43– Flat Hunting (part 5)

In 1677, a hybrid demon-pwca-human child was born in Pontyray.

Neither of the child’s parents were aware that they carried strange blood. They had met on the village green during a traditional burning at the stake of a visiting witch-finder and bonded immediately. By the following Spring, they were married and by the Winter they were pregnant. The mother felt her sometimes wild temperament came from her gypsy ancestors. The father in turn knew nothing of his heritage from the dark, glossy-furred folk of the deep woods, he just thought he was a bit hairy. No-one knew anything about recessive genes or their ability to meld or pop up under the right circumstances. Eventually, the child found out about her history on her own, but that’s another story.

The girl’s mother had an enduring passion for butchery, chickens in particular, and enjoyed processing the birds in batches for the market. She would pass her daughter the freshly severed heads and some shears to cut free the dangling wattles and spikey combs and place them in a pan for boiling. It was a chore the girl performed for years. Another one of her chores was to raise the chickens; it was not stipulated that she should love them, but she did. In the kitchen, dimly lit by a meagre fire, sleeves rolled up, she would hack through the beautiful scarlet appendages of her friends while behind her, their headless bodies ran around and her mother hummed contentedly.

One Winter, in the grip of a fever that her parents feared would never break, the child suffered a nightmare. Due to her peculiar inheritance, that nightmare oozed from her pores, sunk through the bed and into the sandstone blocks of her cottage. It squeezed between grains of sand and ancient shell, settling into the centre of each block like a dark chocolate and diphtheria filling. There it marinated in itself for centuries.

In another decade or so, the nightmare might have snagged itself a wild soul and manifested as a tormented yet not wholly dark being, but this was not to be.

The Pob pulled the nightmare up from the road that ran over the spot where the cottage once stood. Blood red smoke coiled upwards and twisted into a humanoid figure made from hanging, wrinkled chicken wattles and the dripping blades of shears. The blades chinked together as the new creature took its first step and-

The nightmare exploded.

Shoo flew backwards a few feet, landed painfully on her bottom and skidded a few feet more. In her hands, she held the cumbersome wand given to her by the witch. Its end smoked.

“What was that?” she squeaked.

“Stave of strawberry milkshake,” Daisy said. “I mean it’s supposed to be. There are some glitches to work out. For instance, when you use it, it could take out an elephant on the other side of the valley.”

“No, I mean, what was that?” Shoo pointed at the smoking pair of legs in the street. One of them fell over. “I just saw it, freaked out and pressed the button. Was it… I mean, it wasn’t…”

“Oh, right. Dunno what it was exactly, love. Some solidified nightmare beastie. One hundred percent monster them though, don’t you worry. No brain. No soul, so…” The witch trailed off and sniffed the air. “Uh-oh.”

“What is it?” Shoo asked, not liking Daisy’s expression. She looked nervous. She had never seen the witch nervous before.

“Can’t you feel it, girl?”

Actually, Shoo could feel something. The air was tight. Not thick, but tense and brittle as if it were straining and might somehow shatter. She could almost, but not quite, hear a tremendous, pressurised creaking, which didn’t make any sense; you either did or didn’t hear something. That feeling of unreality permeated everything and smelt of parsnips.

“I do feel… things aren’t right, are they? Something is… Gods, what is that?”

The witch reached into a pocket and pulled out another wand. It was almost a walking stick and was far too long to have fit into the pocket. She looked grim, “We’ve upset The Pob we have, chick,” she said. “It’s digging deep.”

*

In 1856, Andy Stone, a fierce, hulking gypsy scrapper from a camp in Naddau Park, was set upon and stabbed by two weedy youths still trying to grow their first moustaches. His rage as his blood pumped out and down into the cracks between the cobbles, and the knowledge he could so easily have broken these cowards who’d had to stab him from behind, was profound. Over the years, the blood dried up, but the rage remained. From that coppery soil, The Pob drew its creature’s juices.

In 1978, Beryl Hughes had worshipped Skip Jones, thinking him an earth-fallen angel. When finally he drunkenly embraced her, smelling of stale booze, kebab fat and his own clumsily wiped arse, her heart had broken and not only broken; her capacity to love anyone so much and so deeply was forever shrivelled as if scalded. As her spirit broke, she was looking over Skip’s shoulder at a run-down church. The Pob had saved that instant and placed her view of the church at the end of one of its sunken streets. From the lingering threads of Beryl’s moment of ghastly epiphany, The Pob wove its creature’s skin.

In 2004, The last thing little Angie King saw as the car bore down on her was the glowing eyes of an impossibly big, impossibly strong monster that was about to break her apart. Angie didn’t even recognise it as a car, she only felt regret that she had slipped, giggling away from her sister’s care. One of her teeth had rattled through a grating and into the sewer but The Pob had caught it. For nearly twenty years, The Pob had grown it, a pulsating white mass hovering unseen in the dark. From that soft bone, it sculpted its creature’s eyes.

Before The Wasp patrolled the streets of Ponty, before the man before her, and before the creature before that, a man known as Dribbling Ianto kept folk in line. He wasn’t social like the Wasp, he didn’t do anything except haunt the woods where he did appalling things to anything slow enough to catch. He only came out when he was called to punish the errant. Ianto had no time for poetic penalties or second chances like the Wasp was known for. He didn’t live among the people or care whether they could be redeemed, if you saw him coming, you were dead. From the dozens of deaths during his tenure, The Pob took the moments when Ianto’s victims recognised his shape and from them moulded its creature’s form.

Its claws were those of an old bear that had opened roman invaders like clams.

Its breath was drawn from an ill Wind of Change that had gusted through the streets, rotting metal, creating potholes in the roads, miscarrying the unborn and spinning up eddies of foul rumours.

From miles below Ponty’s highest mountain, from the terrible heat and vast pressures found there, The Pob drew the material to forge its creature’s bones.

The Pob only gave it half of the brain it had been saving up (it had plans for the other half.) The remaining skull-space it filled with need, dread intent and cold certainty.

When the created creature finally put hoof to pavement, just around the corner from Daisy and Shoo, it was the most terrible thing to have walked the land since the Twrch Trwyth who, centuries before, even Arthur and his entire court of freaks, lost gods and nightmares had been unable to stop.

Such a creature could not exist in Pontyray proper, not any more, but these were the Sunken Streets, made from the broken dreams of pitted roads, the undersides of maps, and the stains of events long past. The creature, when it opened its wet eyes, considered loosing a birth-roar into the night but decided against it. No, that wasn’t going to be its style. It grinned instead.

And the grin creaked. It creaked with the sound of teeth grinding together and the bending of bone. It echoed around the deserted streets until it came to the ears of a little red-haired witch in a yellow raincoat. Her eyes widened.

“Crikey,” she said. “Here, I don’t know what we’ve done, or why it’s taking things so personally today,” she told Shoo. “But The Pob’s not messing around. I think we should leg it, chick.”

Daisy turned and found she was talking to empty space.

Shoo was already running.

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