Friday, March 30, 2007

A Sleepless Night.

I have managed to escape Sebastian’s attentions for the morning. I thought Samuel was over protective, but he’s like one of those mums who use their pushchairs as a wedge into traffic, compared to Sebastian’s paranoia about my safety. This is of course entirely my fault.

After the beating I took, I arranged to meet the group again on Wednesday night. Sebastian protested strongly and wrung his hands, but I insisted that it needed to be done. It took lunch and tea to convince him that he couldn’t join me. All the while I had to look as though I didn’t want to go myself, so I started biting my nails, which is a hideous habit. In truth, I shouldn’t want to go, but I felt oddly compelled. Despite the pain of the kicking they gave me, because I was in control of what was happening, it held no fear for me. I’ve been beaten up before, by a group of lads at school. When you don’t know how far they’ll go, and you don’t know how much they hate you, or why, or what you’ll look like in a few minutes, that’s the worst part. It’s like a dream fight, when your limbs are all dough, and the rules of time have stopped looking your way. With the group's considered blows, it was more like a game of endurance, and the stinging fingernail I’ve stripped down to the root is giving me more cause for regret. I wish I was a better actor though.

Endurance was also the theme of our next meeting. I was driven out a few miles onto the moor and asked to get out onto a grassy bank.
“You won’t be going back to the hotel tonight.” Explained the blonde. “Lie down. You’ll tell your friend that you were abandoned on the moor and had to walk back. Rub the grass and mud into your clothes. Get the legs.”

I did as I was told, still more surprised that any of them owned a car than by what I was being asked to do. It was a smart hatchback, the interior light of which cast enough for me to see my outline as I distressed my clothes. It isn’t as though they should drive a hearse of anything, but it was impeccably clean. There should have been cobwebs in the windows. When I was suitably soiled up, we got back into the car and drove back into Whitby.
“You’ll stay out of sight for the tomorrow, and return the morning after. You should appear hungry and dehydrated. Don’t tell him about the car. Tell him you don’t know where you were.”
Which is true. For a dreadful few minutes I thought I was going to have to stay at the blonde’s Munsters theme house, but the helmet haired one had a sofa I could sleep on.

The next big shock was that he went to work in the morning. I woke up to see him darting about in a white shirt, and after instructions to eat well but not to wash or sleep, the door slammed and he was gone till six.

By the time Geoff (who has abandoned his name, but not as far as his bank or energy suppliers are concerned) came home, I was full of beans on toast and bored after another slew of terrestrial TV. Which is how I persisted with questioning the man until he cracked. It turns out the blonde (real name still unknown, but I wish I could take another look at that junk mail) is the most hardcore of the coven. I guess that’s why he feels entitled to take charge. He’s the only one who doesn’t come out in the day, for starters. The others hold down jobs, at the pubs or restaurants. Occasionally he’d forget the inconvenience of namelessness and refer to them as Maria, Liz and Brian. In the main they sounded like ordinary people.

When I woke Sebastian this morning, he wanted to call the whole initiation off. He practically hugged me – thank god for a two-day build up of BO. The underlying nature of the group has Sebastian fretting, especially while I was missing. At first he thought they were harmless – deluded but clueless. But after these rites, he’s wondering what they might have done to Challoner – something that would explain why he hasn’t even left a message.

This afternoon I’ve arranged to meet him for lunch. I’ve been instructed to stand him up, and while he’s waiting I’m to steal something personal from the room.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Left Hand Typing.

On Saturday night I met with them again. I don’t fully understand their logic: they want to know that I’m willing to betray someone in order for them to trust me? The first step was to make sure Sebastian felt indebted to me. To do this they let me know that they would be beating me up. I have explained this to Sebastian as an initiation rite, and I have told him that it’s okay – I’m prepared to go through with whatever needs doing, if it gets us closer to Challoner.

They left my face alone, but dealt a number of blows to my ribs, my back and my legs, all of which have come up in impressive bruises, like wine stains. I keep expecting them to spread while I look at them. They also stamped on my hand. I thought they’d broken the fingers at first, but they’re just bruised. By the time I got back to the hotel, my right hand was swollen up like a pink washing up glove. Sebastian ordered a champagne bucket up to the room, minus the champagne. It still hurts today, but at least I can move it. It hurts to walk. I think the older guests in the hotel assume I’m imitating them as I walk down to the dining room, limping and hunched over.

To pass the time, I’ve been telling Sebastian about the haunted cottage. This was my harmless secret until now, but I’m supposed to be sharing things with him, to make him trust me with his own secrets. I can tell he feels guilty. He keeps making sure I know how much things are costing him, before he says he doesn’t mind. He keeps trying to find favours to do, so I feign contentment. And then I’ll ask about his past; I might see a good looking girl walk past below us, and then I’ll ask if he was ever married; I choose something foreign off the menu, and then ask what countries he’s been to, what was his favourite, what happened there. It’s an odd game I've been asked to play, but at least they got the worst bit over with first.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Yesterday I went to the holiday cottage where my storyteller says there’s a ghost. It’s on the old side of town, up one of the narrow alleys that duck off the main street. At first there’s a tunnel under the first floor of the shops, and then on the left there’s a room, not quite a shed, that sells hand painted tiles and clay faces for putting plants in. After that it opens up, as though this is the real meaning behind the town's façade. There are low, one up one down cottages, that used to be for fishermen, and are now for five hundred a week. Beyond the few cottages, the pathway from the street becomes stairs up, abbeywards, presumably to actual homes.

I waited at the mouth of the alley for a while, pretending to admire the novelty tiles. It was an odd sensation, as though I’d fallen in a hole while the world walked over me, the constant foot traffic on the main street, muffled and kaleidoscopic. Occasionally I had to move to one side, as a woman with bags from the co-op squeezed past and beyond to the houses up the stairs. She came back down again, still carrying the bags, so maybe she was making a delivery. And then she went back up a second time, after I’d been there for half an hour, looking at me suspiciously. Eventually I gave way to a middle aged man in an anorak, who went up to the last cottage on the left. The door was opened for him by another man, who looked left and right over his beard, and only saw me. They disappeared into the house in question, and I went back to the hotel.

After seven, I went back to the east jetty, slowing as I passed the alley to the haunted cottage. I didn’t stop this time, except to see that lights were on inside. The apology note I wrote had been taken the night that I left it, and the stone still lay where it had been. I threw it into the sea, losing sight of it long before it hit the water. I’d given up on seeing them again, and was cursing them in mumbles for being so precocious. The whole set up was like an after school club that got locked in a cupboard for three years. There were places I’d meant to go, that now I had no time for, because of hanging around in the dark and the bitter cold, hoping to get the password to their gang hut.

When they appeared, at first just faces in the shadows, I thought I was imagining it – having hoped they’d come so much. I greeted them but only got silence back, adding to the sense of delusion. They surrounded me, as I kept talking, repeating the apology, unsure that they’d found it. In synch, they took a step forward, closing the circle, with the blonde holding me with the glimmer of his stare in the darkness. I had no sense of threat until they grabbed me. They seemed so ineffectual – I’d joked that their dark was worse than their bite when talking to Norman – but they pulled me in all directions, bullying me off balance, lifting me, knocking me, scratching my arms and my neck. I was on the floor, trying to get up, before I noticed my legs were being held in the air, and I was dragged to the edge of the pier. They turned me, so that my head and shoulders hung over the edge, the waves crashed beneath me, the spray covering my face.
“Will you abandon your friend?” The blonde was at my ear.
“Which one?” I didn’t know if he meant Sebastian or Challoner.
“Your companion. You’ve disappointed me. I thought you could see beyond your prejudices, to see what we're becoming.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Do you still want to know about David Challoner?”
“Yes.” I wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
“Then you will betray your friend.” I felt the blonde’s knee push into my back. “This isn't a test of loyalty. You'll be required to betray him before we can trust you again.” They lifted me to my feet, for a second I hovered over the sea. “There’ll be three tests. Starting tomorrow.”
“I don’t get it.” I said, looking at each of them for a sign that they weren’t sure either.
“You will have to give up something that you believe in, to know what it means to be us.”

It will be dark in a few hours, and I’m to meet them again on the jetty for my first task. I needed to tell Sebastian that I’d seen them, so that he’d know why I hadn’t gone home, but I don’t know what to say when he asks what we’ve talked about.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ghost Walks.

I have gone to the east jetty every night and waited, but they haven’t made contact. Sebastian has been to the house, but they won’t answer him. I’m sure they’re watching me, especially when I’m alone, but they will not talk. I’m going to wait until the weekend and then it’s back to Sheffield. I don’t know where Sebastian will go. At his request I wrote a letter, and left it weighed down with a stone at the jetty. We argued a bit about the content: he tends towards grovelling far too easily, but maybe that’s just when he doesn’t have to sign his name to it. The gist of the letter was that I’m sorry if I caused any offence, and I didn’t mean to skit their beliefs. Sebastian made me leave out the line about how I thought they were supposed to be above such sensitivity now that they’re pursuing a higher calling. Apparently that wouldn’t have been helpful. The fact that their huff proves my point isn’t helpful either.
“We need to know where they sent David.” Sebastian told me in his teacher's voice. “We have to ignore their peculiarities just long enough to find that out, and then you can score all the points off them you want.”

In the meantime I’ve been adjusting to seaside life. Like Otis Redding, I’ve been watching the boats come in and out. The reality has a bit more of a chugging rhythm than a smooth melody, and everyone seems put out by the cold, but it’s pretty relaxed. The main difference here is that, while everyone has a place they belong, they’re not nailed down to it. I get the sense that they go to work out of their own free will, rather than being summoned there. Norman said that when he left school, all the folks he worked with lived for the weekend, but in the last few years they stopped living that much. They lived for a few hours at the gym, or an aimless diversion on the drive home. Norman’s life before it all fell apart doesn’t sound that much better that the one he has now. I called him yesterday: there’s no word from Samuel yet. He and Angela are well. No one has written odd notes to me – which is always a relief.

The man in the pub had few good ghost stories to tell. There’s an unused cafe along the beach, halfway to Sandsend. It’s a squat oblong of a building, with a flat roof where they used to have tables, and white walls studded with bolts that weep rust. At dawn, people say they have seen a vision of a woman walking along the roof: she isn’t looking out to sea as you might expect, but paces furiously, as though waiting. She is a woman wronged, according to my storyteller. He prefers the modern tales to the old nonsense about witches and vampires – to which I could only agree, since it would keep him talking. The other story he has, is from the other side of the town: a family of holiday makers were forced to flee the cottage they were renting when an old woman appeared in their room in the middle of the night. The mum and dad were woken by a screaming about three in the morning, and when they looked, this white haired, skinny wretch of a woman, was lying in the bed between them. They could see each other through her body. The kids came down from the attic bedroom to find out what the screaming was, and within an hour they were packed and on the road home. The woman who owns the cottage didn’t find out anything was wrong until she got a letter demanding their money back and suggesting that she specialised in renting out to tourists interested in the supernatural.

I didn’t think much to these tales when he was done. He sat back and looked at me as if to say ‘what do you think to that then’, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. They’re not exactly chilling though. They don’t tell of the bloody revenge of vengeful spirits. He conceded the point, but said I should stick to what he presumes is fiction if that’s what I wanted. What he was telling me was fact: these were both things that had been seen in the last few years. He said he can take me to see the cottage, where the old woman's ghost still keeps the place empty.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Days in Whitby, 3.


The hotel we’re in was very grand, in its day. I can imagine Miss Marple having to solve a murder whist vacationing here. The glass and brass revolving door leads into a wide foyer, where the wallpapered columns have been painted with a marble effect. To the right is the lounge bar, where you can look out onto the sea, or share a table with a dozing pensioner. The toilets are right down the other end of the building, through the reception and the snooker room. A stair-lift for the three steps down told me all I need to know about the place. I haven’t moved far from there for the whole weekend. I tried to distract myself in the town at first, but the tourists suddenly multiplied. Sweaty bikers, pink and blue families, ramblers and disinfected youths all block up the pavements in a gridlock of window-shopping. In the summer, people must starve to death in the wait to get anywhere. Sebastian suggested that I, we or he go for a walk along the cliffs to Robin Hood’s Bay, and I compromised on going to Sandsend, along the beach, earlier this afternoon.

On Thursday night, I met the would-be-vampires once again. This time they asked about me. We settled down on the concrete of the jetty, in the shelter of its midway wall, so that they were just half-lit white faces in the dark. The blonde had taken a central position, and he asked:
“How do you come to be friends with David Challoner and Sebastian Frazer Brown?”
“I don’t know that they’re my friends. They know about magic, and I’m interested in magic, so I value our…” I had to avoid saying friendship here. I knew that they wouldn’t help if I was too close to them. “I value our relationship.”
“Which is what, if it isn’t friendship?” Asked the helmet haired one.
“With Sebastian, it’s a mutual interest. We both want to find Challoner. I suppose we’re becoming matey, but we’re not close. And with Challoner, I’m in the same position you all are. I believe he knows something that I want to know.”
“Which is what?” The blonde took over again, racing to the question.
“The whereabouts of a man I’d like to meet. Same as you.”
“And who is the man?”
“I’d rather not say. Same as you.” There was of course a chance that they had heard of you. For all I know you’re their master. But I doubt that. I doubt they know much at all, beyond what they’ve been sold. Someone, a woman I think, came walking along nearby, all bundled up against the night and the wind.
“Are you religious?” I was asked.
“Not especially.”
“Yes or no.”
“No. But I’m open to suggestion. You could say my opinions are in a state of indecision. Are you all religious?”
“Is that a joke?” The woman in the collar sounded angry.
“No. I mean obviously you don’t go to mass or anything, but isn’t the vampire,” I almost said myth, “all the rules and stuff, aren’t they all tied in with Christianity? So I thought that meant you’d believe in God.”
“How much do you know about vampires?” Asked the blonde, almost sarcastically. Sebastian had prepared me for this question.
“Just the mythology. The stuff they use to make stories.”
“Exactly. So what if there is a God? What does He have to do with us? I asked if you are religious. Do you hold to the Christian principles of morality? That woman there, coming back towards us, if I threw her into the sea, would you care?”
“Yes I’d care.”
“Why? Do you know her?”
“I don’t need to know her to not want her dead.”
“Why? What value can she possibly have for you? Does the thought of her death appal you genuinely, or simply out of habit? Is something wrong, just because?” The blonde waited for an answer that I couldn’t give. Not because I didn’t know what I thought, but because I couldn’t work out what they wanted me to say. It would have been unconvincing to abandon my moral base so easily, especially since they considered it such a personal achievement. I don’t know how they interpreted my silence: maybe as outrage, hopefully as doubt. The woman completed her walk unmolested.
“Why are you interested in magic?” Asked the woman in the collar, rescuing me.
“My father was a magician.” I saw no reason to lie about this. “He died lat Halloween, before he could tell me anything much about it. Did you know about magic, that it was real, before you met your master?”
“Do you even think of it as magic?”
“No.” Echoed the blonde. “It goes deeper than that. Who was your father? What did he do?” I suddenly realised there was a reason to lie – to protect the study.
“An amateur, making crackpot potions. That’s why it’s so refreshing to learn from others, like Challoner, and yourselves. It proves that it was real. He was onto something.”
“How did he die?” I don’t know why he wanted to know this. I guess he wanted to know what I thought about death.
“He drank a potion. It wouldn’t have killed him if it had remained magical. I don’t know what he was trying to do though. I’ve seen since how tempting these powers could be. What was it that you were seduced by, if not the power of magic? Immortality?”
“We’re talking about you tonight. Do you feel your father let you down?”
“Why would I?”
“He kept secrets from you.”
“It’s not that simple. I’m confused though, about what you were offered in all this. Because you say you were seduced out of your normal lives, but aren’t you still in the same bind of love, trust and death that you were before? He just wrapped it up more darkly, didn’t he?”
“You were warned yesterday not to talk about things when you don’t understand them.”
“Sorry. It just seems to me that you were pre-seduced.”

First the blonde, and then the others stood up. He said: “You cannot be trusted.” And then led the group away.

Since then Sebastian has been trying to re-establish the dialogue. He wants me to apologise to them. I’m thinking about going home, but Sebastian’s paying for the room, so it seems a wasted opportunity. The sea air is quite a thing, especially now that winter’s making an encore, and there’s a man I met in the pub last night who has a spine’s worth of local ghost stories.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Days in Whitby, 2.


I spent Tuesday night pretty much sulking in my room, or rather our room. Sebastian got the vibe. I was unimpressed by the aspirant vampire and his gothic parody mash up of a house. The whole thing reeked of a chat room gone wrong. Sebastian had been found wanting, and was denied their trust. His motives – having found evidence of Challoner going to York, and then followed a lead to an empty house in Whitby – his search for a friend was not close enough to their own interests to share what they knew. The arrogance of this, and Sebastian’s request that I feign a burning fascination in their state of being, put me in a mood so mardy it gave me acne.

The hotel room looks out over the mouth of the River Esk onto the old side of town. The sea catches the sun further out to the left, and beneath us the whalebone arch marks the way down the steep path of the Khyber Pass. Sebastian led me down and over the bridge to the narrow streets of the old side, up the cobbled slope towards the smell of kippers and the ruined abbey. He asked what I knew about vampires, and I admitted that most of what I know comes from watching Buffy.
“Don’t tell them that.” Warned Sebastian. “They hate that programme.”
“Well, I know the basics. An aversion to garlic and crucifixes, and holy water, sunlight, I think that’s it. Can’t enter a house unless invited. Change into bats. If you get bitten then you become one too. Only do you? Don’t you have to drink a vampire’s blood too?”
“Everyone seems to have their own version. In Stoker’s Dracula they use communion wafers with great effect, but that doesn’t seem to have been picked up on. This is what I mean about the myth snowballing, out of folklore into our cultural foundations. Everyone knows what a vampire is, don’t you think that’s odd? Given that they’re not real.” We stopped at a window full of amber and jet jewellery, costing hundreds, in contrast to the gift shop selling gollywogs a few doors down. I didn’t realise they still made gollywogs, although I think they just call them Gollies now. The sight of them all lined up disturbed me more than the shuttered up house and black candles of the night before.
“What I don’t get is, they’re not vampires are they. If they were then they’d have been destroyed on Tuesday Midnight.”
“Do you use that phrase?” Sebastian looked at me with his mouth turned down like mustard.
“Tuesday Midnight? That’s what it’s called.”
“A lot of terrible things happened that night – I don’t need to tell you that. It seems to me to be poor form, to be jingoistic about it. After all, we’re not on telly, are we.”
“No, we’re not on telly. What do you call it then?”
“Last Halloween.”
We headed up the hundred and ninety nine steps to the abbey, turning at times to admire the vantage point over the stacked up roof tops. The abbey, as much as the sea, attracts the artists and defines the stature of the town. One gallery seems entirely devoted to monochrome paintings of the abbey in moonlight.
“You know, calling it Last Halloween makes it sound pretty cool too.” I told Sebastian.
“I suppose so, but that’s when it was. I can’t help that.”

As arranged with the blonde, I waited alone the east jetty after dark. Unlike the west jetty, this one has no railings to stop you from strolling off into the sea, but it is less busy. I sat looking inland, at the neon lights of the arcade on the river, and the clusters of yellow squares and normal lives. All dressed in black, so that at first they were just footsteps over the fall of waves, came five figures out of the dark. There were two more guys as well as the blonde, and then two girls. None of them had a name, calling each other brother or sister. One of the males – can’t quite call them men – framed his face with black shoulder length hair and a fringe, making a medieval helmet out of his head. The other one had long black curls down the back of his leather coat. The girls were not girls, although one of them dressed like the pocket-money goths that hang around outside subway: she wore long boots and a short jacket; her black hair was gathered on top of her head with clips and pins so that its weight shifted when she spoke. The last of them, the other woman, wore a long dress and a shawl. Her hair was tied back, so I could see the metal collar, like an instrument of torture round her neck.

All of them looked anorexic. I figured out since, that they probably go for days trying to live off blood alone, before being forced to admit to human needs. In better light I could see small cuts on their bodies, little scalpel cuts, where I think they drink from each other. My guess is they’re all in their thirties. Maybe older.

“We have agreed to meet you a second time.” Said the blonde. “Tonight, we will only discuss ourselves, so that you understand what we are. And then you will tell us what we need to know about you.”

It was mainly the blonde who spoke, starting with how he had joined the path at the end of the nineties, with the others adding their own details of days and arrivals. It was as though they had all met by a consensus of fate. They were frustrated by the weakness of mortal bodies, and how the whims of emotion dictated their happiness, always paranoid about strangers and loved ones. Here, the woman in the dress interrupted the blonde.
“These are not separate components of being human. The unbearable frailty, unsatisfactory emotions, unshakable fear, they each create and sustain the other. You cannot love properly because you cannot trust, but the fear of death demands that you find love. We were offered an escape from that cycle of disappointment.”

It required a moral shift, to see through the conventions of good and evil, to realise they were just conveniences of trust, to let one man sleep peacefully with an envious man close by. When they learned to let go of those conventions, then they could begin to realise their potential.
“And no doubt now you’re worried,” said the woman in the collar, her tone a welcome relief from the blonde’s corporate delivery. “Alone in the dark with five strangers who admit they put no value on your life.” Given that they all looked half starved, I figured I’d been in worse situations.
“It sounds like you had help.” I said. “You didn’t all just turn up one weekend and find a book about it, did you?”
“Take care.” Warned the blonde.
“You shouldn’t make fun of stuff if you don’t get it. And you don’t.” Said ringlets.
“I didn’t mean to sound like I don’t take it seriously. I just thought it sounds like you’re missing something out. Or someone. Who showed you the path you’re on? How did you find it?”
The woman in the collar spoke first: “The master found us. He recognised that we were ready, but he tested us. At first with charm, and seduction.”
“There’s no need to discuss this.” Interrupted the blonde, in the same tone of warning.
“The boy asked an honest question. He was, at first, charming, then unspeakable, but we were in thrall to him. He had a power, visible in the slightest gesture, that went beyond what any man could-”
“We must not speak of him here.” Demanded the blonde.
“Then why am I here?” I asked. “What is it you want me to say?”
“You are here to learn about your friend.” Explained the blonde. “Your friend cannot be trusted, and we were wrong to take him into our confidence. If we trust you, we will help you to find him. And when you find him, you will tell us what he has learned.”
“Okay. That sounds a little more complicated than it needs to be, but okay. What is it you sent Challoner to find out?” They didn’t answer me. “What is it he said he could find out for you? I’m going to need to know if I ever get to speak to him.”

The blonde agreed with some reluctance:
“He offered to help us. He said he could find the path again.”
“Find the path?”
“Yes,” said the blonde. “It’s hidden from us. It’s lost.”
The woman in the collar said: “Our master is lost.”

Friday, March 16, 2007

Days in Whitby.


After a morning spent on the modern side of town, I rejoined Sebastian at the hotel. Like an elderly couple in pyjamas, we have one room with twin beds. I forgot to ask what the arrangements would be when I agreed to come here. It turns out that Sebastian’s resources aren't limitless. I guess the hotel staff presume he’s my uncle or something. We ate a tough lunch at the hotel, and then headed out on foot, back from the valley, into the suburban spread, with only the signs for B+B’s, like merit badges on the houses, to remind me that the sea was close by.

Among the daffodils and crocuses around the front lawns of squat, brick homes with net curtains, was a briar patch of unmowed weeds, belonging to a rundown house with all the windows boarded over. Sebastian led me to the front door and pressed a buzzer. Without the intercom being used, the door clicked open and we stepped into a hallway cut off immediately by another front door. This was like an airlock for the sunlight – the second door had been fitted more recently, and it didn’t open until the first door was shut. Weeks of junk mail covered the black and white tiles beneath us. Beyond the second door there was a candlelit corridor with black curtains hung over woodchip wallpaper. I followed through the only door that was open.

More candles, gathered in six-packs, black of course, stood either side of an armchair dressed up like a throne. The walls were a deep red, and the floorboards had been painted with black gloss. Two hard cane chairs had been set out for us. In the armchair was a man who looked exhausted but thirty. He had long, blond, greasy hair all gathered down one side of his emaciated face. He wore black jeans and plated boots, a black jacket over a black cable-knit jumper. There was no heating in the house. He didn’t so much sit in the chair, as poise ready. It was like an American football stance, with his feet wide apart on the floor, leaning forward with one hand on his knee, his chin up, staring at each of us in turn. Sebastian introduced me.

“I have no name to give you,” the man explained. “We gave our old names away when we chose this path.” He went on, in a rambling way, about what his place was in the universe – which was unfixed, as far as I can tell. Or maybe divided.

I was only to meet him alone this time, but not because he was their leader. The others had trusted him to be their voice. They rarely spoke to strangers, but if he approved then the others would also see me. Not sure if this was all worthwhile, I asked if they actually had any information on Challoner. He would not answer me: they needed to decide whether or not I was worthy to be trusted first. “The path we have chosen requires such sacrifice that our secrets are not shared lightly… dark torments of the soul… the horror of a power beyond the reach of mortality…” I tuned out of a lot of what he said, snapping back as pronouncements of doom followed critiques of the middle classes. Things kept scurrying across the floor, living off the decay in the corners. There was a smell that kept distracting me too, of BO, mouldy food and stale dirt; no doubt the nameless one would call it the reek of humanity. Sebastian’s leg nudged mine and I roused to agree to meet him again the next night, which I shall do, but only for Sebastian’s sake. I don't know what the anonymous man thinks he is, but I've seen many, many of them in Games Workshop.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Other Side.

If you look at a map of Britain, or rather the right page of a road map of Britain, then Whitby is on the far side of a vast green expanse. I caught the bus out of civilisation yesterday morning, into the panoramic nothingness of hills and isolated pubs, and the wind battered villages with names like characters in Tolkien: Gillamoor, Fangdale, Urra and Ugthorpe. The bus had to stop at Leeds station, which is like a giant pigeon loft, populated by the Greggs of humanity. It then pinballed to random towns, stopping to drop one girl at a roundabout near nowhere; or so I thought, until I saw the tops of rides over the sparse trees, and realised it was Flamingo Land, out of season. The peaks of the silent roller coaster waited, and I felt sorry for the girl who’d gone there alone.

After that the bus left the main road, and I thought that I was getting a glimpse of how backwards country people are, how hopelessly out of date, but I’d been caught out: this was Goathland, where they film Heartbeat. All the 60s fronted buildings are shuffled in with normal semis, with hatchbacks in their drives, and the steam train runs nowhere much. As does the bus route, running from grey village to soft centred town, all the time taking on two-stop passengers, none of them knowing the hours I’d spent smacking my knees on my case and waiting, vigilantly watching for the end of my chugabug journey.

I arrived in Whitby about two. Sebastian had warned me that he wouldn’t be able to meet me straight away, so I wandered around to find somewhere I could eat lunch, pulling the case I’d borrowed off Angela behind me, like it was a rattling toddler or a slow dog.

There are hardly any familiar places in Whitby, nothing you can rely on. There’s no McDonalds, Burger King or KFC, and while I normally prefer the café to those places, I also normally know the café. In Whitby, a lot of blue-rinsers and grey-chops know the cafes. Like most insults, this is unfair but deserved – because that’s how it feels looking in. There’s a lot of pubs and pasty places with their own ways of doing things; there’s a lot of fish’n’chip action, including one place with a queue down the street. Then there’s ice cream stalls and chocolate shops, arcades and museums. The town hangs on to the two sides of the valley by its fingertips – like it’s trying to crack the river open wider. I bought some chips from a quieter place in the end, and took cover from the seagulls on the jetty. It was there, as I sat watching the waves, that Sebastian found me. I’m beginning to wish that he hadn’t – more so this morning than I did when he talked to me.

“Do you believe in vampires?” He asked, after the howdyedo.
“Not really.” I said, after I thought about it. “But then a few months ago I didn’t believe in magic either. Are you about to tell me vampires exist?”
“No. I’ve never believed in them. They’re the creation of mass superstition, as far as I can tell. Amalgamated stories. I’ve never encountered any evidence for vampires specifically.”
“Should I believe in them?” I was a little confused as to why he’d asked me.
“It hardly seems worth it now. If they ever existed then they would have relied on a form of magic to sustain them, which means they would have gone the way… Sorry. Wasn’t thinking.” He pinched his head like forceps, as though casting the thought out.
“Doesn’t matter. I’m guessing there’s more to bringing me here than to ask me if I believe in vampires or not. Judging by The Dracula Experience on the seafront, I guess there’s a connection between Whitby and vampires?” – Sebastian has since explained the whole Bram Stoker thing – “But this isn’t the news. You don’t have to stand in front of the relevant building before you can talk about something. Isn’t this about Challoner?”
“It is.”
“Does he believe in vampires?”
“I’ve met a group of people who claim to have met him.”
“Here in Whitby?”
“And do they believe in vampires?”
“Yes. That is, they believe they were vampires.”

Short-sightedly, I find myself denied an internet connection at my convenience. The library and Café Java, where I'm sat now among the morning caffiene addicts, they have the only public connections in town, so I’ll endeavour to keep you informed. I’ve arranged to meet Sebastian’s defanged vampires later today, in the hopes of discovering what they know. For the first time in a fortnight I wish Samuel was with me.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I tried to forget you. If I was relying on just my own memory then I might have succeeded, but the real world remembers your world too. Talk of magic has come back to me, like pickled anecdotes for celebrations. Even if you can’t be found, it seems that you’ve found me.

It was my birthday last week. I got the letter through from dad’s solicitor, to say that his estate would now officially pass to me. There are forms to sign. The adult world is a procession of forms, as if permission is the meaning of life. I can’t think of a thing I do that hasn’t required ten signatures to make it possible – including breathing. A quick revision of my images for heaven and hell is required: I have always taken the standard line of hell being a chaotic descent into masochistic depravity blah blah blah, while heaven is peaceful, calm, and therefore ordered. Maybe that vision of hell is derived from anxiety about unchecked desire, but then wouldn’t that make heaven a place where desires are fulfilled without the mortal consequences? Hell meanwhile: Hell is the infinite postponement of endless forms.

I was glad to get the call from Pele. He even apologised for the recent neglect, which I’d put down to my own distractions. He said they wouldn’t have forgotten my birthday. Something Norman had told me, when retelling the tale of Samuel’s war years, had put me in a funk for a couple of days, so I changed straight after talking to Pele and went out without a word to the others. I even had money – the first instalment of rent from Angela. Pele kept making out like the night was his big plan, saying where we would go and when we would get there, but when Cobber arrived Pele asked where we were headed first. It turned out to be an assault on West Street, thankfully avoiding the backstreet pubs. We kept strictly to the chav-student hangouts, a window poster with the twofors was a prerequisite. If you look at footage of students from the 70s and 80s, students used to be a scruffy and book-worn breed apart, sleeping with pamphlets under their pillows. Maybe those types still exist in other cities, but in Sheffield the students are just chavs with inflated egos. They’re slightly less likely to fight, and slightly more likely to puke. I don’t know how far down West Street we got, but I woke up at home and intact, with only a fuzzy, bad joke of a hangover – an outcome so refreshingly positive that I repeated the process the next night, and the next. Drunkeness doesn't wear thin.

Through this simple pursuit of alcohol and dirty stories, I was able to forget about you, and all that you have come to mean. Even in spite of Angela and Norman’s presence, I was able to simulate a normal life for a week or so. After all, what were Angela and Norman? A tenant and butler – sounds appropriately evocative of fags and booze.

The lads, of course, still have school to finish. They have exams this year. The task of amusing me seemed to be taken on in shifts, always trying to talk me into staying at home instead of the pubs. But I had to be out. The money ran short, which meant Weatherspoons until all was drunk and gone. I thought then about getting a job (more forms) and stuck my face in a few places. I could probably get bar work if I wanted to: I needed something routine, repetitive, requiring only enough thought that other thoughts can’t intrude. That would be better than drunkenness, in the midst of which appalling realisations still break through. Angela began to coach me on interview technique, and stressed the importance of clean fingernails in strong handshake.

I had a call today though, from Sebastian Frazer Wilson. He’s in Whitby, on the east coast (I’m sure you know that). He wants me to join him there. He’s still on the trail of David Challoner, but he’s been diverted into the problems of other people – younger people – and he wants my help.

So here you are again. The world of magic insists on hanging on to my reality by its fingertips – and with it hangs the question of who you are.