Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Eleven

It was almost midnight.  They hadn’t spoken much.  They left Highgate and drove down into Westminster.  Eventually they found a hotel, the Pont de Franca, not far from Charing Cross.  Celia paid in cash. 
     The room was pale blue and white, with a regal bed and lavish furnishings.  There was a mini-bar and Louise sat on the edge of the bed, downing a tiny bottle of Malibu.  Celia watched her, trying to quiet her mind.
     “This is crazy,” said Louise, going to the bar for another.  Celia could only nod.  They looked at each other and Celia could feel her fear.  “Were they even real people?”  Celia didn’t know what to tell her.  “Sweet God in Heaven,” Louise murmured.
     Eventually Celia joined her in raiding the mini-bar, downing tiny bottles of Smirnoff and Jack Daniel’s in virtual silence.  Louise lay flat on her back on the grand bed.  Celia listened to the sound of her lover’s breathing. 
     After nearly half an hour Louise was asleep.  Celia didn’t even feel mildly tipsy.  Gently, she took off Louise’s trainers and left her sleeping on the bed.
     Celia stripped and climbed into the hotel shower, hot water beating down.  I don’t have the energy for this…I don’t.  The way the girls had moved, like phantoms, and yet they had been solid.  It was the stuff of drug-induced hallucinations, the stuff of horror movies and bad dreams.  Can’t do this…I can’t.  She left the shower, dried herself off and climbed onto the bed, beside Louise still fully clothed.  Celia was naked on top of the sheets.  The room was very warm.  She quickly passed out.

***

She had vanished from a moving train, so quickly that Myers wasn’t even sure what occurred.  He wasn’t utterly cold and fearless, like some of the other proof-readers; those who had cast off the last vestiges of their compassion to protect themselves.  No, he could still feel, and sometimes it made him naked to things that burned.  He could still be afraid, his fear an uncomfortable bedfellow with images of centre-punched foreheads and smothering pillows held down by his own hands.
     He parked the car in a Highgate back road.  He turned away from the vehicle and vomited, staring down at the discoloured mess at his feet and then glancing up at the black sky. 
     The walk didn’t take long. 
36 Seaver Road
stood imposing and faceless in the dark, Celia’s house.  Her black Ford was gone from the gravelled driveway.  Myers banged his fist against the front door, crouching and shouting through the letter-box, “Celia!  It’s David, from the other night!  If you’re there open the door!  It’s an emergency!” 
     He waited for a few moments.  When no one came to answer, he reached into his jacket and removed the keys.
     Stepping into the house, he listened for sounds.  He pulled the Beretta despite the silence and went into the living-room, glancing about in the dark.  Capable Celia had run away.  He leaned forward, switching on a lamp with a stained-glass cowl that cast a murky orange across half the room.  Above the fireplace there was a painting.  The colours used were dark and he squinted to identify it.  The Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus.  Had Celia – no, this had been painted by Alice Gray, painted by a mother.
     Something moved out in the hallway.  
     Myers snapped round on his heels, gun sweeping the darkness.  There were a series of flickers in the shadows; fractured images of someone stepping through the living-room doors.  His mind went almost blank with shock.  The fractured, flickering thing froze, and Myers realised Mr Finn was standing in the room with him.
     In that moment mental images tumbled over one another, fusing together, like he had stepped into one of those novels where sorcery was commonplace and men could come back from the dead. 
     A wave of sour confusion turned his stomach.  
     Jutting the Beretta in Finn’s direction, he murmured, “No, I killed you…”  Before Mr Finn had a chance to utter a word Myers squeezed the trigger and a shot flared, almost white against the orange murk of the lamp, a stab of air through the silencer. 
     Mr Finn didn’t move, only stared with blank eyes.
     Myers felt his mind shift suddenly as he watched the bald man, as though he were not watching a person at all, but an abstraction.  How was this…?  Another sour wave of terror churned in his gut.  He’d read scenes like this many times, and had seen them depicted in countless movies.  The realisation hit him that he was completely powerless, and that his gun was a feeble weapon against whatever Mr Finn really was.  His knees almost sagged with a new fear that coursed through him.
     “You’re…fuck…you’re not a…”  His gun was trembling so slightly.  The austere sense of infinite possibility began to envelope him.  He’d heard the rumours but thought they were little more than that.  Men secretly adored the supernatural.  Most of them wanted to exude a sense of almost divine power; clothing their fragile humanity in myth and mysticism.  Myers realised this went beyond the games that men played.
     “I’m a priest, David,” said Mr Finn, “I’m a door.  Ardour.”
     And then Finn seemed to phase slightly, to shift and blur, flickering forward. In a compressed moment of time Myers pictured himself from the outside; a minor character about to suffer an inventively gruesome death scene, a cruel money-shot. 
     Christ, please, no... 
     Instinctively he squeezed another shot but the flickering thing swept up close to him.  From nowhere a solid fist caught him hard across the face. 
     Myers was spun sideways by the strength and shock of the blow, squeezing the trigger accidentally, lighting Mr Finn at a weird angle above him.  There was the sound of exploding glass.  Myers hit the hardwood floor, his left cheek buzzing like it had been electrified.  Mr Finn collapsed on top of him.
     For a few moments it was like they were both frozen in time.  Myers realised he could hear his own pulse thudding through his ears.  On top of him, Finn lay unmoving.  He was uncertain.  What the fuck had just happened?  He expected to be dead.  He heaved Finn away and scrambled back across the floor, jutting the gun again.  The tall bald man lay unmoving, his head tilted towards Myers.
     One of Finn’s eyes was gone.  A black socket rimmed with red, bits of bloodied glass on the floor around him.  This wasn’t…this couldn’t be.  David Myers shot him again, thrice in the chest, watching as his body jerked slightly on impact.  He waited. 
     Slowly, very slowly, he moved towards Finn.  He reached out, hesitant, and then dug his fingers into Finn’s remaining socket, pulling a polished glass eye into his palm.  Myers clambered to his feet and back-stepped, clutching the orb in his hand.  He opened his mouth but there were no words. 
     Finn’s eyes had been glass.  Both of them. 
     An icy certainty that Myers couldn’t deny began to close his throat.  He realised that the worlds of the books he adored were closer to reality than most people would ever know.  Staring down again at the glass eye in his hand, a violent sob escaped him, his face twisting with tears.  He almost fell to his knees again with terror.  He forced the sobbing back deep into his chest, shaking, taking long tremulous breaths.  Myers turned, and fled from the house.   

***

When Celia woke in the morning Louise was still asleep on the hotel bed, fully clothed beside her.  Lou was deep in her own head somewhere.  Celia dressed and scribbled a note, leaving it on the mini-bar. 
     ‘Gone out for a few minutes, don’t worry.  Stay here, love baby girl.’
     She left the Pont de Franca and walked down The Strand, eyes hovering on the faces of pedestrians.  She could smell baked bread and coffee.  Across the road a large bookshop had just opened for the day.  Celia hurried across the road and inside.
     She found the horror section against the back wall of the store, scanning the shelves.  The Dollmen wasn’t there and she cursed to herself.  In the Mythology/Unexplained section she found London: An Occult History.  She pulled it from the shelf.  It was a hardback book but there was no photo of Richard Hobbes on the dust-jacket.  She paid for the book and smiled a thank-you at the clerk.
     Walking back up The Strand, she stopped in a convenience store and bought a pack of Lincoln Silver.  Outside she lit one, dialling a number on her mobile phone, eyes searching the faces that passed her.
     “Hades House Publishing, how may I help you?”
     “It’s Celia Gray.  Put me through to Paul Drazer.”  She waited.
     “Celia…I haven’t spoken to you in a while.  Where’d the love go, sweetie?”
     “Listen, Paulie, I need your help, okay?  You’re not still bitter are you?”
     The voice on the phone just laughed.  “Get over yourself, Celia.  I did.”
     “You going to help me?”
     “Yeah…shoot.”
     “You ever heard of Tempest Press?”
     “Yeah, we’re Tempest Press – we were.  Changed our name in 1976.”
     Celia frowned in the morning light, pulling on her cigarette.  “What the fuck…how come I didn’t know about this?”
     “I don’t know, because it’s completely unimportant?”
     “Okay, fine.  You know a man named Richard Hobbes then?”  Paul Drazer didn’t take long to respond. 
     “Yeah, I did for a while.  He’s dead now.  What do you care?”
     “I care.  What can you tell me about him?”
     Celia heard him laugh, “Why the sudden interest in a dead man.?”
     “Paulie…you’re really trying hard to annoy me.”
     “Okay, okay.  He, uh…he lived in Berlin at the time.  Germany.”
     “I’ve got an Atlas at home, Paul…” 
     He laughed again.  “Yeah, well, we spoke extensively on the phone.  I only met him once face to face, in ’96 I think.  Very shy old man.”
     Celia closed her eyes for a moment, the phone pressed to her ear.  “Did he ever talk about the occult?”  She could almost hear Paul Drazer frowning. 
     “What do you mean…?”
     “Just what I said, did he ever talk about the occult?”  For a few moments there was silence on the line. 
     “Yeah, I guess so, sometimes.  It’s what his books were about, so yeah.”
     “What did he say?”
     “Celia, you can’t expect me to remember something so obscure.”
     “Try,” she said and waited.
     “He said the mythology in his books was solid, going back to biblical times and even further, blah blah blah.  He had a real hard-on for all that mystical crap.”
     Celia nodded to herself, glancing at the morning sky.  “Did he ever say he believed the myths were true, I mean, literally true?”
     “What, monsters and demons and serpentine conspiracies?  He had a good imagination but he wasn’t foolish.  They were just inspiration for his yarns.  What’s up sweetie, really?”
     “Did he ever say anything else to you?”
     She heard him sigh.  “Uh…well, he said mostly that he studied ancient mythology because it was beautiful.  Said he liked how people were fascinated by the occult because it gave them hope – gave the world some illusory meaning.”  She felt her shoulders tense.  “Is that it, Celia?  Got work to do, am I done…?”  
     Celia switched off the phone.  There was a scowl on her face, distorting her youthful features.  She walked back to the Pont de Franca, licking her lips with controlled anger, taking long, hard drags on the Lincoln Silver. 
     Louise was still asleep on the bed when she returned.  Celia went to the mini-bar, screwed up the note she had left and tossed it into the wastepaper basket.  There was no cider in the mini-bar so she took a bottle of beer and opened it, taking three deep swallows.

***

He slept in the back seat of his blue Vauxhall, the Beretta concealed nearby.  He expected nightmares but there was only fitful sleep.  Now Myers sat in an aisle of Lowell Library.  Its ceiling was high and its walls had intricate stonework painted white.  Books were stacked beside him.  He only skimmed them half-heartedly.  He was far too numb.
     Previously he believed that only myths could make immortals of men, only myths could make divine the cold, hard sufferings of people.  He’d believed that the Host of Clock were not magicians but illusionists, master capitalists.  Now he could believe in none of that.  He’d seen it for himself now.  All those years that others whispered fearfully, about myriad horrors that took place beneath the veneer of modern society, he’d doubted the paranoid depths they mined.  He knew what evil was, but in his experience it wore a distinctly human face.  Myers stared at the glass eye in his hand.
     Now he remembered.  Now he had no choice in remembering; a past that was always at his shoulder. 
     Terrible rumours he heard whispered as a boy in the halls of the Colony.  He’d never believed them.  He understood about the evil that men did, and that the Colony was a place governed by such evil men, but he’d never believed the rumours…to do so was to completely lose your mind.
     He remembered Christopher trying to kiss him, touching him, whispering in his ear at night about demons.  How demons walked the halls of the Colony beneath fake faces, pretending to be their teachers, nurses and dorm-masters. 
     Chris had been recruited for proof-reader and cried.  You were not allowed to cry.  Mr Haven eventually took him to the Red Room, a place that the boys and girls had feared greatly.  Terrible things were said to happen in the Red Room.  He’d been so scared for Chris, hearing the echo of his screams as Mr Haven dragged him down the corridor, their eyes locking.  Myers remembered he’d been unable to hold his friend’s gaze.  Even now he regretted it.  At Mass he prayed, pulling his rosary through his hands so fast that it snapped, scattering the beads across the floor. 
     Christopher was seen the next morning, leaping from the bell tower of the church.  Myers hadn’t been there but he’d heard the screams and confusion.  He knew.  He raced from his dorm, across the causeway and into the church courtyard.  Chris had been a dark scarlet mess on the ground.  A shattered skull.  Limbs twisted in unnatural angles.  A rib-cage like a bony claw from his ruptured chest.  It had been a lesson to all of them.  Even now…it still seemed like a nightmare. 
     Myers wished tears would come but they didn’t.  A girl browsing the nearby shelves glanced down kindly at him. 
     “You okay, mate?”
     He nodded warmly at her and she wandered off.  He stared back down at the glass eye in his hand.  Magic and fake faces.  Ghosts brushing shoulders with the living.  He knew this before in a symbolic sense, a poetic sense.  But to believe it literally was the province of children, madmen and fools.  The implications were too massive, too far reaching for his reason to embrace.  But Mr Finn had two glass eyes.  Bullets had done nothing until Myers had shot one of those eyes.
     Proof-reader, the Colony…it wasn’t merely a black-light protectorate of the Crown.  He’d been used to an even greater extent than he previously believed.   How could he live in such a place now?  How could he live?  He lifted the glass eye above his head and with a furious cry he hurled it at the library floor.  It shattered in a feast of glinting lights.
       
***

     “I know what you’re thinking, Cee.”  Louise was reclining on the bed, hung-over, clicking the remote at the television.  Celia had ordered room service – toast, croissants, jam, and orange juice.  Louise had only picked at the breakfast.
     “What am I thinking, Lou?”
     Louise settled a gaze on her.  “I’m not going anywhere.  It’s my choice.”
     Celia nodded, pursing her lips.  “Your choice?  He nearly killed you…”
     “My choice, babes.”
     “I’m not sure about that…”
     Louise stared icily at her.  “Why is this about you?”
     “Of course it’s about me!” Celia shot back and then regretted it. 
     “You’re a fucking star, Cee, you know that, don’t you.”  It was more a statement than a question.  Celia was silent.  “You want to get rid of me.  So you can chase down your demons like some armchair detective.  I could see it coming, believe me.  I knew it.” 
     Celia said nothing and thought she saw a mild look of disgust play briefly across her lover’s face.  “Where am I in all this?” Louise demanded.  “Where the fuck am I?”
     “You’re everything to me in this, Lou…you bloody well know that.  What the hell did you see last night – those girls, those fucked up twins.  You saw it like I did.”
     Louise said nothing, looking haunted, stuffing half a croissant into her mouth.  

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