"I know I shrieked and I’m sure I threw the candle in the figure’s direction. I don’t know what happened to it, but all of a sudden the air in the room began to escape like a gust of wind moving backwards in time and space. The figure wavered. Gloved hands, blindingly bright, seemed to reach for me, and I felt my hand go up to my mouth. I was struggling to breathe"
After the incident in the stairwell, and after the incident in the library, I found a radio in one of the rooms in the house. A very old radio with a huge dial at the front and a speaker that makes every station sound as if it’s coming from an earlier time. I put it on and turned it up as loud as possible. I could only get one station on the damned thing – probably due to the radio’s age, I guess – so it was that station or nothing. Happily, it was playing music and I was quite easily charmed by the tinny, slightly garbled and compressed sound that wound its way through that part of the house. While the radio played, I sat on a chair on the gravel at the front of the house and watched the trees doing typically tree-like things in the breeze and sipped a glass of red wine (yes, I bought another bottle – if that's alright with you!) that, in turn, did typically red wine-like things to my sensibility; the monophonic sound of the radio was at times dim, distant, but then brash and crackly, and coming feebly along the hallway and through the open front door. It was achingly cold. Winter was striding in with its heavy boots, and I remember thinking how very possible it was that it would snow. Within minutes I was shivering and the red wine too icy to enjoy.
As dinner time got closer, I turned the radio off, leaving it in the first floor room where I’d found it, and retired to my own rooms, locking the front door of the house and the door to my own suite of rooms, as is my way of an evening.
After dinner, I sat down with Charlotte Bronte and one of those scenes in Villette where Lucy Snowe finds herself walking alone through unfamiliar, foreign streets. It had just turned dark outside and I turned a reading light on beside me and put on some mild music ever-so slight in the background. After only a few minutes, the electrical appliances, all of a sudden, went off and then back on again. I sighed and puckered my lips in irritation. A few minutes later and the same thing happened again. I slammed down my book, went into the kitchen and got a candle and matches ready, fully expecting to be plunged into electrical oblivion again, as had happened on that first night. The next time that the lights went off and on, I was sure I could hear a voice from beyond my set of rooms once the electricity had returned. I listened. It was the radio upstairs. Somehow – a surge perhaps? – it had turned itself back on again. I sighed. I couldn’t exactly leave it. If I did, it would most probably be on all night. But the house wasn’t so dark that I was completely disconcerted at the thought of leaving my rooms, so I decided to quickly go upstairs, quickly switch the radio off and quickly get back down the stairs. No sooner had I decided this than I was quickly putting the plan of all-round quickness into exceptionally speedy action! I lit the candle and took it with me in case the electricity failed altogether.
"After dinner, I sat down with Charlotte Bronte and one of those scenes in Villette where Lucy Snowe finds herself walking alone through unfamiliar, foreign streets. It had just turned dark outside and I turned a reading light on beside me and put on some mild music ever-so slight in the background. After only a few minutes, the electrical appliances, all of a sudden, went off and then back on again"
Once in the hallway I switched on the main light that was suspended from the ceiling at the very top of the winding stairwell. I was already half-way up the first flight of stairs before I wondered what it was that was playing out of the radio. Not music. Definitely a male voice speaking. But, although I could barely make it out, it did sound odd for a radio programme.
Darkness. Light. The electricity in the house continued to fail and then return. In between, my candle flickered, and dull, delicate light crawled meekly over the walls and stairs.
I reached the first floor and looked along the dark corridor before me. The room that contained the radio was the only one open, so there was a swathe of milky light coming from it, no doubt from the window and the dimming daylight outside. For some reason I started to slow down. The voice was still indistinct in what it was saying, but the delivery was very staccato, repetitive and slightly pleading. Yet I knew that it was definitely the radio, and for this reason I kept going forwards. Under foot there was the occasional creak, and I found myself walking as lightly as possible – for fear of disturbing who or what I have no idea! Darkness again. But then no return of the light. The candle light illuminated the few feet between me and the door, and instantly it conjured up shadows that had not been there before, making every shadow on the wall appear like skulking banshees endlessly leaping up from their places of hiding. I tried not to focus on their restlessness and the way every second flicker looked like an arm or a leg or a head or fingers, or great bulky implements raised high in the air above my head. No, I tried desperately not to think of those things.
At last, there was the room. I peered round the corner of the doorway, the candle extended in front of me. Everything was as I expected. The window was bare and a crusty, dimming evening was giving up its last throes of light. There, on an old wooden stool, was the radio, just as I had left it. Now I could make out what the man on the radio was saying: “Your turn,” he said. “It’s your turn now. Your turn.”
The voice seemed to be speaking to me. I froze – unsure whether to turn back or go forwards. As the voice spoke, I kept doubting where it was coming from – one second trapped and desperate in the radio, the next it was above my head, then at my ear, then behind me and on the move. The words were curious and the male voice was, as I had noted earlier, slightly imploring. The whole thing seemed distant, transistorised and muffled, yet reverberating in my mind, trembling and partially-recalled. The endless repeating of these words disconcerted me. I felt a knot growing in my stomach, my mouth dried, in what seemed like a second, and my senses started to heighten to everything that was around me. This was no radio programme – that much I was sure of. As I moved to switch off the radio I could tell that the voice was getting more uneasy: “It’s your turn! Your turn now! Your turn!”
"There, so close that I’m sure I saw my breath mist-over across its surface, was a shining black visor, reflective, perfect and cold like obsidian, and surrounded by a blurred and vibrating white light. The candle-light appeared to flash against the shining dark space, that really just seemed like a great swallowing hole where a face should be"
As my hand, slightly shaking, moved towards the radio, something happened. Light. Electrical. But so sudden out of the darkness that I jumped. Then darkness again. But darkness followed by another electrical surge – at least, so I thought. The radio transmission stopped, there was a slight shifting of light around me from somewhere and then the radio voice returned as before. But now it was not in front of me and emanating from the radio. It was behind me, unmistakably, and so was the light.
The voice was forceful, loud and ever so close to my ear. The candle flickered manically and I realised that it was the shaking of my hand that was causing it. I turned round, thinking that I was about to drop the candle. There, so close that I’m sure I saw my breath mist across its surface, was a shining black visor, reflective, perfect and cold like obsidian, and surrounded by a blurred and vibrating white light. The candle light appeared to flash against the shining dark space, that really just seemed like a great swallowing hole where a face should be, and, as it did so, I saw my own face reflected in the blackness: my eyes wide and terrified, my mouth open and everything about it pale and awe-struck. It looked like me, but dead; a flash-forwards, an echo from the future, of a lifeless face still and numbed to the depths, and surrounded by a coffin of black wood.
The voice now came from behind the visor as if it was coming from tiny speakers and like an antiquated radio signal trapped and writhing in static: “Your turn now! Your turn now! It’s your turn!” I thought I saw outer space deep inside the blackness of the visor and I saw its complete absence, its absolute appetite for everything that came near it. I saw every human lung shrink to the size of a pea in a blink and every scrap of air compress into a pinprick and extinguish with nothing more than a childlike gasp. The desperation in the voice was palpable – it seemed to increase in intensity as it appeared to be drawn further into something like space, conclusively empty. My vision was confused. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing: I saw light, I saw darkness, I saw myself, I saw my own heartbeat thumping above my head, I saw the candle, and I’m sure it looked to me like a face screaming and trying to liberate itself from the wax and to fly from the room.
"In my mind were thoughts of a vacuum devouring me and of outer space eating me whole with its great black jaws; the astronaut holding me down as the emptiness of space feasted on me. It had feasted on him. Now it was my turn"
I know I shrieked and I’m sure I threw the candle in the figure’s direction. I don’t know what happened to it, but all of a sudden the air in the room began to escape like a gust of wind moving backwards in time and space. The figure wavered. Gloved hands, blindingly bright, seemed to reach for me, and I felt my hand go up to my mouth. I was struggling to breathe. The voice was becoming frantic now and I think I began to cry – half in tears and half through terror. I couldn’t, of course, get out of the room. The white figure was blocking the way. It seemed to have arms around me, even though I wasn’t entirely sure where it was. Its entirety seemed to baffle my senses; panic and fear incapacitated me and I waited, utterly weakened, for some blow or grip to come down upon me that would end absolutely everything. As the gust increased I felt myself drawn towards the figure. At some point – probably the point just before I blacked out – it occurred to me, as it had the previous night, that the figure was that of an astronaut. I suspect that it was at this point, as the utter foolishness of the thought joined with the realisation that the foolishness was true, that I passed out. In my mind were thoughts of a vacuum devouring me and of outer space eating me whole with its great black jaws – the astronaut holding me down as the emptiness of space feasted on me. It had feasted on him. Now it was my turn.
When I woke up, the light that surrounded me was entirely natural. The radio was on. The singing voice said: “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound.”
I realised immediately that, more than anything in the world, I needed to cry, right there and then. It was almost an hour later when I finally stopped. I spent the whole day in the neighbouring town, sitting in cafes and eating cheesecake, drinking coffee in bars. I spent the entire day trying, for dear life, to be normal and not haunted to the very depths of my soul. And when I returned to the house, I went straight to bed. I hadn’t had an asthma attack the night before – God knows, I should have done! But my chest felt threshed and perforated. My muscles felt pained, stretched and abused. Something and everything needed to heal inside me; needed to close up like petals and submerge into some personal oblivion.
Yes, it was all quite similar to what happened a few nights ago. But the thought of telling it tires me and my strength drips out of me and through the floor. I can’t do it. I need to sleep again. Only sleep will give me the courage and strength to see this through.
Why do I need to see this through? Ask Philip. Ask him. And, stupid as it seems, maybe you should ask this fresh new love of mine, James, too.