TO FIND AN OCEAN.
It was in the first week of a grey October as the ochred mantle of summer closed disconsolately about the meagre diet of choked decrepitude which typified seasonal decline that William Fairlight, filed the report, a fillet of documents erratically compiled from a series of accounts taken by the members of three small coastal communities near Hastings, a dossier which had, through some collusion of circumstance, earned itself the distinction of meriting public concern, finding space in a number of regional gazettes and broadsheet magazines.
The report was delivered on the fourth of the month, bound discretely in a manilla envelope, it’s content detailed with a selection of photographs and a series of short treatises which served in their description, an offering duly forwarded for research to the local police as is the custom in such instances, and, within time the pamphlet found itself subject to investigative attention, it’s catalogue splayed wide in a disordered fashion upon a large desk in the ventilated calm of the district constabulary, a patchwork of pictures and anecdotal tracts, loosely arranged for cursory perusal by the company of clerks assigned to such matters.
Sarjeant Johnson, a young officer recently recruited to the force, sat quietly in an elaborately sprung chair facing Fairlight poring over the sheaf of documentation presented before him.
“What appears to be the problem?” he muttered in a pre-occupied manner, glancing up momentarily to appraise his companion’s demeanour.
Fairlight nervously knitted his knuckles together in an aspect of indecisive explication before affording response, “there has been an incident”, he replied tentatively, “a disaster at the oil refinery”.
“What do you mean?” Continued Johnson softening his manner.
“There has been a leak”, said Fairlight reaching forth to extract a number of photographs from the desk, “look at these”.
Johnson bent forward to study the offering, a selection of prints depicting animal carcasses in various states of decomposition, some avian, some rodentine, others canine and feline, all distinct in their fashion yet strangely mis-shappen as though, despite decrepitude, the corpses had succumbed to the artistry of other inspiration, a manner of asymmetry seldom apparent in nature it’s whim turned wry about the mercury of mischance.
“Good grief”, whimpered Johnson stifling his gorge, “What happened here?”
“There is a marsh near the refinery, an expanse of land which extends for some miles about it’s circumference, a treacherous domain practically devoid of life”, replied Fairlight distractedly, “the factory proposed to reclaim land about it’s bounds, such territory being of estimable value when secure”, he paused “We collected these specimen from it’s Eastern extreme, not far from human habitation some weeks ago. The manner in which they were disfigured caused something of a sensation amongst the men of the region, raising doubts which led forth towards further enquiry”.
“Doubts you say”, murmured Johnson furrowing his brow.
“Conspiracy theories”, replied Fairlight matter of factly, “there were indivuals who thought that the propositions which the plant had put forward were nothing more than schemes pronounced to craft groundless confidence, mature men who had lived some years about the site without ever suffering hardship”, he paused, “people wanted to know what had caused such abberation. The refinery was the most obvious culprit”..
“And you wish the police to investigate the affair”, said Johnson apprehensively.
“People panic”, replied Fairlight with an explanatory gesture, “The merest scent of intrigue inspiring men towards all manner of bizarre conjecture. Reporting the incident seemed the wisest course of action, a clarification of submerged sentiment”.
“Mmmm”, murmured Johnson tentatively stroking his lapel, “jumpy”, he added extracting a pen and bending down to take a note.
“A number of weeks ago a contingent of men including myself, picketed the refinery to address the incident”, continued Fairlight shrugging his shoulders pathetically, “we waited at the gates for more than five hours in the hope of eliciting some form of reaction from it’s staff, but our efforts were in vain, the demonstration was abandoned not long after having been convened without confronting the issue which it had proposed to resolve”. he paused momentarily squinting recollection, “we attempted to gain access through to the rear of the plant in the early hours of evening, tracing passage out across it’s leeward flank but the premise had been sealed against trespass with chain link fencing and reels of barbed wire, barracked as though vacated and left derelict by it’s occupancy”.
“Left derelict “, intoned Johnson casting his companion a quizzical glance.
“There was no-one present there”. replied Fairlight simplistically, “the plant was clearly operational, it’s lights glaring forth in garish profusion against the dull margin of the surrounding marshland but not a soul passed either to or from the building’s precinct throughout the duration of our vigil. To all intents and purposes the plot appeared entirely unmanned”.
“Strange”, murmured Johnson non-commitally.
Fairlight frowned furrowing his brow, “shortly after this soujourne we attempted to contact the plant’s administrative bureau, an ex-directory number, difficult to obtain through conventional means”.
“And”, said Johnson glancing up enquiringly.
“The switchboard informed us that the dialling code did not exist,” grunted Fairlight his voice betraying a note of disdain, “There was a government department devoted to the refinery’s affairs, a solicitor’s office in Whitehall, but no means of establishing direct contact with the plant itself”.
“So you came to us”, said Johnson smiling weakly.
“There was no other alternative”, replied Fairlight agitatedly directing the Sarjeant’s attention back towards the sheaf of documents that lay dishevelled upon the desk, “the mutilation depicted in these photographs occurred in the vicinity of human habitation, any risk of contamination must be confronted and resolved”.
“Quite so”, murmured Johnson quietly, “I will arrange an investigation post-haste”.
Fairlight departed shortly afterwards leaving the portfolio and it’s grisly catalogue to the attentions of the police, a deposit which, amidst the whispered intrigues of morbid notice that such things may inspire, earned something of a reputation about the station precinct, and, in due time, an expedition was mounted out towards the plant, a detatchment of three men, Wilkins, Smith and Brown, consigned by Sarjeant Johnson to address the concerns raised over the situation there.
The old coastal road out towards the plant was a primitive affair, a thin skein of land ravaged at one side by the incessant immediacy of a tumultuous tide, a route which extended for some distance between the open ocean and the closed circuit of a light railway, it’s length strewn indecorously with detritus washed in from the excrable encroachment of a nebulous sea, swollen femurs of wood perforated by micro-cosms of nematodal infestation, shanks of seaweed emulsified by wind blown tirades, carrion gleaming vulcanised from pillaged shells, crabs mercuried with guano, splintered whelks, a horde of flotsam trawled indiscriminately and reluctantly towards land from every of quarter of the earth, it’s bulk left to fume amidst motes of decay upon the slick veneer of any construct placed in it’s path.
The three men alit at the gates of the refinery in the early hours of evening, parking their vehicle on a small spit of land reclaimed from the tide with a phalanx of plinths, and, failing to detect signs of occupation, proceeded forth towards the factory unnanounced.
Light shone down with municipal brilliance from the matrix of windows which glazed the building’s seaward aspect as the party slowly patrolled the structure’s outer court, an exhibition punctuated by the resonance of machinery running through the meter of a profound refrain from some point deep within it’s hull, but, despite presenting an apparency of mechanical pristinity, the site appeared to have been absented by it’s retinue, it’s doors buttressed against trespass as though in expectation of siege.
After some minutes of confounded speculation the group decided to make contact with their company back at the constabulary, tuning the shortwave radios with which they were equipped and priming them for broadcast in a perfunctory manner, however, upon attempting to forge rapport, the party noted that communication proved impossible, the transmission code being garbled with electro-static interference.
“Damn”, muttered Wilkins frustratedly drumming his fingers against the dial of his transistor, “the intercoms have run dead”.
“It happens sometimes”, said Smith shrugging loosely before adding, “the weather is turning in. Do you think we should head back?”
“No”, replied Wilkins, “we came out here to perform an investigation, to return now would be a concession to defeat”.
“The refinery is locked up tighter than a fortress,” said Smith apprehensively, “how do you propose that we proceed?”
“There are some crow-bars and wire cutters in the boot of the vehicle”, answered Wilkins summarily, “If the plant refuses to relinquish it’s secrets voluntarily then I suggest that we force entry”.
Brown remained silent throughout the course of this exchange, his attention devoted to the trellis of glazed panes which glowered audaciously down upon the beach from the refinery’s upper berth.
Within time the group found themselves at the factory’s main doorway, a massive structure sentried by a collonade of sheer concrete pillars designed to withstand coastal barrage, and, brandishing a selection of heavy implements, proceeded to prize it’s great frame apart, removing the skirting which gilded it’s flank and slipping it’s catch from rust bitten repose.
The air inside the building was peculiarly warm, a dry wind blown up from the exhalation of some internal shaft, a steady current tainted with the scent of petroleum and detergent, a perfume which saturated the vast entrance hall like an etheric veil imbuing it’s central concourse with an aseptic veneer.
“Geez”, muttered Wilkins upon stepping across the hall’s threshold, “whoever made this place thought big”.
“We should leave”, remarked Smith suddenly unnerved by the party’s incongruity amongst the giant vertices of the structure’s keep, “such places are better left undefiled”.
“Mmmm”, grunted Wilkins non-comittally, “maybe you are right.”
Brown stood in the doorway as the two conversed, allowing a hammer to swing loosely by his side, “To vacate the premise now would be madness”, he said casually buckling the instrument to his belt, “whatever else may happen, our intrusion demands explanation, we can’t just abscond without presenting a report”.
Wilkins stood momentarily in mute appraisal before eliciting a response,”This place is enormous. We could spend the entire night tracing it’s corridors without encountering a soul”.
“They must keep records somewhere about the building’s precinct”, mused Smith glancing up at his companion, “perhaps if we could locate the administrative department then it would be possible to salvage something from it’s store”.
“Difficult to find without a ground plan”, muttered Brown casting Smith a wry glance.
“Perhaps”, replied Smith, “however generally such things are held seperate from the practicalities of industry, I suggest that we try the second floor”.
After some minutes of hectored indecision, the group succeeded in locating the refinery’s office complex, a large room divided cleanly into regular aisles by rows of khaki filing cabinets, it’s utterermost quadrant devoted to a collection of film reels and magnetic video tapes, a resource clearly used in correspondence with the mechanisms of an archaic spooling system which could be heard persisting obstinately through reluctant cycles at the chamber’s other end.
“So where do we begin?” Said Wilkins cursorily scanning the room.
“Presuming these cabinets are arranged in alphabetical order. I suppose it would be expedient to search through their catalogue for references to contamination”. replied Smith, casually opening a drawer to inspect it’s contents.
“Very well”, answered Wilkins sidlling over to a neighbouring bureau and pulling it ajar, an exhumation which Brown duly assisted, prizing open a third cabinet further down the aisle.
The receptacles where lined in an orderly fashion with rigid paper folders, their inventory stacked together in an officious manner which betokened frequent reference, however upon closer inspection, the party discovered that the files were quite empty, their outwards apparel simply serving to disguise a want of greater substance.
“Marvellous”, cried Smith forcibly throwing a clutch of blank folders upon the ground, “dressed up like a library but devoid of information. What breed of eccentricity, would fill a room with pulp but leave nothing on it?” He paused briefly to reclaim the discarded paper from the floor, “Everything about this place reeks of intrigue, we should never have ventured forth amongst it’s horde. I suggest that we leave and return tomorrow, stalking shadows has it’s perks but unlawful trespass is a premise better left to crime”.
“Not yet”, replied Wilkins, “I want to perform a thorough investigation of the property before we leave. There are generators running in the building’s basement, machines that, in requiring maintenance, are almost certainly manned. If we can locate the refinery’s engine hall then we may yet encounter a technician who can offer us assistance”.
The group descended slowly into the factory’s basement, navigating passage through the many dust blown chambers and vaccuous arcades which stood resisting dereliction about it’s girth, rooms adorned in blithe profusion with the abandoned remnants of heavy vinyl clothing and the withered visage of discarded face masks, vestment that had clearly been used at some point in time to protect the plant’s workforce from the many chemicals which passed through it’s halls.
The atmosphere thickened perceptibly as the men approached the engine room, betraying a humidity of acrid intensity, a foetor which, over a passage of time, had succeeded in scarifying the veneer of every cultural affectation placed beneath it’s aegis, discolouring chipboard, warping linoleum, blackening the scant vestiges of flock decoration which hung loosely from the walls, an effect that, for some unfathomable reason reminded the men of a history gone to seed, it’s incident consumed by the encroachment of decay, a Leningrad of half remembered aesthetics subsumed beneath the tide of subsequent event, a concrete garden heamorraged and scuffed by the wanton muse of a perishable ideal.
Before long the party located the generator hall, a vast catacomb dominated by a line of four giant turbines, centrifuges which, despite their great size, span effortlessly about the revolutions of a combined motion, an arrangement which sang mesmerically through a repeated motif as it persisted through it’s cycle, fluctuating easily between two sonorous tones in a symphony of profound and beautiful extraction.
The temperature dropped suddenly as the men entered the hall, running inexplicably from a dry warmth to an arctic chill, a climate change exemplified by the formation of ice crystals about the chamber’s walls, a glittering frost of flawless pristinity.
“Grief it’s cold”, exclaimed Brown pulling his collar up about his shoulders, “there must be some form of refrigeration system attached to those machines”.
“There is a control room at the far end of the hall,” replied Wilkins casting a cursory glance across the chamber, “any technical staff would be sheltered there away from the chill”.
“I don’t like it”, muttered Smith, “these engines must be producing a fair amount of energy, meddling around in their proximity might be dangerous”
“Faint heart never won fair lady”, mused Wilkins plumping his jacket and grimly proceeding forth into the chamber.
Brown chuckled privately as though teased by the thought before adding “I have never met a woman who deserved that distinction”.
The party accessed the control room, a dimly lit corridor ribbed thickly with cast iron pipes and an array of sealed pressure gauges, analogues which danced frenetically and unattended about their radii like insects baited towards swarm, yet, as before, they failed to expose any sign of occupation, the refinery’s population evading their attentions with singular detatchment.
After some moments of futile debate the group proceeded forth along a co-joining passageway that led circuitously out towards a wider conduit some distance from the turbines, an annex which extended in darkness for a number of yards before being apprehended by the intersection of a second chamber.
Presently the group found themselves in a cavernous room buttressed heavily with plates of re-inforced concrete, a subterranean chamber which had, as a result of it’s locale, partially succumbed to the cares of erosion being saturated with a thin layer of fluid, seepage decanted over a course of some time through the strata of the surrounding rock.
A narrow observation window thickly shielded with laminate glass glowered dimly from the chamber’s far end, it’s face shrouded with a heavy metal visor held rigidly adjunct as though to withstand pressure exerted from beyond, a portal that, despite the darkness in which the party were entrenched, cast a faint light against the room’s internal aspect granting the men insight into it’s interior.
“There is no-one here”, said Wilkins finally resigning himself to failure, “we should have left hours ago”.
“Strange site”, mused Smith casting a glance up at his companion.
“Yeah”, muttered Brown wryly before adding, “I would not want to become lost in a place like this on a dark night”.
After some moments of cursory conjecture the party decided to examine the window at the room’s far end, raising it’s visor in efforts to deduce what it was that the plant’s staff were so keen to observe.
The aperture granted audience into a large domed chamber, a mosque shaped structure cobbled with a network of dull green bricks, a pavement divided regularly by a series of pits entrenched deeply into it’s surface, these holes playing receptacle to a number of open metal canisters within which were situated quantities of brilliant white fluid, reservoirs that, despite their physical constitution, seemed capable of emitting an intense incandescence, casting haloes of light through vaporous spectrums against the many vertices of the room’s interior. A display umbra’d through the feint of an artificial shade, a collage of occlusion and visceral abstraction which appeared to be generated by the light itself.
A peculiarly profound melody appeared to emanate from the receptacles, as the group stood watching, a jubilant ascendant interspersed with bursts of staccato as though preternaturally extinguished by it’s own tirade, a sound which the party had noticed some distance from the chamber’s bounds, boiling through the wind upon the coast road and more clearly during their excursion amongst the factory’s precinct, an exultant scale ruptured with the sizzle of applause.
Upon closer inspection the harmony seemed to affect the radiance of the matter contained within the canisters pulsing perceptibly through a rhythmic correpondence which inflamed their light with the passage of each cycle before dampening it’s fervor with a smoldering rasp, a choreography of unearthly precision wrought about the axis of a predictable scheme, a pattern which repeated through an inevitable cycle seizing benighted zenith before returning back upon it’s muse.
A number of thin rods hung shivering suspense from the ceiling above each drum, their movement betraying an almost imperceptible sympathy with the substance over which they presided, the length of each pole being minutely bevelled with a series of grooves, notches that had become caked with residue as though neglected for some time.
“Hazardous waste”, exclaimed Wilkins narrowing his gaze, “I think we may have found our culprit”.
“What do you mean?” Replied Smith uncertainly.
“I have seen containment drums like these before”, answered Wilkins summarily , “There was an occurrence not many years ago in Cumbria, an incident regarding the disposal of waste upon public land. The contaminant was believed to have leaked from a consignment of metal canisters, vessels not dissimilar to these”.
“You think that the same thing could have happened here?” Mused Brown.
“It is not beyond the realms of possibility”, replied Wilkins.
As the three stood conversing upon the issue, the light cast forth from the aperture subtly altered it’s hue, running through a spectrum of fluid exchanges before turning a benighted crimson, a shift which appeared to affect everything in the chamber in equal measure, casting a shadow of such immediate profundity that it appeared printed implacably upon the fabric of space, a darkness that paradoxically exposed it’s compliment, revealing it’s horde in blood red negative.
Wilkins glanced over at his companions as the change reaped purchase, observing their figures distorted in the light, their features hollowed out and molded afresh from the dessicated spittle of some internal process, a vivid exposure of grotesque pedigree that appeared to mock flesh with it’s whim, a subtle transition which seemed to endow them with a fertive transparency of bestial extraction, a mirror of the soul, however as the shift acceded purchase so it’s thrall waned, restoring the room and it’s occupants back amongst the order to which they were beholden.
“Woah”, cried the policeman stumbling forth against a wall to regain his balance.
“What’s the matter?” enquired Brown reaching out to offer assistance.
“I thought…” Wilkins hesitated his voice betraying a note of fear, “I thought that I had seen something.
“It’s those damned lights,” replied Brown steadying his colleague before adding, “we should leave. This place is a carnival of death”.
After some moments of fevered indecision the group decided to depart, however, as they turned to vacate the chamber, the darkness returned, consuming the fabric of it’s walls with a liquid rapacity that belied appreciation.
The ground of the chamber appeared to open as the party stood apprehensively observing it’s expanse, splitting into gulleys of volcanic voracity with an obsessive appetite, a seizure that, amidst forks of electrical discharge and scabrous turmoil, seemed, to divide the earth in two, reducing it’s substance to a mire of asphalt and the iridescent gleam of detrital tar, an abyss which rose inexorably heavenward forming the jaw of a a coal black horizon against the ruddy ambience of a perpetual dawn, a slurry which, as if bearing testament to it’s own conception, began writhing with the evidence of primeval life, turning through furrows of a living pedigree like infested cess.
As the three men huddled motionless in dread anticipation, their minds racing with a combination of awe and fear, a figure approached, rising laboriously from the throng so recently exhumed from the clutches of repose, it’s advance encumbered as though physically worn through by the weight of the effluent beneath which it had once languished.
“What the hell is happening?” whined Wilkins glancing across at his companions, his voice betraying a note of fear.
“Madness!” Exclaimed Smith shielding his eyes, “The world has gone insane”.
Brown remained silent gazing out across the plain as though mesmerised by it’s spectacle.
The figure drew closer ambling shambolically through the mire, it’s progress impeded by the rifts of clotted earth and the writhe of it’s contemporaries rising from the mud.
“There is someone approaching”, said Wilkins, nervously observing the advance.
“What?” replied Smith bemused.
“A man”, repeated Wilkins maniacally, “there is a man advancing towards us”.
Brown looked up, inspecting the horizon, “that is no man”. he muttered squinting apprehensively out across the field.
“What do you mean?” murmured Wilkins nervously .
“That is no man”. repeated Brown pausing to check his observation, “it is a horse”.
“Surely not”, cried Wilkins incredulously.
“It is a horse I tell you. Look at the size of the jaw”, insisted Brown, “it has no correspondence in human anatomy”.
“No”, replied Wilkins affecting a gesture of futile assurance, “It is standing upright, it is a man”
The figure made slow headway through the starved wilderness, awkwardly measuring pace, and, before long, drew into the proximity of the three beleagured men, circling them in an apprehensive manner before proffering forth an emaciated limb in a gesture of reception.
“PLEASE COME IN”, it announced in a gutteral tone, “WE HAVE BEEN EXPECTING YOU”. .