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Authors: Robin Jarvis

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Tales From The Wyrd Museum 1: The Woven Path

BOOK: Tales From The Wyrd Museum 1: The Woven Path
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Tales From The Wyrd Museum
The Woven Path
By Robin Jarvis

Wednesday 3rd March 1943 Bethnal Green : London

8.47pm

Death and horror flooded the night. In the fog-filled high street, as the awful, clangorous rumour of German bombs grew gradually closer, an American airman stumbled to his feet and gazed down. The ground quivered as a parachute mine exploded three streets away.

Suddenly, two circles of light came sweeping through the mist, accompanied by the fierce rattle of a military Jeep which ploughed through the fog, its hooded headlights straining to see the way ahead. A gruesome sight unexpectedly caught in the soft beams.

Standing over the blood-drenched corpse of a GI, the MPs saw a lieutenant of the American Air Force. The murder weapon was still in his hands and the face he turned to them was wrung with guilt.

‘Frank's dead,’ he called desolately.

‘The knife!’ the driver hollered. ‘Drop it!’

‘You got it all wrong!’ the man cried.

‘Reach!’ the other MP shouted, sliding the white truncheon from his belt.

Lunging forward, the lieutenant pushed himself aside and pelted into the mist.

Darting past the GI’s corpse, the driver pulled out a gun and bawled, ‘Hold it, Signorelli!’

The airman's running figure shuddered as a burst of white light flared behind him.

With the gunshot still resounding through the fog, he glanced down and saw a blossoming circle of red soaking through his shirt.

The pistol blazed three more times and the man screeched as the bullets blasted and ripped clean through his flesh.

Gasping, the airman toppled to the ground, clasping his hands to his perforated chest.

‘Jeezus!’ he choked, convulsing with shock. ‘Oh Lord, no—I ain't ready. Hell, I
weren't
ready.’

His frantic movements began to slow and the man rolled on to his front.

A blackness closed over his eyes.

Before the darkness took him, the lieutenant's fingers juddered and clenched—tightening about the soft body of the toy in his hand.

Then it was over.

Chapter 1 New Arrivals

In keeping with the festive season, the twenty-seventh of December began beneath a stark covering of bitter, bristling frost. The previous night had been one of intense cold and long icicles now speared down from the gutters, glittering as the pale sunlight edged over the rooftops.

As the morning crept towards midday, the shuddering cold showed no sign of relenting. Instead, its grip seemed to tighten and the treacherous ice, which had been dispelled from the roads by the gritters, stealthily returned.

On the Mile End Road, a trail of exhaust pipes spluttered and their foggy fumes hung thick and acrid on the freezing air. Delicate frosted masterpieces sparkled over every unprotected windscreen and a chorus of coughing vehicles crawled, through Whitechapel, towards Bethnal Green. Amongst this sluggish congestion, a small blue removal van laboriously wheezed and whined, protesting at the gruelling journey it had been forced to endure.

Joshua Chapman scrunched up his eyes, gave a prolonged bored yawn, then wriggled and dug an elbow into his brother's side. The front seat of the van was not very wide and it was a tight squeeze to fit both boys on to it. The four-year-old shuffled uncomfortably; they had been in the van for some hours now and had not stopped once. Josh's bottom had gone numb and his growing unease about the quantities of lemonade he had drunk were soon confirmed.

‘I want to go,’ he said abruptly.

Brian Chapman gave a nervous sideways glance at his son then fixed his eyes back on the road ahead.

‘It isn't far now, Josh,’ he promised. ‘Can't you hang on a little bit longer?’

‘No,’ came the firm reply.

Mr Chapman stooped over the steering wheel and looked desperately on either side of the busy road. ‘I don't know where there is one,’ he mumbled, beginning to get flustered.

With an annoyed ‘tut’ the elder boy looked up from the book he was reading, glared at his brother then stared in annoyance at their father.

‘Don't give in to him!’ he said emphatically. ‘By the time you manage to find somewhere we could be there. Serve him right for guzzling those cans anyway—I said you shouldn't have given him yours as well!’

Mr Chapman lifted his spectacles and pinched the bridge of his nose—the familiar sign that he was getting anxious. ‘I don't want him to make a mess, Neil,’ he muttered.

‘He won't,’ the boy answered, giving his brother a warning glare.

Wedged between them, Josh pulled a sullen face and stubbornly folded his arms. ‘I want to go,’ he repeated.

‘Ignore him,’ Neil told his father.

By the time the van turned off the main road, Mr Chapman's nose was a deep shade of red from the continual pinching but he forced himself to concentrate on the way before them—squinting up at the street names fixed to the renovated and newly-built buildings on either side. He had only made this journey once before and although that had been a mere three weeks ago, he was finding it difficult to remember the exact route.

With growing impatience, Neil watched the man's thin face cloud over as he peered down at the map propped upon the dashboard. Mr Chapman was a ridiculous and dishevelled sight. He didn't seem to care how he looked and his shabby appearance irritated his son no end. Lank brown hair hung long, unkempt and greasy over the collar of his rumpled shirt and although he had made an effort today by shaving, Neil wished he'd also spared the time to trim the wiry tufts of hair which sprouted from his nostrils. And he was wearing those dreadful beige trousers that were an inch too short and flapped about his ankles, making him look like a scarecrow that had suddenly been given gangly life and had stumbled awkwardly from a farmer's field.

Morosely, Neil recalled how his father's appearance used to make him laugh. Since the departure of his mother, however, his incompetent parent was merely a source of embarrassment.

Neil was a serious-looking boy of eleven whose hair was the same dismal shade of brown as his father's—but there the similarities ended. Mr Chapman's eyes were a mottled green, set slightly too close together on either side of a bony, ill-shaped nose; but Neil's were soft and grey and thankfully he had inherited his mother's pleasant, if unstriking, features.

‘Blow!’ Mr Chapman suddenly exclaimed. ‘I think we've took a wrong turning. I don't recognise those flats at all... no hang on, it's down that back-street and left—I think.’

The van trundled on, past the towering, graffiti-covered apartments, then down a narrow, cobbled way that wound between deserted warehouses and a derelict industrial estate.

‘You sure this is right?’ Neil asked doubtfully. ‘It's the middle of nowhere.’

His father gripped the wheel a little tighter and nodded with uncharacteristic conviction. ‘Oh yes,’ he affirmed, ‘this is definitely the right road.’

“Who'd want to stick a museum round here?’ the boy murmured.

A high wall tipped with broken glass reared up on their right and the afternoon appeared to grow dim as they travelled beneath its crumbling fastness. Facing it, and seeming to huddle over the roadway, was a run-down terrace of dark, Victorian houses; cramped, cheerless dwellings with untidy window boxes trailing withered plants and dead, twig-like weeds. Some of the houses were empty and wooden planks had been nailed over the doors and windows. A collection of bulging bin bags formed a lopsided mountain on the pavement and Neil saw that a foraging animal had torn into the plastic, snouting for chicken bones and disgorging the rest of the rotting contents in the process. It was a horrible, squalid place and he wished they were back in Ealing and that his father had never accepted this new job.

‘It's getting dark,’ Josh abruptly announced, forgetting about the call of nature as his fear of the night welled up inside him.

‘No,’ his father assured him, ‘it's these old buildings and that high wall, they're just blotting out what light there is. Nearly there now, anyway—Well Lane should be just ... ah!’

The van had lumbered round a corner and the narrow way was barred by three stout bollards. Beyond these, the road shrank into a litter-filled alley, bordered by the high wall on one side and a curious building on the other.

Mr Chapman stared out at the bollards that blocked the way and pouted as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. ‘Blood and sand!’ he said sharply before opening the door and stepping out on to the frosty cobbles.

Whilst his father glowered at the iron bollards and gave them a tentative and frustrated kick, Neil leaned forward to gaze up at the strange building before them.

It was large and squat and grotesque. An uneasy tangle of architectural styles that jarred and fought with one another, combining to make a discordant whole that lacked all symmetry and grace—mocking the periods that it had leeched into itself. It was impossible to say at which point in history it had been built, for every moment seemed to feature there.

Bizarre pinnacles and turrets spiked up from the lichen-encrusted roof and their rusting points gleamed dully in the frostbitten air like the upturned spears of some forgotten, medieval army. Beneath them, and nuzzling just under the eaves and a buckled length of guttering clogged with three old bird's nests, was one tiny, leaded window. Besmirched with the soot and pollution of many years, the dark, diamond panes peeped slyly down at the alleyway far below—watching every movement of the few who ventured there.

Square, Georgian windows gazed blankly from the two lower storeys, but these were too large to sit comfortably around the mouldering building and made it appear startled and amazed, as if abruptly woken from a sound slumber.

As Neil stared at the sombre, sinister-looking place, the cold seeped through his clothes, crawled over his flesh and sank deep into his bones. Quickly, he averted his eyes and drew away from the windscreen.

‘I don't like it,’ he muttered in revulsion, ‘and I definitely don't want to live there.’

Beside him Josh agreed. ‘Is it a castle?’ he whispered. ‘Are there ghosts?’

At that moment their father opened the door of the van and popped his head inside.

‘I'll just ring the bell,’ he said. ‘You stay here for a minute.’

Before his father closed the door, a wild, unreasoning panic erupted within Neil and the boy shouted to him urgently.

‘Dad!’ he begged, ‘Don't! Let's go! Leave this place
—please!
It's horrible!’

Mr Chapman looked at his son in surprise. Neil was always so level-headed and practical, it wasn't like him to be scared of a funny-looking building. Mouthing useless phrases like ‘there's nothing to worry about’, and ‘it'll be fine, you'll see’, he rummaged for the meagre vestiges of capable fatherhood which so often eluded him—but failed as Neil's implorings grew steadily louder. Burbling still more inane words, Mr Chapman grew impatient with himself and vexed at Neil's continued pleadings to return home.

‘Look!’ he snapped. ‘Get off my back! I need a job where I can keep an eye on Josh during the day—and this is it. We're lucky I managed to get this one. I don't need you going on at me, OK? Brighten up, Neil—for God's sake!’

Slamming the door, Mr Chapman stomped towards the alleyway, fuming at his son's unusual reaction and at himself for letting it affect him. Perhaps it was because Neil's unaccountable fears were so similar to his own when he first set eyes upon the forbidding building three weeks ago.

Now he was approaching that monstrous doorway again and, although he thought he knew what lay beyond its threshold, he couldn't help catching his breath. Of all the additions made to the architecture of this hideously unique edifice, the entrance was the most unusual. Framing the arched, wooden door was an ogre of Victorian sculpture and design.

Fashioned in bronze, this elaborate creation snaked over the brickwork with great festoons of carved, flouncing material running in and out of the various images that cluttered and pressed close to the entrance.

The figures of women flanked both sides of the doorway and each was dressed in a richly textured fabric that draped over their slender forms in luxuriant and generous swathes down on to the tiled steps. An expression of supreme calm and serenity had been captured on the faces of these beautiful statues and though the bronze was stained both black and putrid green, their loveliness glimmered through these ravages of the weather like the moon through the leaves.

Surmounting them, a third figure cast down her gaze from a mass of folds graven above the arch. The face of this creature, however, was stern and proud. The artist who had wrought and moulded this folly of ostentation had blessed this final character with no humanity. Unlike the others, the sculpted face was grave and haughty; about the languid droop of the half-closed eyelids were traces of arrogance and round the corners of the narrow mouth was the shadow of cruelty and callous disregard.

In her outstretched hands this figure held an unfurled banner and written upon a field of tarnished gilt were the words 'WYRD MUSEUM’.

BOOK: Tales From The Wyrd Museum 1: The Woven Path
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