With Yvette’s hair on the pillow beside me, I awoke to filtered gold-red light. The autumn sun was glazing down, dappling through the plane leaves outside her decrepit window. She was curled up against me, sleeping with her mouth open. We had blundered into a spell of affectionate numbness before the slumber spilled down, covering everything with a concrete of inertia. Her flat was a tiny and cluttered nest of a place. She lay in it like a wounded baby griffin while plants died along the windowsills. We were both still dressed, hadn’t even taken our shoes off, simply fallen into an abrupt sleep. I remembered her kissing me like a stray cat nuzzling to be let in. I lit a cigarette, trying not to wake her. In the light I could see her drawings plastered all over the walls. Large portraits in oil crayon and bronze washes, charcoal street scapes and some detailed studies of birds. I was not surprised at how good she was. You could smell ability on her. It had left elegant scar tissue all over her character like some form of parasitic vine. I needed to get out without waking her so I stood creakily, exhaling smoke into the chilly air. Doves called from the trees outside and I could sense the pale sky draining itself of colour, questing for the eventual dark beyond. How long had we slept? I was about to step for the door when my phone rang. The sound woke her and she watched blearily from the autumn fire of her hair. I sat in a nearby chair, knocking over a well-thumbed volume of anatomic studies by Versalus. I saw that the call was from Boris and answered it while she motioned sleepily for the cigarette I was holding.
“Hello,” I said into the phone, passing her the cigarette.
Boris sounded uncharacteristically disturbed.
“Who gave you those cigarettes?” he asked.
“What cigarettes?” I asked, momentarily confused, watching Yvette puff muggily at the cigarette I had just handed her.
“The cigarettes you left behind?” he said.
“Elusina gave them to me,” I frowned. “I thought you might like them.”
“So you have no idea what’s contained within them?” he pressed.
“No,” I snapped. “What are you taking about.”
There was a pause.
“If she left them for you then you should come here at once, they are some sort of witchdoctor spell.”
“What do you mean?” I asked in a numb tone.
“I think it’s best if you came here,” he said. “I’ll explain everything, there are a few things you are not aware of.”
“Like what?” I asked testily, observing Yvette as she blew thin clouds against the frigid glass. Her sleeves were pulled up to obscure her waxy fingers and her collar was inside out. She had drawn her legs underneath her, knees to forehead, dirty boots pigeon-toed in the yellowed turbulence of the sheets behind her. I was sketching her in my mind. I realised, with surprise, that she was probably doing the same.
“I asked Elusina to conclude some business for me whilst in the desert,” Boris elucidated vaguely. “It had to do with the expedition I made to that area some years ago, it seems that one of my old dinosaur skeletons has turned up.”
“Ok,” I answered, rubbing my temples. “I’ll be back in Palmwhelm before midnight.”
“See you then,” he said and hung up.
Yvette and I stared blankly at each other in the icy light. I realised how loudly I must have been talking.
“It’s freezing in here,” I said quietly. “Don’t you get cold?”
“I don’t mind the cold,” she answered.
She all of a sudden seemed to grow concerned and searched around, mumbling something about a blanket for me.
“Don’t worry about that,” I said. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
Evening had by now completely enveloped the town into its fallen shrouds. Autumn in Ambarvalia; when the night sky became so impossibly black, that it seemed as though the entire valley had slipped between the backdrops of reality, wavering like a dream. Structures congealed in the pure and freezing air, existing in suspension, misplaced somehow. An unreal form of clarity had dislodged from the nullities above, descending upon the ramshackle stone bridges and petrified trees, settling into the leaf strewn streets like a sort of fixative, crystallizing time. We walked through this in silence. The muffled cough of a car travelled across the canal, disturbing some water birds. The Bentley was parked downtown, so we had pick our way down cottonwool quiet streets toward the waterside. Our breath hung a sequence of slowly dissolving ghosts across the cobbled stillness as we strolled. Boats passed as though in a dream. The crisp echoes of our heels followed us over the broken back of a little bridge. The precise tocking of her footfalls chased my thoughts around like little animals. Her prescence was like heavy jewellry, an unwanted gift of some kind. I glanced over the stone balustrade which spined across the murky current. It was unusual of me to suddenly allow a stranger access to the privacy of my micro-universe. Yet there she was, breaking cosmic rules, following me cautiously, watching everything like a stray cat. The water chill sifted in fields as we crossed. I gazed at dense and sluggish surfaces, too cold to think. The movement of the water was akin to the thick oil of my thoughts, reflecting shivering paintings of antiquated houses and branches. She snagged my sleeve with icy fingers, pointing out the smoky yellow glow of a café on the opposite side. Within minutes we were thawing pleasurably at a table near the windows. She ordered a chocolate, leafing absent-mindedly through a newspaper which she discovered abandoned on the seat beside her. I watched, wondering what thoughts lurked beneath her crust of introspection. The café was relatively quiet, despite the hour. A few boatmen drank ales in the corner while some students held a discussion infront of the roaring hearth. I found my mind drifting uncontrollably back to Vivienne as we waited for our order. Perhaps she sensed this. The proximity of sleep had undoubtedly attuned us. Her eyes began to stare bleakly out at the decaying cascade of rooftops beyond the glass. She paged mindlessly until her attention was unexpectedly pricked by a glimpse of something in the print. I caught her eye and she showed me the article. I was shocked to see a drawing of mine, framed by turgid write-up. I practically snatched the paper from her, scanning it swiftly.
“I thought you didn’t exhibit,” she mentioned blankly.
“I don’t,” I muttered.
Her chocolate arrived and she began spooning vast quantities of sugar into it.
Visibly stricken, and with the threat of impending horror cast upon my brow, I rifled through the article. But the shock was quickly replaced by a sense of incredulity. How banal it was, to find myself in the Arts and Society section, drowning quietly in Svetlana Sondheim’s society column; which was almost entirely dedicated to the sugaring of Elusina’s new film, and of course the forthcoming exhibition by a certain ‘reclusive artist’. I read it with a mounting sense of futility and confusion. It was absurd that Elusina had kept me ignorant of this inexplicable caprice of hers. The entire scenario did not resemble anything in the way of sense. Especially the fact that this exhibition was purported to be staged at the debut of a new monthly event called ‘the Rythym Hive’, which according to Svetlana Sondheim, was almost purely funded by the Mangrove Institute; an organization for which Elusina harboured an almost irrational loathing. I remembered all her episodes, curled in the corners like an old envelope, sunk in the peat of a child-like dismay. Her famous eyes deer-wide in the half-light of the Pandaemonium Café, chasing some random point with canine tenacity. Obscure rantings followed these lulls. She would painstakingly chronicle the parasitic energies she had seen at work in the vast concrete chambers of the Institute. No-one would listen. We had often danced after these lace-ups of hers, somewhere in the dark, swimming in shadows. The entire concept of the exhibition seemed to me to be nothing short of unthinkable. I was once again filled with the uncontrollable need to confront Vivienne, as though she were now the official scapegoat of all my woes and misery. The waitress appeared through the mesh of my thoughts, placing a cup of coffee before me. I absently stirred the mixture as the waitress receded. Yvette observed me like a child, waiting for me to talk. We were both evidently of the silent variety. Centuries could pass and we would both still be sitting here, like stone statues, awaiting some ambiguous apocalypse. I began to experience the sense of moving into a sort of fog which seemed to only thicken at each turn. Things were shifting somewhere, just beyond the scope of my vision, leading me toward a place of change. A place in which I sensed I might become permanently lost. I sipped the fragrant warmth into my cold face, feeling it light each nerve individually, scalding my tongue.
“Are you going to go through with it?” she asked quietly.
“I don’t think I have a choice now,” I replied. “Elusina usually gets her way.”
“I think you secretly want this,” she answered curtly.
I eyed her irritably for a moment before conceding.
“I would like to exhibit of course, but the whole business conflicts with my position regarding the Institute.”
She rummaged around for a cigarette.
“Everyone seems to hate the Institute,” she slurped. “I really don’t have a problem with them.”
“Fair enough,” I sipped, taking one of her cigarettes.
“Aren’t you going to try convince me otherwise?” she joked slyly.
“I don’t need to,” I sighed. “You have plenty of sense, sooner or later you’ll cotton on to what they’re trying to do.”
This mollified her somewhat, and her age began to show around the edges.
“Shit,” she muttered, lighting her cigarette. “Now it’s like a riddle everyone except me knows the answer to.”
“Don’t worry so much,” I mentioned. “If you can survive within the system, stay there, it’s safer.”
“I don’t want the quality of my work affected.”
“You’re too good for that,” I said in passing.
She stammered for a second, before brooding over her chocolate once more.
“So how do you know Vivienne?” I asked.
She glanced up at me in vague annoyance.
“Must we discuss her?” she said sulkily.
I apologised and then kept quiet.
“She wasn’t very nice about you, you know,” she added.
I was surprised at how much this little statement hurt me. Well I suppose it wasn’t a surprise, but it still came as something of a minor blow.
“What did you do to her?” she ventured, refusing to drop the subject she herself had forbidden.
I leaned back into my seat, staring out into the blackness of the canal.
“I believe that there is a sphere just beyond the moon,” I said quietly. “An invisible cosm some of us have come to call the Eighth Sphere.”
I drank some of the bitter coffee, watching the stars contort in the dark waters.
“All the things dreamed in the human imagination are, in a sense, born,” I murmured.
“Each sexual act produces an offspring, material or not. These offspring, or ‘Qlippoth’, live in that which is called The Eighth Sphere, a secret place which is counter balanced by our moon, a Vacant Star which doubles our world.”
I turned to look at her. She was staring at me warily.
“These Qlipppoth float half formed in the tundras of the shadow land,” I whispered. “Bringing one to Earth is forbidden.”
She continued to stare, unspeaking and quietly enraptured by the visions I was evoking.
“When I met Vivienne I could tell that she was the perfect Vessel for one of these beings,” I continued, blowing a tentacle of smoke across the table toward her.
“When the Dark Moon shows its face, a hole is opened in the ether, many things escape their cages. The black light of the Dark Moon is taboo, passage from the Moon to the Earth is long and fraught with difficulties…The wings grow ragged.”
She took a drag on her cigarette, looking away from my eyes.
“Please stop,” she whispered. “I’m starting to think you’re mad.”
I smiled and drank a large draught of the coffee.
“I’m afraid that I can’t stop,” I answered petulantly. “You see, I have started a game which I cannot hope to win or finish, a game which you are now silently asking to be let into.”
She practically sneered at me when I said this.
“I didn’t ask to be indoctrinated into some sleazy witchcraft circle,” she snapped. “You can keep that voodoo shit to yourself.”
“You have such a depressing veiw of it,” I smoked, beginning to enjoy myself a little.
She stared at me plainly now.
“You are a beautiful human,” she said. “Stop trying to be a God.”
Her candour interrupted my smile, derailing my sense of playfulness utterly.
“Did you try this shit with Vivienne too?” she pressed. “Is that why she thinks you are such a disaster zone?”
I began to grow annoyed, more with myself than anything else. Perhaps I had always been deluding myself, papier-maching magical enchantments over what was essentially an irreperable item. The hard focus Yvette brought to my delusions was making me feel unmoored and paranoid.
“I didn’t have to try with Vivienne,” I answered. “She wanted to lure something, anything, special down into herself to make her different.”
I stared at her, feeling somewhat provoked by her ceaseless onslaught of hard truths.
“Sorry,” she mumbled glumly, cradling her chocolate with both hands. “I don’t know when to shut up.”
We sat there for awhile and she sort of started to come slowly into focus. I realised that despite our night together, I had still not really seen her. I signalled the waitress and ordered an English breakfast. When I asked Yvette what she would like she refused, avoiding my eyes. I realised that she didn’t have any money and felt a twinge for my lack of tact. I explained that I would be more than happy to buy her a meal. It took some convincing, but I eventually persuaded her to order the waffles and ice cream she had been for some time eyeing on another table. She finally started to smile when the food arrived.
I explained that I would have to walk downtown to retrieve the car and she quickly offered to walk with me, prolonging our departures. I wasn’t troubled by her presence anymore, so I happily agreed. We drifted toward the rambling passages of the downtown area, following the water. Having her around suddenly felt somewhat talismanic, as though she were keeping the unholy force of Vivienne at bay simply by being there. We reached the Bentley and I offered to drive her back to her flat. She agreed glumly and we climbed in.
“What are you going to do tonight?” I asked as we drove along a side-road leading toward the canal.
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “Draw I suppose…I have an assignment due for next week.”
I nodded, becoming aware of the unspoken obligation I now had to come see her again. She had not said anything, but the weight of her thoughts was creating a vague gravitational force which tilted everything toward it. It was not that I had anything against seeing her again, but this unspoken pressure had begun to seep into the air between us, creating a gulf. I turned into the road leading past the botanical gardens and resisted the urge to drive past Vivienne’s. We parked outside her building and I turned to her.
“Could I come with you?” she asked abruptly, haloed vaguely by the pale glow of a streetlamp.
I was unsure of how to react to this and hesitated for moment. She picked up my sudden discomfort and opened the door.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “Sorry.”
She lingered by the door, waiting for me to speak.
“I just don’t know when I can bring you back,” I said.
“I’ll stay, it’s fine.”
“No, you’re welcome to come with me, it’s just that I wouldn’t want you to get stuck out in Palmwhelm.”
She looked in at me, a faint twinkling catching in her eyes.
“You mean I can come?” she sort of smiled.
“If you like,” I shrugged.
“I don’t want to trouble you,” she persisted.
“It’s really fine, I think you should meet Boris anyway. He has a keen interest in art.”
She reached over unexpectedly and pulled a lock of my hair. It was a touching, child-like display of affection which made me feel somehow indebted to her.
“Just want to get somethings quick,” she said and scampered upstairs.
I waited in the car, watching a swarm of moths surge unexpectedly around a streetlamp.
She was happy and talkative all the way to Palmwhelm. It was evident that she hadn’t been out of her private world for awhile, and I was pleased to provide a means of escape for her. She had saved me the night before and I was not ungrateful for her attentions. I simply felt that I was dealing with an innocent heart; a heart which filtered vast, oceanic currents. And the last thing I wanted was to be responsible for a whirlpool. Yvette, I felt, could be capable of enormous self-destruction. The mood altered as we approached Palmwhelm, as it always does when one reaches the vicinites of St Cecilia. The lower altitude and sudden humidity created another world entirely, and it consistently felt as though one had dropped from an upper world to a lower one, by means supernatural.
Boris was in one of the lower observation lounges. He was wearing an enormous bearskin coat, eating a large bowl of oats. I noticed Pablito skulking in the corner. Both seemed surprised to see that I had brought company. This was unusual, as I often brought people to the house. I sensed immediately that there was a vaguely conspiratorial atmosphere about the gathering, especially due to the manifestation of Pablito, who only ever gravitated toward troubled areas. I introduced Yvette to them. She nodded vaguely, wandering about the enormous chamber with a sense of wonder, stopping every now and then to inspect one of the large Egyptian statues Boris had festooned about in glowing niches.
“What’s going on?” I asked, puzzled.
Pablito slunk out of the shadows. He was wearing a familiar yellow, chequered suit along with bruised ox-blood wing-tips that made panicky clicking noises whenever he moved. His habitual sardonic smile played over his face, as though eternally questing for chaos.
“Look here,” he said, holding out a hand upon which one Elusina’s cigarettes had been unrolled.
I peered down at a slender line of what appeared to be cobalt coloured sugar. Boris handed me a magnifying glass and I immediately saw that the cigarette had been filled with a strange form of blue crystal.
“The resin has many names,” Pablito said in a hushed tone. “I’ve never seen it of course, but I know that it is a mixture of various animal secretions and some rare plants that grow in the desert.”
“It comes from the desert?” I asked.
“Well it’s certainly prepared there, but the origin of the recipe is mysterious,” Pablito replied theatrically. “Some people in the West have called this preparation Blue Jade, the nomad’s mix it for shamanic purposes.”
“What kind of shamanic purposes?”
“Well it’s difficult to say,” Pablito sniffed. “Much of the shamanic world deals in communications beyond speech, they discuss things in sounds or fractured images, they evoke complex emotional atmospheres pregnant with vast amounts of information…”
I looked up at Boris, who was staring fixedly at the mutilated cigarette.
“Did you try some of this?” I asked.
He nodded, slurping at his milk-sodden cereal.
“It was a mistake,” he mentioned. “I lit one thinking that it was a cigarette.”
His brow knitted and I could see Yvette pausing at the corner of the room, tuning into our discussion.
“It’s difficult to describe,” Boris began. “But among other things I became aware of many openings, tubes if you like, which exist around us, leading other places.”
“Tubes? What do you mean?”
“Well, as I said, it’s difficult to describe,” he munched. “Perhaps it’s only because I took a single drag before putting it out, therefore imbibing but a miniscule dose, but it felt as though I were somehow becoming unmoored within myself.”
“I think that the Jade seperates a person in a way,” Pablito said, fingering the crystals. “I think it allows the nomads access to other worlds.”
“You mean bodily transportation?” I laughed.
“No,” Pablito muttered. “I think it involves a transference of consciousness to a sort of dream-body, a double if you like, which can move into these other realms whilst maintaining a link to the corporeal host.”
“What happens to the bodies which are left behind?” Yvette asked.
Pablito looked up.
“Well,” he floundered. “I’m not sure exactly, perhaps its similar to an opiate and the bodies are left in a sort of stupor, maybe it’s worse, like a miniature coma.”
“Sounds interesting,” she said, drawing closer.
“Yes it does,” Pablito grinned up at me.
I looked at Boris, who was thoughtfully chewing at his spoon.
“I get the sense that some preparation would be in order,” Boris finally said. “We would need to set the stage somewhat.”
“That would make sense,” Pablito argeed. “From what I’ve read, the nomads used to erect temples specific to the effects of the Blue Jade, there would be large stone portals inscribed with heiroglyphs, opening out into specifically crafted landscape gardens, or gnostic labyrinth-like structures.”
“You mean that they would mimic the world they wanted to enter,” Yvette frowned. “Sort of create part of it in miniature so that it would invoke a gateway to the actual zone?”
“Exactly!” Pablito said excitedly. “It’s the essence of sympathetic magic, though utilized here, in what would appear to be a purely exploratory sense.”
“We would have to create a sort of dreaming zone, to use your terminology,” Boris nodded to Yvette. “A place with tangible links to spheres we hope to explore,”
“You have those old microscopes in the pantry,” I suggested. “That and the crystal collection from the mountains.”
Pablito slapped me on the back.
“Yes!” he exclaimed.”Excellent!”
Boris got up and paced around.
“I have film and slide projecters, and we could of course explore the gallery of miniatures upstairs,” he mused.
“Gallery of miniatures?” Yvette perked up.
“Boris has some fantastic collections,” I smiled.
Boris set down his empty bowl of oats and stood up with sudden focus. Our entry into the house had clearly catalysed some sort of reaction.
“Cain, lets go up to the kitchen,” he said. “Pablito, get this room in shape and Yvette, feel free to..”
He trailed off when he saw that Yvette was already bustling around for artefacts in a far corner. We all seemed to have clicked into a sort of preparatory auto-pilot. Boris and I slipped up a narrow stone stairwell while crackly Bossanova wafted in from one of the higher areas.
“Is there anyone else in the house?” I asked suddenly, unsure of where the question came from.
He seemed vaguely disturbed by this.
“I don’t think so,” he answered, but with a disturbing lack of conviction. “Except my aunt of course, but we shan’t see her.”
We reached the long, low kitchen. The far end was in darkness and the flicker of a pilot light haunted the large black stove. Strings of purple onions, garlic and salted fish created grotesque daisy chains in the dimness. Boris lit some small lamps, intensifying the areas of blackness.
“Why do you think Elusina left the Blue Jade for me?” I asked, lighting a cigarette of a nearby candle.
“God knows,” he sighed, filling a large copper coffee pot.
“But there are one or two things I should fill you in on.” He added, changing tack.
I sat in a squeaky chair, smoking, watching pale moths tap like fingertips against the windows. The gelid, underwater atmospheres of the house had begun to soothe me, slowly amputating the outside world in long, dreamy slices.
“Do you recall the expeditions I made to the desert?” he asked, rummaging about in several wooden cupboards.
“That was before I met you,”
“Yes, some years before,” he added.
I began to help him prepare a large pot of tea.
“The last time I went was with Blignaut and a chap called Johnny Edgerton,” he continued. “Edgerton died on that expedition, fellow wandered into a system of rock passages, fell down a hole and and starved to death. The thing is, before he died, he discovered the skeletal system of an enormous Thalattosuchia. The specimen was an anomaly, a previously undiscovered strain of Dakosaurus from the Tithonian period, similar to the Andiniensis genus, but different in certain aspects… ” “I don’t understand all the terminology.” I broke in. “What exactly was this thing?”
“Well, it was a sort of large aquatic predator, one of the forebears of the crocodile lineage, it had paddle-like appendages and a vicious toothy snout. It was thought to hunt other sea reptiles. The one Edgerton found was over thirty feet long.”
“Quite a sea monster,”
“Indeed! He discovered it in a shallow cave system in the heart of the wind-carved passages. His dilemma was whether to abandon in search of a way out it or risk his life unearthing it.”
“Yes,” Boris answered grimly. “He died in there, shuffling around the bones of a forgotten monster. It’s one of the reasons I gave up on archeology.”
He diced savagely at a bulbous root with a small, serrated knife.
“Anyway,” he continued. “The ownership of the skeleton was conferred onto me, possibly because I was the one who funded the dig in the first place. At the time, I was horrified by the whole situation and arranged to donate the remains to a local museum before leaving. I forgot about the whole business until a few months ago when I recieved a message from the curator. The museum was apparently going to rack and ruin and the powers that be were attempting to return all the donated items, possibly to avoid any shipping costs, a return makes the item the responsibility of the owner you see.”
“I knew that Elusina was going to the desert to work on that spy film, so I asked if she could perhaps negotiate with the museum in my absence.”
“Well, I offered to recompense her well and I think she enjoyed the idea.”
“Yes I can see how she would.”
“Well, she sent word that Edgerton’s journal had turned up in one of the crates and had it couriered over to me.”
“You have the journal?”
“I do,” he sighed. “Though the bones will only arrive in a week or so.”
“Have you read it yet?”
“It arrived while you were sleeping,” he explained. “I had to pop down to the post office to collect it, then read it through the night. It details, amongst other things, his last days in the cave.”
“I’d like to have a look at that if I may,”
“Yes I thought you would, I’ll give it to you later,” he replied, lacing the pot with viscous fluids and large wreaths of dried herbs.
I noted the additions to the pot with interest.
“What exactly are you cooking up there?” I asked.
He looked up and motioned for me to pass him a large jar of what appeared to be glass marbles.
“Pablito did a little research on the sort of potions one has to drink before taking the Blue Jade,” he explained. “I’m preparing one of those concoctions, along with a decanter of that Maté I brought last year from the jungle.”
“Fantastic,” I nodded as a large black cat whisked through the room like lightning. There were squeals and several loud crashing noises from the adjoining room. It wasn’t long before the underwater silences re-asserted themselves. We stopped looking and went back to preparing the potion.
“Are you sure we should be doing this?” I asked. “Something has happened to Elusina. She’s changed, and I don’t know if it’s wise to follow her into this.”
Boris looked up at me with a dreary expression.
“Well what else are we going to do?” he asked bleakly.
There was a long silence, permeated by the lyrical washes of a faraway Bossanova. I noticed that Yvette was standing by the door, leaning against the jamb.
“Your house is so magical,” she grinned at Boris.
He gave her a polite smile, lighting one of the stove plates.
“Why don’t you have a look at the river while we get these things ready,” he suggested.
She cackled for a second, threw me a look, and then vanished into a labyrinth of unlit rooms.
We moved the projectors into the bottom chambers and opened the veiwing ports in the observation lounges. I went to the swithboard closet and activated the garden lights. A greenish glow gloamed in through the large waxy leaves, creating underwater shadows out of the swaying trees. Short, glass-walled passages joined the lower lounges. These had a vaguely Japanese atmosphere and smelled mustily of chlorophyll. Foliage closed in on the foggy glass at all times. At night, when the lights were on, they completed the aquatic ambiance of the house. We traversed one of these corridors, entering into a small ante-chamber which Boris had filled with all manner of bric a brac. He unlocked a binocular cabinet and showed Pablito some infra red goggles he’d acquired from a naval surplus store. I unearthed an entire trunk full of mouldy slides and began to rummage through them. The room was infested with large globular spiders. Some of the lower bundles of slides were by now utterly useless, having been destroyed by fungal growth and seepage. I selected one box labelled ‘Tibetan Mandalas’ and another with the words ‘Satellite imagery’ scrawled across in black marker. I saw Boris stacking film reels beside the projector, but could not make out any words on the cans. Pablito busied himself by bringing a pair of large wooden speakers down from the sound-room above. I noticed Boris shooting him nervous looks as he traversed the chamber, with the antique speaker boxes. It was not unknown for Pablito to destroy at least one item a night, in little bouts of over-enthusiastic clumsiness. There were times when he reminded me of some form of malicious parrot, pecking constantly at what was before him, pacing his cage with useless wings. I selected some vinyls from the cosy sound-room upstairs, noticing Yvette at one point, curled before a large Polynesian idol, sketching it brazenly into a pocket sketchbook. I became suddenly quite glad that I had brought her into this situation. A self-satisfied, almost patronising sense of having pleased someone other than myself elevated me momentarily out of the cold memory of Ambarvalia. The everpresent desire for revenge Vivienne had left disgusted me. Under no circumstances could I allow Yvette to become the scapegoat for Vivienne’s vapid cruelties. I lit another cigarette and continued with the preparations. We soon created an aquarium-like zone of abstraction. The muted hum and chatter of the projectors strained in from another room, over the slow, drugged rhythms of another faded record. Analog crackling followed the sudden influx of moths, drawn by the subdued glow of the garden lights. I noticed fat gekkoes patrolling the walls, observing the flight patterns with chilling interest. We sat at a wrought iron table on the dark grass outside, overlooking river. Boris poured the fragrant tea into delicate china while Pablito gave us each a Blue Jade cigarette. I lit mine with an ivory lighter and took a deep pull. The taste was pungent and waxy, cloying instantly at the back of my throat like the fumes of a freshly extinguished candle. A library of taste sensations immediately began to code into me, provoking a flurry of strange emotional responses. I heard a crash and saw that Yvette had dropped her cup. Pablito was running calmy toward the river. I saw him vanish into the dark, heavy trees. I inhaled sharply and an icy heat concentrated behind my eyes. The pressure dissipated and I had the sensation of my head expanding suddenly, like a balloon. Boris was reclining peacefully in his seat, smoking in long, steady draughts. I saw that Yvette was on her knees, beneath the table. She was holding onto a chair-leg and laughing hysterically. The Blue Jade cigarette clung off her lip at an obtuse angle, throwing out beautifully spiralling veins of smoke. Forms began to distort, cleaving vaguely inward, revealing networks of moving virility beneath. The effect was not unlike footage I had seen of cellular activity within organisms. I was suddenly in a translucent world, calmly sipping tea while moths tangled up the light overhead. A tiny buzz began in my left ear and spread suddenly, gaining cathedral-like dimensions before settling into a gentle ebb. I realised that I was on the ground, clutching at my head. I wafted up, reclaiming my seat. My fingers found the tea cup and I once again lifted the aromatic fluid to my lips. I saw Boris beaming like a Cheshire Cat and attempted to return his cheer. At that point I noticed a vague wind, blowing from somewhere behind me. The wind was somehow silvery, as though composed of tiny frosty particles which would dance around magnetically when they struck me. Something caught inside my body like a sail and I felt the wind part me like a stage curtain. A large fragment of my senses suddenly squalled out of my left side, billowing out across the river. I became aware of the tops of trees seen from very close. I pressed my face into the cool, dampness of the leaves and watched the quiet progress of many ants along a dark, but somehow illuminated limb. Everything seemed to be illuminated from within. My hand found the table and I retracted into myself like an octopus. Boris was standing, performing some yoga position I had known him to use in times of stress. Yvette and Pablito were nowhere to be seen. I pivoted, rather like a helium balloon I thought, and wafted into the zone we had created. And how marvellous it all seemed to me then, at that first and fractured moment. The dimensions of the room had elongated, and the light sources all had a physical tangibility to them, as though the illuminations were orbs of sugar, melting slowly in a heated solution. We had laid out various items and apparatus at intervals throughout the lounge, and each area of interest was like a different planet in a complex solar system. These various device-worlds spread below me while I wafted in the outer void of indecision. Movement was very liquid. Whenever I chose to aproach an area, a faint suction would trawl me there instantly. Only a little later would I feel ‘myself’ stumbling in my wake. This experience of extreme disassociation was nauseating and threatened to overwhelm me at intervals. I realised that I was still holding the Blue Jade cigarette and sucked in another blinding lungfull of smoke. A calm cloud of veined, white stillness seemed to envelop me like a membrane, quivering and then retracting. I was holding a microscope, calmly placing a tray into the clip. I activated the tiny light contained within the device and leaned toward the veiwing aperture. As I was doing so I suddenly noticed a small tunnel beneath the table. I paused briefly, swaying to and fro like a boat. The apparatus was arranged on a narrow glass table against the wall and the tunnel which I had noticed was quite low, almost like a sewer grate. I was perplexed. I had used this table many times before and never once had I noticed a tunnel beneath it. I knelt down slowly to inspect it. The air semed different closer to the floor, thinner and more volatile. The tunnel was only a couple of feet high and across. One would have to crawl on their stomach like a lizard to enter into it. The edges were rimmed in flagstones quite unlike the architectural features of the house. The stones were a heavy, orange colour, almost like nougat. I reached out and touched one. The stone had a smooth, sandstone texture and seemed quite dense. The placement of these stones was also strange and the geometry of their placing was somehow foriegn. I could not at that moment think of a better word to describe it. I stared down the length of it. The walls were smooth and vanished into darkness like a train tunnel. I became aware of movement somewhere in the depths of it at some point and leaned in closer to get a better veiw. Something low and heavy was moving quietly down the dark passage, approaching the lounge. It’s head was wedge-like and animated, flickering to and fro in the half-light. Golden highlights caught in it’s eyes as it moved, swinging it’s long spine to and fro. I observed a gekko about the size of a child emerge. It’s skin had the grotesque resemblance to plucked chicken skin and it was trawling a dog-like tongue across it’s golden eyes. It stared at me placidly before flipping slowly around and crawling up along the wall. I watched it’s nimble progress, realising that many of these large, white crocodilian creatures were in motion. They shuffled like strange cats along the yawning walls, gathering at the light like beasts at a water pool. I rose again, feeling quite magnificently small at this point. Despite my feelings about my size I was able to place my eye to the aperture of the microscope. The world abruptly closed, flashing open once more to reveal a brilliant porthole into a vast landscape. The veiw was framed by a circular blackness; the passage of yet another smooth-walled tunnel. Beyond this chute was a depthless vista of moving geometric shapes. These shapes comprised heavy cubic formations which drifted like asteroids in a brilliant light. I could hear the sounds of them clinking against each other, like ice-cubes in some galactic vacoule. Faraway tropical music underlay all this, echoing like the wash and pull of an ocean. I noticed that I was slipping slowly down the tunnel. I fumbled giddily around, feeling the cold metal of the tube slide past. I had a sense of tumbling velocity and almost screamed out loud. Then the constrictive metal flashed away, flushing me out into open space. A moment of vertigo followed as I gradually slowed, slewing giddily amongst the glassy, edged boulders. The medium I found myself floating in was amniotic and slurry, slithering with static electricity. It was also hot, paradoxically wet and dry at the same time. The geometric crystalline formations were tumbling slowly though this seemingly limitless nebula. They wafted as though in a vacuum, yet with a yaw and pitch which suggested great density and weight. The harsh, prismatic light refracted confusingly through the crystal masses as they revolved, blinding me with rainbows. I reached up to rub my eyes and the action somehow transferred consciousness back to my body. I was left staggering beside the microscope, having sucked back up the tube at a tremendous speed. The cigarette was miraculously still in my hand and I reached up to take another shallow drag. The smoke washed into me like a wave. I retreated from the magification device. The treasure-feast of the lounge-zone was suddenly overwhelming and I was tempted to engorge myself on a banquet of esoteric sensation. I delved into the puppet stage Boris had erected, absorbing myself into a dusty galaxy of still, malformed mannikens. I brooded amongst the sullen woolen shapes as they waited for animation from hands in the sky. I drifted across the cardboard stage, staring up at the closed off heavens. I had a sensation of being there for many months, so intraevenous was the sensation of alien time. I glimpsed the death of childhood down there amongst the toys and was forced to retreat. My hands came for me like helicopters and I was all of a sudden on one of the long couches. Boris had entered the lounge. I looked up in slow jarring movements to find him investigating a small collection of swords he had upon the walls. He would draw one down and the sword would then suddenly become a strange metallic extension of him, as though he had physically metamorphosised. He waved a rapier around like an insect, grinning with delight. He saw me watching and spoke:
“This is incredible,”
His words entered my brain like a train into a station prompting all sorts of minute, ant-like protocols and receptive functions. I was unable to reply and rose on shaking legs, feeling all of a sudden inexpressibly human. Light tremors were travelling up and down my legs and arms. I was all of a sudden aware of many extra doorways and archways positioned around the chamber. Some were low and close to the floor, like the lizard tunnel, others were long or gaping. One bisected a formerly smooth wall, receding like a narrow alleyway. A trapdoor lay ominously beneath a chair.
“These fucking white crocodiles…” I muttered, glancing up at the swarms of enormous gekkoes which travelled like sinewy cattle about the vaulted ceilings.
“What?” Boris cackled.
I looked down to see his enormous figure shaking with amusement. I took another draw on the perfidious cigarette and crossed over to him. He had begun to enter one of the glass-walled passages and I followed him into it. All the acoustics of the lounge-zone receded and we were surrounded by the quiet of cold glass and closely pressed leaves. The air smelled of old paperbacks and mould.
“I don’t remember this passage being here,” Boris mumbled over his shoulder.
I peered through the glass. Dark foliage smothered the panes of both the walls and the conical roofing. The faint viridian glow of garden lights still trickled through, but even this evaporated as we pressed deeper into the passage. A cool darkness filled the air, and the only light came in diamond-chip highlights, glinting off glass and the movements of our hands and faces. We passed broken panes, where creepers and leaves had spilled through. Birds called from without these fractures, their cries echoing in the stillness beyond. I also noticed that the passage seemed to be widening gradually, taking on the resemblance of a peculiar greenhouse. Boris stopped me at one point, drawing my attention to a large shattering in the passage. We stopped and regarded a hole which stretched from wall to ceiling, as though something large had thrashed through the glass. A cold little box of fear awoke somewhere, growing arms and legs and moving around. Boris peeked out through the broken glass, avoiding standing on the bits and splinters. He pushed aside some heavy, succulent lamina and exposed a moonlit forest scene. Tall, unidentifiable trees receded into a silvery gloom. Mist was travelling in tentacles and the outline of mountains was discernable beyond some trees. He stepped out cautiously and I followed, navigating the damp undergrowth and fungal forms which carpeted the forest floor.
“Is it real?” I asked quietly.
The harmonics of my voice were incorrect. My vocalisations sounded boxy and tinny, as uttered in an enclosed space. And when he replied it sounded as though his mouth were full of syrup.
“We must still be in the passage..” he garbled.
We began to walk through the trees, entering into an area of thick mist. I noticed that he still had the sword, only it was larger now, more distorted and obscure, somehow affixed into the bone of his arm.
“It’s exactly like a dream…” he seemed to say.
I gave an approximation of a nod. The trees were thinning and glimpses of a valley were becoming slowly apparent. Large, spiky cycads stood at intervals, glooming through the mist like strange creatures from another world.
“I recognise this species of fern,” Boris was saying. “It’s from the early Cretaceous…”
I raised my arm to take another drag and the cigarette met my lips in the glass passage. I looked around, vaguely disorientated. The lounge was only a few paces away and the light from the adjoining room was clearly visible. We had advanced only a small distance down the passageway. I looked at Boris before sucking in more of the cloying smoke. He was standing beside me, staring ahead with half-lidded eyes. The sword dangled from his fingers and his mouth hung slack. His eyes roved back and forth behind their lids as though in an advanced state of REM. I turned around and went back into the lounge. The dimensions of the chamber seemed to have increased exponentially. I ignored everything and crossed to the stone staircase, ascending to the unexplored quarters of the house.
There were too many rooms, places I didn’t recognise. I kept leaving my body, unsure of what was real or not. Entire universes passed me by and I constantly saw figures moving though the half-lit corridors. I became lost and emerged on one of the long balconies which serpentined about the house, overlooking the passage of the river. Trees shuffled and whirled darkly below, rich with dream-cargo. The balcony was one of those antiquated colonial affairs, wide and pillared, wrought with slim iron filigree. The air sparkled faintly with the passage of insects and a rich current of fragrance and scent. In the dark, these odours enlarged, slowly encompassing the entirety of my attention. My eyes closed and bright starry patterns began to kaleidoscope madly behind my lids. I found that I had sunk to my hands and knees, skittering to and fro as the rivulets of scent beckoned me this way and that. I opened my eyes a fraction and caught a glimpse of the moon. It clung like a god-sized spider to the fabric of night, emanating a continuous rain of small phosphorescent tadpoles which wafted in rays through space, catching in everything. Some of these landed on me and I gathered them in my clawed hand. Some predatory instinct I did not know I had caused me to inhale them. The vivid lunar emmissions coursed into me, brightening my senses to a fine pitch. Colours refined and sounds clarified as I seemed to attune into a sort of feline frequency. I felt incredibly strong all of a sudden. A quivering springiness impregnated my body and I leapt quietly onto the railing, balancing precariously there as the trees spanned below. I was suddenly overcome by an almost uncontrollable urge to spring into the treetops. I flexed, and was about to leap, when an odour became suddenly apparent, captivating my attention. I turned my head this way and that, snuffling about for its source. I found it quickly; a creamy, intensely magnetic little tributary of perfume was flowing in from my left hand side. I ignored the carpet-weave of all the other smells and followed this slender lace of scent off the railing and down the length of the curving balcony. I slunk around the cusp of the dark house and spied an open set of double doors, through which the fragrance seemed to emanating. I entered the house on all fours, scuttling quickly from shadow to shadow. Movement was dream-like and came without any effort. My body seemed to have fused with the mercurial, shifting aspect of my ‘dream body’, intergrating harmoniously with it’s ebb and flow. I realised dimly that this was how animals must feel. I saw how animals ‘dreamed in the flesh’, living materially within their astral selves and reacting accordingly. I wanted to hold onto this revelation, but it was hard to maintain thought in the frame I had put myself in. My mind dissolved like so much burning paper against the hot engines of sensory reflex and instinctive movement. I slithered across a constrictive passage, through dark rooms and down a spiral staircase. The scent was very strong now. I entered into a chamber populated by moonlit marble statues and saw Yvette at the far end, sketching furiously. The complicated fragrance, which I had focused upon so intently, fountained off her, trailing through space like the long body of a jellyfish. And it was almost as if she had sent one of the tendrils of this body to find and draw me to her, as though she were looking for me. She had not consciously registered my entrance though, and so I drifted from statue to statue, low to the ground, moving closer to her in silence. My state had engendered me with a sort of invisibility, a sense-cloak, which somehow sheilded my presence from the awareness of others. It was a deep reflex, beckoned from primordial basements, eclipsing all mentality in an ancient internal hush. I watched her working from a corner, disguised by the oily shadow of a dancing caryatid. She perched in my field of vision, fragile and unbalanced as an autumnal leaf. And as I hovered there, my observation of her began to awaken faint sense-memories of the night before; the smell of her hair and density her limbs, the oyster-shell taste of her teeth. These various impressions slowly deactivated the animal form I had cloaked myself in and my breath changed. She swung about suddenly, dropping her pencil in fright.
“Where did you come from!” she whispered frantically.
My hands found her instinctively in the darkness, smoothing away her shock like wet clay. She stopped trembling and our physical attunement re-asserted itself powerfully. Portions of her perception seemed to overfill and spill into me, snagging around my consciousness like ill-fitting clothes. I gazed around, over her shoulder to see the statues moving slightly upon their pedestals. I noticed that they were gradually adjusting their positions, as though experiencing discomfort. Her hot little hand found my hair once again, disappearing into it’s depth like a spider down a plughole. Papers fluttered to the floor like frightened birds and the dense aroma of her flooded into me, encircling each thought like a fiery tentacle, paralysing it. I felt her burning mouth cleave open like the chest of a sparrow, her tiny, sharp teeth crushing against my lip. Her desperation was a hidden hearth in an abandoned house. Everything in her flooded to it, warming favoured sides at it’s crowded grate. I was sucked into this vortex she had created, unable to resist the gravitational pull of her salty lonliness. My palms scraped the flagstones as we turned slowly. Her hand cleft snugly under my ribs and felt her dextrous knuckles brush the surface of my heart. I shuddered, recoiling giddily as her fingers scuttled around inside me. I felt her fingernails snagging clumsily on delicate internal muscular structures, trying to gain a purchase on the organ which beat within my chest.
“Yvette…” I hissed. “Yvette stop!”
She calcified in a heartbeat, drawing away like a blanket. A sort of coldness washed in, seperating us like hot wax which is plunged abruptly into water. She shrunk away across the floor, small and rodent-like. The gravitational force of her body drew me still, keeping my hands around her. We spilled across the floor like some strange fluid, changing in the moonlight.
“I was trying to find you…” she breathed.
This vocal expression seemed to alter the frequency of the situation, and I was able to draw myself up to my knees. I could see her smiling maniacally in the painted moon-glow.
“The statues were talking to me,” she giggled.
I pulled her up and the room swayed like some top-heavy boat. The sounds of all the flexing marble limbs moving brought back the memory of her teeth against mine; the mineral grinding of opposing forces.