Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Howling Place.

As I was led towards the ritual that night, along the cliffs and past the campsite, there were a few people about, walking their dogs. I paid them no mind at the time, and the fact that their dogs were barking – well that’s what dogs do. I remember now that I’d seen a dog going mental around the same place, when I’d taken the daylight hike to Robin Hood’s Bay. Again, I gave it no mind, since dogs are nothing if not stupid. It turns out if you let them go along that path, they run to a particular spot and start howling. You could get fifty dogs up there and they’d all get as close as they could to that same spot and start howling their heads off. It was this that drew Challoner to Whitby in the first place.

Maria and Sebastian led me up there on my last day on the coast. It turns out that their relationship is the only thing that was honest – they really have fallen for each other, with all the vile gooiness that that involves. I’d begun to suspect I’d been led to the restaurant the night that I saw them together – as part of Sebastian’s devilish deception – but they really were meeting in secret. It was Maria who said I should see the howling place, against Sebastian’s wishes.
“After all,” she argued, “it doesn’t come under what you were told in confidence. You already knew about the location, before you met any of us.”
“And what is it?” I asked, but nobody knows for sure. I asked again while we were up there, a few metres inland from the path. I thought I’d have to wait for a dog to run up off its lead, but Sebastian had marked the spot with a stack of pebbles. I stood right over them, but couldn’t tell if I felt odd because of anything real, or because I was consciously aware that I should. I felt my scalp tingle and go cold, and then I felt alone – I had no sense that Maria and Sebastian were right next to me, even though I could turn and see them. As I broke away there was a flash of malice. Like I say, those weren’t unnatural feelings to be having in those days, given where I was and who I was with, but there was an alien quality to it, like hypnosis.

“So what is it?” I asked again.
“Nobody knows.” Sebastian said, in his authoritative manner that I now know means he’s keeping something back.
“Nobody knows. But everyone’s got a theory, right?”
“Of course.” Sebastian looked at Maria, who nodded.
“And what’s your theory?”
“The phenomenon was first reported three days after Halloween. It’s on a route half way between Whitby and the old lighthouse, which you now know to be-”
“You think it’s to do with them.” I pointed at Maria.
“Are any of them missing?” Sebastian asked, keeping to his agreement with the blonde.
“Not that I know of, but I haven’t spoken to any of them in a week. Unless you mean. Oh. You mean their master.” I tried to imagine it, but I’m ashamed to say I filled in the master’s part with a stock vampire image – black cloak, white ruffled shirt, talcum face. I imagined him in town, suddenly feeling weak as the magic that held him together ebbed away, so he raced back for his home, falling on the way, and then breaking into dust on the spot where I stood. “You think this is where he died?” Sebastian didn’t answer me. “So what’s with the dogs? If there’s no magic, then why’s there anything to howl about?”

“There’ve been some studies into the relationship between magic and psychic energy, all needing to be rewritten now, of course.” Sebastian began, keeping deliberately to a general topic. “Arguably the mind is the most sensitive instrument in the universe – given that it is essentially a device of perception. It is natural therefore that magic’s distortion of the perceived universe should register some form of psychic shock. Last Halloween our universe was wrenched into a different state of being. There are bound to be rips and punctures where the old way of things resisted. Like ripping a shirt when you take the price off, except these holes are harder to find.”

I stood on the spot again, letting the cold hate and panicked loneliness console me. It was like listening to a song about being dumped when you’ve just been dumped.
“Everyone’s been chasing around, trying to get this patch of mud authenticated because some dogs like barking here?” I sneered. I haven’t sneered much before – it feels weird. “That’s why Challoner sold the roof from over your head, and why you sold me out to a bunch of vampire roleplayers? And all the time, just back where you started, there was an actual, real life woman stuck between realms. Quite a visible rip in the fabric that one, wasn’t it.”

Sebastian mumbled something to defend himself, but I wasn’t listening. I told him I didn’t care about his investigations or what they meant anymore – and at that time, I meant it.

I caught the train home – arrived in Sheffield’s revamped station, with its wall of steel and water, lit up red and steam blowing over the path. Recorded messages warned me not to give money to people in the station, not to leave my bags unattended, not to litter. It’s always nice to be welcomed by a tape recorder – after over a month in Whitby, it was like arriving in the future.

Even nicer was the feel of my own bed again – the body groove worn deep. It felt odd to be there – as though the walls were recreations, stuck onto the hotel’s. Not least strange was the gradual creep of personal items that had washed up from Angela and Norman, with gizmos and whatsits apparently in the places they belong.

I phoned up my mates, met up, played some tunes, made some cans fit for recycling.

I made an appointment with the nurse to have my stitches removed – not without suspicious comments. There’s a nice cross hatched scar down my arm now. I pretend it's the morse code for idiotic.

It was three days before I could repeat what I’d been carrying in my head since I got on the train. Maria said goodbye to me at the station – I’d made it clear I had nothing more to say to Sebastian. She said I shouldn’t judge him too harshly: “He’s just trying to find out if he’s lost a friend or gained a rival.” She meant Challoner, of course, but at the time I thought she meant me.
“You think what he did was wrong.” She said. “Because you thought you were being heroic, but instead you were being as stupid as he’d predicted. Meanwhile you were happy to lie, happy to steal, happy to let him feel guilty and indebted. What we’ve been trying to show you is that your moral compass doesn’t hold a true course – the ethical north is always wherever is most convenient. And you’re a fool to believe you know the limit of good.”

I told Maria I was annoyed with Sebastian because he’d wasted my time – but I’m annoyed with myself for this more. I’d gone to Whitby on a whim – with nothing better to do, and no idea of what I’d find there. I’d let the wrong people lead me when I had no idea what I wanted from them. And I’d let Naina, the most fascinating person I’ve ever nearly met, disappear without a clue how to find her, distracted by a group of fantasists who can’t admit they’re mortal, and deceived by a man who doesn’t sound lost, only because he’s got a posh accent.

I’ve been forced to admit one thing though. I wrote this down after talking everything through with Norman and Angela. There are questions I’ve been avoiding. Like, how old was my father? What did he do? What really killed him? Am I in danger? Who can I trust? And of course, there’s always the question I ask every time I write anything here – who are you?

“You’re a fool to believe that just because you know the answers, you never need to know the questions.” Maria said, at the end of her lecture on morality at the station. I only thought on the train to say back “At least I know the answers are right and wrong, instead of obsessing about the questions like they’re riddles.” But at the very least, the escapism of the group has made me face up to my own situation. Them, and the fact that Samuel’s come back.


Post a Comment

<< Home