An Unexpected Day Out

Thursday, 30 September

The air was tense when I arrived at Elmfield House on Tuesday morning. My repeated ringing of the doorbell went unanswered so I opened the front door and entered the workroom to find Leonard and Luke embroiled in a fierce disagreement. I had interrupted at the worst possible time when the argument had reached its climax. Both fell silent upon my arrival, then Luke stood out of his chair and quickly collected his jacket, deliberately avoiding eye contact with me. Leonard watched him storm out of the room with the cold eye of a father who had scorned a disobedient child and, as the front door slammed shut, Leonard collapsed back into his chair and proclaimed in a loud voice:

'Man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep…'

Shaken by the confrontation that I had witnessed and the solemnity of Leonard’s tone, I asked “did you write that yourself?”
“Shakespeare,” he answered simply, then added “I’m sorry if Luke’s little show has upset you…”
“No, not at all,” I replied as I sat down in the leather armchair as though nothing had happened.

Hooter was pacing in circles and he was clearly distressed by the hostile atmosphere in the workroom, so Leonard fished around by the side of his chair and took hold of the dog’s collar. “Are you hungry? I’m sorry dear friend, I’ve neglected to feed you, haven’t I?” he said as he stood out of his chair and walked into the kitchen with Hooter following obediently behind. Amidst the clattering of cupboards and dog bowls, I heard Leonard’s voice ring out from the kitchen telling me that he had bad news; Sophie's illness has worsened and it is unlikely that she will be well enough to visit us for a while. I told him that I was sorry to hear that she was unwell and I asked him to convey my best wishes to her and her father when they spoke again, although, to be honest, I had forgotten entirely about Sophie’s imminent visit since Leonard has not mentioned her for some time.

Leonard emerged from the kitchen and stood before me in the centre of the room and then, rather than returning to his chair, he drew in a deep breath and said something along the lines of “well, it’s a lovely day outside and although I am desperate to continue with our work, I can’t expect a young woman to spend her last days of summer shut away indoors with an old man in an old house now, can I?”. I laughed and suggested that we worked in the garden but Leonard insisted that we should go for a walk since ‘that way we can do something productive and healthy’ and, before I knew it, he had his beige jacket in hand and he was searching through the pockets for his house keys. It was an irresistible proposition and so I gathered my things together, helped Leonard to put on his jacket and Hooter barked from the kitchen door in utter disbelief as we left the drawing board and biscuit tin on the workroom floor and walked out of Elmfield House.

After checking, double-checking and checking once again that the front door was securely locked, Leonard finally put his trust in the door locks and joined me by the gate. The dogs in the nearby garden barked wildly as we passed them by and Leonard jeered playfully at them as we headed through the archway and onto the main street. It was difficult to maintain a conversation over the noise of the heavy traffic and the hordes of students rushing around us in their identifiable tribes; members of sports teams in shorts and hooded tops, postgraduates with armfuls of library books, first years looking bright and fresh in the latest fashion trends and downtrodden final year students in sloppy jeans and scruffy trainers. I was mindlessly following the broken pavement and the back of Leonard’s jacket when he suddenly came to a halt on a street corner and asked me to take him somewhere. I was taken aback by his request and asked where he would like to go; a coffee shop maybe? Or another visit to the university? He insisted that I took him to a location that had a special personal significance to me and I should not consider distance to be a constraint since we had the entire day at our disposal. I stared bemused at him for a while. He has visited St. Bartholomew’s Church and the university campus many times before, so where else could I take him? The only remaining location ‘of special personal significance’ that came to mind was the housing estate that I grew up on. It was only a little further along the bus route past St. Bartholomew’s Church and it wouldn’t take too long to get there, besides there were one or two childhood haunts on the estate that I had been meaning to revisit for some time.

We walked to the nearest bus stop and caught a bus that took us directly to the small estate on the outer boundary of the city (Leonard did not utter one word throughout the entire journey and I could tell that he was absorbing every detail of this new and unfamiliar territory). The bus dropped us at the edge of the estate and we both remained silent as we climbed the steep hill towards the main residential area, then, as we neared the top of the hill, I began to smile when I spotted a familiar flat piece of metal rising into view. It was the roof of the old bandstand. It was still there. And as it came into sight I was pleased to see that it was still the bizarre, fairy-tale construction that I remembered from my childhood - a dark green, weather-beaten circular shelter perched on top of the hill like a cherry on a cake. The surrounding field had grown wild which added to the eerie and desolate air of a neglected cemetery or abandoned war memorial that I recalled from years ago, but the shelter itself was largely unchanged; the green paint on the intricate ivy design railings had flaked away to reveal bare grey metal underneath and the railings were intertwined with real ivy that had overgrown most of the seating area and one half of the roof, but the seating area and the patterns on the inside of the roof were perfectly preserved where they had been protected from the weather and they were exactly as I remembered them, although accompanied by a little additional graffiti.

I explained to Leonard that I had brought him to the bandstand because it had served as a secret place of sanctuary during my childhood. It was located far enough away from the main estate to allow me to hide from everyone when I wanted to be alone and it was high enough to provide a comprehensive, bird’s eye view of the activity taking place below. I could spot a parent or teacher heading in my direction with plenty of time to make a hasty escape! Leonard was enchanted by the beauty of the dilapidated structure and he thanked me for sharing it with him, but he was annoyed that he had forgotten to bring his camera and he insisted that we must return sometime soon to take photographs of the area.

We sat together on the top step of the bandstand and from our high viewpoint we could see the patchwork of fields and wooded areas below and the warren of narrow roads that spread out like a complex rete mirabile across the estate. I drew Leonard’s attention to prominent locations that had interesting anecdotes associated with them, such as the dense wood that was situated to our immediate right. Although the wood looked small and ordinary from a distance, I assured Leonard that it was nothing like the flat and sanitised forests that are carefully designed and planted for delicate children and elderly ramblers these days. From what I could recall there was a fast stream that ran straight through the centre and there were entirely impassable areas with steep slopes and plummeting crevices that looked as though a giant hand had taken a scoop out of the earth. My school-friends and I would compete to climb the tallest trees and, although we spent many a Sunday afternoon beating a path through the wood, we failed to ever reach the other side. Those who did were revered as heroes at school. But there could have been another world at the other end, for all I knew.

One particularly prominent landmark that Leonard spotted was the tall brick water tower that looms like an imposing fortress over the entire estate. The tower once belonged to the local psychiatric hospital that opened in 1905 and, although the hospital and the tower have been abandoned for some years now, the derelict buildings still retained all the qualities of a creepy lunatic asylum from a horror movie. Unmarked white vans continued to visit the site long after it closed and rumour had it that if you peeked through the broken windows of the adjoining hospital chapel then it was possible to make out the rusty manacles hanging from the ceiling in which patients were hung during sessions of extreme physiotherapy. A secure mental health unit was built nearby to replace the old asylum and a number of infamous killers spent time inside the new clinic, which was always a concern to local residents because at least once a month a loud siren would wail out to alert everyone in the neighbourhood that a patient was missing and quite often I would wake in the night to the sound of a police helicopter circling overhead and the flash of searchlights hunting through the gardens. 

There were several other equally creepy locations in the surrounding area that set our young imaginations on fire; for example, a short detour on my morning route to school took me through a field of horses belonging to the local farm and the walk through the field was always an uneasy experience because rumour had it that the field was haunted by the ghost of an elderly farmer who would chase terrified trespassers off his land. There was also an eerie disused Cold War monitoring bunker nearby and a sprawling maze of abandoned underground tunnels ran beneath the estate for miles and miles. A few residents reported hearing loud, mechanical rumblings coming from these tunnels in the middle of the night and so my friends and I would embark on day-long expeditions to find the entrances to the tunnels and discover the source of these strange noises. 

However it wasn’t just the local geography that was responsible for fuelling our superstitious natures. The community library was heaving with books about the paranormal and reports of hauntings and ghostly encounters spread like wildfire across the estate and they were enthusiastically exchanged by children and adults alike. Take, for example, the rumours that were focused around a street corner only two streets away from my parents’ house. In a tragic foreshadowing of my own brother’s death, a boy in my class at school had dashed into the road to retrieve his football one Saturday afternoon and he had been hit by a speeding car and instantly killed. The local residents were devastated by his death and the lamp post nearest to the accident site became a permanent memorial to him, with flowers and cuddly toys strapped to it throughout the year. Shortly after his funeral took place my friends and I heard reports that motorists driving past the spot had seen a ghostly figure standing by the side of the road and people living on the street claimed to hear a child crying late at night. Needless to say, my pace would always quicken when I passed by that street corner!

The entire estate was teeming with similar urban legends and stories of paranormal activity and it was an ideal breeding ground for irrational fears and nervous disorders. In hindsight it was little surprise that many of the local children, including myself, were heavily influenced by the supernatural in one way or another.

“‘Influence’ is a peculiar word,” Leonard interjected at that point, “it is the poor defence that is given by addicts, serial killers and children who murder their brothers and sisters. It is the scapegoat that is sent out into the wilderness of rationality in order to justify the most cruellest behaviour.” 

He paused in his speech to swat at a fly that had been buzzing around us for a good five minutes or so. I smiled as I watched him take a swipe at the fly and brought my rambling commentary to a close, choosing instead to let Leonard take in the atmosphere of the place for himself. I thought about my words to Leonard and how surprising it is that my childhood was so heavily steeped in the supernatural and yet I have grown to reject any belief in the supernatural as an adult. I suspect that my unrequited desire to encounter the supernatural on a religious level is largely to blame for this, but I’m not going to dig too deeply into my psychological roots here!

After a few minutes of silence Leonard spoke again and he said that he was delighted that I had brought him to a location that was so visually appealing and my decision to choose somewhere from my childhood had pleased him for two reasons; a) it is clear that I am comfortable with my past and b) I must trust him enough to share my most personal memories with him. He made a number of comments that struck a chord with me and they have been rattling around inside my mind over these last few days. I cannot recall his exact words but they were pithy and inspirational statements, almost like he was giving a motivational speech. The first was something along the lines of “your history is the blueprint for your future and you must not be afraid to embrace who you were, who you are and who you will be”, the second was “make peace with your past because the greater it weighs on you the heavier it will be to carry through life” and the third was “the faster you run from your demons the faster you will fall backwards into your own personal hell”. The stern look that he gave me as he spoke was similar to the intense stare that Luke has when he is growing impassioned in his argument. It was a determined and forceful stare that pierced straight into my brain as though he was bypassing my conscious mind and directly addressing a deeper level of consciousness within me. Luke has given me this look many times before, but it was the first time that I had seen it in Leonard's eyes.

I was sitting in quiet contemplation and reflecting on Leonard’s insightful words when he suddenly slammed his hand down hard on the step beside him, instantly killing the fly that had been bothering us and causing me to jump out of my skin. The violence of the act was so unexpected and out of character that I was shaken by the moment and unsure how to react, so we sat in silence for a while until I felt obliged to speak and apologise, although I was not sure what for. At a loss on how to pacify Leonard’s agitated state, I apologised for walking straight into Elmfield House earlier that day and interrupting the heated debate that he was having with Luke, but Leonard dismissed my apology and he complained that Luke suffers from ‘the worst plague that is endemic in young men these days; arrogance’. He said that Luke is arrogant with regards to his intellect - and arrogance and intelligence, when combined, can be a very formidable combination indeed...

The Malaise

Saturday, 25 September

I noticed something very strange during the bus journey to the university library yesterday morning. As I passed by the student houses on the main road it appeared as though the white wooden frames on the bay windows of the terraced houses had turned a subtle shade of pink. Not red or cerise, but the lightest shade of pink. At first I thought that there was a discoloration in the window of the bus, but when I focused on a window frame for a few seconds the pink colour seemed to fade into the frame until it returned to its usual shabby white colour. 

This isn’t the first time that I’ve noticed this 'pinkness' in and around objects and I would be inclined to think that I am seeing auras, if only I believed in that kind of nonsense. But my other thought was much more repulsive; have Luke and I indulged so much in our over-exuberance that the residue is bleeding through into other parts of my body? God forbid, my eyes? It is a ridiculous notion I admit, but it turns my stomach nonetheless. I prefer to believe that I am seeing auras or that I am developing problems with my sight. I really should shut down my computer and go outside.

I mentioned this peculiar ‘pinkness’ to Luke when we were alone together in Elmfield House later that afternoon. He was unable for account for it and he suggested that I should pay no attention to it, so I will heed his advice as he has been consistently accurate with his advice so far and he has put my mind at rest on several occasions when I have voiced concerns about physical or behavioural abnormalities that I have noticed about myself. For instance, a few weeks ago I began to experience a bizarre set of symptoms that would normally send me running straight to a doctor. These episodes typically begin with a white smoke-like substance that hangs in the air before my eyes and clouds my vision. My head becomes heavy, I feel tired and I become incredibly dizzy as though I am in danger of passing out at any moment. This dizziness is accompanied by the feeling that I am ‘fading out’ and disconnecting from my surroundings and I sense the presence of a wet and musty substance at my back accompanied by the stomach-flipping sensation that I am quickly falling backwards into it. When I spoke to Luke about these dizzy spells he laughed and said that ‘weird and wonderful feelings are part-and-parcel of being a woman’, but when I pressed him further on it he confessed that he regularly experiences the same symptoms too. He calls it ‘the malaise’ and he warned me that these episodes will increase in frequency over time because I will have more memories to dwell on, more worries, more regrets. He also said that ‘the malaise’ is not only a sign that emotional and psychological changes are taking place within my mind, but it is an indication that chemical changes are taking place within my body... 

I am never sure how to respond to the blasé way that Luke makes these kinds of worrying comments; it is as though they are entirely acceptable aspects of everyday life and I am foolish for being anxious about them. In fact, Luke’s lack of concern for his own wellbeing - combined with the dark themes running throughout his poetry and the manner with which he introduces the most heretical philosophies into our discussions as though he is simply discussing the weather - is causing me to worry about his state of mind. He often switches from melancholy introvert to outrageous extrovert in the blink of an eye but his character has been much more unpredictable recently, even manic at times. There is something wild in his eyes that both intrigues me and makes me fear for his sanity. And this odd behaviour is creeping into our email correspondence too. For instance, the email that I received from him this morning did not include the usual photographs from our sessions but instead it contained several horrible pictures depicting a demon-like creature seated on the chest of a sleeping person. Luke may believe that he is consoling me by demonstrating that my night-time encounters are not uncommon, but I find the pictures to be very disturbing and far from reassuring. Even the accompanying poem has a sinister edge that comes directly from the darker side of Luke's personality…

Supper with Heylel
I am the light-bearer.
I herald the first sun
And my armour shines in the light from your prayers.

I am the watcher.
My eyes weep and burn in the light of day
And my skin gathers dust, hair and memories.

I am the son of man.
A vile and pestilent sack of gasses,
Stripping carcasses and breathing poisons.

I am your mother,
Your Father, your God,
But never your child.

I am the blood wolf.

And I will drive away the good shepherd
And devour you all.

The grandest exhibition in the world

Thursday, 23 September

The postcard that arrived this morning is one of the most touching correspondences that I have ever received from Leonard. From anyone, if truth be told. It is a simple, blank postcard - no bright artwork on the front this time – and glued to the reverse side is a tiny thumbnail photograph of our finished portrait. Written above and alongside the photograph are the words:

‘Muse cornered by books 76cm x 51cm was the first large drawing of his model, and, up to that time, the best exploratory study. He went on to produce both sculpture and paintings of Helen (in a variety of media), becoming the artist’s ‘muse’ at approximately 3:30pm on Friday 12th December 2003, and from Spring 2004, the main focus of his work. Their friendship was the source of much good work on both sides. Terminat hora diem; terminat tecnicus opus…anyway, take care, muse; you are very much in demand. L.’

This tiny picture - stuck clumsily with thick gloops of glue to a plain and dog-eared postcard - means so much more to me than if Leonard had held the most lavish exhibition in the most prestigious gallery in the entire world. The deep emotions that the card has stirred in me have been surprisingly overwhelming, in fact it made me cry for a while and I'm not normally a crier. But it would take little more than a few kind words from Leonard to trigger my tears given my present emotionally fragile state…

I have tried not to burden you with my troubles, my anonymous reader, but it is becoming difficult to ignore them as they encroach on most aspects of my life now. It feels as though my world is unravelling a little more each day. The night terrors are as frequent as ever, my sleep is rarely unbroken and it is upsetting to entertain the briefest memory of some incidents let alone speak about them. For instance, last night I lay awake in bed and I could feel something small, about the size of a mouse, running up and down inside the mattress. My blood runs ice cold when I recall the sensation of it moving beneath me. But, if I am honest, the day-time is proving to be just as unbearable as the night-time; I hear echoes of chattering voices like an old radio is playing nearby, I answer to calls of my name in the empty hallway at home, there is a constant smell of burning by the kitchen door and I often feel as though I am falling forwards when walking down stairs as though pushed from behind by an unseen force. 

The changes to my personality and behaviour are noticeable too: I lose my temper easily with friends, family and even with myself and I fly into violent rages when objects do not comply instantly with my demands or people move too slowly or take too long to make a decision. I consider myself to be a very patient and compassionate person and so this impatient and callous attitude has shocked me the most. People are beginning to frustrate me beyond belief and I fear that I am developing a deep and profound aversion to humanity, but it is not a hatred of life in general because I know, with complete certainty and sombre rationality, that the more minor and inconsequential a life may seem, the more severely God will punish me if I harm it (Luke says that we – and I assume that by ‘we’ he means humanity in general - have ‘a duty of care to the inferior souls and the punishment for neglecting this duty is magnified by the helplessness of our charge').  And the worst part of all is that I suspect that these troubles are merely the calm waters at the opening of a great and terrible crescendo; that these are the birth pangs for a greater torment that is to come. God only knows what is waiting for me just around the corner.

I realise that my suffering is self-inflicted because, under Luke's instruction, I am reading words that should not be read and I am speaking words that should not be spoken, but my love for Luke and my eagerness to learn more from him drives me back to these texts again and again like a crazed addict. I truly believe that Luke’s teachings, my experimentations with the rituals in The Omega Course and my writings on this blog are the root cause of my problems and I suspect that Leonard was right when he said that some secrets should not be revealed and there are unseen powers that will seek to prevent the public revelation of these secrets at all costs. Luke tells me that I have attracted a great deal of interest in this respect (I am not sure from whom) but he has promised that he will protect me and so, on his advice, I am carrying pocketfuls of herbs, reciting a protective charm whenever I feel their presence and I am taking care to avoid thinking about my research when in public places. 

Leonard knows that I am struggling and he has commented that I look tired and haunted these days. He is keen for me to take time out to rest and recover and so we have scheduled a series of short breaks consisting of a few days each month (thankfully these breaks fit perfectly with my menstrual cycle, which is a huge relief in terms of both physical discomfort and troublesome costume choices). In an attempt to justify my reluctance to take a 'proper holiday' - whatever Leonard means by that - I pointed out to Leonard that he rarely takes a break from his work, to which he insisted that his frequent trips to London provide a perfectly adequate break and, in addition, he regularly visits his family abroad and he travels to Maryland every fourth week of January to pay his respects to an old friend (unfortunately flying adversely affects his health and he requires a long period of rest on his return). He also mentioned that he accepts invitations to visit people that he has met on his travels and individuals that he has used as a sitter for portraiture, so he is ‘actually quite well rested, thank you’, which made me smile…