Monday, May 21, 2007

Reflections on Deception.

It’s now been two weeks since the ritual. I’m back home now, back in Sheffield, where I’d hoped to free myself back into a normal life, but something has happened to make this seem unlikely. I suppose I should start by telling you exactly what happened in those last days in Whitby.

On the night of the 6th of May, I met Geoff alone on the empty east jetty. I expected to be escorted to the blonde’s house, with all the grim purpose and ceremony they deemed worthy, but instead I was taken up the steps that lead to the abbey, past the church with its fallen dominos graveyard, past the abbey’s screening wall, and out of the streetlit gloom, into the darkness. Geoff produced a torch for himself as we split off from the road, and onto the cliff top path. Protected from the drop into the sea by thorns and a strip of wire, the path, at least as far as the campsite, is wide and well trodden. Geoff said nothing, just turning occasionally to check I was still there, otherwise he was no more than the circle of vivid green illumination pulsing in front of us. At the campsite – a combed and polished shantytown of static caravans – children were still playing with a football in the dark, and silhouettes loomed against the gas lit windows. The path then became thinner, dropping into the steep banks of brooks bleeding into the sea. Only now did Geoff hand me a torch for my own, that I aimed straight at my feet, to avoid the snagging weeds or grabbing roots, or the sharp turn, tumbledown corners of the path itself. We climbed up the far bank, onto a shoulder of farmland, before the next dip and scramble.

While I was there, however long that was, I never gave much thought to the sea. It was pleasant to look at, and to hear, but I was only half conscious of it as the edge of the landscape. I think it’s that sense of the edge that I miss, now that I’m home, surrounded by unfolding streets. I miss that dark presence of the other half of the world. Although I couldn’t see it in the night, I could hear it whisper, as the path edged up onto a rough drive, with a house on the cliff just ahead.

“How are you feeling?” Asked Geoff. “Are you ready?” He had stopped, and shone his torch into my face. I had the suspicion he wasn’t allowed to talk to me. I told him sure, I was fine. After all it wasn’t me that I was worried about. I had been along this path weeks before, on an empty day’s stroll down to Robin Hood’s Bay, and I had seen the building that we now approached. It was an old lighthouse – a long white building with huge spotlights like conservatories for a lamp fanatic, and foghorns mounted on the front. I had taken it for a holiday cottage when I’d gone past in the day, because it looked used but empty. I even think I saw toys in the garden, but I realise now that they were props. I was led to the front door and taken inside, where I realised, as though he was there to greet me himself, this was their master’s house.

Inside, it was not the deliberate decay of the blonde’s, who ushered me downstairs, through a room of antiques and steel shuttered windows, and through a hatch in the floor – a trapdoor. I was stood on stone slabs, in a whitewashed cellar, lit only by church candles in each corner. Surrounding me were the group – the blonde, commanding me to stay with his hand raised – his face a mask of furious concentration. He was dressed in the same black robes as Liz and Brian, and also Geoff, who climbed down into the room as soon as he’d changed. A set of the robes was thrown at my feet, and I put them on, undressing beneath them, as the others were. It reminded me of frat house scenes in college movies – a sarcastic voice in me was still sneering at the suggestion of frustrated masochism.
“Are you prepared?” The blonde’s voice shouted of the walls. “To do what we have asked of you.”
I said I was. We waited then, and I thought it was going to be a long wait for midnight, stood in silence, supposedly in meditation. It was only a few minutes though and then there were voices above us. Geoff had closed the hatch when he came down, but I could still make out the muffled words: “It’s a wonderful place… amazing… you don’t live here all year?” It was Sebastian, talking to Maria, whose voice now broke clear as she lifted the hatch: “It’s down here. Climb onto the ladder.” The blonde pointed at me to step back, so that none of us were seen until Sebastian was halfway down.
“What’s this? Hello?” Sebastian then saw me. “What are you doing here?” He looked up to where Maria, now in black robes, blocked his route back up. “Darling? What are you doing?” She didn’t answer him.
“Come down.” Commanded the blonde. “This is the night of the ritual. You knew that.”
“Yes but-”
“It has been performed once. Now it’s time for your initiation.”
“But, you said.” He looked despairingly at Maria. “They can’t be…”

The blonde took a hold of Sebastian’s sleeve, urging him down to the floor. Geoff, who had moved beside me, now spoke in a half-whisper: “You’ll have to convince him.”
“Of what?”
“That he’s to perform the ritual. Tell him you already have. Tell him it’s safe.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He knows us too well to believe us. But he trusts you.” Geoff’s voice became a low growl. The blonde had probably told him I’d follow orders.
“No, but I thought.” We both looked over to Sebastian, who was being reassured by Maria. “I thought you needed it to be me.”
“It was always him we wanted, but until he’d let you go through it, it was too easy for him to refuse. We need someone who can compel Challoner to honour his agreement. Besides, you don’t deserve it.”

I have been thinking for the last two weeks what he meant by this: did I deserve better or worse? There are reasons to believe he intended either. I was taken forward to meet with Sebastian, who was asking Maria if she meant what she was saying. We were left alone in the middle of the room – the duped and the reluctant hoaxer.
“You’ve done this?” He asked, incredulous.
“I told you I was.”
“But the full ritual? You drank their blood, everything? That’s not what you told me you were doing. I would never have let you.”
“You’ll be fine. It’s meaningless.”
“It’s not meaningless to them. This is their lives.”

I calmed him down, told him it was no more than roleplay. After a minute he started to agree, started to tell me the same things, as though in reassurance: “It’s just play acting. It was easy wasn’t it?” I could see desperation in his eyes as he accepted. He was given his robes.

We formed a circle around him, and the blonde produced two wooden bowls, and then a knife. A bowl and a candle were put either side of Sebastian, as we all sat cross-legged on the floor. The blonde began the ritual with his opening declaration. The stone floor chilled the flesh in my legs, but Sebastian’s forehead was breaking out in sweat. Knowing the ritual, I was to prompt him with his vows. The blonde took the dagger and dragged its tip along the inside of his arm, opening up a three inch cut, parallel to an old scar. He let the blood trickle into one of the bowls, and passed the blade to Sebastian, indicating the second bowl. Sebastian turned to me with his fear collapsing beneath disgust. “What do I do?” He asked me.

This was the act of betrayal: I was to let Sebastian sign his soul over to new masters; I was to hold his hand as he did it. It didn’t matter that there was only superstition left. It didn’t matter that the ritual was a lie – because there was no vampire. It was true to them, and it was true to Sebastian. That was what Geoff meant when he said Sebastian knew them too well: he knew enough about their ritual to believe in it himself. He was immersed in the world of magic, where it becomes a matter of beauty or terror to declare your allegiance, whereas to me it would only ever have been a false promise.

I realised this before he could put the dagger in his own arm, and I called out for him to stop, against the blonde’s indignation. I knew what I wanted out of this, but I also knew that what I was doing was wrong, and I couldn’t question that.
“It should be me.” I said. “That’s what we planned. That’s what I’ll do, if needs be. Take me, or neither of us, if that won’t buy us what we want.”

The blonde thought about it, and agreed. Sebastian stood, as I did, and he almost hugged me with relief as we swapped places. I sat down, with the dagger now in my hand, and committed myself to the ritual.


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