A Visitor from Morocco

In that quick flash of light the creature sitting on the top of the cupboard was revealed...

After three and a half years of travelling, I decided that it was time for me to go home. I had come through a time of sadness, and in a way I had said goodbye. I had lived a fascinating adventure, as marvellous as any man could want. But I had also changed, I had learnt, even at such a late time of life. For most of my life I had lived a sort of unconscious contentment, never needing to think about what makes a life worthwhile. But it was my retirement, then the loss of Genevieve, that forced me to realise that happiness can never be taken for granted. Then, as was part of my intention, facing the adversities of travel earned me the self respect to feel that I had deserved the happiness I had found for most of my life, and this brought a happiness of its own.

I boarded the Maid of Kent at Calais, with as much of the luggage and accumulated mementos as could conveniently be taken with me, having left quite a large collection of effects to be sent later, from cities all across the continent. As I wandered about the ferry, I was continually heartened at hearing the voices of Englishmen again, and I realised that although I was not yet on English soil, I had still come home. It seemed that the wind, the sky, the smell of the air, even the sound of the seagulls, all was English, as it had been always, and I was where I belonged.

From Dover I took the train to London, then the train to Cambridge, and so to home in Madingley. From leaving my hotel in Calais to finally walking to my front door, my final trip had taken twenty-two hours. I closed the door behind me, dragged a dust sheet off the bed, then collapsed, and slept for another fourteen.

Upon waking, I lay there, in the late afternoon, listening to the birds chirping in the quiet street, and all I could think of was how I missed Genevieve, and how I wished I could sit down with her, if only for ten minutes, and tell her of all I had seen and done.

Over the next few weeks, artifacts and souvenirs of all kinds were delivered, or had to be collected from various agencies. As they arrived, I would unpack them and throw all the rubbish used to pack them into the nearest corner. Within a short space of time there was rubbish throughout the house.

Three weeks after I had come home, a beautiful teak cupboard which I had purchased two years ago in Marrakesh was delivered, and I instructed the men to bring it into the bedroom. The cupboard was the type that had one door fastened from the inside, by a sliding latch up into the frame. As I looked upward to negotiate the latch, something leapt from the bottom of the cupboard, landed on the parquetry flooring, and, with a clattering of little feet, disappeared into the pile of rubbish accumulated in the corner. It gave me a terrible scare, as it was larger than a cockroach, or even a mouse... I had only seen the thing out of the corner of my eye - it was grey, and moved very fast, but beyond that I had discerned nothing. I watched the pile of rubbish and listened, but could not summon the nerve to start looking for it. I tried to decide what I should do, then convinced myself that if I left the window open, the creature would leave of its own volition. I opened the window, backed out of the bedroom, and went to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea.

As I spent the rest of the day unpacking, I saw or heard no further sign of the creature, so I convinced myself that it had decamped.

It was two nights after the mysterious creature had fled from the cupboard that I was woken by the sound of something in the roof. There was just enough gap underneath the eaves for itinerant creatures such as birds or cats to enter, but this had only ever been a rare occurrence, and always temporary. The noise I heard was something moving casually about, from one end of the house to the other - whatever was in the roof space seemed to be making itself comfortable.

I decided to obtain rat-traps in the morning. I placed three of them in the roof space, two of them baited with bacon fat and the other with cheese.

The next day I found the traps with the bacon fat had been sprung and the bait had disappeared, but there was no trace left of any creature, not even a hair. The trap baited with cheese had not been touched. I left the traps again the next night, with similar results.

Things took a very nasty turn the next morning, as I went to the front gate to collect my mail. Half way along the path I found the disembowelled carcass of a cat, and scraps of its entrails leading to the bushes along the side of my house. I recognised the cat as Dudley, a very old, deaf cat belonging to Mrs Bentley, two houses down. I discreetly disposed of the poor moggy, not knowing whether I should tell Mrs Bentley or not. What could I say? That I had brought some kind of vicious monster home with me, from Heaven knows where?

That night, not long after I turned out the light, from the top of the cupboard I saw the faint gleaming of two eyes. As I watched, it seemed as if it was watching me in return. I dared not move, fearing that it may frighten the thing to attack. After some minutes, the eyes raised perhaps two or three inches, as if the creature had risen from a crouching to a sitting position, but the eyes never stopped looking at me. I tried to remember what might be in easy reach to defend myself, but could think of nothing more than a small paring knife that I had been using to unpack. I had no idea where the knife was, or even if I could turn on the light and find it before the creature might attack. The eyes did not move, but continued to watch me. I could not move, as if my will had been smothered by the creature's glaring. My heart hammered at my chest, threatening to choke me, and something told me I had to move, I had to move or be overwhelmed by some force I could not understand. I forced myself, inch by inch, to move across the bed, to reach the bedside light, turn it on, and face my fate, whatever it might be. It seemed to take forever to cross the bed, and then, when my hand was almost on the lamp, with a scuttling noise, the thing disappeared. I turned on the lamp, then went in search of more effective implements with which to defend myself. Needless to say, the lamp remained on, and my sleep was very uneasy.

In the morning I went through the packing rubbish to find a consignment notice for the cupboard, and on it I found the details of the exporter in Marrakesh who had sold it to me. In spite of the expense and complication, I decided to make long distance telephone call - Heaven knows what I was expecting to learn. I contacted the proprietor.

"Allo?"

"Er.. yes, I... bought a cupboard from you two years ago... It is a teak cupboard - I have a slight problem - there is, well, ah, do you sometimes include animals of any kind when you ship your wares?"

"Animals? What animals?"

"Well, I'm not sure... I think it is grey... What kind of animals are most likely to inhabit your cupboards?"

"Animals? I sell finest wares to customers. We have no animals, what animals?"

"Well perhaps... I don't know, what type of small animals in your neighbourhood tend to pester you the most?"

"Animals? Pester? I do not understand, Sahib. Animals? What?"

Before too long we reached a point where no further intelligent exchange was possible, so I thanked the chap and hung up, feeling like an utter fool.

Later in the afternoon I was visited by my cousin Ethel. She had dropped by a few times since I had returned, cooking meals and looking after my welfare as I settled into life without Genevieve. Ethel owned a dachshund, a happy and docile little fellow named Harley. From the moment this little dog entered my living room, he began snarling, barking and whimpering, the whole time staring at a particular point on the ceiling. Ethel kept instructing Harley to stop misbehaving and be quiet, but to no avail - the dog was simply beside himself with anxiety. I had little doubt what was making Harley so upset, but I thought it best not to tell Ethel. Eventually she decided that Harley had eaten something that disagreed with him, so she took him home to convalesce.

The idea of abandoning the house was preposterous. I had to deal with this thing one way or another. I began by searching every place in the house that might be used for a hiding place, from the fireplace to the basement, and tried to obstruct the passage of the creature as much as possible. Then I prepared a plan for the night. I spread peanut shells, milk bottle tops, and other litter on the floor which would create noise to warn me of the animal's presence, and if the thing decided to attack, I hoped to use my bed cover to trap it. I lay within easy reach of the bedside lamp, with a garden rake beside me. I had no doubt that a casual observer would have considered me quite ridiculous, but this did not take away the growing sense of horror I felt.

I turned out the light.

Something woke me. It was not a sound, or a sense of movement, but fear, that had suddenly turned on inside my head, as if it were a switch. Again the eyes were on top of the cupboard. Had I slept through the noise of the litter, or had it stepped around? Or had it been living in the cupboard, all the time, in some corner where I had refused to look? Like the night before, the eyes did not move, and I felt the same seizure, and the same desperate imperative to overcome it. But more than that, I became gripped by premonitions of death - as if I was a dying beast, gasping breaths of fear and hatred, trying to move, but knowing there was no hope, that, like so many before me, I would soon be rotting on the filthy ground of the jungle, as if some unseen, horrific, malevolent limb was reaching out to hold me. How long did it take me to move? Summoning all my willpower, I dragged my hand as if it were a ship's anchor, inch by inch toward the light switch. I felt the base of the lamp, then the switch... I turned on the light, but an instant later the bulb failed. In that quick flash of light the creature sitting on the top of the cupboard was revealed - I saw some kind of hideous, black-eyed fiend, with the face of an old man, but horribly disfigured like a leper, and it seemed as if its mouth was held open by its jagged teeth - it crouched like a frog, and in the instant the light burst upon it, I heard a screech of rage, then it leapt away into the darkness.

I staggered from the room, then turned on all the lights in the house. How did it instil such fears, and what had made me seize up, so that such an effort of will was required to move? And what did it want - had I twice narrowly averted some horrific intention of the monster? It made no more appearance before morning, but I dreaded having to face the thing again, and resolved to deal with it, once and for all, before the sun went down.

I considered borrowing somebody's cat - Dudley had been eviscerated, but he was old and deaf - perhaps a young cat could kill the thing. Then I remembered the sight of the teeth... Surely no cat could defend itself against those. I began to think that I would have to obtain a firearm of some kind, then remembered my complete lack of affinity with guns from my travels in Africa. I could not burn down my house... But one thing I could do was to dispose of the cupboard.

I dragged the horrible thing outside, took my axe, and within a few minutes I had reduced it to kindling, which I then burnt on a bonfire, plus all the rubbish in the house, plus everything else that might harbour a small animal. At no stage did I see any sign of the creature.

Night fell. I turned out the light.

Something woke me. As before, it was some silent alarm in my head. There was no cupboard, so I didn't see its eyes, but as I lay awake, I realised I could hear it - it was under the bed. It would not move for minutes on end... then I could hear its claws drag it along for a moment or two... then silence. The door to my room was open, but I didn't know if I should turn on the light and run... would the thing chase me? If I didn't move, would it suddenly pounce upon me? I realised that the there was no advantage in leaving the light off, so I switched it on, but could not summon the courage to bolt for the door. As the night dragged on, the thing underneath kept slowly crawling about, although it made no attempt to assault me. Morning seemed to take forever to arrive, and as my room was at last bathed in light, I leapt off the bed and ran, closing the door behind me.

Was it trapped in my room? It had seemed to move about the house invisibly, so I made no such assumption.

What could I do? Leave my house, with all its memories, sell it, burn it down? Or go to bed, every night, in any room of the house, knowing that somewhere a foul little demon was waiting for the darkness to fall? I began to see that I was becoming obsessed with trying to think of ways to trap the thing... Was it reading my mind, could it sense my brain spin, racing towards madness? And yet my obsession was turning to anger, and I wanted to beat it, to trap it and punish it for tormenting me...

Joe Sanders, who lived in the next street, had served in the war - he had a helmet and a gas mask. I borrowed the equipment from him - I can't remember what excuse I gave, and I completely ignored his expression as I made my way home. The gas mask stank of old, cheap canvas and sweat as I wrestled it onto my face. I took three pork livers I had purchased from the butcher's and placed them in the corners of my bedroom. I dressed in workman's overalls, wore thick gardening gloves, and took the rake and a hatchet.

I turned out the light, and stood there, waiting.

Did it sense my desperation? Did it sense that now I was the danger, that I wanted to hurt it more than I feared it? Or was it waiting, for some opportunity to gain the advantage?

I stood there, listening, waiting for any sound, for the noise of its claws coming toward me, looking for the two little eyes of the creature, somewhere, that would try to bend me to its will.

All night I stood, waiting for the thing, or waiting for madness, in the dark, furious, yet also stricken with fear...

All night, standing, waiting, in darkness and silence...

Then, as the sun began to glow in the east, something moved. I turned as slowly as I could, and in a corner of the room I could see it, carefully examining the offal. My hand was trembling as I tried to aim the hatchet, then after a moment - I hurled it with all my strength! But my gas mask fell over my eyes, and all I could hear was the weapon banging to the floor as the animal screamed its curse and clattered away.

Whether or not I had hurt the thing, I had run out of ideas, and now it was prepared for anything. I sat down on the floor in utter despair.

I would have to move house. I would have to take some time to get used to the idea. But I couldn't see any other way. After all the dangers I had been through across the continent, I had been defeated in my own beautiful house, the place where I had lived such a happy life.

Yet it seemed that fate became my saviour, as it had done so often in my travels. About half an hour after sunrise I heard a delivery truck start up and draw away, and as it did I heard a tortured scream, one I had heard before. I went outside and watched the truck as it drove past - it was carrying chickens in cages. I looked back to where it had been and saw a dog chewing away at something on the road. I went over, and sure enough, the demon that had tormented me lay there, crushed by the wheels of the truck. And yet as I came nearer, its eyes followed me. I looked closer - no, the vile thing was dead, beyond any doubt. Either my paranoia, or maybe some lingering witchcraft had made me imagine things. I overcame my revulsion and placed its remains in a sack, made another bonfire, and watched until every last cinder was gone.

* * * * * *

It was only some time afterwards that, on a whim, I went to the library where I used to work, and spent the whole day reading. At last, in a volume entitled Rare Fauna of the African Gallery Forests I found an artist's depiction of the little horror, and the following description:

The Soudanese Jackal Monkey, Euoticus lamia, is not, in fact, a member of the simian family, but rather a prosimian in the genus Euoticus. Like other members of this genus it is roughly the size of a small cat, and is characterised by its carnivorous diet, long limbs, and long incisors. The Jackal Monkey is nocturnal, aggressive, and has intelligence greater than most primates. Although it is clever enough to evade most threats, it is part of the diet of the bigger carnivores of the Soudanese gallery forests, and is therefore classified as a rare species. The Jackal Monkey takes its name from its habit of holding a vigil in the vicinity of what it perceives as an ailing or dying animal, waiting for a chance to feed, then quickly tearing the flesh of its victim before any potential defence is made. Cases have been reported of this prosimian feeding from enfeebled animals as large as goats. Among the southern native tribes of The Soudan it is believed that the Jackal Monkey can hypnotise its victim into a more rapid state of submission.

May, 2010

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