The Book Gazette is happy to share an excerpt today from “The Goddess and The Great Beast”, a supernatural thriller by Adrian Gross. Enjoy.
‘Fuck off, Alistair, it’s my turn now!’
These were my father’s last words to me and for many years they were incomprehensible and frustrating. Firstly, my name is not Alistair. Second, it was impossible to know what he thought it was his turn for. And finally, for a man of his generation, whose coarsest previous exclamation had been ‘bloody wars’, the first word was such a complete shock that all I could do to mark his last moments alive was gape at him, open-mouthed, as the confusing sentence reverberated around my head.
Almost as soon as he had launched this explosive phrase he was gone. The eyes were vacant, the body limp, the final breath evaporated into the air.
Nearly twenty years later the following manuscript came into my possession. It was a yellowing folio hand-typed on an old fashioned typewriter by my father. Its discovery brought back vague memories of tap-tap-tapping behind a closed door, interspersed with occasional angry shouts and the sound of sheets of paper being crumpled up and hurled against the wall. It now seems likely that the literary endeavour which was causing him so much irritation was this one, a memoir of his experiences during and just after the Second World War.
I knew he had been in the desert during the war but, as he had always been extremely disinclined to talk about anything in his life prior to my birth, I had never pressed him on the details. As I was quite a late arrival, not making an appearance until he was almost fifty, by the time I was grown up enough to have developed an interest in family history it was too late to ask him anyway because he had died when I was only just out of my teens. By this time I had formed the opinion that, like so many of his generation, my father considered the past a closed book. Either through a desire to leave the horrors of warfare behind or resentment at a system that had failed to properly reward the heroes that had laid their lives on the line to rescue it from Nazi oblivion, he clearly felt the past was best left alone.
So it was with some surprise that I came upon this tale amongst the effects of a recently deceased uncle. As it happens, his name was Alistair, so perhaps he had been the intended recipient of my father’s final words. However, he had not been in attendance at the time and as far as I was aware the two of them hadn’t been in regular contact for many years. He wasn’t even my father’s brother, but my mother’s, so they wouldn’t necessarily have been close. Unhelpfully, of course, he was now dead too, so I couldn’t ask him about it either. It was curious that he had been in possession of this manuscript, though, along with a short note in my father’s vaguely art nouveau handwriting which read simply, ‘Hope this explains.’
When I was a child I always felt there was a shadow behind my father’s eyes, a barrier preventing something I could not understand from imposing itself on our lives. The shadow never dropped and it never went away. Even in death there was something behind those empty staring orbs that would not, or could not, release itself and reveal its secrets. It was never detrimental to our relationship and I was blessed with a happy childhood, but there was always the feeling of a dark secret lurking somewhere close at hand, constantly in attendance but never showing itself except, briefly and cryptically, on his death-bed.
Perhaps this manuscript goes some way towards explaining what precipitated that mysterious psychological cloud. Of course, it’s possible my father made the whole thing up as a kind of joke to posterity or a purely personal amusement to while away the hours of late middle age. But why bother? As far as I know he never made any attempt to publish this document and never even told anyone about its existence. He must have expected it to have been read at some time though, to have thought it worth writing down, so I am of the opinion that this is a faithful rendition of his experiences as he saw them. Experiences that he may not have been fully able to explain and that he struggled even to believe had actually happened, but nonetheless experiences that he couldn’t get out of his head other than by putting them down on paper. If they had happened to me, I think I would have needed some kind of therapy.
The story presented here then is a faithful transcript of the original typescript. I am in no position to either verify or dismiss the contents, so it is offered as it was found, as a curiosity.
As a great man once said, ‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.
We are all Horatio.
About The Book
Author: Adrian Gross
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
1942: a bored British soldier in Baghdad; a beautiful Babylonian Goddess; a sacred marriage unconsummated.
Five years later, in a dreary post-war London, the Goddess must be satisfied.
Can anyone save her demobbed consort from eternal torment?
Or eternal bliss?
Can he save himself?
Does he even want to be saved?
And what’s it got to do with the ‘wickedest man in the world’?
Adrian Gross is a British writer. Some bits of him used to be Irish and some others were once Hungarian. He lives close to Glastonbury and likes to bang his little heavy metal head whilst drinking chewy real ale!
He has endured many terrible jobs, including adrenaline-junkie motorcycle courier, record shop dude-with-bad-attitude, and air traffic control disaster limitation assistant.
When his aching bones and throbbing hangover allow, he plays football (soccer) and rides bicycles up and down the Mendip Hills.