Ten Honestly Strange and mostly ghostly tales by D F Lewis and Gordon Lewis
The Eyes Have It A Trick of Dusk Pipe Dreams Only Connect Heavenly Contract Horn of Plenty Betting on Heaven A Touch of a Switch Away The Boots He Bore Needless To Say
The Eyes Have It: “I sat bolt upright in bed, my body covered in a lather of sweat and every nerve of my being screaming as I sobbed for breath. So real had been my dream, I reached up, desperately searching for the pendant light switch to see if it was just perspiration that was making my body so wet and sticky. I even thought I could smell blood...blood that had found outlets from the slashing knife of the raving maniac who attacked me. Seeming so real, I even felt the pain of the stabbing blade.”
Twenty years before, Bobbie had witnessed a murder and his evidence had resulted in the killer being sentenced to life imprisonment. But now the killer is free and remembering his threats Bobby is suffering from recurring nightmares and welcomes the invitation to visit his childhood friend Mitchell.
With snow covering the countryside, sitting by the fire with his friend, Bobbie has begun to doze and dream of childhood days in similar rooms when a sudden noise from the empty house next door wakes him. Mitchell decides they have to investigate.
I found this one thoroughly enjoyable. A little like a short John Buchan adventure with a chill, I got entirely wrapped-up in it and it was one of those rare stories I didn’t want to end.
Only Connect is a book showing different kinds of connections. Lines in the stories are often titles of other stories in the book. A library described in one story might be the same – even to the books on the shelves – as the library in another. It also demonstrates the connection between two writers, father and son. It’s difficult not to speculate on who influenced who.
Typically – and unsurprisingly, if you’ve read a few of Des’ Lewis’s stories - these stories seem more intent on creating and exploring mysteries rather than providing any easy answers. The love of words, invention and the creation of weird atmosphere and the mysteries within them, must be common to both writers. These are very personal and intense explorations, and I have the feeling that – while I’m enjoying reading them – I think these stories are better read in small doses rather than one after another.
Only Connect: “There was a problem in the house called ‘Silver Birches.’ Nobody apparently knew the true nature of the problem – but the atmosphere was growing heavier as darkness drew in with winter’s punctilious timing.”
The house in this story should probably take its place beside Hill House and Cold Comfort Farm as one of the most ramshackle and untrustworthy buildings in literature. In different rooms the members of the family are intent upon their own business, while old Albert digs a mysterious trench in the garden. June Douglas sits in the library shuffling the unpaid bills, wondering if her explorer husband will ever return.
As June worries over the bills she notices that the beautiful desk she is seated at – and possibly will have to sell – has a secret compartment, and something is inside. Mystery leads to mystery in this story, and if the house is a hybrid of monstrous architecture, then the plot contains elements of Evelyn Waugh’s genteel comedy touched with a hint of Vivian Stanshall’s Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.
Usually I start with the shortest story in a collection as a way of feeling my way into it. The shortest in this book was Horn of Plenty. Basset is to meet his estranged father who left home before Basset was born. His mother doesn’t want to renew acquaintance with her husband but thinks it a good idea that Basset should meet him: “A man and his son had a right to connect this side of death. How else would they recognise each other later?”
So she makes her son a packed lunch (I loved the description of “Marmite butties, flaky pastry apple pie and extra strong peppermints”) and wrapped up warm in his duffle-coat he sets off for his appointment at the library.
In his imagination, Basset has quite a clear picture of what his father will be like now; but the man waiting for him at the library is not at all what he expected.
The narrator of Trick of Dusk is strolling in a part of the country new to him and is intrigued to find his own initials carved in an ancient lych-gate. Further on he finds a mansion where he’s disturbed to see some strange shapes climbing around its roofs and vanishing in through a window. The rather sinister owners of the house bear his family name and he becomes disturbed when he finds that he’s been locked in his room overnight.
Inevitably the story explores increasingly strange surroundings and situations and finally seems to be exploring ideas of duality - and finally a psychic rebirth? (which sounds incredibly pretentious, though I’m convinced that the authors were simply enjoying the pleasure of their combined storytelling) leaving the reader with a pleasing sense of mystery, wondering just who has emerged at the end. Or not as the case may be...
There are more stories to be synopsised yet, but this one is already overdue. A while back I saw a larger cover advertising this book on one of Des Lewis's blogs, but it proved elusive tonight, and I finally got this cover from his eBay page, which the picture is linked to.
These stories have a rather lovely timelocked feel, recalling an age when Boots had its own lending library and duffle coats were (almost) fashionable. A number of scenic descriptions have a dreamlike quality, like the postbox in A Trick of Dusk, especially when the narrator imagines it in his garden with plants growing out of it.
It won't be possible and at times won't be appropriate to replicate threads entirely from the old Vault, but I'll add this quote from Des':
For any interested, here is another story collaboration between me and my Dad entitled 'Harvest Home' which I have posted here: newdfl.bloghorn.com/153 This was originally published in ENIGMATIC TALES in 2000.
If anyone reading this on this site is interested in buying a cheap copy of the paperback 'ONLY CONNECT', they are welcome to contact me direct.
I'm glad that you linked this story, Des'. It's beautifully written, and I think it works well. A love story, with some inevitable shadowy moments.
When I read this passage, I was reminded strongly of Mark Samuels' writing, particularly his Glyphotech engineers:
I still managed to sense sidelong, sloppy shapes and figures going in and out of focus as they seemed to follow me about on the vertiginous deck, caused by the surge of those ever present cross currents beneath what appeared to be an unusual English Channel millpond and most real passengers were above deck, in the fresh air. I tried to shrug off my paranoia about my pursuers.
I mean they seem to share an under-the-surface paranoia, a feeling, not anything specific. There's also a feeling I have that the narrator of Harvest Time and those in some stories in Only Connect find the world an alien place, not quite sure how they fit into it. Unless that's just my projection...
Philip Dick would probably have been interested in some of the dream sequences, which - quite rightly, I think - seem to have as much signifigance as objective reality - the nightmare organist is another instance. This subjective-objective reality thing is a delicate balance to strike in a story.
At the end there are just enough strands left loose to leave a reader with a sense of future. I was uncertain whether the man in the wheelchair was part of the narrator's dreaming, an analogy for the condition that has crippled him, or something else entirely. I'll have to look at it again when I feel less dozy (up at 5:30 this morning for the first shift). There are occasional lapses in continuity, but I don't think they harm the story. In the end I felt that the story was about the narrator's relationship to himself and the romance angle seems to be analagous to that. I think it's quite strange that dream symbolism finds its way into these collaborated stories - it would seem less likely that would happen with two writers exchanging ideas. I'm really quite envious of these collaborations written with your dad, for reasons which I won't bore you with. Anyway, like I said, I'm glad that you shared this one with us.