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Literature: Break of Dark

There is a barrier that divides the dark unknown from the ordinary. Sometimes the barrier is crossed... .
Robert Westall Break Of Dark

Break of Dark is an anthology of short fiction by English author Robert Westall, first published in 1982. There are five stories in the anthology, all of them dealing with supernatural occurrences against the backdrop of typical life. The title refers to the point at which the weird and sinister crosses over into the mundane and interacts with humans; when the irrational and inexplicable comes into conflict with the familiar and ordinary.

The stories in the anthology are:
  • "Hitchhiker": In which a young man out hiking and mountain climbing in North-west Scotland encounters a mysterious, naked blonde girl on the roadside. But where is she really from?
  • "Blackham's Wimpy": During the Second World War a British bomber crew experience a haunting encounter with a German fighter-pilot.
  • "Fred, Alice and Aunty Lou": A prank between grown-up school rivals turns distinctly nasty when something crosses over from the other side.
  • "St. Austin Friars": A perfect parish for a new vicar. But why is someone making arrangements for a funeral a month in advance? And why are the Drogo family so very influential in Muncaster?
  • "Sergeant Nice": A spate of mysterious thefts in a pretty seaside town drives the local policeman to distraction. Who can possibly be behind them and why can he never catch them? And why has a horse trough from 1903 suddenly appeared next to the town clocktower?


Contains Examples of:

  • Author Avatar: Peter Wingfield is an author, with messy hair, a bushy beard, several literary awards and five cats. He routinely wears big, baggy sweaters and frequently has a cigarette dangling from his fingers. Take a look at the photo on Robert Westall's page. And this one here.
  • Cats Are Magic: When Peter Wingfield decides he's going to get rid of the ghosts of Fred, Alice and Aunty Lou, he brings along two of his cats to help him do so.
  • Cat Scare: In "Blackham's Wimpy" Gary, C-Charlie's radio operator, boards S-Sugar at night with the intent of setting fire to it. He hears someone whispering in German and there's a hunched figure in the cockpit in flight crew gear... turns out to be his own Captain, engaged in a Hollywood Exorcism attempt.
  • Corrupt Church: It's very strongly implied that the Bishop of Muncaster is perfectly aware of the true nature of the Drogo family and is probably directly under their influence. He certainly has no interest in doing anything about them, so long as the donations continue to flow.
  • Delayed Explosion: The bomb used by Sgt. Nice to blow up the aliens in "Sergeant Nice" has its explosion delayed. Of course, this is caused by the bomb being transported to the alien ship, resulting in the explosion not being where you might expect it.
  • Evil Smells Bad: Fred, Alice and Aunty Lou emanate the smell of old woman, stale clothes and menthol throat lozenges. It's a fairly mild version of evil smelling bad, but it's sufficient to make Biddy smother her house in pine-scented air fresheners.
  • Exposition of Immortality: In "St. Austin Friars", William Henry Drogo invites the Reverend to dinner and tells him several detailed stories about the past of Muncaster, as if he witness them directly. When challenged he simply states: "I am one hundred and ninety-two years old."
  • Foreign Remake: Anime director Hayao Miyazaki, of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away fame, wrote a manga called A Trip to Tynemouth about several of Westall's short stories - principally the tale of "Blackham's Wimpy."
  • Ghost Ship: Well, Ghost Plane. S-sugar returns from a raid intact but empty save for Blackham himself catatonic and continually flying the plane, even after he's been taken out and put to bed. The rest of the crew are found to have bailed out too low and buried themselves in a turnip field. And the rear gunner shot himself in his turret.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted in "Hitchhiker"; at the end of it, three babies end up dead.
  • Irish Priest: Well, okay. Irish Student Priest. Nevertheless, Flight-Lieutenant Townsend, aka Father Townsend, aka Dadda, is C-Charlie's bomber group's only Irishman. So of course he spent two years at the seminary, intending to go into the priesthood.
  • I See Dead People: In "Blackham's Wimpy" it's more a case of I Hear Dead People. "Fred, Alice and Aunty Lou" plays it a bit more straight, with Peter serving as unwitting channel for the dead relatives to get back into the world and play havoc with Roger. At the end of the story, they're fully visible and tangible.
  • It Won't Turn Off: The radio sets in S-Sugar, even after the power cord has been cut and the set itself smashed with a hammer; they still keep replaying the radio exchanges that accompanied Gehlen's death.
  • Kill It with Fire: After trying to exorcise Gehlen's ghost from S-Sugar, the crew of C-Charlie decide the best solution is to burn down the Wimpy he's haunting. And it works.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: At the end of "St. Austin Friars," the Drogos erase the Reverend William's memories of the burial.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In "Blackham's Wimpey", the guided karma missile gets both sides. Gehlen dies after his crew are overhead gloating about being about to shoot down Blackham, and then his ghost haunts Blackham into insanity and his crew into suicide. As Dada puts it - "they shouldn't have laughed at him."
  • The Laws and Customs of War: As he burns alive in his cockpit Gehlen endlessly recites his name, rank and serial number. In between describing what's happening to him and crying for his mother.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Joan Smith's ability to locate money could be weird alien Psychic Powers. Or it could be, as she explains it, that she's just looking where drunk Glaswegians drop their loose change when fumbling in the dark.
  • Naked on Arrival: Joan Smith, the slightly odd girl encountered in "Hitchhiker" first appears completely naked. She claims this is because her clothes have been stolen.
  • Old-Fashioned Copper: Sergeant Nice, real name Sgt. William Bainbridge, is the Dixon Of Dock Green end of the scale ramped Up to Eleven. He runs the police newspaper, does charity work, always has his uniform scrupulously and spotlessly clean and makes uplifting slogan out of flower beds.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Leutnant Dieter Gehlen of the Luftwaffe, is shot down by the crew of the eponymous Blackham's Wimpy. He haunts the aircraft that shot him down, manifesting as a perpetual repeat of the events leading to his death every time the bomber is flown. S-Sugar comes through every raid she flies in unscathed, but the crew using her will die on their next mission.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: It's never out-and-out stated, but it's very heavily implied that the Drogo family are some kind of vampire. At the end of "St. Austin Friars" Mr. Drogo comments that "There are still people cruel enough to sharpen stakes for us." There's no blood-drinking going on, though, and they don't seem to have a problem with daylight or reproduction.
  • People Jars: The aliens who are behind the thefts in Graymouth are seen to have some of these. Specifically, they have a set of what are described as "huge glass bottles, like in the biology lab at school"; in which are the various organs and parts of the cats and dogs and the one little girl they've vivisected. The heads of the unfortunates are still alive, set on top of each bottle.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: A very mild version plays out between Peter Wingfield and Roger Trembling in "Fred, Alice and Aunty Lou." Wingfield is unkempt, scruffily dressed, a chronic smoker and lives in a dilapidated old house full of mouldering antiques and dying pot plants, which Trembling refers to as "The Haunted Mansion." Roger lives in an ultra-modern villa with Modernist furnishings and chrome kitchen fittings, works for a computer company and plays squash every week. Peter refers to his house as "Mission Control."
  • Unfinished Business: It's definitely what keeps Dieter Gehlen tethered to the mortal plane. He continues to haunt S-Sugar even after dishing out a justifiable revenge on Blackham and his crew, fighting der Fuhrer's war even after death. Exactly what Fred, Alice and Aunty Lou want is never really made clear; but they seem to have some kind of grudge against Roger.
  • World War II: "Blackham's Wimpy" is set during the later stages of the Second World War; it's centred around the crew of a Wellington bomber and their bomber groupmates.

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