Friday, April 27, 2007

Ritual Practice.

Still with the shock of seeing the woman in the cottage, I went as planned to meet with the group to discuss the up-coming ritual of the bloods. It turned out to be the blonde on his own, and I found it hard to pay attention, despite being the only person he was talking to. All through the day I’d been trying to work out what she meant. I could see why the ghost story had started – even if the details of her appearance between the sleeping couple had been exaggerated. Carol didn’t tell me any more than her name – Nania. I’ve googled that since and it seems to be Indian, so maybe she adopted it, or used it professionally. I couldn’t get an age out of Carol, or anything other than her relief that her friend was being well cared for.
“It’s for the best, I suppose.” She admitted. “We wanted her with us, but I don’t know that we’d be able to care for her. Only they know how to feed her.”
“But who are they, those men?” If Carol and her vigil were the woman’s friends, no one had said how Gregory and Jack were connected. “Are they her family?”
“No. She doesn’t have family. Just us. Those men who have her are her creditors.”

I walked to the blonde’s house after 8 o’clock, not sure that I’d find it again, but the wreck of the garden and the boarded up windows were easy to spot. In the airlock of the porchway, all the unopened mail was addressed to a Mrs. Higgins – which could well be his mother, or it could be the woman who lived there before. The real ritual will not be here, the blonde explained. It will be at a secret location – which from the hints he dropped sounds like their master’s house; the blonde wanted me to know how privileged I ought to feel to be granted access.
“Why do we have to?” I asked. “If it’s just to tell Sebastian we did.”
“Because your friend will know about it.”
“He only knows what I tell him.”
“He will witness it.” Said the blonde. “He must, in order to be in your debt.”
“About that. I still don’t get what you expect me to do.” I didn’t want to dismiss what I’d done so far as pranks, but it was a very unambitious idea of amorality. I’d not spent much time alone with the blonde – he doesn’t fully go in for the social side of vampirism, arriving late and leaving early from the group’s get-togethers. In conversation he creates long silences, but is impatiently still, as though he’s holding back facts and enthusiasm for the sake of persona.
“You’ll have to wait, to see what we have in mind for you friend.” When he saw my dubious reaction, he added. “You’re worried that we’ll harm him. You need not worry. It is not in our interest to hurt anyone.”

After this reassurance, the blonde went on to explain what the ritual involved. The real ritual, that he and the others had all performed, began with the opening vows, followed by being bled into a bowl. The blood was then mixed with the master’s and both drank it back over twelve, literally blood-curdling hours. My version will be shorter, and only requires a small cut, dripped into a glass of red wine. I’ll then repeat the closing vows.
“What do the vows mean?”
“To commence, you renounce your past, your family and your species.”
“Okay. And the end bit?”
“You embrace your new path.”

It was sort of sad really, as he went over the wording of the vows with precise emphasis, believing that it meant something powerful. It feels like he just wants to use the ritual in this charade so that it still has some relevance in his life, now that his master had his higher path have gone. And all that time I was distracted by the thought that the night before, I may have seen the last magic left in the world.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Last Night At The Cottage.

As arranged with Carol, I went to the cottage at 7 o’clock. Before setting off, I flattened my hair and tried to push the creases out of my Bowie T-Shirt. It’s the best one I have left.
“You’re not meeting them tonight are you?” Asked Sebastian. It was my turn to act suspicious, I suspect he was relieved though, not to have my company. Sebastian is nice man, and very well informed on the history of magic – but for the last two weeks, when forced into our own company, we’re like gargoyles baking in the sun – staring, open mouthed and silent, sucking the stories dry before they’ve been spoken. I’ve had this before, over summer holidays, when Cobb and I only saw each other for a month, and eventually had nothing to do but hit each other.

Outside the cottage I tried to hold my face in a serious manner, by thinking about the war. This didn’t work very well, since wars are kind of cool and it made me look too eager. I tried to think of something else that was important, but came up blank, so when the door opened I was staring up into a corner with my mouth loose. The man who met me was the same one that shouted me off the other day. He wore a very ironed short sleeved shirt, olive green slacks, and clean, canvas shoes. His eyes were almost black and sharp, but his face was softened by a grey beard that hung from his chin like a tidy cloud.
“You’re the witness?”
“Yes.” I said, thinking it was a good job too. Behind him was the other man, with short-back- and-sides grey hair, and a navy jumper. They looked like retired catalogue models. Inside, the cottage barely became a room before you hit the back wall. The downstairs living room with a kitchen for a wall was like a caravan with a staircase. The man inside was more welcoming though, shaking my hand and introducing himself as Gregory.
“And this is Jack.” He said. The bearded one nodded as he shut the door. “Can we offer you a drink?” Disappointingly he meant a cup of tea.
“As you might expect, we have a lot of questions.” Said Gregory. “The first of which ought to be, how much did they tell you?”
“About what? I don’t even know what they haven’t told me about.”
“They’ve told you why you’re here.” Jack barked.
“All I know is there’s a friend of theirs’ here. That’s really all.” I glanced up at the staircase, and didn’t mention the ghost story.
“So who told you about her?” Demanded Jack.
“Like I said, they’ve not told me much.”
“Not what they told you. Before that. They didn’t just pick you of the street did they.”
“Sort of.”
Jack looked at his partner, as if I was being deliberately awkward. Gregory said: “How is it you came to find out about her?”
“There’s rumours going round-”
“About a ghost, yes. But Wainwright and her committee wouldn’t have picked you for knowing that.”
“I believe in magic. I know about it.”
“And we’re expected to believe they found you by coincidence.” Jack said, almost reaching for the door from his seat.
“Carol believes it’s fate.” I said.
“Do you?”
“Not much. More like bad luck.”
Gregory laughed at this, and even Jack stopped perching in his armchair.

I was led upstairs to a landing the size of a pizza box. Gregory tidied away a stepladder up through the loft hatch – the other bedroom. A bathroom had been fitted into a cupboard on the left, and on the right was the main bedroom, getting darker now. Gregory opened the door and let me go in alone. I could see the long white hair and pale face of a woman lying in the bed, asleep. She must have been ninety.
“Go ahead.” Said Gregory. “There’s no danger, as you know.”
It was just as the ghost story described. I was beside the bed as soon as I was in the room. She was laying down the middle, breathing deeply. I could see the hairs about her mouth move to the exhale. Carol and her friends had asked me to check that she was okay, but I didn’t know what that meant if I couldn’t ask her. She was alive.
“Is she unconscious?”
“In the simplest explanation.”
“Should I feel her pulse or something?” As far as I know, unconsciousness normally means a blow to the head. I didn’t want to move her around to check for injuries, but that could be what they expected of me. Her wrists were under the blankets, and all I could see of her hands were the thin and painful fingertips. I could see the pattern of the blanket through them. I thought at first I’d imagined this, but leaning closer up to her hands, they were transparent. I could see the pillow behind her face, and the translucent fibres of her hair no longer moved to her breathing.
“What happened?”
“You know about Tuesday Midnight?” Asked Gregory.
“I’ve been told about it.”
“She was caught by it. It dragged her-”
Jack put his hand on Gregory’s shoulder, which was enough to silence him.
“So why is she…” As I watched, the fabric of the bedding tried to move back into an unoccupied space, but was then pushed back again, as she became solid and real.
“We don’t know.” Said Gregory, to my lost question. I can’t tell if this was honest, or from Jack’s restraint. At a loss to know how I was supposed to help, I came out and down. When I met Carol Wainwright later, I wasn’t sure what to tell her. She seemed peaceful. The gentlemen there say she never wakes up. Carol seemed relieved, at least. I wished, and now wish, that I’d told Sebastian about this from the start.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Uncertain and Uncanny.

Doubt is like a coin balanced on its edge: I am waiting for it to fall one way or the other, to know what I believe, but for the moment I just have aimless suspicion. This erodes my days, as the words of the group replay back to me, and I try to analyse them for hidden meaning. The trouble is that the group have never been less than open about their loathing of humanity, so their meanings are far from hidden. Their test for me is whether or not I am capable of deceit – they are wolves in wolves clothing. I could of course go home – but that would be the biggest betrayal of Sebastian that I can think of. I followed him as he was leaving last night, about to ask him if he thought the group would come good on their promise of information, but he burbled and flustered and was gone before I could decide whether to come clean about what I’d been asked to do. Even this now seems suspicious to me – as though he was scared I’d find out where he and his mystery woman met, or scared I’d see her – but I was making him late, so why wouldn’t a man like Sebastian panic at that?

In the mean time I have heard back from the cottage-folk. Their proposal - that I check on the well being of their friend - has been accepted by the others, who agreed that a neutral witness would help to stop the situation escalating and outsiders getting involved. I don’t know who they mean by outsiders if they don’t mean me, but my heightened suspicions have me speculating they mean someone specific. I am going there tonight.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Suspicious Minds.

The friends of the cottage didn’t give much away. They said it was to protect me from taking sides: if the cottage occupants accept me as a go-between then it would be best if I remain neutral. This extends to not telling me the facts – which I thought would be pretty much objective. Their reason for this was as an act of faith towards the others – putting the decision to tell me in their hands.

I’m spending the night with the would-be vampires again tonight, and have been left alone in Geoff’s. I won’t be sleeping as easily as normal though. I have to remind myself of what these people want to be – not to get used to their nihilism as though it’s just another part of magic. When I came in to the house they were talking in the kitchen, waiting to go and meet the blonde. I heard Maria say to the others that “He doesn’t know that it’s real.”
“Shouldn’t we tell him?”
“It doesn’t matter. We have one chance only.”

And then Geoff made my presence obvious. I’ve told Sebastian about the ritual so that he believes he is in my debt, and then vulnerable to whatever the group want me to do. The ritual isn’t supposed to be real.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cottage Watch.

The Duke Of York is at the top of Church Street; I must have walked past it a hundred times, going to and from my meetings with the group. I stopped at the cottage on the way up, and it was as before – a light in the window and peaceful. The way Carol Wainwright spoke about her friend being in there, she made it sound like a kidnapping – except she also said there was nothing the police could do. Possibly then it’s a cult of some kind, who’ve brainwashed her friend, into staying at a holiday cottage… That doesn’t fit in with the ghost story, but she’s dismissed that as fanciful, and I can imagine a cult of personality taking hold in the wake of magic – it almost happened with Arthur Enright.

The pub itself is quite old fashioned, with wooden fittings and a mocked up library. Old photos cover the walls, from the shop on the new side – the Sutcliffe Gallery. Out of the far side of the pub, you can see across the harbour, to the sparkling amusements and the sea.

I saw Carol Wainwright straight away – she was wearing another sack of a T-shirt, so bright it left an after image when I blinked. Sat next to her was Del, his wife Yvonne, and another man called Clive, who I remembered from the Easter argument. I gave them my name, but kept my surname to myself this time, in case anybody recognised it. I was greeted with uncomfortable looks and a long silence.

“I could go again.”
“No, please. We’re glad you came. I’m certain.” Carol looked around the table.
“All that’s missing is some party poppers-”
“We were talking before-”
“-and a cake.” I don’t think they understood I was trying to be friendly.
“We were talking before, and we hoped you might come to see us.”
“Carol seems to believe you can help us.” Said Del, holding his mouth tight.
“So she said. I’d love to know how.”
“How much do you know about magic?” Asked Yvonne.
“So it is to do with magic?”
“Please answer the question.” Yvonne looked at her husband to check his patience.
“Not much I’m afraid. If that’s what you’re hoping for. I’m not an expert, although-”
“It isn’t an expert that we need. Please, tell us what you know.”
“I know it’s real.” I stopped to think what I could afford to say, and thought it best not to lie. I always feel that I’m talking too loudly or slowly when I lie, trying to compensate. “I didn’t find that out until it all came to an end last year. I know a woman who used to be able to do magic. She’s told me a few things she could do. She explained about witchcraft and demons.”
“And you believed her?”
“She’s a family friend.”
“Did you think any less of her?” Asked Carol.
“Any less? Why would I? It’s pretty amazing, what she can do. Could do.”

We compared stories for a while, with them referring to their friend, and me referring to Angela’s small-scale ability. Angela could levitate in a trance; their friend could fly. Angela could read minds – or rather she asked Tomlin to look inside for her; their friend could tell the future. I pretended to be very impressed and out-classed by their anecdotes.
“I’ve thought of a way.” Said Clive, before I was tempted to trump them with Samuel’s exploits.
“How do you mean?” Asked Carol.
“You thought he was here to help us. But we don’t know anything about him.” He gestured a concession to the others. “Maybe that’s for the best. If we get him to check that she’s okay.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Why would they let him in?” Asked Del.
“Because he’s not involved. He could be a go between.”
“Would you agree to that?” Asked Carol.
I looked around the table, at faces variously keen, dubious, curious and concerned:
“I have no idea what it is that you want me to do.”

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ritual Procrastination.

The final stage of my initiation has been announced, although it really needn’t have taken so much build up, with hours of veiled doomsaying. We’ve told Sebastian that it’s called the Ritual Of The Bloods, to take place on Sunday the 6th of May. Or I’ve told him, since the group only speak to him through me. He managed to ask as much as what it entailed, but I think that was more for politeness. He only keeps me here at all as an excuse to keep seeing his mystery woman. I’m his academic-investigative beard. If he was fully committed to finding Challoner he would have followed up that lead in Edinburgh, instead of dismissing it.

I realised last night that as much as the group want to be inhuman, they crave witnesses to what they’re doing. That’s the only reason for the theatrics of their clothes: they want everyone to know how little regard they have for them; there’s no reason why they can’t wear jeans and a T-shirt like everybody else. They also keep talking about things in front of me that they’ve told me before is forbidden, like last night, when they wondered whether or not the master would approve of my taking part in the ritual. I had assumed up till then that the ritual was part of the trick being played on Sebastian – that was how it felt when I told him about it – but the way they were talking, it seems to be a genuine rite that they all went through. They went on, referring to their master, and what he would have done to help them - which sort of ignores the reason they’re in a bind in the first place. It’s pathetic really, to see them deferring to some absent authority, who was most likely just a man anyway.

I have considered joining the cottage folk in the pub, since I’ve been left to my own devices. At least they don’t want to perform rituals and make me carry out strange missions before they decide to trust me – a nice chat over a drink to get the measure of me is all that’s required. I also considered asking Sebastian to be a character witness for me, but I don’t want him to be involved in this. I get the feeling that he’d only mess it up for me. It will be nice to know someone around here properly, since all I’ve done for the last month is drift from street to street, getting more and more resentful of these people with places to go and things to do.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Strangers By The Shore.

It’s been another weekend of sweaty vests and blistered children here in Whitby. I’ve been alternating between nights spent at the hotel and nights spent with Geoff, as we continue the pretence of my indoctrination. Brian let slip the other night, that the actual induction, under the tutelage of their master, took up to a year. Thankfully I’m getting the quick-study montage version. Sebastian has heard from a contact that Challoner might have been spotted on Edinburgh, but it’s unconfirmed, so he’s waiting.

The group try and sleep through the day as much as they can. Those that work 9-5 go straight to bed when they get home, and wake up again at midnight. In the meantime, I stroll around, trying to imagine what it must be like to be a seagull: they must get sick of the sound of themselves. At night I fall asleep long before the nocturnal ones, but since I’m still on the sofa, I take their solemn blather into my dreams, and no doubt this will happen tonight.

The woman from the haunted cottage found me sat in the sun near the harbour. I was wearing my sunglasses, so I don’t think she realised I could see her thinking about whether or not to come over. When she’d spoken to me over Easter, it was as if she thought we talked all the time, like one of my friends’ mums – polite but informal, and free to put me in my place.

After a minute or so she walked up. She has short brown hair, and the shorts and T-shirt of the other day wasn’t a one off. Her face is round, with extra pinches of skin about the eyes, which are also brown. Her name is Carol Wainwright.
“It was rude of me not to introduce myself when we met before.” She said. I introduced myself – the family name provoking no response.
“We need to know,” she went on. “If you’ve been sent by someone.”
“Who would send me?”
“My friends and I aren’t sceptics by nature, so now that we do have reasons to be suspicious, it’s hard to know when to reign them in. And again, I’m jumping ahead of myself. I’m sorry, but we simply have to know why you’re interested in the cottage.”
“I think I told you,” I said. “Everyone says it’s a haunted house, so I went to see it.”
“And the other day? Why did you need to see it again?”
“I didn’t. I was looking at you all having a barney outside.”
“But you were there first. And the other night, after the first time you went.”
“Look, if I’m so dodgy, why are you talking to me? I don't plan to go there again.”

She shrugged, and looked a bit fed up – like she’d eaten a Mars Bar she probably shouldn’t have. “I’m worried, about my friend. We all are. But it’s not as though we can go to the police. And any one else with a vested interest can’t really be trusted to be on our side. So where do I turn? I’m not in a position to ignore opportunities when they present themselves.”
“And one’s presented itself?”
“You have. I consulted the cards.”
“As in tarot?”
“They were very favourable.”
“But surely they can’t work anymore.”
“Really? Yes I suppose they’d be affected too... How much do you know? About the death of magic.”
“Only the basics.” I said. I don’t know how much there is to know, but Samuel taught me enough not to talk to strangers about my father or the study.
“But you know enough to believe it’s true. It can’t be chance that brought you here.” She stopped in thought again. “The only problem is, how to know we can trust you.”

This seems to be the theme of the place. It used to be that you went on faith until someone gave you a reason not to trust them. Or maybe that was just the books I read.
“How do I know I can trust you?” I asked her, making her face go a little rounder. “You’ve not told me anything, except that you think it’s impertinent of me to go round looking at the outsides of houses from on the byways and highways. You say it’s not a ghost: I don’t care anymore. You say you’re not sure if you can trust me: again, I don’t care. I don’t particularly to be in this town anymore, so the opinions of strangers and cryptic cottage people hold as much interest as my horoscope in the local paper.”
By the way, I’ve looked that up since, and this is going to be a good week for my money.

“My name is Carol Wainwright. I live further along the coast, in Robin Hood’s Bay. I’ve been a student of simple magics for twenty years now. I’ve never been able to cast any spells, but I’ve seen things. My friend is in that cottage, and she needs help. And I suppose you’re thinking ‘so what’ but I believe that’s what you’re here to do. So, we drink in the Duke Of York most nights, to stay close to her. When you’re ready, come and find us.”

And that’s how she left it this time – middle-aged riddler that she is. The whole thing has come about because of these rubbish vampires and their dithering, but as she said – maybe I shouldn’t ignore opportunities when they present themselves.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I Scream.

In the rush to nowhere of the Easter weekend, I was frequently like unoccupied jetsam on the tide of briny sightseers; isolation can only last so long when summer has turned up early and is playing with a ball outside. About 3 o’clock on Saturday, feeling the over-specific need for a cinder-toffee ice cream from the shop near the abbey steps, I defied the hordes who out numbered me a few thousand to one, and did quite well to reach the bridge unmolested. It all went wrong about then. Church Street, the street to the abbey, was like a maze of shuffling bodies, with vans and Range Rovers rolling up and down, pushing the crowds to the side like carcinogenic rolling pins. Tourists, hypnotised by their own reflections, stopped at every window, creating walls of indifference and checked fabric. I fought as far as the market place, salmon like, and then got boxed in, stuck behind an asthmatic old woman, who I stood over like a redwood tree over a sprout, but then sunhats buffeted me from the side, and I took refuge in the shade and echoes of the alley leading to the haunted cottage.

It wasn’t as calm as I’d hoped. The yard outside of the cottage was filled with red and white faces, all with angry voices. There seemed to be two distinct parties, but at times they turned on each other, dropping the restraint of reason for those more familiar to them, as they tried to establish what the point really was. Amongst those nearest the cottage were the two men I’d seen living there, and among those opposed to them were faces that I’d seen around town. The gist of the argument was about fairness, but the specifics were lost on me. It reminded me of how kids complain about fairness, using the reason they couldn’t do other stuff back on their parents like it’s a two way deal. I think it’s only since I left school that people have stopped pretending that anyone is ever fair back to you. After a few minutes of watching them shout about, one of the men started to look at me; and then they all turned, falling into silence. I realised then that it wasn’t a normal, neighbourly row. They were arguing about the haunting. I was told to clear off by one of the resident men – something that hasn’t happened to me since I stopped trespassing on building sites. There was nothing wrong with where I was. The chap in his potter’s shed was selling his tiles still, and the shouty man lacked the beef-faced authority of a site foreman, but I went back into the plod of people nonetheless. To get my ice cream.

On the way back down, I saw one of the women antagonists, and since it was impossible to move anywhere fast, she worked her way towards me with the slow inevitability of dripping paint, and said:
“It was just as well that you left.”
Instead of asking why, I pretended to have no idea what she meant, and said that I wasn’t spying on them, after all, who cares?
“Who cares about what? I’ve seen you loitering there before.” And then I recognised her as the woman with the shopping, who’d kept pushing past when I found the cottage that first time. She was about five foot tall, wearing shorts and a baggy yellow T-shirt, making her look like summer’s shame. Half by design and half by jostling, we found ourselves in a corner of the market, trying not to step on a display of dusters.
“I was only looking,” I said. “You’re allowed to look at the outsides of places.”
“But you wanted to see inside.”
“Not really. I didn’t think there was anything to see, y’know. I know there’s supposed to be a ghost in there, but I doubt there’s much to see of that any more.”
“Don’t you believe in ghosts?” She asked.
“Sure, sort of. I think they’re fascinating, the idea of them, that’s why I wanted to see which cottage it was, but I don’t see how that’s doing anything wrong. What was the big row about anyway?”
“Who told you the cottage was haunted?”
“Everyone knows about it. Not that many people believe it. Have you seen it?”
“There isn’t a ghost.”
“Right. Then, what were you… Or are you saying there was a ghost, and now no one knows where it’s gone? Because I could see how that might happen, if it’s supernatural. It would sort of be the end of the end.”
“You know about that?”
I said I did, although I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. I assume now that we were both talking about what happened last Halloween, since that’s when the ghost story started.
“So what’s in there if it’s not a ghost?” I asked.
“A friend of mine. I can’t say more. But I would ask that you don’t interfere.”
And that’s where she left it, until I saw her today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Not Fresh At The Weekend.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for almost a month now. I notice myself avoiding the paving slabs I know are loose, or taking shortcuts around the back of shops, which would have been an exploration a few days ago, but now I take paths like a local, feeling tartly superior to tourists. I hate the tourists. I can’t even talk about them. The sense of familiarity, that opened like a flower in my mind – or rather it didn’t: it sort of composted in, fermenting, and building up in layers. Anyway, the familiarity that has horticulturally spammed its way into my head, goes beyond the knowledge of the actual, into a sense of place, and a sense of timing. When crossing the bridge across the Esk, cars alternate in front and behind pedestrians, and the timing of this is now unconsciously bedded in, so that I step out into the road recklessly and secure. In the hotel, I no longer feel the need to check my flies or my hair. If I had slippers, I would wear them down to breakfast. As it is, I went down in my socks, drawing an arch look from Sebastian, as though I’d rearranged his cornflakes into the counties of Ireland. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Fawlty Towers, but as I good-morninged the lobby staff the other day, I realised I was turning into the Major. This rotten idea sent me away from my intended goal of the beach and down to Tourist Information, looking up bus times back to Sheffield.

I rang home that night. Norman answered, of course, with his customary “Fold residence.” Which I think is hilarious. I said “This is the master of the house speaking,” and warned him to lay off the sherry. When we’d finished talking, and I put the phone down, I felt like a chunk of my life had come adrift. He claimed he’d been working in the garden, like I was paying him or something, and I know he’s been watching TV all day. Maybe he went out in the garden. I can see how that would be a big deal for him nowadays. Like the time we went to the pub and he practically melted when we left him sat alone. It’s hard to say I miss him. It’s a pathetic thing to say, like I want him to be behind every door that I open. I can picture him now, listening to Steve Wright and making biscuits for himself. What does it mean to miss someone anyway?

I wouldn’t have minded being home for the last few days though. The good weather was like jam in a doughnut. Enough people were already tempted, but still more poured in to this funnel of a town. I stayed in the hotel as much as I could, like an inverted zoo, as they parked up and descended, like slow motion lemmings, into the abyss of cafes and amusements. Parents held on to the shoulders of their dodgy copies, navigating them through the press of bellies and tattoos. I saw one girl scoffing an ice cream with her father’s face. She was just walking around with it, oblivious. It’s possible that she’ll grow out of it – or it’s possible that she’ll take her first boyfriend home in a few years time and he’ll feel sick when he sees what she can’t. I must have spent ten minutes looking at that girl and her dad, until they disappeared into the bottlenecked crowd.

It’s when I see humanity like that, all rebounding and unoriginal, that I realise why the group were all so keen to become vampires. If you were hacked off with normality anyway, a trip to the seaside would just about finish you off. I asked goth-girl what she thought of the chocolate shop that sells Dracula’s Coffins, or all the gift shops selling cuddly bats. It was a little cruel to ask her, I guess. After all, they thought they’d found a way out. They really believed they were going to become extraordinary, and now all they’re left with is souvineer stands flogging jokes about them, making them kitsch.

That doesn’t excuse the most horrendous case of stalling since that bus broke down on Corporation Street and jammed up the whole of town for miles. Every night I meet them at the jetty, and every night they tell me that I’ve yet to complete the test. The blonde says no more than this before he sweeps off mysteriously, but sometimes I hang around with the others for a while – try and see behind the cliché.

Sebastian doesn’t mind the wait anymore. He’s pretty candid in his belief that the whole vampirism cult was an elaborate hoax (practised on the group rather than by them), maybe with a bit of magic behind it, but maybe not even with that. He’s stopped quibbling about what to call them, and just refers to them as “our vampires” now. And while he still believes they know where Challoner went, it’s increasingly unlikely that they know where Challoner is. A couple of weeks ago he was moaning about the trail getting cold and other cop show concerns, but since his lunch dates became a regular occurrence, along with the odd evening rendezvous while I stand on the jetty, Sebastian has become a different man. A stranger man. Somehow his location and his intent have split off – like he’s trying to eat a sandwich in the sea. Aren’t we all though.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Moral Matters.

I can’t help feeling that not turning up for lunch with Sebastian wasn’t the act of betrayal that the group demanded. Especially since he met up with a woman instead of me. Apparently they met on Thursday, and when she saw him sat alone she simply had to join him. When it was proposed that I plot against Sebastian, I didn’t think it would be me that kept coming off the worst. And what does it mean, this act of betrayal? As I went through Sebastian’s things, looking for something personal to steal, I had to wonder exactly what was involved, morally. The deceptions over my initiation were one thing, but for the first time I was intruding into Sebastian’s life. I stole a bracelet, out of desperation, hidden in a bag of oddments in his case. On Saturday I sold it to one of the antique shops here, and then slid the profit into selected slot machines. The money finally ran out today. I don’t quite know why I feel bad about it, since it is, after all, only a simulated abuse of trust. When I hold up my selfish motives against the generalities of being good, I’m convinced that what I’m doing is right, and that Sebastian would agree with me. The trespass into his private belongings is a source of regret only because he might catch me out, not because he trusts me. And really, outrage over betrayal is just feeling miffed that you didn’t get away with anything yourself first. I have to remember not to confuse proximity with friendship.

But then that makes me wonder if I’ve ever had real friends, or just people whose habits coincided with my own. That’s why I see more of Norman and Angela than I do my mates from school. Any selfish need can be dwelt on until it becomes a moral ambiguity, and from there it’s just a matter of rationalising long enough until objections become naïve and superstitious.

After a few hours of contentment with this argument, regardless of the paralysis of panic every time Sebastian went near his suitcase, or the compulsion to check the case to make sure I’d not left any tell tale signs, I began to wonder if I could now twist anything until it was acceptable, what sort of person does that make me? It’s impossible to know if everyone plays these semantic games, while they conform to acceptable standards, believing that everyone else believes in them, or is it only since I learned that the world is not what I thought it was?