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A Cautionary Tale in Four Parts

Barnaby Soames is obsessed with an antique statuette. The sleepy county of North Mortshire is beleaguered by a spate of horrific crimes. Could there be a connection?


This is a four-part narrative poem composed of twenty-three stanzas of blood-curdling mystery, with the flavour of Gorey and just a whiff of Lovecraft's unholy stench.

I: Concupiscence
It glistered there in the drab window display
Amongst the upcoming lots in the auction,
The fair, salt-glazed apex of sculptorly skill­ -
A transcendent vision in porcelain.
That any measly human hand
Should have shaped such a thing seemed profane;
Such were the musings of Barnaby Soames,
Whose moustache scratched a patch on the pane.
With his tremulous hands clenching knots in his pockets,
Mr Soames tore himself from the vision
Of loveliness that he could never possess
Without languishing in debtor's prison.
Yet that night as he lay in his swift-cooling sweat,
Smeared in shame, wracked with guilt, forehead glistening,
A miasma appeared at the foot of his bed
Whispering cunning conceits to assist him.
The following weeks in the county of Mortshire
Were a boon to the ranks of the ghoulish,
Who fixated on headlines and pondered on crimes
That would make the constabulary look foolish.
In taprooms, barns and village halls,
One still hears rumours traded
Of the days when the blackness rose up from some hell
And all trace of normality faded.


II: Misconduct
The beast made its home in the darkest of jungles,
- had proved perfectly fiendish to trap -
Six native retainers purportedly died
In the process of bringing it back.
But the face of the Mayor flushed as red as a boil
When the velvety curtain withdrew,
For the bars had been severed; the beast (now twice-poached)
Had vanished like morning dew.
Sixteen long days inside the box
Were endured before the ransom
Was paid to the abductor of Jennifer Wrast,
Who had spirited her away like a phantom.
The wrath of the Wrasts was expressed in a blast
Of utter lambastation,
Condemning a constabulary who had failed to find
Any clue to the bounder's location.
Catastrophe came calling
In a fashion more insidious
At the home of Lady Grice,
Who harboured secrets hideous.
She'd hardly guessed the young maid's death
- that most glorious strangulation -
Was witnessed by a blackmailer,
And would spell her ruination.
In the mist-swathed hours of night,
'neath a wan and sickly moon,
Three corpses barely laid to rest
Were from their darksome beds exhumed.
"What monster," cried the parish priest,
As hands were wrung in consternation,
"Scorns the good word of our Lord
With such a beastly desecration?"
The bi-monthly consignment of fine carriage clocks
Was that week most annoyingly delayed.
The jeweller required them early on Tuesday
But the courier, it transpired, was waylaid.
In the ambush his poor head was battered to atoms;
Very little remained in his brainpan.
The needless brutality that had been employed
Indicated the work of a madman.
The inferno at the orphanage
Sent two score to their maker,
And left the village quite bereft
Of bountiful cheap labour.
Four hundred nimble fingers
Were consumed in the conflagration;
But Mr Soames' insurance claim
Paid ample compensation.
The gout in Widow Soames's toes
Was more than her nerves could bear.
And ignominiously she was obliged to beseech
Her son for a new bath chair.
It was perhaps a mercy that
The fall smashed her brains to soufflé,
Delivering her from her dreadful affliction
And sparing her son the outlay.
The torsos of two missing mites
Were found out on the barren heath.
Incised into their broken forms:
The loathsome marks of human teeth.
Yet blacker still a deed was done,
Out amongst the gorse that day -
For in his grasp the beast had borne
Those angels' livers clean away.



III: Ritualism
He had swaddled his skull in a keffiyeh
Of improbable dimensions;
It appeared that the beard that he wore on his chin
Harboured escapological intentions.
Aye, the queerest of figures was cut by the Sheikh
Who swept into town on the day
That the auction house flung wide its doors for the sale
That would end in such awful affray.
The gavel's metronomic beat
Pounded out like some shamanic drum
That pronounced upon gimcracks and gewgaws galore,
Piling sum on unconscionable sum.
Yet bizarrely for one who had voyaged so far,
To compete with this tat-fancying rabble
The waxen-faced Sheikh sat as stiff as a corpse,
Giving nary a twitch of his paddle.
Vulgar and lumpen, and listed as soiled,
And doubtless designed in the dark;
The eventual appearance of lot forty-eight
Was unwont to occasion remark.
But as the dross was borne aloft
To pooh-poohing and rank condemnation,
A shudder of sorts seemed to surge through the robed one:
The Sheikh appeared bodily shaken.
As a fittingly paltry amount was proposed
For the bidding's instigation,
Marionette-like, the foreigner's hand
Was jerked skywardly sans hesitation.
Glances of a sideways sort
Were exchanged all throughout the assemblage,
But none - save a pale, wormish sort in the corner -­
Were to raise a competing appendage.
And thus commenced a baffling duel
Betwixt the Sheikh and Worm;
As one, the aesthetes gaped, slack-jawed,
As the price tumesced by turns.
Paddles flashed like rapiers;
Observers' eyes stood out clear from their sockets,
In stark disbelief at this combatant pair
And the black, yawning depth of their pockets.
And then at last, the fatal lunge
Trounced every expectation.
The Sheikh named a sum of unfeasible vastness:
A magnitudinous escalation.
The gavel descended; the auction had ended;
The Worm sloped away unobserved.
Though if the way he convulsed and perspired could be judged,
Then the victor was plainly disturbed.
Clasping his prize in a lover's caress,
Crooning litanies mould-soft and wordless,
The Sheikh cradled the thing like a babe to his breast,
Consumed in conniptions of worship.
But as the rapt supplicant lurched through the throng,
Heedless to every attention,
An arthropodal figure was worming its way
Towards an ill-starred intervention.
The melee that ensued was spasmodic clash
As Worm lunged from the crowd, but a slip
Meant his clutch met with bristles, not porcelain curves -
And the beard came away in his grip.
With a primatial snarl the assailed struck his assailant
To an audible splintering of bones,
But the chorus of gasps then concerned the de-bearding:
"The fleeing Sheikh is none other than Soames!"
And thus did the baleful masquerade
Conclude clear of all clear conclusions,
Though the gossiping gentlefolk gathered remarked
Upon a disquietening delusion:
It was indubitably some species of optical trick
That for one brief heart's beat seemed to persist -
But some would avow that where Soames was unmasked
Writhed a thin, insalubrious mist.


IV: Postlude/Swansong
In the wake of the spate of nefarious crimes
That had stalked North Mortshire's streets of late,
It was barely a case for the bat of an eye
When the gobbets of flesh washed ashore from the lake.
The ghoul had employed most inventive techniques
In dismembering the cadaver that he had created;
Indeed, the coffin was frightfully light
On the morning that Barnaby Soames was cremated.
What type of fiend, the inspectors pondered,
What grisly brand of hate,
Could conceivably malform the mind of a man
And drive him to so mutilate?
An alienist was drafted in
To offer advice in the case,
Yet still could establish no sound motive for
The removal of Soames's face.
So why, then, had Mr Soames perished?
One idea was entirely disdained.­
For if simple theft were suspected,
Then why did valuable items remain?
Yes, surely the idea was beyond the absurd?
Surely 'twas the silliest yet?
Surely no man could conceivably kill...
...for the sake of that statuette?

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