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?”
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.”