An extract by Joel Lane, from his short story collection, Where Furnaces Burn. First Published by PS Publishing 2012. Reissued by Drugstore Indian Press, 2014.
[…] When Elaine and I had been courting, we’d come here a few times in the spring of 1980. In those days, the paths were less clearly marked and it was easy to get lost. The limestone cliffs, after millions of years on dry land, still had their own secret geography. The layered ash woods filtered the daylight, made you feel sheltered by some kind of ancient building.
Coming back in the autumn, twenty years later, felt strange. The place no longer seemed peaceful. Black cinders were scattered through the undergrowth, and scorched trees had fallen into the deep gullies. It was hard to see where the effects of fire ended and those of seasonal decay began: dead leaves and black fungus covered everything. Ash trees are called that because of how they look in autumn.
The real ‘Dudley Bug’, which had given the town its municipal symbol, had been found here. The Wren’s Nest was high above the surrounding area, though it didn’t feel like it. Further on, the footpath led us around the edge of a pool long since rendered inert by blue-green algae. Beer-cans and condoms floated on the dark surface. The limestone rim was yellowed and crumbly like old cheese.
Our search team walked down to the Wren’s Nest housing estate that bordered the nature reserve. It was a different world. Whole streets of pale terraces were marked for demolition, their windows covered by wire grids. The barking dogs echoed from concrete walls. Groups of thin youths on the street corners eyed us suspiciously as we approached, then turned away. I could see why the police needed some external support. Had the arsonists been driven by hatred of the past, I wondered, or by an obscure need to connect with it?
He pointed to the Headline: THEY DON’T BELONG HERE. “What belongs here doesn’t belong in the world,” he said. “Know what I mean?”
Joel Lane, although a Brummie at heart, understood the intricacies of Black Country culture like few others could. Lane presents the dark and often seedy underbelly of the Black Country, places of crime, depravity and the supernatural. In this realm the natural and the unnatural are in an almost constant state of flux – one is never sure where the boundaries are between the real and unreal, the dead and alive, the past and present. In this constant in-between, this constant familiar-unfamiliar, Lane’s characters set out to investigate scenes of strange, threatening abjection. Joel Lane’s untimely death in 2013 is a sad loss to the literary world – he’s left us with a body of exceptional poems, novels and stories, all of which cement his status as a master of dark fantasy, horror and weird fiction.