By Ramsey Campbell
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 1997 Ramsey Campbell
All rights reserved.
NEW FOR OLD
Hedz Not Fedz was the smallest of the shops at the upper end of Market Approach, but its window displayed more items than its neighbours, Pawnucopia and Charity Worldwide, put together. A notice in the bottom right-hand corner of the window, THESE PIPES ARE FOR ORNAMENTAL USE ONLY, did little to obscure the view. Someone or a wind had knocked over the four-legged sign that alerted users of the market to the existence of the shop. Amy unfolded the sign — HEDZ NOT FEDZ: EVERYTHING LEGAL — to the length of its chain and planted it on the pavement, then she hitched her Mexican canvas bag over her shoulder and let herself into the shop.
Wind chimes announced her arrival, but Martie barely glanced up from thumbing a price tag onto the contents of a box on the counter. "What kind of pipe is that?" Amy said over the strains of a tape of "Walk Right In."
"Electric. Press here and you don't even need to suck."
"Just in time for Christmas," Martie said, and jabbed one stubby thumb at the tag. "Maybe we'll see where the money's hiding. As long as you're up on those classy long legs, why don't you make me a space in the window."
Amy dropped her bag with a thud of books on the bare floorboards, which she always thought looked earthy from the years when the shop had been a greengrocer's. She had to move bead necklaces and ammonite pendants and incense holders and hologram badges and crystals nesting in padded boxes before she was happy with the spot she chose, between an African carving and a book of Eastern philosophy, for the new pipe. She went outside to see how it caught the eye, and returned as she heard a shutter rattle down a shop-front in the marketplace. "I'd buy it," she said.
"You might get some funny looks at home."
"I get those anyway," said Amy, fingering the stud in her left nostril.
"You'd be disappointed if you didn't, wouldn't you? I remember feeling that when I was sorting out who I was." Martie glanced past her and frowned. "There's a look I can do without, though."
Amy turned and saw only the top of a head, its scalp cropped even closer than Martie's, ducked low as if to butt the window. Then the security guard from the marketplace straightened up from scrutinising the electric pipe and marched into the shop, donning his cap and tugging its peak towards his small suspicious eyes. The notes of the wind chimes were almost drowned by a spitting hiss of the phone that was clipped to his belt. "Can we give you any kind of a hand?" Martie asked him.
"Better keep them well away from me." He devoted a few moments to clattering the compact disc boxes in their racks until those at the front of each row had toppled forward, then he pointed his bony mottled face, which was so hairless it looked plucked, at Martie's broad calm pouchy one. "I won't ask where they've been in front of this young lady," the guard said.
"You'd rather wait until we're alone, you mean."
"I'd find out then if you're a feller or what, right enough." The guard bared his top teeth with a sticky sound, then produced a concerned frown that wagged the peak of his cap as he said to Amy "Don't tell me there's anything for you here."
Whether his concern was genuine or not, she hated it. "There's my friend Martie."
"Where?" said the guard before using the sole of one foot to indicate Martie. "Oh, that. Short for Martin, is it?"
"Martha," Amy said, furious with herself for having been provoked into responding, "and you know it, Shaun Pickles."
"How would anybody know that without getting closer than decent folk should? I wouldn't let you work your Saturdays in here if you were mine."
"You don't get an offer like that every day, Amy."
"I couldn't stand it," Amy said, which wasn't enough. "Maybe you should stop your sister Denise working in the tobacconist's if you're so worried," she told the guard.
"She's sixteen and that's legal."
"So am I," said Amy, adding "nearly" in her head.
"You're the only thing in here that should be, then."
"Which means you aren't," Amy said, and felt as if she was back in the Partington Primary schoolyard, scoring argumentative points too petty to be proud of. "Aren't you supposed to be seeing that everything's locked up for the night?"
"I'll be doing my rounds, never fret. That's why I came, to say if you want to go home through the precinct you'd better finish with her. If you want to walk through now I'll lock up after you."
"Forget it, thanks. I don't want to take you away from your prowl."
"If you don't walk up with me soon you'll have to go all the way —"
"Do you know how boring you are?" Even this seemed insufficient to put him off, and she was wondering how terse she had to be when the chimes sounded again. "Hi, Rob," she said, so enthusiastically that her boyfriend hoisted his brows and eyelids and sharp chin to mime a pretence of surprise. "Rescue me."
"From — oh." Rob tugged at his earring and gave the guard a single blink of the eyelashes Amy envied. "I remember when we met," he said.
"Guilty folk do."
"My first week at school, it was," Rob told Martie, who'd emitted a derisive snort. "He got me in a corner and wanted to know what sort of a name Robin was. 'Some kind of a bird, are you?' and for a bit of variety 'Bird's name, is it?' and poke poke poke in the ribs. And when I told him of course it was, even that didn't cheer him up."
The phone on Shaun's belt hissed, and he slapped it like a gun-fighter. "So," he said tightly, "here I am."
"Here we both still are. Pathetic really, isn't it?"
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Maybe tell our friend what we used to call you at school."
"It'd be like the rest of the rubbish you talk." Shaun exposed the underside of his upper lip before stalking to the door. "Some of us have work to do instead of playing silly bloody games," he declared, and did his best to slam the door behind him, but its lazy metal arm defeated him.
"Obsolete," Rob and Amy chorused, an insult they'd made up between them, and then Rob said "What did he want anyway, Aim?"
"To lead me to market."
"Best place for," Martie said, and thought of an improved word, "hams like him."
"The sooner he's for the chop the better."
"Has to do something to bring home the — I won't say it," said Rob.
"I'm glad that's over," Amy said, and to Rob with the roughness she knew he didn't mind "And what did you want?"
"Wondered what we were doing on Sunday."
"Don't mind. Maybe go to Sheffield or Manchester now all the shops are open, if we're up early enough for the bus. Anywhere that isn't here. I don't mean here here, Martie."
"I know. Only the man from the jar had one thing right, you better hadn't hang around unless you want to be locked out."
"They shouldn't be able to lock so much up. They never did when I was little." Amy grabbed her canvas bag, and when doing so failed to displace her anger, punched Rob's chest. "Was that for anything in particular?" he said mildly.
"For being a man," said Amy, knowing her anger was futile, which made it worse. She opened the door and shoved him out with a hand beneath the warm silky hair that spilled over the back of his neck. "See you on Saturday," she told Martie, and followed Rob.
Most of the shops that enclosed the marketplace were shuttered: branches of a travel agency and a wine merchant and a pasta chain, which made Amy imagine bonds composed of spaghetti, and two clothes stores and a family video library and a bookshop that sold more greetings cards than books and a store full of televisions and cameras and hi-fi piles, all gleaming black. ... Four years ago the leases of the properties around the square had been bought by Housall, a Sheffield firm, and now only shops you saw in every English town could afford the rent. Housall still permitted the market to continue, though most local people bought their provisions from the giant supermarket that had opened in the mall off the motorway. Pickles and an older guard were striding about the tiled square, checking that shops were locked, and both jangled their keys at the couple crossing their territory. Rob and Amy ignored them except to hold hands more firmly, and strolled between the fifteen-foot-tall gates into Little Hope Way, towards the sky over the moor.
The afterglow had turned the western sky the lucid green of a ray of light from a prism. Against the glow, the jagged ridge and its filaments of heather were outlined with a clarity they never had in daylight — the clarity of the single star displayed by the blackness advancing from the east. Amy began to imagine the distances that darkness brought to the sky, but her attention sank to the hulking lump of dusk on the hill across Nazareth Row. "I used to call that the spider house when I was little."
"Arachnological. What was behind that?"
"Why did I, you mean? Someone else asked me that once, I think. I used to because ..." A window to the left of the front doors lit up, driving the memory, which she wasn't trying very hard to recover, back into the dark. "I forget."
"Sometimes you have to."
"Sagacious," Amy said, and kissed his thin cheek to let him know she wasn't satirising him that much. "Are you coming in or what?"
"I've got a wodge of history to write up. I'll call you later."
"Byeh," Amy said with feeling, "history. Boring dates of boring people doing boring things. Don't put yourself to sleep." Having relinquished Rob's hand, she gave him a push. Partings always made her feel awkward, inclined to linger, increasingly unable to think how to leave. "I don't expect I'll be going anywhere," she said, and walked up the gravel drive that divided the wide lawn in front of Nazarill.
Though Housall had gutted the interior before rebuilding it, they'd left the facade almost unchanged. Cars were parked on an extensive rectangle of gravel to the left of the building — the photographer's Land Rover, the homeopath's Morris Minor, the Celica belonging to one of the librarians, the journalist's second-hand Porsche. As Amy came abreast of the sprawling stooped oak tree, the building the colour of bone greeted her with a silent explosion of security lights. She stepped off the drive onto the white stone threshold of the plate-glass doors and checked the mailbox beside the twin columns of nine bellpushes, to find an envelope brown as wet sand, addressed to her father. She held one end of it between her teeth while she used her key, and saw herself grimacing above a huge protruding tongue as the door swung inwards. She'd hardly set foot in the building when the doors met behind her with a sound like the echo of a distant tolling bell.
Whenever she arrived she thought she was meant to feel as though she'd entered a country house or an expensive hotel. The floor of the broad corridor was fattened by a carpet of an even darker brown than the panels of the walls, the lower halves of which were paled by a glow from behind the skirting-boards. Three mahogany doors were set into either wall, but four of the doors led to empty apartments a year after Nazarill had been renovated and advertised as the most desirable residence in town. About twenty paces took her to the stairs, which were spread from wall to panelled wall with carpet as thick as the heel of her hand.
She couldn't hear herself climb. The only sounds were a trickle of central heating through a concealed pipe and a faint clawing, presumably an attempt at escape by the cat that belonged to the magistrate who lived on the middle floor. Amy kept slapping the banister, though the brass tube felt clammy, to summon forth a low grudging hollow note for company. On the top floor she jangled her keys all the way along the corridor, where two dim blurred versions of herself slithered over the panels. One appeared to be gnawing a bone and to have placed the number 13 on its head as she gripped an edge of the envelope with her teeth while she unlocked the mortice her father had had fitted, and then the Yale lock.
The inner doors were all shut tight, which meant that the farther end of the panelled hall was dark. Smells so slight she recognised them only from familiarity greeted her: leather bindings, incense lingering in her bedroom, the larger of the two long thin rooms to the left of the hall. She elbowed the switch just inside the entrance and buttocked the door shut as the hall lit up, revealing its framed illustrations from a Victorian children's book which, as a baby, she'd pulled to bits and which even her mother had been unable to restore. She seemed to remember disliking the oversized heads and excessively wide eyes of all the subjects of the pictures, but now she would have disliked objecting to them when it had been her mother's idea to frame them. All the same, having transferred the envelope to the hand that had held the keys, Amy stuck out her tongue at the old woman being tossed over the moon in a basket as she let herself into her room.
By now she'd made it feel reasonably like home. The overhead light in its multicoloured globe found her in the mirror of the dressing-table opposite the door. As she ducked to see that her complexion was no worse than the last time she'd looked, she appeared momentarily to assume both the necklaces decorating the arch of the mirror. She hung her embroidered peaked cap next to its two friends on the wall, between her Clouds Like Dreams poster, the four pallid androgynous faces of the band keeping watch by the door, and the bookcase, where books and compact discs and tapes crowded together beneath the neat top shelf full of books her mother had bound for her. She dropped her tapestry coat near the wardrobe and her school uniform on top of the coat, and once she'd changed into a T-shirt and skirt and tights black enough to suit her, remembered to take her father's letter into the main room.
Unlike her bedroom but like the one facing hers, it had a window. Through the double-glazed sashes Amy saw the whole of Partington, the streets trailing downhill like dimmer tendrils of the marketplace to capture the luminous snake of the main road, whose head and tail were chopped off by the darkness of the moors. Several stars had pierced the eastern sky, but the night above the marketplace was always blank. As Amy dropped the envelope on the glass top of the polished oval dining-table, she saw the older guard locking the scrolled iron gates beneath the extinguished early Christmas lights. She tugged the velvet curtains shut and slipped a tape of a Vile Jelly concert into the player in the hi-fi stack. The sound level indicator splashed her hands with red as she straightened up and headed for the kitchen to brew herself a cup of herbal tea.
As she switched on the fluorescent light, the topmost branches of the oak stirred beyond the kitchen window, against the dark hump of the summit of the hill, the first step to the greater darkness of the moor. The tree continued to fumble at the air while she hung a tea-bag in her mug and awakened the red eye of the electric kettle. The light from the kitchen must have startled a bird off its perch. Vile Jelly sang "We're just a spark in the darkness of time" as she retrieved her bag from where she'd dropped it in the hall. By the time the electric mandolin solo was over she'd spread out her schoolbooks on the dining-table. The kettle summoned her with a hiss of steam and a click of its switch, and in the silence between songs she heard a restless movement near the door of the main room: a stealthy shifting of metal, and a murmur suggestive of a breath — the expansion of the radiator. It was blotted out as Eve Exman broke into "Stay with me till we see each other" while Amy poured water into her mug. She fished out the hanged limp bag at last and consigned it to the plastic bin, and waited for the branches outside the window to finish swaying, then slapped the light off before they finished. "Fix your head," she told herself, and tramped away to confront her school homework.
Shakespeare's art is one of inconsistency and contrast. Discuss with reference to "Macbeth." Amy remembered enraging the English master by insisting on wanting to know how Lady Macbeth could have breast-fed if she'd had no children, which he had eventually declared was the oldest and most boring and irrelevant question about the play. She gazed about the room, if not for inspiration then to distract herself from the lingering unresolved question, at the mock-leather suite with arms like sculptures of Swiss rolls, the actual leather lending distinction to some of the books that her mother had bound, the television squatting over the videorecorder next to a pair of shelves overflowing with her music tapes recorded from television. ... Then she leaned over to grab from the arm of the sofa the handset that controlled all the audio and video equipment, and would have turned the music low if the track hadn't commenced its sixty-second fade, which allowed her to be certain that she was hearing a knock at the door. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Nazareth Hill by Ramsey Campbell. Copyright © 1997 Ramsey Campbell. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.