things over with more quickly. I don't know what they were looking for, or if they just wanted to freeze me to death as part of their quota of student humiliation but they seemed to be satisfied. They asked for my name and address and checked my wallet which had my student ID and driving license, and verified my address by calling in to their call centre.
" Thanks very much for your cooperation sir. That all checks out." The flashlight was switched off, but I still had difficulty in seeing more than two dark shapes till my eyes readjusted. "You can put your coat back on now. You might want to wear something a bit warmer at this time of year otherwise you'll catch cold. If you see anything unusual on your walk home, don't get involved. Just keep out of the way and dial 999. You do have a mobile phone don't you?"
"Er yes officer" I said. Not wanting to admit that since I'd started running out of funds half way through term my "pay as you go" had gone and went. Converting idle chatter into microwaves rating a lower priority on the survival scale than microwave chips my mobile was now lying at home discharged and useless.
"Now then, in accordance with the new Sussex constabulary community policing guidelines I'd like to thank you for your cooperation and say that your details will be erased from our computer records within six months unless they turn out to have a bearing on our current inquiries. If you would like to make any complaints about how you have been dealt with then you must download a PCF-911 form from our website and send it by recorded post to reach our office within seven days of this incident. Any questions?"
"No thanks very much. No complaints. But I do have a question."
"These incidents that you said happened round here. What should I be looking out for?"
"Probably nothing to worry about for someone like you sir. But if I was in your shoes I would find another way to go home rather than walking up this road on a foggy night like tonight. But just to put your mind at rest, we will be patrolling up this road when we leave you."
"You couldn't give me a lift could you?"
"This is a police car sir, not a taxi. That's why we have the blue flashing light on top. If you need to phone a taxi just call on your mobile."
They slammed the doors and foolishly I waved goodbye as they drove up the hill. In a few seconds the lights from their car disappeared into the gloom.
"What the hell" I thought. This was probably the safest time I had ever walked up this road. At first my mind went through all the clever things I should have said. But by the time I'd walked another fifty yards I saw that the way ahead was getting even darker. One of the street lights wasn't working. I looked behind and couldn't see further than the light before. It was very quiet. The London road where I had had my encounter with the police was noisy and packed with traffic during most of the day and early evening, but at this time of night it was nearly completely unused. The fog blotted out all sounds, so there was dead quiet, not even the hooting of an owl or the screech of a suburban fox. All I could hear was the sound of my own feet on the pavement.
As I walked further I found that a whole section of streetlights had apparently gone out. Maybe it was a fuse. The moon was pale and thin but I couldn't make out anything, and if there were houses their lights were off. I started getting that chilly scared feeling again. Don't be silly - I said to myself. It was ridiculous. In fact I like horror films. My favourite were the modern vampire ones, like from Dusk till Dawn. That was set in Mexico. But Mexico was warm. Here was cold. Then there was that one with the sexy french vampire. I couldn't remember the name of that one.
I crashed into the overhanging branch of a tree. It was so dark I hadn't seen it and I had been walking close to the outside edge of the pavement. I started walking with one hand in front, but then nearly twisted my ankle when I stepped off the pavement onto the road. I decided it was safer to walk in the middle of the road. That way I was less likely to hit overhanging hedges and I would be safe from anything lurking in the dark gaps along the road. If any car came along this road it would have to go slowly because of the fog, and I'd see the light or hear it and get out of the way.
Ahead I could see a flickering yellow light of a faulty street light. It flicked on and flicked off again. Probably a faulty switch. I imagined I could hear muffled footsteps behind me. I always did when I came to this part of the road. All I needed was a vampire bat or ghost, or more likely some drunken lads to catch up with me. I started walking more quickly. Then I heard the clip clop noise from up ahead.
I stopped and couldn't hear anything. Maybe I imagined it. Clip clop again, but very quiet. It sounded like someone walking in high heels or maybe boots. But it didn't sound right and it took me a while to work out why. I stood under the flickering light which now seemed comforting, and decided to wait and see who was coming down the road. I wasn't sure exactly where I was. Everything seemed to change its shape in the fog and although I'd been up this road a hundred times before at night. Nothing looked familiar.
Clippety clop, clippety clop. It sounded like a horse. But the only time I had ever seen a horse in Brighton was when someone was having a fancy wedding or when the police were doing a parade. This was not a sensible time of day to be taking a horse out, not even in the country. I peered hard into the darkness. But I was standing under the light, and even if it wasn't flashing and if there were no fog I would still have difficulty seeing anything. Clippety clop. That was much closer. I wondered if I should go forwards or step backwards to get out of the light and see better. My heart stopped. The flickering had stopped. The light was off. The night air was still. There was not a sound. Then I heard a clip clop again. This sounded more like a person walking. I must have been wrong about the horse.
There was a sudden hissing sound from behind me and a glow of strong pale light flickered into being. Someone had struck a match and lit up a hurricane style lamp. The sulphurous smell of the match drifted towards me.
"Well what have we got here?" asked a female voice from in front of me.
There was no answer from behind but my arms were grasped by hands which were very strong and would permit no struggle or turning.
She was tall, Very tall. Then as she got closer and stepped into the light I realised that her shadowy outline had looked so tall at first because she was wearing an old fashioned riding hat, from out of a victorian novel. As she stepped closer her features took shape. She was about my height, thin and was dressed all in black. She wore a veil and I couldn't see her face, but I imagined from her voice she might be quite pretty. She stopped a few feet in front of me. Her perfume was strong and heady. Like the strong sweet scent you get in the perfume departments in the major stores at around Christmas when all the smells from the testers and the customers blend into one.
"Good evening" I said. My arms were twisted and I had to go down on my knees.
"It talks then!" she seemed delighted to say to whoever was holding me immovable. "For me, good evening? Yes. But for you? No. I think not."
I should have been scared at this point, but strangely my real life situation seemed a lot less scary to me than all the things I had been imagining in my walk upto now. I was intrigued rather than frightened.
"I met some policemen earlier" I said. "They said there have been some strange incidents in this road. Perhaps you should be careful. They are patrolling about."
"Ah yes. The police."
By strange coincidence I saw as if in a clear bubble in the fog the police car driving slowly down the road. Their headlights were on full beam and I was sure that if they didn't see us we would be in some danger of being run over. But the road seemed to have grown much wider at this point, and maybe they weren't looking our way. Then their blue light started flashing and they accelerated past us as if giving chase to something. The car had disappeared down the hill back into the fog before I thought of crying out. From far away I heard a screeching of tyres and breaking glass. It was quiet for some long heartbeats then there was a dull whoompf which I guessed was the petrol tank expolding. And then all was quiet again.
Poor sods - I thought.
"I don't think they'll be disturbing us any more."
"Who are you?" I said.
"I'll show you." She motioned for my captors to release my arms. I stood up. They must have stepped back for the light from the lantern grew dim.
"I am Reginara, queen of the goblin ghouls. This is my domain." She waved her arms and I saw some kind of projection appear in front of me. It was more like being in someone else's mind than seeing things on tv. I was seeing with other people's eyes, feeling their pain, thinking their thoughts. It was like when I got deeply into writing a piece of fiction late at night. For a while I was really there.
I had always imagined hell as being full of groans, burning coal and devils with tails and pitchforks. The glimpses I saw, the flashes of thoughts I felt were mostly silent and almost ran in slow motion.
I woke up to darkness and confinement. I was in a coffin. I had been buried alive. It was a mistake. I had a rare medical condition. My wife knew that. Surely someone would realise it was a mistake! I panicked and started scratching and shouting. But what if I ran out of air? Was it better to scratch my way out? Or should I calm down, conserve the oxygen and wait for someone to find me. I didn't feel very calm. I was warm and dressed in stiff starched clothes. My wedding suit. I couldn't take anything off. The lid was only a few inches from my face. I could feel the moisture from my breath condensing on the silk lining just inches above my nose dripping back down me. I must get out. Maybe my wife was dead too. An accident? I couldn't remember. How long would it take to die? Would anyone know?
I was a victim of Vlad the Impaler and had been left attached to my own simple form of crucifixion. I couldn't look up, but around me below I could see that the crows and wild dogs had already started work on my companions. My growling and shouts were keeping them off me, for now. I wondered if shifting to a new position would ease the pain or just quicken the bleeding and other warmth which had been trickling down my leg. Then I would be meat for these vermin. Surely help would be coming soon! I was a scout for our main army. All I wanted was a friend who would end my suffering quickly and say a prayer for my immortal soul. A crow landed on my head and started a few exploratory pecks around my face for the soft treats which he knew would soon be his. I shut my eyes but the beak was sharp.
I tried to turn my attention away and think of something else but I couldn't. The idea of being impaled was one of my recurring nightmares, and as someone who wanted to be a writer I had reason to believe that my own dreams were more vivid than those of most ordinary people. What was the purpose of these visions? As the warm blood ran down my cheeks I was cold and shaking. Had I given any sign of my fear to the witch woman? But there was no time to think now. Already the vision, and my sex had moved on.
I was a female psychiatric patient and had voluntarily booked myself into a private clinic in Switzerland to seek a cure for my chronic arachnophobia. I knew now it had been a mistake to admit that I had no next of kin and that no one else knew I was there. There was no record of my visit and no one would come looking for me. I found out too late that my "doctor's" hobbies included more than the odd round of golf as he had told me during my first appointment. The man was a sadist. I was tied in a straight jacket to an adjustable bed. Every few hours between his normal patients he would reappear and force my mouth open. My throat was dry and scratched from the claws of the large spiders he had been forcing down my throat. But if I didn't bite they would sting me. I felt like vomiting, but if I did that I would choke. He said he had some other treats in store for me later, which would involve other orifices. And I could see by the clock on the wall that his office hours would soon be over.
I had stupidly fallen down the stairs into the wine cellar in my country retreat. My legs were broken and my arms were too weak to pull my overweight body back up the ladder. The bulb had burned out and it was dark. But I dare not fall asleep. I could hear rats scratching around noisily and the last time I drifted off they had started nibbling at my shoes. It would be another week before the end of my holiday, and maybe longer before I was missed at work. Could I stay awake that long? I was scared what might happen if I gave way to my fatigue.
A fear of being eaten by rats was another one of those stupid things which caused me terror in my dreams, but which seem so ridiculous in the warm light of day. I couldn't turn my eyes away but I tried a mental trick to reduce the fear I was showing. Soak in the experience I told myself. Maybe I would be able to reuse this horror in a future story. That calmed me a little. My back was soaking in sweat despite the chill air which I knew must be in the real world around me but which seemed so far away.
They were back! I remember having had a kitten once which had sharp teeth and liked to nip people's ankles. But these teeth weren't nipping they were biting deep and ripping the flesh away from my bones. One started running up my trouser leg.
Then the dark of the cellar was replaced by bright sunshine and wetness.
I am the owner of a pleasure yacht which has struck a stray mine in the southern ocean. Although the crew has been killed. my wife, children and I were at the other end of the boat when this happened and we were wearing our life vests. We are safely in the water when the boat goes down. Then the sharks come. They eat the children in a frenzy. It is a slow death for my wife with her legs gone. She passes out from shock and loss of blood. So I don't know if she can hear me say I'm sorry for all this before she is suddenly sucked down. Then the sharks go away. Hours pass. The taste of the sea means I can't taste the salt of my tears. I am numb. Everything is gone. But then I start to feel hope. This is a busy sea lane. Maybe I'll be rescued? But now I can see the fins circling again. They aren't hungry. They are playing with me. This I know for sure.
I'm head of a family which is starving in the middle of winter, cut off from the nearest village a week's walk away. Our store of food has been eaten by the rats. There is nothing else to eat and nothing we can do till the thaws come in another month. We manage through the first week then my youngest child dies. We don't discuss it. If we don't eat my little darling Sasha then the rats will. God forgive us. Another week. No one has died but the hunger is giving us horrible thoughts. It is agreed. The children will draw lots to see which of them will be eaten next. But we have no more fuel. We burned the books and the furniture, and even the door, and the floor is packed earth. We will have to eat the meat raw and use the satanic energy we draw from that feast to forage outside. I feel disgusted with myself that my mouth is salivating already.
The scenes get a lot worse after that and I start wondering just what sort of incident would make it from Brighton all the way up to the national papers. I was glad I didn't know the details. I tried to block the later images out, but shutting my eyes didn't work.
Then I threw up.
The images stopped.
I was back in the real world, in the cold dark foggy night on a hill with the goblin queen and her minders. Was this any better? But actually I felt a lot better after emptying my stomach. I always did after heavy drinking. It would reduce my hangover tomorrow. If there was going to be a tomorrow.
The goblin queen stepped back and I was pushed forwards to step in my own vomit.
"So squeamish, I see, but this is only the first level. I didn't want to break your little mind."
"What do you get out of this?" I asked.
"I enjoy sensing horror and suffering. It provides a certain frison which is hard for you to understand. The souls you saw are already dead, and they know there is no hope of reprieve, so my enjoyment with them is limited. That's why from time to time I need a night up here among the living just to get a taste for something a little fresher. But I have to say I feel jaded. I've already had a busy night in Baghdad, Berlin, Budapest and Brussels. I'm doing some of the B cities tonight. I was hoping for a special kind of uplift in Brighton. Have you got any suggestions?"
"You work your way through cities like letters in alphabetical groups?" I asked fascinated. This felt like the mad logic of conversations at the end of a long night of drinking. I slipt into my role comfortably.
"After hundreds of years doing the same sort of thing, it helps to have some kind of system" she admitted ruefully.
"You get bored?" I asked.
"Yes, so you will have to provide something special."
I didn't fancy being the centre piece of a horrific torment like those I had witnessed. "You get your kicks from watching other people's suffering? How does that work?"
"I sort of breathe it in. The more the better. Wars are best. They provide lots of cover for my excursions. I do try to be careful about leaving the evidence lying around. I don't want to come to the attention of those who might spoil my fun. Tonight's bloody carnage in Berlin for example will just be put down to a psychotic maniac. A lot of strange things happened after reunification. Sometimes I disguise the remains of my entertainment by leaving them in a burning building or staging a car crash. That's why I need a system. By the next time I come back to those cities the memory will have faded, and it won't look like a series of linked events."
I was curious to learn more about the structure of that nether world and wanted to know if the stories in christian writings had any germ of truth.
"Who are these others you talk about? Who could spoil your fun."
"That's not something which can help you tonight my pretty one."
"How about Lucifer?" I said playing for time. "Is it true that the king of the demons in hell started out as a fallen angel?"
"I haven't heard that one before" she laughed. "But that may have been long before my time. If we're being pholosphical I think it might be more accurate to say that God, your christian version of god, at any rate, is more likely a risen devil who tried to change his ways and do good. But if he's the one I think he is, he didn't have the power or persistence to see his plans through. Sometimes he just forgets all about humans for a hundred years or so and then puts in an impressive appearance to keep the myths going. He has some followers among us. It's a good sport for some, creating a semblance of hope and then snatching it away. In a small way I do that sort of thing myself. But I work alone, not as part of a team."
I wasn't sure whether to believe this. Can you expect a devil from hell to tell you the truth? It was too much to take in and I had more immediate concerns.
"I don't know how this voyeurism of yours works but I have an idea for something different."
"Oh do tell, and it had better be good."
"I'm a writer" I started.
"Yes I detected a certain shallowness about your personality, we've got lots of your sort down there."
"I don't know anything about your magic or how it works, but perhaps you could tell me if this would work. If I were to write a horror story could you infuse it with some magic so that whenever it was being read by someone, then a little bit of the fear they felt while reading, would be channelled your way? If it became a best seller and millions of people read it then you would get a small amount of horror millions of times over. That would be better than any single thing you could do with me here tonight."
"Oh, I don't know, I had been thinking of a few things..." My blood ran cold at that. "But I've done them all before. I suppose that what you suggest might be possible. I could make my own little contribution to the world of art. Are you sure you are a writer? That's the sort of deal which I would expect from an accountant. "
She waved for the light bearer to come closer. Once more my arms were held tight and she drew aside her veil. Her face came close to my face. She licked it sensuously and she breathed in my breath as if confirming who I was.
"How would you describe my face for your readers?"
"Terrifying. Beautiful. I don't have the words."
"You will need more practice at your craft to come up with something better than that. But it will do, for now. I think I can arrange the interweaving spell to do what you described. I will have to go back to my domain and consult a few experts."
"Will that take long? What shall I do in the meantime?"
"You should go home and start writing before I change my mind."
"Will I see you again?"
"Oh yes, you don't escape that easily. Just start writing something that puts me in a good mood when I see you next."
She touched my face with her fingers. A light caress. Then she flicked her fingers and the light went out. I heard a clip clop as she walked away up the hill and then a clippety clop but I never saw her horse or her minions who had been holding me from behind. The street light started flickering its yellow sodium glare again, and I was too deep in thought to notice anything else unusual on my way home.
I arrived home at six o'clock in the morning and hardly needed the coffee which I brewed. I was wired awake and my brain was buzzing with ideas. But was this all a figment of my imagination brought on by too much drink and tiredness? When I brushed my teeth I saw in the mirror that where my face had been caressed by Reginara's finger there now lay a deep scar. But no trace of blood. It looked as though my face had been deeply cut many years before. I thought back to the other events of the night and tuned the radio to one of the local channels. I waited, through some mindless bimbo pop and DJ chatter and irritatingly chirpy jingles, for the Sussex news round-up on the half hour.
Then I heard it. It was a report about a tragic accident involving a police car near the Withdean stadium in the early hours of the morning. The area where I had been.
The reporter said it was irresponsible that any driver should be going at such a speed in a deep fog, but went on to say it was believed that that the car had been in hot pursuit of suspects at the time. There had been a national commission looking into how many fatal accidents had been caused by police pursuits, but this appeared to be just one more example of such a tragedy. The relatives of the deceased officers had been woken by reporters for their comments, and the ghoulish reporters had managed to record a tearful interview with the girl friend of one of the officers.
Shit! This was for real.
Unlike my earlier attempts at creative writing I couldn't afford to procrastinate with this one. I got out my notebook and just started typing. I couldn't take the risk that something might get deleted or wiped out by mistake. My life depended on having something to show. So I printed out each page as the words came racing out.
I scarcely realised that most of the day had gone when it reached four o'clock and looked dark out the window. When I paused to sit back and reflect on what I had been doing my hand was stuck in a claw shape. My fingers ached from the effort of typing all day without a rest. My story was nearly done. I hoped it would be enough.
All the lights in the house went out. I went to the front door guided by touch and the pale light from the screen in my notebook. Outside was pitch black. The whole street was out. It must have been one of those rolling power cuts that had been predicted for Christmas.
Clippety clop. Clippety clop. I couldn't see anything. I went to get some candles. There was a knocking at the door. I went to open it with a candle in a saucer. Before it blew out from the incoming draft I saw it was Reginara.
"Won't you let me in?"
"Of course. Please come inside"
"I do hope you have something worthwhile for me to see."
She came in and I relit the candle. I searched around for my printouts.
"I can read it fine from here. She picked up my notebook which was still running on its internal charge." She read all the way through without saying anything.
"We will finish it tonight. I will suggest some changes which you will make without question."
When I had finished editing my draft and made the particular changes which Reginara had specified she sat back in my armchair and seemed content. So I felt confident enough to broach a subject connected with our agreement which had been troubling me.
"You realise of course, how difficult it is for a previously unpublished author to get their first work into print. It's a complicated process, involving rejection by dozens of junior editors working their way through the publisher's slush pile, and being ignored by lazy literary agents who don't need any new writers. It could take hundreds of letters and years to get our story into print, and it might still be rejected. I just thought you should know. If it takes a long time, I hope that won't affect our agreement."
Reginara laughed. "I'm not going to wait years to get my satisfaction." She saw me tense. "But a deal is a deal, so don't worry, I will keep my end of the bargain if you stick to yours. We have the souls of thousands of publishers and literary editors suffering eternal torment in hell. I'm sure I can extract some useful information from them about short cuts to getting a new writer into print. And I have ways of exerting pressure on the living too... When that is done I will return and you will bring your story up to date."
She was as good as her word, and that is how, I found myself in the first week of the new year giving up my degree and instead accepting a very lucrative advance on a book contract which not only paid off all my loans but left me a very tidy sum with which I was able to buy a new flat and car. You may recall that the publishing deal made the literary press. "New Author Strikes Rich Vein of Goblin Gold" - I seem to recall was the headline in the Sun. And there was speculation that I might also get money for the film rights. Goblin Hammer productions was in conversation with my agent. All related to a short story I had written in a single day and a future novel I hadn't yet started yet.
So that, Dear Reader, concludes my tale. And if you have felt any shiver of horror while reading this, or perhaps may yet feel a slight tinge of nervousness the next time you walk up that quiet lonely hill in the night fog, that too is part of the connection with my story and the pact I made with Reginara the goblin queen. She's sitting there with you now in the shadow enjoying the story in her own way, sucking in your every breath of doubt, or fear or panic when the lights unexpectedly flick out.
Editor's footnote:- readers may be interested in the following transcript from the famous BBC Radio interview with the author which took place in March 2004 on the Arts Today programme.
Interviewer:- "I suppose that one of the things that our listeners would like to know is how you got your idea for the story - My Pact with the Goblin Queen?"
Author:- "As I wrote at the beginning of that story and have repeated many times in interviews like this... every word I wrote was true and everything happened exactly as I reported it."
Interviewer - sighing - "Yes I understand that's the publicity angle you've adopted, and I suppose that sticking to it, as rigidly as you have done, is probably in the contract you've signed with your publisher, but let me ask this another way... If I take what you say at face value, then help me on this point. You say in your story that Reginara the goblin queen asked you to make some small changes. So her memory of events differed to yours. Can you tell us then what was it she asked you to change?"
Author:- laughing - "You've got me there. As it happens, the changes didn't alter the main thrust of my narrative, but may have left you with some different impressions on minor points of detail."
Interviewer:- "Do tell our listeners more." - Off the main mike to editor - "I think we've got time for this bit haven't we? Yes. Go on."
Author:- "I say - minor details - but Reginara got quite worked up about them and she regarded them as being a big deal. At one point I was afraid I would be going straight back into the hell visions for real. I saw it in her eyes. But then she calmed down and said that she really liked my writing and that if I changed the bits she was annoyed about then we would still have a deal."
Interviewer:- "Go on."
Author:- licking his lips nervously and looking behind his shoulders - "I'm not sure if I should really be saying this publicly."
Interviewer:- "If you're worried she might be listening... I'll let you into a BBC secret... Last time I looked at our audience ratings for this show, our listener figures didn't include any goblins. Not even on the late night repeat."
Author:- laughing - "You're right. Anyway this doesn't affect the story line. Our pact was, or is, that not one word of the story would change. OK here are the few details which set the record straight. And this is exactly as I remember, without varnish and honest gospel..." - long pause - "When I first heard her clip clopping down the road it was too dark to see her horse. But as she left and the street lights glowed back on - I saw there was no horse - as she clip clopped away on all fours on her claws like a wild beast. Her perfume too, was not quite as I described. It was more like the smell of rotten cat food which has been left in an open tin too long in summer, and which the flies and the maggots have got into. And finally, her appearance. It is true that she was tall and slim but by the light of the sodium lamp her skin seemed green and wrinkled like old walking boots. When I wrote these facts in my original draft she was very displeased and I learned how vain a goblin queen can be. She made me change these points, on peril of my life, but bade me keep all else the same."
Publisher's endnote on the publication of the story in the compilation "21st Century Goblin Stories."
- Alas readers who may be looking for other works by this promising new writer will be disappointed to learn that his publishing contract to write a full length novel for our company was terminated by his untimely and tragic death, the lurid details of which were fully recounted in all the Sunday tabloids at the time.
As most of you will already know, the author was speared on some iron railings in a lonely spot not far from where his story is supposed to have taken place. It took him two weeks to die, and it is likely that if he had been discovered earlier he might have survived. But the pathologist who examined the body has been reported as saying that the rat which came back to gnaw the fingers from his still living body night after night had probably infected him with bacteria which would be resistant to modern antibiotics. So even if he had been found earlier, it is unlikely he would have survived.
It is frightening to think of what the author must have gone through, the
hope of discovery and rescue with which each day must have dawned and the terror
he must have felt at the onset of each night. The police said a video camera
was found near the body but there were no fingerprints and there was no tape
inside. Unlike the tabloids we do not speculate whether this accident was a
murder arranged by the slighted Reginara his fictional vain goblin queen, or a
publicity stunt gone wrong. But we do hope that the appearance of his story in
this special best selling edition will lead our readers to explore the other
books in our forthcoming goblin books series which will be published in the
stories and works by the same author
About the story. This story was conceived and written in a single day on Sunday, April 18, 2004. The day before I had been working on another story, as yet unfinished, called The Goblins Are Coming. I reflected that all the stories I was working on had been started many years before and that maybe I would run out of any ideas for new ones. Another problem was that all my so called short stories were getting longer and harder to finish. That anxiety is what triggered the dreams that night which became the story - My Pact with the Goblin Queen. It rushed out in a stream as a complete story. In fact I started by writing the paragraphs at the end and the beginning. I read the first draft of the story to Janet (my wife) on the Sunday evening. She suggested adding in some more scary bits - which became the hell visions. I did that on the Monday and emailed it to another test reader - my brother in law Mark. A couple of small changes were made in the weeks that followed. Some of the story is autobiographical. And my real pact with the Goblin Queen must remain secret - for the time being.
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2000 to 2004 Zsolt Kerekes
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This is a work of fiction. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to actual goblins living or dead is purely coincidental or due to ensorclement beyond our control