Beyond the Veil
By Paul McAvoy
He often went for a walk in the early hours, just before most people were up and about: he didn’t like people much. Peter’s body clock woke him at 5.30 am and he was out the door by 6.00 am, walking from the small estate where he lived and onto the main road, towards the sea front, along the prom, then back up the side streets for home. He did this most mornings arriving home at seven, just after stopping off at the newsagents for a morning paper. Once home Peter had breakfast of marmalade on toast, and then took his pills, the ones that soothed him, and stopped the screams of horror in his head.
That morning was just the same as most others then. He headed down towards the prom, looking up at the brightening blue sky, experiencing the start of the day. The occasional car passed him and he saw the occasional person heading for the train or walking the dog. He liked this time of day: there was a smell and a feel of newness, of being re-born: the slate of the night before was cleaned and the new day was not yet written.
Which was how he felt his life was, constantly renewing: there were some things he had forgotten, cut from his memories as though surgically removed. There were some things he did not want to remember, such as the screams in the night, the voices calling to him, pleading, wanting to be born, and the icy cold touches of things in the darkness; sometimes he did not know if they were simply part of his imagination of if they were real. He chose to believe the former.
He walked along the prom and stopped briefly as he looked out at the grey sea, which was frothy but mostly calm. He had the world to himself and he felt free: other people just irritated him, in too many ways to mention. He saw someone fishing along the prom front, but turned off and back towards home, meandering through the side streets. He found himself on Clover Street, thinking about the day ahead and what he might do: he was not able to work these days, reluctantly living off the state, so he thought about tackling the back garden again. He had been at it the day before, generally tidying up and wondering what to do to the place. Whatever he chose to do, he certainly felt like doing something constructive…
‘Hello? Can you help us?’
Peter stopped walking and looked around him, wondering where the voice had come from. He looked at the terraced houses that lined the street, the cars parked up, the odd cat on a wall or fence.
‘Hello? Peter? Can you help us?’
Peter continued to look around, baffled. He waited, then deciding that whoever had spoken was talking to a different Peter, set off walking.
‘Don’t go… we’re down here.’
Peter stopped again.
Peter looked at the ground and saw a drain cover. He walked over and saw the small face looking up at him.
‘Can you help us?’ asked the boy. ‘Help us get through?’
Peter walked over until his feet were touching the end of the drain cover and he stared down in disbelief. Through the thick bars, the small face stared upwards. He was no expert but he was pretty sure that these drains were quite narrow and not big enough for a small child to fit into. The water went from the pipe to sewers underground.
‘How did you get in there?’ he found himself asking the boy.
‘We don’t know… none of us know.’
‘Seven children,’ Peter said.
‘Look,’ said the boy and Peter crouched down and stared into the drain. The boy moved to his left and Peter could faintly see a few other kids looking up at him eagerly.
Peter stood up suddenly, a strong feeling of déjà vu, enveloping him. He felt as though he was at the edge of a deep precipice. ‘No.’ This was not happening. This was like the last time, when he had to be sectioned and had to spend time on that ward, when he started taking the pills. Were his pills no longer working? The thought troubled him: he had been fine for about a year. Twelve months, three weeks and a day, to be exact, without the terror. He would have to go to his doctors’ as he couldn’t face going back to the ward, where all the crazies were. He started walking away.
‘Don’t go,’ the boy said sadly. He heard the other children begin to cry. He’s not going is he? Why won’t he help us? Are we bad, is that why? Are we bad children?
‘I have to go, you’re not real. I can’t go back to the ward.’
‘No.’ Wailing children.
He headed up the road, muttering to himself that they weren’t there, that it was all just in his head. Peter didn’t bother with the newsagents; he went straight back home. Once through the front door, he closed it and rested his back against it, breathing heavily. His heart was hammering in his chest and he was shaking badly: he calmed down somewhat, but felt tears burn in his eyes; how he wished he was like other people, sometimes he felt as though he was cursed, cursed with madness…
He sniffed, taking in deep breaths. He would fight it, as he always did. Deep breath, long exhale…
‘It won’t win.’
He went into the kitchen and took his pills quickly with water. His house was quite small, but the kitchen was quite long and narrow. He rested his hands on the sink and looked out into the back garden. He doubted he would be able to find the energy to do any gardening now. He sighed, perhaps later, after lunch.
He looked down at the sink and at the plug hole. The eyeball looked up at him.
‘Can you help us, mister?’ asked a voice.
Peter stood quickly away from the sink.
‘Hello?’ came the voice. ‘Where did you go?’
Peter edged back to the sink and looked at the plug and at the eyeball that looked up. ‘How can you be there? It’s impossible.’ His voice broke. He was heading back to the ward, no doubt. The pills were not working.
‘We are all here, all seven of us,’ said the voice. ‘You are supposed to help us. Why won’t you help us get through?’ A pause. ‘Can you help us?’
Peter leaned forward and pulled the plug from next to the tap and pressed it into the plug hole. Soon the crying started. Peter put a fist to his mouth and bit his knuckles, a whining noise rising from his throat. He hurried out of the kitchen, and into his small living room. But the crying carried on: he put his hands to his ears, but still the crying continued. In the end he hurried to the front door and yanked it open.
As he stepped out in the fresh air, the woman was coming through the gate and towards him.
‘Mr Green? Peter?’
He stopped. ‘Huh?’
‘Did you help them, Mr Green?’ Peter assumed she was probably in her thirties, dark haired, pretty.
‘The children,’ the woman said, still coming his way. ‘Did you help the children?’
‘I don’t understand…’
There was a sudden cracking sound and the woman stood still for an instant, then fell over onto her side. Peter looked at her and around him for a moment, unsure what to do. Then he started walking over to the woman. She was led on her side. He saw a small hole in the side of her head with blood sneaking out: her eyes were wide and she was unmoving. Although she was pretty, her skin was quite pale, her lips grey.
He looked up to the sound of footsteps: three soldiers entered the garden, and before he knew it two were lifting the woman up and the third was coming his way. Peter saw syringe at the last moment; then all was darkness.
He awoke to the familiar smell of hospitals and sat up quickly. His head was pounding and he felt very weak. He looked around to see he was on a small ward with five other beds which were occupied with other men of varying ages. Two were asleep, two were reading and one was looking up at him. The patient looked away and picked up a set of headphones.
He saw that there was a nurse near the window, who was coming his way.
‘How are you feeling, Mr Green?’ she asked.
He shrugged. The nurse started to draw the curtains around his bed.
‘I’m Angie, a nurse here. I’m going to get a doctor,’ she said. ‘Do want a glass of water?’ She reached for a jug of water on his bedside table and poured a glass. He took the glass. ‘Won’t be a tick.’ The nurse left and he sipped water.
He waited about ten minutes and the nurse returned with a female doctor.
‘Hi there,’ she said. ‘How are you feeling? It seems you have had another episode? We’ve upped your medication and you should be good to go.’
‘The children,’ said Peter. ‘The woman… soldiers…’
‘I saw them.’
‘Shall I tell you what happened? A neighbour heard you in your garden wailing: he came to see if you were okay, you weren’t. He rang for an ambulance, and here you are. Whatever you may have thought you saw were just hallucinations. But never fear, like I’ve said we have upped your medication and you are good to go.’
‘I can go?’
‘Yes, there’s no need for you to stay now.’
‘I know what you must be thinking, but I can assure you are fine to leave the hospital: we do need your bed for other patients, but that’s not the reason, nor is it the fact that we have had cuts to the budget…’
She gave him a letter to give to his GP with details of a new prescription (‘You have enough pills for a few days, so get the letter to your doctor in the next day or so.’) and off Peter went, making his way home. It was mid-afternoon and he had to travel on the bus and consort with other people, which he usually tried to avoid wherever possible. He did not like buses, but had no choice on this occasion: busses reeked, the people on the buses reeked. He was scared he might catch something off them, like scabies.
He suddenly thought of the woman in the garden, and her pale skin and grey lips; the soldiers, the syringe. All of it had been in his mind of course, yet it had seemed so real. Like the other dreams he had over a year ago. He quickly blocked those memories before they started to take shape.
At last he got home and made himself a cup of tea. He sat in the living room, putting music on: music always soothed him, calmed him down, cleared his head and was able to transpose him from a sad mood or disturbed feeling. He chose some early Cradle of Filth. He sat back, thinking about his day: so much had happened, but he was glad he was home and had not been put on the ward with the crazy people. He didn’t know how he would have coped with that.
He was sure that you could catch craziness, just as you could catch scabies.
The sound of the doorbell brought him from his thoughts. At first he thought of not answering and sat with his cup of tea on his lap. Then the doorbell rang again. ‘Hi, Peter? It’s Bill from a few doors down… saw you were back… just wanted to see if you were all right…’
Peter sighed and got up, placing his cup on the coffee table.
He went into the hall and opened the door to see Bill on the doorstep. He was slightly older than he was: Peter suspected he was on long term sick, but didn’t know for what reason, all he knew was that he was always at home. He lived with an elderly mother, Agnes.
‘I was the one who found you, you probably don’t remember… I called the ambulance.’
Bully for you. ‘Did you? Oh, thanks.’ Bet you didn’t know your neighbour was a loony?
‘Well, what are neighbours for? I said to Moher, ‘What are neighbours for if not to look out for each other?’ She said it was the right thing to do.’
Peter was starting to guess the reasons why the other man was on long term sick.
‘I tried to console you, but you were having none of it! So I rang the ambulance and they took you home and made you feel all right and well again. Are you? Are you all right and well again?’
Peter nodded. The guy was a weirdo, but Peter did like him a bit. ‘Yes, Bill, all right and well now. No need to worry. But, if you don’t mind, I’m feeling a little bit tired…’
Bill nodded, frowning. ‘Yes, you get some rest, you need it. If you need anything just give us a holler.’ Bill turned to leave and Peter watched him walk down the path. Suddenly the other man turned around. ‘I’d thought the soldiers had hurt you at first, then realised it was just one of your… turns…’
Peter felt his heart skip? ‘Soldiers?’
‘They were in the street, three of them, putting something in the back of their van. I thought it was odd: them having a van.’ He chuckled. ‘I suppose they can’t just go around driving a tank or a jeep, though… Hey, buddy, are you okay?’
Peter nodded. ‘Just tired. Thanks Bill, bye now.’
Bill left the garden. When he was out of sight, Peter walked into his front garden and over to where (he had imagined) the woman had been shot by the soldiers. He knelt down and studied the ground, which was pebbled. He moved his hands over the pebbles and looked down at a small red spot. He stood up and looked around. The soldiers had been here: it had all happened. He walked to the front gate, wondering whoever else might have seen them.
He went back inside, a sudden thought forming in his head: if the woman and the soldiers had been real, then had the children in the drain also been real?
The next morning, his body clock woke him at 5.30 and he went for a walk. He walked along the main road to the prom and looked out at the grey sea as it crept into land; then he headed back for home along Clover Street. At the drain cover he stopped and looked around him before peering down at the drain. He squinted as he stared in the darkness.
‘Are you there?’ he asked. ‘Are you there, children?’
No response. He waited for a few minutes, then started for home: he had been sure they would be back as he hadn’t taken his pills. He felt that someone didn’t want him to know the truth and was supressing it from him with the use of medication. He was being taken for a fool, and he couldn’t have that.
He needed to clear his head. He had slept only little the night before, tossing and turning, so he needed to rest.
He bought a newspaper on the way home and sat looking at the sports page with a cup of coffee. Afterwards he fell asleep. He had only intended to rest his eyes, but realised he was immensely tired as sleep engulfed him. He was only vaguely aware of the front door opening and of the presence of other people in his house. There was the sound of movement in his kitchen and then he sensed someone come in the living room.
He felt his mouth being forced open and looked up to the see a soldier: one of the soldiers from the day before. He felt pills being forced into his mouth and his jaw forced shut. He swallowed. Then there was a syringe. He felt sleep return with a force.
‘Can he hear us?’ someone said.
‘Yes, but he won’t remember.’
‘Who is he anyway?’
‘Helpful…’ said the voice. ‘Okay, what’s a conduit?’
‘A person able to transfer people from beyond the veil.’
‘What?’ A snort. ‘How fucking poetic…’
‘Shut the fuck up, it’s something my gran used to say. Beyond the veil, like the afterlife, you know. Peter here is able to get people from the afterlife into our world: we’ve had a lot of problems with this one. Have to keep him drugged up. You see he doesn’t do it on purpose. He’s innocent really, but we’ve had some serious problems with the dead rising. The kids in the drain were a prime example.’
‘Why not just kill him?
A pause. ‘Can’t. You see, he’s already dead. Well, immortal anyway…’
‘We just have to keep making the drugs stronger. And keep an eye on him for signs of any weird things...’
‘Who was the woman we had to take out?’
‘Similar to him, but not as strong… She could be killed… no longer a threat…’
Peter heard no more and fell fully into sleep for the second time that morning. He awoke an hour later and got up off the chair, stretching. He exhaled, frowning, then made his way to the kitchen to make coffee. He seemed to favour coffee over tea of late. As the kettle boiled he went over to the sink and looked out at the back garden.
He frowned, he was sure he had something important to do, but couldn’t remember what it was. Something vital he needed to take care of.
‘It’ll come to me,’ he muttered as the kettle clicked off.
He left the sink, yawning, reached for the kettle, and concentrated on the coffee, unaware of the red eye looking up at him from the plug hole…
*If you liked this story, please take a look at the collection From Beyond the Veil available on Kindle for 99p/ $0.99/ Euro 0,99