“I looked into the darkness, my courage fuelled by the gin handed to me by the last friendly face I’d seen. She’d been an ancient, a stooped and broken woman, lurking at the roadside not as a guardian or a guide, but as a farewell. A last moment of truly human contact for those who’d chosen to walk towards their fate. Those who’d chosen to walk to Catford. A journey from which none return, at least not with the souls they’d carried when departing.“
So read the last note written by Dave Titus Carbide – a pioneer and explorer for the Metropolitan Railway group charged with surveying potential routes through the city and negotiating with the natives. Carbide was a veteran of the East India Company at it’s height. Under whose authority and whilst dressed as a Tajik horse trader he’d braved the Khyber Pass, mingled with the locals and fought the nefarious Russians in the Great Game. As well as being a large factor in irritating the Afghans to the point where they whipped out their jezail muskets and took to shooting anything with a British accent.
By comparison the Catford expedition was supposed to be semi-retirement. A quick sojourn south of the rive to a little known corner of the city, there to trade a few beads and malaria ridden blankets with the locals in return for exclusive transit rights for the Company. Then home in time for tea and an illicit grope at the maid of the day. But, much to the relief of the maid and serving staff at large, it was not to be. For the darkness which dwelt in Catford – and which some say still does, was not in the habit of freeing those who stumbled in out of the light.
The next report of note to come from Catford was found tied around the neck of a blind, deaf and confused Labrador found barking wildly into the night on Camberwell Green. Locals, upon discovering the disoriented canine, were quick to grab the message and deliver it reverentially to the wisest of elders in the area – Old Charlie. Who was quick to point out, for the hundredth time, that he was only forty and his real name was Trevor. He was roundly ignored though, because people from Camberwell are odd like that. Knowing this and being resigned to his fate Old Charlie, or Middle-Aged Trevor, shushed his audience into silence and set about reading the note. Pausing only briefly to wonder why they hadn’t just read it for themselves, it being Camberwell and not some illiterate backwater like Croydon.
“I have seen the eyes and they have seen me. May the Godly quake in fear, for the Devil moves amongst us. And he’s fucking scary mate.
Our number was six when we set out from the pub and now I’m the only one left. I won’t last long, I know that, It’s already closing in on me. I don’t think It ever lost me in fact. But you might avoid my fate, please, spread my warning.
We just wanted to get home, maybe have a kebab along the way. Timur said he knew a shortcut, why we trusted him I don’t know. Perhaps it was the Bailey’s chasers, or because he was from Lewisham and who can you trust if not someone from Lewisham? But here, in the darkness, no one is safe.
He said it would only take five minutes, he said there was a twenty-four hour shop on the way, that Catford was a nice place. I’m glad now that he was the first to go. But now none of us will ever see home again. And I don’t know what I will see, what my last sight on this mortal coil will be. But I do know that It will be there, the infinite darkness – pawing me to hell.”
The unsigned letter was written in blood. Or possibly red ink. And paw-marks scuffed the words…
Things are different now, of course. Who hasn’t heard the tales of the death and glory that occurred at the battle of Catford Town Hall? Who hasn’t seen at least one of the blockbuster films following those few, those brave few who walked into the darkness and shot the shit out of it? Paving the way for the civilizing effects of the 185 bus route, Wetherspoons and Greggs the Baker? And even if the government dismissed the more outlandish tales told by returning squaddies as the effects of shell shock, occupational syphilis and weak moral fibre can anyone truly know what it was they saw out there?
The descendants of those Catfordians who survived the purge are holding their silence. Nodding mysteriously when confronted with tales of their sinister and occult past. But as any visitor, tempted by a Christmas panto, or a trip to Iceland will tell you, something unholy still looms large over the area. It’s paws extended to give the final embrace, the natives still pausing as they pass to mouth a silent ‘Meow’ to their fallen God.
Be wary – and stay on the night bus…