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The steps at silloth, p.1
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       The Steps At Silloth, p.1

           Michael Carter
 
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The Steps At Silloth
THE STEPS AT SILLOTH

  by Michael Carter (c) 1997, 2013

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  I awoke sweating and panting, the bedcovers on the floor where I had unconsciously cast them, and my alarm clock knocked aside by a limp and flailing arm. My uppermost limbs were still flying around wildly when I shot up from my bed, hastily trying to shoo away the demons which had irritated and plundered my sleep.

  It took a while for me to calm myself; my breathing was heavy and irregular, and the salty odour of the thick sheen that coated my body was swimming in my nostrils and aggravating my senses. Five minutes may have passed; five long minutes of slowly-lengthening breaths and much ruffling of the hair and rubbing of the eyes.

  Then I got up, and on still-unsteady legs, walked to the bathroom, where I showered for many minutes. The dream-fever’s sweet dew had been washed off within seconds and already I felt clinically clean again, but the immense comfort and lulling effect of the water impelled me to linger. It was in the shower, with that warm incensed water cascading over me that the images that had started it all came back to mind, only they comprised of nothing like the intense vividness and reality of the same scenes I had witnessed in my slumber.

  In my sleep I had seen the steps at Silloth. I have always thought them wonderful to behold, until now. A small town in the north of Cumbria, Silloth resides on the coast, the stretch of water it looks out upon being the Solway Firth, a large natural inlet which separates the forests and the mountains of southern Scotland from the scenic splendour of Northern Cumbria. In the 1960’s, the Cumbrian Council became aware of the vast tourist potential of the little town of Silloth, and thus spent many millions of pounds constructing an impressive concrete pier, several miles long which ran parallel to Silloth’s coastline. Instead of just leaving the pier to drop off twenty feet or so into the water, they also constructed a short flight of large steps which led down to the level of the sea, after which there is a small beach of rocks, perhaps only ten feet in length, which the waves of the tide can obscure and reveal. This open-air staircase, consisting of six large steps – each one about three feet high, the kind that you have to climb, rather than walk –was constructed so that it ran along the entire length of the pier, so that no matter how little or far you chose to stroll along the sea-fronting promenade, there would always be steps for you, should you choose to descend closer to the water. This coastal pier is completely public, there being no office to pass through to gain admittance, and there are several car parks built along its length, therefore creating many points of access from the road.

  During my youth I had occasionally visited Silloth, remaining there for only an hour or so, often using the town as a lunch-stop, where my family and I would walk a little way along the pier, find a seat and have lunch. Being a juvenile I always finished my pre-packed meal first and would wander down the steps to be nearer the sea and to play amongst the rocks while my parents finished their sustenance.

  I had only ever seen that place and it’s Solway during the day, and never at night. That, however, is how it appeared in my dream, and although I could distinguish no moon, I knew that somewhere it had to be shining, for I could make out the steps and the rocks with a distinct lunar clarity.

  There was something else there, too, I saw; something which was obscenely out-of-place be it day or night, and these somethings were most certainly what turned a harmless memory-driven dream into what was undoubtedly the most frightening nightmare I had suffered since childhood.

  I do not dream often; at least, I do not often recall my dreams after waking, but when I do, they always seem to have a point, a narrative flow, and as such could be described perhaps as dream-stories. This dream however, this black and bloated stallion of nightmares, came only as several visions, each one in linear motion, but none linking directly to the next. In essence, they did tell a vignette of a story, but it was my imagination that provided the links.

  But alas, it can be put off no more; you will notice I am procrastinating in this account, and this is because I know not how I can accurately describe what it was that I saw on those benighted steps. For because that haunting night has long passed over to the threats of time, I have in my knowledge the hindsight that those things I saw were more than just dreams.

  There were hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, all stuffed and crowded on the first four steps from the rock beach. Without question they were sentient, living, breathing creatures, although from their appearance I guessed – correctly – that they passed air in a much different fashion than humans do. Their colour was green, with hues of turquoise and blue frequenting the throng, and their skin looked to be hard and reptilian. Essentially they were anthropoid in shape and stance, but their heights excelled that of the average human. Their faces, too, bore the characteristics of humanity, except that their eyes were more sunken, and their nose and mouth squashed and elongated. They wore no hair upon their bodies; this I could plainly see for they were naked, and their appearance foretold that they were far more comfortable and at ease for their nakedness. Their bodies were similarly hard, almost scaly, almost slender, having all over them a glint of oily sheen which made them shine in the moonlight. But two unmistakeable giveaways as to their animal type, and their choice of habitation, were monstrously apparent; for their limbs, their arms and their legs ended in the usual appendage of digits, except that in these creatures those digits were interspersed and connected with a thick but flimsy webbing, the kind of which might be observed on a frog. The second clear mark as to their amphibious nature were the three long gashes that ran down each side of their torsos; from past experience on fishing trips these were easily recognisable – as gills.

  It was most clear that these things, these crazy batrachian creatures of ludicrous nightmare had sprung forth from the depths, from the very water that crashed lightly about the rocks just feet away from the steps on which they now awaited. Yes, waited I say, because that is what they did, and for what they were waiting my account will soon tell.

  The noise was terrible, disturbing, and would haunt my dreams with no aid from the other senses; yet the hideous sound was weak, it did not carry well through the cold air and would not reach the nearest houses, merely three hundred feet inland. It was a curious sound which vented from them, a sound meant for the deep vastness of the sea; I can only approximate it to the wet gargle that occurs when one who is drowning attempts to clear a phlegmy throat.

  I have said that these visions I suffered were very vivid and also frightening, but I still feel as if I have not done their lucidity justice. In comparison, clear waking reality seems bland; I was there, I could see these icthyic beings massing on the stone steps, I could smell the fish-like watery odour which they exuded and taste its lingering presence on my lips. I could hear the infernal glubbing of their throats, and I am certain that if I had walked over to them I could have touched and felt that putrescent oil slip off onto my fingers.

  Indeed, this dream – if mere dream it was – conjured strange, and yet excited, curious and yet wary feelings within me. All the time that I showered their impulse grew and when at last I emerged from that nocturnal bathing I knew how I would proceed with the rest of the night.

  While recalling the incidents of my sloth, I had only half-touched on their clarity, but certainly I could remember how lifelike they had seemed; so that was my prime incentive for driving up there, sixty miles in the dead of night, to Silloth; my night visions had been terrifying and I felt compelled to visit that place I had seen in order to convince myself that I had not been in the process of astral projection; that what I had dreamt had not been reality; I needed to know.

  And thus, I got dressed, and after a quick bite of sustenance and the fillin
g of a bottle for the journey, I set off from my Northumbrian home on the lonely, late-night and thoroughly spontaneous drive to Silloth. If the roads kept quiet throughout, I could get there before the dawn.

  II.

  The first shards of the approaching day were just breaking on the horizon when I manouvered my car into Silloth. I knew the place well and had no trouble, even in the near-dark, finding the first of the car-parks that ran alongside the pier.

  While driving through the residential area of the town I had noted that the majority of the houses had their own driveways or garages and it was the exception rather than the norm to find these private-parks bare. It was very surprising then that when I pulled into the public car-park next to the pier I should find that it already housed perhaps a dozen stationary cars, all of which were empty despite some still having their headlights switched on and their driver-side door open. Closer inspection would only add to the enigma, as I found that each and
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