Thursday, 1 November 2018

In the Margins (1993)

This story is very 'Fortean' in theme. When I was young I distinctly remember being on holiday in an English seaside resort (I think it was Poole or Weymouth) and seeing large clumps of grass raining from a clear sky. The clumps fell very gently, almost like parachutes. Since that time I have believed without question that rains of frogs, fishes and other peculiar objects are perfectly possible. 'In the Margins' was published in a magazine in the late 1990s and also appears in my Tallest Stories book.

At the bottom of our garden lies a pond, ringed by gnarled and ugly trees, and at the bottom of the pond lies a cottage. The waters swirl around the crumbling stones in little spirals, foaming over the ruined chimney as if reluctant to press in too close. In the troubled mirror of this pond, the cottage stands tangled in the reflection of the trees, netted in their twisted branches as if it had been lodged there by an unnatural gust of wind.
How the cottage came to reside under the waters of our pond remains a mystery. Is there any truth in the assertion that a witch caused it to subside by slow degrees for arcane and unfathomable reasons? And if so, who was this witch? There are no records to shed any light on the matter; there is only conjecture and speculation. I, for one, prefer this ingenuous explanation to those suggested by the more prosaic members of our community. I refuse to accept that it was built there, in its present location, as some sort of liquid joke.
Not that this would have presented any problems to the patient trickster. The pond could have been drained easily enough, the cottage constructed and then the water pumped back in. But the sheer obscurity of the joke causes me to frown and make many a harsh grimace when I consider this option.
Instead, I often languish by the side of the pond, peering down into the depths, and repeat the word "subsidence" as if it were a mantra. A slow subsidence, as slow as the growth of a dead man's fingernails or the twisted trees themselves, would have sufficed to preserve the cottage intact in its descent. No beams would have been shaken loose, no thread of thatch unravelled. They rot now, it is true, but such decay is quite a different matter.
One evening, taking some kittens to the side of the pond, to save them from the knife of my brother, I witnessed a peculiar and disturbing sight. No sooner had I tied the little weights around their necks and dropped them one by one, like depth-charges, into the glinting water, than an unusual commotion began far below.
I am not a superstitious being by nature, but my senses are keen, and so, not wishing to waste an opportunity to initiate gossip, I threw myself to the ground and, ducking my head into the icy water, strained my eyes to discern the origin of the turbulence.
A second later, I regretted my decision. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I perceived a tiny man standing at the door of the cottage. He was holding a large net on the end of a pole. Such nets were familiar to me: I had spent many happy hours on the moors with an identical net, collecting moon-moths to be ground into powder in the apothecary's shop. I had developed a certain skill in utilising my net; a skill not shared by my aquatic counterpart far below.
Gasping and wheezing, he aimed the net at the kittens that floated down past him. His frantic motions were the source of the disturbance. He utterly failed in catching a single specimen. The kittens struck the bottom of the pond and disappeared into the sinuous weeds. Bubbles erupted from each mossy collision. The tiny man shook his fists and snapped the pole of the net over his knee. Then he threw the pieces away and pulled his hair in a parody of rage. The pieces floated up towards me and broke the surface tension of the pond inches from my face.
While I was questioning my sanity, and just a moment before I could bear the noxious waters no longer, the angry homunculus chanced to gaze high above and spotted me looking down. The expression on his face must have mirrored my own. We were both paralysed with astonishment. For long moments, our eyes were meshed together by fibres of emotion impossible to understand. And then he darted back into his cottage and returned with an equally tiny woman. I assumed that she was his wife. He pointed up at the sky and together they gaped at me.
Panting, I pulled my head out of the pond and took a long deep gulp of air. I resisted the temptation to take another look at the submerged cottage. I had decided that I was suffering from a form of madness or delirium. I resolved to forget the experience and make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. I left the pond and made my way slowly back up the garden-path to my house.
Yet as I walked, I started wondering again about the peculiar sight I had just witnessed. Supposing that I was not mad? Supposing that the phenomena had been real? I had heard many stories about falls of strange objects from the sky. There had been reports of fish, ice, betel nuts, coins, worms, eels, snails, snakes and frogs. This last item on the list made me shudder. I repressed this shudder and stroked my chin. Such objects were supposed to orbit the world in an eldritch region in the sky before falling. A region that lay in the margins of reality.
If this was true, then it was possible that I was living in such a twilight realm myself and had been the cause of a strange shower in another world. The tiny man had obviously been trying to collect one of the falling kittens as proof of his bizarre experience. Probably he would have as much difficulty convincing his neighbours and friends of my existence as I would have convincing my own neighbours and friends of his. I decided to say nothing and to resume my mundane life without ever mentioning even the submerged cottage again.
As I approached the door of my house, I heard a thud behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw the body of a tiny man slumped in the bushes. I thought at first that my diminutive neighbour had tried to follow me and had drowned in the air. But then another body fell into another clump of bushes and I looked up. The sky was full of little men sliding through the atmosphere with weights tied to their feet. And higher still, to my complete amazement, the face of an enormous kitten gazed down at me with eyes the size of seas.
My first reaction was to rush into my house and return with my wife, so that there would be at least one other witness to this miracle. However, it occurred to me that if I could simply catch one of the tiny men alive it would be evidence enough. I had no nets, but I could use the old-fashioned method. I had a sudden ludicrous image of a host of different dimensions impinging on each other, kittens hurling down men, men hurling down snakes, snakes hurling down frogs and frogs hurling down kittens...
I called out to my wife and then opened my mouth wider. My long sticky tongue snatched the little men from the air before they hit the ground and I stacked them in a little pile by my side. Naturally I swallowed a few. Life in the margins of reality does seem to have its advantages. It is not every day that guests just drop in for dinner.