During the winter of 2013, I made a pilgrimage to a place I have since affectionately referred to as Land of Sir Giles. I was in a wretched state at the time and potentially one night on the street away from hyperthermia. My entire world had fallen apart around my ears, those in my proximity hadn’t the faintest idea what to do for the best, and I’d all but given up on life. However, just as the storm clouds were beginning to loom overhead, I was tossed a lifeline, and the timing couldn’t have been any more critical. The saviour in question was a gentleman by the name of C. William Giles and we had met just a few months prior courtesy of Twitter. The bond we formed was both instant and entirely unbreakable. Indeed, nary a day passed when we didn’t speak on the phone. That being said, I had no idea that he would step up in the manner he did, and effectively save my life.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Craig suggested I make the 300-mile round trip to his neck of the woods, and spend ten days in his personal care. Naturally, I accepted, and headed off to these uncharted lands post-haste. This glimmer of hope soon upgraded to fully fledged beacon as I arrived at his domain and instantly felt my overbearing burdens simply fall away. Indeed, as our ten days together drew to a close, I suddenly realized that I had completely forgotten to take my antidepressants the whole time I had been in his care. Given that one is supposed to wean off this kind of medication gradually, this may have appeared something of a desperate oversight. Six years on, and I haven’t popped a solitary pill since. So it obviously worked for me. Better yet, I returned from the Land of Sir Giles utterly rejuvenated, and hopeful for the future as opposed to downright fearful of it.
The very first thing I had noticed on arrival were his smiling eyes. Gilesy was a veritable mountain of a man and possibly the closest I have ever discerned to a bona fide Viking brave. And he very much was one. However, for all of his burly frame and formidable presence, he was unquestionably one of the sweetest, most genuinely kind-natured souls I had ever happened across. In addition, his talent for prose was truly second to none and I wasted no time in hailing him the best kept secret in modern horror literature. We made unspoken blood oath to always be there for one another and, despite our paths deviating over the following years, both of us knew that the other would have their back in a heartbeat, should the chips ever be down. He understood the true meaning of allegiance; that being something not determined by how often we spoke and fully appreciative of the fact that life moves rattlesnake fast and has a habit of getting away from us. Mattered not to Sir Giles. Or I.
A little over one year later, I returned to my home away from home a second time, only this time, things were markedly different. My life was beginning to resemble something more than a collection of gray days and heartbreaks, and there was no eleventh-hour patch-up required. In short, we just got the chance to be true Vikings. This entailed the guzzling of mead, bumping of chests, and many a hearty shanty as we spent the next ten days under the direct influence of a none too little thing called genuine brotherhood. During one of our many tangents, Craig expressed to me his desire to compile an anthology of horror stories, in the vain of the old Amicus portmanteaux of the sixties and seventies, only in print form. I was the very first to own a signed copy of his second novel, The Darkness of Strangers, which he was in the process of self-publishing. And I began to read it feverishly upon the long journey home at the close of our expedition.
Now, anyone who knows me well should be only too aware that reading anything feverishly simply isn’t my style. Have always been a visual creature and make no secret of the fact that I have a tendency to fall between the lines of any piece of literature that doesn’t grab my attention at the get-go and maintain this for the duration. That was until I read both …of Tortured Faustian Slumbers and his follow-up novel and was promptly blown so far away that I very near came back again. Should Clive Barker be your bag, then here was an author whose work matched it stride for bloody stride and effortlessly to boot. I remember wondering how he could ever trump a debut which personified none other than the Prince of Darkness himself. The answer – create a post-apocalyptic hell world so tangible that you could practically smell the napalm as you turned the pages. The only difference between Barker and Giles – one had received his big break and the other was damn well due it.
Merely a few weeks back, Craig released the anthology of short stories we discussed way back in 2015 and the official launch party was an overwhelming success. It truly appeared that the tide was changing for my Viking brother and I couldn’t have been happier for him as nobody deserved to be seen by the masses more than he. Alas, just a few short days later, that magnificent lion heart of his unexpectedly packed up, and the unimaginable happened. This supremely gifted gentle giant of a man took his final pilgrimage to Valhalla. Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to cut it. And the sorrow was only heightened by the fact that Foetus, as he was known to his dearest friends, had found the one true twin flame to his own shortly after I last saw him in 2015 and the pair were absolute soul mates. Beyond even that. From the very moment they met during a night out at The Pilgrim Pub, Liverpool, they were inseparable and I knew the devastation such a cruel loss would have on his love. Not just her either. Her identical twin, who instantaneously became his sister and adored him also. As a matter of fact, anyone who had had the distinct honour of knowing this king among men.
When I first received the desperate news, the only way I could even begin to process the information was to bleed my quill and scribe an adoring tribute to my Viking brother. Regardless of the fact that I was all-inclusively numb, the words flowed freely, and I posted “My Brother, The Brave” the very same evening. More than anyone, I just prayed it would bring the tiniest shred of comfort to Chell and Max in these unthinkably dark hours. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the overwhelming response and this spoke infinite volumes for just how cherished he was right across the board. To be fair, it was no less than I should have expected, considering the legendary esteem I held him in. But still, it far exceeded just a select few mourning the passing of a dear friend. Practically the whole of Liverpool and Bolton were in a similar state of shock and grief. Not to mention a multitude of others from all around the United Kingdom, whose lives he had touched in one way or another during his life.
When I was asked to attend the funeral, my response was provided in nary the blink of an eye. Not only would it be my honour to read the piece I had written at the service, but it would provide the opportunity to say my own personal goodbye to a soul which shone more brightly than practically any other I had ever basked beneath the rays of. There was trepidation of course as I knew just how unthinkably hard this pilgrimage would be to undertake. But I was some way more than primed to take a third and final voyage to the Land of Sir Giles and pay my eternal respects. Barely an hour into my journey, I broke down. On a crowded train platform no less. Not that this was about to stop me. You could have busted both my patella with a rubber mallet and I simply would have crawled to Liverpool on my belly. Thus, I dusted myself down, puffed out my chest in true Viking spirit, and carried on regardless.
First things first. It had been very graciously arranged for me to stay with two very close friends of Max’s for the three days I would be there. And, in Gee and Amber, I found myself in the safest two pairs of hands I could ever have imagined. The sincere connection forged the very second I clapped eyes on them is one which I already know will be life long, nay beyond even that. Not only did they make me wholly welcome, but it felt as though we had twenty years of history together by the end of the first evening. Indeed, it almost felt as though Craig was watching over the three of us, willing us on to make something beautiful of such an altogether sorrowful set of circumstances. Gee is an incredibly talented digital wizard and true gentleman of the uppermost degree, while Amber is an extraordinary poet and the kind of positive soul that lights up any room she enters. A simple thank you could never hope to suffice here. I am endlessly indebted to Gee and Amber for the warmth they extended. Their home became mine for three days, in such the same manner as Craig’s did six years previous, thus mine is theirs also. We’re in this together from this point forth.
Indeed, Rivers of Grue has itself the very most immortal of purposes now. To hoist the flag for Sir Giles until such time as we let the entire free world know of his otherworldly gift and way beyond. This is very much the goal for us all and Chell has already expressed her intention to set up a foundation for Craig in the future. He will be seen. Whether or not snatched away from us in mortal form is irrelevant to the mission at hand. The fallen shall rise. And this fearless army will not be denied. For this is absolutely no less than the great man deserved. It may not have come about on his shift, but the legacy remains forevermore. On one fine day, the name C. William Giles will be spoken of in the same breath as the likes of Barker and Hutson. I know I speak in collective tongue as I make that particular claim. You see, the blood that we all shared with Craig now runs through us all as a solidified unit. Even through the never, still bringing people together.
And so the day arrived that none of us could even begin to be prepared for. As we turned up at the crematorium, the wealth of love for Foetus became even more abundantly clear. The whole place was heaving from wall-to-wall with those present to pay their respects and all were in the same state of dazed confusion. Once the service began, you could hear a pin drop at the opposite end of the building, as we listened intently to a number of adoring tributes, each of which beautifully showcased different perspectives, each of which demonstrating just how much of a true one-off he was. We heard tales of childhood, of how he was everybody’s favorite colleague at the hospital where he plied his daily trade, and of the unique love he shared with his beloved. One thing was crystalline clear. Gilesy was thoroughly adored by every single person he came into contact with. Myself very much included.
As the hauntingly exquisite tones of Annie Lennox drew to a close, my name was announced and I made my way tentatively through the bottleneck to take my place at the podium for the one eulogy I hoped and prayed never to have to deliver. And, as I commenced to read, I cast my eye across the room and observed a sight which instantly set my racing heart at ease. It was as though looking out across a fleet of Viking longboats, each crafted from the blood and sweat of those heralding from the fjords. While quite evidently grieving, there was a sea of tranquility about me as I delivered my address and I felt at peace when all I really desired to do was drop to my knees and sob. I was surrounded by true Nordic brave. No way I could or would falter. For Craig was very much in the room. From floorboards to rafters. Transcending the hereafter. I always knew there was magic within his soul. His smiling eyes gave that away at very first sighting. Here it was in unending abundance.
As the service closed and we began to filter out through the side exit, I had a short moment with my brother in which to say a few words from my own heart and a few for those I know who loved Craig just the same way. Valhalla awaits and I shall stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him once again on one fine day. For now, I will dedicate my entire life to making sure that the best kept secret in horror literature is revealed the world over. And I am in no way alone. The Rivers of Grue are merely one of an entire league of sea-roving vessels preparing to set sail in his honour. Such became even more clear at the wake and throughout the evening, as a number of us continued to celebrate the man, the legend, the warrior brave. Even before that, I forged sincere lifetime connections with a multitude of others and one thing was very much evident. It mattered not whether we had known Gilesy our whole lives or just fleetingly, whether we had had the pleasure of seeing those smiling eyes of his every day or hadn’t for decades. We all adored him. And, for one desperately sad but immensely spiritual day, were all home. Just as he would have wished us to be.
To Chell and Max – I am with you. You have a Viking brother in me until my very last breath is spent. And I will shine a light in your direction forevermore. No question. To all those who knew Craig personally or through his magnificent novels, he will always be with us. The legacy is tremendous and in the very best of hands as we are all united by a solitary uncommon cause. To pick up the torch for our brother. To carry it right the way to Valhalla. Where we will see him again. Until such a time as we arrive at this fabulous feast, we will eat heartily in his fine name. We will keep his memory alive in every way conceivable and inconceivable. And we will witness the one fine day when the name C. William Giles is placed in its rightful place. In the annals of all-time horror literature greats. I therefore raise a chalice overspilling with the blood from my deepest soul’s heart as I state that the legend will never die. Craig’s magic is still very much with us, within every last one of us fortunate enough to bask in his luminescent rays. Will we achieve our goal? Aye.
Richard Charles Stevens