The most memorable romantic encounters are usually those that involve an element of the unreal or the absurd; for instance, they might involve a foreign location or exotic clime, an individual that you would least expect to feel any affection for you, or maybe an unusual fetish or request. My encounter with Luke this afternoon will no doubt prove to be highly memorable for similar reasons, but the extraordinary nature of the moment is proving difficult for me to comprehend and even more difficult for me to share with you, my anonymous reader. I’m not sure how to begin writing about what happened between us today, so please bear with me while I try to explain because my time is limited; Alex is in bed, it is very late in the day and I am extremely tired, but I must write while the memories and emotions are still fresh in my mind.
I arrived at Elmfield House at 1pm this afternoon as agreed during my last phone conversation with Leonard. The neighbour’s dogs greeted me with their customary wailing (I have started speaking to them in the vain hope that they will learn to recognise my voice) and I rang the bell three times and waited patiently but no-one answered. I was about to leave when I noticed that the front door was slightly ajar. Perhaps Leonard has forgotten our arrangements, I thought, and he is expecting Luke to arrive at the house instead.
I knocked gently on the door and shouted “hello?” through the gap and my heart leapt when a familiar voice answered “c’mon in, it’s open!”. I pushed the door open to find Luke sat cross-legged on the hallway floor and dressed in full portraiture costume like a groom awaiting the arrival of his bride: white shirt, smart grey trousers and the most magnificent silver damask waistcoat that complimented his sun-caramelised skin and sun-bleached hair. Hooter was lying on the floor beside him and he was fussing and rubbing the dog’s stomach. Luke summoned me into the house and explained that Leonard had left on an urgent errand but he was expected to return in about an hour so, obligingly, I stepped into the hallway and closed the front door behind me, then took off my coat and tossed it onto the banister rail. He jumped to his feet and the dog hauled itself up and followed him into the workroom. I was reluctant to follow them at first because this would be the first time that Luke and I would be alone together, but I was too far across the threshold at that point to make my excuses and leave.
The workroom had been cleaned as though a dignitary was coming to stay; there was a distinct smell of polish in the air and the books on the floor were stacked in neater piles than usual. Leonard had clearly been preparing for Sophie’s arrival.
“So you’ve come for your next lesson…I mean ‘sitting’, then?” Luke asked, his voice echoing around the room. His body language was much more confident than usual and he waltzed around the workroom picking up items from the shelves as though he owned the house. I explained that it was just a social visit and hurried past him to take a seat in the leather armchair, resting my bag on my lap and gesturing with my hand towards Hooter who padded over and fell down with a heavy thump at my feet. My nervousness must have been evident in the extremely guarded - and yet somewhat highly flirtatious - conversation that followed.
“Do you enjoy coming here?” Luke asked as he set about shuffling the books on the lower shelf by the door. Although the books did not appear to be in alphabetical or subject order, the fact that he was rearranging Leonard's books in his absence infuriated me.
“Do you?” I laughed, “you always seem to be here!”
A broad smile crept across his face upon hearing my defiant answer and his arrogant facade softened for a second before he returned to his interrogation.
“So what do you talk about when I’m not here?” he enquired. He was beginning to sound like a jealous lover so I was deliberately cautious with my answer.
“Not much, the same general chit-chat as when you are here, I suppose. Why do you ask?”
He huffed. “He doesn’t tell you everything y’know….he holds back on things, important things...”
“Does he?” I asked, “And how do you know this?”
“Does he?” I asked, “And how do you know this?”
“Because if he didn’t then you would be different by now...”
“How would I be different?”
“You just would be,” he answered, “and it’s such a shame, because I think that he should tell you...”
“Tell me what exactly?” I persisted, exasperated at his childish game-playing.
“Tell me what exactly?” I persisted, exasperated at his childish game-playing.
“Lots of things…”
Luke finished meddling with the books and straightened up to full height. He had a domineering swagger about him that concerned me, but I was determined not to be intimidated by him. He strode over to me and sat down in Leonard’s chair and we held each other's gaze for a few moments, just looking into each other’s eyes. Luke is a fascinating individual and it is impossible not to be mesmerised by his graceful movements, his poetic but brutal language, his soft and flawless complexion and his hypnotic dark-brown eyes. The words from the enchantment spell that I was testing on him whipped through my mind and for a second I wondered who it was working its magic on!
He said that Leonard is doing an admirable job of teaching me about 'the three Ds’ - the dead, the demonic and the divine - however he is concerned that Leonard is avoiding the 'really important stuff'. I was interested to learn what exactly this 'really important stuff' is that Leonard is supposedly hiding from me and Luke was more than willing to fill me in.
He explained that Jesus was not the only miracle worker of his time and many other individuals in the first-century AD also performed healings, exorcisms and resurrections of the dead. He told me about the amazing feats of Apollonius of Tyana (a miracle-worker and contemporary of Jesus) and he named a number of other miracle-workers who performed miracles similar to those attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. He then asked me to consider whether these individuals were divinely empowered like Jesus or whether they were magicians who had cleverly mastered the art of manipulating the spirit world in order to fulfil their desires. I reached down to fuss Hooter while I contemplated my response. Should I play dumb and allow Luke to believe that he is a marvellous teacher? Or should I tell him that this is all old news? If he had not behaved so arrogantly towards me then I would have chosen the former option, but instead I answered that his question reminded me of a similar question that was posed by the philosopher Celsus and I recited the following quotation word for word just to add extra punch to my reply:
“Since these men do these wonders, ought we to think them sons of God? Or ought we to say that they are the practices of wicked men possessed by an evil demon?”
Luke was visibly aggrieved to learn that this was not the shocking revelation that he had hoped for, but I could tell from the smirk that crept across his face that he was pleased to discover that I was not as easily scandalized as he thought. Reaching across to the fruit bowl on the table to his left, he picked something up, weighed it in his hand for a few seconds and then shouted ‘clever girl!’ and hurled it at me like a fast bowler. I was pleased by my fast reactions and I caught the projectile without fumbling and losing my dignity, nevertheless Luke found my shocked expression to be very amusing and he broke into a fit of hysterical laughter. I realised that the seemingly playful act was, in truth, an aggressive display that was intended to destabilise my defensive attitude towards him, but rather than exacerbate the tension between us any further, I fought back the sharp words that were on the tip of my tongue and calmly thanked him for – what at first I thought was a red apple but under closer inspection turned out to be a pomegranate - then cradled the pomegranate delicately on my lap and explained in my most sarcastic tone that I had just eaten lunch, besides I was reluctant to eat it in case it was an object from one of Leonard's still-life drawings.
Luke sat forward in his chair and unbuttoned his waistcoat, then carefully removed it and laid it over the arm of the chair. “Right, before we begin, let me see…” he said as he perused Leonard’s old pipe rack, selected the nearest pipe, put it to his lips and sat back in his chair, sucking on the dry pipe like an old professor contemplating a complex philosophical problem in his study. I laughed at his comical impression and the tense atmosphere in the workroom relaxed for a moment. Maybe Luke doesn’t mean any offence after all, I thought to myself, maybe this is just his awkwardly pretentious attempt at being an entertaining host. He took a second to puff dramatically on the pipe, causing me to giggle unintentionally, and then he set it down on the table to continue our discussion.
“Well then, as you are evidently familiar with the ‘other Jesuses’ of the ancient world,” he said, “let me ask you this....has Leonard ever mentioned the spirit of Jesus?”. I looked down at the pomegranate in my lap and ran my fingers over the thick red skin of the fruit. “The spirit of Jesus? Not that I can recall...” I replied. It wasn't a lie, I genuinely couldn’t remember, but Luke gave me a suspicious look nonetheless and mumbled that “it’s not the kind of lesson that is easily forgotten”.
He said that the New Testament writings reveal that the disciples, the Jewish exorcists and a number of other individuals (many of whom were not followers of Jesus) exorcised demons using Jesus’ name during Jesus’ lifetime and this practice continued long after Jesus’ death. Since many anonymous exorcists successfully employed this method of exorcism, Luke argued that the relationship between the exorcist and the person of Jesus appears to be irrelevant and the name itself must have possessed magical properties. I asked how the name ‘Jesus’ could be singled out as a magical word since it was a common name in the first-century AD and Luke agreed that ‘Jesus’ was a common name during the period, however he said that the names of popular individuals or gods were often accorded a magical status and this was achieved through a process known as glorifying - or hallowing - a name until it was transformed into a magical word. It appears that by associating the name of a god or a well-known individual with the performance of miracles and wonders, the name of that god or person would gradually assume a mystical quality over time and it would eventually be accepted as a magical word of power in itself, which explains why the names of individuals considered to be successful exorcists - such as Jesus and Solomon - were used by the magicians and miracle-workers of the New Testament era in their exorcism rituals and these names frequently appear in the exorcistic texts in the magical papyri.
Luke then pointed out that some exorcists/magicians may have used the name of Jesus not because they believed that the name itself held magical powers or they hoped to ‘piggy-back’ on the reputation of a successful exorcist, but because they genuinely believed that they were employing the spirit of Jesus in their magical operations. He asked me to recall what Leonard has taught me about the spirits of the dead - particularly the fate of the violently and prematurely killed – and he drew my attention to the fact that Jesus’ violent and premature death on the cross satisfies all the criteria for the creation of an extremely powerful biaiothanatos spirit. This was quite a shocking thought, but Luke said that the magicians of antiquity were fully aware of this and they attempted to exploit Jesus’ spirit as a valuable biaiothanatos for their magical operations (he mentioned a report in the Martyrdom of Pionius which states that magicians competed for the spirit of Jesus following his crucifixion because they considered him to be a biaiothanatos and readily accessible through magical means).
Although Luke was prone to drift off into humour and bravado at every turn, I could tell from his terminology and his enthusiasm for his argument that he had spent a lot of time in Leonard’s company. It was like hearing Leonard speaking through him and I was beginning to enjoy listening to him speak, however Luke’s enthusiasm for our discussion waned at that point and he seemed distracted, glancing over to his side and snatching the pipe from the table and inspecting it carefully as though it had called his name or sounded a silent alarm. The sudden movement made me flinch, but I tried my best to maintain composure. He was lost in his thoughts as he studied the pipe and then he exhaled loudly and said “unfortunately for these magicians, Jesus had absolutely no intention whatsoever of becoming a miserable and wretched spirit simply waiting to be plucked out of the underworld by an ambitious magician. He was much, much smarter than that. But be honest, Helen…wouldn’t you give everything...and I mean everything....to have the spirit of Jesus, or another powerful spirit, at your beck-and-call? Just imagine it...complete control over your own personal spirit that is obedient to your every whim....”
“Well I expect it would come in very handy indeed…” I answered, maintaining an air of indifference.
He smirked, then fixed on me with an unnerving stare and began to sing: “Your own…personal…Jeeesus…”
My apologies. I am eager to tell you about everything that took place this afternoon but I fear that I may get upset if I attempt to explain what happened next. Besides it is almost midnight now so I will write again in the morning.