Beyond the Veil

Still discombobulated from the paperback launch of The Red Man and Others, we got the message that the line-up of Flame Tree Press’s Beyond the Veil would be made public.

You can find the full list on Flame Tree Press’s blog post, as well as links to further info on each author. This anthology will come out on Kindle, in paperback and in hardback in October, just in time for Hallowe’en. It was edited by Mark Morris, and contains twenty original horror stories, sixteen of which were commissioned from some of the top names of the genre, with the other four selected from hundreds of submissions.

It’s a great list of names, and we are really proud to see ours amongst Priya Sharma, Toby Litt, Matthew Holness (Dream Weaver, and actor, of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace of which we’re huge fans), Lisa Tuttle, and Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentlemen, another favourite of ours).

For our story, For All The Dead, we returned to the area I grew up in, close to the Northern Dutch coast, but that of a century and a bit back. We find ourselves in Soltcamp, the fictionalised version of Zoutkamp, the fisherman’s village that once lay by the sea. It’s a village where the people kept, in the words of one of our characters, ‘one eye on the Bible, the other on the sea.’ It allowed us to play with the folklore of the sea, and embroider our own mythology.

Familiar as we are with the history of Zoutkamp, we worked in elements of one of its infamous residents of the past, the seer Meldine, who was said to have made many predictions of things still to happen, and with her followers to practice her own particular version of Christianity. She is said to have appeared at funerals to preach about the fate of the departed, until the villagers felt she carried that too far and told her to stop. You can read more about Meldine, and other prophets of the sea, in our article for Northern Earth.

The sea, an ever lurking danger behind the dikes of the low-lying areas, certainly had a hold over the people of the coast. It provided their livelihood, but several big floods also devastated the countryside. Chief amongst them was the Christmas flood of 1717, claiming 14,000 lives, but there were other dangers. For our story we were thinking of the disaster of of 1883. A few years ago we visited the monument on the dike of the village of Moddergat on a cold and windy April day; its plaque tells how 109 fishermen went out on 22 ships, and how 17 ships and 83 men remained at sea.

The sea giveth, and she taketh away.

A Fisherman’s Prayer

The people of Zoutkamp are not by far as pagan as we have them in the short story we’ve just finished, but you can’t escape a certain feeling of “one hand on the Bible, one on the tiller” when reading about the history of the fisherman’s village.

Zoutkamp lies at the mouth of the Reitdiep river, which goes landinwards, to the city of Groningen. With the reclaiming of land over the last centuries the village got further removed from the sea, and with the damming of the Lauwers Sea it lost its open thoroughfare to the Wadden Sea altogether, and with it – as some would claim – its soul.

Zoutkamp’s sea dyke with sluice to the Hunsingo canal, ca. 1930. On the right you can see the chalk ovens, where sea shells were burnt to produce chalk for the building industry. (photo: Oud Zoutkamp facebook page)

Ulrummer writer Marten Douwes Teenstra would come through Zoutkamp when visiting the grounds on the other side of the Reitdiep, Het Ruigezand, where his father and uncle had their farms. He wrote about one such a crossing of the river in his zine, The Diligence, in 1840:

A while ago I sailed with a poor fisherman from the Zoltkamp to the other side, who (he said) taught his children to pray like this:

“Lord! Save us from storms and flood, sickness and war, expensive times and a country full of rich farmers!”

When I asked him for the reason behind this strange prayer, the man said that he feared that his poor family on the shore would starve of hunger and sorrow because of the price of the daily bread, or be hit and squashed by speeding landowners on their horses or traps.

Zoutkamp’s harbour, with on the horizon M.D. Teenstra’s birth ground, Het Ruigezand. (photo: Oud Zoutkamp facebook page)

Klaas Jans’ Odyssey

Affordable (free) and available healthcare for all should be something that is cherished, and not squandered for political gain. The NHS should not be for sale, and an ACA should be strengthened, not undermined. Something to think about, next time you vote.

The church of Vierhuizen, where Klaas Jans lies buried.

Huddled against what was once the sea dike separating the northern Hogeland from the Wadden Sea lies the quiet village of Vierhuizen. The only road that leads through the village peters out in the reclaimed lands that now lie beyond the fields. Once, a hundred, two hundred, years ago, it would literally have been the end of the world.

Communities were largely self sufficient back then, and the roads between villages not hardened before 1850. You’d seldom visit the villages surrounding your own, with some only known to you as church spires on the horizon, and many would never visit the city of Groningen; the journey was such that it may just as well have been 200 miles away, rather than 20.

Klaas Jans went from his farm Midhuizen, via Vierhuizen to Zoutkamp, where he went on the ice. A 4 km/2.5 mile walk in bad weather, and then 30 km/20 mile of skating. And back.

For years Klaas Jans, of the farm Midhuizen between Vierhuizen and Hornhuizen, had suffered from a hernia, and at the end of January, tired of living with the constant pain, he decided to visit the specialist in Groningen. It was January 1787, and he did so in the only way available to him. He walked to the Reitdiep river in Zoutkamp and tied on his skates. The story is carved out on his grave, a stone slab covered with cramped script:

When I still was, they said of me,
No stronger man than him you can see,
It was true, but know that God,
Made me meet my fate,
When I that morning wife and child,
loved strongly and tenderly,
bade goodbye and on my skates,
went to Gruno’s city, where I was struck,
another blow, because a breach,
hurt and anguish for many years,
it had caused, mind me,
In this situation I went,
And came at the breach doctor,
But this man had for me
No relief, so that I could
Do not else than go home,
riding on my skates.
In such condition it’s a shame,
this is how I came home,
Soaked in sweat from pain and groin,
back with beloved and child.
Straight to bed, I was worn out.
Two doctors fetched immediately for help,
They came quick but it was too late.
See, they know no herb to cure me
So on the third day came the end
of my lifetime, and I’ve just
been set in this grave on the tenth day.
From which I will arise.
Farewell beloved, praise God.

He was 28 years old, Klaas, and how strong must he have been indeed, to skate the 20 miles to Groningen and back. And what love was there between him and his wife, and what anger was there at his ordeal, to record his saga on his grave stone, rather than the usual dates of birth and death.

Wadden Devil

“If you fall in the hands of the Wadden Devil you’re in a bad place,” said the old fisherman. “You can write that down.”
If you are on the Wad to fish for turbot or for something else, he suddenly jumps on your neck and you can’t go further. If the flood then catches you out, you’re lost! You’ll not be able to come to the dyke and you’ll drown.
You can’t see him, you can’t hear him, but he lays his ice cold hand in your neck and that hand gets heavier and heavier. You can’t shake him off, and it’s as if you sink deeper and deeper in the silt.
He caught me once, but I could just get to shore and I’ve snatched my life away from death, but most people you’ll never see again. Wadden Devil has taken them.

The Wadden are the mudflats between the northern Dutch coast and the islands above it.

When I was a little boy we regularly went to the local folk history museum Verhildersum. I remember being very frightened of the paper mache devil they had stuffed away in the shadowy attic. Years later, when I worked at the museum myself, I asked about the doll. It’d been a remnant of an exhibition they’d had years before, and when I’d seen it, it’d already been mouldering away. With the power of the Internet I’ve now finally been able to track down what it looked like too, when Verhildersum hosted the exhibition on local folklore and legends in 1971, using much the same sources as we’ve got on our shelves now.

“As je ien handen vallen van Waddenduvel din ben der min aan tou,” zee òl schipper, “schrief joe din mor op.”
Als je op t Wad bennen om bot te prikken of veur annerswat, din springt e joe onverhouds op nek en din kin je nait verder. As vloud joe din overvaalt, din bin je verloren! Want din kin je nait weer aan diek komen en verzoep je.
Min zigt hom nait, min heurt hoom nait, mor hai lègt joe n ieskòlle haand ien nek en dij haand wordt aal swoarder. Min kin him nait weer kwiet worren en t is net, of je aal daiper en daiper ien t slik votzinken.
Hai het mie ainmoal te pakken had, mor ik kon nog net aan waal komen en k heb t veur dood weghoald, mor maisten zai je nooit weer. Waddenduvel het ze mitnomen.

(From a book of legends and folk tales collected by Mrs E.J. Huizenga-Onnekes.)