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Literature / Angel Down, Sussex

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"Angel Down, Sussex" is a short story by Kim Newman in the Diogenes Club series. It is set in the 1920s, and features Catriona Kaye and Edwin Winthrop.

Catriona and Edwin investigate a strange occurrence in the Sussex village of Angel Down, where strange lights are periodically seen in the sky and strange circles found in the fields, and fifty years ago a local girl named Rose Farrar disappeared into the air in a column of light. Now, a girl has appeared who seems to be Rose, still the same age as when she disappeared. Is she a fairy changeling? Was she the victim of an Alien Abduction? Is there even a difference?

This story contains examples of:

  • Alien Fair Folk: The story deals with an extra-dimensional incursion in rural Britain in the 1920s, at precisely the point at which human perception of such entities is beginning to shift from traditional occult/faerie mythology to twentieth-century UFO mythology.
  • Aliens Steal Cattle: A variation. One of the associated phenomena is a farmer finding his livestock dead and mutilated, but it's sheep instead of cattle.
  • Anal Probing: Happens to Crowley, but since the alien visitors' appearance and actions vary depending on the expectations of the people they encounter, this really says more about him than about the aliens.
  • Animal Assassin: Catriona recalls how she and Edwin once found a black mamba in their picnic hamper while out punting. Bonus points in that it's implied that Fu Manchu, whose stories regularly used this trope, is the foe who had it placed there.
  • Changeling Tale: When it becomes clear that the girl isn't human, Sir Arthur recalls the tales of fairies leaving a changeling in place of a human child and theorises that she's an example.
  • Circle of Standing Stones: The field at the locus of the strange visitations used to have a stone circle standing in it; Rose's father had it removed and demolished after Rose disappeared from within it. The girl who might be Rose is found lying at the point that used to be the centre of the circle.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The hook of the story is that it's full of echoes of later UFO mythology which the reader will recognise but which go past the characters. Apart from all the inherent similarities between fairy abduction and alien abduction myths, there's a strange visitor who switches between human and reptilian form, The Greys, an Anal Probing incident, unidentified flying objects, livestock mutilations, crop circles, and a visit by The Men in Black. The story ends with the characters pondering the possibility that the whole business will repeat in another few decades.
  • Empathic Shapeshifter: The being at the centre of the events. Of three investigators who get a look at it, the starry-eyed spiritist from Edinburgh sees a fey changeling, the gleefully-depraved occultist sees a succubus which proceeds to anal-probe him, and the skeptic just sees it as a hoaxer. At the end someone wonders what it might appear as to someone decades from now.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Catriona's first scene, at the seance; her sardonic mental running commentary on the medium's technique, and then the way she allows the medium to dig herself into a hole before blowing the lid on the scam.
  • Game of Chicken: Edwin blocks Crowley's escape by bringing his single-seater aircraft down on the road in front of Crowley's car and aiming for a head-on collision. He expects Crowley's driver to swerve first, but figures if worse comes to worst the propeller of the plane will do enough damage to the front of the car to stop it.
  • The Greys: Before her disappearance, Rose Farrar claimed to have met the beings responsible for the lights in the sky; she described them as a small, dressed in silvery clothes, with large black eyes and no noses to speak of. The girl who might be Rose describes them as bald with eyes like saucers and no noses. Crowley sees some similar creatures accompanying "Rose".
  • Historical Domain Character: Aleister Crowley and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also show up to investigate the incident.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Sir Arthur fends off a monster with a crucifix that happened to be to hand; it's implied that it worked because he expected it to, but might not have worked the same for someone else.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The story ends with Edwin confidently predicting that the world is entering a new age of rationality and that "the next time anything like this happens, we shall get to the bottom of it without panic or hysteria".
  • Madame Fortune: The phony medium Catriona exposes at the beginning of the story goes by the name of Mademoiselle Astarte.
  • The Men in Black: "Rose" mentions that the angels who took her had friends on Earth who dressed like undertakers, with dark smoky glasses. At the end of the story, a pair of strange men wearing black suits and smoked glasses show up and take the girl away.
  • Nonhumans Lack Attributes: During his encounter with the Little Grey People, Crowley perceives them as being completely naked and devoid of attributes.
  • Phony Psychic: When we first see Catriona at the beginning of the story, she's taking part in a seance, in what turns out to be a sting operation to reveal the fraudulence of the psychic medium.
  • Reptilian Conspiracy: one of the forms of alien that appear.
  • Spooky Séance: The story opens with a seance, which at first goes quite according to the playbook: the medium divines that a young woman is seeking contact with a young man who served in the Great War, assures her that her soldier felt no pain when he died and that he sends his love to her from the afterlife, and a ghostly, indistinct image appears. It then quickly collapses into chaos after the young woman, Catriona, points out that her soldier, Edwin, isn't dead yet, and proceeds to deconstruct the psychic's act with devastating accuracy and reveal to her other patrons that she's a sham.
  • Super Window Jump: After it becomes obvious the girl isn't human, she escapes by leaping through a closed window.
  • A True Story in My Universe: Inevitably comes up, since the Diogenes Club originated in one of Sir Arthur's Sherlock Holmes stories. In-universe, Holmes, Watson, et al. are real people whose experiences Sir Arthur has written up for public consumption, though Crowley points out during a discussion of the nature of truth and reality that many of the general public believe he made them up.
  • Wicked Wasps: The Vicar of Angel Down has a deathly phobia about wasps as a result of a traumatic childhood incident. The girl he takes into his home transforms according to either want her to be, or are afraid she might be. In his case, she transforms into a wasp woman and stings him to death.