From the author: The Royal Occultist confronts an aquatic horror in the north of England.
“They arrived with their mail shirts, glittering, silver-shining links, clanking an iron song as they came,” Charles St. Cyprian recited, staring out across the foggy waters of the old quarry pit. In the distance, Cross Fell loomed like a conspicuous giant. A fierce north easterly wind tugged at the edges of his coat, and he shivered slightly.
“Doing a what with the which now?”
The question came from behind him. A woman’s voice, brazen and sharp. He sighed and turned. “It’s poetry, apprentice-mine. Beowulf, to be precise.” He paused. “Or not, depending on the quality of the translation.”
“And what’s that got to do with the price of tea?” Ebe Gallowglass asked. She sat on the back of the rattletrap lorry they’d driven from Edall. Behind her, something lay on the bed, beneath a paint-stained tarpaulin, making her seem tiny with its conspicuous size. Small and dark as she was, dressed like a man, in bricklayer’s shoes, duffel coat and a flat cap, Gallowglass wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Soho dive or a smoke-filled betting shop.
“I thought it apt, given the context. A murder, most foul, on the moors. A terrible deed, possibly committed by a night-walker, or a shadow-goer, as the ancient Anglo-Saxons would term it.” In contrast to his apprentice’s louche appearance, St. Cyprian was tall, dark and slim, and dressed in one of Savile Row’s finest sartorial creations. At the moment, the suit was hidden beneath the dark, shapeless folds of a battered officer’s greatcoat, still stained from his time in Flanders, among the poppies and the larks.
“Is that so?”
“Why else would we be here?” he said, reaching into his coat for his cigarette case.
Gallowglass snapped her fingers as he retrieved it. “Gimme a gasper.”
St. Cyprian flipped open the silver case and extended it with a disgruntled expression. “You could buy your own, you know.”
“With what? You don’t pay me.” Gallowglass snatch a cigarette and stuffed it into her mouth. She fumbled in her coat for matches, and then glared expectantly at St. Cyprian.
He sighed again and retrieved a book of matches. As he scraped one to life, a breeze rolled past, carrying with it the stink of decomposing plant matter, and other, less identifiable things. Things only the Royal Occultist could deal with.
The office of the Royal Occultist was charged with the investigation, organisation and occasional suppression of ‘unnatural sprytes’, for the good of the British Empire. Those duties had begun with John Dee, and belonged, for the moment, to St. Cyprian and his apprentice. “I give you an apprentice’s stipend,” he said, lighting her cigarette, then his own.
“Is that what you call it? And I’m your assistant, not your bloody apprentice.”
“It was good enough for me, when I was playing batsman for Carnacki.”
“The pound ain’t what it was,” she said. She looked past him. “This it, then?”
St. Cyprian turned back to the quarry pit. “If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here. And we certainly wouldn’t have brought that monstrosity.” He hiked his thumb at the tarpaulin-covered mass on the back of the lorry.
Gallowglass snorted. “You weren’t the one who had to get it on there.”
“Perks of rank,” St. Cyprian said, airily.
Gallowglass joined him at the edge of the pit. “So what was this place?”
“A quarry pit. Limestone. Now it’s just another damp spot in a very damp country.”
“Looks like a pond,” she said.
“More like a lake.” He sank to his haunches, puffing on his cigarette. “It’s an angry splash of water, though. With something hungry in it.” He frowned and glanced back the way they’d come, over the soggy mere. Edall was a tiny scrap of a village, clinging to life and relevance. A church no one went to, a pub that was always full, and far too many ghosts.
And possibly one more, if today went badly.
A man had died. A young man. He’d died screaming, chased across the moonlit moor by something that could not be. It had caught him at the churchyard gate, and left part of him there, for the village to find, in the morning. As to why no one had heard his screams – or answered them – well, those weren’t the sort of questions he generally asked. Best to leave it lie, and get on with the bloody business at hand.
“So which hungry thing is this?” Gallowglass asked, watching the water the way a cat watched an unfamiliar dog. She had the edge of her coat folded back, and her thumb tucked into the strap of the shoulder-rig she wore. The battered holster held the blunt, brutal shape of her Webley-Fosbery. The pistol was her constant companion, closer than any lover.
“A grindylow,” he repeated.
“Gesundheit,” Gallowglass said.
He rose to his feet, and tossed his cigarette into the waters. “Indeed. Let’s get ready.” He climbed up into the lorry bed and pulled aside the tarpaulin, revealing what sat there. The diving suit was a bulky thing, composed of sections of thick, galvanised iron plates and pneumatic valves, resembling the pieces of a distended suit of medieval armour.
There was a bulbous helmet, studded with dozens of portholes, and a separate oxygen circulation apparatus sitting beside the main components. Great stains and gouges marked the few flat surfaces and there were evident signs of repair. Symbols taken from the Sigsand Manuscript had been etched into the metal, in places.
“Ugly thing,” Gallowglass said.
St. Cyprian nodded. “Built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself, as a favour to Sir Edwin Drood, Carnacki’s predecessor.” He unrolled the heavy, waterproof suit that went on beneath the rest. Unlike traditional diving suits, it provided little protection to the arms or legs, beyond an assortment of iron plates that acted as vambraces and greaves, but allowed for greater mobility. He pulled off his coat and shoes, and stripped down to his waistcoat and trousers. Gallowglass gave a mocking wolf-whistle. He frowned at her. “Do be quiet. And give me a hand, eh? This is deuced awkward.”
With Gallowglass’ help, he began to awkwardly pull the waterproof suit on. “Does this thing actually work?” Gallowglass demanded, as she worked the snaps and fasteners on the back.
“I have no reason to assume otherwise,” St. Cyprian said, with a sniff. He stretched, feeling the weight of the iron plates, and the heaviness of the boots. “As long as it remains watertight. And so long as you keep an eye on the pumps.” He nodded to the compact rotary diver’s pump sitting nearby. It was a wooden box, roughly the size of a drinks trolley, with two flywheels to either side. While normal diver’s pumps required a pair of hands, this one only required a single operator, thanks to Brunel’s foresight.
“Me?” Gallowglass said. She glared at him. “Why don't you watch the bleeding pumps? I'll go down after the grudlewhatsit.”
“Grindylow. Or Tommy Rawhead, if you prefer. And solemn duties of the office, apprentice-mine,” he said. He rubbed his hands together. “Besides which, Carnacki never let me use the bloody thing when I was his dogsbody, and I'll be dashed if I'm passing up on the chance now.”
“I hope you drown.”
“If I do, I'll do so secure in the knowledge that I leave the empire in your capable hands,” he said, grinning at her. Gallowglass made a rude gesture, and he laughed. “Get the spear, would you?”
Gallowglass turned and hefted the long, lethal shape of a boar spear. It was old, as people judged such things, with an unusual provenance. She ran her thumb along the edge of the narrow blade, and then over the lugs to either side. “I still think you ought to take a pistol.”
“As soon as they make one that fires underwater. Besides, that spear will be a damn sight more effective than any firearm, I’d wager.” He took the spear from her and tested its weight. “The haft is Glastonbury thorn, and the blade was blessed by a bishop, back in the days of William the Bastard. Legend has it it was used to slay the last giant in England. Then, I know of at least three other weapons attached to that particular deed, so who can say?” He gave it an experimental thrust. “Just like ye old bayonet, what?”
Gallowglass gestured with her cigarette. “Stop playing around. We’ve got company.”
St. Cyprian turned and sighed. An old fashioned horse-drawn wagon was making its way towards them across the open countryside. At the reins was Dyball, the local vicar. He had a cartful of his parishioners, none of them looking too happy to be out and about. The horse grew more skittish, the closer the wagon got to the quarry pit. Finally, the animal slid to a stop with a shrill whinny. It reared in its traces rather than advance another step, despite Dyball’s vigorous exhortations.
The vicar climbed down and made to calm the animal. He was forced to hop back as the horse nearly trod on his foot. Gallowglass snickered, and St. Cyprian shushed her with a gesture. He clambered awkwardly down out of the lorry and strode towards the newcomers, spear across his shoulder. Gallowglass hurried after him, hands stuffed in her coat pockets.
Dyball was young, but already a bulldog of a man, with a sad, jowly face that was perspiring, even in the chill. He wiped at his features with a handkerchief as he trotted to meet St. Cyprian. The others stopped halfway, as if they didn’t want to get too close to the water. If the vicar noticed their hesitance, he didn’t show it.
“You’re here,” he called out.
“Bleedin’ obvious, innit?” Gallowglass murmured.
“Quiet you,” St. Cyprian muttered. “My apologies, Vicar,” he continued, more loudly. “We decided on an early start. Soonest begun is soonest done, what?”
Dyball nodded and wiped his face again. He had the look of a man who’d known hardship once, and was determined to make up for it with plenty of food and drink. “I do trust – what I mean to say is, I hope – you didn’t take any offense last night?”
“Offence?” St. Cyprian smiled. “Good gosh, no. I wasn’t involved in the barney myself. I trust your chaps are none the worse for wear?”
The vicar frowned and glanced back at the others. They were a motley lot – the local likely lads. The night before, they’d taken almost comical offense at something Gallowglass had said, and made remarks in turn. Unwisely, as it turned out. St. Cyprian looked back at her, and she grinned widely, cigarette dangling from her lips. Not a mark on her, of course. Plenty on them, though. Black eyes and bruises by the bushel.
“They’ll live,” Dyball said. “So you’re actually going down there, then?”
“That is why you called me, isn’t it?”
Dyball swallowed and glanced back at the others, as if to see whether or not they’d heard. “I – well – I suppose so, yes. Quite.” He dabbed at his face again. “Only I had expected something a bit more…well…”
Dyball frowned. “Scientific.”
“Ah, well. Tradition has its place, what?” St. Cyprian swung the spear off of his shoulders and let the ferrule thump down against the ground. “Trust me, Vicar. I know my business a dashed sight better than you.”
It was an uncharitable comment, he knew. Dyball was right to be nervous. Despite his position – or perhaps because of it – he was at once unfamiliar with, and suspicious of, anything that smacked of old ways and darker days. The average Englishman was but a hairsbreadth from woad-smeared paganism, on any given day.
“I am well aware of the limits of my knowledge,” Dyball said, sourly. “And the extent of yours.” The Church of England had long had an unspoken arrangement with the offices of the Royal Occultist. Vicars and rectors were often the first to take note of unusual doings in their parishes. When that happened, they contacted a certain chap at Dean’s Yard in Westminster, and that someone rang up someone else, who then came ‘round to Cheyne Walk for tea. It was all very off the books, for obvious reasons. But it worked, and that was the important thing, as far as all the relevant parties were concerned.
Still frowning, Dyball looked past St. Cyprian, to the quarry. He shivered slightly. “They tell stories about it, you know,” he said. “When I first heard them, I thought it just more of the local nonsense. Like putting milk out for faeries and the like.”
“Surely you don’t begrudge the kindly folk a bit of creamery, eh?” St. Cyprian said. Dyball looked at him suspiciously, and St. Cyprian smiled thinly. “Anyway, it’s not one of their sort we’re after today, thankfully.”
“No, I suppose not.” Dyball’s frown deepened. “I’m still not convinced that there isn’t a natural solution to the mystery. A big cat, perhaps.”
“Escaped from a travelling circus, perhaps? Or maybe the estate of local gentry?”
Dyball flushed. “I suppose that amuses you?”
“No. A man died, Vicar.” St. Cyprian paused. “It could have been worse, mind.”
“Traditionally, your grindylows prefer lamb to mutton.” St. Cyprian rested the boar spear across his shoulders. “How many children have drowned in this quarry, since you came to this village? One a year? Two?”
“Less.” Dyball stared at the water. “It used to be more, I’m told.”
“No doubt. And no wonder poor – what was his name?”
“Gavin. Proctor. Gavin Proctor.”
“Yes, no wonder poor Gavin Proctor wound up as he did.” He looked at Dyball. “Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend, Grendel, who haunted the moors...” he recited. “Only it wasn’t noise from Heorot driving this particular devil, I imagine.” He paused. “So what was it?”
Dyball was silent for a moment, and St. Cyprian wondered if he were the sort to confine his reading to scripture and the broadsheets. Then, “What are you implying, sir?”
“You’re new to the village, I expect.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Observer of the human animal, you might say. Bit of a people watcher.” St. Cyprian studied him. “You don’t have the look of a local. And your accent is a trifle southern for the climate. Oxford?”
St. Cyprian nodded. “Well, close enough. I was an Oxford man, myself. Old College.” He smiled. “What did you do then, when you arrived? I expect you set about righting the world. Clearing up all the – what did you call it? – local nonsense.”
Dyball’s face was stiff, and hard. “Were you in the war, sir?”
St. Cyprian hesitated. “I was, yes.”
“In the trenches?”
“Off and on.”
“I suppose you saw things – I know I did. Nonsense and foolishness, and none of it did a fellow any good. Lucky charms and the like. And when I got back...spiritualists on every corner, seeking answers. As if there weren’t answers enough in the good book.” Dyball stared at the water, as if were an enemy. “I resolved then and there to have no more to do with such superstition.”
“Some things are more than superstition.” St. Cyprian frowned. “What did you do?”
“I held a Sunday service at the edge of the water. Tried to, rather.” He smiled bitterly and glanced back at his companions. “Oh, you should have seen the looks on their faces.” His smile faded. “Poor Gavin.”
“Then his rage boiled over, he ripped open the mouth of the building, maddening for blood...” St. Cyprian murmured.
St. Cyprian turned. “You stirred it up.” He shook his head and looked at the water. “And now a man is dead.”
“You can kill it?” the vicar asked, softly, after a pause.
“I intend to give a dashed good try.” St. Cyprian watched the wind – or perhaps something else – stir the surface of the murky water. He left Dyball standing there, silent and lost in his thoughts, and went back to the lorry.
Gallowglass glanced at the vicar as he joined her. “Bit rough on him.”
“The man’s a busybody and a fool.”
“How was he to know?”
St. Cyprian peered suspiciously at her. “Since when are you a friend to the clergy?”
Gallowglass shrugged and flicked her dogend into the back of the lorry. “Ain’t his fault he’s got a gruselwhatsit in his quarry pond, is it?”
“What I said, innit?” She climbed up onto the bed of the lorry. “Time’s wasting.”
It took another ten minutes of awkward shuffling to finish sealing him in the diving suit. It felt rather like being stuck inside a vertical coffin. St. Cyprian said a silent prayer of thanks that he wasn’t one of those chaps who was frightened of confined spaces.
“Finished,” Gallowglass said, as she handed him a heavy sodium hand lamp. He hooked the lamp to his belt, and gave it a fond pat.
“Good. Man the pumps. I’ll be back in time for tea.”
It took some doing to walk to the water’s edge. Dyball and his cartful of local colour watched his progress in silence. He gave them a jaunty wave as he trudged. None of them returned the gesture. The horse had calmed somewhat, but was still visibly nervous. That was a good sign. It meant that this likely wasn’t a wild grindylow chase. It was always a trifle embarrassing when old legends turned out to be just that.
He paused, studying the water’s black surface. It was still, now. As if waiting for something. Despite his facade of confidence, he was uneasy about bracing the beast in its den. There was no telling how deep the quarry was, or where the creature might be hiding. It would have the advantage. But he had the spear, and the suit, and a bit of pluck.
“That’ll be enough, I suppose,” he said, softly. One step. Two. And then the water was lapping at his shins. From his shins to his waist. The cold leeched through the suit, despite the insulation. It was always colder, in places like this. His predecessor, Carnacki, had believed it was a sure sign of the ab-natural, along with unnatural odours, lights and sounds.
Then, Carnacki had believed a lot of things. None of it had done him any good, when a sniper’s bullet had snatched him to paradise amid the smoke and mud of Ypres.
As the waters closed over him, St. Cyprian remembered that moment. Remembered the sight of Carnacki stumbling, turning, falling. And then the crack of the bullet that killed him, echoing between the shattered houses. His grip on the boar spear tightened, for an instant. Then, he forced himself to relax. To breathe.
And then, he was alone in the dark. He fumbled a moment with the hand lamp. It had to be turned on underwater, to avoid cracking the glass, but doing so was a dashed nuisance. The light flickered, flashed and flared, piercing the dark. He swept the light out, and saw the slope falling away, deeper and deeper. Fifty feet, at least. His air hose was sixty. At the edges of the light, he glimpsed flat undulations of scraped rock, coiling down into the dark.
“Well,” he breathed. “Down we go.”
It was slow going. Every so often he was forced to stop, so that Gallowglass could play out more hose. By the time he reached the bottom, he could feel the weight of the suit in every joint. The dark seemed to swallow the light, showing him only indistinct grey.
“Come out, come out wherever you are, beasty,” St. Cyprian murmured, his voice loud in his ears. The ground shifted unpleasantly beneath his feet. He let the light swing down, and stopped short at what he saw.
Bones. Long ones and little tiny ones. Lamb and mutton. They rolled and crunched beneath his feet, as he turned, playing the light across the quarry’s bottom. So many bones. Years’ worth. He swallowed a sudden rush of bile.
At the edge of the light, something moved. At first he thought it was just detritus stirred from the bottom – a coil of sediment, the shadow of a loose stone – but the way it moved said differently. Too fast. Too sure. He hooked the light to his belt and caught the spear in both hands. “Just like a bayonet, Charles,” he muttered. “Thrust and twist.”
The movement, again. A sliding, shuffling shape. It was old and sly. Cautious. “Wondering what I am, I expect. Probably never seen the like, what?” He turned, following the shape with the tip of the spear. He would have to be quick. Precise.
The light caught it – just a flash. Scaly and shaggy all at once. Big, as well. Bigger than the books had said. Then, fish and the like often grew as big as their bowl allowed. Perhaps a grindylow wasn’t so different.
It moved faster then, as if the light had stung it. Then, there wasn’t much of it down here. Bones rolled, silent and slow, as the grindylow pranced among them, circling him like a shark. It was toying with him, staying just out of sight. He was getting dizzy, trying to keep up with it. He slowed, hunkering down as best he could.
He’d learned many things, in the trenches. Among them, the simple fact that sometimes, no matter how badly you wanted to go over the top, you had to wait for the enemy to come to you. So he waited, breath loud in his ears, heart drumming. The inside of the suit had grown stifling. He let the light play, surrounding himself in a circle of brightness. If it wanted him, it was going to have to risk it.
But it didn’t come. Long moments passed, one slipping into the next. He wondered what was going on above, whether the pumps were still working. Whether Dyball was still staring at the water. Perhaps Gallowglass had been right. Perhaps he had been too hard on the man. The world was changing and men were changing with it. The old gave way to the new. Traditions were forgotten, and new ones raised in their place. It wasn’t Dyball’s fault that some traditions died harder than others.
Sediment stirred, unfurling to either side of him like wings. An instinct that had seen him safely through artillery barrages screamed a warning then, and he turned as something arrowed out of the dark and full into the beam of his lamp.
The first thing he saw was teeth. Too many to fit in a human mouth, and too long by far. They snapped shut just short of the light, as the grindylow slid back, out of sight. Its eyes were bulbous and reflected the light like those of a cat. Bones tumbled and rolled silently, as it shoved itself back, away from the light. The water frothed with the violence of its movements. He took a step after it, and thrust the spear, hoping to catch it. But the blade caught nothing but sediment.
St. Cyprian turned, casting the light in a wide arc. The grindylow was moving now, and swiftly, circling like a shark. It cut through the water with such ease that he began to wonder if he’d made an error in judgement, coming down after it. “Well, too late now,” he murmured, trying to track it. The light caught a gleam of scaly hide and then the grindylow surged towards him, blubbery lips pulled back from serrated teeth.
It struck him hard, rocking him on his heels. Bones shifted alarmingly beneath his feet. He tried to bring the spear up, but the grindylow had been too fast – the weapon was pinned between them. Its great eyes glared down at him, and its head, vaguely human amid a shaggy, weed-like mane, bobbed as it grappled with him.
Long talons tore at the diving suit, scoring the metal. St. Cyprian twisted, trying to throw it off, but to no avail. It scrambled up over him, quick as a snake, and eeled away. He stumbled in its wake, off balance. It struck him again a moment later, from a different direction this time. He whirled, and the blade of the spear ripped across its flank, releasing a flow of black blood into the water.
He heard it scream, despite his helmet. A horrible, keening sound – not human, but not animal either. Fists like mallets crashed down, knocking him to one knee. It was strong, but the water softened the force of the blow. Even so, he could feel an ache in his limbs and back. He thrust blindly with the spear, trying to drive the grindylow back.
A flabby paw slapped the spear down, easily wrenching it from his grip. Another blow nearly flattened him. Claws scraped the lamp away, sending it tumbling across the bones. The light spun crazily, piercing the dark like the beam of a film projector. The grindylow pounced again, slamming its full weight into him, driving him into the bones. Sediment billowed, obscuring everything.
Desperate, he struck out with his fists. Teeth fastened on the reinforced vambrace of his arm, and claws scraped across the face-plate of his helmet. Thin cracks formed, and moisture gathered at their edges. He felt a sudden jerk on the oxygen hose, and fumbled at the ground. His fingers found a skull and he whipped it up, smashing it against his attacker’s head. The grindylow rolled away, claws flailing. St. Cyprian tasted water – it was leaking into the suit from somewhere.
As he shoved himself to his feet, the grindylow shot towards him again, cutting the sediment cloud like a knife. This time, he was ready for it. He spread his arms and caught it, as it crashed into him, grabbing it in an improvised bear hug. “Got you!”
The grindylow thrashed as he hugged it to him. Bubbles exploded from its snapping jaws, and the glass of his helmet quivered in its seal as it screamed again. The iron plates set into the suit's arms and chest grew warm as the creature's struggles grew more frenzied. He couldn’t tell whether the Sigsand markings were having any effect on it, but he hoped so. He squeezed tighter, and its thrashing grew more violent.
Water beaded on the inside of his helmet and dripped down. Stress fractures spread and it was getting harder to breathe. He needed to get to the surface, before the suit was totally compromised. Too, the creature might be easier to deal with, once he had gotten it out of its element and into his.
Still gripping the struggling creature, he took a step in what he hoped was the right direction. The grindylow tore at him, biting the metal plates, and tearing at the thick canvas. Water was filling the suit. It was up to his knees, and rising swiftly. He pushed on, trying to ignore the creeping panic that was building within him.
The grindylow bit down on his helmet. The reinforced glass was a web of cracks now, and it was all but impossible to see. The creature couldn’t seem to break loose, and he smelled an odor not unlike rotting fish. He wondered if the sigils – or perhaps just the metal itself – were weakening it. Grindylows weren’t known for their fondness for iron.
The trudge to the surface was nightmarish. The grindylow screamed with every step, and more than once, its claws caught him a glancing blow through the waterproof canvas. It was like trying to carry an agitated tiger up a hill. The suit kept the worst of its struggles at bay, but not for long. It was getting harder to move, thanks to the water, and harder to breathe. The oxygen hose twisted about him, bleeding bubbles. The grindylow’s claws had torn it open, in places.
Water dripped into his eyes, and stung his sinuses. He shook his head, trying to clear his vision. Soil shifted beneath his feet, and he fell to one knee. The grindylow fastened on his shoulder, and he felt its teeth saw through the canvas, dangerously close to his flesh. He caught a handful of its weed-like hair and tried to pull it away, but it twisted like a snake in his grip, grappling him now. Through the cracked glass of the helmet, he saw raw welts on its flesh, where the suit had touched it.
It struck him again and again, driving him to his hands and knees on the slope. He could see the watery circle of daylight above, almost close enough to touch. He was jerked back slightly, as the grindylow caught hold of the oxygen hose. It seemed to have realised the hose’s purpose, and now crouched atop him, trying to tear it loose. The seals were holding, but not for long.
Reaching up, he grabbed handfuls of scaly flesh, and inhuman muscle and bulled to his feet. Desperation drove him now, and his breaths had become shallow, weak things. He felt the canvas on his arms tear away, and cold shot through him, but he didn’t release his hold on the creature. The grindylow squirmed in his grip and caught hold of either side of his helmet. It began to twist, and he heard the seals pop and tear.
He closed his eyes and forced himself on and up. Glass popped, and water began to spew in, slashing across his face. The helmet came loose a moment later, and then he was breaching the surface. With a gasp, he threw himself into the shallows, bodily dragging the grindylow with him. Its screams were loud now, almost deafening.
St. Cyprian could see Gallowglass reaching for her pistol, even as she leapt down from the lorry. He saw Dyball staring in horror, and the horse galloping away, dragging the cart behind it. The villagers were running as well, and he couldn’t blame them. He could see the creature clearly now, and wished that he couldn’t.
It was taller than a man, and thin like a famine victim, with a bloated, white belly and knobbly limbs covered in mottled greyish scales. Clumps of grey-green hair clung to it like barnacles, and its head was at once like that of a man, and an eel, with massive jaws that did not seem to fit its rounded skull.
Gill-like slits on its wattle neck fluttered in the open air, as it flung the helmet aside. It shoved him back, and leapt on him, knocking him flat in the shallows. He tried to throw it off, but to no avail – he was worn out, his muscles barely responding. Claws hooked into the metal harness of the suit, and he found himself wrenched off of his feet.
Then – the familiar boom of a Webley-Fosbery. The grindylow staggered, shrieking. St. Cyprian slid from its grip and collapsed into the water. Four more booms followed the first, and the creature swung around, crater-like wounds marking its flesh. Tarry ichor stained the water. It gave a guttural hiss and made a lolloping lunge for the shore.
St. Cyprian remembered the dead man, and how he’d been chased to the churchyard, and cursed. The thing was fast, even on land. “Gallowglass, Dyball – get back,” he spluttered, forcing himself to his feet. “Get back!” He staggered after it, adrenaline keeping him upright, as the creature splashed to shore.
It bounded towards Gallowglass, as she hastily reloaded her revolver. She ducked beneath a sweeping blow, losing her cap in the process. Cursing, she rolled through the marshy grass as the grindylow stalked after her. She came to her feet and the revolver boomed again. The creature reared back, squalling like a startled cat.
St. Cyprian struck it low, in the back, trying to tackle it from its feet. It writhed and bucked, throwing him aside. He hit the ground hard and all the air went out of him in a rush. It turned towards him, jaws wide, bulbous eyes gleaming with pain and hunger. He tried to rise, but nothing seemed to be working. Gallowglass was shouting, as the creature prowled towards him, but the way his head was ringing, he couldn’t make out her words.
He heard the growl of the lorry’s engine a moment later. The grindylow turned, and screamed as the lorry’s headlamps struck it full. It flung up an arm and hesitated. A mistake, as it turned out. The lorry barrelled forward, like the wrath of God.
St. Cyprian rolled aside as the lorry struck home. He heard metal buckle and the warbling scream of an animal in pain. He looked up, and saw the lorry sagging on its wheels, smoke and steam rising from its front end. Dyball was slumped over the wheel, his face a mask of red. The grindylow lay crumpled half on and half off the lorry, its body pulverised and torn. The lorry creaked on its axis, as the creature tried to pull itself free. Its eyes rolled in their sockets, and its mouth moved silently. Gallowglass, her face grim, moved up beside it, and placed the barrel of her revolver against its skull. The Webley-Fosbery boomed one last time, and the grindylow went still.
St. Cyprian fell back onto the ground, and let out a shuddering breath. “Done and done,” he said. Gallowglass came over and helped him climb to his feet. “As timely a shot as ever, apprentice-mine.”
“Assistant,” she corrected. “Where’s the spear?”
“Bottom of the quarry, I’m afraid.”
“Told you should have taken a gun.”
“Yes, well, I’ll keep that in mind, shall I?” He looked towards the lorry, and saw Dyball sitting half out of the passenger side, a handkerchief pressed to his scalp. “And you, Vicar – I thought I told you to run.”
“I couldn’t just leave you.”
“We had the matter in hand.”
“Really?” Gallowglass asked, and St. Cyprian waved her to silence.
Dyball pulled the handkerchief from his head and frowned at it. “Your traditional methods didn’t seem to be working, so I thought a more scientific solution was called for.”
“So you hit it with a lorry.”
“It seemed the thing to do.” Dyball dabbed at his scalp. “Is it...?”
St. Cyprian looked at Gallowglass, who nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Quite dead. Your parish is safe.” He rubbed his arm. It was sore, where the creature’s claws had tagged him. And he had no doubt there was quite the collection of bruises and abrasions beneath the suit. He peered at Dyball. “Still think it was just superstition?”
Dyball looked away. “Is this the end of it, then?”
St. Cyprian was silent a moment, remembering the dark waters and all the little bones. “To the eastern Danes had the valiant Geat his vaunt made good, all their sorrows and ills assuaged,” he recited, softly. “Yes, it’s over.” He looked at the water and frowned.
“Then, let’s just hope there’s no mother waiting for this Grendel to return home, eh?”
This story originally appeared in Patreon.
Jazz Age Britain is rife with the impossible. Fashionable unwrapping parties awaken the dead. Ghouls stalk the Underground. Krampus steals the sinful. Famous magicians are kidnapped by shadows. Only the Royal Occultist can set these right.
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