In the Tate Gallery in London hangs a mysterious painting that captures the hearts and souls of everyone who sees it. It emerged from the disturbed mind of an artist consigned to the infamous lunatic asylum Bedlam after he slaughtered his father. Mystical, disconcerting, enthralling, it purports to be a vista on to fairyland itself. In every aspect, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke is an enigma.
But for Danny it is a key.to life and death, magic and wonder, hope and salvation.
A child prodigy, Danny has been obsessed with the painting all his life. Somewhere deep within it is the answer to a mystery that possessed his mother before him.an answer she may well have uncovered.
And so Danny sets out on a quest into the life of the brilliant tortured artist Richard Dadd. By following in his footsteps to Egypt, where Dadd first went insane, Danny risks madness itself. But the prize is worth it.
Is The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke really a gateway to the wondrous land of Faerie that has haunted mankind’s dreams for centuries?
Or is it something much, much darker?
Published by PS Publishing (2002) – Currently Out of Print
I spent the next fifteen minutes staring at my print of The Fairy Feller, wondering what each individual character meant to Dadd, and then I retired shortly after midnight. If I dreamed, I don’t recall it; in fact, I couldn’t remember a single dream from the time I first gave myself up to the drink and the drugs. I woke at 3am, the start of the Hour of the Beast, statistically the time when most people experience nightmares, and most people die. The dark before the dawn. I remember clearly the garish red letters of the clock radio staring at me out of the dark. That’s not to say it wasn’t a dream, but in the immediate aftermath I was convinced of its reality.
The first thing I noticed was movement in the gloom: the gauzy curtains blowing in the breeze. It seems I had left the window open. The cool night air had the familiar odour of the canals, but now another smell lay under it. I remember my nostrils flaring. I remember the smell. As I sit here in a world shrouded in the odours of combusting petrol, that gives me pause; I’d never really considered it before. In our dreams, do all our senses still work? Yes, we see things and hear things, but do we taste, and feel texture, and do we recognise smells? We must.
The smell was of a dog that had been out in the rain. There was another movement that was not the curtains. A shape that had solidity, but that moved awkwardly, in a Willis O’Brien stylee. I thought, in my semi-conscious, maybe unconscious, state: this is really bad stop-motion animation. Purposefully, it moved across the floor.
I didn’t jump to my feet and run to the door, or attack it with the trouser-press so I must have been dreaming. I lay there, unable to move, my skin cold yet hot. I watched its progress with fixed eyes. Even when it was at the side of the bed, I still lay rigid. For some reason, I couldn’t pluck details from the dark. There were arms and legs and a head, definitely, but the thing I recall clearly were eyes. They were all black, blacker even than the night and covering the whole of the orb, reflecting the numbers of the clock radio so it appeared tiny red flames flickered at the core of them.
I remember the first touch on my bare forearm: wet, shrivelled rubber. I thought: Please, don’t. But it did. Tiny fingers digging in, levering itself up. The sickening sensation slithering across my skin. And then the weight of it in the centre of my chest, pressing down, making it hard for me to breathe. It could have been a monkey, or a baby. But it wasn’t. The dog-smell filled my nostrils. It settled itself, leaned forward so warm, surprisingly fragrant breath bloomed across my face. And then it began to whisper…
Of what it said, I took none of the detail with me into the sunlit world. Instead, I was left with impressions that still resonate, like acid flashbacks. For a while after, I was convinced it used some ur-language that by-passed my front brain and imprinted itself directly on my subconscious, affecting me subtly as I went about my day-to-day life; a virus on the hard drive.
When I think of those impressions now, I feel panic start to flare deep inside me. It’s a feeling you might have if you’d spent all your life locked in solitary confinement only to be roughly dragged out one morning and dropped in the middle of the Sahara Desert. You don’t see the rolling sand dunes or feel the oppressive heat. You see the horizons that go on forever, you see a world and life that has had the structures kicked away. You see no framework for your existence at all.
I woke with the gleaming Venetian light breaking through the open windows with what the DJs of my youth used to call a golden oldie loop-playing in my head. Moloko: ‘The Time Is Now’. So, what was that all about? There was one line – “Let’s make this moment last” – trickling through my head. Beneath it, though, the whispers still echoed.