Blackwood sits at the edge of Pendle township, waiting.

Some forests wait for loggers, some wait for the breaking of clouds followed by the warm summer sun.

Blackwood simply waits.

The gnarled pines, grizzled with needles towards the top and with nothing but bald bark and blistering twigs at the bottom, do not wait for the loggers that drive around Blackwood to get to Ashton Forest.

The trees used to be cut down and made into timber. But then they stopped.

There was a house that had been built in the centre of Pendle. And it was a lovely house. Freshly painted and made up specially for a new family. Mother, father, son.

A month later, the mother suffocated her son and her husband. A neighbour battered down the locked front door and caught the mother splashing petrol all over herself, the walls, the floor.

The neighbour fled, but reported to the police who later investigated the charred ruin that she was mumbling about the voices in the walls just before she struck the match.

In fact, there was one company that made a series of handmade wooden cots out of the trees from Blackwood.

All cots were recalled when 20 different cases of crib death were reported by mothers who had purchased the cots. Spikes and jagged edges seemed to have cut their poor babies to ribbons as they’d squirmed in their sleep.

The woodworkers had no clue how this had occurred, having claimed to have sanded every square millimetre and even fired an apprentice woodworker for leaving a wooden splinter inside one of the cribs.

And there were the returns, baskets that looked as if they had been intricately carved into tiny iron maidens, filled with venomously sharp-looking barbs.

Some were still a deep crimson.

Blackwood waited for something else. Someone else.

It did not wait for the traumatised neighbour who watched the horror that unfolded in the house in the middle of Pendle. Nor did it wait for any of the grieving parents, moving their children from one wooden box to the other.

Blackwood waited for Arthur Belby.


The stein dripped amber beer onto the already-sticky bar. Sunlight shafted through the window of Mahoney’s Tavern, catching the twinkling motes. Arthur looked up at the six barmen, each polishing stone mugs with dirty rags.

Mahoney opened one of the mirrored liquor cabinets that surrounded him to refill the brandy, briefly reducing the number of bartenders to five.

He screwed the bottle into the metric and gave a few cursory presses into a shot glass. He poured it into Arthur’s skein.

“Little top up for ye, lad,” said the bartender. “On the house, like.”

“Thanks, Mahoney.”

The barkeep looked down at the man who’d fallen back to his stein.

“Think you’ll be taking some more odd jobs before moving south?”

Arthur wiped foam from his stubbled beard.

“Nope. Autumn’s comin’. No more farming,” he said. “I put up the tile on ol’ Jack’s cottage. Reckon I ain’t got any more reason to stay in Pendle.”

“Visited the old house up by the edge of the forest?” Mahoney asked, wiping down the bar with the same rag he’d been cleaning the stone tankard with.

“Why?” asked Arthur, with a drunken grin. “Is it famous?”

Mahoney said nothing, slinging the rag over his shoulder.

Arthur’s face grew wide. “Oh! That’s the, uh, old man everyone keeps talking about? Say, how come he’s never taken up any work in Pendle?”

Mahoney gave a brief smile. “Boy, he’s more than old. And I’m not sure he’s a man.”

Arthur snorted.

“She’s an old woman, then. When old people get to a certain age, you can hardly tell what’s going on underneath.”

Mahoney gave another thin smile. He’d seen patrons, drunk out of their skulls, dare each to go to the house and not one of them had come back. They’d survived their trip, but they’d sworn off drink for life.

It wasn’t usually good for business to send a customer, especially a valued one such as Arthur Belby, up the house. But since he was leaving anyway, Mahoney figured that he may as well.

“Not a woman, Arthur. Nor a man. The thing that lives in the house at the corner of the Blackwoods has no parents.”

Mahoney squinted at him, trying to tell if he was joking with him or not. He was also, as he was most Saturday nights, sliding slowly into drunkenness.

“The people who have gone to see him,” continued Mahoney. “They’re still around the village. If you want to go see Sam Maystock. Used to have a tab open here, collected glasses to pay for his next suck at the bottle. Then he visits the old house on the corner of the forest.”

“Drunk himself to death?” Arthur offers.

Mahoney shakes his solemn head. “Came in. Thanked me for the company over the years. Paid the tab and left. Haven’t seen him since.”

Arthur stared out of the windows of the small bar. In the distance, he could make out the house, silhouetted against the pine trees of Blackwood.

“How long had he been coming here?” Arthur asked, watching the fog that snaked through the thin trees. A light patter of rain began to fall outside.

“About ten years,” Mahoney replied. He took the empty stein from Arthur and handed him a full one without a further word.

The rain had began to lash down as Arthur left Mahoney’s with nothing but a napkin and a biro scrawl. The tissue was becoming soggy in the downpour, and he pocketed the little map and headed, stumbling, towards his home.

Awaking, hungover, he forgot about the map. He made himself breakfast in his flat above the small shop in the centre of the village. The rain had dampened to a mist and, as he chewed cold toast and continued putting his belongings together, one fumbling hand pulled out the map. Ink still running. The tissue still half melted in the rainwater.

He squinted, his head pulsing, feeling as if it were filled with pins. He could still make out the address.

He left his flat and made his way towards Rosewood Lane. A blue convertible drove past him. The driver held a lit cigar in one of the hands that clasped the burgundy steering wheel. The other was reading the paper.

Arthur caught a glimpse of the front page and could make out the words “sighted in the woods” before the convertible turned and sped off.

Sam’s house stood at the top of the lane. It was redbrick, only slightly bigger than an outhouse and nestled between two much larger houses. Arthur knocked for five minutes before giving up.

He heard the window of the house next door open and a large bearded man popped his head out.

“You won’t get in that way; just turn that handle.”

“What if he’s not in?”

The bearded man fixed him with a peculiar glance.

“He might be out at work,” Arthur reasoned.

The man braved a barking laugh.

“Sam hasn’t worked for the past three years,” he said. “Can’t hold down a job to save his life.”

Arthur looked back at the door and reached towards the handle.

He turned back up the stranger to ask him why he was, but the window had already slammed shut.

The house was dimly lit, illuminated only by the multifarious rays of light that streamed in from the windows and cracks in the brickwork.

Pieces of paper were tacked up all over the wall that were mostly crude drawings of trees clustered together. In every painting there was another person next to the forest. Sometimes larger than the trees, sometimes smaller, in hundreds of different colours. Sometimes with arms, beaks, claws. There were even one or two where the being seemed to have tentacles.

On every one, pen marks ran across the figure as if he were—

“I can’t draw it properly,” came a voice from the floor. Arthur almost jumped a foot in the air.

A figure was hunched in the shadows, scratching away with a broken paintbrush.

Sam was surrounded by hundreds of broken sticks and powdered pigments. In the few fractals of light, Arthur could make out a handful of ribs pressing so hard against Sam Maystock’s emaciated frame that it looked like they would break through at any second.

“The…thing at the house at the edge of Blackwood?”

Sam’s laughter was a horrible croak that reverberated around the decrepit house.

“No, they built that. A guardian to keep out intruders. That’s not really important, although you’re welcome to go and talk to it. It’ll tell you things you’re not supposed to know.”

Arthurs head was swimming.

“Built? Like, a machine or something?”

Sam looked up from the darkness. He crept forwards until the slats of sunlit illuminated his pale face and jaundiced eyes. “Exactly like that.”

He fell back to his scribbling. Arthur watched him. A breeze whistled through the ruined brickwork and the papers on the walls flapped.

“So who are you trying to draw?” Arthur said, finally.

I think there’s a few of them. I thought there was one at first, but there’s a few of them. It calls them the First.”

“It could be lying,” said Arthur.

“The machine can’t lie,” Arthur grunted.

He finished off his piece and tacked it up on the wall. Then he fell back to the ground, grabbed another scrap of paper, and began to work again. There was a fury to his movements, as if something had possessed him to try and recapture what he’d seen.

Arthur felt it was like watching a dumb animal, trapped in a nightmare.

He headed out of the house, closing the door behind him. Even outside, he could hear Sam continuing to scratch at mutter.

He followed the overcast sky out of Pendle.

He walked by a Tandy Electronics, its large bay windows filled with the latest computers. IMSAI 800s lined the windows. At the back, gigantic bulky Altair 8880s. He looked up at the red neon sign and felt his lingering hungover had started to fade. He felt different. No longer interested, but now agitated. Someone, most likely some computer nerd, had built something out in the woods and hidden it in a shack.

He rubbed a hand through his stubble, considering his options. It might, indeed, be something dangerous. It had put the fear of God into Sam and it had done a number on a bunch of others according to Mahoney.

But it probably wasn’t bad. Or even dangerous. Just a bunch of parts, possibly worth a pretty penny to the right store, and would be worth investigating.

If he was going to leave Pendle, he may as well make an extra bit of pocket change out of everyone else’s superstitions.

He went home to eat a simply lunch. A ham sandwich with some cucumber that was sitting at the back of the fridge. Half a can of dandelion and burdock set off out of the town and walked towards Blackwood.

He reached the forest by the late afternoon as the settled clouds had began to turn dark and ominous. The woods stretched out ahead of him, seemingly forever. And the house, little more than a cabin, was just in front of him.

The cabin was neat, with an immaculate thatched roof protecting lacquered walls that seemed to give off an ochre radiance and small peephole windows. The chimney merrily puffed white clouds.

There was someone—something—inside.

Arthur knocked and the door opened.

The man who opened the door looked like a humble farmer, clad in a simple threaded T-shirt, coveralls, and mud-streaked work boots.

“Hello there, young man! And to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I was just wondering…” Arthur began. His brain ticked over. He realised he was being incredibly stupid, chasing the words of a bored barkeep and a looney who’d fallen off the deep end. Then he found his voice.

“Can I come in?”

The man shrugged. “Sure. I don’t see why not! I don’t get too many visitors to this neck of the woods in any case.”

He laughed at his own joke.

“Come right in!”

The inside of the cabin was equally immaculate. A log fire roared in the hearth where several bronze pans bubbled away. A selection of small furs adorned the walls and clay pots decorated the mantel. In the corner, an RCA Victor colour television showed a newscaster rustling his papers and mentioning the storm just north of Ashton forest before cutting to the final story of the night.

“Dressed strangely,” said the newscaster. “Parents have been warned by Pendle authorities not to let their kids near the forest, for fear of Satanic—”

The smiling farmhand turned off the television and sat himself down.

“I was just catching up on the news,” he said. “Would you like a cup of tea? I usually end up boiling much more water than I need to. I meant to get a kettle, but can’t get any darn plug sockets installed out here.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” said Arthur. He felt himself relax.

“Well, make yourself comfortable in any case. Storm’s coming through so it’ll probably be raining by about eight.”

“Oh yeah?” asked Arthur.

The farmhand nodded. “Yep. With about an 85.435 percent certainty given our latitude with potential for only overcast skies depending on changes in humidity.”

Arthur laughed. “You got a good memory, pal. Did the weather man just really say all that shit?”

“No. My internal sensors monitor weather perfectly.”

Arthur felt his spine freeze up.

His mind reached back and he once again saw Sam hunched over his crazed drawings.

What had he said?

The machine can’t lie.”

He looked over at the farmhand and noticed his almost perfectly glassy eyes. Every time they moved, they made an almost imperceptible clicking sound. Lines on his neck like smooth creamy porcelain connected skin-painted plates covering an invisible exoskeleton.

There was no doubt about it. The farmhand was a robot.

Arthur reached towards the fire, where a poker was resting next to the crackling logs.

He grabbed it and swung, wincing as he readied himself for the poker to go through the head of the robot.

The arm of the robot, which had been resting by its side, was immediately at its head. It crushed the poker in two without so much as a glance back over at Arthur.

“No thank you,” said the robot, quietly.

Arthur got up to run to the door. His adrenaline was surging. He gripped the handle and turned, expecting the cold metal hands to grab him.

He gripped the doorknob and pulled the door open, turning to see the robot doing nothing more than sitting in the chair and staring at him. Something in the robot whirred. The eyes clicked.

“Well!” Arthur shouted. He felt fear wracking his body. “What the fuck do you want? Am I not allowed to go in the forest or something? Is that it?”

The robot shrugged. “You are welcome to walk Earth as you please, Arthur.”

“How do you know my name?” Arthur said. He tried to keep himself from sounding afraid but his voice lilted.

“I know all about you, Arthur Belby. You were born in Hardwick Hospital, just outside of Dublin. You are 33 years old and have 35 more to go before a blackness eats your bowels and you will pass in a respite home on the outskirts of Bristol. You will not marry, nor will you have kids.”

“Fuck you.”

“I cannot be fucked,” replied the robot, curtly. “I do not—”

“You don’t know anything about me,” Arthur mumbled. “This is some sort of horrible trick.”

“I am programmed to know everything that has happened or will happen. I am the repository of all the knowledge there is, as I am connected to the beacon in the middle of the woods.”

“You can’t know everything about the world,” said Arthur. “You’d have to be millions of years old!”

“I am over 5.6 billion years old,” said the robot. “Made whilst the star you orbit was just a flickering child.”

“Okay. And you’re going to stop me from going to the beacon?”

The robot blinked. “Perhaps I need repeat myself. You, Arthur, are welcome to walk the Earth as you please.”

“Then why are you here?” said Arthur.

“To stop the Earth falling out of the sky,” the robot replied.


“The beacon requires a person. A guardian and watcher to stand until the end of the universe. I am he. Sometimes I am replaced by another. These are people who give up their names, their lives, and their history to simply become the repository. Without the library, none can remember anything. And with that, chaos will ensue. People will not remember why the night falls or why the eclipse happens. They will not understand sunsets, nor will they understand birth and death. They will go mad. And when they do, the Earth will fall out of the sky.”

“When do you get replaced?” asked Arthur.

“Whenever someone comes to me. I have a lifetime, but it is…prolonged. My current vessel that lives here, sequestered in this dark cabin, is one billion years old. When my life begins to fail, you’ll begin to notice changes all around you. People becoming aggressive. Fearful. Anxious. The psychic connection I have with every human on the planet will wane.”

The robot looked up at him and a smile formed like a sudden metallic brushstroke.

“Would you like to know when that is?”

Arthur stepped back into the cabin. The fire had died to a flutter of embers and the only light in the cabin came from the eyes of the robot. They glowed like demonic lightbulbs.

He considered what the robot said. He considered his life. He had always wandered, never knowing where to fit. A square peg in a world like Swiss cheese, unable to find a hole. He’d had girlfriends, but it had never lasted more than a few meagre months before he had lost interest. Nothing cruel, he just couldn’t find himself bound to another.

And now the robot had all but confirmed it.

He leaned towards the robot.

The robot whispered in his ear.

Arthur could feel the planet turn. Could feel the tilt of the axis. Could feel the weight of the sky and the flow of the ocean. He could feel the thoughts of every human on the planet. And he felt his heart gripped as if in a vice.

He struggled to breathe.

“Most do not like hearing it,” the robot said, resettling on the chair. “They will go mad. Talk of the Cold War that will continue for a while. Or they will worry about disease. War. Meteorites. But it’s not any of that. But it may be soon. Though my soon is a different concept to yours, of that I’m sure. Not too much now you know, but still quite a little.”

The robot coughed.


The eyes of the robot seemed to power down a little. It twitched slightly.

Arthur felt himself almost paralysed with fear. He felt the sensation treble, and then quadruple. The sky was falling. Or he was falling. Or everything was-

“I’ll take your place.”

The robot clicked. It let out a series of whirring coughs followed by a snort that sounded like a car engine turning over.

“How do I do it.”

Arthur did not ask as a question. And as the robot looked up with failing eyes, he could tell that Arthur was serious.

“The beacon. The—”

The robot hissed. Smoke guttered from a panel just below his legs.

“Go to the beacon. The First will not stop you, but do not—“


“Do not talk to them. They made—“

The circuits began to fail.

“They made me—and they—

“—All the planets

“—Reality is…”

The robot began to shudder.

“—They—made time and time and time and time and—“

The robot croaked. A plate fell off, revealing what looked like see-through plastic that changed colours from mottled pink to dark green to purple.


The robot died.

Arthur began to run.

He made his way towards the forest as the ground shook. Trees fell as he reached the forest and sprinted through the dark cenotaph-like trees. He did not know where he was going, but just kept running.

After a while, the rumbling stopped. Everything stopped.

There was no noise inside the forest. No birds, insects, or sings of life. He could hear his own heartbeat and then, a few minutes later, could hear a pounding gluck gluck gluck.

He turned to try and find the source of the noise, before realising with morbid horror that it was the sound of his blood coursing through his veins.

As he kept walking through Blackwood, he began to see things. Shadows out of the corner of his eyes. Trees were jutting at angles. An array of pine trees loomed over a rock ledge and Arthur noticed that the rocks at the bottom of the ledge were all perfectly-formed squares. As he looked over at them, one of them trembled and wobbled twelve meters across the forest floor.

He kept going.

Time seemed to have stopped. The sky was jet black. There were no stars and the celestial coating of the Milky Way, common to see in the skies above Pendle, had vanished.

Ahead of him, beyond the pine trees was a hut made of broken wood.

He pulled open the door and entered.

There was nothing in the hut apart from a little cot with a small paper note folded up in the centre.

He sat down on the cot and was about to unfurl the note when he looked up and shrieked.

Above him, just above the cot, was the likeness of the most horrible thing that Arthur could imagine.

The painting showed what looked like a being, bathed in golden light, but something was deathly wrong. The creature had gone wrong somewhere. A maddened look was struck on its beetle-black eyes and it grinned with such malice that Arthur almost stepped back out of the hut.

But something compelled him. He stared at this portrait, so lifelike it was bizarre. He knew what he was looking at. It had many names and many forms. This was one of many, but of which there was only one. The being who made the cobwebs that held up existence, hatched from an ungodly egg washing up on the shores of space before time began to tick.

No being higher, no being lower. It spoke for the dead, and was immutable proof that they would never again talk.

Arthur felt tears sting his eyes as the grinning figure stared at him. He struggled, pulled his glistening eyes away from the Un-God, and pulled open the note.

Written in bold handwriting across the front, in smeared and messy handwriting, was a single sentence.

“Don’t look out of the window.”

He looked back up at the painting and the figure had gone. He reached out a hand and touched the painting. Cold glass.

As he stepped away from the smeared window pane, he felt the energy go out of his legs.

He collapsed onto the bed.


When he awoke, he heard birds tweeting outside. He opened his eyes and groggily noticed he was inside his bedroom. He smiled and stretched out. It had all been a terrible, terrible—

His foot touched something at the bottom of his bed, sitting on top of the covers.

His foot flinched away and he sat up in bed. He looked over at the bundle of farmhand clothes, bundled neatly together. He reached out and touched them and noticed his arm was able to reach much more smoothly.

He put a hand up to his neck. It felt cold. Ceramic. There was no pulse.

He didn’t know how he felt. He knew he should be afraid, but when his brain tried to stretch for the emotion…he couldn’t find it. It had simply gone missing.

He could still feel the world, though it felt a lot more stable. He knew how long he had. How long everyone had. Every bird in the sky. Every baby, every mother and every lover. And he knew of the beings that lived in Blackwood. Strange beings, strange clothes. Strange woods.

He climbed out of bed and climbed into the clothes. They smelled strongly of burned rust, but he didn’t mind. He walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator for bread. Then he closed it. He wasn’t hungry. He tried to remember what hungry felt like, and found he couldn’t stretch to that either.

He left the house and wandered down the lane. He looked up at the blue skies, the wimpish white clouds that were the survivors from the rainstorm. The puddles. The sunlight reflecting on the cobbles. The children laughing as they played hopscotch in the streets. He tried a laugh and found he couldn’t stretch to that, either.

The cabin outside of Blackwood seemed to be calling for him, but he had one last stop to make.

Mahoney put down a stein he’d been washing and looked over at him.

“Arthur! You’re back! Mate, did you feel that earthquake last night? I mean, I thought the whole bloody world was ending!”

Arthur offered him a smile.

Mahoney stared.

“Are you okay, matey?” he asked. “If it’s not too much, you’re looking a little peaky.”

“Actually, I’ve never been better,” said Arthur. “And I don’t think I’ll be leaving Pendle after all.”

“Excellent! So what’ll you have?”

Arthur pulled out a cheque from his pocket and pushed it across to him.

“Settling my tab, Mahoney. I’m off for a while.”

Mahoney offered a look of complete confusion.

“But you said you were staying?”

“I am. I’ll be at the hut. At the corner of Blackwood.”

Mahoney fixed him with a look he reserved for people who have snuck far too much to drink and he unconsciously placed his hand under the till where the handset is, ready to dial an ambulance.

“Arthur. You can’t. You’ve got here. You’ve got me, you’ve got things to do! You can’t just…”

He struggled to find the right words.

“You can’t just kill off your life! What about a beer, eh? For old times’ sake! You love beer! On the house! And Harriet’s coming in later; didn’t you tell me last month that you were thinking of making a pass at her?”

Arthur smiled. Beer didn’t stretch. Harriet didn’t either. Mahoney, though he felt slightly bad looking at his friend, didn’t quite make the stretch.

“I can’t,” he replied, simply.

“I’m not Arthur Belby anymore. And that which I love I have to put aside. I love you, as I love this world and everyone in it. And I am sad to no longer be part of it.”

He tapped the cheque and Mahoney pocketed it.

When he looked up, Arthur had walked back towards the door of the empty bar.

“But only darkness loves me.”

He opened the door and walked into the sunlit village, heading north towards the cabin at the edge of the forest, where he was never heard from again.