"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Saturday, May 23, 2020

"The Place of Revelation" by Ramsey Campbell (2003).

Ramsey Campbell never tires of creating hell for his protagonists. His stories and novels usually kick off with family and workplace hell, then move on to actual hell. 

"The Place of Revelation" is no exception:

At dinner Colin's parents do most of the talking. His mother starts by saying "Sit down," and as soon as he does his father says "Sit up." Auntie Dot lets Colin glimpse a sympathetic grin while Uncle Lucian gives him a secret one, neither of which helps him feel less nervous....

Colin and his uncle have a hidden aspect to their relationship, recalling Campbell's novel The Kind Folk.

An unsettling uncle-nephew tucking-in bedtime story commences:

"His uncle was always with him though, wasn't he?"

     "The boy couldn't see him," Colin says in case this lets his uncle realise how it felt, and then he knows his uncle already did. "He heard him saying you mustn't look down, because being seen was what woke up the god of the wood. So the boy kept looking straight ahead, though he could see the shadows that weren't shadows crowding behind the trees to wait for him. He could feel how even the water underneath him wanted him to slip on the slimy stones, and how the stones were ready to swim apart so he'd fall between them if he caught the smallest glimpse of them. Then he did, and the one he was standing on sank deep into the water, but he'd jumped on the bank of the stream. The shadows that must have been the bits that were left of people who'd looked down too long let him see his uncle, and they walked to the other side of the woods. Maybe he wouldn't have got there without his uncle, because the shadows kept dancing around them to make them think there was no way between the trees."

     "Brave boy, to see all that." Darkness has reclaimed the left side of Uncle Lucian's face; Colin is reminded of a moon that the night is squeezing out of shape. "Don't stop now, Colin," his uncle says. "Remember last year."

     This is taking longer than his bedtime stories ever have. Colin feels as if the versions he's reciting may rob him of his whole night's sleep. Downstairs his parents and his aunt sound as if they need to talk for hours yet. "It was here in town," he says accusingly. "It was down in Lower Brichester."

     He wants to communicate how betrayed he felt, by the city or his uncle or by both. He'd thought houses and people would keep away the old things, but now he knows that nobody who can't see can help. "It was where the boy's mother and father wouldn't have liked him to go," he says, but that simply makes him feel the way his uncle's stories do, frightened and excited and unable to separate the feelings. "Half the houses were shut up with boards but people were still using them, and there were men and ladies on the corners of the streets waiting for whoever wanted them or stuff they were selling. And in the middle of it all there were railway lines and passages to walk under them. Only the people who lived round there must have felt something, because there was one passage nobody walked through."

     "But the boy did."

     "A man sitting drinking with his legs in the road told him not to, but he did. His uncle went through another passage and said he'd meet him on the other side. Anyone could have seen something was wrong with the tunnel, because people had dropped needles all over the place except in there. But it looked like it'd just be a minute to walk through, less if you ran. So the boy started to hurry through, only he tried to be quiet because he didn't like how his feet made so much noise he kept thinking someone was following him, except it sounded more like lots of fingers tapping on the bricks behind him. When he managed to be quiet the noise didn't all go away, but he tried to think it was water dripping, because he felt it cold and wet on the top of his head. Then more of it touched the back of his neck, but he didn't want to look round, because the passage was getting darker behind him. He was in the middle of the tunnel when the cold touch landed on his face and made him look."

Colin is old enough to want to call a halt.

....Colin demands "What did I see?"

     "Not much yet. Just as much as your mind could take. It's like our stories, do you understand? Your mind had to tell you a story about what you saw, but in time you won't need it. You'll see what's really there."

     "Suppose I don't want to?" Colin blurts. "What's it all for?"

     "Would you rather be like my sister and only see what everyone else sees? She was no fun when she was your age, your mother."

     "I never had the choice."

     "Well, I wouldn't ever have said that to my grandfather. I was nothing but grateful to him."

     Though his uncle sounds not merely disappointed but offended, Colin says "Can't I stop now?"

     "Everything will know you can see, son. If you don't greet the old things where you find them they'll come to find you."

"The Place of Revelation" is a brief, elementary story of great skill. I was motivated to seek it out after reading James Rockhill's comment about it at the Friends of Arthur Machen Facebook group:

"And when he went outside he couldn't believe in the daylight anymore. It was like a picture someone had put up to hide the dark." -----"The Place of Revelation", Ramsey Campbell's  homage to "The White People".


23 May 2020


From Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories edited by Doug Murano & D. Alexander Ward (2016).

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