Then turning to my love I said,
‘The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.’
– Oscar Wilde
It was a dull but hot evening in June when we called at his London flat. Mrs. Clark, his housekeeper, opened the door. She had looked after Rudolph for years.
“I’m afraid Mr. Chrome is not in,” she said, ushering us into the lounge.
“Will he be long, Mrs. Clark?” asked my wife, smiling radiantly.
“No, I don’t think so, Mrs. Exmoor – he knew you were coming – he said so before he left.”
“Well, we’ll wait here,” I said, “If that’s all right…?” I could sense that things were not ‘all right’.
She bustled off to get some coffee leaving us alone in that peculiar room. I say ‘peculiar’ because, I suppose, by normal standards, the furnishings were a bit peculiar.
When Mrs. Clark returned with the coffee the air of unease returned with her. I asked where he had gone. She said, with downcast eyes, that he had ‘gone out sketching’. There was nothing odd in that.
“Where exactly has he gone?” I asked.
Mrs. Clark hesitated and glanced at my wife.
“Well come now, er…do tell us…” I persisted.
At last she said it:
“The graveyard.” Very blunt.
“Yes, Mr. Exmoor, and I don’t hold with it…it’s unnatural…”
“Oh, come now,” my wife said soothingly, “you know Rudolph almost as well as we do – I’m sure he’s not indulging any unnatural appetites for corpses, Mrs. Clark.”
Mrs. Clark smiled wearily. She was obviously worried.
“It’s not that Mrs. Exmoor, I’m sure, it’s not that…” She turned to go, stopped in her tracks and said:
“Mr. Rudolph doesn’t usually make his pictures outside – they come right out of his head…its Miss Angela, you see…”. She finished.
“Now, Mrs. Clark, what do you mean…? I asked.
“Well he’s down in the crypt – he’s drawing her crypt – he’s drawing her tomb – he won’t leave her alone – “
“He’ll get over it,” I said. He would, I was sure.
“Yes, but it’s unhealthy, Mr. Exmoor, very unhealthy. Every day, he’s down there every day. The studio is covered with hundreds of pictures – and he looks so ill.”
“Umm…” I said.
“Now, don’t you worry yourself about all this,” said my wife, “there’s no sense in both of you getting in a state, now is there? He’ll get over it, you’ll see.”
My wife – my newly acquired wife.
A beautiful, understanding, gentle girl, who, with her sister had burst into our sedentary lives about a year ago. I must resist the temptation to detail her exquisite manners, her charms, her profound, arcane learning, her hypnotic laughter, the fascinating, deep, wide eyes. Eyes like pools dark fire.
She seated herself at the piano and played a few lugubrious chords. The notes hung in the air, almost visible to my hypersensitive sensations.
I prowled around the familiar bookshelves, seeking out new additions, some rarity I could commandeer for bedside reading. There was the Vert Chartreuse of Metzengerstein, the Speculum of Giraldus, the Liber Mysteriorum and some rare works of Trithemius. These were all esoteric works on Urban Alchemy, Cryptogenealogy and the science of transformation – the companions of our eternal, sleepless nights.
“He’s taking his time,” I said, leafing through a pamphlet on the legend of The White Lady.
“He won’t be long, darling,” she said without looking up.
We waited three quarters of an hour. I lounged of the sofa idly reading the Roke pamphlet while my wife played The Engulfed Cathedral, the Treues Liebes Herz by Strauss and improvised in the manner of Scriabin. Occasionally I got up and studied the pictures hanging in plain, pale wooden frames on the ivory wall. I knew them all by heart. There were one or two of his own works, including The Astral Assumption, a priceless sketch by Delacroix, a Moreau Salome, a Bellmer, a Beardsley. I always returned to the picture by Bosch. It never failed to intrigue me. I was so easily absorbed into its landscape with its tremulous figures, its bizarre vegetal constructions, its primitive stabiles overgrown with weeds. The great birds, the Garden of Eden, the Musical Hell. So significant – a musical Hell. I felt a hand on my shoulder.
She had stopped playing – and so we stood in enraptured contemplation until he arrived, gazing at that extraordinary testament by that old Flemish master.
The door opened abruptly.
It was the first time I had seen him since the funeral. He certainly looked ill. Very ill. Too ill, I thought, to be cavorting about in a boneyard, even if his fiancée was buried in it.
He said ‘hello’ and wandered abstractedly through into the study, a portfolio under his arm.
“Too ill,” I muttered.
My wife nodded, impassively.
He drifted back and slumped listlessly into an armchair with worn damask upholstery. I poured him a coffee.
“So-so,” he shrugged, “so-so…”
And that’s how it started.
Suspicions are planted and we hardly notice. It is only when they blossom that we look back and interpret past events. Looking back on that evening I remember all too clearly the pallor of his face and the uncharacteristic scarf wound tightly about his neck. I should have noticed the scarf at the time, but I didn’t. Why not?
I don’t know.
I must assume that the spell was already upon me. Even then, yes, even then.
After all it was not an unusual evening really, – not unusual on the surface.
We drank coffee and talked about death. We talked about Angela, and Paris, and Schoenberg and Bosch. Rudolph talked a lot about Bosch, seeing in his works the signs of a decaying universe, the spectacle of humanity hysterical in the face of degenerative change. He saw man, as depicted in the paintings of Bosch, skidding along the brink of an abyss. The abyss that circumscribes the limits of normal evolution. The abyss into which the civilisation of the Middle Ages tottered, an avalanche of splinters. How he revelled in that vision. How he delighted in the knowledge that the world could only be accurately described in terms of greed and imbecility. He delighted in the word-pictures he painted for us, of men, angels and demons caught in an endless spiral of phantasmagoric cruelty. God reduced to a mere detail in the vast and grotesque enormity of his own loathsome Creation. A God finally absorbed into the spectacle of his own fantastic cosmology. He showed us a drawing or two. We listened on and off to some piano music.
That night, in bed, I lay awake, listening to Anita’s breathing, to the wind whistling down the blocked-up chimney and through the telephone wires outside. I thought I heard the rattle of bird’s wings under the eaves.
And I felt again that surge of unaccountable tenderness. That inconclusive, erratic feeling, half melancholia, half gratitude, experienced by those of us whose sensibilities are utterly alien to the common herd. In the darkness I turned to Anita and tried to get close to her. Her hands were so cold. They were always so cold. I held one of them in mine trying to visualise the bones of her long, tapered fingers, trying to understand why her flesh was always so cold. The night seemed so long. So much longer than usual because I willed away the light. I bathed in darkness, wallowed in its womb-comfort.
I love darkness and since that evening I have loved it even more deeply.
I wish for a great darkness to engulf the earth, to drown the cities of men, to eradicate the polluted daylight that damages our sight.
The next day I phoned him only to be told that he was out. He was visiting the crypt again. Mrs. Clark was even more unhappy with the situation. However, she took a message, inviting him to visit us for meal. So, later that evening, Rudolph was to be found sitting in my armchair listing to Anita playing the Treues Liebes Hertz, chain-smoking scented cigarettes. Every so often he would get to his feet and prowl the bookshelves, looking for various volumes he claimed I had borrowed from his collection and failed to return. We listened to Bartok and Schoenberg, to Varese and Webern and to a Chopin Nocturne. Rudolph reminisced about Istanbul. Drinking strong coffee he paced about the garden beneath the orb of the waning moon. He muttered about death and talked more about Bosch, that exemplary figure from the birth of our age whose paintings demonstrated the insignificance of God. I should have noticed the scarf.
That night Anita moaned softly in her sleep and turned towards me in the darkness. I could feel the cold radiating from her flesh. I reached out but felt nothing.
In my mind’s eye I could see dank tombs, wet graves, slimy stairs and the twisted perfumes of dying flowers. I was aware of the resolute stare of a lidless, alien eye. And so it went on, for a week or more. Rudolph spent more and more time in the mausoleum, but made fewer drawings than before. As the time passed Mrs. Clark began to complain that her ‘nerves’ were ‘playing up’. His behaviour, she said, was ‘unnatural’.
My nights were so restless. I was haunted by his pallid face and his throat – a red scarf wound tightly about its pristine purity. I found that I could no longer question him about his visits to the churchyard. Angela could no longer be mentioned.
One night I was bitten in the neck.
I woke with a start. I thought I heard a sharp hiss, an intake of breath. But I was so drowsy and dismissed the sound as a mere phantom of the dark. I am accustomed to such things.
Gazing at myself in the bathroom mirror the next morning I noticed a mark upon my neck. It was a roughly circular area of inflammation surrounding two distinct punctures; two tiny, tiny holes. They were quite small but glittering like fragments of glass, or so it seemed to me. There was no pain or any sensation of itching, but nevertheless I was overcome with an irresistible desire to touch the place, to caress my own neck with a strange, almost erotic, pleasure. Fascinated, I lingered before the glass for a long time thinking ‘how delicious….’.
Afterwards I returned to the bedroom to examine the scene. There were, indeed, a few minute traces of blood on my pillow. My suspicions were confirmed: I had been the victim of a vampiric assault. I was now convinced, justifiably as it turned out, that Angela was responsible for this disquieting event. She was a vampire! She had somehow ‘possessed’ Rudolph (is that the best word?), using her diabolic influence to lure him to her lair, feeding off him like a parasite. He, poor creature, was so besotted by her, so deeply under her influence, that he had voluntarily sacrificed himself. Perhaps, initially, my poor friend had resisted, but he loved her so much…now he was nearing the end. Soon he would join her in the ice-cold realm of the un-dead. Soon they would need more victims. Anita and I were in mortal danger; our very souls were at risk.
The logic was indisputable.
I knew I had to handle the situation on my own. I could not tell my wife, for I knew how fond of her sister she was. I swore to myself that she would never know the ghastly truth. I dedicated myself to silence – and took to wearing a scarf. That very evening I would go to the crypt, but not like Rudolph as a lamb to the slaughter. I was forearmed.
I knew what I had to do. I knew the procedure.
I was gripped by a strange excitement, almost exhilaration, as I spent the day researching in the City Library. I read all the latest documents on the locality. I backtracked through musty old parish records searching for some untoward clue about the church itself. Nothing came to light that, as an expert in Urban Alchemy, I had not divined already. The church itself was now rarely used as a place of worship having been replaced about ten years ago by a modern building situated two miles distant. It appears that there had a been a gradual drifting away of the population over a period of some years although I could find no orthodox social or economic reason for such a change. In the early sixties a new influx of residents led to a minor revival of the church’s fortunes, but the level of devotional attendance was still extremely low compared to the pre-war years. Sometime during the late nineteen thirties the traditional congregation had started to dwindle. My intuition told me that some uncanny occurrence had triggered these changes. I could sense danger. Perhaps I was beginning to understand why Angela had been so keen to ensure her interment in the old crypt – her interest in this overgrown churchyard and its neglected building took on a fresh significance.
That evening, as the sun was setting, I invented some excuse and set out for the church.
My route took me through the populous area of the city where the gutters were illuminated by the reflected glow of pavement braziers and all kinds of human detritus spilled out into the streets from cheap bars and public houses. Here, emaciated youths idled away the night in amusement arcades, sex shops and tattoo parlours. Women, dripping with make-up, their lips smeared with the juices of imported intoxicants, solicited passers-by with lewd gestures. Taxis painted red and yellow and black whizzed by, ferrying degraded pleasure-seekers to their destinations. The occasional tram rattled along, clanging with infernal aplomb, affording glimpses of passengers, their faces flushed with drink and fever, their eyes ablaze with lust.
How I hated the human race!
How I despised their crazed search for distraction, their depraved addiction to debauch, their crude, animal pleasures, their infantile pastimes. I was filled with such contempt I was almost sick in the road.
Very soon my path took me away from the hubbub of the centre. I descended to the lower levels by subways where lamps glimmered fitfully, where strips of tattered posters hung from damp, concrete walls. As the relative quiet enfolded me I breathed a sigh of relief, leaving the miserable pleasure-seeking crowds behind me. The lower levels may be squalid, but, for me, they were closer to reality. Closer to pain and silence. Strange feelings welled up inside me but I made an effort to blank out all response.
I must remain calm. I must be clinical.
Finally I arrived at the church. It loomed ahead of me surrounded by withered oak trees. White and grey tombstones could be seen scattered across the darkened graveyard. I stepped over the broken railings that lay in the long grass and cautiously approached this unhallowed place .
Suddenly, I froze. There was a figure, approaching the church from a different direction. I slid into the shadow case by a leering monument and watched, doing my best to ignore the creeping spider-dust that settled on my hair and shoulders. It was Rudolph, a gaunt figure – his hands clenched by his side – his movements those of a man dehumanised by circumstances beyond his reason or control. He passed so close that I could see the fiery light that burned in his eyes.
He was beyond redemption.
He must go with her.
I must destroy him as well.
It was a good fifteen minutes later that I entered the church and paused to remove my shoes.
Silence was of the essence.
Had I glanced about I would have undoubtedly been impressed by the morbid grandeur of the place. Its tarnished brass plaques, its soaring roof vaults, its battered neo-gothic screens carved with angelic figures and serpentine forms. The whole place was suffused with an occult atmosphere, an atmosphere of pulsing life-in-death.
I descended to the crypts below.
The stairway was choked with the stench of decay.
I was seized by doubt. How on earth was I going to destroy them? Can you ‘kill’ the un-dead? All modern vampire myths were insubstantial. We knew nothing.
When it came to it, could I – I who knew her when she was so alive – I who had admired her beauty – I who harboured such forbidden desires – drive a stake into her palpitating flesh? Could I do such a thing?
I wanted to flee.
I wanted to rid myself of this obsession. I wanted to dash, gasping, into the welcome embrace of oblivion. But a fanatical determination drove me on. I gripped the hammer.
I began to hear strange sounds. First, a sort of rhythmic murmuring. Then a scuffling noise like plastic dragged across stone, like dried flowers scraping across rough plaster walls. Then unearthly moaning. My heart jumped the rails. My unshod feet slipped on the rotting slime covering the stairs. My breath wheezed in stuttering, asthmatic gasps. An anaemic, yet sulphurous glow beckoned me onward. I entered the crypt. An incredible sight greeted me.
In the corner was a sarcophagus – a white marble, heavy affair – and, next to it, on the flagstones, lay the lid of the tomb. In the oblong cavity thus exposed, half in, half out of the tomb, one arm held stiffly at an angle, one hand clenching and unclenching in the stagnant air, was my friend, my last friend on earth, the only real friend I ever had – Rudolph Chrome. His other arm was wrapped tightly round the neck the neck of the creature bearing down on him – a white, ectoplasmic form both solid and transparent, a form somehow suspended above him by white, nebulous wings that stretched upwards towards the low vaulted ceiling. The ‘mouth’ of this form was fastened to his neck; the hands – white, cold talons – were buried in his flesh, gripping his ribs.
Their bodies moved together, convulsive twitches synchronised with the throbbing of the blood draining from his veins. On his contorted face was an expression of ecstasy. It was an expression I shall never forget. What was he feeling? What was he experiencing? What was he seeing? Where, if one can ask such a question, where was he? To which trans-dimensional sphere had he been transported? Where was his actual being?
Flowers lay all about. White orchids in decaying piles. Blue irises in mouldering heaps. Fragile, glacial chains of flowers hung motionless from the carved, decorated pillars. Diamond lichen gleamed between the crack sin the floor. Pale orange lilies exuded purplish fumes drifting in spirals about the walls. There were striped carrion flowers and sticky lianas hanging in drapes, in complex webs, a gleaming labyrinth of ethereal growths. I felt that this whole apparition was unreal; a phantasy generated by their frenzied actions.
Then there came a choke and Rudolph’s head fell back with a jerk as the ectoplasmic entity let him slump to the floor.
An obscene despumation of dark crimson burst forth from his neck and soaked into the blotting-paper flowers. Angela stood, or rather, hovered, in her coffin and stretched in triumph, hissing through her teeth, running her long, thin tongue over her ensanguined lips. She flung her head back, her eyes closed, craning her whole body in an impossible arc, as though inhaling the fumes that arose from the blood of her victim to mingle with the purple vapours of the vault and wrap themselves about her elongated limbs. Her wings seemed to multiply into an extending robe of white and silver plumes.
I saw a thin dribble of blood creep down the inside of her throat and spread, glowing, through her translucent body in a venous network pattern of supernatural complexity and rare, terrifying beauty. God! It was perfect! She was so perfect! Her purity seared my mind. I hid my eyes from the pain that lashed out at me. Bolts of pure feeling assaulted my senses. Vistas of carmine ice extended before the inner eye of my overwrought imagination. Flayed bodies rotated slowly in vast, yellow, golden spaces. It was as though I was engulfed by liquid metal. I gasped –
The cold gripped me.
I did not even shudder. I was rooted to the floor.
I was hypnotised – but awake.
I was alive – but it was as though my entire metabolism was suspended.
A footfall disturbed the cathedratic silence.
A hand touched my shoulder and a low, soft, musical laugh crucified me between terror and desire. The wound on my neck crawled with a will of its own as I wrestled with the desire to turn around. But I dare not – the terror, I knew, would be far worse than anything I could apprehend.
The grip on my shoulder tightened as I saw, in multidimensional space, a figure I knew so well, whose every aspect I had deluded myself into thinking I had explored with impunity.
Her charcoal hair… her violet eyes…a tall figure, so tall… towering over me as I sank to my knees. Her hands stretched out, level with her mouth, a maw lined with deadly fangs, while I buried my face between her thighs.
I saw a spinning, lidless eye.
I saw an open grave.
I saw my own blood streaming through my veins. I was about to disintegrate in a colossal spasm of naked energy and fear as her hands gripped my head and the full impact of this vision stabbed into my consciousness.
I was possessed by a sense of absolute desolation, as I floated up from the floor, to hang, suspended, in the monstrous embrace of my wife!