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As you will already know, if you have been following these weekly Shakespeare Vs Cthulhuupdates, three of the stories that appear in the anthology are set during William Shakespeare's lifetime.
The first of these is Josh Reynolds’A Tiger’s Heart, A Player’s Hide, which is set during the summer of 1592, when an outbreak of plague resulted in the closure of all of the theatres in London. The second is Guy Haley’s A Reckoning, which takes as its inspiration the circumstances surrounding the murder of Shakespeare’s friend, and fellow playwright, Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe in a tavern brawl in Deptford, in 1593. And the third is John Reppion'sExeunt.
The story takes place towards the end of Shakespeare’s life, in 1616, and here's a taster...
The night outside was cold and wet. The sky just as blank and lifeless as it had seemed through Fletcher's grimy window. William hurriedly fastened his cloak and set off at a pace along the narrow, busy street. He felt old. In his very marrow, his heart, his mind. Old and weary.
Why had he even returned to London this time? What hold did this filthy city have upon him that he could not be content to leave it behind once and for all? He should be in Stratford with Anne. She was alone in the house now, Judith married and gone only one month ago, and yet here he was.
Mud and shit sucked at the wrinkled leather of his boots as he stamped along. He did not need to think about where he was going, his feet knew the way. He walked on, lost in thought, oblivious to those he passed, many of whom recognised him and some of whom he should have recognised himself.
At the mention of Hamnet it had been as if a great sorrow sunk deep within had risen and burst to the surface of William's being. Sorrow and guilt too, for he had not been with the boy at the end. Had not seen nearly enough of him in his short life.
Tears were on his cheeks once more but they were almost indistinguishable from the sooty, spattering drizzle which fell over all.
No, that was not right. Though it had been John who had spoken Hamnet's name, the boy's spectre had already been summoned by William's own thoughts and words.
How had John known though? Could the answer be that he was indeed a true friend? A man who knew William's sadness and understood how he had suffered. He said he had not meant to wound him, and yet –
William squelched to a halt at a gateway off Borough High Street. He shoved the gate inward with a painful creak which felt like it emanated as much from himself as the straining hinges. Arranged around three sides of the yard beyond were the higgledy–piggledy buildings of The Tabard Inn – a hostelry which had been in business for more than three centuries. Despite the rain there were some whose merry-making had spilled out into the court, several taking advantage of the yards darker corners to satiate those urges and appetites drink so often provokes.
Upon entering The Tabard, William was immediately accosted by a party of theatre-folk. He knew a few by sight, only one or two by name, yet felt no inclination to decline their insistent invitation. Indeed, he had more or less counted on as much. His cup was kept full, food ordered and eaten. Either they would pay for the pleasure of his company, or else he would be left with a hefty bill to settle. He did not much care which. Their inane, self-important jabbering was a welcome distraction from his earlier vexation and the renewed rawness of his sorrows. He laughed when they laughed, slapped their backs as they did his, until at last, in his cups, he stood upon the table and bellowed a toast.
“Oh, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance revel and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!”
A roar of approval. The meaning and origin of the speech lost on almost all present. William, wobbling on the table-top, laughed then coughed until his eyes watered.
“And now,” he cried “I must piss!”
A roar even louder and more exultant.
Out in the yard Shakespeare planted his feet firmly and sent forth a golden arc, frothing a puddle until upon its surface was a head worthy of an ale. Triumphant, he looked to the sky. The rain had ceased, the clouds dispersed, and the heavens were now filled with stars.
“Will.” The voice came from across the yard, little more than a whisper.
Adjusting his breeches, William peered into the shadows. A figure slowly melted into existence out of the darkness near the gateway. The man looked familiar, Shakespeare realised. He had passed him in the street on his way to The Tabard. He had been there among the drinkers in the tavern too. A young man with flowing locks, his cheeks bare, upper lip and chin adorned with but a teenager's growth of hair. The face was one he knew of old.
John Reppion was born in Liverpool, England in 1978. His writing career began in 2003 when he collaborated with his wife Leah Moore on a proposal for a six issue mini-series entitled Wild Girl. The proposal was accepted and the series was published by Wildstorm in 2004/05.
Since then the duo have written many classic characters including Doctor Who (in The Whispering Gallery with artist Ben Templesmith), Sherlock Holmes (in two original mysteries for Dynamite Entertainment), and Dracula (their adaptation of which is now on several university reading lists).
John’s interests in fortean phenomena, esoterica, folklore, philosophy, theology and horror have led to his writing articles and reviews for numerous magazines and periodicals including The Fortean Times, Strange Attractor, The Daily Grail and SteamPunk Magazine. 2008 saw the release of his first full length book 800 Years of Haunted Liverpool, published by The History Press. His Lovecraftian Liverpool tale On The Banks of the River Jordan was published in 2014 in Ghostwoods Books’ Cthulhu Lives! anthology.