The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar
Twilight At The Towers
Twilight At The Towers
“Somewhere near, a dog had begun to bark wildly. Ballard turned round to look back the way he’d come, daring the deserted street to display its secrets to him. Whatever was arousing the buzz in his head and the itch on his palms, it was no commonplace anxiety. There was something wrong with the street, despite its show of innocence; it hid terrors.” – Clive Barker
Where Barker Meets Forsythe
I’ve got to be honest, when this strand of articles was first being discussed, Twilight At The Towers wasn’t the first story which sprang to mind when I thought of Books of Blood. Inevitably, in any collection, there are stories which capture the imagination and work their way into a reader’s affections much more than others. It just happens that other stories were fresher in my mind that this particular one. So, when I was asked to review it, I jumped at the chance to jog my memory a bit. I love it when that happens; when the familiarity creeps back in and you start to realise that this is still a great story, but it’s the slow song amidst a set list full of headbangers. There’s something just a little bit different about this one. So, with that guilty admission over with, let’s get on with it.
Judging Books of Blood from a distance of so many years after its release, it’s pretty amazing that these stories still stand up without seeming dated. Of course, a lot of them deal in matters which are timeless. Others, Twilight At The Towers included, are very much set in a period which is of a time. This time is Cold War East Germany, which is something very hard to imagine these days. I was only a child when the Berlin Wall came down, not even ten years old, so to consider Germany as a split country these days seems like something from a dystopian novel. But that was the reality in the early-80’s, which is when Books of Blood were written, after all. In those days, I suppose it was hard to imagine a time when the Berlin Wall would be dismantled and east and west would be reunited. This story illustrates that bleakness of spirit, that hopelessness on stark perfection.
Barker starts out this tale in the mode of the spy thrillers of Frederick Forsythe or Ian Flemming: a British secret service agent interviewing a KGB operative, Mironenko, who wishes to defect to the west after losing faith in the communist ideal. The British agent, Ballard, is presented very much as your archetypal loose cannon, plucky hero about to be wronged by the system he devoted his life to. Here, Clive Barker is almost playing with cliches, offering us a theme which is familiar from such movies as Marathon Man, Day of the Jackal and the Bond films. He’s toying with our comfort zone, giving us something which is so like a lot of movies we’ve seen before a hundred times with our parents (my dad was a big fan of these types of espionage books, so I’ve read a lot of them by osmosis.)
Now, this is Barker. It’s clearly not going to take many pages before things start to get a little … strange.
Ballard is taken off the case by Cripps, his handler in Germany. It’s nothing personal, he provided a good report, but Cripps wants to look into Mironenko personally. Only a day later, Ballard goes to see Cripps, only to be told the man is indisposed. It transpires that the man is actually in hospital, after being attacked alongside an agent Ballard knows well, Odell. Ballard is told all of this in a shady meeting by another agent, Suckling.
That night, Ballard is going home after an evening drinking in a transvestite bar when he feels like he’s being followed. A dog barks somewhere nearby, and a drag queen is walking down the street with a drunken rich guy. Otherwise, the street is deserted. On high alert now, Ballard continues on his way, still unnerved by the feeling of eyes on him. A scream cuts through the night, and he finds himself running back toward alleys running off the street. There, he finds the drag queen with her clothes in tatters, the remains of her lover being feasted on by some beast. There is confusion as the beast flees, and Ballard turns to give chase. Before he can catch the murderer, there’s the screeching of tyres and a crash. When he reaches the scene, he finds the supposedly dead Odell, now absolutely dead, under the wheels of a car.
Making his excuses with the police, denying any knowledge of how the accident occurred, Ballard returns home confused. He tries to sleep, but is plagued by a curious, homicidal dream. He heard the sound of helicopter blades, the sound seeming to cover the sound of whispering voices. His head ached fit to burst, and the helicopter blades grew louder. He woke, the pain in his head worse than ever. In the darkness, a voice spoke, warning him that the pain would kill him if he didn’t bury it. He resolved to go back to sleep, dreaming of a burial party. A box was being interred, the sound of the helicopter muffled inside. The voice implored him to bury the box, but the gravediggers refused to start shovelling dirt onto the box. It began to rattle in its grave, then the sides began to split, a shining light emanating between the cracks. All the while the speaker demanded that he bury the sound before it killed him, to not look at the light and just bury it. Ballard didn’t trust the voice, but the noise of the helicopter only grew louder. He realised he was on the floor now, and struggled to get up through the pain in his head. The voice continued to implore him to bury the dream, but he didn’t trust it …
He finally woke in his own bedroom, but he felt changed. Everything around him was changed, but he couldn’t figure out how. He went through to the bathroom and splashed cold water on himself, then went to lie back down and puzzle it all out.
He woke the next morning in need of answers for all he’d witnessed the previous evening, and so he pays a call to Suckling. The man runs a bookstore as his cover, and there is a confrontation in his office. Ballard tells the man that he saw Odell the night before. The conversation is quickly ended by the interruption of the receptionist, and Ballard is denied anything but threats.
He knows he’s a marked man now, and has to get out of Germany. He goes back to his apartment and picks up a few essentials, then makes his way to the zoo, acting as nonchalant as possible in case he’s being followed. While in the zoo, a man jostles him and Ballard checks his pockets. Rather than being robbed, the man has slipped a piece of paper into his pocket. The paper is an invitation to a meeting, and one which Ballard can’t refuse.
Ballard goes to the house the message directed him to, in a slum community near to the Berlin wall. Most of the houses there are derelict, home to the desperate and needy. He knocks on the door and gets no reply, though he knows this is the right address. He tries again, and after a few minutes he hears sound from within. The door is answered by an old man, who tells him he is alone and that he must have the wrong address. Ballard knows this can’t be true, and is proved correct by the sounds of screaming from inside. The old man tries to stop Ballard from entering, but Ballard is already forcing his way in.
In a kitchen area, he finds a scene of carnage. In typical Barker fashion, he revels in the description of blood here. Ballard also finds Mironenko, although the man seems much changed from the last time he saw the man. He is bruised, his face puffy from some assault. Although it’s obvious the man has taken a beating, there is more to the man’s evident injury than just that. His features appear to be moving under the skin, bubbling and in flux. Once again, Barker takes delight in hinting at some inevitable metamorphosis. The old man, Solomonov, is told that he can leave, and Mironenko begins to tell Ballard why he called him there. The revelations are disturbed by noises outside, and Mironenko urges Ballard to follow him.
A chase ensues through the foggy streets from unseen pursuers, which ends up in a playground in the community. There are beasts in the playground, and the changes being wrought on Mironenko are becoming more pronounced. He speaks to Ballard about what has been done to them, telling him that they are the same. The helicopter sound in Ballard’s head returns, and the Russian assures him that the sound won’t hurt him, but reveal something about him. He urges Ballard to join his brothers and sisters, but the man resists and runs. All hell breaks loose then, as shots ring out and creatures appear out of the fog. Ballard tries to escape, running from the area and hoping not to be followed by either men with guns or beasts with sharp teeth and gaping maws. He reached the fence he’d climbed to get into the playground, but found he couldn’t climb it again. He tried to find a way around, and hears someone call his name. He turns to look, and feels a needle being pushed into him … and then darkness.
What follows is the conclusion, the revelatory scene in which we find out exactly what the secret service has done, in imitation of the KGB. It’s a story we’ve seen in a hundred movies, but this one has the ring of Barker around it. It’s the one story where he revels in horror cliché, giving us something totally familiar and twisting it to his own ends. What Barker does here is to showcase something more than his unique imagination, creating monsters which only he can conceive and placing them in our world. Here, he takes two conventions which were popular at the time and makes them both truly his own.
Other stories in Books of Blood, rightly or wrongly, take the headlines. Others have been given screen adaptations and had essays written about them. Some though, are there simply for the value of entertainment. This is one of them, and it is totally charming in its simplicity, lack of pretence and just being what it is. Not every story needs to be a masterclass of storytelling, some can just be bloody good fun. Twilight At The Towers is one of them.
Paul Flewitt is a horror/dark fantasy author with the CHBB/Vamptasy press. He was born on the 24th April 1982 in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.
Always an avid reader, Paul put pen to paper for the first time in 1999 and came very close to inking a deal with a small press. Due to circumstances unforeseen, this work has never been released, but it did give Paul a drive to achieve within the arts.
In the early 2000’s, Paul concentrated on music; writing song lyrics for his brother and his own bands. Paul was lead singer in a few rock bands during this time and still garners inspiration from music to this day. Paul gave up his musical aspirations in 2009.
In late 2012, Paul became unemployed and decided to make a serious attempt to make a name for himself as a writer. He went to work, penning several short stories and even dusting off the manuscript that had almost been published over a decade earlier. His efforts culminated in his first work being published in mid-2013, the flash fiction piece “Smoke” can be found in OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes; A Tribute To Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.
2013 was a productive year as he released his short story “Paradise Park” in both J. Ellington Ashton’s All That Remains anthology and separate anthology, Thirteen vol 3. He also completed his debut novella in this time. “Poor Jeffrey” was first released to much praise in February 2014. In July 2014 his short story “Always Beneath” was released as part of CHBB’s Dark Light Four anthology.
In 2015 Paul contributed to two further anthologies; Demonology (Climbing Out) from Lycopolis Press and Behind Closed Doors (Apartment 16c) with fellow authors Matt Shaw, Michael Bray, Stuart Keane and more.
In 2016, Paul wrote the monologue; The Silent Invader for a pitch TV series entitled Fragments of Fear. The resulting episode can be viewed now on YouTube, but the show was never aired. The text for the monologue was published in Matt Shaw’s Masters Of Horror anthology in 2017.
Paul continues to work on further material.
He remains in Sheffield, where he lives with his partner and two children. He consorts with his beta reading demons on a daily basis.
You can find more information on Paul Flewitt and his works here…