A Tale From the End of the
by Fiona McGavin
For a long time, the sea
had been crossed only by screaming gulls, but one evening
as the sun began to set, a small boat with a white sail
drifted between the rows of needle sharp rocks and into
the shadow of the towering cliffs. A man stood tall like
a prophet in the prow of his vessel, his silvery blond hair
billowing about him. He stared expectantly up at the crumbling
settlement that perched above the sea. He smiled to himself
as he drifted with the wind, but his smile was cold, and
his eyes were as grim as the choppy waters. Then, once the
village was passed, he spied the old crooked house and its
spreading gardens and he laughed aloud. This must be the
It seemed as if Cliff House
stood at the end of the world. This was the way of things
now: cities, towns and villages had become isolated, as
separate from one another as countries and continents. The
village around Cliff House was ancient, but had long been
forgotten by the outside world. The houses had crumbled
away to nothing, while the sea slowly ate at the cliffs.
One day, the rusting fairground had fallen away from the
land and now it reared monstrously from the waves. In time
seaweed, salt crystals and barnacles had covered it, turning
the sad, corroding merry-go-round horses into magnificent,
magical sea creatures. Steeds for Neptune and the mermaids.
All the villagers were dead or had fled. Only Cliff House
remained; a paradise in the wasteland.
The Blood family had lived in Cliff House for centuries.
They were a family who, at one time, had been notorious
for their wealth, their history of insanity and the twins
they produced in every generation - always a boy and a girl.
Although the world was falling apart around them, Gabrielle
and Raphael Blood continued to live in the manner to which
their ancestors had become accustomed. To the twins, this
meant taking hemp and opium, and being beautiful, inbred
and vicious until the day they died.
Cliff House was surrounded by hedges of rose briars, nettles
and barbed wire. The twins had two black hounds with red
eyes and slavering tongues to protect them from outsiders.
Their garden was wild and crooked, falling into the sea.
It was filled with mutating topiaries, statues, wind-chimes
and curious little summerhouses and gazebos. An uncanny
place, filled with eyes. Raphael kept cats and they prowled
around the gardens claiming one-armed, decapitated statues
for their own, filling the gardens with their scents and
the sounds of their yowling.
Through the maze of statues and topiary it was possible
to come upon great banks of lupins and daffodils; hogweeds
and briars; shimmering masses of pink willowherb; ponds
choked with lilies and acid green algae; herb gardens neatly
planted with sage, marjoram, valerian and all the other
herbs Gabrielle thought would give her sweet dreams. The
garden was strange, all askew.
The house was the same; a perfect reflection of the twins’
combined personalities: a place of dark, ugly furniture;
strange empty rooms; cobwebs; twisted candelabras; burnt-down
candles; antique lace and moth eaten, velvet draperies.
There were wasps’ nests in the back rooms, and the
cellars were filled with vintage, dark red wines and rats.
The twins let flowers die in cracked vases until the petals
turned papery. They kept butterflies in glass jars and painted
contorted, dark portraits of one another. They played peculiar
old stringed instruments and left archaic books face down
on the floor with their spines bent and broken. The long
corridors stretched away into perfect, inky darkness. Sometimes
there were only two candles burning in the whole house.
The twins lived mainly in the attics. Here, they thrived
with the darkness and dust. They breathed it in and then
out onto everything they touched.
Gabrielle and Raphael Blood were named after angels and
they looked almost like their namesakes; golden-haired,
blue-eyed and perfectly turned out in dark silks, velvet
and lace. They went everywhere together, as if bound by
some invisible chain. Gabrielle was the leader and she led
her quieter, perhaps more dangerous brother through numerous
The twins had no family. As far as they knew, they were
the last of their line and now it seemed the Blood family
was destined to be swept forever from the world. And yet,
in the dusty old books of family history, they had read
of ancestral relatives who had left Cliff House in order
to marry into other families, to fight in the War or to
make their fortune in some far off city. Someone, somewhere,
must have survived to generate a second great dynasty of
Bloods. Often, the twins talked of finding these people,
but they were afraid to leave Cliff House. Beyond it, lay
the savage moors where the roads were overgrown. Only peddlers
travelled there now and even they were becoming fewer and
fewer. The forests and wild animals were creeping back.
The land was wild and the people who haunted it were wilder.
The world was full of distorted folk; victims of the War.
It was better to stay at Cliff House where it was safe.
And besides, the twins were secretly proud of the tragedy
of being last.
They lived alone, save for Hump, their hunch-backed servant.
Sometimes peddlers rested overnight on their wanderings
between settlements, but they never stayed for longer than
one night. The twins made other people uncomfortable. Raphael
watched them unblinkingly, while Gabrielle asked incessant
questions. Sometimes it seemed that the twins could talk
to one another without opening their mouths.
The peddlers were always eager to tell stories of the twins.
They felt that talking of it cleansed them of whatever poisons
the occupants of Cliff House had breathed onto them. The
twins were so beautiful and golden, while everyone else
in the world was crippled or deformed in some way. It seemed
unnatural. When Gabrielle wore Raphael’s clothes,
the peddlers could not tell which twin was which.
One man had stayed in Cliff House on the night the twins’
parents had died. He had heard movements in the night and
had barred his door. In the morning he had found the twins
standing dry-eyed over the bodies of their parents. They
had smiled identical smiles and told him it was their birthday.
They were sixteen now and had grown up. They would be quite
all right on their own. Their manner of speaking had chilled
the man’s blood. His dreams were still haunted by
the way they had stood in the doorway to watch him leave.
So although the twins knew almost nothing of the world beyond,
there were those who knew about them.
And one morning, watching from their garden, the twins saw
a boat drifting slowly across the sea towards them. A single
figure stood tall in the prow. The twins observed in silence.
They believed in sea gods and mermaids and in lost kingdoms
beneath the waves. They believed there really was a better
Raphael chewed his bottom lip in suspicion, while Gabrielle
leapt up and called to the black hounds. She leashed them
and set off for the cliff path. Raphael followed her, cats
twining round his legs.
The twins made their way down the treacherous, crumbling
cliff path to the shore below. The hounds growled threateningly,
hackles raised, while Gabrielle waved a hand at the little
boat. The man at the prow began to guide the boat towards
Gabrielle turned to her brother. ‘What if...’
she breathed, but did not finish her sentence, for the man
was walking through the water towards them. He was tall
and slender, his face cold in its eerie perfection. He was
like a man made from stone, ice and metal. Different from
them, different from the deformed, sick people who passed
by Cliff House.
Gabrielle drew back, uncertain. No-one spoke, but the twins
were suddenly aware of the cobwebs in their hair and the
worn patches on the elbows and knees of their clothes.
‘Good morning,’ the man called.
The twins did not answer. They gazed at the man and smiled
nervously as he advanced towards them. His feet did not
seem to touch the ground and the sea water had hardly wet
his robes. He looked at the twins and then at their home
on the cliff top. ‘I wonder if you might help me,’
The twins exchanged glances. They waited for the man to
‘I am looking for Cliff House and the Blood twins.’
‘Who wants to know?’ Raphael asked.
‘I know of their family,’ the man said.
‘We have no family,’ Gabrielle replied.
The man smiled benevolently. ‘No, you are wrong. In
a city in the south, there are other Bloods.’
The twins’ hearts leapt and then fell again. This
made everything different and they were not sure how they
felt about it. The stranger was as tall and straight as
they were. His beauty was eerie and familiar; he looked
almost like them. They were frightened, yet fascinated too,
filled with a strange kind of yearning.
‘Are you one of us?’ Gabrielle asked.
The man smiled. He held out his hand to her and she shook
it tentatively. ‘My name is Nathaniel,’ he said.
‘We are Gabrielle and Raphael Blood,’ Gabrielle
The man smiled broadly. He swept his arms wide as if to
embrace them. ‘I have been searching for you everywhere
and by coincidence the sea has cast me up here.’
The twins did not believe in coincidences. Everything had
a purpose, otherwise it meant that the chaos and anarchy
in the world beyond the village was all for nothing. It
meant that there was no reason for the demise of the human
race, no reason for its ever having existed. The twins believed
in magic and to them, Nathaniel seemed like a magician.
They took him up to Cliff House. As they walked, Gabrielle
talked nervously, her voice high and excited, the hounds
fighting on their leashes before her. Raphael walked a little
behind, stooping now and then to pick up seashells or pieces
of coloured glass worn to opacity by the sea. Throughout
the day, they showed Nathaniel around the gardens and the
As the sun began to set, they had their servant, Hump, cook
a huge meal, which they spread out on the scratched oak
table in the dining room. Gabrielle lit candles all round
the room, and Raphael opened the windows wide to blow the
dust and cobwebs away.
The twins drank too much wine. They laughed at secret jokes
they could not share with Nathaniel, for all that they tried.
Cats jumped up on the table and spilled the wine. Giant
ghost moths fluttered and crackled in the candle flames.
The twins shone with a vibrant, frenetic beauty: Gabrielle
flushed and eager to please and Raphael brooding and quiet,
his eyes bright with unasked questions.
Nathaniel studied the twins intently and did not drink the
wine. His eyes remained cold throughout the meal, and he
flinched when the cats touched him.
As the candle stubs flickered in the late evening breeze,
Gabrielle said, ‘What do you do in the city, Nathaniel?
Are you an artist, a musician, an architect?’
Nathaniel shook his head. ‘I am a scholar,’
he said. ‘I study people like you.’
‘Like us?’ Gabrielle asked, frowning.
‘Yes. Those special people who are not twisted or
The twins looked at one another. They had sometimes wondered
why they were tall, straight and healthy in comparison to
other people they met, and had decided it must be because
of their breeding; something in their blood.
‘Where I come from,’ Nathaniel said, ‘babies
are born deformed; two-headed, Siamese twins or hermaphrodites.
Many have diseases we cannot cure, and die.’ He leaned
towards them a little. ‘In my city, we need people
like you. We have to find out what makes you different.’
The twins smiled at the thought of two-headed hermaphrodites.
Raphael reached across the table for the wine and refilled
the glasses. The wine spilled over the rim of Nathaniel’s
glass and splashed on the table.
‘But our family have always been mad,’ Raphael
Gabrielle looked dreamy. ‘Yes. Our mother believed...’
Nathaniel interrupted her quickly. ‘If my people could
be beautiful once more, I assure you, they would risk insanity.’
‘You are beautiful,’ Gabrielle said. She bit
into an apple. ‘Beautiful and clever. We like you.’
Nathaniel laughed his strange, cold laugh. ‘Unfortunately,
I wasn’t always like this.’
Gabrielle put her head on one side. ‘What do you mean?’
Nathaniel paused for a moment, then said, ‘My bones
have been straightened and reinforced with metal. I have
The twins looked at one another. Raphael fiddled with the
buttons on his shirt and Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak,
then closed it swiftly as if to silence an importunate question.
Both twins shifted in their seats, smiled nervously at one
another and at Nathaniel. He seemed false now, a lie superimposed
upon some deformed, hunched reality.
‘You don’t need us, then,’ Raphael said
‘The process isn’t always successful,’
Nathaniel said in a measured voice. ‘Nine times out
of ten it results in death. I was lucky to survive. Also,
the operations are very expensive, as well as painful and
time-consuming. Sometimes they go horribly wrong and produce
only monstrosities. That is why we need people like you.’
‘But what would you do to us?’ Gabrielle asked.
‘Simply run some tests on you, isolate the things
that make you different.’ Nathaniel’s mouth
smiled. ‘It wouldn’t take long...’
‘Are all our family like you?’ Gabrielle enquired.
‘Metal and plastic, not flesh and blood?’
Nathaniel nodded. ‘They need you. You will be their
Gabrielle smiled. It appeared she liked the idea of that.
‘Tell us about them,’ Raphael said.
Nathaniel began to talk. He could feel Raphael’s eyes
on him, considering everything he said, half smiling.
Gabrielle listened, entranced. ‘We must write all
this down in the family history books,’ she said.
‘We mustn’t drink much more tonight, or we’ll
forget what you’ve told us.’
Nathaniel nodded. ‘Very wise.’ He paused. ‘You
will come with me, won’t you? You would be with your
family. We could look after you and make sure that you want
for nothing. After all, what is there here for you, at the
end of the world?’
The twins were indecisive. The thought of the city and all
its splendours frightened them and yet Nathaniel himself
was fascinating. They wanted to be with him, hear his stories.
He knew, and had experienced, so many things: a magician
who might save them, just as they might save him. If only
he would remain here, at Cliff House. If only he did not
want them to go away with him.
‘We must carry on the blood-line,’ Gabrielle
‘Exactly,’ Nathaniel agreed smoothly. ‘And
if you don’t like the city, you can always come back
‘Good,’ Gabrielle said. She rose from the table,
took Nathaniel’s hand and led him out onto the terrace,
Raphael following. Both twins still carried glasses of sticky
wine. Outside, the purple half-light was perfumed with jasmine,
roses and the scent of the sea. Night birds called among
the trees. The garden was full of dark corners and weird
shadows; beautiful but dangerous.
The twins and Nathaniel sat down at a weathered table beneath
a desiccated vine. Gabrielle lit candles there.
‘Once I’ve shown you the city,’ Nathaniel
said, ‘you’ll realise you live like savages
The twins nodded vaguely, and became silent in the narcotic
air. Moths danced around the candle flames and settled on
the rims of the wine glasses. Their feet stuck in the sugary
liquid, their wings flapping frantically until the cats
swiped them into oblivion with delicate, clawed paws. Gabrielle
set out a game of solitaire on the table and Raphael lay
in the hammock nearby, swinging gently and reading the family
history books. From time to time, he glanced sidelong at
When the twins’ wine glasses had been emptied, Nathaniel
produced a package from inside his robes. He unwrapped it
and showed the twins its contents. In a bed of crisp tissue
paper lay a stick of something. It looked almost like cinnamon,
but with a silvery-grey, crumbly appearance.
‘This is silvertree,’ Nathaniel said. ‘It
comes from the bark of a special tree. Let me share its
secret with you. Bring me some clear water.’
Raphael went inside and returned with a brimming jug, from
which he poured out three measures into the empty glasses.
Nathaniel broke the silvertree into three and dropped a
piece into each glass. The substance began to dissolve,
turning the water a silvery colour.
‘What is it?’ Gabrielle asked. ‘What does
‘It is good,’ Nathaniel answered. ‘It
shows you things.’
‘What things?’ Raphael asked suspiciously.
‘Things you wouldn’t otherwise know,’
Nathaniel smiled. ‘Perhaps you’ll see my city.’
He offered them two of the glasses. ‘Try it.’
He watched the twins swill the liquid round the vessels,
as if to dissolve the last pieces of silvertree. Colours
drifted through the mixture and faded away. The twins sniffed
it, exchanged glances and frowned.
Then Raphael put down his glass. ‘No,’ he said
politely. ‘No, thank you.’
But Gabrielle was less cautious. She hoped the silvertree
would show her Nathaniel’s city and her family. She
wanted to know these things. Without further pause, she
lifted the silvertree to her lips and drank deeply. ‘Go
on,’ she said to her brother. ‘Do this with
Raphael waited until he saw Nathaniel drain his glass, then
drank from his own. After a while, the twins climbed into
the hammock together. With eyes half-closed, they began
to float, to drift away.
Nathaniel, who had taken silvertree so many times it barely
affected him, watched them curiously. He thought of Adam
and Eve in their magical garden, founding the human race.
He stared at Gabrielle’s slender, elegant body, the
curve of her breasts against dusty velvet, the tiny waist
encased in silk. Dreaming, the twins seemed to have become
a single person; a graceful tangle of arms, legs and blond
hair. Their eyes were heavy-lidded, their whispers slurred,
as they shared identical visions. Nathaniel considered them
objectively. In the house, he had watched them laugh at
their hunch-backed servant and entice hapless insects into
the candle-flames. He had recoiled from the strange paintings
they had daubed. The crooked house itself, with its fecund,
untended gardens and startling statues, chilled his blood.
And yet, he was intrigued by the twins’ twisted innocence
and amoral purity. In their innocence, they would become
Tomorrow, he would begin his journey home. Now, he was sure
the twins would come with him, that he had enchanted them.
Nathaniel leaned back in his chair and sighed in contentment.
It was almost too good to be true. He had scarcely believed
it when the peddlers had told him of the twins and their
cruel perfection. He knew all about their desire to find
others of their strange tribe, and if they believed he was
of their blood, they would surely go with him. Nathaniel
had already made plans.
The boy would be killed, his body frozen and studied to
isolate the precious genes that made the twins unique. Eventually,
his pure blood would be decanted to fill the twisted veins
of an eager recipient. His clear eyes would look out from
a new skull. His skin...
The girl they would breed with. And if his people were lucky,
the twins might never discover that there were no other
Bloods in the city. As far as Nathaniel knew, there were
no other Bloods in the world.
The twins were dreaming.
They saw wide city streets filled with dancing people who
applauded as they passed. Their feet did not seem to touch
the ground and their bodies were caressed by the finest
silk. Around them, the city was white and silver in the
sunlight. There were palaces and mansions, shady parks,
galleries and museums. The twins knew that, in this place,
they could have anything they desired. The people clamoured
to touch them, as if a brief contact could heal them. The
twins felt loved, needed and - almost - happy.
But there was something dark behind them. They heard it
slithering and creeping, the hiss of its darting forked
tongue. It whispered their names, tried to entice them and
it reached out to crush them in its coils. Beware the serpent:
it tells lies. Lies. It is not what it seems.
The next morning, Nathaniel
awoke in his seat on the lawn. The twins were having breakfast:
camomile tea in a cracked, willow-patterned tea-pot; sizzling
hermaphroditic fish from the poisoned sea and thick slices
of home-baked bread. There were cats on the table again;
flies buzzed around the food. The twins were wearing thin,
white, summery clothes that looked alien on them. Nathaniel
thought they must be trying to emulate his appearance. Gabrielle
fed the hounds and chattered amiably, while Rapahel read
an ancient, paper-backed book, its title obscured by coffee
and wine stains. He cut an apple into neat slices with a
‘It was nice in the city,’ Gabrielle said. ‘We
liked it, but how do we know it’s really like that?’
‘Trust me,’ Nathaniel said.
‘In the dream, everyone loved us,’ Gabrielle
Raphael did not look up from his book. ‘Not everyone.’
‘No.’ Gabrielle frowned. ‘Something was
after us. Something dark. It wanted to hurt us.’ She
smiled. ‘We should stay here, and you should stay
with us. It would be better.’
‘I don’t belong here, and neither do you,’
Nathaniel said. ‘You’ll see that when you come
to the city. What about meeting your family?’
‘We’re not sure we want to meet them now,’
Gabrielle said. ‘We don’t need them really.
We have each other.’
‘You are being silly. There’s nothing to be
Raphael glanced at Nathaniel. ‘We are not going to
your city. The thing that followed us in the dream: it was
Nathaniel laughed. ‘Me?’
‘You’re not part of our family at all,’
Raphael said. ‘Are you?’ He laid down his book
and stood up. ‘You’re a scientist.’ He
spat out the words as if they poisoned him.
‘I told you: I’m a scholar.’
‘Who studies people,’ Raphael murmured. ‘Yes...
we know. We understand.’
Nathaniel spoke calmly. ‘I think you’re over-reacting.
You’re alone too much.’
‘Then stay here with us,’ Gabrielle said. ‘We
want you to. We really do, but we can’t go to the
city with you. The visions showed us that.’
Nathaniel looked around at the twisted house and the sprawl
of the gardens, nothing beyond them but moors and sea and
desolation. He realised how alone he was in this place.
When he looked back at the twins, it seemed an unspoken
communication passed between them. Raphael’s hand
closed around the knife on the table top.
‘Please, don’t go,’ Gabrielle said. ‘Say
that you’ll stay.’
‘We’re not going to the city,’ Raphael
said. ‘And neither are you.’
‘If we let you go, you’ll tell others about
us,’ Gabrielle said.
‘They’ll come for us...’
‘Strap us to tables...’
‘Stick needles in us...
Gabrielle smiled. ‘So, you’ll have to stay with
Nathaniel’s laughter was uneasy now. ‘You’re
being ridiculous! You can’t stay here for ever, and
I certainly can’t!’
‘Please, don’t say that.’ Gabrielle’s
voice was almost a whisper, pleading, desperate. ‘Say
that you’ll stay.’
Nathaniel shook his head. ‘I’m sorry. I have
to go back.’
Again, a silent message passed between the twins. Nathaniel
began to feel uneasy. He did not like the way the twins
stared at him, with their identical blue eyes; unreadable
expressions on their flawless, heart-shaped faces. The hounds
and the cats were looking at him, even the dead moths on
the table. Only then did Nathaniel realise the twins did
not mean to let him leave.
The knife glittered coldly in Raphael’s hand; the
hounds growled softly at Gabrielle’s feet.
Nathaniel rose slowly from his seat. He had to tear himself
away from the cage of eyes.
He ran down through the labyrinth of the gardens towards
the cliff path, and his boat. He heard the hounds behind
them, drawing closer. As the great animals brought him down
in the unmown grass, he thought of the twins and their family
living here for centuries, isolated and inbred, growing
strange and different until they were not like anyone else,
until they were barely human at all. Sharp teeth ripped
his clothes, his flesh. Fetid breath filled his nostrils.
Then he heard the twins call off the hounds, and opened
his eyes to see them standing over him. But before he could
stand up, and attempt to escape, Raphael lunged forward.
Nathaniel felt the long-bladed knife slide between his ribs,
tearing through flesh. He felt the warm spill of blood that
flowed out of him, down onto the grass. Raphael leaned forward
to pull the knife out, and Nathaniel saw bright splashes
of fresh blood spatter the boy’s white summer clothes.
The twins looked down at him fearfully, as if they thought
he might rear up and bite them. There was blood in their
hair, on their faces. As he floated, drifted in his last
agony, Nathaniel was glad he would not live to see the twins
and their descendants inherit this dying world.
The twins gazed down at Nathaniel’s body, and then
at the blood on their white, summer clothes. They put their
fingers in the blood and licked them. Nathaniel tasted of
chemicals and sterile air. They did not like his taste.
‘But we did like him,’ Gabrielle said sadly.
Raphael wiped the knife clean on his shirt. ‘Yes,’
he said. ‘ We did.’
‘Do you think his bones really are plastic?’
‘We could open him up and see,’ Raphael suggested,
but neither twin was really that interested.
About a year after Nathaniel
came to Cliff House, Gabrielle gave birth to twins; perfect
babies, a boy and a girl. She and Raphael grew fond of walking
along the beach with the children. In their white summer
clothes, they looked like angels. They sometimes talked
‘What if Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the apple?’
Raphael mused. ‘What if they had killed the serpent
Gabrielle nodded, then smiled. ‘What if they never,
ever left the garden?’
© 2000 Fiona McGavin