We should talk now, friend, about the Jeru. Those frightening guardians of the trail. I don't know if they ever had a different name, but that's how my occasional brethren refered to them. I understood the reference, but I had no idea. Back then I saw the Jeru merely as a fascinating implication. I was young, barely out of my teens. But I was ravenous. What I lacked in experience I countered with true passion, or so I thought. Spending countless hours at the Lambeth Archives, searching for curios and anomalies that had yet to sink into the liminal. One can always find such things, if you know what you're doing. It is not enough to be gifted. Both intellect and patience are virtues. Research is invaluable, even for a dreamer. Especially so, in fact. I'm grateful now that fate hammered my spirit so young, tempered me with necessary brutality. I was not so grateful back then. But as a child I had yet to find a language for the things I knew, or the truth of me. I am still cultivating this language. I would be dead many times over without such a work ethic. What I thought of then as a curse I see now as opportunity. At least in my brighter moments.
The signs of the Jeru are varied. From the ornate and decanant and thrillingly bold to the homemade and casual, but almost always skillyfully concealed in plain sight. I say almost because there are always mistakes, even with the occulted. I was clever enough as a child to realise that such mistakes were a potential way in. Mistakes are thresholds, you see, usually unrecognised by those who guard greater gates. As a criminal I am somewhat skilled at accessing things and places that should be barred to me. I take pride in this. I am human in this life, after all, and often paid terribly for such skill. I feel I have earned at least a little pride in my abilities.
Lambeth Archives is a thin place, and not merely in the sense you might imagine. It is located in the Minet Library, errected in 1890 on Knatchbull Road, only a fifteen minute walk from St John the Divine. What was then and is once more my local church. Minet was originally intended as a hall for St James the Apostle, until a gifted woman named Alice died before its completion. Her husband William, grieving his wife's death, decided it should be a library instead. It was said his beloved was so fond of books. But few know the truth of William, descended from Huguenots, or the truth of his gifted wife. Few take the time to speak to the stone and soul of a place. You see, a few weeks before Alice's death she dreamt of fire and shattered stone, and thick smoke climbing into the night. There were pages aflame, burned and scorched, drifting and dancing darkly in the air. Fifty-three years later the library was partially destroyed by an incendiary bomb. Almost twenty-thousand tomes were immolated. The Blitz claimed knowledge as well as lives. I know this all too well. But the entire area around Myatt’s Fields Park is a place out of time. Not merely in an aesthetic sense, although the area has changed very little since the 1890s. There is more to it than that. The land on which the park stands was donated by William, who loved the gifted Alice so dearly. A strained and complex love, but genuine. Or so the stones and the air told me.
During the Victorian period the name bestowed upon William's wife was eventually popularized by the publication in 1865 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by the mathematician Lewis Carroll. Despite being born nine years prior to the publication of Carroll’s novel it seems fitting that William's wife, having a measure of Sight herself, would bear that name. Stone doesn't speak the way people do. There is no linearity as such, and the logic of it is one of dream. Also, there is often a violence to the way places speak. At worst a callousness, at best an ambivalence to the brief light of lives. They are so much older than us, I suppose.
Despite all that I've seen, all that I know, I am still not certain if those of the Jeru are even partially human, in any sense of that term. But they are so very frightening, I know that much. I had been told that they could appear as any age, from any walk of life, as both male and female, or something in between. I shall tell you now about one of them.
I often walked the route to Myatt’s Fields Park with fierce attention, or in altered states. Strange places are these, but even I was shocked by what the stones at Minet told me. It was a cold winter night, with the promise of rain to come. I stood in the middle of the empty crossing at Vassall, wary of any approaching cars, and performed my communique for St John the Divine, gazing up at the tall spire against the night. Despite its grandeur the church had never been floodlit. In the night it was an imposing dark shape crouched against greater darkness, its spire like a black knife at the stars. Round into Patmos, left at Lothian, right at Calais, and on to the wrought-iron gates at the junction of Cormont.
I have broken into the park many times, for various reasons. The park itself has secrets, but this was not one of those times. Instead I circled it. Along Cormont, Knatchbull – passing the stones of Minet and struck once again by the oddness of finding such secrets so unsettlingly close to home. Fitting, I suppose. Back onto Calais, round again to Cormont and past St Gabriel’s College. I completed this circuit serval times whilst reciting Blake under my breath. I was already in an altered state, but not yet experiencing the shimmering paranoia and thrill that signals nearby import of some kind. At first it was ‘The Poisoned Tree’ as I circled. What know you of the Tree, friend? Or Poor Susan and her holy womb, or William's entire worth of words? Very little, I'd wager. Only what the desecration kings have allowed you to know. Please forgive my presumption. But it gets lonely in the pitch, as dark as the fire of empyrean. I turned then to ‘The Tyger’, and having previously grasped the roots of the poisoned tree the air began to keen. It was not heard, but felt.
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
I continued to quietly recite the poem in full as I walked, circling the fourteen acre park over and over again. As I said, patience is a virtue. Though the air keened it played with me too, tempting me to abandon such folly and return defeated to my bed. Eventually, almost two hours later, it began to rain. And I knew. I also knew the Jeru were capable, among other things, of altering the quality of the light. It's one of the ways they signal to each other, I was told. There in the darkness and rain I noticed something ahead of me. One of the lamp posts was glowing with a hue different to the rest of them. It was not the usual sodium-yellow, but a strange reddish light as though the bulb was malfunctioning, or dying. It is a strange thing to be unnerved by the quality of a street-light's illumination, to know that you've finally arrived at a hidden place. A place you probably shouldn't tread. You’re never prepared for it. I knew very little about what I would find in there, or what might happen. The Jeru are said to be frightening at best and murderous at worst. These legends are shared not just among the occulted living. Adepts among the local dead have such legends too. It is mostly from them that I learned what little I knew of the Jeru.
To know that you are blind and foolish is one thing. To feel it so immediately and vividly is another. And to realise you will not desist regardless; well, it is akin to seeing yourself from the outside. A dangerous, alien thing. I approached the house that stood beside the reddish light and I was afraid of myself. All these lives, all these names. Hiding everything from those I loved the most. What vein of well-meaning monster was I? But such thoughts were soon to fall away, for there were other monsters waiting. Far darker than I.
It was a seemingly ordinary terraced house, with no obvious sign or sigil hiding in plain sight. But then I noticed a stained-glass rose motif in the half-circle window of the front door. It was not yet illuminated, so I couldn't determine the rose's light. All the windows were dark, as though the occupant or the house itself slept as we do. But I am not sure if such things sleep at all. Already a paranoid thrill of great import was was surging through me, but with a darker kind of dread beneath it. Thresholds, and the terrain beyond them, are strange. Often one cannot discern where the exact boundaries are, where the edges end or begin. You, friend, imagine a world of ordinary space. But I tell you now there is nothing ordinary about space, or time, or self. I don't know exactly where I crossed, or what manner of thing this house was, or even if I could find it again today. But the Jeru are said to move and blend seamlessly. No rupture, no gaping wound, only an attendance to the trail. I wondered if I would die that night. I knock and wait, afraid but determined not to flee. Eventually the hallway light comes on. A woman answers the door. She is perhaps in her late forties though it is hard to tell. She is morbidly obese, and unsettlingly beautiful. Black tresses parted to one side frame her face, and fall to the ample cleavage of a dark, low-cut dress. Her face is stunning, her eyes terrifying. Every inch of her is a mockery of things I don’t fully understand. Oh God, I think, I am suicidal. She puts a hand on where her hip might be and stares at me with feral expectation.
I swallow, take a breath and recite the poet’s words aloud, careful to maintain her gaze, difficult though it is. “Oh Rose, thou art sick. The invisible worm that flies in the night, in the howling storm, has found out thy bed of crimson joy, and his dark secret love does thy life destroy.”
She smiles then, a little, but still her eyes are more than human. She peers at me, turning my fear over in her gaze; exploring it. Eventually she turns, fluidly shifting her considerable bulk to one side as she ushers me into the house. Wallpaper in the corridor that somehow reminds me of the 1970s. She leads me into a darkned living room, half lit by the crimson glow from a tall lamp shrouded with red fabric in the corner. The quality of the light is akin to the lamp post outside, only deeper. But the room seems wrong in other ways. There is a Victorian ambience, rather decadent, but also trinkets and wallpaper that remind me again of the 1970s. Much more is wrong with this room, but it is beyond my comprehension. Furniture that seems antique; velvet drapes, an ornate sofa, an elegant armchair.
Beside me, she peers. “Have you a name, boy?”
“Many,” I tell her, with feigned courage.
“Hmm. You'll be wanting some tea then. No sugar, I imagine?”
“No sugar, thank you.”
Moments later I am standing alone in this room, in this house that I am not certain is a house at all. Everything in this room is watching me, I realize. Every surface, every texture. My throat is dry, my stomach tight like a fist. Eventually I take a seat in the armchair. I feel so small in this chair, in this room. All too human. I wonder again if I’ll die tonight. It feels closer than ever before. But I’ve seen beyond death countless times, so perhaps my fear is not as acute as others. It’s more the pain I fear. The pain of a violent death. Few of us enjoy real pain. Eventually she returns with tea, as promised.
“You're still here. How incendiary.”
“I'm afraid though,” I tell her, as though I want her to like me.
“I'm fucking terrified. Can't you tell?”
"Yes." She hands me the teacup and saucer and sits down on the grand sofa, making motions as if to settle her massive bulk, but I can see that she glides.
I will not touch a drop of this tea.
“So, boy of many names, we must talk of why you came here, yes?”
“For knowledge,” I say immediately, averting my gaze. “Knowledge alone. Who put this trail in place? Not Blake. It's older than he is.”
She slaps her thigh, delighted. "Who put this trail in place? Oh, kid, you know all too well. How handsome you are. You remind me of someone..."
“The adept dead and the occulted living call your kind the Jeru,” I say quietly.
“Yes, I know of this. Such fun.”
“Honestly, I came here not to mock you, or to overstep my bounds. Only for knowledge."
“I think perhaps I do know your real name. It begins with an 'R', perhaps...”
"That's not a name," I mutter quickly. "Its a title. A pun."
She nods. "Mmm, true enough. I jest with you. I feign." She leans forward now, her frightening gaze more genuinely curious than before. "I’ve eaten many of your kind, and yet here I am before a true sinister one. How odd, Alexander. How very odd indeed. Yes, I shall call you this, because it hurts you."
"You know nothing of my stories," I say foolishly, harshly.
Her gaze narrows like a hunter. I'm afraid. "I know everything of your stories. I have you at a disadvantage. You don't remember all of it. How could you, in that flesh? Yet I show you nothing but respect. I didn’t slay you at the door. Alexander."
“That's not one of my names.”
“Fine. I don't often have visitors, writer-king. Forgive me. Stay a while. I have gingerbread in the oven..."
I force a smile, horrified. "That's cute."
“You don't come here for knowledge of the Jeru. Or Blake's madness. You come because you're a nihilist.”
“No. No, quite the opposite.”
She smiles a little, to unnerve me. “Oh really? You come for restoration, do you? For wings gleaming in the sable light of Hannah?”
“Yes. For meaning. For love.”
Her smile is wider. "You lie, Iskatherion. Oh, how you lie. What if they learn of you, angel? What then? Will they love you still? You flirt with castration, supernal one. I can help you with that." She learns forward again, grinning openly now. "Would you like a blow-job? My mouth is a star, nihilist. My throat is the rape of that love you speak of. Bombs from the sky. Burning books. Like Alice saw."
Very quietly, I beg her. "Please, I need your help. The desecration kings are changing everything, I think. The dark ones. Space, and time. Imagination. They force us into fiction. It's agony..."
She tilts her head, regarding me strangely, like I'm a child. "You wish to love her, this dead Alice, as William did? A dark secret love? What did the Archive let slip? What did the stones tell you? Magi, you will not find your maiden among the dead."
I search for words but find none. She knows more of me than I can tolerate, but not everything. Silence is solace in such moments. I wonder faintly if she will kill me.
"None can truly love you, kid, because you must lie to them. But you can love them, I suppose, in a fashion. But binding these mortal girls to your star is folly. They cannot compete with the grace you seek. Allow them their faults, their wonders."
"I do...I ask nothing of them except friendship, mutual affection."
"I know that you try, and they do admire you for it. For your kindness, your romance. They don't eat like I do. Do you wish to be eaten, my angel? In some perverted little corner of your heart? Just say the words."
"Ah, yes. The Jeru. We who guard the trail of lights hidden within the city. This architect whose name you fear. Knowledge and mystery, and such. How silly of me."
My voice is breaking now. "I don't...I don’t pretend to know who the Jeru serve, or why this trail was built, but I won't stand by and watch my city being colonized by these dark ones. I was told there were allies among the Jeru, but you seem full of hate…"
She chuckles now, amused. "Hardly. We are allies to Mankind indeed, and his heart. Yes, there are monsters among us. But then, there are monsters everywhere. Is this not so, kid?"
"Already I have opened doors for you. Already I have helped you. Given you keys. You will see, in time. If I let you leave intact, that is. So, what do you hope now? Share it."
"That I live to regret this," I mutter.
She smiles with something approaching human warmth. "You are the sweetest nihilist I’ve met so far. I suspect your hope is not in vain."
I swallow, afraid, thrilled. “Thank you. But, please…tell me one last thing.”
“It would be my pleasure, bold one.”
She grins at my rather dangerous flirtation. "When you so brazenly withhold yours from me? Scandalous."
"I…I know that you want to. I can feel it. I'll put you in my stories, if you wish it. I'll hide you, and reveal you. I won't reduce you."
She chuckles almost demurely, glancing away. "Bold is your dreaming, charmer. I am Magda, like the wife. And Edith, like the war."
Despite her concession I am not fool enough to think the power has shifted. The threat of terrible things still keens in the air between us. I rise from the armchair, quick not to overstay my welcome. She doesn't speak again but her eyes follow me as I leave the room. They follow through the wall as I hurry down the corridor and then thankfully out into the brisk night once again. I close the door behind me but I know I haven't left yet. I’m still not out of danger. In the rain the lamp post rising above me still emits a reddish light. The sky is still blacker than night should be.
I hurry away, striding, fists in my jacket pockets. Only now does the panic come; furious emotions that roil and writhe like a burning sea. I'm alive, I realise. Dear God, I’m still alive. I steal a glance back and of course all the lamp posts look the same. All shining sodium-yellow. But I can still feel things around me folding and closing and healing seamlessly. The air is not quite right yet. It isn’t until I reach Patmos Road that things adorn their cloaks and masks once more. But the rain is still falling. Truth be told I am breathless. I feel wild, sorcerous, incandescent. Skirting the very edge of death. I realized then with startling clarity just how deeply humanity is loved, and not just by me alone. We are so beloved, friends. Things cheer for us, unseen. Things that choose light over darkness that they may honour the spirit. Even things as frightening as those of the Jeru. There was more to know, countless unanswered questions, but my flesh and my fears and my crippling self-doubts had never felt so holy. Silently I called to Alice, and told her that not all the books will burn. The hidden language will live on. I swore it to her. I still fondly imagine that she heard me. Up ahead I saw the dark spire of St John rising against the darker night, signalling home.