The Books of Darkness
by Robert N. Stephenson
|Table of Contents|
I found my laptop open on the kitchen table. The bright colour of the screen incongruous in the black of the room. The screen saver, an open field against the backdrop of a lightly clouded sky commanded attention. My neck ached from a night on the sofa. The memory of the funeral was a fresh as the day I attended. I needed a coffee.
Finding the kettle and what I needed was easy enough, only I had to drink the coffee without milk. Sarina’s door had been shut when I went to the toilet after waking. I felt relieved she was still asleep, then wondered: did she really sleep? I’d never actually seen her do so. I shivered at the thought. Don’t go there.
I touched the mouse pad on the computer, the screen saver was replaced by a text document. The page counter at the bottom of the document read thirty pages. I sipped the coffee, the taste stale. I didn’t know how old the coffee was; I should have checked the expiry date.
Sarina had written about Bela. My first reaction was to delete it. With no morning paper, or anything in the apartment resembling a book, I read just for the sake of reading. Sarina wasn’t a writer, that became clear. She wrote with a mix of old and new language, sometimes poetical and then at others flat and lifeless. It would be a challenging read. I had to edit out the flowery prose about love and beauty to string together some kind of history. Perhaps knowing more about her would help. Perhaps not.
Away from the love for Bela, the romance, the private dinners, secret liaisons, and his need to shower her with roses, a real story emerged. Not as detailed, but it had been captured in threads.
Reluctantly, Sarina left Bela after a call from another Uttuku in Berlin: Eva, a friend from the early 1700s. The Dark One, as Sarina wrote, was coming for her. It was out of love that she left Bela. She didn’t say goodbye, couldn’t. She feared The Dark One would take him from her. The year was 1936.
I thought of the Dark One mentioned in Steven’s book, the employer referred to by Uri. Were they the same? The Dark One in Sarina’s musings had no form, though she had said he took life, light energy as well as darkness. Steven’s book didn’t venture into the role of this Dark One; it had sat within the text as an unknown and ever-present feeling. Orlando was after the book; but who sent Orlando? The Dark One? Had to be.
The coffee’s bite helped shake out the questions. There were just too many, and the answers felt more like speculation than anything based on reality. Sarina had no connection with Steven, hadn’t even read his work. I felt torn between wanting to know more and fleeing. Steven had become the bonding agent for everything and I, as a catalyst, should know what was happening. How much did Sarina really know?
I read more; an answer had to be here somewhere.
Soon after arriving in Germany, Sarina was invited to a rally by a young and handsome German officer. No name given. During the rally she was introduced to Adolf Hitler. This tied in with the photo. Sarina’s comments on the man weren’t flattering, and she disliked the way he spoke. A reporter had taken the photograph. Something Sarina didn’t appreciate. She lured him outside with the promise of sex, took from him and then took the camera. He wouldn’t remember her; no one remembered her after a taking. That was something I didn’t know. I remembered.
Sarina felt something wasn’t right in Germany and told Eva. She suggested they leave together for England or France. Eva wouldn’t go. She insisted she had a plan to get close to Adolph, change him and avert what was to become World War Two. The only thing written after this entry. ‘The bastard killed her’.
After some romantic encounters set up for maintaining her life light, Sarina arrived in London. Getting travel papers was easy in those days, if you knew how and whom to contact. In London, Sarina took to only getting around at night. Before meeting Bela in Austria during World War One, she’d been in London. To be out in the open would have brought recognition and questions about how young she still looked.
I had trouble with that, myself.
She’d thought of Bela every day, watched some of his movies in secret cinemas. There had been a ban on Hollywood films at the time. It ached in her heart that she couldn’t be with him. In a way I understood. I ached a little that the feeling I had for Sarina had been squashed by Jacko’s death.
During the grey London days Sarina would stay in her hotel room with thoughts of going back to him. He had changed, she wrote. The ‘return’, she’d called it, wouldn’t help him now. She didn’t write with much detail, which I found annoying. I wanted to know what London looked like, what it smelt like. She wasn’t an artistic writer, she’d just written what happened. If I hadn’t been so depressed and lost I would have given up.
Winston Churchill came as the next surprise. She’d met and befriended him at a dinner party. They were never lovers. Their encounters centred around shared cigars and drinking, whenever he could steal time away from parliament, which wasn’t often. She took from him once a week; the action always lightened his mood for a few days. The photo I’d seen showed them sitting on what looked like a Chesterfield couch, holding cigars in one hand and a glass of liquid in the other.
When he was down, we would smoke and get drunk, Sarina wrote. He didn’t like Hitler either, and often felt dejected that others thought he was overreacting to the German Chancellor. I believed in him, and to Winston, that made a difference.
The photo of them together had been taken by his secretary. Winston signed it and gave it to her just before the war. Sarina noted that after taking from Winston, she would feel miserable for a day and found she couldn’t get out of bed. I understood this as well. Not a great deal was known about depression back then. Black Dog indeed.
I looked up from the screen; my coffee had gone cold, and I needed food. The only things in the place were bad instant coffee and a tin of Prince of Wales tea. I’d have to go down to one of the cafes in the square for breakfast. I needed cash. A Wall-Bank not far from the apartment would fix that. I’d read enough, for now. With all the other stuff crashing about inside, I had to get out. See the sun.
Sarina stood in the doorway, she leaned against the frame, hair glossy and brushed, robe hanging on her like a fashion queen. How long had she been watching me?
I wanted to ignore her, push her aside and head out for breakfast. The calm vision of her just standing there weakened last night’s resolve, reminded me of the last thing she’d said. I had to tell her about the book. If everything was as she said, then there was no way in hell I was going to survive alone.
Sarina listened to my story about how I had brought Steven down, the visit from Uri, the book; no interruptions, no questions, no judgment. She’d raised an eyebrow when I mentioned Uri and nodded when I told her about putting the book in Steven’s house. It felt like the time I’d told Beth, only I knew Beth wasn’t interested.
“We have to get that book.” Her first comment.
“How?” I doubted it would still be at Steven’s.
“Right now I don’t know.” Sarina’s arms folded lightly across her chest. “Did you read what I’d written last night?” The question was gentle. “From what you’ve told me there might be something in it we can use.”
The only thing was The Dark One and the strain of Bela’s relationship on her. Orlando knew about the original book but Sarina didn’t. I didn’t want read or write anymore, the whole thing became a bizarre scene within an even crazier play.
“Sarina, I can’t. Just don’t have the drive to do this.”
“I don’t mean finish writing the book, I mean is there anything in what I’ve written that could help us?”
I read the screen again, concentrated, forced myself to find the questions I would have normally asked under normal circumstances. Inside the life of this woman there must be an answer.
“Why didn’t you go back to Bela after the war?” I had to start somewhere.
“I couldn’t,” she said, pulling out a chair. “I was still twenty-five and easily recognized in Hollywood. I didn’t really go unnoticed there, despite the stories.” She looked at me. “May I?”
“It’s your apartment.” I might have wanted to know a bit more about her, but I wasn’t forgetting or forgiving anything.
“I did see him in the early 1950s, I can’t be sure of the year; it was a tough time emotionally. I shouldn’t have gone back.” This was making Sarina uncomfortable. She deserved discomfort.
“When did Orlando start following you?” Did Orlando follow her to Bella Lugosi’s house and cause the heart attack that killed him?
“I arrived in New York in late 1950; with all the displacement after the war, getting a passport wasn’t a problem.” She offered a short grunt of a laugh. “A pretty young woman can get most anything she wants if she put her mind to it.” Sarina rubbed her temples. “I started seeing Orlando, I think, around December of 1955. At my age you don’t have flights of imagination, so those shadows at the end of a hallway and the feeling of someone watching or following were real.”
“Did he follow you to LA and maybe kill Bela?” I didn’t want to die like Jacko, or anyone for that matter.
Sarina rested her arms on the table, she looked troubled. “For a time I thought he had, only I didn’t really see him until 1956.” Her voice wispy, airy. “I had seen Bela a few times, and later wondered if Orlando had followed me there. Later I understood.”
“Just understood why he couldn’t have followed me to Bela’s.” I didn’t press it, this was a no-go area.
“What did you and Bela talk about the last time you met?” This wasn’t in the story she’d written.
“I wanted to say my last goodbyes,” she said, sounding ashamed. “You know I was in Bela’s house when Ed Wood offered him the role in Glen and Glenda. For just a moment I thought I might be wrong about him.”
“That he didn’t want to join you?” She nodded once. A slight, firm action.
“I thought the film offer was wonderful. The Bela I had known had been wasted away by morphine, and this small break made him so excited.” She brightened, though it was short-lived. “The movie was awful, and so too was the next one with Ed, Bride of the Monster. I cried all night after seeing it. My Bela was a laughingstock.”
I waited while Sarina became lost in the memories; these thoughts were new. No love is perfect, I thought, there is always a down side, always something that clouds the rosy view. She regained some control. Was I doing it again? Manipulating her like a character in a book? Could I really influence the life of a five hundred year-old woman? A concept that brought a shudder.
“You left again?” I tried to sound more sensitive.
“Not before offering to take away his pain and make him young again.”
“How?” Interested , I sat forward, almost knocking the half-filled coffee cup over with my elbow.
“I... all Uttukes have the ability to pass on a part of themselves.” She looked past me, or through me, I couldn’t tell. “I offered to make him a Uttuku. Make him young again, and we could have been together.” A tear broke free, sliding like a single rain drop down a window.
“He said no?”
“He had really said no a long time ago. I still made the offer, had to be seen to try.” She wiped her face on the back of her hand. “He said he’d wait until his career was back on its feet. Just one more movie, he said.” The tears multiplied. “I left him for the last time that night. I moved to Washington and went on a feeding frenzy for a month. Two hundred souls later I’d flushed a good part of him out of my life. Something I should have done in 1917.”
Despite my anger, and my own concerns, I did feel for her. I had never lost anyone I truly loved. The odd relationship breakup did cause pain and anguish, but nothing like this. I told her to get dressed and I’d take her out for breakfast. Silently she agreed, and in an effort to ease some of the trouble between us, I changed out of my white singlet and into a black T shirt, windcheater and slacks. Orlando was still the issue though, and there was no way to forget that.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert N. Stephenson