Two Returns by Terry Lamsley 1993
Best New Horror 5
Editors: Stephen Jones, Ramsey Campbell
Best New Horror 5
Editors: Stephen Jones, Ramsey Campbell
Opening the pages of 1994's Best New Horror 5 recalls a lost world. It is the world of 1993. A Clockwork Orange was still banned in Britain. Vampires and serial killers dominated horror lists. Editors Jones and Campbell presented stories by Brite, Ligotti, Smith, Newman, Williamson, and several other now-canonical names.
Terry Lamsley's story "Two Returns" is the story I read this afternoon. It is antiquarian ghost horror to a fare-the-well.
Mr. Rudge, 69, burdened with bags of pre-Christmas shopping, waits for the train home to his flat in Buxton. He is a retired teacher, a widower with a distant daughter. Prime meat, in other words.
Sitting on a bench on the platform, sweating and trying to catch his breath.
….He was not surprised that there were no other people waiting with him for the train. The little town the station served had almost forgotten the existence of its rail link with Manchester, and few of the population would care to risk the long, dark, crumbling Station Approach Road on a winter evening. It would have been pleasant if there had been others with him to give the place a human presence, as long as they were the right sort of people, of course. Company was not always companionship.
….He yawned. His neck was stiff, so he waggled it from side to side.
As he did so, he caught a movement at the far end of the platform at the down-line end. A dark, rectangular shape opened out of a wall against the liquid light. It wavered, and faded away at once. He assumed a door had been swiftly opened and shut; or had it? Perhaps it had been opened all the way, flat against the wall. He squirmed round in his seat, took off his rain-misted glasses to wipe them, and screwed up his eyes to see as best he could.
....He could see more clearly now, and thought he must have been right about the door, as a shape like the top half of a human torso, the outline of a head, one shoulder, and part of the second, now protruded out of the wall, some three feet from the ground.
….why is he standing like that, as though he were peering round from behind a tree?"
Rudge thinks he seems the figure fold itself up into the wall like the blade of a jackknife (wonderful image!)
….There was plenty of room on the train. He sank back, clutching his bags on his lap, and pressed his face against the grimy window to look out.
He saw the back of someone – a late arrival, perhaps? – dashing for the carriage in front of his.
He wondered if the doors had closed in time to shut whoever it was out.
He hoped they had; but feared they had not.
….When he had almost reached the exit a long shape strode past him very quickly. Like a shadow in the lights of a moving car, it rose and fell in one smooth, swift motion, and passed out of sight through the exit door.
Rudge begins walking home from the station.
….Ahead of him and to his left, a lumination which had no single source hung low over Spring Gardens, the main shopping centre, open late that night for the pre-Christmas rush. Hundreds of spots of light from the outer residential districts encircled him on the hills that surround the town. Previously he had found this sight a comfort; it had pleased him to be part of a small community that could be taken in with one circular gaze; but tonight he felt somehow engulfed by it all. He felt that he had walked into something inexplicable, and that he had no alternative but to go in deeper.
….The many small arches, dimly lit, the boarded-up windows along the first floor of the empty, decaying building, made Mr Rudge, who had once been taken to an exhibition of Di Chirico's work, feel that he had walked into one of that painter's sinister, vacant, echoing canvases.
As he returns to his building, Ridge realizes the caped figure from the station is ahead of him, and has the same goal. The "foul fiend" precedes Rudge.
Indeed, the figure's cloak is hanging on Rudge's coat peg when he gets to his flat!
….Mr Rudge snatched the cape and ran with it into the kitchen. Holding it firmly under his arms, he found a roll of plastic sacks and tore one off. He thrust the cape inside the sack with the vigour of a man trying to drown a large animal.
Ridge bungs the trash bag into a utility closet and tries to forget it for a few days. Until he notices the smell.
….The low-powered bulb lit with a pallid light tidy piles of bags and boxes and orderly shelves stacked with household equipment and cleaning materials. The only object in there that had not been placed with neat precision was the plastic bag containing the cape. It sprawled at an angle up against a wall. Mr Rudge, who had not visited the cupboard since he had flung it there, noticed that it had become fuller.
….He bent down closer and gave it a prod with the tip of a tin of wax spray polish. It was only a gentle prod, but something hard inside fell away, or did it move away? It almost looked as though something had – retreated.
Two returned from the station that night: Rudge, and another. Two returned to the same flat, and Rudge realizes he is the latecomer. Rudge also realizes, from his days as a teacher, whom his fellow occupant must be.
….George Nathan-Dyson, Architect and Engineer. A "Great Man" of the Victorian period. He had designed and built a huge range of buildings in his brief life, but he was in Mr Rudge's file because he had built the house where he, Mr Rudge, now lived. Nathan-Dyson had put the place up with his own money and had lived in the very same apartment that Mr Rudge had moved into over one hundred years later. He had lived there until the time of his death.
….Nathan-Dyson had a reputation for cruelty. His wife had left him after only two months of marriage and there had been a national scandal when she had revealed details of his treatment of her in court. Prostitutes had come forward to support her allegations against him, and to add their own. Mrs Nathan-Dyson got her divorce, and the man escaped prison by a hair's breadth.
….Nathan-Dyson used and abused the people who worked for him without scruple. That had finally caused his downfall. The wife of a man who had died in an accident caused by Nathan-Dyson's negligence stabbed him in the heart. The woman had waited on a station for him to arrive by train. There was a story that he had pulled the knife out of his heart and stabbed the woman in the face and arms in the moments before he died.
The murder had taken place on the platform where Mr Rudge had been waiting a few nights earlier.
By the time Rudge shows up at the local library to research his enemy, He is too far gone on premium malt whiskey for it to matter. Concerned acquaintances can only call social services. Just another old man unable to care for himself.
Before the librarian can call the cops, Rudge declaims:
…."You won't get me out! That's what he wants to do, but he won't. He wants his old place back, that's what he's after, the bastard. And he's been dead all that time; all those years!"
When he returns home, Rudge sees that the trash bag has changed shape again.
….The bag was full of lumps and bumps and angles. Parts of it moved from time to time.
No, it wasn't gas.
….But, at last, it unravelled, and the top of the bag gaped open.
"Right," said Mr Rudge, leaning forward to see inside. "Let's have a look at you."
And he did get one brief glimpse of a familiar face as the contents of the sack unfolded and extended around him, silently and swiftly.
He seemed to go a very long way in a very short time. When he got to the end of his journey, there was nothing there.
Nothing at all….