Friday, May 25, 2007

The Ritual Itself.

I can’t really explain why I went through with the ritual, once I’d seen what was really to be done. It’s one of those things you do, like a petty theft or a sleazy thought, but you don’t want to have to talk about it afterwards – it made sense at that moment, but hindsight’s like the Gestapo. Why didn’t I just get up and tell them all to grow up or shut up and wise up? Why didn’t I just go round to Geoff’s after work one day and smash him in the legs with a hammer until he told me what I wanted to know? I wish now that I was the sort of person who’d do that, but I guess I’m the sort of person who believes the only options are the ones they’ve been told about. And it’s easy to be sceptical, here in Sheffield. There’s an effect though, of becoming so used to the insanity of others that it becomes the normal world, and being normal means it becomes defensible. I’d spent so much time with the group, whatever the situation they’d put me in was half-obvious, because it had the momentum of all that preceded it.

There was also a momentum in my state of mind that night. Feeling like the hero, because I’d saved Sebastian from the ritual, I couldn’t then back out. The blonde was reciting his opening words again, confirming the solemnity of the ritual: “The quest that has existed since consciousness dawned, to split or unite the body and soul, is here subverted. We rewrite the contract that exists between the two halves of our existence.” I remember this bit, because it’s the closest I ever got to what their master must have told them. “All acts of betrayal will be met with torment and hopelessness.” He went on to list specific tortures. I gather it owed a lot to the masons.

While he spoke, I wiped the blood off the knife with my robe, and then held it over the candle flame. I can’t pretend that this sterilised it or anything, because the candle blackened and dirtied the blade, but it made me feel better at the time. I drew the dagger up the inside of my arm, to match the cut on the blonde, not only cutting me but burning me. The pain is sort of funny now – my whole body sending waves of panic to try and stop me doing what I was doing, while I looked on, oddly detached from the blood that now trickled into the wooden bowl.

The blonde prompted me to speak the opening vows, which I’d memorised: “I forswear my mother, my father, my friends, and all former loyalties. I forswear the pleasures of the flesh: vanity, lust, and gluttony. I forswear love, and cowardice. I forswear justice.”

I spoke these words like they were instructions for assembly – any impression of passion came from the pain in my arm, and my disgust as the blonde toasted the vows by drinking his blood. I had then to do the same, but only raised the bowl to my lips, staining them. Then we swapped over bowls, and I did the same, not even able to taste what I’d done. But then the blonde took the two bowls and mixed the two bloods, swirling them together. He divided two equal measures again, and drained his half. Despite what this sounds like now, I’m not entirely stupid, I know enough to be worried about disease, but I’d heard somewhere that the stomach can deal with all sorts of infections. I’ve read since that I was massively misinformed, especially dealing with a group that shares blood at every weekend, but again I was caught up by the momentum of events, so I tipped back the bowl, the blood was already clotting into knotty strings and lumps. It should probably go at the top of a list of stupid things that I’ve done.

I felt sick. The blonde smiled, and reminded me to deliver the closing vows. A little breathlessly I said: “I embrace the laws of cunning and strength. I embrace surrender. I embrace the knowledge of the body: pride, possession and hunger. I embrace the life beyond life.”

I was confused by these last words, and I said them again. My words were slurred. I would have tried a third time, but the blonde was telling me something. His face was all his mouth was all his teeth. I didn’t get it. My hand was lifted up and placed over the candle flame, just as the blonde was doing. The burn on my palm woke me up for a second, and I wondered if I felt so weak because of the loss of blood, but we’d not bled that much yet. Distracted by this train of thought, I forgot to move my hand away from the candle, and that’s when I realised I’d been drugged. Too late. I was already falling sideways.

They left me there, which confused me. I thought I was supposed to be special, so why was the blonde taking Sebastian to one side? They were shaking hands, and the blonde presented him with a piece of paper. I was dimly aware that Sebastian had climbed up and out of the room without me, when I was propped back up, and the group all moved round one place, so that the ritual could be performed again.

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.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A State Of Readiness.

Today is the night of the ceremony – The Ritual Of The Bloods. I overheard one of the group ask, the other day, if I knew that it was for real. The version I’ll be performing is not the full blood swap they all did, but I know what she meant; they’re all very concerned that I take it seriously. And I will – I’m prepared now.

Last night I was joined by the blonde, along with Brian and Geoff. The blonde was telling me how he hadn’t seen any of his family since the century began, and how he did mental exercises to erase them from his memory, when he broke off to ask why I seemed so distracted. He demanded to know, as is his manner. In truth, my mind was still on Naina’s disappearance, but I didn’t want to tell them about her so I made out that I was worried about an elderly relative.
“As I’ve been trying to explain to you.” Said the blonde. “These people will become irrelevant. It’s in your nature to worry about those close to you, but you need not worry. They won’t matter anymore.”

I pretended to be cheered by this, and as though I too believed the ritual would work. Something in what he said troubled me though. It took a few minutes to place it, but then I remembered that he’d used a similar phrase when talking about Sebastian coming to harm – only he didn’t bother to add that I shouldn’t worry because Sebastian was irrelevant.

I listened to them in turn for another hour, and then feigned that I was feeling tired. Such excuses of bodily weakness don’t normally go down well with the blonde, so I backed it up with a desire to mentally prepare myself in isolated contemplation of mortality, and that did the trick. Sebastian had been a bit more open about where he was going on his dates lately – being as specific as to say he was going for a meal or just a drink. Last night he didn’t eat with me because he was meeting his woman – and also because he’s still hardly speaking to me over the Naina thing. I started at the hotel and worked around, down, up out of town, eventually seeing him through the lead paned windows of a restaurant on the road to the library. In the hour I’d been searching, I’d been thinking of what to say, what my fears actually were; I couldn’t let him down again; I couldn’t take a chance with the blonde – the others were just play acting, but he was committed to proving how little regard he had for life; I needed to share all I knew with Sebastian; the ritual was never anything more than nonsense, not since magic died.

I saw Sebastian through the restaurant window, and for the first time I saw his date. It was Maria, not wearing her normal black, nor the metal collar that she always wore with the vampire group, but it was her. My first thought was that all this time he’d been hiding her from me, pretending that he had no idea who the rest of the vampire group were, that he’d only met the blonde, that he needed me to talk to them for him, but in fact he was in cahoots. Then I looked at Maria again: not only was she not wearing her normal goth clothes, she was wearing make-up and a floral dress. She was in disguise. The blonde had no doubt pointed out Sebastian to her, and then she made her move on him. He’s going to be at the ritual tonight, but had he been told, or was she going to lure him on some other pretence? I went into the restaurant, intending to join them at the table, to see how she reacted, but when the waiter came to ask if he could help, I said nothing. Sebastian’s face when he thought about his mystery woman always went like he was sucking on a clotted cream toffee. It’s possible that he’s fallen in love with her. I don’t know the part I’m supposed to play in this, but I think the betrayal of Sebastian will be the breaking of his heart. The blonde probably sees this as an instruction in mortal weakness.

I didn’t go in and join them. I’ve been asked by Sebastian to do what is necessary to find out where Challoner went, and that means indulging in the fantasies of others. Who’s to say that the group’s fantasies of immortality and an existence beyond humanity is any more ridiculous than Sebastian’s fantasy of happiness with a woman who has no feelings for him – just because one is dressed up in pantomime and the other happens everyday. Sebastian will get hurt – that’s what both these fantasies demand. Besides which, not everything I do needs Sebastian’s approval.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Return From The North.

Sebastian was clearly confused: it didn’t take Carol and Gregory long to accept that he knew nothing about the cottage, beyond my telling him the ghost story. Carol, since there was no secret to protect anymore, told him everything she’d told me. Sebastian looked at me in disbelief.
“So where was she?” He said to Carol, still looking at me. “When her powers failed. What was she doing?”
“She was elsewhere. She mostly was. She described it as a brighter world, of which this world was only the shadow. The town was here, and her home, but it was not this town.”
“She hid in other realms.” Added Gregory. Carol described him as Naima’s creditor, but she never said what the debt was for. Sebastian asked for her state to be described again, but not by me.
“And who else knew?” He asked.
“No one. Absolutely.” Carol and Gregory agreed. “That’s why we’re here. There’s no one else. We haven’t even told our closest friends.”
“I meant, who else knew where she was last Halloween, and then heard the ghost story.”
“And then saw us arguing in the street, like oiks.” Carol shook her head.
“It’s not an easy conclusion to reach, but if someone knew her power.” Sebastian let the thought hover. Carol couldn’t believe that anyone who knew her could wish her harm. “But that was before she became so valuable.”
“Why would anyone steal her?” I asked. I understood that she was fascinating, but valuable?
“Desperation. It sounds as though she had the potential to be…” Sebastian looked at Carol and chose safer words… “Worth attention. If she’s holding on to a magical realm, or at least her means of reaching there, then she could be a key. Or at the very least, a foot in the door. Either way, there’s evident potential.”
“For what?”
“For the return of magic.”
Gregory curved over uncomfortably on his seat. Carol looked amazed and then puzzled: “But what will they do to her?”
“Hard to say. They need her alive, obviously. But, do they care if she’s safe? The best parallel I can offer, is that she’s the mouth of a mine – the wealth of which is magic. The priority for those who exploit a mine is efficiency, not the well being of the way in. I really wish you’d come to me sooner.”
“And what could you have done?” Asked Gregory. I wasn’t sure where he stood on the idea of exploitation – again there was the issue of her debt. Was he appalled at Sebastian’s clarity on the issue, or was he sore about an opportunity missed? It was odd how he and Jack had tended on her, like a bonsai tree – as though obliged by both duty and a sense of opportunity.
“I would like to have seen her.” Sebastian said, to me.

He returned from Edinburgh last night, and went straight from the hotel to his girlfriend. This morning he let me know that Edinburgh had been a washout – with only second-hand reports of seeing Challoner, and sketchily, similar faces. To the once-magicians he was only ever a groupie, or a voice on the phone. It was unlikely they’d know him for sure.
“Any news on your ghost?” He asked.
“None. The woman you met has gone home. So’s that bloke. We swapped numbers, but I doubt I’ll call them.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me earlier.”
“How d’you mean?” I’d found out about Naina on my own; it was my thing. I don’t understand how Sebastian’s decided to assume this authority over me, or claim ownership of anything magical, this moral propriety.
“You should have told me about her, after you’d been to the cottage. You know you should’ve done. What did you hope to accomplish there on your own?”
“I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything. I was just… looking I suppose.” I was sure I’d been helping somehow.
“Precisely. I never expected you to let me down quite so badly.”

His disappointment hollowed out the questions I’d been storing up about Naina and what he’d meant by exploiting her, or what he could have done himself. Of course he’s right, that his expertise would have been useful from the start, but it’s too easy to say that now. It’s too easy to confuse a person’s worth with their position and their true self.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Sebastian has gone to Edinburgh. He left yesterday. Very little was said between us.

On Sunday, I’d become bored of Sebastian’s gratitude filled questions about the ritual, and wanted to avoid the vampire group like them and the early summer. My thoughts were still at the cottage: I wanted to get in there again, try and get some answers from Gregory. I’d phrased up a lot of persuasive arguments to get one party talking to the other, as if I cared about their differences, when in fact I was solely fascinated by Naina, phasing into half invisibility, no longer needing air. I’d been thinking of her constantly, as if she was a fairy tale princess, left to time and tourism. They all knew more than I’d been told, but if they started to trust each other, then maybe they’d begin to trust me.

I went to The Duke Of York in search of Carol, but only found Yvonne, sunburnt and nervous. She told me the others were all at the cottage, because something terrible had happened. She didn’t believe I didn’t already know.

At the cottage, the shouts and accusations could be heard from outside, where the man selling tiles shook his head at the loss of trade and peace. I was greeted at the door by Jack bellowing:
“Who’ve you told?!”
Gregory restrained him and Carol took my hand to invite me in. Clive was with her, sat on the stairs, ready to put down anything physical.
“You see. He’s here.” Said Carol, triumphantly, as if I’d been invited.
“Doesn’t mean anything.” Snarled Jack.
“Why would he come back?” Said Carol. I’d clearly vindicated her somehow.
“What’s happened?” I asked. “Is she okay?”
“You tell us.” Spat Jack.
“She’s gone.” Carol said.
I didn’t understand how this could be my fault: “She’s dead?”
“No. She’s gone. Stolen.”

Gregory and Jack had woken in the night to noises from below, but found the hatch down from the attic was blocked up. They had to call the landlady for help, who in turn had to come back with her husband, to help unwedge the hatch. The landlady was a believer in the ghost story, so saw nothing strange in the bed being empty, but Jack set off straight away to find Carol and launch his first version of accusations. Suspicions had since been redrafted for me.
“You understand it’s very dangerous.” Reasoned Gregory. “She needs specialist care.”
“I honestly don’t know anything.”
“It’d be natural enough if you mentioned it to your friend.” Added Carol. “He’d be the obvious person to turn to for advice, since we kept you in the dark.”
“Did you tell him?” Jack was stood behind me.
“My friend? Do you mean Angela?” I’d not even mentioned her name before, just the things she’d done.
“Wilson.” Barked Jack.
“Sebastian? I’ve not told him anything.”
“Well,” said Carol, trying to calm the room. “Maybe we ought to ask him.”

It only occurred to me on the walk up to the hotel that I’d never talked about Sebastian to anyone involved. I couldn’t be certain that I hadn’t referred to him in the context of plans, but they knew his name, and at the hotel, Carol walked straight for him without any indication from me.

The blonde and the rest of the vampire group are due back any moment, so I shan’t risk the discovery of this record any further than necessary. It was Gregory who asked Sebastian how much he knew.