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boy in darkness

Mervyn Peake's novella 'Boy in Darkness' is a little-known addition to the famous Gormenghast trilogy. Published (oddly enough) as a children's book, it is a sketchy but chilling horror tale in Peake's trademark gothic style.

The ceremonies were over for the day. The Boy was tired out. Ritual, like a senseless chariot, had rolled its wheels -- and the natural life of the day had been bruised and crushed.

The Boy is Titus Groan, 77th Earl of Gormenghast, who yearns to escape from his boring, ritualized life. But when he runs away from the Castle, he ends up in a nightmarish outside world. Taken captive by two semi-human creatures, the Goat and the Hyena, he is brought to their master, the White Lord of Midnight.

Then came a voice from the abysmal darkness. It was like a little bell tinkling, or the sound of naked innocence, or the crowing of a babe... or the bleating of a Lamb.

'You have somebody with you, I believe?'

The little voice trilled from the darkness; it had no need to be raised. Like a needle piercing its way through rotten fabric, so this sweet sound penetrated to the furthermost recesses of the Underground Kingdom.

This satanic Lamb -- an original, disturbing twist on Christian symbolism -- conducts occult experiments on humans, of which the Goat and Hyena are the sole survivors. Blind and hateful, the Lamb has been waiting for a fresh specimen for a long time...

Then came the moment when the little finger of the Lamb's left hand moved forward like a short, white caterpillar and, hovering for a little while near the victim's forehead, finally descended, and the Boy felt a touch on his brow that brought his heart into his throat.

For the finger of the Lamb appeared to suck at the temple like the sucker of an octopus, and then as the digit traced the profile it left behind it from the hair-line to the chin a track or wake so cold that his brow contracted with pain.

And that was enough, that tracing, to teach the Lamb all that he wished to know. In one sweep of the finger he had discovered that he had in the darkness before him a thing of quality, a thing of youth and style; something of pride, of a mortal unbeasted.

(Long out of print, I finally stumbled on this rare little book on eBay -- with thanks to Stefan and his Auction Sniper.)

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