"gradually I've come to realise that my house is haunted by the ghost of a dead astronaut"

Saturday, 30 January 2010

40. An Illustrated History of Dead Astronauts

 
"Is it possible that the mysterious astronaut outside of the spacecraft Prelude is the same astronaut who haunts Mordan House? Some astronaut who died in space and whose ghost has somehow descended to the ground? Is this the link with fact that I'm looking for?"

Eighteen astronauts, either American or from the old Soviet Union, have died in-flight during space missions. Other astronauts have died while training for space flights or on the launchpad in their space-suits, and many personnel have died on the ground as a result of accidents – but only eighteen were airborne in spacecrafts at the time that they died.

But how many of them died in space?

This question is extremely relevant to me, it seems. If I'm being haunted by a dead astronaut, and if Philip's story about the spacecraft Prelude is somehow true, then there appears to be a link between what's happening to me in Mordan House and what's happened before in space. I'm looking for some link that exists in fact, yet I'm not sure what fact I'm looking for. Moreover, I'm not entirely sure what a fact is in this story! In Philip's version of the story of the spacecraft Prelude, the astronauts heard a scratching sound on the outside of their spacecraft, a sound made by the mysterious astronaut seen outside floating in space, the astronaut who shouldn't have been there; I heard the sound of scratching in the basement of this house. Fact? Possibly. But it's hard to trust anything that my imagination throws up these days, yet I find it hard to doubt that this is an important connection. Is it possible that the mysterious astronaut outside of the spacecraft Prelude is the same astronaut who haunts Mordan House? Some astronaut who died in space and whose ghost has somehow descended to the ground? Is this the link with fact that I'm looking for?

Yet what of the words spoken outside my door regarding the helmets that were made at the request of some woman who once lived here in Mordan House? The helmets that eat people. And how is it possible that a helmet can eat a person? At the same time, one aspect of this line of questioning cannot be avoided: how can I be sure that there was actually a voice outside of my door, telling me these things? I'm searching for facts, it seems, in a world fundamentally corrupted by my own delusions, and ultimately subverting any notion of fact.

Online, I've been looking at the faces of dead astronauts. I've been looking at their proud, expectant smiles. Smiles with no hint of fear, only of bravery and adventure and possibility. The chances of death were probably exceptionally high for them all, yet it was nowhere to be seen in their faces. I myself can still remember the sense of loss at the deaths of the astronauts on board both Challenger and Columbia.

The seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger died in the midst of their expectancy, with the spacecraft having only just taken off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

"The seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger died in the midst of their expectancy"

By contrast, the seven astronauts of the shuttle Columbia died in the midst of their pride. They had been in space for sixteen days, carrying out a number of scientific experiments. On re-entering the Earth's orbit, one of the wings overheated and became detached due to a displaced tile and the spacecraft lost control.

Yes, you might well haunt land and sky if this was your fate – your frustration, your need to return to loved ones, the horror of your demise, all creating a conflict of emotions that might well leave your impression in the air. An impression intent on dropping down to the land.

"By contrast, the seven astronauts of the shuttle Columbia died in the midst of their pride"

Perhaps these feelings could be said to be true of all who have died as a result of space missions. Perhaps they were true of Vladimir Komarov who died aboard the Soyuz 1. Again, his was a fatality on returning to Earth, but this time crashing to the ground due to a number of mechanical problems. It's possible that the mixture of emotions experienced by this particular astronaut (or cosmonaut, if you wish to use the term of the Soviet Union which was responsible for putting him in space) were different. Rumours circulated after Vladimir's death that his last radio message damned those who had designed and engineered such a shoddy craft. What could he have cried out? "One day it will be your turn!" Who knows.

"Rumours circulated after Vladimir's death that his last radio message damned those who had designed and engineered such a shoddy craft"

But none of these astronauts died in space. So, exactly how many astronauts have actually died in space? Only three, it would appear. Those on board Soyuz 11 in 1971.

The sense of expectancy must have been with those on the ground who ventured to recover the capsule containing the returning Soviet heroes of Soyuz 11 after their successful space mission. The astronauts were the first to dock with a space station, Salyut 1, they had set a new space endurance record, and were returning as the new heroes of the Cold War, as the Soviets warred with the US to dominate the race to the stars. The ground crew had little idea that anything had gone wrong with the return flight, although radio contact had been lost before re-entry, and they opened the capsule only to find all three dead inside.  

It had all gone wrong for Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev as soon as they started the procedures to return to Earth. Cabin pressure was accidentally released and the three astronauts asphyxiated within 40 seconds.


"It had all gone wrong for Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev as soon as they started the procedures to return to Earth. Cabin pressure was accidentally released and the three astronauts asphyxiated within 40 seconds"

After I learned this online the other day, this fact stayed with me. All three asphyxiated. And whenever I thought about it, I would hear that gurgling sound in my head again. The sound I'd heard from Kidman. Yet surely this gurgling sound is imaginary! It's just something dreamed up by me! It has no foundation in Philip's story. No foundation in fact.

I looked again and again at their three faces and found it impossible to think that any one of them could be haunting me. For a start, their capsule landed in Kazakhstan – not Scotland! The idea of any connection is preposterous!

But what other options do I have? None.

Or so I thought.

It was then, yesterday, that I learned about the lost cosmonauts.

There have been, I’ve discovered, countless rumours over the years of other Soviet space travellers who underwent secret missions into space, and some have been rumoured to have died – their deaths hushed-up as America and the Soviet Union competed for the kudos of gaining particular milestones in space exploration.

Could that be the clue I’m looking for to discover my astronaut’s identity? Am I looking for information on the nineteenth astronaut? Is it the nineteenth who is haunting me? And could one of those spacecrafts have been called Prelude? Most importantly for me, which death has a connection with this old house in Scotland?

When I first had this idea and felt it searing through me, I also heard and felt an insistent and slow scratching down the back of my head. Quickly I realised that it was my own hand on the back of my head and realised also that I had been reading and daydreaming for hours.

Yet I wonder also for how much longer might that scratching be my own fingers? Can I solve this mystery and do something to resolve it before the astronaut's scratching resounds as a prelude to plucking me from this planet? Can I solve it before the woman responsible for creating the helmets that eat people returns to Mordan House?

The questions are enormous, conflicting, and they seem insurmountable. And I seem so small and pointless in the face of it all. Just another dim, weak star, easily looked over and ignored in a night-sky tremendous with extraordinary features, mysteries and mysterious apparitions.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

39. What Kind of Kidman Is This Anyway?

“I looked up and round as I hurried on, wondering if I might see the dead astronaut drop. Had she summoned him? Was he on his way to grab me? Pluck me? Bushes seemed to amble like muscular horrors, tree trunks leaned down and over me with dark menace, delighting in the onset of terror”
I quickly got dressed after I saw Kidman's mood change, my eyes and my mind staying fixed solely on the task at hand, even though I could feel her seething presence behind me everywhere I moved.

I loosely tied back my hair, aware that I looked a fright and hadn’t washed or preened myself in any way. I put down the key to the basement somewhere – on a table or something, I wasn’t too bothered where – and with flat black shoes and my heavy coat on, with my copy of Charlotte Bronte's Villette tucked under my arm, I aimed hurriedly for the front door. I felt I desperately needed to get away from this particular Kidman. Whatever kind she was.

There was trepidation in me but my own anger was still there too, and the two feelings took turns at leaning forward then stumbling back, again and again – this inner dance fuelling my physical progress towards the door in a staggered, confused fashion.

Outside, the snow was all gone save for some resistant clumps where my car wheels had forced it into little banks. The sky above was wan and dismal looking, forming a canopy of unperforated cloud right across the sky. Here and there, patches of white gleam were visible, the sun clearly smothered away somewhere under the deep, heavy covers of cloud.

I didn’t have the energy to climb the Clansman – even the mild foothills were too much for my wasted lungs. I opted instead for a soothing, invigorating stroll round the perimeter of Mordan House and its land. First of all it was the gravel of the driveway that I walked on, then onto a dirt track dappled with puddles due to recent drizzles of rain and melted snow. The dirt track skirted round to the back of the house, running on the other side of a wall that framed the house’s small garden area. The wall was taller than me and edged with a grass verge. It was old and misshapen. Weeds decked it, and bushes entangled with the weeds giving it a wild and forlorn appearance.

From time to time as I walked I would hear the bushes rustle and this heightened my unease. I clutched my copy of Villette tightly in my hand, up close against my breast. A quick glance round, then a quickening of pace.

"I clutched my copy of Villette tightly in my hand, up close against my breast"

My main preoccupation was Kidman. How could I have felt about her the way I did before I arrived in Mordan House? How could I have been such a fan of hers for years? How could I have wanted to be like her? To want her to play me in a movie of my exploits? This endlessly posturing freak show! This empty spectacle!

“Posturing freak show? Empty spectacle?”

The sound of her voice came from behind me, yet seemed slightly elevated, and I half-expected to see her hovering in the air like a dead astronaut. But when I looked round, there she was standing on top of the wall, towering above me. I’m not sure what it was that made her appear to me so terrifying and formidable. Maybe it was her posture in that long, sleek dress and the way she stood aloft the high wall with such confidence and stature. Or maybe it was the blood-red look of anger that shot from her eyes, along her nose, across the divide between us and into me. Perhaps it was the tone in her voice – alive and pointed, visceral, unlike anything I’d heard from her before. Whatever it was – one, some or all of these things – I found myself stepping back from her.

“How dare you! How dare you say such things about me! Me! Who am I to you anyway? Tell me!”

I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t quite know what she meant. What was she looking for from me? What answer was I looking to give? One that was an answer of honesty or one of appeasement?

“Who am I? Who am I to you?” she demanded again.

I continued to step back as I was scared to turn my back on her. She started, however, to move along the wall, moving towards me; walking like a lioness, confident and proud, almost floating in that long dress. The trees in the background waved in the breeze, but as if whipped up by her anger, and the darkened windows of Mordan House stared on like a brooding audience. I felt alone, even nature having turned against me.

"I’m not sure what it was that made her appear to me so terrifying and formidable. Maybe it was her posture in that long, sleek dress and the way she stood aloft the high wall with such confidence and stature – or maybe it was the blood-red look of anger that shot from her eyes, along her nose, across the divide between us and into me"

“Kidman! That’s all I am to you! Kidman! A concept of your own making and that you cling to, no matter what! And then you tell me that you despise the very concept that you yourself created! What is there about your idea of me that's not been created by you? Strong Kidman! Resilient Kidman! Kind, warm-hearted Kidman!”

I finally turned away, my head down, my steps fast. I could still hear her words as she progressed along the wall, resounding across the air and through the trees.

“What you demand from me is to be the empty concept that you want me to be, that you believe you need me to be! I can never get away from it! I struggle to just be Nicole. because of your Kidman! The last thing you want is Nicole! You could never handle Nicole! It would be too complicated, too layered, too contradictory for you! Kidman is all you can handle and then you throw it back at me! You make me into a flat two-dimensional notion and then you slam the book shut on that notion and rubbish it, trash it! Why? Because you can’t be it! You can’t be what you made, what you dream of, so you hurl insults at someone who was never that notion in the first place! Rubbish me? Trash me? I’m not even in the equation! I’m not even here!”

We were nearing the end of the wall, she would have to stop at the end or come down to my level. I hastened my steps. Would she take to the air then? Would she fly then in pursuit of me?

“Who are you without me? I know who I am without you! I’m me! Free of your definition, your straight-jacket, your clumsy, tired, empty, vacuous concept that endlessly tries to drag me out of reality and into your void – your attempts to make me as empty and lifeless and superficial as you are! Without you, I might actually just be me!”

Then she began to call out in a different way, but not to me. To someone or something else.

“Dead astronaut, take her! Come down and pluck her! Take her! Feast on her! It's all she's good for!"

Walk, Stephanie, walk! Don’t turn around. No, do not turn around! My heart raced, my throat was tight like there were fingers inside seizing and constricting it.

“Pluck her!” I heard her call out again, her voice twisted and possessed. This time I knew she was above me and I clutched my head with both hands, my copy of Villette falling to the ground.

"Walk, Stephanie, walk! Don’t turn around. No, do not turn around! My heart raced, my throat was tight like there were fingers inside seizing and constricting it"

I could hear her, yet the more I walked the more I could hear the sound of my own feet on the ground as I rustled leaves and branches. This rustling sound added to my worries. I looked up and round as I hurried on, wondering if I might see the dead astronaut drop. Had she summoned him? Was he on his way to grab me? Pluck me? Bushes seemed to amble like muscular horrors, tree trunks leaned down and over me with dark menace, delighting in the onset of terror.

Before I knew it, I came out of the woods and found myself, unexpectedly, at the front of Mordan House. The clouds had turned white with just a touch of grey and the house looked without mood – just another big old building. And I found that my breathing was free and easy, my lungs open and without any discomfort or rasp, or frailty in my muscles. I stood still, closed my eyes for a second and enjoyed the luxury and joy of breathing.

That night, inside my suite of rooms, I sat and knitted, soft music playing in the background to try and soothe my mood. Yet all I could hear through the sweep of orchestral strings and the little clicks of the knitting needles, was Kidman, somewhere upstairs, sobbing loudly and uncontrollably.

And for the first time since she’d tumbled out, or down, or whatever it was she did to become so apparent in my life, I quite liked her. She was just like me, full of depth and illusion, full to the brim with the stuff of life and the stuff of death. Just another person full of empty concepts, and with a heart within it all that beat against the limiting parameters of every superficial notion, loudly and uncontrollably. More often than not, in sobs.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

38. The Language of a Small Infected Demon


"What I would do was lock the basement door and put the key somewhere safe. Then no-one else would come back into Mordan House uninvited. If I carried out the act really, really quickly then I wouldn’t see or hear anything! No scratching at the walls like before. No sign of dead things moving around in the adjacent room like before"

“Get up!”

It's a rusty kind of day. Something has got into my joints and I'm creaking and ineffectual. Every movement grinds through me and I feel bits of me grating together and other bits flaking off. That's what the other night has done to me. Mentally, I'm all dizzy – thoughts just slide out of my head and nothing seems able to grip them. Physically, I'm all slowed down and dilapidated. Crush and recycle me. It's all I'm good for.

“When are you going to get up?”

I know that it's largely because my system doesn't want to consider what happened to me the other night. There's only so much that can be handled by me, or any human being at any one time. I want peace, some space for reparation and reformation. No boats will be rocked by me today. Boats will love the sea today and feel it to be their friend.

“You are such a waste of space, Steph Fey! Get up! Show some stomach! Show some fight!”

“I can’t get up! I don’t want to get up!” I holler.

My head’s under the covers but I can feel Kidman hovering, and I can hear her pacing about as she barks at me.

“I don’t care about what you want! Why would I ever care about what you want? You’re nothing to me. Getting up, that’s what’s important!”

I don’t know what to do next. I’m aware of this logjam of possibilities inside me. Indecision. Anguish. How do I solve this puzzle? Which way do I go? I can’t decide. All possibilities seem equal and all possibilities seem potentially fruitless too. I know I need to go and talk to people, to get up and do things and talk. That way I’ll find out things. About the engineer, for example. Was he the same man that had entered Mordan House the other night? I needed to ask about so many things! But I’m nothing. I’m a dull, useless bitch and I can’t bring myself to do anything.

“Get up, dull, useless bitch! Just get up!”

I won't rock any boat today. Even liars and self-deceivers are safe on the sea today. Dead astronauts are safe in the skies too. I will investigate nothing, therefore I will find out nothing. Nothing is resolved to do nothing. 

“Oh, budge up then! If you’re going to be so achingly dull then I’m off to sleep too!”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Getting into bed. I’m going to sleep here too.”

Bloody Kidman! Will she ever leave me in peace?

Then. A thought. One I could hold onto. Oh, such a little thought. Oh, tiny little thing. I sat bolt upright, realising the one thing that I wanted to do and could do.

"I won't rock any boat today. Even liars and self-deceivers are safe on the sea today. Dead astronauts are safe in the skies too. I will investigate nothing, therefore I will find out nothing. Nothing is resolved to do nothing. No, I can’t hold any thought"

Kidman observed me as I sat up. “What is it? Did I touch your lady cupboard? If I did, it was an accident!”

What I would do was lock the basement door and put the key somewhere safe. Then no-one else would come back into Mordan House uninvited. If I carried out the act really, really quickly then I wouldn’t see or hear anything! No scratching at the walls like before. No sign of dead things moving around in the adjacent room like before. Yes, quickly! Quickly would ensure that the ambition was achieved. Yet, no sooner had I decided what to do than I knew also that I had to get it done straight away, or else lose the drive as quickly as it had arrived.

I got up. “Where are you going?”

I told her where. “The basement? Are you some kind of totally sick cuckoo bitch? Some kind of twisted freak show of a woman?”

“Yes,” I replied.

I threw on my dressing gown, put on my slippers and started immediately for the door. Kidman followed me but hung back as if not wanting to get close. “I don’t think you should do that. Especially not in your mentally unstable state. Not while you’re self-evidently a complete loon. A total fruit bat. Perhaps wait until you’re not so psychotic. What do you say?”

I looked away, squinted and licked my lips, feeling remarkably uncomfortable, but still energised. All of a sudden I was again aware of how vulnerable my body felt after the asthma attack of a few nights before. Inside, I felt like a room stripped of wallpaper; outside, like an old building covered in scaffolding. Kidman, on the other hand, looked like she was made of stone, each gesture precise and exquisite, every surface smooth and resplendent. Just her presence taunted me with it’s brazen delightfulness.

“No. I have to do this. I have to do something, so why not this?” It wasn’t really a question. It was posed to myself and posed loosely as if there was no answer other than ‘Yes, why not indeed?’.

"Inside, I felt like a room stripped of wallpaper; outside, like an old building covered in scaffolding. Kidman, on the other hand, looked like she was made of stone, each gesture precise and exquisite, every surface smooth and resplendent. Just her presence taunted me with it’s brazen delightfulness"

Then. The door handle. The lock. The gush of cold from the hallway. The sight of the hallway. The legs moving, moving. My legs! Oh, hello legs! No apparent mental impetus from me at all. And Kidman in the background trying to make me turn back. Failing. Miserably.

“You can look at my lady cupboard!”

Then. More steps. More cold. More shadows, even in daylight.

“For free?”

Then. The steps down to the basement. And me stepping down them. Then. The boom-boom-boom of my heartbeat. But my steps equally as quick. The boom-boom-boom of my steps on the stairs. Then. Trying. To breathe. And. Just about. Able to.

It felt like walking back through more than a memory. More than an emotional and psychological recollection of a bad experience. It felt like I was walking into a living thing that I had previously assumed to be dead and lifeless, but now saw and knew to be something else. Yet not a person or a creature. A place of creatures. I could feel the presence of sharp fingers reaching out to scratch against that wall, even though I couldn’t hear them. I felt the walls of that stairwell reaching down to try and pluck me out of this world. To eat me whole, like those helmets that eat people. Those helmets that you wear forever, after you've put them on once.

No. Actions only. Keep walking, Stephanie Fey. Keep. Breathing. Too.

The key was still there in the door, just where I had left it. I closed the door quietly, too afraid to bang it. Then. So much more afraid than when I had walked down the stairs, I ran back up them. Ran for fear of that living place finding its ability to grind its teeth, close its mouth and swallow me.

"It felt like I was walking into a living thing that I had previously assumed to be dead and lifeless, but now saw and knew to be something else. Yet not a person or a creature. A place of creatures. I could feel the presence of sharp fingers reaching out to scratch against that wall, even though I couldn’t hear them"

Then. The stairwell at the top. The key in my hand. Yet no feeling of triumph. Not yet. Not while the fear was still present. I soon found I was standing still at my door, concentrating on relaxing, on getting my breathing back. I needed a minute. To adjust. Then. Then I would feel pleased.

But there, on the other side of the door, was Kidman. She turned her gaze on me, at first saying nothing.  There was no need. Her entire look was comprised of eyebrows, nose and puppies. Resentfully, I realised then that she was right: sometimes ENP is all you need. No other gesture is required, no words need be employed.

“Happy now? So what the devil will you do with the key? Wait until someone breaks the door down to try and get it from where you’ve hidden it. The basement door was better off open. Now you’ve just drawn more attention to yourself.” She was haughty and superior. But she was right. I looked down at the key in my hand and wondered what exactly I would do with it. But, more than this, I was instantly angry at Kidman for stealing my thunder. Stealing my ever so tiny moment of glory.

“Quit that ENP crap, will you!” was all I could say. It was a trite thing to say and I knew it.

She didn’t stop though, merely relaxed the ENP for an instance and then realigned its properties with even greater force. “It doesn’t mean anything, you know! It just looks stupid!” I told her. 

"Slowly she raised her head and looked at me. No elevated quizzical eyebrows, no dagger-like nose, no plush and protruded puppies. Instead, darkness. Steely anger. But not like mine. Hers was fearsomely focused and portentous. This was a new Kidman and I didn’t like it. What kind of Kidman was this anyway?"

But she continued to hold it. Oh boy, did she hold it! It was magnificent! How I despised her! Despised her? Did I? I aimed for calmness, but only reached quiet incandescence: “Thank you, Kidman. I think I get it.”

“Get it? That you never will, you Stilly Stephanie.”

I’m not entirely sure where it came from. My language, all of a sudden, became the language of a small infected, crippled demon who was finding his way up and out of me – “Up and out,” the small demon cackled. ‘”Up and out, that’s where I’m going.” I couldn’t stop him. I just couldn’t. Seeing Kidman, the demon thought it recognised one of its own kind and spat.

“You despicable little presence, Kidman! Get out of my life! Get out! You repel me! You horror! You plague of a presence! You’re bile in my life. You’re a scourge! How dare you talk to me and treat me the way that you do! Just get your repulsive, insulting knives out of my life! You’re just a set of horrible dirty stabbing knives! Get out, damn it, get out!”

It was my voice, but how unlike me. I could see myself speaking the words, yet I felt connected to myself by some chord that projected me above myself. All those feelings, however, were with me, travelling through the chord and passing toxins into my head. My lips had saliva on them and I could feel a bit of spit on my chin, but my mouth was utterly dry. I felt my hands and my chin shaking with nervousness and anger and self-hatred.

I knew how Kidman would respond. I knew her presence. I awaited the silent stance of eyebrows, nose and puppies. But, oh, how wrong I was!

There was a silence between us. For the first time, it was one of ignorance on my part; the first time I felt that I didn’t understand what was going on with her. It was eerie.

Slowly she raised her head and looked at me. No elevated quizzical eyebrows, no dagger-like nose, no plush and protruded puppies. Instead, darkness. Steely anger. But not like mine. Hers was fearsomely focused and portentous. This was a new Kidman and I didn’t like it. What kind of Kidman was this anyway?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

37. The Intruder




"A creak. Right outside the door. A tiny rattle as the door handle was gripped on the other side. Two lone tears streamed down my face as if desperate to get away. Yes, even my tears wanted away from me!"

"She does have a good point, you know. I mean, why are you here? Why you, Stephanie Fey?"

Kidman had been looking at me suspiciously for some time. I was trying to ignore it, choosing instead to do some knitting, but stopping and starting as I wrote down a list of possible new avenues that I could pursue to investigate the mystery of the dead astronaut. Even though every stitch made me think about James, thinking also about the list helped to keep his image in the background. Moreover, it helped me to keep my head down and avoid Kidman’s eyes as she studied me. Still, all the while I sensed her frowning and staring, as if I might suddenly make a move that might give some secret away.

I was back in Mordan House and safely locked away in my suite of rooms. Outside, the night was cold, but the snow had been thawing for much of the day. Unusually, the rooms had a warm and cosy feel about them, in total contrast to how they had been feeling to me of late. But I’ve found myself making more of an effort since I got back from Mrs Ormsley’s; these rooms are my haven, my protection from everything that lies beyond these walls and I’ve decided that I should respect them more. If I don't nurture this tiny little nook for myself, then all of Mordan House will be cold and empty to me. Dead like space. If I allow that to happen, what will there be to stop me also feeling cold and empty, dead like space? But also I was buoyed by the fact that the paintings and sketches I'd found in the files were real. Even if they didn't indicate the presence of a ghost, they showed an unusual fixation with astronauts in the past of Mordan House, and I convinced myself that this was too much of a coincidence not to bear some relevance. Since my return, I’d spent some time looking for the key to the other basement door, but with no success. Yet this didn’t dampen my mood; the paintings and sketches amounted to progress. Perhaps I wasn’t as mad as I thought – even if I did have a Kidman in the house!

This Kidman, on the other hand, was in a different mood and curious about another perceived coincidence: the coincidence of me coming to reside in this house, and she was determined to talk about it.

"You know why I'm here," I replied, calmly, still not meeting her gaze. "I'm looking after this place for the owner. I leave once he's got enough money to demolish the house and redevelop it and the surrounding land. You know all that!"

"Yes, but Eva O'Dell's right, isn't she? When she commented on what you wrote on your web log the other day, she implied that all these goings-on seem particularly meaningful for you, for the life of Stephanie Fey. That's fine if it's all fanciful nonsense in your head, but if there's evidence now that the dead astronaut could be real, then why you? Why is all this happening to you?”

No, I wasn't going to let her annoy or upset me or contaminate my mood. Yes, I'd felt irritation towards the character of this Kidman phenomenon since she first appeared, and suppressing that irritation was sometimes difficult. Appeared? Is that the right verb? Materialised? Spilled out? Was secreted? Secreted! Gross! Whatever the correct verb is for the fact that Kidman was here now, where she wasn't here before, I was focusing my mind on not letting the character of her bother me. She would leave, no doubt, when she was ready to leave, or when some part of me was ready to let go of her. Say nothing, I told myself, say nothing.

"It’s because I know more about you as a person, you and your past, that I ask: why you, Stephanie Fey?"

“Wrong girl in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s me. With the wrong shoes and totally the wrong underwear. A timeless tale, I’d say!” Damn! I spoke! Say nothing, I told myself for the second time. Say nothing!

“You see, I know more about you than your web log readers do. I know a lot more than Eva O'Dell does, for example. You don't write much about yourself, do you? And it’s because I know more about you as a person, you and your past, that I ask: why you, Stephanie Fey?"

I couldn’t help it and found instantly that I was trying to explain myself. "I tell the readers of my blog what they need to know. No more and no less! Perhaps this place, and the events within it, would have relevance for many people on many levels," I ventured.

Kidman, however, didn't seem to be listening and just tried a different angle: “I know you think about James, the man you want to be your future boyfriend. But how much do you think about Philip, the ex-boyfriend?”

Philip? I glanced at her, sensing the deliberation that she was putting into each word, and as I glanced I was struck by the sight of her standing with a finger raised and extended towards me, that finger moving up and down in an accusatory fashion. I froze and found myself staring at her, my mouth dropping open involuntarily. Philip?

"Wrong girl in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s me. With the wrong shoes and totally the wrong underwear. A timeless tale, I’d say!"

But then my head jerked to one side, also spontaneously. Yet not because of Kidman. There was a sudden and unfamiliar sound within the house. The sound of a door moving somewhere, either opening or closing. Was it the front door of the house, the one beyond the locked door of my own suite of rooms? But that was locked too. I locked it myself. I looked back at Kidman, looking to see if she was sensing the same fully-formed uncertainty as me. Instead she lowered her hand as her face emptied of all expression.

“It’s him,” she said coldly, her eyes fixed upon me.

“What? Who? What are you talking about?”

“Him. The man who enters the house and looks around.”

I think I instantly felt queasy and light-headed. What was she saying to me? “What are you talking about? What man?”

Slowly she moved her arm to point to the front of the house. “He parks his car at the end of the driveway where it can’t be seen and he lets himself in with a key. He’s done so since you opened the basement door. Each time he arrives, he goes down into the basement.”

"There was a sudden and unfamiliar sound within the house. The sound of a door moving somewhere, either opening or closing. Was it the front door of the house, the one beyond the locked door of my own suite of rooms?"

I remembered that I didn’t lock the basement door after I took the files away. I was too busy hurrying up the stairs, desperate to get away from there.

Now someone was in the house. Not a ghost. Not a figment of my twisted, hateful past, but someone I didn’t know and who had a key to let himself in and sneak around without me knowing. Someone who might also have a key to my suite of rooms.

Then there was another sound. The sound of feet. Walking quietly along the corridor outside my rooms. I thought momentarily of shouting out, warning the intruder that I was there – but the thought died away quickly like a whispered vowel sound within a gale. This was a new threat. And one that instantly felt hideously real. Unlike the dead astronaut. Unlike my own mind.

Kidman continued: “I thought you knew about him. You’ve sensed it though, haven’t you, Stephanie? The presence of somebody else walking through this house?”

Was she right? Did I sense it when I returned to the house from Mrs Ormsley’s and decided to barricade myself into this little glade, away from the rest of the house and its cold, dead arms? Maybe I did. Perhaps I had indeed felt it coming on, a kind of premonition of fear. Although nothing untoward had happened since I arrived back at the house, wasn’t there an underlying anxiety that had smouldered away inside, a little sickly and raw feeling, like a fragile coating over everything, like a little virus coming on? And even as I had been warm and cosy, as darkness muscled daylight out of the skies, had my uncertainty grown? But as a peripheral thing at first, hanging over me, before burrowing down inside, waiting for just such a trigger as this?

I inched towards the door to my suite of rooms, partly to reassure myself that I had locked it. The little hallway was poorly lit. From under the door I saw a strip of white light from the outside hallway. I had left a light on. Yes, there had been uncertainty somewhere inside me – there must have been. Why else would I have left that light on? These moments emphasised how little I know my own feelings, my own psychology, my own nerves. In the half-light, I could make out the feeble and precarious screws of the lock. I was tempted to rest my head against the door to hear better any sounds on the other side. Instead I hovered somewhere close beside it, ear cocked and head craned, a lock of hair in my hand and due pressure applied for nerves’ sake.

I found myself placing my hand on my chest. My breathing was becoming noisier. A slight wheezing sound was beginning to manifest and I felt myself edge into a corner between the door and the wall, trying desperately to breathe slowly and deeply, and to calm myself in order to help regulate my breathing.

"Although nothing untoward had happened since I arrived back at the house, wasn’t there an underlying anxiety that had smouldered away inside, a little sickly and raw feeling, like a fragile coating over everything, like a little virus coming on?"

Beyond the door I could hear nothing now. Not even the previous sound of footsteps. No sound of anyone venturing down into the basement. The only audible sound was me – in-out, in-out, like small bellows working madly. As I tried my best to listen, I watched the thin neon-like strip of light coming through the edges of the doorframe, trying to detect movement. Suddenly, there was a deft and gentle click sound, and the light in the hall beyond was extinguished. I gasped. Through the narrow angle of the doorway to the sitting-room I could see a part of Kidman’s dress but nothing else. My hands were shaking and my heartbeat was like a numbing, persistent pain. And, in that little corner of the corridor, I sank down to my knees and tried to make myself smaller and smaller, as my breathing turned to a rasp, my mouth open and gasping.

A creak. Right outside the door. A tiny rattle as the door handle was gripped on the other side. Two lone tears streamed down my face as if desperate to get away. Yes, even my tears wanted away from me!

Then the silence was broken by a foul, hoarse, whispering voice, snarling somewhat from the other side of the door: “Stephanie Fey.”

I shuddered and nearly choked. I thought for a moment that I would not be able to take another breath.

Then again: “Stephanie Fey. I know you’re in there.”

Listen was all I could do. I couldn’t speak. My mouth was frozen open, blocks of ice forming all the way down my throat and into my lungs, expanding and biting down on the little air that was there.

The voice then speeded up, still caustic and urgent: “I know you have files. Do they mention me? Do they mention anything about the man who engineered the helmets for her? Those helmets that eat people.” These last words he said with a quiver in his voice as if he was both scared and repelled.

I didn’t answer. I don’t think he realised that I couldn’t answer.

“I made them!” he said, spitting the words out, his whispers now becoming agitated. “Just as she wanted them. I designed them to do what she wanted them to do. To eat people. But I didn’t know what she wanted them for. I didn’t know that people were going to die.”

"It will drop from the skies, bringing with it the power of the void. When this time comes, all will be plucked and devoured"

What was I hearing? None of this disjointed rambling made any sense to me. All I seemed to hear was this unfamiliar voice snaking under the door and slithering into me through my mouth. Did I see the shadows of that narrow little hallway start to slowly curl and glide towards me too?

“I need to know if any of the files are invoices or correspondence,” the voice continued. "Do they mention me?” This last question was insistent, demanding a reply.

I knew I had to try and say something. At least just to let him know that I couldn’t talk. I had to summon up some words. Any words.

“I – I – I don’t. Know. Who. Who you are. The files. Are. All. Case notes. That’s all. Just case notes.”

I think I felt the man’s head rest against the wood of the door. Now he seemed emotional, almost close to tears. Was this relief? Or fear? Or was he feeling out the strength of the door? He would have heard the weakness in my voice. Now was the time to strike. Or take out his own key and unlock it from the outside? The little slithering shadows moved in ever closer around me, poised to pounce and take me by the throat.

“She’ll come back, you know. She’ll come back here," the voice said. "She needs this house. She and this house are part of the same horrible machine. She’ll have me plucked, just to make sure I keep quiet. You should leave. She’ll make you wear one of those helmets, and when that happens you’ll wear it for the rest of time. Is that what you want? She’ll have you plucked, Stephanie Fey. And she won’t stop till her anger dies. If it ever does.”

“Who? Who? Is she? I don’t. Know what. Any of this means!”

I think I sensed his head move back from the doorframe before he said: “It means just what she said it means: ‘It will drop from the skies, bringing with it the power of the void. When this time comes, all will be plucked and devoured’. That’s what she said. And I’ve seen it happen.”

In my mind I saw the dead astronaut hanging above the treeline, just as I had seen it before. Bringing with it the power of the void? Was that why it waited? Waiting to devour? To pluck? Who's turn? Who's turn was it now? Mine?

And he’d seen it? But what exactly had he seen? I was going to attempt to ask this very question when I realised that the intruder was gone. I knew it instantly. The silence on the other side of the door seemed different. The sense of the house around me was changed. I moved towards the kitchen area – that was where my inhaler was located. But I could only move by slowly crawling on the floor. I hadn’t the energy for anything more; if I had, I’d have run to the window to try and see the man making for his car, to see what he looked like and perhaps recognise him. I found my inhaler. It shook in my hands as I continued to tremble. My hands weak, I eventually found the strength to use it and then cried as I felt instant relief, the chemical acting to dispel the tightness of my chest, but also easing the tightness of fear.

"Philip was right. I’m nothing! Like he used to say to me: I’m a small ball and I should just let other people bounce me"

Where was Kidman? I staggered back into the main room. As I entered, a shadow on the ceiling caught my eye. I looked up and there she was, hanging in the air, unfettered by gravity, compressed between the wall and the ceiling, her body crooked and constrained. Her face staring down at me with vacant, hungry eyes. The long, supple dress clinging to every curve of every limb. And in a voice that was acidic and almost possessed, she said: “It’s your turn to be plucked, Stephanie Fey!” As she said the word ‘plucked’ she drew every sound out of the word, while making her hands into spindly little claws, her face twisted, pale and despicable. In that instant, I saw her tongue start to exit her mouth and heard her throat gurgle as if tightening, tightening. My hands went over my eyes and I screamed. I felt that scream rip right through me as if my entire body had suddenly turned into an agonising sound of fear. My eyes opened again, as quickly as I had closed them, and I found the room to be empty. No Kidman. Nothing. Just the sick taste in my mouth and the heavy feel in my stomach of my own demonic imagination.

I didn’t sleep in my bed that night – last night – I slept in my little hallway instead, and with a kitchen knife and a hammer at my side. No Kidman to console me. Just me.

Asthma has a tendency to exhaust my brain, as if it’s starved of oxygen during an attack and needs to take time to fill up again. The main thought that I can recall was on a loop, persistently going round and round my head. The thought said: What can I possibly have let loose in opening that basement door?

Yet the last thought before I fell asleep was one of self-loathing and self-doubt. It said: How could I have been so foolish? This isn’t me! Philip was right. I’m nothing! Like he used to say to me: I’m a small ball and I should just let other people bounce me. Yes, I thought, I am indeed a small ball and I should just let other people bounce me.

Today, while in the neighbouring town, recuperating in the glow of other people’s ordinary lives, I overheard the story of an engineer who lived in the town and who didn’t arrive home last night. Something had happened to him in the 20 yards between where he parked his car on the street and the front door of his family home. When I heard this, I opened my bag, took out my inhaler and used it. In my mind I could see Kidman’s face, fingers and twisted limbs, and hear that rasping voice saying, “It’s your turn to be plucked!”

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

36. Dark Therapy


"What was I looking at? What was this? At best, it was the first tangible connection I'd encountered between my experiences and the past of Mordan House. At worst, I felt the slow, insistent scratching of the basement of Mordan House down my back"

The files contain sorry tales. Tales of women abused at the hands of their partners to the point where an escape into the protective cocoon afforded by Mordan House became their preferred course of action. Identities hidden, yes. Faces concealed also. But these women walked through the front door of the house with their scars on show, or stitched into the fabric of their souls, and the files are the evidence of those scars let loose, screaming out into the house and the wilderness that surrounds it. The files hide nothing, it seems, and everything is heard and imprinted.

But, at the same time, there was so much that was delicious about being in the café this morning and looking over the files. I know it sounds mean-spirited, uncaring. But after the previous days terrors, it was consoling and reviving to be around people; to lean out of myself, as if out of the window of a fast car, and feel the energy of others invigorating me and, if I'm honest, normalising me. I sat at the café window with the hottest cup of coffee imaginable, looking out at the frozen world and its chilled inhabitants as they stumbled or tiptoed by on the icy pavements, and I found that I didn't think about the fact that the last time I was in the café I was waiting for James. No, I didn't think about it at all after the first 10 minutes and, thereafter, only when I heard the bell ring to announce that someone had entered. Yes, then, and only then, did I think about James standing me up. Oh yes, I can safely say that the time was taken up almost entirely with focusing on the problems of others!

Although the tales in the files are indeed sorry tales, they are coldly and analytically scribed by whoever had that job – there's a professional aloofness in the notes that allows for a level of detail that would be somewhat lost if sentiment had been allowed to play a part. You might find it curious, but I appreciate the dispassionate tone of much of these files. And I understand completely that I feel this way.  On the other hand, the examples of artwork, or art therapy, are full of conflicting emotions: love, fear, insecurity, shame, guilt and, most of all it seems to me, rage. I put aside the artwork as quickly as possible when reading each file. I didn't want to consider the emotions and the perspectives contained within them. They made my heart pound, and I felt flushed and nauseous. But when I felt this way, the various sounds of the café were there to imbibe me and bring me back to – dare I say it again? – normality.

"The examples of artwork, or art therapy, are full of conflicting emotions: love, fear, insecurity, shame, guilt and, most of all it seems to me, rage"

In total, I walked away with seven files from the archive room in the basement of Mordan House. Each file details the women's names, previous home addresses, the date of their arrival at the refuge, results from medical examinations, and opinions and quotes from interviews. The files also include the ages of the women and their doctors’ names, and some of the pieces of artwork contain scribbled comments on the backs or in margins. Only some of the papers are typed up from the initial scribbled hand – the refuge must have been significantly behind in its administration. The batch of files that I took were, incidentally, from the filing cabinet of people whose name started with the letter 'C' and spanned the years from 2006 to 2008. Where are these women now, I wondered? Two of the files are closed, but there is just a leaving date, no particulars about why they left or where they went. Once again, all cold and analytical. The women have gone – that is all the files care about. Bureaucratically speaking, one out and another one in. One file closed, another one opened.

"I stared at it. Feeling a connection that I didn't understand. Was I looking at an apparition that had dripped out of my head, wet like ink, and down onto this sketch? My heart was pounding"

All of a sudden I wondered what I was doing. Surely I shouldn't be reading the files at all! I'd started out reading them for clues that would connect my experiences to something about the past of the house, but I realised I was reading purely out of interest. Fascination. Nosiness. Intrusion. It was all  interesting history, but private history. As this thought hit home I found myself slamming shut the manila cover of the file I had been looking at and then watching as a piece of paper slipped from the folder and down onto the floor.

Now I was embarrassed by what I was doing, and the sight of the paper drifting down to the ground made me feel that everyone could see it and its contents. I moved quickly to recover it, looking round me at the reaction of the other faces in the café. Reaction? Of course, there was none.

Instead the reaction came from me when I glanced at the piece of paper I'd just picked up. It was a sketch, coloured in with pencils and felt-tipped pens, of planets and stars, but with an unexpected central image. The planets were amazing colours and all different sizes, some with rings and some with moons. At the centre, with black scribbled lines where the darkened visor should be, and with black lines emanating from the white-suited body as if symbolic of dark power, was a white image in the shape of a human. To my mind, unmistakeably, the shape of an astronaut.

I stared at it. Feeling a connection that I didn't understand. Was I looking at an apparition that had dripped out of my head, wet like ink, and down onto this sketch? My heart was pounding. I quickly put the picture back into the folder and started to go back through the paintings and sketches in the other folders, almost frantically searching. Yes, I was now desperately seeking out the very parts of the files that I'd been avoiding minutes before!

I found another one. This time with the astronaut image in the top left corner, the void around it brutally black. Then another in one of the other files. This one depicting an astronaut-like figure dragging a figure across space via black rays, the male figure looking pained and contorted as it seemed unable to resist. Three out of the six files contained such images. It crossed my mind briefly that Mordan House could actually have been some kind of cult, but it was so clear that these images were not a part of all the files and that it was the suffering of physical abuse that was the pervasive thread through all the women's files.

"This was a strange kind of art therapy that was being indulged in Mordan House. It was, to my mind, dark, dark therapy"

But what was I looking at? What was this? At best, it was the first tangible connection I'd encountered between my experiences and the past of Mordan House. At worst, I felt the slow, insistent scratching of the basement of Mordan House down my back. This was a strange kind of art therapy that was being indulged in Mordan House. It was, to my mind, dark, dark  therapy.

Looking at these images, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I supected that I'd cry, but then found that I was looking out of the window and giggling into my hand. But before I knew it, tears were also dripping down into my hand as I cried quietly, and as discreetly as possible, with something akin to the feeling of happiness. Take that, Philip! Take that!

The café bell rang to announce another customer entering. I quickly composed myself lest it should be James coming through the door. But it wasn't.

Looking at that interminable absence at the door of the café, the last feeling I recall was emptiness, tinged with tears and vaguely reverberating with the sound of my own departed laughter.

Monday, 11 January 2010

35. I Thought You Were Dead

"On arriving in the neighbouring town I looked at a noticeboard in the local shop to see if anyone was advertising their home for bed and breakfast. I could see little notices for everything except what I was looking for: wood varnishing, piano lessons, psychic, Reiki healing, bible study, Tuval throat singing choir, Gaelic lessons, second-hand baby buggy for sale. But nowhere for me to sleep"

"Where did you sleep the other night? You didn't come back to Mordan House."

No, that's true. I didn't.

I've gotten into the habit of leaving my car keys in the ignition. Sometimes people are apt to come along the driveway if they plan to climbThe Clansman, but since winter bit I haven't seen a single car outside of this house, so it's seemed more than safe to leave the keys in the car each day. As I stood outside of Mordan House after the events in the basement, I couldn't bring myself to go back inside. There was no sense of revulsion, not even fear really - just a kind of blockage, a wall of some kind, and it was this that prevented me from going back inside. There was ice all over the windows of the car, so I had to leave the engine running for at least ten minutes before the car was fit to drive. Glancing at the house as it grew smaller in the rearview mirror filled me with such relief, and almost happiness, that I knew I couldn't return to sleep there that night. But also I knew it would be impossible for me to sleep in the car as I'd done before - the temperature in this part of Scotland has been plunging well below freezing in recent weeks.

"I waited up for you. You left me alone in there."

I thought you were dead.

On arriving in the neighbouring town I looked at a noticeboard in the local shop to see if anyone was advertising their home for bed and breakfast. I could see little notices for everything except what I was looking for: wood varnishing, piano lessons, psychic, Reiki healing, bible study, Tuval throat singing choir, Gaelic lessons, second-hand baby buggy for sale. But nowhere for me to sleep. I mentioned this to the man behind the counter and he told me that he knew of someone who'd put me up no problem, giving me directions also. He must have recognised my face - I'd been in the shop a number of times - nevertheless, he didn't seem confused that a woman who lived locally would be looking for a bed for the night.

I felt so much relief that I wouldn't have to go back to the house. Even as I drove along a familiar street, pulled up outside a familiar house with familiar curtains and saw those selfsame curtains twitch as I got out of my car, I still felt relief - just suffused with an overwhelming tiredness. Even as the owner of the house opened the door and I saw one eyebrow raise haughtily, while the other one curved downwards almost sympathetically, it was still preferable to Mordan House.

"You may need to put down some newspaper," I said.

Mrs Ormsley smiled and glanced down at the ground before replying, "No newspaper required, I think. Mr Morrison from the shop called ahead, I've got a room ready for you. You look exhausted. Let's get you to bed."

I stepped inside the door, my lethargy increasing with every step.

"Sleep as long as you like. As long as you need to."

It seemed like mere minutes before I was lying in a bed that was wonderfully warm, smelling the cleanness of the bedding and feeling the comfort of the mattress beneath me. I smiled as if I was a little girl again, smiling right down to my toes, and I thought to myself: Stephanie Fey, I thought you were dead.

"No, not yet. Neither of us is dead yet."

In the morning, I woke up and realised I'd slept until after 11am. I anticipated sarcasm and attitude from Mrs Ormsley, but she had already left to do a shift at the library, leaving me a note about how I could get breakfast, saying also that I didn't owe her any money for staying over, especially when she hadn't been around when I woke up. I left a 'thank you' note of my own, and decided to have breakfast in one of the town's cafés instead, intent on starting to scrutinise the files I'd taken from Mordan House.

"Can't believe you stayed in that bitch's house. You're one sick lady."

Sounds like you're feeling a little better now, Kidman.

"Bite me."

Yes, much better.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

34. The Dead Room




 "Then I heard the sound that I should not have heard on the ground. A sound that seemed to tie so many of my recent experiences together, but that made no sense at all, no sense. A sound that should not have fallen out of the skies, or out of some myth, or out of some fanciful story made up by an ex-boyfriend in a darkened bedroom"

This house knows how it feels to be me; it has seen everything I’ve seen. It feels me out with ever so tiny hands and barely noticeable fingers that walk across my body, ever finding new ways to slip inside me, taking note of me as it begins to take ownership. And as the house makes its home in me, I’ve felt it grip my lungs and my mind, then squeeze my lungs and my mind, day after day. But now it’s tightening its grip. Tightening, tightening.

Mordan House saw me as I stood at the top of the flight of stairs that led down to the basement. It no doubt sensed my trepidation as I stood there. That part of the house was so unforgivably cold that every breath bloomed out of me like flowers from a magician’s sleeve, and I wonder if the house tasted each visible bouquet of breath, searching for the scent of fear? If so, when it watched me quickly descend the ill-lit stairway, did it sense my fear growing when I began to I hesitate the closer I got to the two blue doors at the bottom? My feelings weren’t helped by the fact that the light diminished the further down the stairs I went. But when I arrived at the bottom and stood before the two doors that stood at right angles to each other, I knew in the half-light that the house saw more than I did, and knew if these actions were sensible or insane.

Then, as if from nowhere at all, there was a voice whispering in my ear: “Cold as a dead monk’s arse, if you ask me!”

I jumped and felt my hand move up to my chest where I felt the pain of instant, full-grown shock. “God’s sake, Kidman!” I whispered angrily. “You did that on purpose!”

She brought a long, exotic finger up to her face and wagged it in my direction, slowly up and down, saying: “Kidman wouldn’t do that. Kidman just wouldn’t.”

I suppressed another angry response, though the reproachful glare in my eyes remained as I said, “Just let me try these keys.”

“Don’t drop them,” Kidman said. I dropped them. “Now you’ll never find them.” I quickly found them. “So there, Kidman!” She rolled her eyes. “Bet it’ll be the last key you try, if it’s any of them at all.”

"What kind of house is Mordan House? When it sees me, does it feel love for me, despise me, or just dispassionately feast upon me?"

Did the house nod its approval or cover its eyes as I brought the first of the three keys up to the lock?  I don’t know. After all, what kind of house is Mordan House? When it sees me, does it feel love for me, despise me, or just dispassionately feast upon me? Oh, Mordan House and I are like an old married couple who have long since lost touch with how the other thinks or feels! The key went in. Fine. Promising start. But would it turn? It turned! I’d found it! First time, too!

I looked round at the shadowy Kidman beside me, just in time to hear her say with a half-heartedness surely reduced down to at least quarter-heartedness: “Oh, good for you, Steph.”

But was it good for me? There was no turning back now. It seemed that every nerve in my body was sick, convulsing, frothing, even as something else inside me took delight in the dusty, creaky opening of something physical, but also of something inside. Yes, I was capable of fruitful investigation. Take that, Philip! See what I’m capable of? But if that part of me was correct in seeing this as a victory, why, oh why, did I feel so nauseous with fear?

The door was heavier than I’d expected. When I turned the key in the lock I felt that the door unlocked in several places inside its frame and realised that it was incredibly sturdy. I felt around on the wall just inside the door and came up against a light-switch – thankfully, it worked.

Gingerly I took a couple of steps inside the door and looked around at the contents of the room. Filing cabinets. Just countless shelves and filing cabinets. All of them so bulging with paperwork that the drawers couldn’t shut properly and some were left completely open.

Kidman, meanwhile, was looking at the frame of the door. “What a strong door!” she said, no longer whispering. “But look at all these marks! Someone’s tried to force it open at some point. Perhaps, when they were all leaving, they couldn’t find the key and tried to force the lock to get access to the contents. Well, they failed, of course!”

There was also a computer. I switched it on, and once it had booted up it automatically prompted me for a password. Kidman had started looking in the filing cabinets, leafing through the files and mumbling to herself.

“This wasn’t exactly a commune, Steph! It was a refuge! For battered women, of all things!"

The room also contained a tall upright lamp with an orangey floral pattern on the shade and with tassels. It was another source to bring light to the room and Kidman switched it on to look more closely at the contents of the files. When she did so, I realised how dusty the room was! Dust might as well be asbestos or plutonium to me – I’m the Karen Silkwood of Dust! Hose me down and scrub me raw if that stuff gets anywhere near me! If you’ve been keeping up with this story then you’ll know that my chest attempts to fly out of my body like a frightened bird at the first contact with a dust particle. I breathed in and out deeply a couple of times to feel and hear if there was any change to my breathing, but it all seemed fine so far.

Looking at the room, I was both relieved at the contents being so perfunctory, but also a tad disappointed that I hadn’t discovered something more exciting.

Kidman suddenly let out a little yelp. “This wasn’t exactly a commune, Steph! It was a refuge! For battered women, of all things! A commune wouldn’t keep files like these! These are case files detailing background and progress. Look, there are drawings of people’s experiences and little stories that people have written. What’s that called? Art therapy? A refuge – who would’ve guessed it, eh!”

I grunted a reply. Tiny grunt, really. Ever so, ever so small. I think my hand went up to my face and self-consciously touched a small mark that was there. I could have told her that I seemed to recall that it was a refuge of some kind, but I didn’t feel like saying it. Instead I decided that, rather than stay within the room's dust for too long, I’d try the keys in the lock of the room next door.

“Their methods don’t exactly look orthodox, but maybe that’s why it was also a kind of commune? Perhaps both were true – it was a commune for battered women, but where they would get some New Age therapy to help rediscover themselves.”

The second blue door looked as sturdy as the other one. The first key didn’t work. The second failed also. I heard the sound of Kidman rustling papers.

“I wonder why they fell out with each other? Why the group disintegrated?”

So, the third and last key on the chain would be the one to open it. I pushed it in, tried to turn it and met with resistance.

“But why have such a formidable lock on a door that just contains files? I can understand the need to keep them safe and private, but  … Or maybe in the past the room was like a wine cellar or something and the hippies decided to use it as an archive! Yes, that makes more sense.”

I tried all the keys again a few times more, but none of them worked. Frustrated, I looked at the door as if it would give me some idea how I might get in without a key. All the while I could feel my breathing changing, partly due to the dust, but partly also due to how I was feeling.

“They don’t work, Kidman. None of these keys open this door.”

Kidman, probably preoccupied with something in one of the files, didn’t reply.

“We may need to continue looking for the key to this one, Kidman. Kidman?”

Still no reply and no sound of rustling papers either.

I stepped back into the room and saw nothing and no-one there. The papers she had been looking at were on the floor. Then I saw her. She was standing on a chair and looking through a small rectangular window, high up on the wall, that neither of us had noticed before. The window was grimy and dark. I realised that it looked into the locked room next door.

“Kidman. Can you see anything?”

Still she didn’t reply. Her face was right up close to the glass and I could tell she was trying to make out any shapes on the other side. But without any light in that room, the likelihood was that she would be able to see absolutely nothing of the room's contents; she wouldn't even be able to tell its size.

Then she leaned back from the glass, her eyes still staring at the window. It was then that I could see the look on her face and realised that the colour had drained from her.

“Nicole? What is it?”

“There’s something dead in there. I can feel it.” Her voice was quiet and stripped of any inflexion. Still she refused to look at me. I saw her hands come together and she started to gently, nervously wring them.

“Dead? What do you mean? Don't say that!” She was worrying me now. The room and the corridor beyond felt instantly darker and it was as if some atmosphere had fallen from up high. But how high? Space? Was it possible that the atmosphere had fallen from such a height? My breathing, I noticed, had grown more difficult and I could feel my chest having to work harder to get the air in and out. “I think I need to get out of here. I can’t breathe so well in this room now. It’s all the dust. I’m going to have to leave, I think.”

“'There’s something dead in there. I can feel it.' Her voice was quiet and stripped of any inflexion. Still she refused to look at me. I saw her hands come together and she started to gently, nervously wring them"

Suddenly the room was shocked by a loud gasp and I thought that Kidman was going to fall from the chair.

“Kidman!” I shouted out, “What is it? What’s going on?”

She’d put her hands up to her chest and I could see that she was still transfixed by the small black window. But it was just a darkened window! It was way too dark to see anything on the other side! I was getting scared. That nausea in every nerve of my body had returned and I felt my chest clamming up as if itself fearful. Squeezing and tightening, tightening.

At last she looked at me, but the look in her eyes was horrible. “Don’t look at me like that! I need you to be strong for me! Don’t look like that!” My words were pleading, desperate. The last thing in the world that I needed was Kidman broken, defeated and drained, transformed into something way too similar to me, something too much like how I felt. Her features were fixed and aghast as if there were invisible fingers tightening, tightening round her throat.

Then she spoke, her voice a mere constricted rasp. Like her eyes, they were haunted, lifeless words, but I could see her heart pounding through the tightness of her dress, some fast-moving pulse of terror almost calling out for help: “I just saw it move. There’s something dead in there and I just saw it move.”

Did something just touch my hair? I jumped and screamed out loud as my hands darted up to clutch the top of my head. My eyes shot all around me, into the growing shadows, the tight corridor, the cold, still walls. “What was that?” Nothing, the basement seemed to say in reply.

Then I heard the sound that I should not have heard on the ground. A sound that seemed to tie so many of my recent experiences together, but that made no sense at all, no sense. A sound that should not have fallen out of the skies, or out of some myth, or out of some fanciful story made up by an ex-boyfriend in a darkened bedroom. It should have stayed in its fantastical place. It should have stayed in space. Coming from the wall, coming from the other side of the locked room, came the long, slow sound of deliberate, insistent scraping.

"No," I said in disbelief. I hadn’t thought it before, but perhaps this was the sound that I’d dreaded the most; the sound that brought Philip’s story directly into my own experiences. The scraping that the astronauts had heard on the side of the spacecraft all those years ago while in orbit around Earth was now coming from the other side of a wall, from a locked room in the basement of an old house on the ground.

"Then I heard the sound that I should not have heard on the ground. A sound that seemed to tie so many of my recent experiences together, but that made no sense at all, no sense. A sound that should not have fallen out of the skies, or out of some myth, or some fanciful story made up by an ex-boyfriend in a darkened bedroom"

“No!” This time I shouted the word, as if I could use forcefulness to stop the events unfolding before me. My chest was being bludgeoned every time I tried to breathe in, and I felt the tightening, tightening fingers of Mordan House increasing its grip inside of me. “This is not possible on the ground! It makes absolutely no sense on the ground! It cannot be happening!” As I screamed out these words, I was aware of taking steps backwards, though not sure where I was walking. I could no longer see the face of Kidman on the chair in the room. When I felt the bottom stair against the back of my foot I immediately looked above me in case something was there, hovering.

But in a flash my mind told me that things couldn’t end like this. I’d found the keys, I’d travelled down to the basement, I’d opened the door – only to turn and run away now?

“No,” I said to myself firmly, this time uttering the word with a vague defiance, and I sensed that a narrow passage of courage had opened up inside, like a weak bridge that could tumble to the ground at any second. As quickly as possible I ran forward, back into the room, and grabbed the bundle of files that were sitting on the floor where Kidman had left them. I didn’t even look for Kidman, although I saw the material of her dress from the corner of my eye and knew that she was still standing in exactly the same place on the chair. All I could hear was that slow, gruesome scraping sound and a horrible gurgling sound from Kidman as if she was being strangled where she stood.

But she was imaginary! She wasn’t real! And even as I thought this, I felt tears of fear and confusion start to course down my cheeks. I didn't dare look up. I didn't dare look at any more apparitions, any more ghosts, tormenting, tightening, tightening. As I ran up the stairs, there appeared in my head to be a cacophonous din of rasping from my chest and from the throat of Kidman, woven into the interminable scraping sound coming from the wall of the locked room. What could possibly be locked in that room? What dead thing was the cause of that terrible, persistent scraping sound?

Daylight. Dim but honest. Back in the hallway of the ground floor of the house I felt instantly relieved, although the tears wouldn’t stop, nor would the hammering of sounds and notions in my head.

Clutching the files to my chest, I briefly dashed into my suite of rooms to grab my inhaler, then hurried outside and into the still present snow. How long did I stay outside, crunching through the snow that lay deep all round the house, with no intention other than to stay where there was air and light? Until the crunching finally stopped sounding like short scrapes under my foot. Until my own breathing eased and no longer reminded me of the sound of Kidman’s throat rasping. Until I could again look back at the house, my breath curling forth a bouquet in the cold, wondering, hoping that I might see Kidman at one of the windows.  If only because I needed to lay my head on her lap and cry, at the same time asking for forgiveness for every daft folly of my life before and after arriving in Mordan House, to tell her how much I wanted to be happy and content and to just give people love, and to hopefully feel her hand on my hair, soothing, as her voice told me that it was all going to be alright.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

33. Questions Questions Questions


"I opened the little drawer and saw that it was the only part of the desk that hadn't been emptied; obviously it hadn't been spotted by whoever cleared out this room. It was full of rubber bands, paper-clips, pens and pencils, erasers and - three keys linked together on a small metal loop"

“What was Mordan House before you took it on?” Kidman asked.

“Uh, some kind of hippy commune or something, I think. These kind of ‘back to nature’ types had the lease, but then the group fell apart. Actually, I think the guy who now owns it bought it quite recently and he was lucky they moved out early. I seem to remember him saying that.”

“Some kind of commune? So you don’t really know.”

“I suppose not. I wasn't interested. I'm here to look after the place until the builders are ready to move in, knock it down and construct their luxury homes on the land. When I took it on, it was of no interest to me what it had been before. Why would it be?”

Kidman was asking questions. Lots of them. I was being defensive. There was lots of defensiveness, in fact.  

“Hm. And why do these three rooms that you live in have a lock on them? Why are they self-contained? Practically the entire house is made up of individual rooms and, if you look, the locks have been removed on them all, but this part of the house is more of a suite, isn’t it? But it has a name sticker on it like all the others.”

“Is all this important?”

“So, there are two basement rooms that are locked – the only locked rooms in the house. Then there’s an attic that, you say, you’re too scared to go into. Although that’s not locked?”


“Yes, I don't think it's locked. I was on that floor of the house once and I'm sure the door opened - I don't know, a breeze or something.”

"But you've never tried the handle?"

I was getting irritated now. "No! I was spooked! Spooked! Don't you ever get spooked, Kidman? Uncle Urine visited Auntie Leg and I ran. Ran! Happy now? Jeez, woman, there are ghosts in this house. Do you know how it feels to live in a house as haunted as this one?"

She raised an eyebrow, aligned her nose and breathed in to slightly elevate the little doggies in her bra. I sighed. "Yes, alright, I've seen 'The Others'! You were fabulous!"

"If there was ever a time when Uncle Urine had good cause to visit Auntie Leg, it was in that movie! But I stayed dry, Stephanie! Totally dry, I can assure you!"

"Fine. I believe you."

"In fact, I distinctly recall the director saying to the key grip, 'That Kidman, she's a dry one.' Another question for you: what is a ghost exactly?"

Our conversation - which was more of a 'question and ignorance' session - took place as we looked for the key, or keys, to the basement rooms of Mordan House. We started off with a strategy that would allow us to thoroughly search the house, but then ended up looking in arbitrary places. We initially thought that there would be some places more likely to hold the key than others, but as we looked in various rooms, we found them all to be very similar in size and decor, so we ended up just rummaging around without any real system. And this particular part of the 'question and ignorance' session occurred in another commonplace, bog-standard room on the first floor, that looked, in a way, just like a hotel room for a down-and-out. Old bed, old table, old chest of drawers, old wardrobe, old cupboard built into the wall. Old, old, old!

“What is a ghost?" I repeated Kidman's question, wondering myself what the answer to such a question might be. "I don't think anyone knows the answer to that one. The impression of something dead retained in the place where it lived? And died? Something like that.” 

“Well, that's how we think of them. If that’s true, how can an astronaut in a space-suit haunt land that doesn’t require a space-suit?”

I raised a finger with authority and confidence and said, “Ah, now that question I have asked myself!" Then I lowered my shoulders and let my finger sag a little as I admitted, "Although I don’t know the answer.”

Kidman grimaced and threw me a wriggly, agitated look as if a small fly had just decided to die up her nose.“Useless Stephanie Fey. Stilly Stephanie. So, how many astronauts have died in space? In fact, no, how many have died on the ground, more to the point? I take it Scotland doesn’t have a programme of space exploration, so it’s unlikely that an astronaut in training could have died here?”

“What is a ghost? I don't think anyone knows the answer to that one. The impression of something dead retained in the place where it lived? And died?"

“No, no space programme, I'm pretty sure. As for the number that have died in space – or on the ground – I really couldn’t say. Could that be a clue? 

"Keep looking for the key! You’re no good at asking questions. I ask great questions! Ask any screenwriter. I once asked a screenwrite so many good, quality questions about a character that eventually one half of his face went numb.”

“Right. Right. The key.” Focus, focus. That's what I needed.

I left the room, again disappointed, but determined to keep looking. Kidman followed. We entered the next room along the corridor and instantly it was clear to me that there was something different about it. It had an old wooden desk, but the desk was turned the wrong way round, so that the drawers were against the wall. Therefore, to all intents and purposes it was just a makeshift table.  

“This song, ‘Catch a Falling Star’ – why is that relevant to this house?”

I started to pull out the desk from the wall. “Nope. I don’t know the answer to that either.” 

“And when was the last time you had cock in your cock hole?”

I'm sure at this point I banged the desk down hard on the floor, but in an involuntary fashion. “Don’t call it that! That’s so horrible! It's offensive and disgusting!” 

“Okay, when was the last time you had cock in your ‘lady cupboard’?”

“I don’t know!” Now my head was down and I was frowning as I opened and closed each empty drawer. Where the hell was that blasted key?

“Why do they say ‘not yet’ all the time in that neighbouring town of yours? 'Not yet. Not yet. No, not yet! Guess what, it hasn't happened yet.' What hasn't happened? What are they waiting for?”


“I've no idea. What relevance has that got? They're all just weird, that's all!” I said these words in a sprightly fashion, now delighted that she was off the subject of what I did and didn't do with my lady cupboard. At the same time, I was disheartened that the desk was thoroughly empty, so I stepped away and looked round the rest of the room. 

"It was an old wooden desk. But I remembered something about such desks: they often had a thin little drawer above the standard drawers; almost a secret drawer"

“I’m asking the questions, Stephanie – you’ve obviously asked yourself no questions, so don't start asking the questions now!”

My irritation briefly rose again. “Oh! Well! Thank you!”

Even as I looked round the room, the desk was still annoying me. It was an old wooden desk. But I remembered something about such desks: they often had a thin little drawer above the standard drawers; almost a secret drawer, but it was usually for pens and paperclips and such things. 

“When was the last time you did some Spring cleaning in your lady cupboard?”

“Enough! That’ll do, okay?”

“You don't know much, Stephanie Fey!”

“I’m here in this damned house because I asked questions, remember.”

“Oh, is that what you think? That you left because you were asking questions? About the kind of person you'd become? What’s that mark on your face, Stephanie Fey? Where did you get that? I don’t ever hear you mentioning that mark in your web log.”


“Blog! It's a compound word. Blog! You know where I got it. Now shut up, or I may have to kick you hard in your blasted lady cupboard.”

Silence. For a change! Kidman looked haughty and I grimaced in a tight-faced way as I again scrutinised the desk. Was it possible? Yes, it was! A little wooden drawer! It had one!

Kidman was oblivious to my discovery and instead just continued talking: "This time's been very useful to me. It's given me a chance to figure out that you're not one for answering life's questions. You merely blandly react, Stephanie. That's the kind of person you are. You're wet. You're not dry as a bone like me."

I opened the little drawer and saw that it was the only part of the desk that hadn't been emptied; obviously it hadn't been spotted by whoever cleared out this room. It was full of rubber bands, paper-clips, pens and pencils, erasers and - three keys linked together on a small metal loop.

“You understand nothing because you ask yourself nothing. You get haunted, terrorised, and all you do is try to survive it. You don’t ask what you’re trying to survive, your place in it all…”

I jangled the keychain. “Kidman. Look at this!”

“… Unless you care, unless you start looking for answers, you'll find nothing in life …”

“He-llo! Kid-man! See this!” I dangled the keys I’d found, right under her eyebrows, right in front of her nose, and right above her magnanimous puppies.

“What is it?" she snapped, finally looking straight at me. "Can’t you see I’m ranting? Can’t you leave a bod alone when it’s ranting?”

Then ever so softly, gently, I said, "Look."

She folded her arms and looked away. “They’re not keys. They're widgets.”

I stepped back. “Widgets? They're not widgets! What’s a widget? These are keys!”

“I think you'll find they're widgets. For a tractor, I believe. They help you to remove the wheels. They look a bit like keys, I'll grant you that.”

“They're freakin’ keys, Kidman! And I found them! So quit ranting about my inadequacies!”

She did quit ranting, especially when I walked out of the room and started to head for the basement. Keys! But no guarantee, of course, that any of them were the right keys. Not that I was going to tell Kidman that!

“Where are you going?”
she called out from behind me.

“More questions? Where do you think, O Great Questioner? I'm going to try these keys in the basement doors before one side of my face goes numb!”

Of course Kidman followed me. She wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to find out an answer to at least one of her questions.

But she couldn’t resist a last parting shot of defiance:“I don’t know why you’re bothering with those. You don’t own a tractor!”

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

32. I Visit General Proximity


"All of a sudden, an idea formed in my head and it was lovely. I had made up my mind in a moment and it wasn’t for changing. I would leave Mordan House – get away from myself and the Kidman inside of me and the dead astronaut too"

The next morning I awoke cautiously, slowly, sluggishly. Cautiously – in case I prompted some peculiar event in my head by a sudden exertion of mind or body. Slowly – because I wanted time to think and listen, but also so that anyone beyond the posts of my bed might think that I hadn’t quite awoken, and, if I'm honest, because I was unsure if I wanted to wake up at all. Sluggishly – because I was mentally and emotionally exhausted; in fact, even my senses were frazzled, almost seared by too many impressions of a nature that could not be understood. I kept my head under the covers for so long, tilting in and out of sleep like a boat on rough waters; listening, sensing, and then dipping back down into a cold exhausted sea of disquiet.

Was she there? I heard nothing. Was it there? Nothing. After all, what was she? A someone or a thing? Gradually I moved my head out from the covers and looked around. Nothing. Or should that be 'no-one'?

I knew straightaway that I had to get out of Mordan House and regroup inside, and as quickly as possible. Doors were opening in my head, but refusing to close, and my mind refused to enter the spaces that it saw opening up; I would not enter the basement rooms, and I wouldn't enter the airlock of the spacecraft. I would not. I would not.

I don’t think I’ve ever dressed so quickly. I didn’t care what I wore, so long as the items covered me. I recall glimpsing colours and fabrics of different shapes and textures; some of those artefacts clashed viciously with each other and began to battle to the death, some cringed at coming into contact with each other before deciding to hiss and snarl in the other's direction. I, for my part, gave it no real thought, focused instead on getting out of the front door, car key in hand. No looking back, or sideways, or up. Down was the only direction for me. My limited vision didn’t fail; the car appeared before me, I got in and started the engine.

"I kept my head under the covers for so long, tilting in and out of sleep like a boat on rough waters; listening, sensing, and then dipping back down into a cold exhausted sea of disquiet"

One last look at the house. One last look? Why did I do that? I’d been doing so well! So incredibly well! I was so close to getting away from the ghosts of Mordan House, if only for a day, so why break a rule that was working so well for me? Why decide to look back at the blasted house?

Lo and behold, there she was. Kidman. Standing on the door-step and waving at me. Same look, same dress. No different really from the previous day. I must have looked stunned. Later, she told me I’d looked as if a man had just put his cock in my ear.

She called out to me.

“Steph! Listen! If you face any problems with either people or animals, remember three things - eyebrows, nose, puppies!”

As she said this, she pointed to the first two anatomical items while accentuating them and dramatically flaunting them, then she jutted out the third in almost military fashion.

“Always remember the ENP! They’re the Kidman rules, don’t you know!”

As I drove away over firm, compacted snow, I could see her repeating the ritual, this time without words, and not even looking in my direction. Eyebrows, nose, puppies. She was totally immersed in this world, this Kidmanian Theme Park – the park that she seemed unaware of me leaving! And, in the rear-view mirror, I saw her continue to repeat her mantra as my car drove through an alleyway of tall, overhanging trees, that seemed, for a while, to protect me from all things unnatural, from eyebrows, noses and puppies, dramatically displayed.

"Eyebrows ..."

"... nose ..."

"... puppies!"

There was really only one place for me to go: the neighbouring town, 40 minutes drive away, to visit my old friend General Proximity! Uh, general proximity to human beings, that is! I suspect I'm not the only person in the world to do this kind of thing: hanging out around people, just to be loosely, generally where other people are. No real consideration for who they are or what they’re about. Just the close proximity seems to mean something. What sadness. What desperation. But, at the same time, how fundamentally, beautifully human to feel this way – to have this need.

"General Proximity is a good teacher, he reminds the jaded veterans what’s really going on inside of us all: bustle, noise, clamour - eternally rolling wheels of stone, and the sound of their turning booms across every landscape"

After arriving, the general proximity I chose was to sit in a café and watch people go by through the window. How still and uneventful we humans can appear to be when we view ourselves from the inside, how wound-down and how dreadfully near to stopping. But look at us from the outside and we all appear so full, so incessant, so charged up. Over-wound humanity, eternally and loudly ticking. General Proximity is a good teacher, he reminds the jaded veterans what’s really going on inside of us all: bustle, noise, clamour - eternally rolling wheels of stone, and the sound of their turning booms across every landscape.

Some, however, boom more loudly than others.

“That’s the woman who’s a vagrant – lives in a car and is in love with my James!”

It was the distinctive boom of Mrs Ormsley! My nemesis! Another freak with garrulous eyebrows! As if Kidman wasn’t enough! I immediately bristled at the sound of her voice and the knowledge that she was close by and talking about me.

Her voice came from the door of the café. I hadn’t seen her enter. From the corner of my eye I could see that she had entered with a much older lady, diminutive and hunched, and with an angled poise about her that made her entire body look like an ear trumpet that’s trying to hear the world around it.

"An idea formed in my head and it was lovely. I had made up my mind and it wasn’t for changing. I would leave Mordan House – to get away from myself and the Kidman inside of me and the dead astronaut too. But, before I left, if Mrs Ormsley spoke to me again, then I would hit her. Hard. Right across the face"

I didn’t turn round. I didn't dare. I could hear the older woman making murmuring sounds of agreement and dismay at Mrs Ormsley’s description of me.

All of a sudden, an idea formed in my head and it was lovely. I had made up my mind in a moment and it wasn’t for changing. I would leave Mordan House – get away from myself and the Kidman inside of me and the dead astronaut too. But before I left, if Mrs Ormsley spoke to me again, then I would hit her. Hard. Right across the face. And with a fist clenched. And not the way women usually clench a fist: with the thumb sticking right up and all the fingers looking like they’ve been caught in some piece of industrial machinery, and with the clear indication that what they actually plan to do is hit you with their wrists! No, a proper punch. Well, dammit, as best as I could muster!

Mrs Ormsley continued: “I’ve heard also that she squats in Mordan House.”

Squats?” said the older lady. “Mordan House is a long way to go just for a pee!”

“No, squats. You know, lives there illegally!”

The older woman suddenly understood: “Ah, yes. Illegally.”

I prepared myself for the words that would surely come, close at my ear and unmistakeably directed at me. So direct that there would be nothing that I could do but welly her, lay into her with my handy fists, clock her a hard one, perhaps in the gut, perhaps to her middle-aged woman’s highly susceptible glass jaw. I felt my fists tighten into spindly balls of hard fire. Okay, they were more like welts of irritation – but I suspected that I could do some real damage with these little baby hammers! And I suspect, lovely reader, that you too, as you read this, are willing me to carry out such an act of necessary, justified violence.

“Hello, luvvie!” she said insipidly and from behind me. At the same time, I felt an insistent couple of taps on my shoulder. I was amazed at how quickly I reeled round in my seat; eyebrows, nose and puppies aligned threateningly in true Kidman fashion – only to be stopped instantly from laying into the old bitch by a sight I had not expected.

“How are you today?” she said.

Smack her, Stephanie! Do her right there where she stands!

I can hear you, dear reader, I can hear you. But you don’t understand what's just happened …

“Uh, fine. Thank you. And, uh, how are you?” I asked.

Fine? Thank you? Nail her. Flatten her. Get stuck in right now with the little baby hammers!

No, it’s not like that, anymore, reader. You see …

“Oh, dear!" Mrs Ormsley continued, "You look as if fashion crept up on you during the night and shot you!”

“Um, yes. I dressed rather quickly this morning,” was my diffident, tolerant and accepting reply.

What do we want? Little baby hammers! When do we want them? Now!

No, reader. I can’t. I can’t possibly. It’s all gone wrong!

“Quickly? Behind some anaemic bush just before a police car drove by with a searchlight on? Yes, that’ll get you to throw just about anything on quickly, all set for another mad-cap scramble across the hills! I guess you have to move quickly in your precarious social position! You’re like the woman in ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ – but you’re nowhere near the river Clyde!”

Mrs Ormsley had amused herself and she laughed accordingly, as did the wrinkly ball beside her, her entire body appearing to crunch in and out, as if something invisible had her in its mouth. I didn’t reply. I was too busy staring. Staring at the woolly scarf around her neck. The subtlety of tones, the straightness of its edges, the perfection of its length. She must have seen me looking.

Did she just put them away? The little baby hammers? Did Stephanie really just put them away?

“Oh, the scarf! Yes, I hear you helped James to make it for me! That was so very kind. Very kind.” She fiddled with it and cocked her head like a vain budgie perched at a mirror in its cage. Then she sniffed the scarf and said, “Still the slightest scent of something like badger! Can't get rid of it! Do you sleep with badgers? Or are you a little like Tarzan, but raised by a family of badgers? Is that it?” She giggled fakely as if at a garden party.

"If I was to win the affections of James, then I needed my self back again. And not my empty self. A replete, sumptuous, exotic, shining self, full of diamonds, pearls and all manner of other scintillating baubles!"

The little old lady had sidled up close in order to hear better and she was nodding her head. “Oh, that's badger alright! That’s what I said earlier!” Then she pointed at herself purposefully. “And I should know the smell of badger!” she said, before slipping back into listening with every part of her, from her ears to her feet. Mrs Ormsley coughed at this remark and looked uncomfortable. I had no idea why.

There were other things said, little compliments tempered by little insults. One eyebrow stuff, then the other eyebrow stuff – you know the Ormsley script by now. But all I could think of was that James had received my scarf and had liked it enough to pass it on to his aunt! He’d held it! He’d liked it! He’d given it as a present!

So here I was, finding once again that my plans to leave Mordan House had been scuppered. Why? Because my confidence in myself was damaged beyond easy repair. If I was to win the affections of James, then I needed my self back again. And not my empty self. A replete, sumptuous, exotic, shining self, full of diamonds, pearls and all manner of other scintillating baubles!

One possible path formed itself in my mind: if I could find one clue to tell me that Kidman was right about the mystery of the dead astronaut, then I might begin to recover. If I found the key or keys to the basement rooms, and found something in them that was useful to the mystery, then maybe I would begin to affect a return from the doorstep of the great city of Madness. This was the methodology I hit upon to turn away, geographically, from Madness and all its lights and its advertising and its eye-catching spectacles. What I needed was to begin to construct an attractive self that James might love. Yes. Love. Love was very much in my mind, and fizzing though my entire body more deliciously than something illegal. We all have to live for something, it seems. And something in me needed to live too. No matter what was in my past. Love – it was as good a reason as any. Although the irony was not lost on me, that I would need to use an element of my near-madness to help steer me away from madness. That element was Kidman. Strong, forthright, resilient, astute Kidman. The woman who was everything that I wasn't.


Love? Huh! Blog entry would have been better if the old bitch had got a punch!

Yes, reader, I hear you. But just forget about the little baby hammers, okay? I didn’t use them. Just deal with it.