Horla Fiction (July 2020)

 

THE FOLLY

by BRYN FORTEY

VIOLET lit a cigarette and relaxed, still naked, happily tired after their strenuous lovemaking.

“I saw you and your wife shopping, yesterday,” she said, and Max physically tensed, halfway through putting his clothes back on. He didn’t like talking about Megan, especially not with any of the succession of students he had sex with.

“Mrs Dempsey is so beautiful,” continued the girl, “it made me wonder why you spent time with me when you have her waiting for you at home.”

“We have a purely platonic relationship.”

“But you have a son, don’t you? It can’t always have been that platonic.”

If there was one thing Max didn’t need, it was her girlish tittle-tattle, but he did need her energy. “Did you know that violet is halfway between blue and purple?” he asked, hoping a change of subject would work

“Pardon?”

“And halfway between violet and blue is indigo.”

“What are you talking about, Max?”

What indeed; anything to keep Megan out of the conversation, even though it was her fixation with indigo that kept the colour sequence firmly in his mind. “Splitting colours into their component parts can be both interesting and poetic,” he insisted. “I might bring in up in class sometime.”  

Max lectured on modern poetry as part of a creative writing programme at the local red brick university; where he had first met, and fallen head over heels in love with, Megan Hurst.  Many students had fluttered come-on eye signals in his direction, both girls and boys. He had, after all, been the flamboyant Max Dempsey, whose debut collection The Long Way Home had been voted poetry book of the year, just two years before. A decade had passed since then and his publisher had long given up on asking when a second collection would be ready. Far from being his muse, Megan had extinguished his creative spark, sucking him dry of any small ability he might have had. Those who could no longer do, taught, and Max was just another one-book-wonder who had failed to capitalise on early success.

He finished dressing and turned towards the bedroom door. “Tidy up before you leave, please, Violet.” It was a flat he maintained exclusively for these regular sessions, which was no reason to let it become a tip.

“Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir. See you in class tomorrow, Mr Dempsey.”

ooo

The folly was a tall triangular brick structure turreted at the top, well apart from the family bungalow. It was where Megan spent much of her time, eye pressed to the mounted telescope, swinging it around to check in all directions. The Rock Face Man with indigo eyes had come, speeding from the horizon when she had been a child, speaking in a strange dialect, telling her he would return one day, when needed. Her father, Alexander Hurst, had owned the land and buildings, until a fire had partly damaged both and he had disappeared, never to be seen again.

Whether living or dead wasn’t known, though many suspected the latter. It was only then that it came to light that he had transferred ownership to his daughter, who planned a careful path and followed it diligently. Max Dempsey, when she eventually met him, ticked all the boxes. He was smart, intelligent, independently wealthy, and totally besotted with her; sufficiently so to agree to whatever conditions she laid on him.

Yes, he would have the fire damaged bungalow and folly repaired and restored.

Yes, he understood that their wedding night would be the only occasion of sexual contact between them and after that their relationship would be purely platonic. Though he agreed, Max didn’t really think Megan would insist on that condition being enforced, but she had, becoming more of a fond sister than a wife. The wedding night union though, had resulted in her pregnancy, providing them with a son she named after his missing grandfather.

Young Alex sometimes reminded Max of a skittish foal around the place. He spent most of his time outdoors, especially in the small wooded area in the corner of the property. Megan’s idea of home schooling was to let nature do most of the educating. Both mother and son had their priorities, but would join Max in the bungalow when he either cooked a meal himself or ordered in a takeaway, and Megan liked to tell him of her latest dream about the Rock Face Man.

Sometimes he galloped to her on a snow white steed with ruby red eyes, and during those dreams he wore loose fitting Arabian style clothes, reminding her of old photos of Rudolph Valentino. At other times he drove up in a jeep type vehicle, wearing camouflaged military fatigues, and there were other variations. The only constant appearance was the indigo colour of his etes. It was Max’ opinion that the only actual visit had also been a dream, just a child’s feverish imagination, but Megan had become so angry, he never suggested it a second time.  

ooo

Max continued to love Megan and she seemed fond enough of him, but it was a strange and frustrating situation which might have exploded, either theatrically or tragically, if he hadn’t taken advantage of the sex on offer from some of his students. He never tried to seduce an unwilling partner, but each new intake included a couple who saw some benefit in an affair with their still dishy lecturer.

Maybe some really did fancy him while others saw a possible route to getting good grades. Either way, he guessed that eventually the university authorities would learn of his peccadilloes and he would be dismissed, but for the time being it allowed him to function with a degree of normality.

His relationship with Alex was more problematic. The boy responded to questions as briefly as possible but showed little interest in fuller father-son conversations. Max had been too preoccupied with his oddball marriage, he realised now, not involving himself in the boys upbringing. He would watch him scampering around the grounds, seeming more at ease with the wildlife than his parents.

There were rabbits that would dash to their burrows when Max approached, but would nibble contentedly while Alex was near. Wild birds would perch on his outstretched arms and peck corn from the palm of his hands. Megan had taught him to read and write, but that was it, and the lad was quite feral.

His son was the wild boy of the woods while his wife was becoming more and more ghostlike, a spectral figure waiting for the arrival of a Rock Faced Man who might be real, or just a dream. As for himself, Max was a failed poet who tried to teach others the secret of what he no longer understood, while shagging a succession of willing students. When looked at like that, his life had little to commend it.    

It was his sons tenth birthday tomorrow. Megan didn’t celebrate birthdays. Not her own, nor his, or their sons, and all he could think of doing was to lay on something special for dinner. Alex, already a vegetarian, always enjoyed a pasta dish, so maybe an Italian feast was called for. Small steps maybe, but he thought it about time he started making more of an effort with the boy.

ooo

 The sun glinted on the telescope as Megan swung it this way then that. According to its position, Max sometimes caught sight of it shining through the turrets, and occasionally glimpsed the agitated figure of his waiflike wife. She had been edgy that morning before wandering off to enter the folly. Max himself had no lectures today and was supposed to be marking papers, but was instead preparing for the special meal he was planning for dinner that evening. There seemed to be problems and questions in whichever direction he looked.

Violet, though an enthusiastic bedroom partner, seemed to think that gave her a free pass to saunter lazily through coursework. An extreme case of someone who thought bonking the teacher guaranteed good marks in class. He was going to have to do something about her, but for the moment he felt it more important to concentrate on his home life.

If only Megan would stop her silly expectation that the Rock Face Man would visit her again, especially since there were valid reasons to doubt he had ever done so in the first place. Maybe then she could stop spending so much time at the folly, and might even start to be a proper wife and mother. His thoughts were interrupted by the faint sound of shouting; so he left the bungalow to investigate.

ooo

Their son was standing at the foot of the folly and his mother was shouting down to him. “Come on up, Alex,” she called. “Go into the folly and join me up here on the roof.”

“Why?” asked the boy.

“There’s something I want you to see. It’s your birthday. Don’t ask questions. Come on up!”

That was a surprise in itself, that she should acknowledge a birthday. It was also the first time Max had heard her invite another person to join her on the folly rooftop. It was all out of character and made him feel nervous. “Hang on a minute, Alex,” he called when the boy started to walk towards the folly entrance.

“Get back to the kitchen, Max,” Megan shouted in an angry voice. “Keep out of things that don’t concern you.”

“It does concern me. He’s my son as well.”

Alex had reached the door by then. “I’ll just pop up and see what it’s all about,” he said to his father. “I bet you get a great view up there, and there’s the telescope as well,” and he went in.

Max just stood there for a moment, not sure what to do, if anything. But the nervousness he felt, spread and grew. Something was wrong, even if he didn’t know what. Without knowing why, he returned to the bungalow, where he took out and loaded a shotgun that had belonged to the father-in-law he’d never met. Then, carrying the weapon, he went out again and followed his son into the folly.

The triangular nature of the building looked even more awkward from the inside than out and Max found it a bit disorientating. It was split into four internal levels, each being linked by energy sapping stairways. He had no idea what old Alexander Hurst used the place for and Megan had never wanted to talk about it. More than a little out of condition, he huffed and puffed his way to the top. Seeing just how high they were when he stepped out, he was relieved the structure was turreted.

Standing there, with a shotgun resting in the crook of his arm, he felt embarrassed that a strange instinct had prompted him to seek a weapon. There was nothing threatening here, just a mother and her son, however oddball both might be. Max wondered if he should retreat and leave them to whatever birthday treat Megan had planned, but maybe he should catch his breath first, before starting the downward trek.

But then: “Today he is ten, bursting with young energy,” said Megan, seemingly talking to someone else, though there was nobody but her and Alex there.

Then, near to her, a faint shimmering in the air, a slight movement that gradually achieved a shadowy form. And as the thing took shape so young Alex collapsed, like a burst balloon, until standing there was a man Max somehow knew was old Alexander Hurst.

“I stood at the gates, of either heaven or hell,” said the newcomer, “but I would not enter. I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”

“As if I would,” said Megan.

Hurst stepped forward, taking her into his arms and pressed his lips to hers. Feeling a mixture of concern for his collapsed son and revulsion at what he realised was a lovers kiss and not part of a fatherly embrace, Max started to lift the shotgun. Could you be charged, he wondered, for killing someone who was already dead?    

Then, suddenly, there was one hand on his shoulder and another taking the shotgun from his weak grip and tossing it over the turrets.

“Howdy, pilgrim,” said a low voice, and Max looked up at the sad but craggy face of the man with shining indigo eyes. He was wearing a white Stetson and Western garb.

“I wanted to kill him,” said Max. “I’m sorry I didn’t”

“Never apologise, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”

“I was too scared though. Maybe I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger,”

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

It was as if someone had learnt English by watching John Wayne films.

“It’s not your job anyway,” said the Rock Face Man. “It’s mine,” and he drew a pistol from the holster he wore, but it wasn’t a bullet that fired when he pulled the trigger.

What looked like a bolt of lightning stretched from the pistols barrel, forking to strike both Megan and the man who was apparently Alexander Hurst, sending them both to the ground. Whereas she merely seemed unconscious, he started to deflate and fade, and as he grew less so the limp form of young Alex filled to his previous proportions, until finally the old man was completely gone.

“Is Megan alright?” asked Max.

“She will be,” replied the Rock Face Man, “but she can’t stay here. She is not of this place. I’ll take her, but rest assured. Though you will never see her again, she will be cared for.”

While the indigo eyed man gently lifted Megan and carried her from the rooftop, so young Alex clambered up on unsteady legs and looked around. “What’s been happening, dad?” he asked. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t really know myself,” answered Max.

Alex came running across to where his father stood, throwing his arms around and hugging him. “I’m sorry, dad.”

“So am I, Alex,” said Max, hugging him in return and bending down to kiss the top of his sons head. Hopefully they could move on from this, wherever and whatever that was, and forge a better father-son relationship. He even felt that at some point in the future, he might possibly find the inspiration to write poetry again.   

 

***

Bryn Fortey is a veteran writer from South Wales. His short stories and poetry have been published extensively. Alchemy Press has published two collections of his work Merry-Go-Round (2014) and Compromising The Truth (2018), both featuring fiction and poetry

Title photo credit – Lawrence Hookham on Unsplash

Standard Horla disclaimer – image has no direct connection with the fiction