The sunset transformed her goblet of prawn cocktail. The Marie-Rose sauce was blood, and the pink prawns she’d speared and brought to her lips was a writhing cluster of bloated maggots. No, not maggots. What Phil Cowley took to be a trio of the peeled crustaceans was in fact one creature with three limbs.

He blinked. His bottle of San Miguel almost slipped from his fingers when the creature disappeared into her mouth. His fingers tightened on the glass while her teeth attempted to crush the creature.

Its limbs were segmented, curling inwards, with the all-too-familiar rows of serrated teeth along each edge. The black spurs that the legs terminated in glistened like ebony. They dug into Julia’s lips, tearing at the corners of her mouth, yet drew no blood. A wet crack followed, like the sound of a lobster claw breaking, and grey liquid dribbled down her chin.

Now she frowned, chewing harder, but he realised it was not the creature she’d eaten that caused her brow to furrow. She swallowed, wiped her lips and sat back in the chair.

“What’s up with you?”

He didn’t answer. His shoulders hunched, his muscles tightened and he fought the urge to slap the glass from her. His eyes were fixed on the goblet, waiting for another appearance of the three-limbed monstrosities. He took the fork from her and poked within the glass, pushing past the limp lettuce leaves. The prawns shifted in the congealed sauce: semi-circular, limbless blobs of nothing.

Nothing, he told himself as he returned the fork to her with trembling fingers. No limbs.

“I thought…” he began. He shrugged and took a swig of his beer. It tasted stale, flat and warm.

“You saw it again.” Concern was mingled with frustration in her voice. Sympathy would only last so long.

He couldn’t blame her. The raised eyebrows of people on the pier when he knocked the Styrofoam cup of mussels from her hands and crushed the pickled molluscs underfoot had turned to frozen expressions, their owners backing away when he sank to the ground and began crying. It had been an age before Julia put her hands on his shoulders and gently lifted him to his feet.

The sun bled its last on the seaward horizon, and shadows lengthened along the rooftop terrace of the bistro. The Chinese lanterns ruffled in the breeze that came with the wind and the candles within trembled. The scent of honeysuckle and dog roses in the hanging baskets gave way to the smell of shellfish. He gagged, and replaced his bottle. It clinked into place with the four empties.

“Is there something wrong with the food, sir?” There was wariness in the young waitress’s eyes as she took the emptied beer bottles. His breaded Camembert was hardly touched.

“No,” he said with a fixed smile. “It’s fine. I think we’re ready for our mains now.”

She nodded stiffly and took their plates. He watched the fat fingers on her other hand tighten on the green bottles. They flexed, pulsed, like the three limbs of the creature –

Stop it!

Julia waited until the waitress was out of sight before leaning over. For the first time he saw the lines on her face, the tiredness in her grey eyes. There were flecks of grey in her blonde hair, but he could have sworn she’d dyed it last week.

“Today, on the pier… it was the memory of that that stopped you completely losing it just now, wasn’t it?”

He nodded, swallowed dryly. Her features softened, but there was steel in her eyes.

“You promised me this trip would resolve it. Instead, it’s made you worse.”

“No.” He placed his hand over hers, felt the dry warmth of her skin; a contrast to his clammy palm. “What I’m seeing aren’t hallucinations. These are signs, Jules.”

Her lips pursed. “Come off it. How many people are haunted by starfish? What sort of ghost is that?”

“Not starfish. They have five limbs. These have -”

“Three. Yeah, silly of me to forget.” She pulled her hand from his.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have paid for the paintings, certainly shouldn’t have shown them to her. But how else could he articulate the sheer terror these things inspired in him?

And her, he’d convinced himself. The images of the creatures inspired unease and fear, not just because of their alien – and threatening – appearance, but because they tapped into something primal. Not just the same instinctive human reaction to crawling, creeping things with too many legs and eyes and teeth sharper than it needed to tear its prey apart.

No. The feeling the creatures evoked, along with fear and revulsion, was recognition. He’d seen it in Julia’s face when he unrolled the laminate print and showed it to her. Jokes about disabled starfish, hobbling along on two legs less than they needed, went out the window when she took the picture from him and held it to the light.

“Triskelions,” she’d murmured, narrowing her eyes at the words in the bottom right hand corner. “Bloody weird name for an artist, isn’t it? Still, must be weird himself to come up with this -”

“No.” He tapped the squiggle beneath the word. “The artist’s called Mayhew. ‘Triskelions’ is the title of the piece.”

Triskelion. From the Greek “Triskeles”, meaning three-legged. An ancient symbol from the dawn of human history. So Mayhew told him. Found in cultures around the world, not just in western civilisations – but it was the similarity to the Isle of Man’s symbol that had struck him.

Ever since the night he’d died.

He glanced around them. The only other couple had their backs to him, arms draped over each other’s shoulders as they watched the moon rise, edging the whitecaps in the bay with silver. He kept his voice lowered.

“Jules. Think about it. Mayhew says I’m not the first to experience these things. That woman who had a near-death experience three years ago, reported in the Independent. Remember? Hazel Everdeene? Before they revived her, she saw the Triskelions as well. Exactly the same size, pulling her down to what she believed to be Hell…”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“…exactly the same experience! These creatures aren’t make-believe, Jules; they’re real.”

Her head was turned away from his earnest gaze, fixed on the sunset the young couple were watching. There was pain in her eyes, perhaps nostalgia for the innocence and happy-go-lucky they too had experienced.

The girl giggled, and Phil had to fight the temptation to shout out at the couple, order them to shut up. They’ve not suffered what we suffered, have they? They didn’t have their lives ripped apart as easily as their car by an articulated lorry. The boy hadn’t spent months in a coma, watched over by a tearful missus who didn’t know if he’d ever return to consciousness. They hadn’t…he looked away from Julia.

They hadn’t lost their baby.

Julia took a deep breath. Her eyes misted; she clenched a fist and pressed it to her lips. The scars across her knuckles were thin white lines that glowed red from the Chinese lantern. Not quite as deep as those across his thighs and belly, but his could be hidden. Hers couldn’t.

“Steak and chips…seafood lasagne. Who’s having what?”

Phil looked up into the waitress’s eyes. Dull, bovine; he realised just how dead this seaside town really was, when its inhabitants were like this girl. He pointed to the lasagne and gestured to Julia.

Two fish courses. When he’d first experienced visions of the baby Triskelions, she’d made a joke about it, told him it was a rubbish attempt to get her off her beloved seafood.

She picked up her knife and fork and wielded them like weapons, tearing savagely into the pasta sheets. Cheese dripped into the fruits of the ocean beneath. She ate quickly, mechanically, without tasting; every mouthful was a challenge to him. See? There’s no monsters in here!

He stared at his rump steak. The peppercorn sauce bubbled and oozed over the battered onion rings to its side. Not hungry. But the evening was a washout: the sooner they finished, the sooner they could get back to the B&B.

That’s what she thinks, anyway. When do I tell her? He flicked nervous eyes over Julia. The contents of her lasagne writhed over her plate. Prawns, scallops, squid rings…all animated, given new life by the ferocious movements of her cutlery.

But no Triskelions. He pressed his steak knife into the centre of the steaming piece of rump, inhaled the aroma of pan-fried beef, and began to saw.

Hunger returned; he couldn’t remember the last time his stomach cried out for food. His starved body craved the proteins and fats before him, and perhaps this time, just for once, they wouldn’t appear in his food.

With the first mouthful chewed and swallowed, the second in his mouth, hope soared. Even Julia looked somewhat relieved.

There was no crunching of carapaces. No sensation of slimy cartilage slipping down his throat. No tearing of tiny claws ripping into his throat as the meat went down, promising future agony as the creatures tore through his stomach ... Just well-done, prime quality beef with freshly-ground peppercorns.

God, this tastes so good. He swallowed, looked at Julia, and smiled. He cut a third piece of steak and placed it in his mouth.

“So when are we meeting him?”

Phil froze. His lips clenched on the fork tines. He stared at her.

She had pushed her empty plate to one side, the knife and fork neatly aligned in the centre, on top of the carefully-folded napkin. She opened her bag and placed an object on the tablecloth.

It was a coin. Pewter, or dull silver, an inch in diameter. Greek lettering. A stylised warrior holding a spear – or was it an oar? And facing the figure, the three-legged creature that had haunted his days and nights for the last three years.

Triskelion.

“From your artist friend,” she said, producing a laminated piece of card. “Sent to me this morning. To me, Phil.”

 The legend Mayhew –Artist  glared at him in bright scarlet from a murky green background. Fish-like things reached with tentacles from the gloom and caressed the letters. Or were they attacking them? The appendages that pierced the characters were all-too-familiar: the bloated lumpiness of starfish-limbs, the ebony sharpness of hooked spurs, the serrated teeth that bit into the script. He flipped the card over.

For Julia Cowley. To pay the midwife.

The meat swelled in his mouth and began to change flavour. It felt cold, clammy. It writhed.

“You were making good progress. Leaving it all behind. Dr Stevens said you’d be ready to go find work, and now…Phil, this Mayhew guy’s the reason you’ve deteriorated. He’s playing games. Can’t you see that?” She picked up the card and flicked it over. “12 Marine Parade, Fairlight, Dorset. We passed it on the way here, remember? It was all I could do to stop myself throwing a brick through the window.”

His vision blurred; his head spun. Writhing in his stomach accompanied the motions of the thing in his mouth. Feelers tickled the roof of his mouth, and talons caressed his stomach lining.

“He’s using us, just as he used that woman who had the same experie – same hallucination you had. Performance art: using near-death experiences as material for his own work. He’s not just a fraud, he’s dangerous!”

His fists clenched and his stomach heaved. He gagged and tasted bile. The flavour of cooked beef was gone. A bloated, jelly-like appendage felt its way down his oesophagus, accompanied by the triple-drumbeat of the creature in his belly, summoning its twin to join it.

“We’re both going to see him. Then he can tell me what bloody drugs he gave you.”

He got to his feet, lurching. The vomit was a cascade, a tidal wave of acidic liquid and lumps of fatty tissue that scorched and scoured his throat. The spew splattered on his plate, coating the onion rings and peas with chunks of undigested meat. They had tubes that pulsated, quivered. Inflated.

Dear God, there’s dozens of them!

The waves in the black sea beyond the happy couple to his left roared and the air was heavy with an approaching storm. The candles in the lanterns guttered, flickered. Went out.

He couldn’t clearly see the movement of the Triskelions in the faint moonlight, but he heard them. Slimy tubes of jelly that squelched over the plastic tablecloth. Talon-spurs that tapped on the Formica, guiding the limbs and the central mass of blind, faceless material that they radiated outwards from, towards their target.

Hands seized him, gripped his shoulders. Held him upright, forced him to witness Julia’s mouth filling with the swarm of baby Triskelions before pulling him away and towards the wooden steps leading to the seafront. He smelled cheap male deodorant – Lynx, probably – and recognised the barman.

“Can’t handle your beer, you throw up somewhere else. You’re barred, mate.”

His shoes didn’t make contact with the steps – he was floating, just like he had when he escaped the Triskelions - and only when they reached the door did his feet touch the ground, followed by his palms as the barman pushed him through the exit.

Pebbles cut his hands, and sand filled the wounds. He smelled the sea, and rotting marine vegetation and flesh as the door slammed. He felt cold and empty.

“Julia…” he croaked. He tried to stand, failed. He remained kneeling in the sand.

Only the waves answered him, hissing on the shingle. He clenched the wet sand in his fists.

Something sharp pressed into his palm. He winced, opened his hand.

The tarnished coin reflected moonlight back at him. The embossed limbs of the Triskelion gleamed cold silver; the armed man was barely visible.

Man losing the battle against Death. Is that what Mayhew’s telling me? He didn’t know. He didn’t even remember picking the coin from the table.

But why bring Julia into it? Didn’t she have enough to deal with, supporting them both on her schoolteacher’s salary? The guilt he felt when she had returned to work so soon after the accident was a constant source of shame. She had lost far more than him, coped with the loss and the scarring, while he sank into the oblivion of drink and ignored the phone calls – then the letters - from Human Resources  until she was the sole breadwinner.

Julia. God, what do you see in me? Why don’t you hate me? A poxy truck driver who can’t even find agency work to tide him over. And that’s not even the worst of it…if you knew what I’d done, to be here with you…

He heard a door open, familiar footsteps crunch the sand, coming towards him. She shouldered her handbag and crouched down beside him. Her face was blank, made an emotionless mask by the moonlight. She stroked his hair.

“I’m sorry, Jules. I’m so sorry…for everything.” He fell into her arms and wept.

Julia said nothing. She stared into the sea, watched the ebbing tide retreat into the night, carrying moonlight with it.





The studio at Marine Parade was empty. No lights were on and there was no answer to the doorbell.

Phil peered through the small window. The curtains hadn’t been drawn, and the faint moonlight didn’t show much. Just the dustsheets and piles of unopened letters.

“He doesn’t live here anymore, does he?” Julia had replaced her phone, having grown tired of the ‘unobtainable’ message.

“I don’t understand. He said to meet here. That he’d show me the answer…”

Julia folded her arms over her chest. She shivered. “Let’s get back to the B&B. We’ll figure something out tomorrow.”

Phil stared at the deserted seafront. Pieces of newspaper fluttered across the road. A pair of seagulls argued over a discarded piece of battered fish. And at the end of the breakwater, facing to the right, a lone figure stood hunched over the coin-operated telescope. What was there to see at this time of night? Just the offshore windfarm, and that -

Coin-operated…his hand went to his pocket, felt the cold metal disk. A chill spread through him.

“Where’re you going?”

He didn’t answer. He stepped across the road, not bothering to check for oncoming traffic. The seagulls ignored him, didn’t even step out of his way. Almost as though he wasn’t there.

Her heels echoed along the promenade as she hurried after him, calling his name. He hurried up the concrete steps, his hand lightly brushing the guide rail. The figure rose from his crouched position, turned to Phil, and smiled.

Mayhew was older than his website photograph. His eyes were glowing embers within sunken hollows, the skin tight on his cheekbones and hairless scalp. His smile was too wide, his lips fixed into a rictus grin. He gestured to the telescope; liver spots speckled the backs of his hands.

“Okay, Mayhew. Fun’s over.”

The artist shook his head. His smile faded, but his teeth gleamed. “It was never a game, Mr Cowley.”

Phil hesitated. Mayhew’s voice was strange – distant, yet oddly reverberating, as though speaking directly into his skull. He sounded even older than he looked.

Julia’s footsteps came closer. They echoed along the breakwater. Phil took a deep breath.

“When you involved my missus you crossed the line, pal. ‘To pay the midwife?’ What’s that supposed to mean?”

Mayhew ignored him. He raised a hand to Julia. “Mrs Cowley. Welcome.”

Julia’s voice was strained. “Phil. Let’s go back.”

He felt something pressed into his hand. Paper rustled. He frowned. “What’s this?”

“It blew into my face when I crossed the road.” Julia didn’t take her eyes off the artist. Her face was pale, her eyes wide. Her lower lip trembled. “This is worse than I thought. He’s not playing games. This is something else.”

“Eh?” Phil unfolded the paper. It was a sheet of newspaper, from a broadsheet. He had to squint to make out the words in the moonlight.

“It wasn’t a leading article,” Julia said in a trembling voice. “Just buried as a subheading; minor news. Who cares that an old woman drowned herself? That her body was found, decomposed and filled with spiny starfish…feeding on her.”

Phil’s fingers tightened on the newspaper. Starfish. Feeding. His stomach roiled, and no longer felt empty. Something stirred.

“Starfish are scavengers of marine corpses,” Mayhew said quietly. “As are the Triskelions’ young. Of course, you cannot expect a newspaper to pay too much attention to minor details like three limbs over five…”

Clouds scudded over the moon, and the liver spots on Mayhew’s hands elongated, became animated. Phil dropped the newspaper and took a step back, grasping for Julia’s hand.

It felt cold, lifeless. The fingers were thin, clammy sausages. A click came from the telescope. Time’s up.

“Scavengers of marine corpses.” Phil’s voice was hoarse; the mental image of a green-skinned woman rolling in the flood tide, bloated by her intestinal gases superimposed itself over the smiling Mayhew. It felt scraped and scoured again, just as it had in the rooftop restaurant. “What does that make their parents, then? Scavengers of souls?”

“Not scavengers. Harvesters,” Mayhew said. “Gatherers of the dead. They do not take kindly to being denied, but the veil between worlds is too strong for them to come here and reclaim what is rightfully theirs. But like all veils, it is made of a fine weave. Smaller things can come through.”

Their children. Phil’s head swam. His hands went to his stomach and he sank to the ground. The concrete was ice-cold beneath his knees.

“Mrs Cowley.” Mayhew gestured to the telescope. “I understand your fear, but please understand that I am on your side. All will be revealed. Insert your coin, please.”

Phil looked up, watched his wife walk, trance-like, to the telescope. The coin was in her fingers, poised over the slot.

“No!” he roared. He leapt to his feet, despite the ravaging pain in his gut. His arm swung out, knocked Juliet’s arm. The coin spun from her fingers. It rose into the moonlit sky, caught the light from the moon and glittered. The etched lines of the Triskelion flared silver, but were no match for the bright glare of the warrior’s spear.

I can beat Death! I did it before, I can do it again!

The coin reached its apex, then fell. It struck Mayhew’s teeth with a clinking sound that rang, echoed like a gunshot, before falling and disappearing into the black folds of his shirt.

Mayhew turned and stared at Phil. His grin froze, then became wider. The lips rolled back from the teeth, cracked and tore. His hands reached and pulled his shirt open, and Phil saw the tattoos.

An adult Triskelion windmilled across the wasteland of Mayhew’s flesh, its appendages piercing human beings before crushing them into the black rocks and lava pits of the land beyond death.

The tattoo was faded, had obviously been done years ago, but two faces were instantly recognisable.

Hazel Everdeene. The other screamed at Phil the way he had screamed at the paramedics when he and Juliet were cut free from the burning wreckage of the car.

“Your destiny is written in flesh, Mr Cowley. Who are you to deny it?” Mayhew pressed the coin into Julia’s hand. She closed willing fingers over it. “Pay the midwife.”

The artist held Phil by the throat while Julia inserted the coin. It fell into the depository with a rattling sound and Phil watched helplessly while Juliet bent her head to the eyepiece. She gave an ecstatic moan.

“My baby…”

Mayhew pushed Phil towards the telescope. “Your turn, Mr Cowley.”

Phil saw Julia’s hands pressed over her belly. It was swollen, the same size when the car struck the crash barrier. Phil’s heart broke at the look of joy in his wife’s face.

“I forgive you,” she said. “It’s all true. It makes sense. Your life for the baby’s…”

She disappeared; his face was pressed to the telescope’s cold eyepiece and his view changed.

Blackness. Silhouettes of three-limbed creatures rotating clockwise, mechanically, in a murky distance. Turbines, he thought. This is the offshore windfarm. He tried and failed to stifle a manic giggle. Then the view changed.

The rotor blades left the masts. No longer rigid, mechanical pieces of wind turbines, they were an army of three-legged starfish creatures, standing upright and windmilling across a wasteland of black rock, ash and cinder. They effortlessly crossed lava pools, their black carapaces reflecting the hellish glow of the fires below, and then waded into the slushy shallows of the river that separated them from the shivering, naked people on the other side.

They scattered as the Triskelions advanced. Only he and Julia remained. His hand tightened around hers as the nearest monster reared above them. Its lead appendage glittered with serrated spines that were coated in the black, boiled blood of its previous gatherings.

She was fading. Becoming incorporeal, her hand nothing but warm vapour. Only the stillborn corpse of Thomas, with three months left to go before he was due to enter the world, remained.

The baby screamed, his newborn cry a howl of despair at being delivered into this hellish afterlife. Then he too began to assume the incorporeal aspect of his wife, now pulled back to life in some intensive care unit. Thomas would follow, and his father would be alone.

Paternal urges, a sense of responsibility for his son, had been stripped from him in the face of the demon. Only terror remained, and the primal desire to survive at all costs – to escape – remained.

He did something he never thought he would be capable of. He picked up the tiny form of the baby and threw him into the waving spines of the Triskelion.

Forgive me, Julia. I’d die for you…but I can’t be without you.

Thomas regained flesh, substance, which was instantly torn from view when the Triskelion consumed him. His last view, before he followed Julia, was of a stiffening, then a frantic waving of alien limbs from the other Triskelions.

In any language the sign was unmistakable. Anger, fury at being denied what was rightfully theirs, and a promise that they would reclaim their prize in time.

 “It’s time, Mr Cowley.” Mayhew’s voice was not unkindly. The midwife’s grip was no longer vicelike. He gently pulled Phil from the telescope. Phil blinked, wondered why the turbine’s blades had changed direction to spin anticlockwise.

Julia lay on the concrete, her eyes shimmering with tears that reflected the light of night’s heaven. Her abdomen bulged. Sharp, angular edges pressed through her flesh. Blood blossomed on her T-shirt.

Sharp, stabbing pains filled Phil’s belly. Sympathy pains, he thought, sinking to the ground. I deserve no less.

“Push, Mrs Cowley,” Mayhew said with an encouraging smile. “Push.”

The screams were joyous. They were Phil Cowley’s, rejoicing in the birth of the baby Triskelions, which preceded the entry of his son. He welcomed the swarm with open arms, the pain they brought as they tore into his flesh and burrowed deep into the soul he had denied their parents
© Adrian Chamberlin 2014



Adrian is a British writer of dark fiction and lives in the small south Oxfordshire town of Wallingford that serves as a backdrop to the UK television series “Midsomer Murders”, not far from where Agatha Christie lies buried, dreaming in darkness.  He is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural thriller ‘The Caretakers’ (2011) as well as numerous short stories in a variety of anthologies, mostly historical or futuristic based supernatural horror.  He co-edited ‘Read The End First’ (2012), an apocalypse anthology with Suzanne Robb (author of the acclaimed thriller ‘Z-Boat’ (2011)) and has many other projects in the pipeline.  His most recent release is the English Civil War thriller Shadrach Besieged in the Lovecraftian novella collection ‘Dreaming In Darkness’ (2013), which introduces the 17th century warrior Shadrach to Lovecraft fans.  He has also edited for Hersham Horror Books and is a line editor for Lovecraft eZine.  Live recordings of his work are extremely popular and well-attended.  He is aware of the concept of “spare time” but swears it’s just a myth.  Say hello to Mr Golien at www.archivesofpain.com.



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