The Books of Darkness
by Robert N. Stephenson
|Table of Contents|
part 1 of 2
Bela sat on a bench outside of the city’s train station, he was reading a magazine and looked like any other passenger waiting for the bus. The night air felt heavy, damp. Global warming had changed the seasons, and it was hard to know what the weather would be like when heading out. My sandals clicked as I crossed the road, the walk light changing to red and flashing when I was halfway across.
I had gotten his text message a little before seven. I didn’t know beings like him could use mobile phones. But Steven did, then why not him? As I approached it felt odd that creatures of so much power would use technology; a very human communication method.
He looked up from the magazine, closed it and waited for me to sit beside him. The entrance to the station wasn’t busy and a lone busker with a guitar played sad songs to people as they walked to the Casino in the side street.
“Good evening,” he said. “A nice night, don’t you think?”
“A bit cold for me.” My thick coat didn’t keep out the dampness in the evening air, and I wished I’d worn closed shoes.
“Have you been able to get the book?”
“Something’s come up,” I said. “The woman who’s got it killed Uri.”
Bela touched his black tie, the whisper of a smile on his lips. “Really.” With eyebrows raised he looked like Dracula. Meeting Dracula on a dark night in the city just didn’t feel right.
“I need to get a letter Steven wrote,” I said. I needed Bela’s help. I had to try. “It states what he and the woman did.” I wondered if he would care for what I wanted to do. “It would clear my name,” I said, hoping this would make a difference.
Bela stood, dropping the magazine on the seat. He offered his hand. Without speaking he turned and walked up the street towards The House of Parliament. Its pillars reaching up into the night, reminded me of Roman architecture. It was a good-looking building; pity about the idiots inside.
I followed Bela, first a few steps behind, and when we reached the crossing lights I walked beside him. Where were we going? I tried asking him, talking quickly; he remained silent. He’d called me, so he wanted something and I guessed it wasn’t only the book.
We crossed the lights to Government House, hidden behind a high wall. Two police officers sat in the guardhouse by the Governor’s residence. The black gates were closed. Always closed.
Near the guardhouse, Bela and I stood beside the impressive and large statue of the Light Horseman. A massive bronze sculpture of a WWI Cavalry officer sitting on his horse. The right leg of the horse was raised, a sign of death in combat, a remembrance of the fallen. I’d been taught this at school. Bela pointed up at the statue. I looked, the bronze green with age, the raised.302 rifle raised above the riders head, the call to charge.
“What do you see?” he asked.
I told him what I knew of Australian war history and added the ANZAC spirit legend that had built up around it, but he shook his head. This wasn’t the answer he wanted. I looked at the statue again, I saw nothing more than what I understood.
“What is the most important part of this statue?”
Was this a trick question, some kind of riddle I had to solve? I stated the obvious.
“Precisely,” he said, looking from the statue to me. “Through time the horse has been the most important aspect of human development. Not only as a beast of burden but as a friend. A valuable asset in times of war.”
“And?” It was just a statue.
“The Dark One understands the meaning of the horse to history, and its connection to you is stronger than you might think.” He led me away from the horse, across a turning lane and to another bench on the footpath. He sat, indicating I should join him.
“The book isn’t the only thing I need.” He sounded vague and I found I didn’t like it. My suspicion was right and I was baffled by what else he could want from me. “Have you seen a horse in Sarina’s place? A black statue of a horse with its right leg raised?”
I had, but I wasn’t about to admit it. I had to tell Sarina, find out what it meant before I told him. I shook my head. He looked as if he already knew she had it.
“Is it important?” I asked.
“You might say that.”
“Why do you think Sarina has it?”
He laughed, a deep chesty sound. “I know she has it, I want you to get it for me.”
“All you need to know is I want it, The Dark One wants it.” He wasn’t going to explain. “Think of it this way, Diana. It might be the only thing to keep you alive.”
I needed something as well. I asked him about getting the book back and the letter. He agreed that Samantha should pay for her crime, though it wasn’t his imperative.
We sat watching the traffic, the people and watching a fog slowly fall across the city. Adelaide wasn’t known for fog and when I saw him smiling I knew he or The Dark One had something to do with it. In the fog, seeing became difficult; moving around for those not wanting to be seen was easier.
“I have much to do,” he said, standing. “We will talk again, soon.” He crossed the street, cars passing through him. I didn’t like his tone.
I met Sarina at the Goth Party house in North Adelaide. I’d gone to my place to get changed, it was closer. Steven wasn’t there, which I appreciated. I left my car in the drive and got a taxi to Melbourne street and then walked around to the house. I had a key this time.
The house still brought bad memories. I looked at its lightless windows and thought of Jacko. Did he have to die? did anyone have to die? Despite the bad feelings the house seemed a safe enough place to go. The Goths were good people when you got to know them.
Beth, on the other hand, was another story. I felt betrayed by her. The fat cow didn’t care about anything but herself; how could I have been so stupid, so blind to her nature? Unlocking the front door I went in and made my way to the basement party.
Inside I found Sarina on the large sofa, a glass of wine in her hand and a number of young men fighting for her attentions. As soon as she spotted me they were waved away. The music, loud, pumped through me, screamed at me, the smoke haze helped hide what I felt. My heart wouldn’t be able to hide what Bela had asked for too long. She’d see my worry.
I sat beside her, drawing my dress in around my legs. A very tall woman looking like death and wearing short leather shorts and a leather bra brought me a drink.
Beth stood at the bar, all bright bangles, necklaces and burgeoning breasts. She looked my way, shook her head and went back to serving. Why would a Uttuke choose to be so fat? On the screen a Bela Lugosi film played, Son of Frankenstein: Bela’s makeup was impressive, I could hardly tell it was him. I wondered if this film was a favourite.
Sarina grabbed my hand, fingers entwining, and pulled it into her lap. She was glad to see me and despite what I had to say, it felt good to be beside her. The movie ended, the music still pumped. Joy Division pulsed through the ambiance; to many in the room they were the creators of the Goth terminology. Others talked about The Cramps. The debate, always soft, never got heated. Fights were beneath these people.
I’d even mentioned this questionable information in one of my books, though I didn’t fully grasp the whole concept of Goth music. With the film in the background it made more sense, became more darkly emotional. It wasn’t just the music, the sound needed visuals, usually non-related images that worked closely with emotions. Old black and white horror films lent themselves nicely to the task. The film closed, the music dulled to an even white noise. It was time to tell Sarina what Bela wanted.
A disconnected scene flashed on the screen; an interruption in the visual landscape. Black and white, Bela, at least thirty years older than the one I knew, hovered over the exposed neck of a pale skinned beauty. His cape spread out, his fangs ready to strike. A shadow moved across the white linen of the bed. He looked up. I didn’t remember him doing this before, not in this scene. Well, I thought I knew the scene.
The shadow stepped from the screen, the film becoming a snow haze. Sarina gripped my hand tighter. I held my breath, body stiffening. The noise stopped, everything stopped. It was like the night in the restaurant. I turned to see Beth, the only other person able to move. She approached us, looking extremely unhappy.
“What do you want?” Sarina asked. I didn’t feel well.
Before us stood the figure of a man, the blackest black I’d ever seen. No features, only glowing blue eyes. It had to be him, could only be him. I knew those eyes from the bridge. I didn’t want to die. I returned Sarina’s grip. I didn’t want to die.
“You know what I want.” The voice washed over me like a thick syrup, the sound tugged down on me, dragged across my body.
“Piss off,” Beth said, now standing a little to the side and in front of us. “There’s nothing for you here.”
“Good to see you again, Bethra,” the darkness said. “Still fat I see.”
“Go to hell.”
“Not one of my desires,” he said, a low, hard laugh followed. The sound of gravel in a stone bowl. “I see you have many followers, Sarina.”
At least Beth didn’t seem to be intimidated. I for sure was.
“Why are you here?” Sarina didn’t move but I could feel her tension, the tightening in her wrist and forearm.
The Dark One expanded, increasing its size to cover the screen behind. I didn’t think I could get closer to Sarina, but I tried. I tried to climb inside her skin and hide. He moved through the stilled gathering, a solid cloud flowing over, around and through the bodies.
“A lot of darkness here,” he said. Again the drag.
“Leave them alone,” Beth said.
“They mean nothing to you.” Sarina put her wine on the nearby table. “And I will never give it back.”
“You won’t have to,” he laughed. An unpleasant sound. I could hear screams interlaced through his voice. He pointed straight at me. “She will get it for me. Do it or die.”
“Bela asked me to take it from you,” I blurted, feeling like a little girl caught out doing something wrong. “I wanted to tell you, but the music...”
“Tonight, just before coming here.” She didn’t let go of my hand.
“It is about time he and I were heading in the same direction,” he said.
“Did he tell you what it was?” I nodded.
“You can’t protect her forever,” The Dark One said, flowing to reform in front of us again. “She will bring me the horse.”
Beth looked confused for a moment, then searching Sarina’s face, her look turned to concerned. She sat on the sofa, sandwiching me. A fat hand wiped a chubby face. Slowly she turned to Sarina, looking right past me. I could see anger in her eyes, the set of her jaw.
“You took the horse?” The airiness of her voice a light brush against my face.
“I’ll explain later,” Sarina said. “I think you should leave,” she said to The Dark One.
“The horse or the woman, your choice, Uttuke. Will you sacrifice yourself for a human?”
The darkness flowed back into the snow of the screen, the vision of Bela, the Dracula, about to feed, returned, only now he lay sprawled across the woman. She was screaming. It was Sarina. The image flickered. The screen returned to show the opening credits of The Raven. What was that all about?
Sarina stood, dragging me up in turn. She looked at Beth, who just sat staring off into space. I had to find out what the horse meant and just how he would make me take it from Sarina. Or would she give it to me to save my life? Of that I felt doubtful.
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Robert N. Stephenson