from the archives of Essex Terror: The Barren Lands: The Horrors Of Essex In Literature And The Popular Imagination

[Notes: To commemorate the final passing of Essex Terror, and it’s brief but now obsolete resurrection on an accumulation of things, I post here an essay on the existence, and some would say persistence, of Essex in literature and the popular imagination. And then, we shall never mention Essex, Terror, or any other related commodities ever again. Good-day!]

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The Barren Lands: The Horrors Of Essex In Literature And The Popular Imagination

It is not easy to feel sorry for Essex, but if you do it is likely to be for the way in which its very real horrors are ignored in favour of the (often wholly imaginary) terrors and the transitory transgressions of some of our citiziens, highlighted by a banal media incapable of self reflection – nor even at times self-awareness – and that for this the entire county is maligned, ridiculed and occasionally violently attacked [1]. Although there are a number of reasons why an untrue vision of the county is almost always presented to the outside world [2], it is altogether less certain why the real malignancies of the county do not seem able to travel along with them.

Even if the popular imagination is content to see nothing more here than a wasteland of retired criminals and talent show wastrels all choosing to remain trapped together in a vast bubble of garden centres and grooming parlours punctuated occasionally by roadside car crash memorials, occasional glimpses of the deeper actuality of our existence do seep beyond our carefully controlled borders, and an understanding of this is necessary to uncover the existential emptiness which fuels much of our more notable behaviour [3].

As with all essays that touch upon the hidden but persistent horrors of the world, our first point of reference is to HP Lovecraft [4]. Plagued by ominous dreams for most of his life, the vast majority of them depicted “a slimy expanse of hellish black mire which extended about me in monotonous undulations as far as I could see.” [5]

His description of these hellish visions – which continued by saying that “[t]he region was putrid with the carcasses of decaying fish, and of other less describable things [6] which I saw protuding from the nasty mud of the unending plain” [7] – were unmistakably Essex in origin. When a young fan [8] sent him photos of the marshlands of the Blackwater, Lovecraft was said to be overcome by a trembling fear that would never again leave his bones. “It’s terrible – monstrous – unbelievable!” [9] he said. “It’s too utterly beyond thought – I dare not tell you – no man could know it and live. Great God! I […] dreamed of THIS!” [10]

Lovecraft lived with the shuddering aftereffects of this revelation of the true location of his dreams for the rest of his life. Unsurprisingly, he refused all invitations to visit a place he had until then thought were glimpses of the true nature of hell.

“Perhaps I should not hope to convey in mere words the unutterable hideousness that can dwell in absolute silence and barren immensity [11],” he said. “There was nothing within hearing, and nothing in sight save a vast reach of black slime; yet the very completeness of the stillness and the homogeneity of the landscape oppressed me with a nauseating fear [12].”

HP Lovecraft was of course not the first to chronicle the dispiriting nature of the Essex landscape. William Hope Hodgson [13], however, knew well their horrors from first hand experience. The son of an Essex Reverend from the evocatively named Blackmore End, he grew up so disgusted by his surroundings that he joined the merchant navy at the age of 13 in desperation, but ultimately discovered that no matter how far away he sailed the tides would always bring him back.

In “The Boats Of The ‘Glen Carrig’” [14], Hodgson describes the first view of the county from the point of view of a first time visitor. “[W]e had come so close to it that we could distinguish with ease what manner of land lay beyond the shore, and thus we found it to be of an abominable flatness, desolate beyond all that I could have imagined.” [15] The only ingress is “a slimy-banked creek… the banks being composed of a vile mud which gave us no encouragement to venture rashly upon them.” [16] As they travel inland it becomes plain that the land is “a great plain of mud; so [great] that it gave me a sense of dreariness to look out upon it.” [17]

The similarities here with Lovecraft’s visions are remarkable, lending credence to all manner of theories about the powers of the mind and the origins of consciousness [18].

[As an aside, American interpretations of Essex are not always accurate. In “The Snow Goose” [19], Paul Gallico [20] reimagines The Crabbus Man [21], one of Essex’s most notorious nightmares, as a misunderstood, sensitive and altruistic recluse who carries in his deformed and monstrous breast the very best aspects of man. It is only the incredible ridiculousness of this transformation that saves it from becoming blasphemous.

In stark contrast, it is the calls of The Crabbus Man that first alert the adventurers in “The Boats Of The ‘Glen Carrig’” to the existence of life in the barren Essex wastes they find themselves approaching. “And it was at this time, when I was awed by so much solitude, that there came the first telling of life in all that wilderness. I heard it first in the far distance, away inland – a curious, low, sobbing note it was, and the rise and fall of it was like to the sobbing of a lonesome wind through a great forest.” [22] (This great weeping is echoed in the lyrics of “Crabbus Man” [23] by Vom Vorton [24], where it is declared that “Crabbus Man Crabbus Man With His Knowledge He Will Do What He Can Crabbus Man Crabbus Down In The Caverns He Weeps And Plans.” [25]) In the fullness of William Hope Hodgson’s vision, The Crabbus Man (and his offspring, or possibly corruptions) set upon the crew. “And now we saw that it was full of crabs; yet they were not all small, for in a while I discovered a swaying among the weed, a little way in from the edge, and immediately I saw the mandible of a very great crab stir amid the weed… [A]nd thus we had full sight of it, and discovered it to be so great crab as is scarce believable – a very monster… And further, it was apparent to us that the brute had no fear of us, nor intention to escape,; but rather made to come at us.” [26] This is the true nature of The Crabbus.]

The barrenness of the Essex landscape, both physically and spiritually, is difficult to comprehend for those not familiar with the terrain, hidden beneath a superficial void that barely hints at the infinities beneath. JA Baker [27] describes it most beautifully in The Peregrine [28]: “Farms are well ordered, prosperous, but a fragrance of neglect still lingers, like a ghost of fallen grass. There is always a sense of loss, a feeling of being forgotten. There is nothing else here; no castles, no ancient monuments, no hills like green clouds. It is just a curve of the earth, a rawness of winter fields. Dim, flat, desolate lands that cauterise all sorrow.” [29]

His conclusion that Essex is “a dying world, like Mars, but glowing still” [30] is probably more optimistic than these lands deserve.

Notes:

1 – Most recently The Battle Of Basildon (March 2003), The Canvey Incursion (October 2007) and The Great Big Argument (ongoing).

2 – See the upcoming essay “The Essex Illusion: 100 Years Of Manipulation And Misinformation From Within”.

3 – See “Essex Girls? We’re The Best”, by Germaine Greer, The Observer, 5th February 2006.

4 – HP Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an American writer who, with his interminable racism, misogyny and xenophobia, could well claim to be the foremost proponent of the Essex way of mind, even if he never dared travel to the county itself.

5 – From “Dagon” (paragraph 4, line 3), written in 1917 and first published in Vagrant in 1919.

6 – A reference possibly to metal shopping trolleys, which had not yet been imported in any meaningful quantities to North America.

7 – “Dagon” (paragraph 5, line 2).

8 – Ted Vaaak reveals his correspondence with HP Lovecraft in his memoir “A Scream Or Two Before We Go”, currently unpublished.

9 – Recounted in “The Statement Of Randolph Carter” (paragraph 12, line 1), first published in Vagrant in 1920.

10 – “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (paragraph 15, line 1).

11 – “Dagon” (paragraph 5, line 3).

12 – “Dagon” (paragraph 5, line 4).

13 – William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) was born in Essex. His attempts to escape consumed most of his life, ending tragically in the even more hellish mires of the First World War.

14 – “The Boats Of The ‘Glen Carrig’” was first published in 1907 by Chapman and Hall.

15 – “The Boats Of the ‘Glen Carrig’” (chapter 1, paragraph 2, line 1).

16 – “The Boats Of the ‘Glen Carrig’” (chapter 1, paragraph 3, lines 3 and 4).

17 – “The Boats Of the ‘Glen Carrig’” (chapter 1, paragraph 5, line 2).

18 – Especially, but exclusively, the idea that the human mind exists beyond the physical dimensions of the universe and that our brains act as a conduit to this purely conscious realm, allowing seepages between closely proximous ‘pipes’. It is therefore likely that Hp Lovecraft’s brain pipe was closely pressed against that of an Essexman’s or Essexwoman’s, and that his visions were merely the waking perambulations of an entirely ordinary days journeying transmitted into the sleeping (and therefore, more vulnerable) mind of HP Lovecraft. The six hour time difference between Essex and Rhode Island adds further data in support of this supposition, as the early morning is the safest time to enter the marshes, and the only hours in which you are likely to be able to escape.

19 – “The Snow Goose” was first published in 1941 by Knopf.

20 – Paul Gallico (1897-1976) was an American novel writer, who, along with “The Snow Goose”, is most famous for the novel “The Poseidon Adventure”.

21 – Although for centuries it was considered impolite to talk of the creature, in more recent years there have been various attempts at writing histories of The Crabbus Man, perhaps the best of which are “Night Of The Crabbuses” (1976) by Guy N. Smith, “The Crabbus Man Scratches Out” (1997) and “The Crabbus Man Scratches Out Again” (1999) by Toby Vok, and “McBluebeard” (2009) by David N. Guy (no relation to Guy N. Smith).

22 – “The Boats Of the ‘Glen Carrig’” (chapter 1, paragraph 9, lines 1 and 2).

23 – “The Crabbus Man” was released in 2007 on Cowboy Democracy Recordings. The full lyrics (copyright Raz, Vom 2007) read:

“Crabbus Man
Crabbus Man
With all his knowledge he will do what he can
Oh, Crabbus Man
Crabbus Man
Down in the caverns where he weeps and plans

down in the caves his pincers clacking
he wonders why his life is lacking
despite his father’s financial backing

he knows he cannot leave his lair
he knows he’ll never breathe fresh air
but he doesn’t mind, he doesn’t care

he understands the reason why
he’s been forced underground to die
a single tear escapes his eye

he knows they were right to ban
his freakish limbs, unique to his clan
goodnight, sweet crabbus man”

24 – Vom Vorton (1982-thepresentday) is a singer, songwriter and chronicler of beasts, witches and werwolves. He one day hopes to travel to the moon.

25 – see note 23.

26 – “The Boats Of the ‘Glen Carrig’” (chapter 6, paragraph 11, various lines).

27 – JA Baker (1926-1987) was an Essex writer, who was cruelly forced to live and work in Chelmsford for most of his life.

28 – “The Peregrine” was published in 1967.

29 – From “The Peregrine” (chapter 1, paragraph 5, lines 1 to 5).

30 – “The Peregrine” (chapter 1, paragraph 18, line 9).

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from the archives of Essex Terror: Tales From Dimension Essex: The Movie

[Notes: One of the last few dregs from the Essex terror glass, this is a reprint of a transcript of a trailer for a film that never existed (from late 2014).]

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Tales From Dimension Essex: The Movie

Title card: Tales From Dimension Essex!

Music: The Theme From Tales From Dimension Essex plays

Narrator: Welcome to Tales From DIMENSION ESSEX! A world unlike any you have ever known. But first, a message of warning from our Producer.

The Theme From Tales From Dimension Essex fades out.

The Producer is a fat bald man in an ill-fitting suit. The only way you can tell he is not Alfred Hitchcock is that he has a beard, and also is a coarsely spoken Essex barbarian of some description.

The Producer is standing in a nicely decorated middle class living room. Directly behind him is a window and outside we can see a beautiful view of fields and trees. The Producer speaks directly to the camera, as if he is talking to us, the viewer, personally.

The Producer: Hi, I’m David N. Guy, writer, director, producer and proprietor of Tales From Dimension Essex. Here at Tales From Dimension Essex we take our responsibilities very seriously. We know we make programmes that contain some of the most shocking, gruesome and downright terrifying scenes any human will ever see, and as such we’re aware that there will be a significant proportion of any potential audience who will be unable to cope with such demented visions of inhumanity and insanity.

The Producer: Usually as these are broadcast only as radio plays, we expect that those that would be offended or sickened likely lack the imaginative capabilities to turn our words into truly disturbing images within the mind. But as we have managed, for the first time ever, to bring our tales of gibbering unease to the screen, we now bear the responsibility of knowing that our visions will be imaginable by all.

The Producer: As a writer, I have to be true to my tales. I cannot water them down, or obscure the more unpalatable aspects of the story, just to adhere to notions of good taste or decency, especially considering how fluid those standards are. No, as a writer it is my duty to tell what must be told, in the manner that tells it best. If this is to contain untold gallons of viscera and the cacophonous screams of the innocent than so be it.

The Producer: But as a producer, I know that pleasing my audience is of the utmost importance. I want you to be scared, but only if you want to be scared. I don’t want to upset anyone, and I especially wouldn’t want to offend a single person. If shocking people was of any interest to me, I’d skulk around on the high street shouting at strangers. But I don’t. And I won’t.

The Producer: An offended customer is a failed customer. So, as this is the case, I would like to here outline the objectionable contents of the upcoming film. However, I understand and sympathise with those that find spoilers the most offensive possible thing of all. So as to be able to please both these groups, I will list the sickening happenings within this film in written rather than in spoken words. Therefore, those that do not want the film to be spoiled please close your eyes now and await further instructions. Those that wish to see whether this film may potentially upset them, please concentrate on the scrolling text that should begin appear at the bottom of your screen any second now.

The Producer falls silent, and a series of subtitles begin to be displayed across the bottom of the screen.

Subtitle: This film contains elements of the following:

Subtitle: Unease caused by a fear of the unknown

The Producer suddenly looks very scared.

Subtitle: Horror

The Producer starts backing away from the camera.

Subtitle: Terror

The Producer backs up against the wall and window at the back of the room. The camera starts to move slowly towards him.

Subtitle: Subtle manipulations of the psychology of the viewer, designed primarily to prey on the following aspects of the human psyche:

The Producer turns around, clearly panicked, and forces the window open as quickly as he can, nervously looking over his shoulder at the camera, which is getting closer by the second.

Subtitle: Such as a fleeting moment of relief designed purely to heighten the horror of what is to come.

The Producer gets the window open and climbs through, running across the field a bit before turning back to look at the window.

Subtitle: And then the dread

The camera reaches the window ledge, looks up and down slightly, and then passes through, into the world outside. The Producer looks mortified, and begins to stumble backwards

Subtitle: and a moment of near paralysing disbelief

The Producer continues to walk backwards, but more slowly, also peering forward slightly as if trying to get a really good look at the camera.

Subtitle: before an explosion of absolute heartbursting shock

The camera suddenly lunges forward towards The Producer, causing him to recoil in fear and fall backwards to the floor.

Subtitle: And a panicking weeping screaming pursuit

The Producer gets up and runs away. Sprinting away from the camera at an incredible pace for someone so fat. And bearded. The camera begins to follow after a moments delay.

Subtitle: through busy streets

The camera starts to catch up with The Producer. He turns sharply right and the camera follows and now they’re running across a road and down a residential street

Subtitle: amid the blank unconcern of the local populace

The people stop and stare at The Producer as he runs. They seem oblivious to whatever is behind the camera.

Subtitle: who couldn’t care less about your well-being

The Producer runs into a crowd of people, who start to part around him. And into the gap they leave the camera follows.

Subtitle: Through the woods

As The Producer passes beyond the people they are suddenly into the woods. The Producer ducks under a low branch, forces his way through thick undergrowth

Subtitle: and into the caves

And is suddenly into a cave. Rock walls taper inwards as he passes further into them, threatening to squeeze him tight enough he gets wedged and stuck.

Subtitle: and the dark

The Producer is having to run sideways now, panicking, looking back at the camera forcing himself through. The screen gets darker and darker

Subtitle: the endless dark

Until it is pitch black. From his huffing and puffing and the thudding of his footsteps we can tell he is still fleeing.

Subtitle: before finally entering the light

Up ahead there’s a sudden point of light that grows and grows and he steps into the blinding whiteness

Subtitle: And beyond

And tumbles out into the daylit void, followed by the camera as they fall and fall

Subtitle: And a final sudden moment of such shocking sickening violence

The Producer’s body smashes violently into the rocks below with a sickening thud, blood bursting everywhere. And then the camera lands and falls onto its side in a crack in the rocks just below The Producer and watches him there, the image rotated now at a weird angle, looking up at his shattered face.

Subtitle: it makes you wish you’d stayed at home

Blood dripping down onto the camera until the entire screen is red. There are several minutes of silence, and then the screen slowly fades to black. As it does so a final subtitle is displayed.

Subtitle: But then you remember where this all began

Eventually, the lights in the cinema come up, the curtains begin to close.

Narrator: You can open your eyes now. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Please leave the theatre as quickly and as quietly as possible. Goodnight.

Subtitle (projected onto cinema curtains): THE END

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from the archives of Essex Terror: Home Of Hell!

Home Of Hell! is an exciting, terrifying, incomprehensibly horrifying choose your own adventure story where YOU! are the hero.

Presented here in an interactive browser-playable format for THE VERY FIRST TIME! Home of Hell is possibly the most exciting adventure story you will ever play this afternoon.

Play Home Of Hell here

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Notes:

1. Home Of Hell was originally written in November 2011
2. But has since been re-written
3. And updated
4. I’m not sure if this has ever been published online before
5. And if it was it was only as a pdf
6. Of the print version
7. That sold 10 copies
8. Or maybe 9

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from the archives of Essex Terror: The Laughter Never Dies

[Notes: This was from one of the printed Essex Terror’s, rather than an onle Essex Terror. I can’t remember if it made more sense in context but it’s still the most frightening thing ever written. And every word of it is true.]

***

The Laughter Never Dies

THE CLACTON CLOWN has been horrifying the children of Essex for most of their lives. It is described by some as Ted Vaaak’s most disturbing creation. Yet it lives out in the open with impunity. We sent Karen Parallax to investigate.

It sits unassumingly at the entrance to the pavilion. Looking to the casual observer like any other glass box of seaside entertainments, the Clacton Clown has managed to evade the notice of adults in the town for what feels like decades. Only children appreciate the true horror of its existence, and the malevolent hold it has on their dreams.

The first, and so far only, product of Ted Vaaaak’s entertainment and leisure devices corporation, VELDC (pronounced Veldoc), the Clacton Clown has been designed to horrify and unsettle the young and the timid to the maximum possible level without ever inducing within the victim weeping, flinching, spasming, biting, fleeing, or any other overt external manifestation of terror. Ted claims it has been a complete success, and that the longer it stays unnoticed by adults, the greater its victories must be.

The clown sits in a glass box, which is to be its prison for all eternity. Faced with the horror of its fate (that of being bound to Clacton until the end of time to be glared at or ignored by the Essexmen and Essexw’men and the mutated offspring that are forced to follow them), the clown chooses not to despair but to do what clowns are designed to do — laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh, its hand pressed up against the glass, its body rolling back and forth and round and round as it is overcome with mirth, its head lolling wildly yet with eyes that never ever stop staring straight at you, until its suppressed anguish at the horror of existence is radiated out from deep within itself across the ether into the young hearts of its victims (the frequency of the laughs is such that they are mostly inaudible to the adult emotional system, sounding like nothing more than the regular chuckling of the commonfolk, aggressive and tinged with contempt but containing nothing sinister).

The clown is purged through this desperate laughter while the victim is stricken, often terminally. On a quiet day particularly susceptible children can receive these dread transmissions from as far away as nearby Frinton, and often do.

I ask Ted how he and his team managed to create such a lifelike facsimile of a living clown for imprisonment within this Amusement. He looks at me and pauses for a second, pondering whether to lie or admit to me his crimes. He opts for the latter and it all comes tumbling out of his cracked lips in a rushed jumble.

“Clowns, clowns, more than us, more than anyone, are immortal. Both metaphorically in that they live on in our minds frightening us with echoes of their cries long after we are immune to their actual vibrations, and physically, in that clowns cannot truly die. They do die, obviously, but whereas with people when we die our flesh and blood rot and crumble away while our core of bone and claw solidifies into permanence, a clown, an inversion of humanity in spirit and in flesh, rots from the inside upon death while the outer flesh solidifies in defiance of natural law. Instead of intricate bonework they leave behind a leather skin filled with ash for us to find and fetishise.

”It is common for a person, upon finding an intact clown skin, to obsess and marvel over it, hiding it from friends and family, caressing it in privacy and seclusion, eventually donning it yourself, and thereon surrendering your soul to its legacy, eventually becoming clown yourself, living as they do, unendingly, until your own eventual murder, leatherification, discovery, possession, the cycle continuing onwards throughout time, one clown making one new clown, no growth but no diminishment neither.

“I must admit on discovering this specimen that I too became obsessed for a time, but knowledge is innoculation, and I knew what I must do. Levers and tentpoles and pipes became arms, legs, spines and more, a teapot a skull, butterknife fingers, an old tobacco tin heart, a shoehorn tongue. Over this skeleton I slipped the skin, and it fitted, perfectly, just as my measurements suggested. Its memories poured into the teabags left rotting in its head while its malevolence seeped into the dried and clotted tobacco that cluttered its heart.

“Awareness came before movement fortunately and I had time to erect a glass prison for this monstrosity, this undying abomination. He sat on his nest staring out in horror at me. But then came the cries, the gyrations, the never ending laughs.

“I abandoned it in Clacton, by the sea, where the people come, where the children come. For twenty pence you can amuse yourself in this town, the flashing machines and the grasping claws and the guns, the guns, simulated and real, water and pellet and cork. Yet for free you can feel his pain. And you cannot avoid it. From this each child will be hollowed out, emotion eaten by the maggots and worms of his thoughts until nothingness is all they have, empty husks lost and vacuous and insane, our county forever changed. Yet unchanged, too, still here maintaining ourselves as a void of horrors to buttress against the sickening disgustments of the civilisations beyond.”

Ted begins to laugh and his chuckles and guffaws mingle with the desperate laughs of the clown. Up close you can see the sorrow in its eyes. The clown stops laughing for a moment as I hold my hand up against his, the cold glass seperating our palms and undoubtedly saving my skin from his frosty touch. From beneath the unit a wave of scuttling sea bugs emerge, miniature trilobites with extrajointed legs. Are these physical manifestations of the clown’s dreams? Or just mutations hurled here by the crashing waves of the sea against the sea wall? I do not know. I catch my finger on a splinter on the wooden edging of the clown box. The sudden jolt of pain shocks me and I involuntarily stamp at the creatures, my DM clad feet crushing relentlessly down upon them. They burst under the harsh soles of my boots in a spray of grey mucus and a satisfying crunch of shell and bones. A single drop of my blood falls from my finger and mingles with their remains.

“The clown will never die,” Ted jabbers at me later while I run my welling hand under a tap in the toilets. He shouldn’t be here in the Ladies with me but he is. “One day the children will be old enough to vote, to work, to join the council and decide its ways. The clown’s secret will be known and they will have it removed, buried like the rest of its kind in a skip full of rubble and old furniture, everything rusted and moldgrown in the rain.

“But someone will find it, rescue it, take it home and sit it on their settee, nurse it back to health. Knit it a new uniform, stitch its eyebrows back to its face, replace its hat, mend its bones and warm its skin until it begins to awake.”

He looks me in the eye for the first time this afternoon. “This time it will be uncaged.”

***

The Clacton Clown can be located at the entrance to the Clacton Pavilion, Marine Parade, Clacton, Essex. The Clown can be seen at any time during the day throughout the year, but it is usually taken inside at night in the winter months for reasons of safety.

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from the archives of Essex Terror: The Essex Chronicle Of Frightening Things

[Notes: The Essex Chronicle Of Frightening Things (shortened to The Essex Chronicle in 1919, to Essex Chronicle in 1968, and EsChron.com in 2015) is one of the oldest newspapers in the country, having been published discontinuously since 1792. Below is a reprint of a rare issue from 1901, published less than two weeks after the death of Queen Victoria.]

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