Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Ten

The sky was a pinkish grey when they arrived at Litchfield College, a precursor to the obscured setting sun.  At the reception the handsome African security-guard nodded at Louise and then smiled at Celia.  “Hey there, goddess,” he said, winking at her like usual.
     “Hey, Joseph.  How’s your girlfriend?  She liked the present?”
     He chuckled.  “Oh, my goodness, she loved it…” 
     Celia winked back at him.  “See, she’ll want you forever and a day now.  You’re still writing?”
     “Sure, every night.”
     “Good man.  Don’t hold out on me when it’s done.”  As they wandered down the corridor Joseph called out to them.
     “Place is empty, only Amy and John are on site.”
     “No worries,” Celia called back.  They walked Litchfield’s empty corridors, towards the English Department, passing darkened seminar rooms. 
     Amy Lubec was in the one with the arched windows.  The small black woman was in her early sixties, with glasses on a chain around her neck, searching through papers on a desk.  There were open cartons of books everywhere.  Celia whistled and she glanced up.  “Oh, hey there honey,” she chirped, her accent a throaty French-Canadian.
     Celia introduced Amy to Louise.  “I’m thinking about firing her, Louise,” said Amy with an arched eyebrow.
     “If you fired me…I’d come back and burn this place to the ground.”
     Amy grinned at Celia.  “I don’t doubt it.”
     “I just came in to go through some of the books, but...it looks like a minefield in here.  I'm thinking I'll go back online, use one of the computers.  Is that okay with you?”
     Amy Lubec shrugged and nodded.  “Go for it, I’ll be setting off in a moment.”  She returned to packing and Celia went to the terminal. 
     Louise stared absently at books on shelves.  “Nice selection,” she muttered.
     At the keyboard Celia entered her user-number and password.  She accessed the college database, typing in the name Richard Hobbes.  The screen bleeped.  

Richard Hobbes – The Clockhost, published in 1969 by Tempest Press.  The Dollmen, published in 1974 by Tempest Press.  London: An Occult History, published in 1996 by Hades House.
    
Celia frowned at what she read.  She already knew the same company that published both of her books had also published one of his.  She didn't like the feeling it gave her.  She tapped at the keyboard again, bringing up a small personal file that hadn't appeared before.  A tangible chill went through her.

Richard Hobbes.  Born on October 22nd 1928, Berlin, Germany.  He was the eldest son of a displaced London banking family.  A very wealthy man, not much else is known about him.  He shunned publicity and press all his life. 
     The Clockhost and The Dollmen are his only commercial works of fiction.  In 1976 The Dollmen won the Dark Heart award for ‘Best Horror’.  London: An Occult History was his only work of non-fiction and his last book.  He died on October 21st 2002, a day before his seventy-fourth birthday.  Berlin Police found him hung in a hotel room, verdict of suicide – a very tragic end to this elderly writer’s life.

Celia inhaled deeply at the information on the screen.  It was gruesome.  They didn’t kill you?   You really took your own life?  I tried and failed.
     Amy Lubec put her coat on.  “I’m off then.  I’ll tell Joseph you’re still here.”  She winked at them both.  “Bye girls.”
     Louise ignored her but Celia smiled in confession, “Bye Amy.”  The older woman left them alone in the room with the arched windows.
     “He killed himself, Lou.  And his last book was published by Hades House.  I need to talk to Paulie…” 
     Louise turned from the bookcase and came up behind her lover, staring at the computer screen.  Celia tapped rapidly at the keyboard.

The Dollmen; Tempest Press, 1974.  A twisted urban fairy-tale.  Young Max dreams of Bogeymen, nightmarish monsters.  A childish terror it would seem.  But when a series of brutal murders draw Max and his mother into an unholy secret world, he discovers that the Dollmen have a reality all their own, and the boy must face the truth of his darkest fear.

     “Jesus, that’s fucked up,” Louise muttered, reading the text.  “These are some fucked up people.”  Celia was quiet, staring at the screen.  “This Hobbes, Cee, he was obviously not right in the head.  Clockhost, Dollmen – no wonder he hanged himself.”
     A dark thought entered Ceila’s mind, gaining credibility as it traversed her intellect.  Maybe this was some kind of cult, a strange mix of mysticism and Christian dogma – a psychological con trick to control the weak and wounded.  Maybe Alice Gray had gotten in too deep.  The thought made her shudder lightly and she shook it off. 
     Above Celia and Louise the electric lights suddenly flickered and died. 
     The room was thrust into darkness.  The only illumination came from the glowing computer screen. 
     “What the hell…?” Louise murmured. 
     Through the arched windows the sun had set and Celia felt a frightening sense of inertia.  The computer bleeped, the screen faded.  There was almost complete darkness now, except for the faint sodium glow of the security-lamps outside. 
     She heard Louise beside her, “Oh, God…did someone cut the power?”  Louise grabbed blindly at her arm in the dark.  “We need to get out of here, Cee…”
     They hurried out into the darkened hallway, alone in the emptiness.  “Amy?  Amy!”  There was no reply.  The queasiness in Celia’s gut deepened.  “Come on.”  She took Louise’s hand. 
     They moved quickly through the English Department towards an emergency exit, a red sign glowing above it in the shadows.  Celia grabbed the metal bar and pushed it but the door wouldn’t move.  She pushed forward again, and then again.  It wouldn’t budge.  When Celia finally spoke it came out a whisper.  “Someone’s chained it shut from the outside…”
     “Oh God…” Louise murmured.  Her face was cast in a red glow from the sign above them.  Celia glanced down the corridor. 
     “Joseph wouldn’t lock us in.  We have to find another way out…Come on.”
     They hurried back down the corridor, turning a corner.  Celia froze for a moment.  She snatched Louise’s arm, pulling her back.  Further down the hallway, in the moonlight through the windows, there were two girls standing completely still, no more than fifteen or sixteen years old.
     The girls were twins.  Identical faces. 
     One of them had hair that was dyed blood-red, wearing a short black dress.  The other had hair that was night-black, wearing a short red dress.  The effect seemed designed to disturb or amuse whoever they came across. 
     Louise murmured, “Is this some kind of joke…?”
     Celia pulled at Louise, taking backward steps.  The two girls watched them, silent and still like mannequins, a duality of red and black, black and red.  The twins glanced at each other.  In the moonlight, knives flashed in their pale hands. 
     Run,” came the word from Celia’s thoat. 
     She pulled at Louise.  They both turned on their heels and fled.  They didn’t look back, hurrying through the library corridor into the Business Department, towards the furthest emergency exit.  They were shrouded in darkness as they ran.  Louise seemed to beg answers with every breath.  Celia slammed up against the exit door, shoving hard and shoving again.  It was chained from the outside like the other one.
     “No…No…”  Celia began kicking hopelessly at the door.
     “I don’t want to die here…”  Louise’s voice was ragged and trembling. 
     At the other end of the corridor Celia saw them, back-lit like paper dolls.  They began walking, fluidly synchronous.  Louise had an expression on her face like she might shatter right there, like she might never be sane again.  Celia pulled her forward, towards the advancing duality of red and black.  They carefully raised the knives in their hands as though performing some grotesque stage-play.  Celia jerked to the left, dragging Louise into a darkened seminar room, slamming it shut and locking it behind them.  The handle rattled and they back-stepped from the door.
     “What the fuck is happening…” Louise murmured to no one but herself.
     Celia’s eyes darted about in the shadow.  She grabbed a chair, lifted it, and with a full swing she hurled it through the window.  Glass exploded outwards.  “Go, move!” 
     They scrambled through the empty frame, past the chair, and began running across the grass beneath the black sky, towards the car park.  Neither of them broke the run to Celia’s Ford. 
     When they clambered inside, Louise let out a ragged moan like a razor lodged in her chest.  The engine turned over smoothly.  Celia reversed and pulled away fast, slicing across the car park.
     The twin girls were somehow standing out on the grass; red and black, black and red – the flash of knives in pale hands.  When Celia glanced in the rear-view seconds later they were gone.
     “Oh God…” Louise rasped.  She’d seen it too.
     Finally, when her adrenaline slowed and she eased off the accelerator, Celia had to do all she could to keep from sobbing.

They drove for half an hour before either one of them spoke.  Louise was almost shivering in the passenger seat, glancing at Celia from hooded eyes.  Celia felt sick inside.  Her lover looked hopeless, leaning back in the seat and staring through the windscreen at nothing.   
     “This isn’t happening…I refuse…”
     Celia’s mind was a blank.  She struggled to think.  Those girls, Christ…everything so wrong about them…so wrong…Jesus…
     “I can’t believe this,” muttered Louise, pressing her hands to her eyes.  “That was like something from The Shining.  This is Madness.”  They drove in silence until Louise finally looked at Celia again, eyes wide as coins.  “Where’re we going?”
     Celia shook her head for a long time before replying, “I don’t know.”

***

The sister twins were as intimate as two beings could be.  They were connected but separate, united and also divided, two minds and one.  They shared a dream from a poem told to them by a Teacher of the Clock – a dream about a garden.  They were good, always good, but the shared dream remained a secret.  Neither girl told Miss Renn or Mr Finn.  The dream was sanctified.  Together, lifting them above the shadows hence.  They would never tell.   Not Crimson, not Ebony.  The dream made them true sisters, almost lovers…

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I had never seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And Thou shalt not writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

…From ‘Songs of Experience’ by William Blake.  Crimson & Ebony heard it often when they were younger, read to them at bedtime by the man with the black eyes.  Mr Haven.  Never questioning how he could read with those eyes, of course.  They would dream of compromised light.
     “Celia, run away from here…”  Secretly the sister twins knew they were the fingers of the fallen ones.  They were the hands of those that lived in cruelty.  The Garden of Love really was filled with graves and tomb-stones where flowers should be, sadly so.  The girls were sitting quietly in the half-lit Circle Room.  Eyes lifted slightly as the door opened. 
     Miss Renn stepped into the space with them.  The bald black woman approached them with vague amusement on her lips.  Crimson & Ebony were silent.  “Well…?”   The sister twins looked up at her.
     “Ran away,” murmured Ebony.
     “Ran away,” murmured Crimson.
     The woman appraised the girls.  “Mr Finn will be upset now, won’t he?”  The girls nodded.  Miss Renn stepped forward, placing her hands on their shoulders, her flat eyes gleaming.  “You did what was essentially required.  Don’t fret, you’re both good girls.”
     She turned, leaving the girls alone in the Circle Room.  The sister twins glanced at one another.  Poor Celia, she was good…always good.  But Crimson & Ebony kept their sadness inside, far from the ticking of the Clock.  They went to the Garden of Love, and saw what they had never seen.  A Chapel was built in the midst, where they used to play on the green.

***

In her chains, in shrouded darkness, Emily Fisher had sensed something.  Something deep inside her mind that felt like her brother.  Ryan.  She could almost taste him, almost smell him.  He was alive!  If she had any strength left she would have cried.  It was Ryan, she knew it.  A brief connection, but…he thought she was dead.
     “Ryan,” she moaned softly amongst the shadows, “Ryan, I’m here…I’m here.”
     But Emily was alone, deep in darkness somewhere.  The pretty glowing butterflies hadn’t come back.  So she waited for them to come, to kill her.

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