THE TERRIBLE TABLE OF CLAY RUBY
The table was made in 1868 by Alfred Massey, a furniture-maker based in the village of Binegar, near Gurney Slade, North Somerset. The only mishap of any note that took place during the table's construction was that he cut himself on a couple of occasions while planing the wood and his blood seeped into the grain - which may have 'primed' the table or activated it in some way.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the wood was cursed, but it certainly had a chequered past; the wood had been sourced from an oak that had been used as a makeshift gallows at Cannard's Grave near Shepton Mallet. In 1796, the notorious highwayman "Black Tommy" Holdwick was hanged by his neck from one of its boughs until he expired, after stabbing a wealthy merchant from Bath. His body was left out for the crows as a warning to other locals not to rob their betters. The notorious Belamey Brothers - a pair of horse-thieves and pony snatchers from Templecloud - met a similar fate in 1798.
The table was bought a fortnight after it was completed and ended up in the servant's kitchen at Ashley Hall near Priddy where it was used to prepare chickens and butcher small joints of meat (knife and cleaver marks are still clearly visible on its surface). The Honourable James Mackelroy had relations with Anne-Claire - a common kitchen-girl - on the table in the small hours of March 15th, 1876, (Saihn Smedrin's Day in the old Ludrinian Calendar) and her menstral blood mixed with the various animal fats and fluids, waxes and stains that the table had already absorbed. This had the curious effect of turning the old woodgrain into a sort of solid-state circuit-board, capable of storing a series of nano-potential-differences and carrying them through a complex system of lignified xylem tubes. The table began to absorb/record, store and play back sounds as if it were an organic hard-drive, filtering and cross-mixing the noises through a labrynth of bio-analogue 'circuitry'.
In the early 1900's the kitchen gained a reputation for being haunted. Strange clicking sounds and eerie moans could sometimes be heard downstairs in the early hours. The servants tended to avoid using the room after dark. A corn-cross was placed over the cooking-hearth; lucky horse-shoes and Gypsy heather were nailed to the ceiling beams.
Late one evening Michael Mackelroy heard a grotesque parody of his late mother's voice reciting The Lord's Prayer backwards in an otherwise empty kitchen, so he summoned the Rev. Amos Hunt from the local Methodist Church to perform an exorcism of sorts. The vicar's Latin babble was absorbed into its surface and commingled with four decades' worth of psycho-accoustic leakage. Despite The Blessing an odd atmosphere seemed to hang over the table - an accousto-kirlean aura of wrongness that extended out into the space around it.
In 1909, Mrs. Best - the housekeeper and head-cook - severed her left index finger at the first knuckle whilst hacking at a sheep's head to prepare meat stock.
In 1913, the table was finally replaced and retired to one of the gardener's sheds. Here, it was used as a makeshift workbench where assorted tools and gardening implements could be oiled and repaired. It absorbed a number of oils, greases, paints and solvents, its bio-circuitry slowly evolving as additional layers of chemical logic-gates were stained into its surface. Sometimes, rabbit or fox carcasses were dumped onto it, allowing it to thirstily soak up haemoglobin and rust, synthesising exotic iron oxide complexes which bestowed unforseen data-storage and processing capabilities on the table. In the small hours the table would hum, sing and shriek to itself - its voice a ghastly, otherworldly pastiche of the people who had once used it.
In 1926, the mines at Pensford closed and the Mackelroy family business went into recievership. Ashley Hall was abandoned and left locked up for several years. The shed which contained the table fell into ruin, becoming overgrown with weeds and ivy. The table soaked up birdsong and cricket-scratch, its surface slowly bleached and warped by the sunshine that filtered through a broken window. Local poachers told tales of strange sounds that sometimes echoed across the heath at night - a high-pitched keening howl, a terrible fox-like mating-song that was a shrill ripple on the breeze and could chill a man's blood faster than brandy could warm it.
The Hall was bought in 1931 by the Accor Hotel chain and renovated. The grounds were restored, and tennis courts and a heath-spa added. The Ashley Hall Hotel ran seasonal pheasant shoots for local Bristol- and Bath-based businessmen, and the table found itself routinely spattered with gun oil and bird blood. In the long run, the site was not considered exclusive enough to attract serious high-rollers, so Accor were forced to scale back their business in 1937. The Hotel was fatally damaged when a German Junkers 88 dumped its bomb payload during an aborted raid on Filton in 1942. However, assorted furnishings, fittings, junk and old family chattels - including the table - were sold off in June, 1944, to a local rag-and-bones merchant. The table languished in a salvage yard in Chew Magna until the end of the war.
A local man - Albert Shaw - bought the table for 5 and a half shillings with the intention of cleaning it up and using it to build model airplanes in his garage, but soon found there was something a little off about the table. Its presence made him feel uneasy, though he was hard-pushed to explain why. He gave it to his brother Bill, but Bill didn't warm to it either. He revarnished it with the intention of installing it in his back parlour, but decided he didn't want it in the house. Sometimes he thought it made 'sounds' - it seemed to play weird aural tricks on him, make miniscule noises that he could almost hear from the corner of his ear. He had seen some terrible things in Belgium during the war - awful things that still prayed on his mind - and the table seemed to summon up a series of not-quite-heard voices and sounds from his own memories, so he hauled it out into the garden and left it there.
His wife Alison nagged him to burn it, but he became quietly obsessed with the idea that it might scream if he set fire to it. So instead he watched it cautiously from the kitchen window as if he were trying to catch it out. He would spy on it, convinced that if he observed the table long enough then one day he would catch it doing something. The birds seemed wary of the table and could not be coaxed onto it, even with copious piles of seeds or bread crusts. Percy the cat gave it a wide berth. Bill was watching it one sunday afternoon in the early autumn when he suffered a fatal stroke.
After the funeral, Alison gave it to a cousin who was the landlord of the Lark and Lamb pub in Whitchurch where it sat in a darkened corner of the skittle-alley listening to fat men swear and get drunk. At night it would soak up owl-calls and badger-howls, internally remixing them into terrifying new permutations. The police were called on three different occasions when odd noises - presumably burglars - were heard by neighbours. It remained there until 1974 when the alley caught fire after an electrical short. The table survived; though one leg was slightly scorched. It didn't scream.
It languished in the storage shed of a second-hand furniture-shop in Whichchurch for 6 years until it went out of business and the stock was sold at auction as a job-lot. During the eighties and nineties it appeared in three TV dramas and a small, independently financed film Dirty Laundry; it sat in a cricket pavillion, a post office, an antiques shop and a bedsit in Bedminster. And in its wake followed a swarm of bad dreams and half-imagined soundsongs; a roil of r.e.m.noise and lucid imaginings, the verbless final rasps of the long-departed; crowtalk and amplified insect chatter.
It was put out for the bin-men, salvaged by a middle-aged hippy couple, briefly used in a vegetarian cafeteria in St. Pauls, Bristol, and ended up in a reclamation yard in Stokes Croft where it was spotted by a local firm that specialised in redecor-branding cafe-bars with cheap tat. In 2005 it found its way into a local bar called The Croft.
It listened to laughter, drunken rants and cheesy chat-up lines; it soaked up whisky, lager, coffee, cocaine, spittle, Indie, Metal, Pop, Disco, Dubstep, House, Techno...people sat round it and argued, lied, cried, snarled, sneered, snogged, bitched, joked, sighed, swore, sniggered; said "I love you" and meant it/didn't mean it. The table wasn't alive; it wasn't self-aware, it was...I don't know what it was.
It tic'd and pulsed within itself, carrying out endless vegetable computations... a stain-engine that shunted pools of ferric-encoded sound-data back and forth through its mineral buffers and
phloem-processors. Baroque resinous whorls of wooden cpu; protein micro-capacitors, diodes made from minute beads of varnish and animal fat; a self-evolving patchbay linked to parenchymic tape-heads.
The Croft, 18/06/2009, 6:50pm:
Fat Paul, the promotor, sucks on an electric cigarette and chuckles, "I can't believe these things. They're amazin'. And they're completely legal. You can smoke them indoors. They do a pipe and a Cuban cigar too." He shakes his head at the sheer preposterousness of it. "Everything's Digital these days. Help yourselves to tables from the bar, lads, if you need anything to put your gear on..."
Mic and Paul drag a generic-looking bleached pine table into the Live Band room at the back of the bar. Clay Ruby selects an old-looking table from the corner of the room - something about it catches his eye, a certain aura that it exudes; the table has 'character'. Adhesive Dan from the Swindon band Merge in Movement gamely helps Clay carry it in and heft it up onto the stage. Dan's not playing tonight, but is riding shotgun w/ the IBS Wiltshire posse.
Clay Ruby starts setting up his gear - a tangle of fx-pedals and keyboards. He gets a sudden flash of something - moonlight falling on a 19th century scullery. Old crockery. A jug. A woman moans, the rustle of cotton petticoats. He untangles a jack-lead, unable to shake an unquantifiable sense of unease. It's not nerves - he's played too many shows to freak over something like this, but...he had a fever for 6 days after he flew into the UK - some weird Brit virus - so maybe it's that. The room seems to recede for a few moments. He imagines some unknown species of animal; hears it snort and hiss inside his head. An old woman's voice. The clunk of skittle-balls hitting a wooden alley. Part of a prayer. Fuck this shit, he thinks and fires up his Yamaha for a soundcheck.
The Croft, 18/06/2009, 10: 35pm:
Clay Ruby aka Burial Hex, is the undisputed Master of Horror Electronics; his improvisations have a strange unhurried feel to them, as if he is slowly uncoiling the sounds (in the same way as he patiently uncoils his plugs and leads from a flightcase), pulling them down off a series of shelves in his head; peeling them out from inside the air, from the structure that sits within things. His live soundtracks sound as if they belong to the air, as if they are of it...part of some natural order that he has uncovered, not composed...his music reveals hitherto unseen facets of The Order of Things. His music makes you feel as if you are standing inside of something that has always been there, some structure that you never quite saw before; that you are witnessing some act of revelation. He is a conjuror, is Clay - watch his hands, the way he carefully moves, the unhurried way he presses a button, tweaks a knob, sets whirling plates in motion; it is a marvel to behold. "Look!" the music (and Clay) seem to say..."Look what was here all along. You just weren't looking in the right direction. Now do you see it?" There is something zen-like, almost glacial in the way he opens up doors inside the audience's heads, one door at a time, and releases the things that were always there, but invisible. Things you didn't want to look at. Things you didn't want to hear.
And the table that sits beneath his gear - it knows. It hums and throbs and creaks beneath his pedals, boxes and wires; it responds.
Like Clay Ruby, the table is patient. It is a survivor, an archaic-yet-novel object-form that will undoubtedly out-'live' us all. What a strange yet banal journey it has taken from There to Here, from Then to Now. The table knows.
Clay plays spooky droplets of reverb'd piano; horrific little snowflakes of unease that settle over the table and cause it to stir. He is a musician at the height of his powers, yet so few people know who he is. One day soon that will change. The sound he summons is hypnotic, queasy, oneiric, oddly familiar; a dreamtrack, the ost to a night spent sweating and restlessly dozing in the suburbs of delirium...
He pulls down loops of pocessed static, layering sheets of crackle across the room like a series of nylon burial shrouds - pale veils of misplaced noise that cause the audience - and the table - to shiver. The sounds build: grinding antique machinesong; the tug of ancient ropes. Something is approaching now - the slow, ground-shuddering stomp of a distant behemoth...something terrible and incredibly old...it's coming closer now: a leviathan, ancient and awful, an unnamable horror so vast and dreadful that even a glimpse could kill. But the table...the table has heard this sound before. The table knows...
The sound comes closer, closer...colossal, unstoppable...
And the table...it...the table...