nothing here but a two-faced beach

[UNLOCKED] bonus 004 - 16th April, 2019

Edit: The full Creeper Issue 1 PDF is now free for download, but read below for a sneak peek.

//

Hello loyal subscribers,

Austin here. This week I wanted to send you a little preview of the upcoming Creeper Magazine, which is being put out through Oh Nothing Press.

Included below is a short personal essay I wrote for Creeper. It’s about dead boys and beachside holidays. If you follow this link you can find a pdf of the full article, which has been designed by John English (he of Solvent Image and once of this newsletter).

Corey and m1k3y have also contributed, and their work is featured alongside a bunch of interesting writers and artists including Ganzeer, Ben McLeay (aka @Thomas_Violence) and Elytron Frass (author of the excellent grimoire/historical horror Liber Exuvia).

I hope you enjoy the preview. I can’t wait to show off the completed magazine, I think it’s looking good, even if I do say so myself.

Cheers

-Austin

***

The beach has two faces.

I realise this at age 13, my skinny arms buried in the sand to counteract the poison coursing through my veins. I’ve been stung by physalia utriculus, which in Australia we just call “blue bottles”, and the little jellyfish have left angry red lines that throb where their tentacles lashed my skin. I embed my arms up to the elbows in the cool sand, and it makes them feel better somehow, the weight of the moist earth lessening the intense ache. Around me, sun- worshipping families actively pursue relaxation, parents lying on towels and chatting or listening to the radio while their children frolic unattended at the edge of the surf. The crowd is oblivious to my fear, my terror invisible as I consider the possibility of some heretofore unknown allergy to jellyfish toxin. I’m scared I might die—it certainly feels like it, my heart racing, limbs pulsating with pain—but I am entirely too full of pride to ask for help. To the casual observer I probably look like I’m playing some weird game—inserting myself into the beach arms first, burrowing like an animal, face fixed in a half-grimace, looking around for help that won’t come, because why would it?

               Kingscliff is a beachside town in northern New South Wales, and when my family first visits in 1994 it is still a quaint and quiet place, yet to be transformed by foreign capital, the real estate game, and a tourism boom. But some of the locals know what’s coming: on our first trip into town we sit for lunch at the local bakery, and my father laughs as he points to graffiti carved into the wooden table. It says DIE YUPPIE SCUM in crude slashes and hacks, violence implicit in its form. I try to imagine the person who did this—were they laughing, was it just a joke? Or were they grim and serious, their act of petty vandalism fuelled by genuine hatred? Could they even be watching us right now? I look at the black BMW parked in front of us—my family’s car—and know with certainty that we are the yuppies they want dead.

The beach has two faces. During the day it’s idyllic in the ways you already know: seagulls and hot chips, crystal-clear water and body boards, big umbrellas and bikinis. But then there’s the other beach, the beach that’s actually a trap. This other beach is a slave to the endlessly undulating ocean, a vassal that lures in unsuspecting victims to drown or disappear them without a trace. This is the other face of the beach, hidden in plain sight: this is the beach that can kill.

One night I overhear my parents talking about a murder that occurred in Kingscliff a little over a decade earlier, in 1982, the same year I was born. From these intercepted snippets gruesome details have been extrapolated: two hitchhiking 13-year-old boys were kidnapped and taken into the dunes by a pair of men—AWOL soldiers; lovers and Satanists. The men raped and tortured the boys before they made one of the schoolboys kill the other, forcing him to bash and bury his friend half-alive in the sand, leaving the truant teenager to suffocate in his shallow beachfront grave. The men then drove their unwilling accomplice home, injured but alive... and burdened with a tale so terrible that it is impossible to know its true weight.

Although this scenario might seem outlandish, it was all true, and, as I found out many years later, the actual details of the crime were even worse than those I overheard—more disturbing, crueller, more depraved. If you want to know for yourself, you can search for the murder of Peter Aston. But I can’t recommend it. There are some things that best remain unknown.

From then on poor Peter Aston was my secret companion on our trips to Kingscliff, bound to the beach side town where he met his end. This was a period of my life marked by an obsession with Stephen King and Twin Peaks, and I found myself hopelessly drawn to the types of strange stories I was warned not to consume because my parents feared they exacerbated my night terrors.

They might have been right, but that didn’t stop me. Peter Aston’s murder at age 13—my age—was one of these forbidden stories come to life, made even more powerful and alluring because it was real. He followed me around, a wraith that couldn’t be dispelled or reckoned with through exposure or inquiry —this was a world before the Internet (for me at least) and I was essentially still just a child, lacking in resources and agency. Peter’s Aston’s story couldn’t be confronted, and so it grew mythic in stature.

Peter’s dark fate haunted me: in a personal ritual I would sometimes walk along the beach by myself at night, traversing the sand dunes in the darkness, wondering if I was passing over the very spot where he had been killed. The night acted as a portal, and when I passed into it, the world was transformed, blurring at the edges. What other mundane horrors constantly surrounded us, parallel realities separated only by the barrier of time? What strange charges did they send out into the ether? How did they reverberate through us, their weird echoes altering things in ways we could never know?

Sometimes Peter followed me into the daylight, too. One day I found myself exploring the in-construction housing estates that were springing up on the edges of town. They were good locations for skateboarding—plenty of concrete slabs and smooth sidewalk. As I pushed further into the heart of the sprawl I began to notice the strange absence of other people. Although it was a Saturday, I could see no evidence of humanity. The midday heat was oppressive, the air itself still and shimmering, the world around me was completely silent, veiled in haze. As I neared a corner I could hear a swing creaking, a child’s bike being peddled furiously, the tell- tale sounds of children playing. Finally, I thought, the spell had been broken. But as I turned the corner only an empty playground was there to be seen. I felt dazed, frantic. I pushed on, lost and desperate now, caught in a labyrinth of identical roads dotted with near-identical houses, the street signs suddenly unintelligible glyphs that offered no clues to exit. Eventually I came to a disused lot, filled with overgrown weeds head high. I thought I could hear the crashing surf on the other side, even though it didn’t match where I thought I should be, so I pushed through the wild suburban foliage, using my skateboard to clear a path. When I reached the other side, it was night time—how was that possible? How had I lost so much time?—and I was standing on the beach, alone, back in Peter’s sand dunes, the darkness of the Pacific Ocean stretching out before me into infinity. The lights of Kingscliff and my parent’s apartment shone in the distance—the lights of family, of safety, of life itself.

I turned towards the light. I ran.