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Authors: Ramsey Campbell

The Face That Must Die

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The Face That Must Die

by

Ramsey Campbell

Cover by Kellianne Jones

An ebook edition published by

Necon Ebooks

This Edition Copyright 2010 Ramsey Campbell

Cover Copyright 2010 Kellianne Jones

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

* * *

For Dave and Moy Griffiths

* * *

Acknowledgments

Apart from Jenny’s help (psychological and financial as well as by reading each chapter once it was finished) I seem to have written this one more or less on my own. The Social Security people were remarkably loath to tell me what benefits John Horridge would receive, while the Planning Department wanted only to convince me that nobody was transported to a housing estate such as Cantril Farm against his/her will. I suppose I may be the only person to thank the planners responsible for building Cantril Farm and sending people there; at least they helped me write this book. Since writing it I’ve heard that Cantril Farm claims an abnormally high number of fatal heart attacks among young men.

I hope that my good friend George Cranfield, manager of the Odeon London Road, will forgive the liberties my character takes with his cinema. Incidentally, some readers may like to know that Peter Sellers appeared in both
Murder by Death
and the Inspector Clouseau films. Lastly, I’m especially grateful to Piers Dudgeon for encouraging this book.

* * *

Table of Contents

Introduction

I Am It and It Is I

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXIII

Chapter XXXIV

Epilogue

* * *

Introduction

At the Back of My Mind: A Guided Tour

I want to talk honestly at last about why I write what I write. This Introduction Supersedes All Others. In particular I want to suggest why I wrote this book, which of all my stories seems the one most prone to provoke unease or worse. For example, not long ago I was sorting through the horror titles in a second-hand bookstore (split spines, wilting corners, ballpoint scrawls, unidentifiable stains) when the shop woman told me she liked horror too: King, Herbert, but not that Guy N. Smith — rubbish, him. I was opening my mouth when she corrected herself: not Guy N. Smith — who was that writer who set his stories in Liverpool? Ramsey Campbell, that’s right — that
Face That Must Die
.

She wouldn’t have encountered much disagreement from most of the editors I was published by when I wrote the book. For a while it seemed it would never be published, and the eventual British edition was edited without my knowledge (taking out most of the paranoid puns, which still seem to me to ring truer than almost anything else in the book). The edition you have in front of you is definitive, including a complete restored chapter, but more of that later.

There’s no doubt the book is very dark. I had reasons at the time: the first edition of.
The Doll Who Ate His Mother
had sold, as Barbara Norville of Bobbs-Merrill put it over Black Russians at Thursday’s, “dreadfully”; I’d suffered the aftermath of some psychedelic experiences, had spent a night trying not to see things such as my face becoming mouthless in the bathroom mirror, and was terrified of a recurrence, which led eventually (terror, recurrence, or both) to a writer’s block on the first day of chapter X, when I saw the words I was penning begin to writhe on the page. Of all my novels, this is the one that strays least from its original plot, improvised hardly at all once I’d settled on the title, having played with
Knife-Edge
and
The Man Who Killed A Face
and
The Face That Called For Killing
. Under all the circumstances, presumably I was scared to take risks. Really, though, I think the book is so dark (not least in its well-nigh complete identification with Horridge) because its sources in my experience were.

Describing them is a risk in itself. Steve King tells how one Janet Jeppson claimed that he’d been writing about a macabre incident in his childhood “ever since”, and I sympathize with his resentment, not least because it’s a very small step from “ah, so
that’s
what your fiction is about” to “that’s
all
your fiction is about.” All the same, I think that in interviews I’ve been too concerned with presenting myself as a genial everyday guy who just happens to write horror stories. Steve King to the contrary, I don’t believe there’s any such animal. As Steve himself points out, it’s pretty strange to write fiction for a living at all, and there are cases besides mine in which the reasons are stranger: Robert Aickman (who wrote “My father remains the oddest man I have ever known”), and Lovecraft, and two writers with whom I feel a particular affinity, whose family lives gave them an obsession with madness that the conventions of their genre were sometimes unable to contain — Cornell Woolrich and John Franklin Bardin. I have to hope now that knowledge of a writer’s life can enrich rather than diminish one’s reading of his work.

Last year, while reading to a student audience in New York, I had the disconcerting experience of realising what I had “really” been writing about in several stories: “The Chimney” and “Mackintosh Willy” (the old man whose face you never see) and “Again”. It seems I had to write about my deepest nightmares before I could remember what they were. The process of overcoming my fears as best I could, which I take to have been the process of gaining confidence as a writer and performer, somehow involved forgetting them while acquiring whatever was necessary — technique, distance, trusting to imaginative instinct — to write about them. It has often been disconcerting to realise that I could have forgotten, or at any rate filed away in the dustiest rooms of my mind, so much.

Though I lived in the same small house (three bedrooms, a bathroom, two rooms downstairs) as my parents, I didn’t see my father face to face for nearly twenty years, and that was when he was dying. My first memory of him — of anything, I believe — dates from when I was three years old. He used to take me out on Sundays, and that day he’d walked across the line at the end of a railway platform with me instead of using the pedestrian bridge. He told my mother this, to her horror. They had a hearty argument above my head which ended, as I recall, with my mother ordering him out of the house.

The front door contained nine small panes of glass, reaching from chest level to the top of the door. My father blocked the door from outside as my mother tried to close it: presumably they were struggling for the last word in the argument. My mother’s hand went through one of the panes, bloodily.

I remember my mother dripping bright red blood and crying out that he’d deliberately closed the door on her hand. The sight of blood except for my own has distressed me ever since. A neighbour looked after me while her husband took my mother to hospital. I suppose they humoured her to calm her down, but they seemed to me to be accepting her version of what had happened. Since my father had fled, I tried to set the record straight. What did I know about it? I was only three years old.

I don’t recall the aftermath, but my mother told me years later that she had subsequently asked me in front of my father if I wanted to go out with him again. How could I have said yes when it might have led to another such scene? It feels as if that was the last I saw of my father, though it may not have been. Certainly relations between my parents grew steadily worse, until soon they met hardly at all. One reason must have been that my father (who was in his late forties, my mother having been thirty-six when I was born) felt robbed of his only son.

Divorce wasn’t easy in those days, not least because my mother was a Catholic. I accompanied her as she trudged from lawyer to lawyer in a futile quest for legal aid to help her make a case for a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. Soon the refusals convinced her that the lawyers were conspiring to thwart her, perhaps on instructions from the police, since my father was a policeman; many people in Liverpool (which she hated) were in on the secret too. Recently I found the notes for a novel she was planning at the time, in which her neighbours were given fictitious names and classed according to their attitudes to her — ”snoopers,” “kind but afraid for themselves,” “were nice but obviously worked on,” “passer-on”( of gossip about her, presumably). By now she hated the house for its smallness, and frequently told me how much better her home in Huddersfield had been. She insisted that my father had tricked her into living there by promising it would be temporary, though in fact she had written to him shortly before they were married that she would live there always. They kept each other’s letters, and I found them after my mother died.

For most of my childhood, then, my father was heard but not seen. My mother told me things about him (she referred to him solely as “him”, in a tone of loathing): though he was a policeman he dressed like a tramp, he spoke several languages but made no use of them, he wrote letters in my name and hers to the
Christian Science Monitor
(religion therefore being one of their early conflicts, and his use of Americanisms to me another), he’d got her lost on a fell in the Lake District during their honeymoon (an incident which she grew to believe meant he’d tried to kill her), he came downstairs in the mornings and damaged the already dilapidated furniture, he blew his nose with his fingers in the bathroom sink (for years she would go in the bathroom every night as soon as his bedroom door closed and I would hear her ritual cry of disgust), he’d thrown a toy of mine in the fire, she’d given up the love of her life for him. . . He left her housekeeping money on Fridays, and she cooked his breakfast last thing each night and left it on the table. Now I imagine him coming downstairs in the mornings to be faced by congealed fried egg and bacon seven hours old in the cold kitchen with its flagged floor (hardly surprising if sometimes he went and kicked the furniture), but then his unseen presence was infinitely more powerful than anything I might be told about him.

I used to hear his footsteps on the stairs as I lay in bed, terrified that he would come into my room. Sometimes I heard arguments downstairs as my mother waylaid him when he came home, her voice shrill and clear, his blurred and utterly incomprehensible, hardly a voice, which filled me with a terror I couldn’t define. (Being a spectator to arguments has made me deeply nervous ever since.) If he was still in the kitchen when it was time for her to make my breakfast she would drive him out of the house — presumably it was unthinkable that I should share the table with him. Once I found I’d broken a lens of my glasses as I’d put them down by the bed the previous night, and was convinced by my mother that my father had come into the room while I was asleep to break them. In my teens I sometimes came home from work or from the cinema at the same time as my father, who would hold the front door closed from inside to make sure we never came face to face.

Very occasionally, when it was necessary for him to get in touch, he would leave me a note, in French. (He’d lived in Glasgow, his birthplace, until his family moved to Liverpool.) Worst of all was Christmas, when my mother would send me to knock on his bedroom door and invite him down, as a mark of seasonal goodwill, for Christmas dinner. I would go upstairs in a panic, but there was never any response.

My mother did her best to make up for his absence, though perhaps she never realised that his presence was the problem. We drew pictures together, played word games and board games and cards and ball games, the last of which must have been a trial for her, since she’d suffered a prolapsed womb at my birth. She encouraged me to write and to finish what I wrote. She saved up to take me on holiday to Grange over Sands, where she’d stayed on her honeymoon, or Southport, where her widowed mother lived until she came to stay with us; sometimes we stayed with her sister and brother-in-law in Yorkshire. As I went to films more often in my teens, so did she with me: she liked the Hammer horrors and Tourneur’s
Night of the Demon
, William Castle’s films and Hitchcock’s with the exception of
Psycho
,
Last Year in Marienbad
and
Muriel
and

and (apart from the rape scene)
The Virgin Spring
, Vincent Price’s films except for those he made with Corman, for premature burial was one of her nightmares. Her favourite film, to which I accompanied her dutifully on each reissue, was
Gone with the Wind
. At home we listened to radio shows together — plays and serials and comedies, though she never liked Spike Milligan’s “Goon Show”, with its gleeful explosion of taboos — or simply sat by the fire and read (sometimes the same authors: Highsmith, Ray Bradbury, Cornelia Otis Skinner). I was always enthralled when she told me her memories, of Father Young, the Catholic priest who used to scuttle after her and her sister in Lon Chaney’s latest role, of working at Rushworth’s department store in Huddersfield where eventually she became a buyer and where her assistants used to confide all their problems to her, of her years at the Ministry of War Transport and the Christmas Day she had been working there alone while a man prowled outside in the deserted street, her chaste love affairs which she always terminated, her pet dogs (one of which had been kicked to death), the plots in great detail of films she’d admired:
The Barretts of Wimpole Street
, the Mamoulian
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
, the Claude Rains
Phantom of the Opera
. . . More than once she told me her most terrible memory, of the morning (five days before her birthday, I realised many years later) she found her father burned to death, having had a stroke and fallen on the fire. Recently I found she had shared many of these memories in her several years of correspondence with my father. [I recently condensed these letters into an account of their relationship, “Coming to Liverpool”, in Spook City, edited by Angus Mackenzie (PS Publishing, 2009).] It was her way of sharing herself, which she did with only a very few people — too few.

BOOK: The Face That Must Die
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