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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Henry Stanton 2020



by JC Davies


The fish swims with me. I stood on the banks of the Eden and cast again. Long shadows on the bank opposite hid a kingfisher which started up suddenly in a blue flash like a touch paper. The water was high, melt run off the Pennines. I was near a stone block bridge, red rust-colored. I hadn’t been here for twenty years. I thought of it often, the house by the bridge, the forked sapling as I left it, now grown into a canopy. Her face in the darkness of a winter’s evening as the ice cracked underfoot, breath coming out in short puffs like steam trains. We cut each other’s palms with a piece of glass wrestled from the mud. Sealed a pact we would never break. To end the life of the other when asked. And now she had asked, sent a letter, said the time was now. So, I came. 

The Eden begins at Black Fell Moss, runs through the Mallerstang dale in Yorkshire, is known there as Red Gill Beck before becoming Hell Gill Beck. The Lakes to the west feed it as it heads north, skirting Inglewood Forest. It passes close to Long Meg and her Daughters, an oval of fifty-nine stones with Long Meg herself, a twelve-foot-high megalith of red sandstone marked with prehistoric engravings of cup and spiral and circle. They say a coven of witches were turned to stone. That the face of a witch is on the stone. They say a lot of things. Nothing truthful. 

Hadrian’s wall crosses it; it ends in the Solway Firth. My line twinges. I clutch at the reel. The rod bends, as scurrying away underwater a fish strains against the line, hook caught deep in its mouth, as mine is. I hold hard with my right hand. It’s not big, but it fights. I reel a little line in, point the rod its way, heave back slowly, drag it back. I caught it swimming past, fed the river just here, but caught it downstream as I was reeling in. It was a foot away from the bend in the river,, and freedom. I pull again, bending the rod to it and away, reeling slowly in, clacking it over, feeling the tug of the wild fish pull, that desperate struggle to live. The line between it and me electric, as it has always been. From stone monuments to now, always the same. I bring it in. Scoop it up with my net. Lay the net on the thick, glossy grass. It twitches against dark green netting, a grayling fish, silver, flecked with blue. On its back the talon mark of a heron’s claw embedded in it. 

It had escaped before from another prey. Wrestled itself free, dropped out of claws that held it tight. I knelt and wept. Something in me broke. Why then, I didn’t know. I took the fish back to the bank and let it free. I took the gun from my rucksack and slid it into my waistband, left the rod and my gear there, walked towards the house. 

If I look down from a height, I can see myself. My stomach doesn’t twinge. The forked sapling doesn’t grow. The house shrinks. Sunlight blinks. The river below, a thin jagged scar across a child’s palm. 



London-based JC Davies is a writer of poetry, prose and narrative drama. He writes and directs films, as well. He has just been shortlisted for the York Poetry Prize.

Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press, Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz, Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama, among other publications. 

His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry.  His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.

A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com.  A selection of Henry Stanton’s published fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.

Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Reviewwww.therawartreview.com.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020