SBR 2.14: Best Practice

Click for Content Warnings

Background sounds and music
References to death and dying
Implied violence
Description of injuries (not too severe; details are light)
Extended reference to cannibalism (not detailed; mentions of human bone)
Implied loss of autonomy


May you find a quiet moment to rest amongst the madness of the world. Welcome back to Spirit Box Radio.


Hello, Faithful Listeners!

There’s been a lot going on this week, but I’ve found time to have a couple of quiet moments. The winter is finally starting to break and there’s been a couple of days where it’s almost felt like spring here. It’s great! I’ve discovered I love parks. I never knew that before. But parks are fantastic, aren’t they? Not the ones with swings and slides, though I did go and hang out in one of those for a bit a couple of nights ago. I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a swing before but it was really fun. I mean those big green spaces you get with organised landscapes. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been to a proper forest but they make me feel like I’m out in the wild. When Oliver is with me he points out the ways the plants have been place to guide you through, how the trees are arranged to look their prettiest, so I know the whole thing is very much a curated experience, but still. I feel like I’m in nature and I like that.

I was talking to Oliver about going to the beach some time, too. I’ve almost definitely been to a beach before but I absolutely do not remember it. I love the sound of it though, the sand and the waves, though Oliver warns me that sand is pretty coarse and irritating. That made him laugh a lot for some reason and I have no idea why. I asked Anna to explain why it was so funny but she just cackled. I think that’s the first time she’s ever laughed about anything Oliver-related that wasn’t those mean laughs she does when she thinks something is going to turn out badly.

Oh well.

My weekend plans aside, I have receive a mammoth of a letter this week and I really don’t know what to make of it. It’s really bizarre. I– well. I’ll share it with you now, Faithful Listeners, so you can understand what I mean.

Dear Sam Enfield, Host of Spirit Box Radio,

I’m writing to you because of something that happened to me several years ago in Prague which I had almost forgotten. It relates to this thing you call Scourge, I think, or at least what you described of this Scourge thing was what brought the incident back to my mind for the first time in almost a decade. I was in my car driving home some weeks ago, and I turned on the radio. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to tune into any channel. It kept skipping and skipping, and then, I heard a voice. It was warped and unclear at first, but then it became clearer. It was you, speaking. When I looked, the channels were still skipping but the LED display said that I was tuned into Spirit Box Radio. Then you described this thing you had encountered which you called Scourge. The way described them. The smile. The not eyes. I was sure, somehow, it was not the same thing I had seen down that alleyway in Prague all of those years ago, but I knew just as surely it was the same kind of thing. I also knew, right away, that I had to write to you and tell you what had happened.

I won’t be providing you with my name or a return address. I don’t care what you do with this letter. Read it or don’t. Either way, I hope it helps, somehow. I don’t know why but I feel this is what I am meant to do. I tried not to write this, I really did, but somehow the need has followed me since I heard your voice, and I already, now I’ve made a commitment that it will be done, the tension in the back of my neck is beginning to ease.

When I was a much younger woman, I was a journalist working with a national newspaper which I won’t name now because they have pretty scary NDA clauses built into their contracts and though I’m pretty sure writing in to an arcane radio show shouldn’t violate any of them I would rather play it safe than risk a massive lawsuit. I was an old-school travel journalist, from back before the days of travel blogs and influencers. I’d be assigned a location and packed off to tour landmarks, hotels and places to eat. I’ve seen some incredible places in my time as a result of my job and for the most part have had an excellent time. I’ve seen Machu Pichu; Kasubi Royal tombs; the pyramids of Giza; Pompei; the medieval city of Great Zimbabwe; I even once almost drowned in the amazon river, would you believe. I would never have had an opportunity to go to all of these incredible places without my job, so don’t mistake me and think I’m in any way ungrateful for it, but there have been a few occasions where due to various circumstances I’ve felt unsafe on my many travels, and all of these incidents ring clearly in my mind, and now with a bit of time and emotional distance make for pretty interesting dinner conversation, with the one exception of what happened in Prague, which is I think why I’ve tried so hard to put it out of my mind.

First things first, I was actually in Prague as a sort of stop over on my way home. I’d just been to Laos on a fabulous country-wide tour of some pretty incredible landmarks (if you ever happen to go, I’d particularly recommend the Tham Ting and the Tham Theung caves if you can stomach being underground), and I’d decided that rather than heading straight home to London, I’d detour to Prague to see some friends of mine who’d recently moved there. They were a young couple, Colin and Reg, and they were great fun to spend time with and I’d much missed them on nights out during the brief stints I actually spent at home in London. I was very much looking forward to seeing them; I’ve known Colin, a musical historian, since university, and Reg, who was an abstract painter, since Colin started seeing him when we’d not long graduated. They’d moved to Prague because Colin was overseeing the development of a new exhibit in the Czech museum of music, and was sure to have a lot to say about it, and Colin had told me in a letter that Reg was working on a new series of paintings I was extremely eager to see.

I arrived in Prague having written to them to tell I was coming, full of fabulous stories about the incredible things I’d seen and particularly the amazing food I’d eaten, so I was a little put out when they called off the dinner we’d planned on my first night there. Still, Prague is a gorgeous city and I was more than happy to entertain myself and spend some time wandering alone. The next night, however, they rained off again, and on the third night, again. I was perfectly happy to spend some time alone, as I say, but I had come to Prague specifically to see them and I was starting to get a little concerned. I could only really spend a couple more days there before I had to go home to make sure I had enough time to prepare for my next trip, so I decided I’d call by the house and drop in for just a quick hello even if I couldn’t see them for longer; at least I’d have seen them to know they were alright.

It was late September, so the sun was beginning to set as I reached their building just before sunset. The building was a handsome tenement, untouched or renovated since it’s construction in the early 1900s. I range the bell and waited, listening to the bustle of the city around me, evening life beginning to stir. A window opened above me; I looked up and saw Reg poking his head out, peering down at me. I called up to say hello and he looked alarmed though I’d written and left messages on their answering machine, but nonetheless came down to let me inside.

He seemed off right from the moment he opened the door. I don’t know what it was, exactly. He was quiet, he looked drawn and tired, but it was more than that, a strange, simmering stillness to the way he moved, the way the words he did speak were clipped and hurried, punctuated by too many pauses, looking at the doorway behind me, the empty hall, the stairs.

After I’d explained why I’d come and what had happened, Reg did invite me up to their flat, but he seemed very reluctant to do so. As soon as he opened the door, I understood why. The flat was stylishly furnished, as I would have expected from Colin and Reg, but there were dirty dishes on the chaise longue and the air felt still and stale, as though Reg had not left the place for some time, and I suddenly became aware of the smell of outside clinging to me as I peered around.

Reg offered me some wine, opening several cupboards before he found a clean glass. There was a mug on the counter with amber liquid in it. I think it was whiskey, but I’m not sure.

Once I’d been given my wine, Reg didn’t start a conversation, he just picked up the mug and swallowed a large gulp of whatever was in there, wincing. His eyes were heavy, red, like he’d been crying or perhaps had not slept for several days. He didn’t start a conversation or offer to show me around. I lightly tried to ask about his new series, but he wasn’t interested in the taking the conversational bait. I asked where Colin was. Reg stiffened. He looked out of the window. He said he didn’t know. I asked if he knew when Colin would be home. Reg didn’t look back at me from the window. He just said ‘no’.

I sipped my wine in silence, listening to chatter outside, a dog barking somewhere on the street, the rumble of the occasional passing car. I was quite concerned by this point. I wondered if something had happened between the two of them and Colin had left, but it surprised me that he wouldn’t have let me know about it. I reasoned that perhaps Colin had sent me letters home to London by mistake, though I’d updated the addresses of the places I’d been staying in Laos as I’d written to him from them. I excused myself and said I was going to the bathroom, though I didn’t know where it was Reg didn’t give me any directions.

I wandered through the flat. A canvas was set up on an easel in one room, paint splattered sheets covering the bare wood floors. The next room was their bedroom and in a similar dishevelled state to the living room and kitchen, sheets tossed aside, dirty crockery scattered here and there. Finally, I reached the bathroom. It was grubby, expensive, and as soon as I stepped in, I saw stains on the wall. I thought at first that they were mould of some kind, stringy and brown over the tiles, but. Then I saw the towels in the bath. There were several of them, different colours, all bundled up. Some of them had dark crusted patches on them. Others were streaked and splattered with red; unmistakably bloodstains. The stains on the walls, on the other towels, painted like a Jackson Pollock on the floor, they were bloodstains too, older, drier, but blood.

I felt nauseas. My mind raced, search for any kind of explanation, but I could think of none. I left the bathroom dazed and found myself standing back in front of Reg, and he looked at me with dead eyes, watching me, waiting for me to speak, but I didn’t know what to say. After a long moment he took a deep breath and said ‘it’s Colin’s blood’.

I stared at Reg. What did he mean?

It’s Colin’s blood. I don’t know where he goes. Sometimes he’s gone for days. When he comes back, he’s hurt. He won’t speak to me. He won’t speak to anyone. I don’t know where he goes.’

I asked what he was talking about, what he meant when he said that Colin was hurt.

Black eyes, a broken nose. Bruises on his legs and ribs. Once, I think he might have been stabbed, but I’m not sure because he wouldn’t let me look at it. He wouldn’t speak to me. I don’t know where he goes.’

Something rattled and Reg’s eyes flickered away from me to the door behind me. I turned as a key jangled in the lock. The latch clicked, the handled dipped as someone pushed on it from the outside. The door swung open.

Colin’s right eye was swollen so much he could hardly see out of it. The left was bruised too, but that one looked older, the swelling deflated, leaving the skin purple-grey and mottled with a fine web of veins. His lip was split. There was a mark on his neck which I’m fairly certain was a bite wound. On his filthy shirt, right in the centre, was a smear of mud in the shape of a boot.

Reg didn’t say a word. I couldn’t stop myself from gasping Colin’s name. He didn’t look at me or Reg, just stared straight ahead. Without a word, he limped into the flat, edging towards the bathroom. He slammed the door.

I looked at Reg. ‘I don’t know where he goes,’ he said.

I told Reg it didn’t matter, that we had to do something, we had to stop him. Reg closed his eyes and shook his head. ‘He won’t listen. I even tried taking his key. He threatened to jump out of the window.’

I insisted there had to be something we could do. I marched to the bathroom, hammered on the door, calling to Collin, begging for an explanation, or reassurances, anything that might give me some sign that he would be okay. He didn’t respond. I could hear the water running in the sink. After about half an hour, Colin opened the door. He looked at me in this way which is hard to describe. His gaze wasn’t empty or defeated, but he wasn’t angry, either, it was something else, something raw, something nasty, spiteful. He said. ‘I’m going out.’ When he spoke I saw several of his teeth were missing.

Reg stood there, unmoved, unmoving. I don’t know where my sudden burst of bravery came from but it surged through me and I followed Colin out of the flat. All down the stairs I asked what had happened, where he’d been, where he was going, and he said nothing. He didn’t even look at me. I was like a fly buzzing around a rhinoceros. He opened the door to the building, and only then did he glance in my direction. There was nothing behind his expression, no familiarity, nothing to suggest that he even knew who I was.

I faltered in my resolve and the door swung shut in my face. My heart was pounding in my chest. Through the glass in the door, I saw the warped figure of him disappear. I stared at the door, not knowing what to do, and then, with a deep breath, plunged out into the evening after him.

I didn’t have to go far. I rounded one corner to an alley down the side of the building, and there he was. Colin. He was standing next to the bins. There was another man with him, or at least, that’s what I thought at first. He was wearing a crumpled button down and a heavy overcoat, but it was moving as though there was a strong wind, even though the air was barely stirring with the gentlest breeze. His hair caught in the last dregs of the sunlight in wild dark blonde twists. Colin stood before him with his head slightly inclined, like a slight sort of bow, as though greeting some kind of dignitary. The other man’s hands were slick with red, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, like he was wearing gloves of congealing blood.

After just a heartbeat this other man – or not a man, for I’m not entirely convinced that he was even human – lifted his head as though catching a smell on the breeze. Slowly, so slowly, he began to turn towards me. Every second was agony. Every millimetre I became more and more convinced I should run, but more and more certain I could not. Finally, he was looking right at me, if you could call it looking, because his eyes – well. There were no /eyes/. In place of where his eyes should be was not the pitted emptiness of sockets nor false eyes, nor anything else that could make sense. It was two centres of darkness so deep I could not blink or breathe. I felt observed, stripped bare, exposed before his not-gaze. The not-eyes flickered, unseeable but seeing all. And then he smiled.

I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps the creases in the skin around his mouth, or the way I knew the skin around where his eyes should have been would have crinkled too, if I could have seen it, but something in me steeled and I turned and ran back to the door. I hammered my fist against it nonsensically and Reg wrenched it open a moment later. I knew as soon as I saw him again that what ever that thing with Colin in the alleyway had been, Reg had seen it too. We didn’t talk about it. I begged Reg to come with me to London, to leave Colin and Prague behind. He didn’t take much convincing.

We arrived in London on the next available flight. Reg slept on my couch for three weeks. The whole time we didn’t speak of the thing we’d seen, or about Prague, or about Colin.

I try my best not to think about what happened. Reg lives in Sydney now with his husband, Christopher. We don’t speak anymore, but I’m fairly sure neither of us have ever heard from Colin again. I’ve never been back to Prague.

Despite my best efforts I cannot entirely erase what happened from my mind, and sometimes it creeps back to me, if I catch sight of someone down an alley way and the light is low, for an awful moment I see no eyes in their face, and then they say something or move or frown, at me staring at them and I realise they’re just a person, not whatever that thing was, the thing that took Colin.

The tension which has been building inside me since I first heard you speak on the radio has now almost faded entirely. I’m certain, though I don’t know how, that the rest will fade as soon as I send this to you. I also know, somehow, where I am meant to send this, even though I did not look up your forums or anything like them and have avoided all radios since I heard your segment so I’ve not heard it there either, despite the fact every thing capable of receiving a radio signal that I have come near since has burst into life, skipping through channels at a relentless pace.

I don’t know who you are and frankly I don’t care to know, but I do know I need to tell you this, so that you might know that whatever it was, you’re not alone, and neither’s Scourge.

Do what you will with this, Samael, and please don’t try to find me.

And… that’s it. That’s the whole letter. There is so much to say, so much to understand here that I don’t know where to start. I’m not sure it helps. Maybe there’s something in here I’ve missed but it doesn’t get me any closer to understanding what Scourge is, except that whatever that is, there’s more than one of them. At least two, according to Oliver because he said this Scarcity thing that the Scarcemongers serve, that’s one of them too. Perhaps the thing in this story and Scarcity are one and the same but there was nothing mentioned here about eating people or anything like that. I don’t know. It’s all very complicated. I don’t get it.

I’ll be posting the whole thing on the forums of course, so do let me know what you think about it. Oh, and if you’re listening, anonymous travel writer, I hope the tension has gone away, and I won’t reach out to you unless you reach out to me. I’ll keep hoping that will happen. Though I’m pretty sure you won’t have much to add, some part of me is hoping there’s some weird detail you’ve missed somewhere which you’ve not mentioned here, and that detail could be the thing that makes it all click into place for me. I don’t know.

Anyway, faithful listeners, do keep me posted on your thoughts about this letter, and indeed about anything else you may come across. I hope you have a restful night tonight. I’ll speak to you next week.