Creatures of the Pool by Ramsey Campbell (an excerpt)

Someone’s wielding an umbrella at the near end of Lord Street, and somebody else is holding one outside a pub on the corner of James Street, among tables and chairs spitting rain. Their outfits look not just so haphazard that they might have been chosen in pitch darkness but positively ancient, close to mouldering, certainly glistening with moisture. However much of that is rain, it’s hardly reassuring. Despite the downpour, the loiterers aren’t holding their umbrellas up. They’re leaning on them.

I’m reminded of the photograph of Joseph Williamson gripping his stick like a blind man. Their motley clothes are reminiscent of his shabby crumpled garb. I can’t distinguish much else about the watchers in the twilight veiled with rain, and perhaps I’m glad. Though their large round greyish heads are bald, this doesn’t seem to guarantee their gender. Surely the outlines of their wide-mouthed expressionless faces are unstable only with streams of rain, but in spite of the downpour their big eyes don’t blink. I’ll feel less threatened if I wait in the entrance to the law courts. Before I can head that way there’s another vicious flash.

I see what made me think of creatures beneath stones. The umbrellas jerk up to fend off the lightning, inevitably not fast enough. I’m facing the watcher in Lord Street. Its eyes don’t simply wince at the light – they don’t even close so much as shrivel, retreating into the head. The umbrella hides the figure from its rudimentary neck up, but not until I’ve glimpsed two wrinkled indentations in the pallid rubbery flesh where the eyes were. The sight seems as paralysing as the worst nightmare, but I have to move while I’m not being watched. I stumble around the monument towards the law courts, only to lean against the statue like a child clutching at his mother’s skirt. The rain outside the courts seems unnaturally amplified, and now I see why. The drumming lessens as two figures in faded voluminous dresses lower their umbrellas and raise their hairless globular heads to the rain…

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