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You might just scroll past it the first few times, but eventually it will catch your eye, on Instagram or on Facebook or on Twitter. An advert which piques your curiosity for the weird and the eerie, an advert which tells you that a haunted house in your area is open for exclusive private viewing to those brave and bold enough to explore it.
There will only be a dozen people who see that advert. Of those, eight will click on it and read the details. Of those, four will go and visit the house. Of those, none will come back.
Don’t think it’s only influencers and political campaigners who have worked out the power of social media. Spiders spin their webs and they catch their flies, and after an awkward and dispiriting time spent hanging upside down wrapped up in silk, the flies get eaten.
Scroll on. Clickety-click.
Notes From the Cartographer
Hello everyone. How is April already? I think while we are sleeping, someone is stealing days.
‘Scientists Talked To People In Their Dreams. They Answered’ is another intriguing headline into a story which opens:
“Researchers say two-way communication is possible with people who are asleep and dreaming. Specifically, with people who are lucid dreaming — that is, dreaming while being aware you're dreaming.”
I’ve long been fascinated by fiction which takes the dreamworld as a jumping off point into an exploration of…the other.
I’m partway through a BBC radio drama which starts (no spoilers, this is the first scene) with a man recounting how when he was a schoolboy, he woke up, got ready for school, then as he walked out of the house a moped backfired and he found himself waking up in bed, having dreamt it all. So he got up and got ready, left the house, walked to the bus stop and caught the bus to school, but its brakes hissed loudly which shocked him, and he found himself waking up in bed, having dreamt this dream, in which he had dreamt himself dreaming the previous dream. So he gets up, and gets ready for school and…well, a couple of further iterations, but the scene ends in quite a reflective way, in his life now as an adult, still scared years on that any point he might just wake up…
Terrific. (oh, and the ending of Inception is really clear: the top stops spinning, falls over, he wakes up and finds out that he was Bobby Ewing and the entire film was Pam’s dream. One for the 50s and up, that).
Some of you will have listened to the first season of the Maps of the Lost podcast, which took some of the stories that I’ve told over the years and turned them into single-narrator audio drama versions of 8-10 minutes. I put out 20 episodes, but then needed to take a break for a while: it’s amazing how time consuming even such a small project can be.
But now it’s back: first episode comes out at midnight (UK time) on Sunday, bitesize Maps of the Lost episodes for your aural pleasure (and with a better mic now), so if you want to hear it you can subscribe on the link above or just search for Maps of the Lost on whatever you use to listen to podcasts.
If you like it (or enjoyed the first series) I’d really appreciate you giving it a rating and even better leaving a one or two line review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you hear it. If you can spread the word elsewhere on social media or in appropriate forums I’d be very grateful to: if I get the audience numbers up a little, it’s going to make it worth continuing with. And there is some non-Maps audio drama to come later this year too: a bigger novel-sized project telling the story of a conman and rogue who earns his living duping people who think they need an exorcist, until he has a very big surprise - well, more on that, later.
If browsing charity shops, you might come across a small wooden box, about the size of a small hand. It’s made of a light-coloured wood, well kept but unremarkable, apart from there being no sign of any way to open it.
“I think it’s a puzzle box,” the woman on the till says when you buy it. “Put people off when they couldn’t work out how to open it. You probably have to press here, and pull there, or something. Do you need a bag, love?”
Every so often at home you pick up the box, turn it round in your hands, press here, pull there, but you’ve never found out the trick of opening it.
Which is a shame, because if you ever could, you would free the soul that’s been trapped inside it for three hundred and twenty-two years.
You may be out walking in the Cheviots, and find the weather closing in. No matter how sensible your footwear, and how good your navigation skills, you will lose the path and your way, and your compass just spins in lazy, drunken circles. You’re cold and you’re wet and you’re tired, and the fog steals in on you and you lose all sense of direction.
Then you see it: a faint yellow light ahead, up on the side of a hill where no light should be. You head for it, over boggy ground that tries to pull your feet into the earth, and out of the fog you see faint outlines and as you get closer the outlines make shapes and then then shapes make a small, stone bothy. Grateful for its shelter and the promise of that warm yellow light, you push your way through the heavy wooden door.
A fire crackles and you feel its welcome heat on your cold face, and flickering candles make everything look golden and comforting. Two older men dressed in outdoors gear sit on either side of a rough table, playing a complicated game of cards. They welcome you with kind smiles, and pour you a drink of tea from a flask, and you exchange pleasantries about the weather and how it is not to be trusted at any time of year. You join them at the table, and drink your tea, and after a while they cut you into the card game and teach you how it is played. They have broken a chocolate bar into tiny pieces, and slide a third of them your way so you can bet on each hand too.
The two men become more and more intent on the game, wincing when they lose a hand and grinning wild grins when they win one, and you are glad that the only stakes are chocolate, not money, because your little pile is dwindling.
But, alas, that is not the game. You lost the game the moment you walked into the bothy that appears on no maps and will not be there when the fog lifts. The two men are playing for your soul, and the only matter left to be decided is who gets to eat it.
Maps Traced By Other Hands
I’m sure it’s not just me who reads the headline ‘Life found beneath Antarctic ice sheet that shouldn’t be there’ and just feels a shiver for a moment.
If you’re reading this newsletter you’ll definitely find things to like in Horrified magazine, a British online publication which celebrates British horror, and which aims to ‘champion all facets of horror genre output from the British Isles, from micro-budget independent British horror films to the mainstream horror sending shockwaves across the globe, and from the self-published author looking for an audience to the renowned British horror author’s latest release.’
I think they really deliver on this, take a really diverse approach, and although I enjoy the reviews, I particularly like the articles that take a dive into a subject area and explore it - almost always interesting and thought provoking. You can find them on Twitter, too.
The Ooser Speaks
(taken from the wonderful Readers Digest 'Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain')
Stepping stones across the Ribble river near Brungerley in Lancashire mark the haunt of Jenny Greenteeth. Once every seven years, she will come up from the swaying green plants of the river and snatch an unwary traveller, dragging them to an early grave.
you are one and he is many
As you walk through the centre of Wolverhampton, away from the train station, you may notice a scruffy man standing outside a pub, having a cigarette. Don’t look too close, but be aware of him. Because a little further along, you will notice another scruffy man standing outside a pub, having a cigarette, and you will realise that it is the same man, although he never passed you. A little further on, a third pub, the same man. Don’t look too closely this time either, because if you do he will come and walk with you.
Secrets The Wind Whispers
I’ve enjoyed listening to the first series of the podcast drama Old Gods of Appalachia, which pretty much delivers on the promise of its title.
The script’s really well written, and the narration is excellent, but what’s impressed me most other than the way it’s so well rooted in place, is that despite being unnerving, scary and at times horrific, there’s a streak of empathy and compassion that runs right through the storytelling.
If you were intrigued by the drama I mentioned earlier which opened with the series of recursive dreams, it’s London Particular (named after the soup which is named after the famous fogs…or is it the other way round?). I think it’s going to end up being sf rather than horror, but it’s at least spooky-adjacent and in the first episode involves mudlarking, disappearances, time anomalies on the London Underground which ticked all my boxes.
close to you
There’s a market stall in East London which sits at the far end of the market, a little way from the other stalls, caught by the wind that passes down a side street and flaps the tarpaulin that just about shelters the stall from the rain.
There’s not much there, just a few handbags laid out on a plastic sheet. The old man behind the stall sits and stares down at the plastic and will not meet your eye. But the bags look quite like some very expensive ones, and the price handwritten in pencil on little white cards is very cheap, so every now and then someone will buy one. It might even be you, and you’ll be pleased about the bargain that you have found, and wonder how the old man makes a living.
What you don’t realise is that if you cut the bag to pieces and peeled off the lining from the outside you’d see that the side of the lining that you don’t see is covered with words and symbols of power, and every day you carry the bag close to you those words and symbols feed on you. You will grow paler and weaker and fade, and that is how the old man makes a living, because he sells what the bag steals from you to those who want to live on and on and on.
Beyond This Point There May Be Dragons
You’ve been reading Maps of the Lost. Or have you? It’s hard to tell. Maybe this is all just a dream. Or a prophecy, or a forewarning. I hope you enjoyed it. Feedback is always welcome, as I’d really like to shape this newsletter to be what you’d like to read and hear. So, ideas, suggestions and comments welcome. You can just reply to this email if you like.
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