Neolithica By Dan Soule
Exclusive Kendall Reviews Sneak Peak
‘Neolithica is a masterful meditation on horror and grief – A cult horror smash, which conjures up the very best from Hutson and Herbert – a terrifying must read for all horror fans!’ www.storgy.com
‘Top notch horror. I see Dan (Soule) making a big impact on the horror scene.’ Joseph Sale: Author of Beyond The Black Gate
‘…if you love history, archaeology, mysteries, bog people, supernatural events as well as a good dose of horror, you will adore this book.’ Goodreads Review
Tk’lo, Bear Paw, sat cross-legged staring into the fire, embers dancing into the endless night sky. He was warm enough under fur blankets: one of beaver, the other of wolf, and looked up at the other blanket he sat beneath: a sky of countless stars, so many that they were like the froth of river rapids. His people believed they had been born from the tumult of those churning heavenly waters, and to the waters they would return, once the spirit of this body was done with the world. Tk’lo, an old man, the oldest of his tribe, was not sure he still believed this, though he sang the old stories, even the ones his children, and their children, could never remember because they could no longer walk the songlines.
He waited now on the edge of the known, where the land remained as it always had. The trees at the perimeter of the snow-covered clearing marked the ever-encroaching boundary that ate into their world. As the fire crackled, sending up another spray of dancing sparks, a growl came from the treeline.
Tk’lo did not reach for the stone knife at his hip, or for the stone axe lying beside him, which he had learnt to copy from the one he’d traded with the milk drinkers many years ago. It was the same type of axe those foreign people had used to cut down all the trees and take the memories in their songlines, the ones only Tk’lo could remember.
The tribe was once a great melody of life, moving through the land singing together. Now they were barely more than a few families left with a handful of songs. Each year more of them walked beyond the treeline and into the land of no memories to eat grass and drink milk. Tk’lo let out a hollow laugh at the idea of drinking milk. He had tried it several times, but he would always end up behind a bush farting like a giant urus bull.
Another growl came from the treeline.
“Ha, you try drinking milk, Ulv’nor,” he joked. If the spirit of the great wolf was there, it made no reply. He pulled the beaver blanket around his shoulders a little tighter.
He looked skyward one last time and shuddered. Why, Tk’lo could not be sure. Perhaps it was the glint of reflected light in the eyes shining from the darkness of the treeline. There was something in the great black river that the other tribespeople could not see. Even after he and his brothers brought news of it back, carrying a dark song on their lips they were loath to sing, they still were not believed.
And now, the last of his people had moved into colder lands to try to learn the songs of others like them, those moving with the migrating animals and the changing of the seasons. The dark song and its warning would die with him. Tk’lo looked into its eyes staring from the darkness behind the stars; the stars shone with the light of another world beyond this one, glinting off the thing’s obsidian scales. Its tail curled around their world. Its serpent’s tongue licked the air, tasting the avarice of a place of no true songs.
The crow croaked as it flew over Tk’lo’s head. It opened its wings, turning on the air, coming to rest by the fire as a pack of wolves padded from the treeline. Their heads hung low. The sound of their growls rumbled with the power of a gathering wave. The crow screeched again and the old man kicked out with his arthritic foot. He only succeeded in making the crow hop back and make a noise that sounded like a laugh.
“You can wait for your meal,” Tk’lo told the crow, knowing the crow was here for him. They always knew when death was coming.
Tk’lo’s father had once said to him he ‘wished to sit by the fire tonight with Ulv’nor’, that it was time to sing with him. Better that an old man feed the wolves and crows than slow down his tribe and take food from the young ones. They all needed their strength in these meagre times, and learning new songs would not be easy.
As the growls grew louder, Tk’lo began to sing the song of the great wolf.
From the night of the land with no songs came the boy with eyes black as the scales of the thing from behind the stars. Tk’lo remembered the boy and felt the bile rise, burning his old throat. Now, he reached for his blade. He wished it was a blade of black stone.
Naked in the snow, and with wolves at his flanks and a crow at his feet, the boy smiled without kindness through fire-cast shadows, which made the small markings on his skin come alive. The boy looked beyond the old man in the direction his tribe had fled.
Tk’lo, finding a strength that had long since left his frail body, rose from his fur blankets. They fell to the ground like heavy snowflakes. He had stayed here to die and knew that what he did was nothing more than a futile gesture of a dying old man, but still he gave one last cry of battle.
The crow let out a laughing caw, and the boy grinned with fire dancing in his black eyes.
“What we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared.” Carl Jung
“To be able to forget means sanity.”
Jack London, Star Rover
Mary loved the sound of the pigeons talking together. They said only good things, and to her looked very like the people she saw in Glasgow. Some were beautiful and clean, with plump chests and nice feathers. Others, Mary thought, looked more like her: dirty, old, maybe with a toe or an eye missing. All of them, however, had a rainbow around their necks. The thought made her happy, stood in the middle of Sauchiehall Street, a hundred birds flocking around her, and a dozen more perched on her arms, shoulders, and the woolly hat on her head. She fed them bread while the people of the city rushed around her, parting like the waters of a river around a rock.
Mary did so like to catch up on all the pigeons’ news, cooing to them softly as they pecked bread from her hands and from the crumbs she’d scattered around her feet.
Then, as if she had said something wrong, they all took flight with a fricative trill of wings. Mary felt a little sad her friends had gone. She was about to pick up all of her things, packed neatly into a large, square, polyethylene shopping bag, when the reason for her friends leaving cocked its black head at her and croaked.
“Stupid Mary,” the crow said, hopping closer.
Mary hated crows. Nasty things they were. Never a nice word to say about anyone. Not like pigeons or most dogs. More like cats but less sarcastic. Mary ignored it and picked up her heavy bag.
“Don’t be stupid, Stupid Mary,” the crow laughed, but it wasn’t a nice laugh. It reminded her of the laugh the cruel porter used to make back when Mary was younger and lived in Lennoxcastle. The porter was called Eddie. She’d never met a nice Eddie and guessed it was the name given to nasty people. In fact, Mary would guess every crow in the whole world was called Eddie, even the girl crows.
“Go ‘way, crow,” she told it with a pouting scowl.
“Where you going to go, Stupid Mary? You haven’t got a home. You haven’t even got a brain.” The crow thought this was very fun and hopped in Mary’s way so she couldn’t get away.
“Don’t want to talk to you,” Mary said trying to shuffle to the side, but the crow hopped laterally to block her way.
“Stupid Mary, quite contrary. Just trying to help.”
“You’ve helped no one, horrid crow.” Mary made a break for it, using her bag to knock the crow away and join the stream of people. The crow wouldn’t follow her there. Instead, it fluttered into the air shouting after her.
“Run away, Stupid Mary. It won’t matter.”
Then, stretching out the black cloak of his wings, the crow was gone.
It wasn’t a good day. No, actually, it was a great day, even in the Scottish rain, which had begun to feel like a familiar friend to Stephen. Driech was the word the guys on the site used, and Stephen liked it. In his mouth, the word had the quality of the day: grey and with a touch of morose acceptance. It shouldn’t be something to like, but he did. More and more he had felt affinity for this rugged place. Its landscape and its people had rougher edges than the soft lilting Nottinghamshire countryside he had grown up in south of the border.
Stephen’s whole family were settling in nicely. The girls had started at the new school in Kirkintilloch at the beginning of the school year in August. A bit of a change for them from the English timetable. He wondered at how adaptable his girls were, even hearing a few Scottish notes in their accents already. Janet, his wife, had found a job in a good Glasgow accountancy firm. And for Stephen there was plenty of work on the horizon. The risk of the move seemed to have paid off. The cost of living was amazing compared to the southeast of England and London in particular, where they had moved from. They had initially expected to buy in one of the up-market suburbs around Glasgow, Bearsden, or Milngavie. Instead they had fallen in love with a house and then the small village in which it sat, Milton of Campsie, lying at the foot of the Campsie Fells. When they drove toward the place, the fells had risen dramatically behind the village.
The house was large and a little quirky, like their decision to move from everything they knew in England. And the fact that the property was a quarter the price of similar properties around London didn’t hurt either. Even better, the local high school was a high-performing comprehensive, and so they didn’t even have to pay for schooling.
They were having the best of all worlds. They’d quickly stopped telling themselves they could go home to England at any time, back to the long commute, back to all the frantic pace of life and the high cost of living. They were putting down roots, making friends, feeling at home. Stephen thought all these things as he turned off the motorway, a coffee in one hand and the promotional brochure and the plan of works sitting on the passenger seat next to him in the Range Rover.
‘Bringing us closer to nature’ read the brochure’s title. It didn’t much appeal to Stephen. The advertising copy was a little contrived, but that wasn’t his department. He was a civil engineer and the project manager, and this wasn’t a big job anyway. Another six months to go, nine months maximum.
A local environmental group had taken exception to the project. There had been a minor bit of local press coverage and a small piece on the national Scottish news. Hardly anything really. The environmentalists were a regular fixture at the site entrance and were really quite friendly. Stephen knew several of them by name. There was Meredith, the lady with the grey curly hair, always in a stripy jumper. Susie, a young pretty girl in her early twenties, who would have been quite a stunner, Stephen thought, if it wasn’t for those thick dreadlocks she sported. Still, it takes all sorts. And there was Jerry, a dumpy man on the wrong side of middle age who fancied himself as something of a firebrand, shop steward type. He’d mellowed when he saw Stephen’s Derby County woolly hat one cold day. Apparently, Jerry’s father had been from Derby and it was still his team. Well, apart from Glasgow Rangers, of course.
Meredith, Susie, Jerry, and a handful of others were there every morning with their flasks of tea and homemade placards. The group would have a go at a protest chant in the morning and usually another when the heavy vehicles on the site stopped for lunch. By the evening, though, their numbers had normally thinned out, and instead of chanting, both sides would wave each other off. The whole thing was rather convivial. Okay, they didn’t see eye to eye on the need for the project. But Stephen could see where they were coming from. In a way, they both kind of wanted the same thing. It was only a small road, cutting into a little bit of the peat land. The protester’s main objection was the destruction of an historic natural habitat, peat being laid down over thousands of years. Stephen’s company were building to help the National Trust and the Department for the Environment bring more people to the natural world to promote conservation. Their ultimate goals were the same. As such, even the protesters made Stephen feel good about his decision to move the whole family to Scotland.
Just one small thing played on his mind this morning. Last week his eldest, Tilly, had come home with a dark cloud over her. Janet dug into it. Matilda was a forthright nine-year-old, confident in her opinions, which Stephen knew all too well could cause an argument at home from time to time. There is nothing quite as maddening as a nine-year-old who knows the answer to everything.
It seemed during a playground game one of Tilly’s new friends had said for her to “stop being so English.” Tilly didn’t know exactly what that meant, but knew it wasn’t a compliment. Stephen had had a similar experience two months back with one of the workmen on a different project. He was an older man with a lot of building experience and set in his ways. Stephen required the new health and safety paperwork filled out in the new format. The old timer, Alistair, didn’t see the importance of it or couldn’t be bothered. Alistair strongly resisted completing the new paperwork. Holding his ground, Stephen made his case again, but Alistair still wouldn’t listen. Stephen had no other choice but to put his foot down and insist. Alistair had walked away, and Stephen heard him mutter: “English twat.” Alistair was well liked; Stephen got his own way, and so he let it go. Though he did ask for Alistair not to be selected for any of his further projects.
Stephen and Janet talked about the work incident and Tilly’s playground problems at home, deciding in the end they weren’t anything to be too concerned over. There were always a few bigots wherever you go. Weighing it all up, it was a small price to pay for the benefits of their new life. They were more relaxed, had more time with the kids in a great house set within breath-taking nature, and all with money in the bank.
As he passed the protesters to pull onto the site, Stephen slowed the car and gave them a wee wave. A couple of them waved back. Jerry good-naturedly brandished his placard, and the others cheered with small plastic thermos cups of tea in their hands.
The smooth surface of the road gave way to the compacted gravel of the work site. Stephen’s four-by-four suspension lolled him up and down like a boat entering the choppy waters on the edge of a storm.
He could see the site ahead. Most of the team had already started work. Willie, though the guys pronounced that more like woolly, was in the earthmover about to cut into a swath of dark peat. The huge yellow claw gouged into the bank of ancient peatland, ripping a bucket of earth into the air. Clods of dark brown soil dripped from it, like decaying flesh.
In his temperature-controlled cabin, Stephen felt a gust of stagnant cold air brush his skin. What the hell was that smell? It was like someone had opened a tomb. His flesh goose-bumped.
Nausea surged from the pit of his stomach, and his sphincter tightened in fear. At that same moment, the Range Rover cut out. Everything electrical went dead. The satellite navigation turned black. Dashboard gauges fell limp and lifeless. The digger with its monstrous claw, along with all the other machinery on the site, also ground to a halt. In unison with their machinery, all the builders had stopped dead. It was as though they were all feeling the same thing Stephen was. What colour they had in their faces on this driech morning drained away, and the sky darkened with a rumble of thunder.
His Range Rover still moving, luckily not at speed, Stephen finally remembered to apply the brakes to the three tons of lumbering metal. The brake pedal wouldn’t respond. He pumped it twice, feeling the panic of falling in a dream and missing the final hold before oblivion. With fumbling fingers, damp with sweat, he found the handbrake. It was enough to stop the Range Rover with a scratching skid.
The necrotic smell was still with him. Stephen caught the vomit in his mouth, scrabbling for the door handle. Flinging it open, he half fell out of his vehicle, giving in to the nausea. His breakfast of coffee and porridge spewed onto the ground between his feet, splashing his smart leather shoes. He tried to breathe.
Stephen’s work boots were in the back of the Rover. He would normally put them on before walking onto the sodden site, but at that moment angry shouts came from his men. He looked up from between his knees to see Big Tam being pulled off Ronnie by the site foreman, Jackie.
Spitting bile into the dirt, Stephen rushed down to help. Mud enveloped his smart shoes and dirty water splashed up from bloated puddles, caking his trousers and soaking his feet through to the skin. Each step felt heavier and heavier with sucking mud, draining the energy from him. Part of him wanted to flee. It cried somewhere in the back of his mind like a terrified child, and for one moment Stephen thought his girls were here crying. But of course that was a silly idea, and so he dismissed it and forced himself on.
It wouldn’t be the first time an accident on a site had caused a fight, though it was odd amongst this group, who had only ever seemed good natured to Stephen. Their work had been full of laughter, practical jokes, and banter about football, sex, politics, and even religion, with a Catholic-Protestant division Stephen didn’t wholly understand. Another reason to hurry. There were more months of work ahead. Better to bury the hatchet now than let things fester.
Jackie had managed to calm things down by the time Stephen arrived a little out of breath.
“Right, you two. Enough,” the foreman growled like only a Glaswegian could.
His usual ruddy complexion gone, Jackie was pale. The old foreman looked just like Stephen felt: worried and ill. Stephen saw it in the faces of every person stood on the site. They had aged ten years, and he was sure if he looked in the mirror he’d see the same thing.
Stephen approached, a palm facing each man as if holding back an invisible wall between the two fighting men. Jackie was doing the same but from a position directly between Big Tam and Ronnie, his back to the wall of peat. Jackie was Stephen’s right hand man. He liked him and hoped to work with him a lot more in the future. They exchanged a perplexed look, gilded with worry on both sides. In the other, neither saw someone who had any answers. There was silence. Things were calming down. The simmering pressure was still there, but the trouble must have passed, whatever it was.
Willie, having come out of his cab in the dead digging machine, exclaimed, “Dear God!”
Stephen knew Willie wasn’t a religious man, though he loved his Celtic FC with a sports fan’s fervour, and yet he said the words like someone facing the reality of their own mortality. They all turned slowly, the sense of dread growing in the pit of their stomachs.
Out of a fallen clod of peat, a disembodied hand protruded, glistening brown like wet leather in the rain.
“What the fuck is that?” Willy said, slipping and staggering over to them.
“It’s a fucking hand,” Jackie growled.
“I can see it’s a fucking hand,” Willie said, panic rising in his tone.
The hand was a dark, leathery brown, and no bigger than a child’s Tilly’s age. The claw of the digger must have cut cleanly through its arm.
As he stared at the dead hand, Stephen was consumed with the idea that he wanted to punch Jackie in the face. He wasn’t sure where that thought came from. He only knew that it seemed like a great idea. Self-righteous prick, always shitting on Stephen’s suggestions, thinking he was the boss.
A noise from behind startled him. He turned to see the protest group brandishing placards. One of them had a hammer.
“Aye, what tha’ fuck are yous hippie cunts aboot?” Big Tam shouted. Although, in his Glaswegian growl, it sounded more like a challenge.
The kindling was ignited, setting the two groups at each other. They ran, meeting Stephen in the middle, who stood with his arms opened wide, shouting, “Come on then, you bastards.”
Stephen, who hadn’t had a fight since he was eleven, threw the first punch, hitting the old woman, Meredith, with the curly grey hair, so hard her head snapped back. She hit the ground with a massive slap, knocking all the wind out of her, her delicate nose now a crushed smear across her face. Stephen jumped on her, straddling her body, raining down blows on her unconscious face, just as the hammer carried by one of the protesters buried its head in Ronnie’s skull. He stood, twitching for a moment as thick red rivulets ran like oil down his face.
Stephen’s screams of rage only stopped when the two-by-four of a placard caught him clean on the side of the neck. He fell sideways off the old woman, consciousness briefly leaving him. He tried to push himself to his knees again only to receive a second blow from the two-by-four, spinning his head and dislocating his jaw. He fell face-first into the mud. The blood pouring from him didn’t matter. He would kill whichever bastard had done that to him. He would kill them all. Or he would have done, had the two-by-four not struck a third and final time. It came down with full strength on the vertebrae connecting Stephen’s head to his body. A snap, and Stephen did a brief dance macabre in the mud.
His new life in Scotland was over.
The discovery of a young boy’s body, brutally murdered and preserved for thousands of years in a Scottish peat bog, brings with it more than a find of a lifetime for archaeologist Mirin Hassan.
After the death of her husband, Mirin wants life to get back to normal for her and her young son. But media attention and professional rivalries become the least of her worries. Something other than cameras followed the corpse back to the university.
A malevolent force grows unseen. The weather turns biblical. Violence and death spread beyond the university. Could it be connected with the strange discovery?
The city grasps for a rational explanation, but time is up. Chaos has arrived, as Mirin realises some things should stay buried.
Once Dan is a horror author who was an academic, but the sentences proved too long and the words too obscure. Northern Ireland is where he now lives. But he was born in England and raised in Byron’s hometown, which the bard hated but Dan does not. They named every other road after Byron. As yet no roads are named after Dan but several children are. Dan’s literary fiction has featured in Number Eleven, Storgy, and the Dime Show Review. His science fiction is available in Shoreline of Infinity and Phantaxis. And his horror can be found in Devolution Z, Sanitarium Magazine, Disturbed Digest and Into the Ruins.
Dan’s website is at www.dansoule.com where there is an exclusive ebook of short stories available, plus a classic horror novel.
You can follow Dan on Twitter @Grammatologer