The Night Creature
Brian Ball | Fawcett Books | 1974 | 159 pages
Andy and Sally, two young art school dropouts, run a roadside crafts gallery out of an old barn in the English countryside. Returning from a trip to gather new materials, Sally brings back a pencil rubbing from a brass relief she discovered in the tomb of a decayed church in a nearby village. Although Andy acknowledges the commercial prospects of selling copies of the rubbing, depicting a medieval couple, to day-tripping tourists, he finds the figures strangely unsettling. The woman’s portrait in particular, although magnetically attractive, suffers from an apparent act of vandalism to the original brass—her face has been entirely scratched out.
That night, as moonlight streams into the barn and falls onto the rubbing, Andy awakens to a sense of movement. Closely examining the paper, he becomes convinced that the lapdog portrayed at the woman’s feet has moved. Shaking it off as a dream, the experience nonetheless repeats itself the next night, with horrible consequences. Again awakening from a troubled sleep, Andy discovers one of the couple’s fluffy young kittens has been brutally mauled to death—and a fresh bloody streak has appeared on the maw of the dog in the rubbing. [Sorry kitten, cute animal companions always seem unable to escape their fate as early fodder.] Sally’s obsession with the history behind the rubbing grows as the nights progress, and Andy fears that the increasingly strange materializations he witnesses signal the corporeal return of the faceless woman.
The Night Creature benefits from its evocative setting in the rural English landscape. From drafty old barns to decrepit churches, the dark history of place manifests itself in the miasma visiting Andy at night. The local villagers, populating the inhospitable pubs and unsympathetic constabulary, hint at a shared secret history that forms a barrier to outsiders like Andy and Sally, who seem perpetually doomed to live behind the veil of mystery that threatens them. However familiar the bucolic terrors ultimately may be, the dark mood is sufficiently compelling to pull the brief story through to its purposely ambiguous ending.