I awoke in the house of Adela Bach, sitting wrapped in a linen bed sheet on a great four poster bed.
I did not awake from sleep, or from a dream; I awoke from my life.
With extraordinary clarity I understood that I had become ensnared in a fantasy, no, not a fantasy, a moment in time; and I had lived there and not here, for all this time.
There was a stillness in me that I don’t recall ever having felt before.
I could understand cause and effect, I knew that I had sacrificed my entire life for that single moment when first I met the beautiful lady who held out the promise to me that I could immortal and perhaps, her lover.
I can see her face, her smile as clearly as though she was right here in the room with me; yet it was sixty years ago that last I saw her.
I was inside of that for all those years, encapsulated; trapped; and it was all there was for me.
I never knew that I was a prisoner.
I never knew.
My breathing is rich and deep, such as it has not been for many years now; the lady downstairs healed me in a wondrous way, and she healed more than just my cold, my pain, my failing breath and my struggling heart.
She set me free.
Now, I am outside of the prison I entered so gladly and so willingly and I see me, across the time of my life, clinging to every and any keepsake, souvenir that bound me to them, to her – utility bills that had to be paid, repairs that had to be overseen; sometimes and rarely, travel arrangements.
Each and every one was a holy service to me, and I would so lovingly tend to each and every one with the furious devotion of a young priest tending the flames on his altar.
My gods were just as elusive as his.
Now, here, and from the outside, I can see clearly that they never talked to me unless they absolutely had to; that they wanted no part of me beyond having someone to deal with those things that did not concern them, but which existed nonetheless and without which they would have to live in fields and meadows.
But then, and on the inside, it wasn’t like that.
I was permanently in love, lived in permanent faith and trust that today might be the day, the day was here when the phone would ring, a messenger would come, I would be called somewhere, and there she would be, welcoming me, taking me in her arms, and the waiting would be over.
Oh, I did not suffer! No man did more gladly reject the offers of human companionship, of fellowship or romance than I! I had only one love, my service, and nobody and nothing was ever allowed to come between me and my altar, my relics, my prayers, my goddess – she who held my attention unwaveringly for all these decades.
And of course, there were the compensations.
My beautiful lady, Catherine had been her name, my lady Catherine had given me a different outlook on the world, a precious gift that made my days so joyous, spent in wonder, awe and so I had two constant companions in my prison.
A glorious world and the knowledge that one day, I would be close to Catherine again.
Now I sit wrapped in a bed sheet, and it seems that no time at all has passed since I descended the stairs from the theatre at street level, to the other theatre, way down below and I danced for my lady Catherine, but she never came.
She never came.
Others came, bright ones, rushing ones, beautiful ones, but none were Catherine.
I could feel that some were very curious and would have liked to know me better, touch me in some way but I refused them all and so I left the theatre with all the others who had found no-one to love then; it was as though we floated up those endless stairs and I was glad, so glad! It is impossible to understand for anyone but me, but I did not conceive of her not coming to me on that night as any kind slight, or of rejection; I never had any doubt that we were meant to be and it was only a matter of time and she would come to me.
Later, I was contacted by the then Assay of the house of Adela Bach, an old man he was, tired and at the end of his road, and he explained to me the office of Assay and how it was the highest honour to be thus entrusted; he told me that it was my lady Catherine who had put forward my own name to be successor of his office and I was joyous! Oh, I was joyous.
I was 19 years old.
When I was 21, the Assay died; and I was formally installed in his position.
Of course, I hoped that she would come for that occasion, but she did not; and yet, it never troubled me, so deep was my conviction that when time was right, she would.
I find myself smiling as I look back upon my young self. I draw the sheet tighter around myself and make the effort to get into bed.
It is far easier this night than it has been in a decade or more.
I lie down and close my eyes.
Yesterday, I was 19.
Now, I am 81. And Catherine will never come.
I lie in the darkness and I feel blessed.
There is no pain in my body, not anywhere.
Pains of many shapes, of many hues and many strands have been my constant companions for so long now, the stillness that is left in their absence is extraordinary. With it comes a wide awareness that I remember – or do I? Perhaps I never had this level of awareness.
Perhaps I’ve never felt this sense of peace and of completion.
I think of Catherine, and where before there was just her face and smile, I see more now – I remember her so clearly, but now, I also remember the other details of what I saw, what I felt and what I thought.
For a moment, I wonder whether I had deluded myself for all those years, that she just played me for a fool, I was so young and I knew nothing of love, not a thing.
I knew nothing about myself.
What if she never loved me at all? What if I was nothing to her, and all these years I lived in absolute delusion, in a hypnotic trance, a puppet that the puppeteer has discarded long ago and so it lies, gathering mould and dust, unmoving, as the days and nights swirl overhead, and as the season turn from one into another … Is that all I am? Is that all I was to her? Less than nothing at all? The sensations that arise within me are unknowable, unbearable.
And then from within the darkness that surrounds me there appear two lights, coming from behind, from my left and from my right, I sense them rather than see them, feel them in my body as they become stronger and come closer – I recognise them, those are the two who also walked the stairs to the theatre, who walked with me, walked the same path as me, and they give me courage, and they give me strength.
They come and stand beside me, not to hold me upright like a broken thing, but they stand beside me as fellow warriors would, proud and strong; and this creates a resonance within me which awakens my spirit, and so I stand with them, straight and true; this is not compassion I am being offered here, but a chance to be recognised, to be seen and heard, to regain my self respect and my own purpose, my own path.
Together we stand, and we face the future – it is a wide expansion, full of the unknown; it is wild, it is splendid, and together, we step forward into its embrace.
I dreamed strange dreams, in a strange state of semi-awareness; I met strange people and yet, they were familiar to me; I exchanged information and knowledge of a kind with those two from downstairs, the pretty young lady and the other one, who looked like a stern general but was nothing of the kind.
They were lovers, so much was clear; yet I did not feel as I though I was intruding, nor did I feel I was unwelcome, or inferior.
As I slowly drifted back into awareness and a bliss of warmth and sublime comfort in body and in mind, it struck me curiously how differently these two had treated me from any of their kind I had encountered across the years.
I wondered how it was, how I was allowed to be here and lie in this bed, in this house, and gain such support, such healing and such friendly attention from the residents.
It was funny, and it was strange.
Standing outside the house, outside the door in the rain and not being able to leave, not being able to do anything but stand and become wetter, and colder; not being able to ring the bell any longer, or hammer on the door; sinking into myself, into my age, my pain, my loneliness and my utter desolation, I thought the end had come.
I knew the end had come.
I knew in all of that that I would never leave this doorstep again, that it was all over, and all would be softened eventually, dissolved, washed away just as the forsaken food parcels were soaking and softening at my feet, eventually they would fall apart and their contents would spill into the cold, blackwet street and so would mine.
I had laid myself finally at their feet, and my heart of hearts, I never really believed that they would come to my aid or care in the slightest.
But they did.
What did that mean?
What had happened?
Why did they order human food, and then failed to collect it?
There was definitely something not right here, for all the benefits the situation had bestowed on me.
A blessing beyond what I had thought could be within the realms of possibilities was my bodily restoration, of which I became aware with force as I attempt to rise, and find it easy, and am not just surprised, but entirely astonished.
There is a large dresser with a mirror above it by the window, and I go to it and look upon myself, perhaps for the first time in years, with critical interest and full attention to detail.
I don’t think I look any different, any younger.
Perhaps my eyes are sharper, more focused looking; but that might just be a trick of the light. My hair is thin, white – old man’s hair. My skin is like fragile, ancient manuscripts – old man’s skin. Yet I stand with a different posture and there is a different air and as I stand and scrutinise myself in the crystal clear mirror, it is as though the image begins to shift, to ripple – is this just imagination? Yet when I concentrate again, it happens again, and it is as though I can see misty shapes weaving around me, around my arms, around my neck and shoulders.
I watch this for a time with absorbed interest, then other needs take precedence.
I wash and find that someone had been in the room in the night – my clothes are spread over the great radiators beneath the bay window and they are all but dry; stiff, wrinkled but serviceable again.
I dress as best as I can and as I do so, I listen with intent but there is not a sound in the house, only the backwash of London traffic kept at bay by the windows. It must be after noon from what I can see, and it is a beautiful, clear day outside.
It is hard to believe that this is the same world outside, pleasant, inviting and golden as the one I experienced last night – entirely unforgiving, black, icy, deadly and without compassion.
I am procrastinating.
The lady whose name I don’t know or don’t remember told me to leave as soon as I was rested.
I don’t want to leave here.
This place is my home, here, with these, that’s where my home is, where it has always been since first Catherine unveiled herself to me.
My house is nothing but a waiting post, a temporary shelter, a hotel room where one is sitting and waiting to be called for a performance – I have nothing there I cannot discard more easily than it would take a single thought.
I want to stay here.
Oh dear God, please let me stay.
I don’t need a room, I’ll sleep in a corner. I’ll run your errands and when I cannot run any longer, I’ll limp, and then I’ll crawl.
Just let me stay …
As if in answer, a muffled sound drifts through the door and even though it isn’t very loud at all, it startles me and breaks me out of my pathetic train of thoughts – what is this? The sound comes again, and then again, and I realise that it must be the door bell of the house.
Who on Earth would be calling here without being invited? And was this an opportunity, send to me straight in answer to my prayers to see the young lady, to be able to plead with her to be allowed to stay? I pull on my crumpled jacket and make for the door.
No-one else seems to be responding to the insistent ringing of the door bell.
I make my way down the stairs and to the surveillance room located at the back of the house. I am relieved and proud in equal measure that I know what to do for I oversaw the installation of this system and had it demonstrated to me, along with many others, at the time.
The cameras show that outside the front door is a middle aged woman in a thick, unflattering winter coat, wearing a woolly hat, who is angrily stabbing at the door bell, alternating with hitting her flat hand against the door and her mouth is moving – she is shouting something.
In the background I see passers by slowing their steps and staring.
This will never do! I hit the switch that allows me to monitor the microphones.
“I know there’s someone in there! Open up or I’ll call the police! I mean it! Open up!” the woman is shouting at the top of her voice and hitting the door again.
This is the kind of disturbance that is absolutely unwelcome, and it needs to be dealt with immediately.
I can call certain people and have her be removed; but until then, she needs to quietened. I turn on the speaker phone and say loudly and clearly, “Who are you, and what do you want?”
The woman stops in mid-shout and her mouth is open for a moment as she looks up at the camera above the loudspeaker. Her face is distorted into a balloon by the lens and then her strident voice bursts through the speaker phone, assaulting me, invading the house, “I want to see Steve Burrows. I know you got him in there. I insist on speaking with him, immediately.”
Steve Burrows? Never heard of him. But then, what do I know about what has been going on here? I decide to let her in. I can keep her here until she can be removed, if this should prove necessary.
“Just a moment,” I say and press the release button for the outer door. She pushes it open violently and bursts into the inside room, stops as the second door blocks her steam train progress, pushes at it, looks for a handle.
The outside door closes automatically behind her, and now she is trapped and rendered harmless.
That’s what I thought, but then, I am old fashioned in these days. She pulls a mobile phone from her pocket, waves it at the camera and shouts at the top of her voice, “I want to see Steve, and I want to see him right now, or I’m going to call the police. I have them on quick dial, you know!”
I shake my head in defeat, and go to the inner door, release it just as she is about to make the call.
I straighten, look her in the eye and say, “Good afternoon, Madam.” This takes the wind out of her voluminous sails and slowly, she closes the mobile phone and puts it back into her pocket, but does not withdraw her hand from it; it reminds me of someone hiding a gun, ready to use.
The woman is around fifty years of age, with straggling grey hair, overweight, and reminiscent of one of those women one may observe on TV, protesting hunts, motorways and nuclear installations.
On other and many previous occasions, I would have sought to flee such individuals and hide; today, I have no problem holding her on the spot with nothing other than my presence and that is both surprising as well as extremely delightful.
She looks me up and down, looks at the entrance hall and strains to see past me, but she is now uncertain and she says, “I’m looking for Steve Burrows. Is he here? I want to speak with him, urgently.”
“Madam,” I say with try tones of a well trained butler, “There is no such personage in this house, I assure you.”
She looks at me sharply with suspicious small eyes, and before I know it, she has taken a rapid, deep breath and she shouts into the hallway, “Steve! Steve Burrows! Steve! Are you here!” I am nearly knocked backwards by the sheer volume of her voice and it crashes through the silent house, echoes around the stairwell.
She takes advantage of my moment of vertigo and pushes physically past me, storms towards the bottom of the stairs, places her woolly gloved hand on the banister and shouts again, “Steve! Steve! Are you here! Answer me, Steve!” And it is then that on the upstairs landing a man appears.
He is clad in black tie, deeply incongruously for the day and time of day, blonde, around 35 years of age and as she sees him, the woman freezes and stares up at him in wide eyed amazement.
“Margaret,” he says and now it is his voice, resonant and all encompassing, that fills the hallway absolutely, stilling my breath in a very different way indeed, “How lovely to see you …”
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to observe a number of their kind, but I have never seen a one like this.
He is radiant, literally luminescent; as he descends the stairs, he seems to float rather than walk. He is looking down towards the woman Margaret and he is smiling.
On the last step, he stops and extends a hand to the woman who is entirely frozen, entirely entranced; in slow motion and without her will, her own gloved hand rises to meet his.
He takes her hand, then places the other arm around her shoulder and turns her gently.
“Come, let us sit down,” he says and I am vibrating from top to toe with the sheer resonance of his voice, even though he speaks most softly.
Then he starts to walk the woman towards the drawing room, looks over his shoulder.
He makes direct eye contact with me and my heart stops.
“You too, Mr Eldrich,” he says, no, communicates, commands, implants? I bow to him but without being able to break eye contact, then he lets me go from his gaze and continues guiding the dishevelled woolly hatted woman down the corridor.
I follow behind, my heart beating now loud and hard, painful in my chest.
I am confused and not a little afraid; I feel out of control and I wish the lady and the gentleman from last night would be here, so I could know if this was a good thing that was happening, or something that I should have prevented, or never interfered with in the first place.
They had told me to leave but I had stayed, and I had let the woman Margaret in.
The strange couple before me has turned into the entrance to the drawing room and here, Steve Burrows gently deposits the woman on the same sofa I had occupied last night – there is still a dark wet patch in the center where I had been sitting.
The woman folds into herself rather than taking a seat, and her hand is still in Burrow’s hand, who is standing in front of her, looking down at her.
I cautiously step into the room and take up station behind the door, and I observe that around his feet, there is indeed a pool of light on the floor, no shadow; he really is glowing, it is not just an impression.
On the sofa, the woman gives a half sob and draws my attention.
“Oh Steve,” she says, and I can see tears beginning to slide down her face, “Oh Steve, what has happened to you?”
This causes a ripple in the vampire; it seems as though he is becoming unclear, undefined for a moment; it is just a flashing ripple but when it has passed, he seems very different – much more human, much more physically present and I have to admit relief to notice that he isn’t glowing any longer.
The woman and I both let out a breath held for too long and the vampire says, “Margaret,” with a very pleasant and loving tone, but in a far more reasonable approximation of a human voice and takes a seat right next to her, still holding her hand encased in that woolly glove, and he turns towards her.
“What brings you here?” he asks her gently.
The woman sniffs and looks at him, lost and helpless, her eyes sliding over his face and hair, small, helpless movements of trying to find familiarity, trying to find answers.
“I thought you were in trouble, again,” she said, “I went to your flat, I heard the message on your machine …”
The vampire nods, then smiles. “I left a trail of breadcrumbs to lead you here, didn’t I?” he says gently.
The woman nods, then she withdraws her hand from his, pulls off her gloves and lays them in her lap. When she looks up at him again, her face is serious, concentrated.
It strikes me that she must have loved the man deeply before he became one of them.
How must that be? What kind of loss must that be? I have to shake my head.
I cannot know, can’t conceive of it.
The woman speaks. “Why are you wearing these clothes,” she asks him, urgently and it is clear she is trying to get through to him, trying to reach to the one she used to know, make a connection, recognise him, somehow. “What is this place? Why are you here? Are you on drugs again?” The last statement just slipped out against her will; she colours deeply and looks down at her gloves again.
The vampire who is now in quite perfect disguise and appearing like a man, convincing enough to me but obviously entirely unconvincing to the woman Margaret who knew him from before and loved him well, says gently, “You worry too much, Margaret. I am very happy, and I am not on anything, not now.” She is listening intently, and he goes on to say, “I have made some new friends, that’s all.”
The woman looks at me still standing by the door and asks incredulously, “You don’t mean – him?”
The vampire smiles and replies, “That is Mr John Eldrich. He is an old friend of the family. Mr Eldrich – please come, allow me to make the introductions.”
Obediently, I go to stand in front of them, with my hands clasped behind my back, trying to be nonchalant in my crumpled suit, my crumpled shirt, my crumpled skin.
The vampire addresses me.
“Mr Eldrich,” he says, “Please meet Margaret Crawley, my most very dear of friends; Margaret, this is Mr John Eldrich.”
The woman looks at me curiously, inquisitively and I give a brief bow and hold out my hand to her.
She takes it and shakes it a little too firmly.
“Pleased to meet you – I think …” she says and then adds, “I am sorry for all the hoopla earlier. I was very worried, I hope you understand …”
I look into her eyes and think but don’t say it, yes. Yes, I understand. I understand that you loved this man very much, that you got involved in a caretaking role, a fire fighting role with little reward apart from a charming smile now and then, that you are like me, one who would do anything to be allowed to be close to something special, something that makes you feel alive when nothing else ever seemed to matter.
The woman tries a smile that fails and we let go off each other’s hands, I step back and want to retreat to my corner or perhaps leave the room altogether, but the vampire commands me in gentle, friendly tones, “Please, do join us, Mr Eldrich,” and indicates one of the two large arm chairs that face the couch over a low functional coffee table of old oak.
As I sit, I notice that the vampire glances briefly at the ceiling; as he does that, I get a sense of a call that causes a fast streak to shiver down my neck and into my back. I know what that is; I heard it, felt it and understood it – he is calling the others to come and join us here! My heart beats faster again. I am not sure this is because I am curious to see the lady again from last night and her husband? lover? companion? or that I am excited by the idea that I can pick up their communications, I can feel and see things I tried to see and feel but I was never able to do that before. All of this has quite passed Margaret Crawly by without a trace; she is still as I once used to be, on the outside, a child who doesn’t understand the double meanings, hears only at the top level, and thus never gains enough information about any situation so it makes a modicum of sense.
She turns back to the vampire and opens her mouth to start speaking again, when the lady appears in the doorway.
I rise to my feet immediately.
She is truly stunning, much more so than she had been in the night but then, those memories are dark and distant now, and I think of her far more in terms of a loving entity that stood beside me, embraced me and healed me, a warm water wave of sparkling turquoise, rich with nutrients, vibrant with life and strength so freely shared and freely given, than I would think of her as a woman, even though she is unearthly in her beauty, perfection in all her aspects.
Behind her, her companion enters the room and the temperature seems to drop, the light seems to shift.
His age and power radiate right through the sincere attempt to disguise himself as a man; he is a rock, ancient, cold and immensely strong, and I can see that he is frightening the woman Margaret as he would have frightened me if I had not known him as a friend, a fellow warrior come to my rescue, who stood beside me and gladly gave me of his endless strength.
I recognise them both, individually and in combination, the mountains and the sea, green islands dancing with life and bright rushing surf; coral reefs teeming with existence, with unfoldments; that is who they are when they are one and they become far more than just the sum of one, and one.
Yet I am not afraid.
I am in awe, and it is true I can’t conceive how someone who should be as little as I am in every way could be within their presence and not crumble to the floor and beg to be a leaf they should deign step upon, to be thus blessed; but above it all, there is the reminiscent resonance of when we stood together, and I wasn’t less than they, but welcome, and to both, delight.
The vampire who had once been a man called Steve Burrows tracks my interactions with them both, their response of friendly greeting of an equal who is much appreciated in return and he seems pleased.
He moves closer on the sofa to the woman who is absolutely speechless now and at a loss at what to think or even feel, and places a protective arm about her shoulder.
“Alexandra! Gaius! How delightful to see you here today,” he says and then his composition as a man begins to waver, cracks and splits seem to appear within the shell of man he had assumed and from these cracks bright light is cascading, bright light with opalescence playing, radiating out and in the slowest motion of a mermaid’s hair in water, these strands of living, liquid light begin to seek and find, and reach and touch us all – first Margaret, then Alexandra, then the man he had called Gaius and finally, they reach me.
Oh! What a sensation! It is electric, it is vibrant, it is a touch that travels all around me and then finds connections, flows inside me, warms me up and at the same time, catapults me up, fast and high, into a different level of awareness altogether – oh! I am still here, right here in this room, in this chair; I am still here and I am absolutely aware that I am, but overlaid and at the same time, there is so much more – a universe of more, a multidimensional fish tank where we are shifting shapes and there are so many others here as well, other things, other existences; shadows and resonances from above and below reaching here as well as everything there is already – oh! The vampire speaks.
He transmits and it is simply fantastic to see how banded colours stream across the various layers, turning into doves or wings that touch and move existences, objects, cause many floating beings to divert their paths, this way and that; it is impossibly complex but it doesn’t frighten me because it is all responsive, all connected and it makes perfect sense to me now, when before, I saw only a few hints, clues, and it was never enough to make a bigger picture, or to formulate a plan.
“We are near complete,” the vampire informs us. “Welcome our brother and our sister.”
On the level where there is just a room with furniture, with windows and a fire place, carpets and light fitting, where two people seem to stand by the door, two seemed to be sitting on the couch and a fifth was reclining in an armchair, it is as though from nowhere, another man arrives – he materialises to my left, he is also wearing formal black tie dress, a young man of perhaps 25 years of age – I recognise this one! This one is called Mark Edwards and I used to deal with him, many, many years ago, fifty years or more? He used to be my contact to the house. I always thought him charming and disarming in his shyness and sincerity; I remember missing him when another took his place and I am frankly delighted to see him here today.
The vampire on the couch points towards the fire place to my right, and there appears an exquisitely beautiful young woman of oriental descent; her appearance closes a circle that we are forming in this room, and which has now become complete.