I have crossed paths with many monsters in my life. They are all terrifying, but some far more than others. When you walk among the occulted you must be cognizant, above all things, of the war. The war rages mostly unseen to those dayworld souls who aren’t forced to hide in the fiction. But to the occulted, to those who don’t have the luxury of supposed plain speaking, the battles in this war are something we must learn to live with. In this war of imagination you learn to choose your battles wisely, or else find yourself desecrated upon dark altars of which the dayworld souls know nothing. Stories, spirits, dreams and wraiths walk among you always. They interact in a staggering variety of ways, intimate with all of us. Imagine what it must be like, friend, to kill with true impunity. To do whatever you like to whomever you like, and to suffer no consequences. The notion is chilling for a number of reasons. Yes, there are individuals among the elites of this world, occulted or otherwise, who have such power. But I’m suggesting something far darker than that. Recovering the lost takes its toll on even the hardiest souls, but being privy to the process by which something or someone becomes lost is an endlessly nightmarish world in which to dwell. It is the real world, you see. A realm that the day-lit souls would call supernatural. But there are no true boundaries between this world and any other, and those of us among the occulted have the scars to prove it. One might imagine that things are only lost through lack of information, through gaps in knowledge, and this is often the case for a sun-lit psyche. But sometimes things can become lost right in front of you. It can drive you close to madness, or further, bearing witness to such things. It is frightening to watch something literal become something ephemeral.
It never stops being frightening.
Once, in my late twenties, I was out nightwalking. The night is my time and as a youth I grasped that I would have to extensively explore London in darkness, for survival if nothing else. I knew of the horrors hiding in the night, but also I knew of its beauty. I wanted to know everything I could of its language, its moods and secrets. Because I still believe that I’m not just one of the occulted. I’m not simply a soldier in a hidden war. I’m also an artist, or I try to be. I had to find something more than just the war. I had to seek beauty on the battlefield. I suspect I would have been slain long ago without such a temperament. But on this particular night, unlike most nights, I wasn’t alone. My aunt and I were taking a leisurely walk down Brixton Hill, on our way to The Ritzy opposite the town hall. They were screening a selection of low-budget independent films. We were undecided on which film to see and were planning to rock-paper-scissors our way to a final decision. I always enjoyed talking literature and cinema with her. Despite hiding everything I am from everyone I loved I sought to forge emotional bonds with them, as genuine as I could make them under the circumstances. My mother’s youngest sister was a true friend to me in those days, and I valued that friendship greatly. As she expounded on the book we’d read most recently I was trying to simultaneously soak up the wealth of sounds and scents and images around us, like always. The rhythmic chaos of car tires on asphalt, the screech of buses passing like red ships on a black river. The white eyes of approaching headlights, the red eyes receding. The smell of exhaust fumes, the scent of kebabs and frying fish from the takeaways. Other pedestrians, people afraid to make eye contact.
It was on the corner of Brixton Water Lane opposite Corpus Christi that we heard his awful wailing suddenly pierce the night, halfway between sobs and screams. A naked white guy, perhaps in his mid-thirties, literally covered in blood. I froze on the curb, my stomach lurching at the sight. And my first thought was murder. He had killed someone, or found someone killed.
“Oh God, Jesus! Oh fuck…oh Jesus God!”
I have seen so many things in my life, but I'd never seen terror like in that naked man's eyes. Like he'd witnessed hell itself, like he would never be sane again. He was half running, half staggering, towards one of the phone boxes on the corner. The blood was everywhere; his neck, his torso, his arms and legs. It wasn’t his blood. My first instinct was to hurry to him, to help him somehow, but my aunt grabbed my arm.
"Are you fucking crazy?" she admonished with terror in her voice, tugging at my arm in an effort to get me moving again. We crossed Brixton Water Lane and kept walking. But both of us couldn't help peering over our shoulders as the blood-drenched naked man wailed and stammered into the public phone inside that glass box.
"...she’s dead...my…my girlfriend! Oh fuck…oh Jesus Christ..."
I felt truly awful for walking away because I knew it was no chance occurrence that we were witnessing this, and yet I let my aunt's firm grip on my arm dissuade me from my better instincts. I told myself that if I’d been alone I would’ve gone to him. I still believe that. No police cars raced past us on our way to the cinema, despite both of us half expecting them at any moment.
For the rest of the night everything felt stilted and wrong. We watched the movie and went for dinner afterwards, but the conversation was minimal. We spoke in hushed tones, glancing at one another like we were guilty of inaction; trying to convince ourselves it was such a rare and frightening sight that anyone would have reacted the way we did. I couldn't speak for her, but in my heart I knew I’d contravened my own moral code. I touched the little silver cross at my throat; for comfort, in shame.
Sometimes things appear in my life that seem to warp the very fabric around me with a kind of dark gravity. This was such a time. That night I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I saw him, I heard him. Staggering and stumbling and completely covered in what I knew was human blood. Wailing into the phone about his dead girlfriend. A million questions were spinning in my head as I lay there. Had he killed her, or found her killed? There must be a crime scene now, I imagined. Brixton Water Lane must be cordoned with tape and lit with the blue neon of police sirens as I lay in my bed. I knew I’d witnessed the blood-drenched man for a reason, but I walked away like a coward. His terror had been all too real.
Despite myself I tried to forget about him. I went to work, I went to lectures. I smoked joints with my girlfriend and drank with our friends. But the mental image of that man – the gravity of that image – seemed to hang like something unfurling dark wings above me. It wasn't until nearly a week later that I realized couldn't take it anymore and was compelled to return to where my aunt and I had seen him.
In the afternoon daylight the crossroads on Brixton Hill seemed perfectly ordinary. Not at all like the disturbing atmosphere of that night. The road wasn’t cordoned with police tape. Not an officer in sight. There was no trace of blood anywhere on the pavement. Despite the time that had passed I knew that something was profoundly, terrifyingly wrong. I tried to attune myself to the energies around me but could discern nothing. I went into the phone box on the corner and picked up the receiver just as he had done. Still, I could intuit very little. All I could detect now was a kind of fading hum like an orchestra in the echo of the closing notes. But the hum didn't seem to fade. It hung in the air, perpetual somehow. I wasn't sure at all what I was sensing, if anything. Softly I muttered a few of the words I’d heard him speak, as I held the receiver to my ear.
"She’s dead...my girlfriend...oh God."
Still nothing besides the hum. It was frustrating. I knew I was usually better than this. I told myself that it was some kind of psychic reaction to shock. There was no trace of blood anywhere in the booth either. I left the phone box and stood on the corner, glancing around at the dayworld souls and their dayworld concerns. Across the street Corpus Christi sat brooding on the corner of Trent Road, but the church didn’t seem as oddly menacing as it does at night. Being very fond of churches I'd been inside Corpus Christi a few times in my youth, but I always found it unsettling in a way I couldn’t really define. It never comforted me in the way other churches did. I came to suspect that the place held unpleasant secrets hidden from even the occulted. But then, so many churches do. I sighed and turned, peering down Brixton Water Lane. I realized I could head that way to eventually reach my aunt's place. I had recently painted the entire flat for her and still had a set of keys. Normally we spoke on the phone all the time, but several days had passed and neither of us had called the other since that night.
I lit a cigarette and began heading down Brixton Water Lane. About halfway down the road my blood ran cold. A white guy, mid-thirties, sitting on the steps of a Victorian semi-detached house. Dressed in jeans and a dark red t-shirt, a book in his hand, smoking like I was. The guy from the other night. I was absolutely certain of it. The image of his face, his terrified eyes – it was scorched onto my brain. I could've picked him out of a crowd. It's not something you forget. But it was more than that. The air around me felt pregnant with something. Not the odd hum I'd felt minutes earlier. Something else. His expression was content, almost serene as he sat on the steps, smoking and reading, occasionally glancing up and closing his eyes to feel the breeze on his face. No trauma or loss in his expression. Just a normal guy sitting with a book and a cigarette.
"Oh God…" I murmured to myself. Suddenly I felt crazy, completely insane. This couldn't be the guy, my human reason tried to assure me. But I knew in my bones it was him. I could feel it. Desecration, I thought, and I was afraid because I knew what that could mean. I didn't think twice about it. I immediately dropped my own cigarette and crushed it beneath my shoe. I removed a fresh one from the pack in my pocket as I approached the house. The tips of my fingers were cold now. The familiar tingle was creeping along the nape of my neck, down my shoulder blades.
"Excuse me, mate? You got a light?"
He glanced up and smiled amicably. "Sure, mate. Sure."
He gestured for me to come over. I reached the steps and he leaned forward to hand me the lighter.
I stole a glance at the book he was reading. An Accidental Man, by Iris Murdoch. I sparked the cigarette, handed him back the lighter and began glancing around like I was confused. Inside I was close to panic but I didn't let it show.
"I used to live round here when I was a kid but I'm a bit lost to be honest."
He chuckled. "Brixton boy like me, eh? Where you trying to get to?”
“Tulse Hill Estate. Supposed to be meeting my girlfriend, for a talk. Not looking forward to it, to be honest.”
He grinned and nodded like he could relate. “Just follow the road to the end. Turn right and keep going. You’ll find it. Hope it works out.”
“Nice one…?” I extended a hand and he shook it with a smile.
“Sam. And you?”
“Alex,” I lied. “Nice one, Sam. Take it easy. Wish me luck. I think I’m gonna need it.” I began walking away, glancing over my shoulder at him.
He grinned again. “Single life, Alex. Worse comes to worst, it isn’t too bad. Get to be your own boss and everything!”
I forced a smile and raised a hand to him, but inside I was close to losing it completely. I didn’t go to my aunt’s place. I headed straight back home.
In a mild state of panic I attempted to busy myself with dayworld chores and concerns until I guessed my aunt would be home. When I finally called her I was very careful in my approach as I led her to recount that night. She remembered nothing. For her we had a casual stroll, a movie, then dinner and drinks interspersed with fun conversation. My heart was racing but we continued to chat like nothing was wrong. And then, without suggestion from me, she spoke of a bad dream she had a few nights earlier. She could remember very little except darkness and shards of broken mirrors on the ground. She recalled feeling afraid but couldn’t remember why. I would often press my family and friends about their dreams but in this case I didn’t have to. I mentioned nothing about what we had both witnessed that night.
When dusk began to gather beyond my windows I knew I had to make preparations for Amma. I could see no other way to quickly gather the insight I needed. It began as always with simple meditation, breath work and visualisation. I didn’t often attempt to contact Amma in this way unless absolutely necessary. We had a special place we would meet, if the occasion called for it.
St Agnes in Kennington had once lain derelict since the forties; a strange and haunted place. I know this because the bombed ruins frightened and fascinated me as a child. We lived nearby and the derelict church was a regular feature of my life back then. Until one day, in my teens, the ruins of St Agnes inexplicably vanished and a different building with the same name was standing undamaged in its stead. I remember how afraid and alone I felt. Both my mother and my sister never recalled anything being different. Nobody did. Now history will tell you the bombed church was demolished in the late forties and another erected in its place in 1958. The original church was never allowed to fall into disrepair well into the nineties; a rotting, forgotten shell fenced off on the edge of the park. But I for one remembered the ruins of St Agnes. I eventually found a few others who did too, who spoke to me in hushed voices about it. It was a place the local squatters often explored at night, and a few of them still remembered. But you will find no history of it being left derelict until the nineties, only rumours among the occulted now. But the old ruined church still exists in the dreaming, if you can find it.
I wait for Amma there, among the ruins, peering up through the partially collapsed roof at stars in the night that don’t look like stars at all. Instead they appear as frozen fireworks, swirling patterns of multi-coloured lights like birthing galaxies above me. Wind moves and whistles through the shattered places of St Agnes. I feel it on my skin as vividly as I would in the physical. I sit on a step near the altar, staring at a broken statue of a crucified Christ on the wall that has been sheared at the pelvis. Only his legs and the lower portion of the cross remain affixed to the crumbling church wall. His upper half is broken in several pieces on the ground among rubble and shadows. Unsettled, I touch the silver cross at my throat for comfort. I wait for the witch to arrive. I try to be patient, with shadows and columns and broken statuary all around me.
Finally she comes, walking slowly down the aisle. Only a shadow among shadows at first, until the shape resolves itself into a human form. Amma is barefoot, clad in ankle and wrist bracelets and skirts of dark cloth. But her slender brown torso is naked. Her shoulders, breasts and stomach are inked with intricate tattoos. Pattern, symbol and script. I still don’t know how old she is, or was. At times she appears to be in her fifties or sixties and sometimes she seems no older than thirty. Tonight she appears to be in her mid-forties. A silver nose-ring, a mess of black hair braided in places and flecked with grey. Already I can feel her hesitation, her fear. Amma is rarely afraid. This makes me nervous.
“Hello, Paul. It’s good to see you.”
Amma once told me that when we speak together we often do so in a mixture of Arabic, Hindi and Sanskrit, and occasionally bits of Hebrew, but she never told me why, or how this was even possible. To my ears she speaks English perfectly but with a faintly muddled accent suggestive of many travels.
“It’s good to see you too,” I tell her. I mean it, despite the uneasiness I feel between us. I’m too anxious to continue with pleasantries. “Was this Bracken? Out there on Brixton Water Lane that night? Was that his work?”
She kneels before me as I sit there on the step, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Listen to me, poet. As your friend I strongly advise that you walk away from this.”
I narrow my gaze at her. “What?”
There is a pleading kind of sadness in her eyes. “Haven’t I proved myself to you as a real friend, Paul? Haven’t I earned it?”
“Yes,” I admit through gritted teeth.
“Then hear me now. These lesser dark ones are no match for you. I know how brave and strong you are. But this is something else. Something beyond my complete understanding. I fear if you press too hard with this you will be eaten by it. I’m not saying this to frighten you, Paul. I’m saying it because it frightens me.”
Annoyed, I shrug her hand from my shoulder. “What kind of answer is that? I called out for your help. I only do that when necessary. Just tell me if this is Bracken. I’ll decide what’s pressing too hard.”
She peers sadly at the floor. “It’s not this near-immortal you speak of. I don’t think it’s a man responsible for what you saw. The shape of a man, perhaps. But only the shape.”
“Then what? Not a wraith. A lesser king? Tell me. Please don’t lie to me, Amma. Not you. Not after everything.”
“Paul, this is exceptionally dangerous…”
I scowl at her and rise to my feet, walking away a little and then turning suddenly to face her. She is still kneeling by the steps, frowning up at me.
“I don’t understand you,” I practically growl. “I don’t understand any of you among the dead. Haven’t I been sufficiently respectful? You came to me, remember? You inserted yourself into my life. Do I interrogate you about your past, your pain? I’m not a fool, Amma. You can play wise and exotic and transcendent all you want. But I know you’re still running from things, like all of us. Guilt, shame. Do I try to open those wounds? No. I accept you. You still know far more about me than I do about you. That isn’t fair, but I accept that too. So, what aren’t you telling me? And why?”
She rises to her feet and I see her eyes flash with something ancient and frightening. But it isn’t intentional. I know she doesn’t mean to scare me.
“Please don’t be angry with me, poet. I hate it when you’re angry with me.”
“Then treat me like the friend that you claim I am.”
She nods, glancing away. “It occludes itself. It hides, in the light. In the fiction. But not like we do. It takes a lot of power to hide from me, or those like me. So yes, I’m afraid. For you. Flesh comes apart so easily, Paul. You don’t have the luxuries afforded to my kind. You know that.”
I sigh and gaze up through the half-collapsed roof of St Agnes at stars like multi-coloured galaxies in the night. “This isn’t the first time,” I tell her. “I’ve heard stories like this before from other spirits. I never thought I’d see it with my own eyes. It’s killing with impunity, isn’t it? Slaughtering whomever it wants, and then folding space somehow…stealing memories from those that survive. Right?”
“I believe so, yes. Or something much like that.”
“And the bright ones do nothing? They let it happen, these guardians?” I cannot mask the bitterness in my voice.
“Paul, you know nothing is that simple. I feel your horror, truly I do. That’s why I came here to warn you. Step away from this, brave one. This isn’t a battle either of us can win.”
I return my gaze to her and chuckle cynically. “Aren’t you supposed to be a fucking witch?”
“I am a fucking witch,” she retorts at my childishness, her expression a mixture of annoyance and sympathy. “But I’m a spirit. You are flesh. And it is flesh this thing craves. Ruined flesh. Blood, and fear. Why else would I warn you, or tell you to walk away?”
I laugh darkly again. “So the dead don’t want to see me die? How sweet.”
“Don’t be like this, poet. I don’t want to see you suffer. I don’t want to see you tortured and gutted upon the altar of something that I don’t fully understand. We aren’t talking about these lesser monsters. These wraiths and demons. We’re talking about something darker and older than all of them. If it can hide so well from me and others like me, then I think my concern for you is more than warranted. Can you honestly not see that?”
“And what about the others?” I ask her, my voice stern. “What about the girlfriend of this man I saw, and all the others like her? Do they not matter? Just more collateral damage in a spiritual war? Fuck that.”
She shakes her head, disappointed. “You sound like a child, Paul. This righteous blindness of yours, this hero-complex, it will get you killed eventually. And you are far too valuable to fall at such a young age.”
“I don’t want to hear this I’m too valuable bullshit again, Amma. Seriously. You weren’t there. You didn’t see the horror in that guy’s eyes. You didn’t feel the gravity of it. The sheer wrongness. And he remembers nothing. Literally nothing.”
She closes the gap between us and takes my hands. “Isn’t that better, in its way? He doesn’t suffer the memory of his slaughtered beloved.”
I pull my hands away; angry, almost tearful. “No, it’s not better. How can you even suggest that? It’s sick. She was stolen from him, like she never existed. This whole fucking world is just so incredibly sick…”
Tears are welling in my eyes now. “Sometimes I wish I was dead, you know.”
“I know,” she replies quietly. “But the dead continue to exist. We suffer too, just differently.”
“I’m going to hunt this thing, Amma.”
“Please don’t, Paul. I beg you.”
“And supposing you find it? What then? You told Althea you’re not an executioner, remember?”
“Maybe I fucking lied.”
I can feel her fear for me. Her eyes shine with pleading desperation. “Poet, I beg of you. Listen to me. You have no knowledge of how to slay this thing, or even if it can be slain. Don’t imagine yourself as greater or stronger than you are. You’re not long out of boyhood, and I fear this thing is older than the Earth itself. You are a not a god, Paulie. No matter how righteous your rage. You’re flesh. And flesh can suffer terribly. Believe me, I know.”
I don’t look away from the genuine concern in her eyes. I hold her gaze, to show her I won’t be swayed. “You keep saying that we’re friends, that we’ve always been friends. So prove it. Have my back. Watch over me.”
She gives me a sad, bemused smile. “I will most certainly try, Paul. I always do.”
I leave the derelict church, and the dreaming, returning to the haunted world in which I dwell. The real world, full of monsters and secrets and abhorrent brutality.
Time passed, my dayworld life resumed. But I didn’t stop searching. I didn’t stop hunting. Months passed, then more, then more still. I called my occasional brethren to gather. I consulted adepts among the local dead, then further afield. I followed every connection and resonance. Eventually I learned of Elsie Bryant, and the perceptual fracture that seemed to surround her. As some told it, ten year old Elsie had been hit by a train several years earlier. Others said she had drowned when she was only six years old. But there were some, far fewer in number, who claimed that Elsie had been stolen by an angel the year before; an angel that walked as men walk. The angel had slaughtered the child’s parents, they said. But very few could remember the truth. I can still recall their fear as they spoke of it, and my chill upon hearing it. I knew Corpus Christi was a part of this somehow; the church on the crossroads, directly opposite Brixton Water Lane where my aunt and I had seen Sam covered in blood that night. But despite my furious research the exact connection to Corpus Christi continued to elude me. Occasionally I imagined I could feel Amma at my shoulder, willing me to walk away from all this. But she knew me better than that.
It wasn’t until I saw an elderly woman on the tube one evening, reading a copy of An Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch, that I knew I was close. It had been almost nine months since that night. Sam had been reading the same novel when I met him on the steps of the house, wearing a t-shirt that was the same colour as the spilled blood of the girlfriend he could no longer remember. I asked the elderly woman on the tube what she thought of the book. Of course, I’d read it carefully since. I’d searched its pages. The woman told me she was enjoying it, then mentioned her daughter and what a lovely time at Wanstead Flats they’d had the day before. I was all too familiar with Wanstead Flats. My girlfriend at the time lived close to the area, so the connection felt personal. My intuition was screaming at me now, and I was afraid. But I was not going to drag my girlfriend into any of this. Already she knew too much about me. I was not about to risk her life, or pull her too closely to my world.
The next afternoon I went to Wanstead Flats alone, on little more than a whim. A willingness to chase even the most seemingly tenuous of connections. I knew that meeting the elderly woman on the tube had been highly significant. If something was trying to talk to me I was willing to listen. I wandered by the edge of the lake and thought about the name Iris, and the fact that it was also my maternal great-grandmother’s name. Eyes, sight, perception. I smoked too many cigarettes. I skimmed stones across the water. I thought about little Elsie. I tried to imagine what she and her parents might’ve been like as a family. I said a prayer for them, and all the others who had been slaughtered or stolen by this thing the spirits called an angel. It frightened me, just the thought of it. I prayed that somehow these lost ones would find their way home. I lifted the silver cross from my throat and kissed it. I spent several hours on the flats, most of it by the lake. As twilight finally started to descend I decided to begin the journey home. But as I headed across the flats I noticed a man with his dog on a lead. The dog was pissing against the foot a tree as the man held an open book in his hand, squinting to read as the sky darkened. And somehow I knew he would be reading Iris Murdoch. Not the same novel Sam and the woman from the tube had been reading, but something else by the same author. As I passed by the man I felt the familiar chill on the nape of my neck, when suddenly he closed the book and I was able to catch its title. The Time of the Angels, by Iris Murdoch.
“Fucking hell…” I murmured. I kept walking but circled back to the tree once the man and his dog had gone. The sky was even darker now, luminous bands of twilight deepening into night.
There was a little hollow in the tree, I realized, at about chest height. A dark cavity in the bark. My mouth was dry. The air around me felt pregnant with something more oppressive than I was prepared for. But I reached into that little hollow in the tree and my fingers curled around something hard and flat wrapped in paper. I removed the square of glossy folded paper, slightly damp at the edges. Not quite believing what was happening I unfolded the piece of paper and realised it was a page torn from a book. There was a silver key nestled within. I swallowed, trembling. The key was heavy but slightly smaller than a house key, as though it might open a locker or a sturdy toolbox of some kind. There was an image on the unfolded page. A reproduction of an iconic photograph that I was familiar with. A black & white photograph of a young girl lying in the grass, hand under her chin, as what appeared to be fairies danced in front of her. The Cottingley Fairies hoax from 1917. Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright.
Elsie, like Elsie Bryant.
My stomach was tight now with an awful kind of dread, as I realized that someone or something had led me here intentionally. This thing, this angel, was aware of me somehow. Panic began to flood my system as I peered down at the image on the page and the silver key that had been concealed within it.
“Oh Fuck…” I murmured, glancing around suddenly like I was being watched. This was not chance, not meaningless coincidence. I knew that. Suddenly I felt tiny, foolish and utterly inconsequential.
I felt like prey.
I refolded the page with key inside and stuffed them into my pocket, turned and began striding as fast as I could across the flats in the direction of Leytonstone Station.
For several weeks I existed in a state of consuming paranoia. I thought countless times about getting rid of the key and the Cottingley photograph. But I didn’t. Was I really as stubborn and suicidal as Amma feared me to be? Still, I couldn’t let it go. Thoughts of blood-drenched men stumbling horrified though the dark filled my days. Thoughts of Elsie Bryant and her family, Sam’s girlfriend and all the others I would never be able to name. At times I could almost feel Amma begging me to get rid of the key. The witch was nothing if not persistent. But I went back to Leytonstone many times, often to see my girlfriend and pretend some semblance of a normal life, and sometimes to wander the streets alone at night, searching for sign and sigil concealed in plain sight. The paranoia felt like dark wings unfurling somewhere in the skies above me. Almost six weeks after finding the key I found myself staring in fear one night at a graffiti on a wall not far from Elim Pentecostal Church. The word was faded but still red and visible.
Like a madman I didn’t turn around immediately and go home. Instead I kept walking, the air shimmering strangely around me. I thought then of what Magda Edith told me several years before. You don’t come for knowledge of the Jeru, or Blake’s madness. You come because you’re a nihilist.
Eventually I found myself at the top of a strip of road without pavements that seemed to curve down a little hill, row after row of garages on either side. I could see the tops of houses beyond them in the darkness stretching all the way down to the foot of the little hill. There were only a few streetlights on this odd little path, spaced far enough apart to dissuade cautious nightwalkers from using it as a shortcut. I wasn’t so cautious. I found myself walking down that dark and slightly curving path, staring at the many garages as I passed them. Some were modern with glossy metal doors that slid or rolled upwards when you opened them. Others were older with two wooden doors, a dark little window in each. A few of them looked filthy, like they hadn’t been used or opened in years. It wasn’t panic that filled me now, but a strange ebbing and rising compulsion. I felt as though I were almost moving underwater.
When I found it, I knew. A wide door with flaking black paint and a smaller door within the larger one. No windows. It seemed like one of the oldest garages but I saw that the lock was newer than the door itself. I felt almost certain the key would fit but I just stood there for a while, peering at the garage in front of me on this dark little road. My stomach was tight at the thought of even pulling the key from my pocket. I still didn’t know who or what had led me here. I was afraid and could feel the strangeness all around me.
A presence, watchful and alien. Dark wings.
Eventually I took the key from my pocket and slipped it into the lock for the smaller door. Despite myself I gasped when the key turned. If I ran now I would never forgive myself. I didn’t want to falter at the threshold. I was afraid but my heart wasn’t pounding. I felt icy and foreign to myself, like I could feel my own madness almost objectively. I pushed open the door, stepped inside and closed it behind me.
Nothing lunges at me, but I know I’m down deeper than ever before. No torch, not even a lighter on me tonight. I silently pray that Amma is with me right now, but I cannot feel her. I’m not certain this darkness around me is what dayworld souls would call ordinary space. The floor feels soft. I fumble around blindly for a wall, for a light switch. I feel what I think is one and click it. The interior of the space is softly illuminated in the pale greenish light from a single bulb on the wall. I inhale sharply. Mirrors. There are mirrors everywhere. The entire garage is soundproofed with black foam. Mirrors of various sizes affixed to the walls and floor and ceiling. Some of the smaller ones at the corners are framed, but the largest ones act as centrepieces and have been inlaid, frameless, into the foam itself.
“Holy Mother of God…” I murmur, as the reality of what I’m actually seeing begins to sink in. This is not a dream. I’m really standing here. There is nothing in this space besides black foam and polished mirrors. I feel all too human now, and the fear all too visceral. Run, my fear tells me. Fucking run, now.
I can feel the sweat on my brow, my chest and back. But I don’t run. I fight it. I think of Sam, naked and covered in his girlfriend’s blood, on the corner of Brixton Water Lane. The horror and terror in his eyes. I think of lost Elsie Bryant and her slaughtered parents, spoken of in hushed tones by the fearful dead. I think of all the nameless others.
“Fuck you,” I hiss through clenched teeth, like an impetuous adolescent. I cautiously step onto the largest mirror inlaid in the foam floor. “You hear me, whatever the hell you are? Fuck you. I’ll let you in on a little secret, you fucking coward. I’ve been murdered before. More than once. I’m not a god, not like you. But I’m not exactly a man either…”
Silence in this darkened space tinged with greenish light. Nothing answers me, but I know I’m being watched somehow. Not by human eyes, or hidden cameras, but by something that doesn’t need eyes to see.
My hands become fists. “If you want to come for me, then come for me. If you want to kill me, then kill me. But I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid of the uncertainty, yes. The not knowing, but not you.” Quietly I add, “You’re a sick fuck. The world is full of them. Nothing special, really. I wanted to tell you that.”
I glance down and notice a spider crawling along the frame of one of the smaller mirrors on the floor. The spider is about half the size of my hand. It moves slowly and purposefully along the golden frame. I don’t move a muscle, my body rigid with fear and rage and determination. I watch as the spider crawls from the frame and onto the polished surface of the mirror. But it doesn’t touch the surface. It appears to crawl through the mirror itself, onto the reflection of the frame. I inhale slowly, shakily. I continue to watch until the spider in the reflection crawls out of sight. I am not sure if I have just seen an angel or an insect, but I know I must leave this place now.
“I’ll be waiting for your knife,” I say quietly. “Or your complete absence, but nothing in between.”
I turn, switch off the light and leave the space. I lock the door, toss the key into the bushes and stalk away past the other garages and back up the dark curving path to the top of the little hill.
I never tried to find that road again. I cleansed myself, in ritual. I tried to let go of it as best I could. Some weeks later Amma came to me in dream, in the ruins of St Agnes. Her smile was full of relief and affection. She told me I was crazy and foolish and very brave. But I have never felt brave. I’ve only ever felt determined at best. I told her that I will die before I let the desecration and ugliness of this world define me or my choices. She took my hands, kissed them, wrapped her knuckles playfully against my skull and told me again how sweet I was, how valuable. I’ve never felt particularly valuable either, far from it in fact.
But I care, I know that.
Sometimes I still wonder if it will come for me one day. I wonder if it still watches me, and rages. For a while I kept the torn page that I’d found concealed in the hollow of that tree. I kept it for a number of months, until it felt right to get rid of it. The black & white photograph of a girl in 1917 watching fairies dancing in the grass. It reminded me to pray for Elsie Bryant and her parents, for Sam’s girlfriend and the others I would never know about. I prayed to Agnes, to Christ and God, to any loving spirit that could hear me. I hope Elsie and the others found their way back to their loved ones somehow. If not, I hope the mystery of this staggering dreamtime is grand enough and kind enough to grant them that eventually. I pray this ugliness and desecration shall not define any of us, or extinguish our light. Friends, true angels, I humbly ask that you pray for it with me.