Gothic Fiction, Pagham-verse, The Crows, undead, vampires

The Undead of Pagham-on-Sea: Lychgates

Most people think vampires when they think of the undead, but the truth is that the undead communities are diverse and far from homogenous. Even the ghoul community has its complexities, although they are pretty close to zombies when their brain functions deteriorate through hunger. This post is going to look at how newly undead folk of all kinds gain access to an existing undead community, and future posts will expand on the communities themselves.

Vampires are implied in The Crows but not formally introduced, with the possible exception of Sheila Azeman, whose nature is hinted at but not made explicit. Sheila lives in Barker Crescent because her late husband was a werewolf, but while an azeman can day-walk and shift into animal form, they are more vampiric in nature.

Vampires of the ‘verse ARE going to appear in Eldritch Girls Vol. 3: Euro Trash Eldritch Girl, which is in the outlining stages as we (moi et la belle sauvage Nita Pan) finish the first draft of the sadly vampire-less Eldritch Girls Vol. 1: Eldritch Girls Just Want To Have Fun. The second volume, also being outlined, does not feature vampires either, sadly: that’s a noir slasher romantic road trip across the US with far too many Dolly Parton references, currently titled Eldritch Girls Vol. 2: Have You Met My Eldritch Baby?

I digress. Back to Pagham-on-Sea.

So why does Sheila Azeman use her identity as a surname?

…Let’s talk about lychgates.

Lychgates

Sheila’s grandparents emigrated to London from Suriname via the Netherlands in the 1900s, and had moved from Amsterdam to London to Pagham-on-Sea, East Sussex, by the early 1920s, back when a lot of shifters, undead and others chose to be open about their identities for various reasons post-WWI.

Many of the newly undead wouldn’t use their previous life-names after their deaths out of fear they might harm their loved ones, and the population of recently undead (most of whom were severely traumatised) exploded dramatically from 1915 onwards.

For context, during the First World War, 30 June 1916, the Royal Sussex Regiment took part in the Battle of the Boar’s Head at Richebourg-l’Avoué. Five hours later, 17 officers and 349 men had been killed, including 12 sets of brothers, three of whom were all from one family. A further 1,000 were wounded or taken prisoner. The day became known in Sussex history as The Day Sussex Died. [I’m not making this bit up, this is actual history.]

The number of undead created in those five hours alone is not known. It is known that some of the boys from Pagham-on-Sea went into battle with small pouches of home soil around their necks, and this is held to be responsible for their resurrections, most of which were ‘mindless’ and resulted in them being put down again.

There needed to be a means of clearly and quickly identifying safe spaces for the newly undead, and it made sense to appoint members of the existing communities – or their ante-dead/alive allies – to ‘open the gateway’ for them and induct them into these spaces.

As a response to this, some allies or members of the existing undead communities signalled their identites/allyship by going by identity-based surnames, like Azeman, Strigoi, Lich or Lych, etc, which in later decades became more problematic as Hunters sought out targets just by going through the local phone book.

A popular code name for allies who could show an undead individual where the safe spaces were in a city or town was the ‘lychgate‘, as in the person who could open the gateway to the various communities within that area. The lychgate ideally was not a ‘gatekeeper’, and their role was not to determine whether someone should be permitted into the community but only to introduce them to it. Severe punishments would be meted out to lychgates who got above themselves and turned undead of any kind away: lychgates are disposable. It’s very difficult to refuse to be a late-lychgate’s replacement when a delegation of undead descend upon your house to insist you take over the role, especially as some of them do not need an invitation to enter.

That said, lychgates were (and are) generally volunteers, on good terms with and answerable to the hierarchy of the undead communities they served. I’m going to make this more explicit in Real Meat which is the noir werewolf thriller in the re-writing/major revisions stage, as this focuses on the undead communities more directly.

Esme Azeman, Sheila’s mother, was a lychgate, and Sheila was a lychgate until her retirement, after her husband’s death from cancer. (Yes, werewolves can get cancer: they can get things that both dogs and humans get). Hence why neither woman used their actual family name or adopted their husband’s surname.

Current Lychgates

The community in Pagham-on-Sea currently has no official person as a lychgate – times have moved on and that’s largely what social media is for – but it does have a few undead support groups advertised discretely on the noticeboard of the morgue.

Jazz Williams (English-Scottish human, London Scottish supporter, ante-dead/alive, pathologist) is currently the lychgate by default, since he works at the morgue, but then again the same could be said of his colleagues:

Magda Adebayo (Irish-Nigerian human with a bit of banshee on her mum’s mum’s side, ante-dead/alive, forensic psychopomp/morgue assistant),

Tina Harris (English with Welsh ancestry human, medium, ante-dead/alive, morgue assistant),

Derrick Hall (English human, ante-dead/alive, morgue assistant) and Celine Hayes (French-English intern, human, ante-dead/alive).


Read more about the undead of Pagham-on-Sea in these previous posts!

Undead Fashion – guest post by Clementine Wells, CEO of Open Casket Clothing

While Jazz’s partner Mercy doesn’t count as undead (she’s a Resurrectionist) she is undead-adjacent, and you can meet her here, just before she appears in The Crows: Meet the Locals: Mercy Hillsworth


NEXT TIME:

A look at the vampire communities of Pagham-on-Sea, the nests of Quatre Faces and the subcultures you might find there. We might also take a tour of the vampire-owned businesses, if you’re brave enough.

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