Clive DArcy despised Stinker. Hed
given Stephen Tinker that nickname at school, where he was top of the class by
far in mathematics. This had angered DArcy, who publicly dismissed maths
as banal and banausic, but secretly found it hard and hated being bettered. He
had been top in English, revelling in the exuberance of Hopkins and Thomas and
the intricacies of Eliot and Pound. He used to sneer at Stephen as a barbaric
mathematician with the social skills of a spittoon and the literary tastes of a
retarded four year old cripple dross like science fiction and ghost
stories. He also ridiculed his manic love of geometry and obsessive neatness
(his weird centre parting, and the symmetrical positioning of pen, pencil and
paper on his desk). He claimed that he couldnt decide if Stinker was a
complete and utter twat or just a complete twat. Now they both went to the same
Cambridge college. There DArcy largely ignored him, smouldering because
the odious little grey man had worked so hard that he won a prestigious
Stephen had lost his stammer during his first
year at university, but remained shy and diffident. He was someone who just
didnt mix easily and hed never had a girlfriend. DArcy had
spotted him staring with drooling eyes at dolly birds several times, and
decided that this explained why during the vac the farouche little cough-drop
had apparently done some execrable Dale Carnegie course on how to make friends
and influence people. DArcy thought this was absolutely priceless and was
intrigued to see what the pathetic little prole had got out of the course.
So at the start of the new term he ambushed
Stephen and worked on him. In the course of a friendly chat he charmed him and
invited him to a party in the Music Room at 8 PM on Tuesday. He said that all
the others from their school would be there, so they just needed him for a
proper old boys reunion; and he added that Yvonne Evans would be there. She had
been at the nearby girls school and was now at Girton, and DArcy was sure
that Stinker panted for her with a buttock-clenching passion. He said in his
deep, self-assured voice: You remember Yvonne. Every schoolboys wet
dream. Actually a wet dreams wet dream.
Taken aback by the show of amiability, Stephen
fiddled with his glasses, considered and finally said hed come. With a
smug grin DArcy thought: jeans duly creamed; I knew that would hook the
DArcy, his friends and Susie, his latest
beautiful girlfriend, were all in the Music Room by 7.30. They started drinking
and wondering aloud what Stinker Mark II would be like. Briefed by DArcy,
the others from his school all assembled there by 10 to 8 and joined in the
flippant speculation. Soon the chatter and laughter was in competition with the
Beatles song Help.
At 8 PM precisely Stephen appeared in the
doorway, a slight figure in a meticulously co-ordinated outfit of yellow nylon
shirt, green knitted tie, olive corduroy pants, mustard cardigan with football
buttons, brown socks and Hush Puppies. The record player was switched off, and
everybody stopped talking and turned to him. He blanched and twitched as he
took in the array of expectant faces. Then he looked down. But after a few
moments he swallowed, lifted his head and walked across the room to
DArcy. People held their breaths, eager to hear the suave new
Stephens opening gambit.
DArcy took hold of both his hands,
smiled and said: Ah, Stephen, there you are. Good of you to come.
Stephen took a deep breath and said: Do
you have a piano?
When DArcy bit his lip and shook his
head, Stephen said: No? Thats a pity, as I happen to play
uncommonly well. Then he had nothing more to say, having used up his only
After several seconds of floored silence Susie
snorted, which made others splutter and giggle. Stephen reddened with
embarrassment and looked as if he would flee. DArcy wasnt going to
allow that. He intended to have a lot more fun with the young man carbuncular
before letting him escape.
As the rest turned away to snicker and pass
comment, he put a brawny arm around Stephens shoulder, leaned down and
murmured into his ear: Hang on, Stephen, dont go. The lovely Yvonne
said she was definitely coming. Shes broken up with her boyfriend.
Im sure youd have a good chance there, with a blue stocking like
her. She knows you from that inter-schools chess tournament, so theres an
in for you. When she comes, Ill bring her over to you. You can explain
your winning strategy in the final. Then move on to Go. Shes very keen on
that too. Youll get on like a house on fire. Guaranteed.
Stephen felt edgy, his stomach was churning
and he was keen to leave. But he just couldnt pass up the chance of
meeting Yvonne (gorgeous Yvonne) and maybe actually getting himself a
girlfriend (if only!). He mumbled: Ah, great, er, thanks, Clive. OK,
Ill hang on then. Do you think shell be here soon? Only, erm,
theres a really difficult calculus question that Ive
Oh god, drawled DArcy,
forget about your sums for once, Stephen. This is your school captain
speaking. Im sure shell be here soon. She was looking decidedly
glum when I saw her, and a bit wistful, so she wont miss this
some punch while youre waiting well, its fruit cup actually.
Help yourself. Its over there.
He pointed with his pipe, smiled and then
added: Itll relax you. Why dont you loosen up and have some
fun, old man?
When Stephen went off to get himself some
punch, DArcy winked at his woman and his friends. The punch contained
lots of lethal Merrydown Apple Wine, so boring old Stephen, who was no drinker,
would shortly be in a state of Bacchanalian exaltation.
Yvonne Evans didnt turn up, just
possibly because she hadnt been invited. As he waited for her, Stephen
stood on his own, smiling politely at nobody and sipping punch. While others
danced and laughed and kissed, he kept on glancing hopefully at the doorway,
and also counted the roses on the wallpaper, and then the chairs around the two
big tables. He was put out to discover that one had two more chairs than the
other. When he went for a refill, he moved a chair to make the numbers
After nearly half an hour he had got through
two plastic cups of punch and felt odd. With a sigh he decided that Yvonne
wasnt coming after all and he should go. He suspected that bastard
DArcy had set him up. Another jolly prank, more persecution. He put his
cup down, but before he could leave DArcy hurried over with Susie,
cornered him and began chatting away. He worked in sly digs at Hush Puppies,
pianos and corduroy pants to amuse her, and pressed another cup of punch on
him. Stephen avoided eye contact and became increasingly tense and upset. He
spotted all the digs, but was too cowed to reply. As DArcy and Susie
brayed with laughter, his lips tautened and he clenched his fists at his sides,
making both sets of knuckles pale in parallel.
Finally he couldnt take the humiliation
any more. He excused himself and flung off to the lavatories. He was there for
a long time. DArcy went to look for him, and soon ran back, shouting:
Come and see what the stupid bastards up to now. The prat is
hanging bat-like from the coat-hooks wailing: Why does nobody love
me? Youve got to see this. Its priceless. Youll scream
with laughter. They all charged in and were convulsed at the sight of
Stephen. They jeered at him and joined in the wailing until DArcy finally
opined that the twit had now achieved full twitosity and there was no way the
little worm could top that. He suggested they go back to the party and get
seriously sloshed. They did, forgetting all about Stephen.
It was later established that he wandered off,
trembling and in tears, to the college bar, had a few brooding pints of Greene
King and staggered back to his rooms. There he passed out on his back, and
subsequently threw up and choked to death on his own vomit.
DArcy got up late the next morning, hung
over. When he heard the news about Stephen, he raised a disdainful eyebrow and
said: Oops. Oh well, serves the drunken little proletarian right. What a
loser! Death by puking how grotesque!
That afternoon, when he returned from rugger
bruised and godlike in triumph, there was a sinister red stain on the floor by
the fireplace. That was odd. He must have had a nose-bleed or something last
night when he got back in his cups. Hed tell the bedder to clean it up.
As he did that the next morning, he became
aware of a strong smell of apples. Strange. He didnt have any apples.
Must be the bedder. She sounded like a creature from the fens, ur, ar,
mangel-wurzels and tattie-bogels. A fat and frowzy Tess of the
dUrbervilles. When he got back from lectures, the smell and the bedmaker
had gone, but the red stain was still there. Hed have to have a word with
the idle bloody wench.
On his way to a supervision at 5 PM he was
vaguely aware of piano music emanating from a window somewhere. Later, when he
strolled to hall relishing a super supervision in which he had positively
shone, he heard the same sombre notes. He suddenly realized that hed
heard them that morning too. Was the whole damned college playing that dreary
dirge? He knew the tune very well, but couldnt put a name to it,
irritatingly. In fact it was Chopins Funeral March. He drowned it out by
reciting she was only a farmers daughter, but she couldnt
keep her calves together and similar dirty ditties.
He heard it again that evening as he was
swaggering his way to the college bar with Nigel Hyde. Since Nigel had missed
Tuesdays party, DArcy was regaling him with that silly ass
Stinkers ludicrous opening gambit and his own clever ploy with the punch.
Then the music started up again. He asked Nigel what that tiresome bloody tune
was called, but Nigel looked baffled and said he couldnt hear any tune.
DArcy was about to pursue this further, when they reached the bar, Nigel
opened the door and the din of laughter, shouts and the Rolling Stones drowned
out Chopin. DArcy shook his head distractedly, entered and began to gloat
over all the digs hed got in at the ghastly little worm in his last chat
Before long Rodney, Quentin and Roger turned
up, and DArcy got them to play a super drinking game hed invented,
and called Cardinal Puff. By 11 oclock they were all legless. DArcy
conducted the others as they sang: It was on a bridge at midnight,
picking blackheads from her crutch, she said: Sir, Ive never had
it, I said: No, not facking much! Then he fell over.
Between giggles Nigel persuaded him to go to his rooms for a schooner of a
simply superb sherry that hed recently discovered. He assured DArcy
that he would be amazed at how quickly the sherry would sober him up.
DArcy was so drunk that he believed him.
He left Nigel seconds before midnight, and the
college clock began striking the hour just as he lurched into the archway
leading out of North Court. Suddenly from the shadows somebody spoke: Are
you wearing a broadsword within the college gates, sir?
DArcy jumped, and then said: Ha
bloody ha, looking down his nose in the direction of the speaker.
Are you Mr Quint, sir?
No, I am not.
Are you Sir Edmund Orme, sir?
No Im bloody not. Im Mr
Clive DArcy. And who the hell might you be?
Oh, Im the head porter, sir
pun intended, replied the voice.
A figure emerged from the gloom. It was
Parkinson, the head porter. He was carrying his head under his arm. As
DArcy stared open-mouthed, the head winked at him. Then it spoke:
Givenni givanni tis very strange in the world to see so sudden a
Abruptly Parkinson turned into a huge bat.
That in rapid succession became a rotting corpse, a chess board, a braying ass,
a brimming punch bowl and finally a Viking. DArcy, who had been peering
in bewilderment at the earlier changes, took a step back at the sight of the
fierce seven-foot warrior. He was wearing bloody chainmail and had a jagged
blue-black scar from his hairline to the bridge of his broken nose. And he
stank of sweat and mead. His pupils rolled up in the moonlight, leaving only
the whites visible, appalling DArcy. Then he bellowed: Dy by dx.
Any monasteries round here?
Er, n-no, said DArcy,
looking round to check.
Oh well. No matter. Ill pillage
the chapel instead and carry off the choir into slavery. Im a salt-water
bandit with brutal vices. Yclept Eric the Dead. A ghost. And do you know the
thing about Nordic ghosts?
N-no, said DArcy.
Ha! I shit up your nose, you ignorant
little half-wit. Theyre a lot more physical and violent than your usual
ghosts. Especially when theyre pissed off over losing
As DArcy gulped, the spectre held up his
massive left fist before his startled face and demanded: Do you see this
fist, do you see this fist?
Y-yes, quavered DArcy,
focussing on it.
Super, said the warrior, and
smashed his other fist into DArcys stomach.
As DArcy folded over and threw up
extravagantly, the Viking murmured into his ear: Hope you enjoyed the
punch, old man. Show me a good loser, and Ill show you
a loser. The
worm has turned. Spot the connections, the symmetry.
Then he picked up DArcy, gasping for
breath and with tears in his eyes, and slung him over his shoulder. He carried
him back to his rooms and threw him on to his bed, where DArcy
immediately lost consciousness.
When he woke up the next morning, he
remembered none of this. But for some reason he felt edgy, and his stomach was
tender. He was forcing down aspirins and coffee when the bedmaker came in. He
scowled at her and said: I thought I told you to get rid of that stain on
Oh but I did, sir. I scrubbed away for
Oh but you didnt. Its still
there. Do get rid of it, theres a good little bedder.
In the afternoon DArcy went to the
library and lost himself re-reading The Dead in Joyces Dubliners. Then he
consulted a few books and articles on the story and dashed off what he prided
himself was a bijou little essay for Dr Brummiescum. He decided he deserved a
celebratory pint. When he got into the lift and the door closed, he was
surprised by a phantom fart. It was a wailing, gibbering fart that went on and
on, and up the scale at the end. He was trying to work out where the hell it
could have come from when the stink of brimstone hit him. As he gagged, the
lift stopped, its door opened and somebody got in. It was the Gallic Symbol, a
sexy foreign language student who hed worked on for weeks and finally
persuaded to come round for a drink and with any luck some vigorous rumpy-pumpy
that evening. Her nostrils flared. She muttered merde, not
inappropriately, and glowered at him, because the lift had come down from the
top floor with only him in it, so he must have produced the foul smell. He
blushed and didnt know what to say to her. When they reached the ground
floor, she leapt out. He started to apologize, but she snarled
cochon over her shoulder and strode off out of his life.
When he got back to his rooms, bewildered and
disconsolate, he found that the stain was still there, and he swore that he
would absolutely excoriate that idle inbred bloody fen-dweller the next day.
That night he had a very frightening dream. He
was walking though moonbeams in a silent wood where no bird sang, when he heard
a rustle in the leaves behind him. He spun round and glimpsed the head of a
huge worm rearing up. It was smiling at him, and had eyes, which glittered
malevolently. He bolted. After several seconds he just had to look back to
check on it. What he saw was a jagged ball of darkness rolling towards him at
speed. He ran faster. But he soon got a stitch and was forced to slow down. As
he staggered along, black tendrils curled around his legs, clutching,
tightening. He screamed in terror.
Abruptly he was out of the wood, into a strip
of meadowland, safe.
As he got his breath back, he caught sight of
what he somehow knew was called Hill House an old shuttered building
standing by itself at the foot of a hill and holding darkness within. A cowled
figure up on the summit shouted: Halloa! Below there! and started
down. In an instant the figure was beside him, pulling back the cowl, to reveal
the head of a large brown dog.
As DArcy gaped, aghast, the head spoke:
Hello, old scream. Been walkies? Ive been waiting here for you for
ages, absolute aeons. No matter. Now that you are here, answer me this: do you
have a girlfriend?
When DArcy managed a nod, the dog pursed
its lips and said: Yes? Thats a pity, as I happen to slay
Then the figure faded away, murmuring:
Toodle pip. Have to biff off now. Got to see a man about a dog.
DArcy awoke the next morning uneasily
aware that hed had a bad dream but recalling only snippets of it. He knew
that there had been something in it that rang a bell, something very
disquieting, but he couldnt remember what it was. It left him feeling
frustrated and depressed.
That night he went to a party at Trinity,
which was spoiled when Susie got blotto on black velvet, then turned nasty and
threw her drink over Nigels girlfriend. DArcy had to drag her away
and walk her back to her digs, to make sure she got home safely. Back in his
rooms he had a restless nights sleep and awoke to see Susie at his window
in the first glimmer of dawn sobbing: Let me in, let me in. He just
goggled at her, so she raked her nails down the glass, making it shriek. He
hurriedly opened up and helped her in. Her little hands were cold, and she
seemed to bring winter into the room with her. He shut the window, put his
dressing gown on and wrapped his college scarf around his neck.
She savaged him with a glare, and growled:
You bloody bodger! You took your time. Ive been hanging round for
half the night, and now Im really cold. Are you deaf or daft?
I was asleep, protested
DArcy, You know alone and savagely sleeping.
She curled her lip and snarled: Where
was the Dangma when the Alaya of the universe was in Paramatha? Hey? Answer me
that, you intellectual jelly tot.
What? I say, calm down, Suze, said
DArcy, and went to hug her.
She hissed: Stand back! I have sharpened
my nipples, and theyre set on Wound.
DArcy promptly stood back.
Susie intoned: Thrill with the lissome
lust of the light, o man! My man! Give me the sign of the Open Eye, and the
token erect of the thorny thigh.
DArcy frowned, baffled. Im
afraid I, er, I really dont know what youre talking about,
So, not so literate after all. For all
your pretension and showing off. But you must excuse me if Im being
opaque: Im always opaque when Im dead.
DArcy stiffened and the hair on his neck
rose when he heard this.
She added: But I can say this to you
clearly, engrave it on the writing-tablets of your mind: beware of flying
DArcy decided she was still pissed and
relaxed a bit. OK yah fine. Actually Ive always been wary of tiny
tots little failed adults. And babies
well, I always celebrate
Herods birthday, quietly but
She snapped: This is no time for levity.
Time is, time was, but time shall be no more. Time was to indulge in arrogance;
time was to manipulate and humiliate; time was to what is the
fornicating time anyway?
As she said this, the college clock began to
strike, as if on cue. After the sixth and final chime she said: My time
is up. I cant hang about any longer. You should have opened up earlier,
you bodger. Phone me at nine sharp for the next breath-taking
She walked backwards away from DArcy. At
every step she took, the window raised itself a little. When she reached it, it
was wide open. She wailed, and floated out of it into the keening void.
After she soared away, DArcy numbly
closed the window. His stomach had knotted up and his heart was thudding. He
pinched himself to see if he was awake. He felt the pinch. He started
trembling, and paced the room, trying to come up with an explanation. The only
one he could see was that she was a ghost. Which was preposterous. But she had
said she was dead. And she had been cold to the touch. And there was that
business with the window. After worrying at the problem for a few minutes he
realized that he was very cold and returned to bed. At once he was overcome by
He woke at five to nine, remembered
Susies command and rushed off to the public phone in the cycle sheds. At
nine exactly he dialled her number. When the landlady answered, he said:
Oh hello, its Clive DArcy here. Sorry to bother you this
early but could I possibly speak to Susie?
The woman sobbed, and said she had bad news
for him: when she went to wake Susie for breakfast, she found that shed
done something awful
shed hanged herself; with a blue stocking; and
there was a note at her feet saying WHY DOES NOBODY LOVE ME?
Stunned, DArcy said: Aahm, right.
OK fine. Super. Thank you.
He put the receiver down and stumbled off to
his rooms. Terrible, terrible. Hed really liked Susie - she was sexy and
pretty and great fun. Hed really miss her. It was all so sudden. And
hanging herself! The note too, weirdly reminiscent of Stinker. So it must have
been her ghost that came to him. God, he felt sick.
Back in his rooms, he didnt take in the
red stain by the floor, but he did smell apples again. The bedder must have
turned up. Hed get rid of her. He looked into the bedroom to see if she
was there. There was no sign of her. But, as his eye passed over the rumpled
sheets, they seemed to billow slightly. He blinked, and looked more closely,
thinking hed just imagined it. To his horror the sheets billowed once
more. Then they gradually swelled out, and formed a shape. A human shape. It
suddenly sat up, and flowed from the bed. Then it stood beside the bed with
outstretched arms, groping about, feeling for something, or someone.
DArcy let out a grunt of disgust, which revealed his position.
Immediately the figure flitted across the room to him and pounced. It enveloped
him in slithery arms. It thrust its face into his. Its face looked like
DArcy couldnt move, couldnt
It warbled: Oh, whistle, and Ill
come to you, my lad. Then it laughed and said: Thats what you
might call sheet music
Then again you might not.
DArcy gurgled: What?
Oh, I say, old man, you are supposed to
be one of the literati. Its the name of a story, by M.R. James actually.
I would have thought that would be clear to the meanest of intelligences. But
then you didnt get the other literary allusions either. Did you, you
twit? Do you at least recognize my voice?
DArcy did. He wrinkled his brow and
Dead right. Pun intended.
B-but how can you be here, talking to me
W-well, w-what the frigging hell do you
want me to do knock once for Yes and twice for No? Ive loosened
up. Ive been having fun. Playing with you. Havent you got it yet?
Whats going on. No? Whos the silly ass now, then? Vengeance is
mine, saith Stinker.
W-what? quavered DArcy in a
You do realize youve pissed
yourself? Literally. In fright. Why dont you change your pants and
underpants? Frankly, youre starting to pong a bit, old bean. As ever, you
have all the appeal of a cup of cold sick.
When the pallid arms released him, DArcy
lurched to the wardrobe, opened the door and reached in. What his hand touched
was a mouth, with sharp teeth, and bristly hair around it.
Nnnngh, grunted DArcy, and
jerked his hand back out.
Stephen laughed and said: So thats
where it went to. Dont worry, its only a lesser imp from the third
circle of Hell. As a magister templi, I have it under complete control. But
hang on, whos that in there with it? Who could it be?...Oh no! My god,
its the Great Goat of Mendes himself. The eyes, Clive, dont look at
Stephen let out an unearthly scream and lunged
at DArcy, who also screamed, and fled. Gibbering manically, Stephen
chased him, out of his rooms, across three courts and through the main gate of
DArcy ran down the street whimpering.
Eventually he became aware of the startled but not horrified gazes directed at
him. A glance over his shoulder showed that he was no longer being pursued by
bedding, so he stopped and tried to get his breath back. After a few seconds he
realized that two schoolgirls were pointing at his crotch. One of them snorted
and said: Hey, nice pants! For a piss artist. They both giggled. He
put his right hand over the damp patch and held his wrist with his other hand.
He was very embarrassed, but he was definitely not going back to his rooms to
change. He walked on awkwardly, looking back over his shoulder now and then and
trying to calm his pounding heart.
As he approached a house with a removals truck
outside it, he vaguely took in the sideboard on the narrow pavement and the
pulley and ropes that were being used to manoeuvre some item of furniture out
of a first floor window. One of the removals men was standing in front of him,
blocking the way, and the truck meant DArcy couldnt step out into
the road to get past. So he mumbled: Excuse me.
The man turned round to see who had
The man was Stephen Tinker.
As DArcy froze, white-faced, Stephen
took hold of both his hands in a strong grip, smiled and said: Ah, Clive,
there you are. Good of you to come. If you think death by puking is grotesque,
how does death by piano strike you? Now that really is grotesque.
He jerked his head to heaven. DArcy
looked up, to see the ropes that supported the baby grand directly above him