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Authors: F. G. Cottam

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BOOK: The House of Lost Souls
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Seaton agreed to the hypnosis, even though he knew that undergoing it would, in a way, break his own pledge never to revisit the Fischer domain.

He agreed because, so far, his experience of talking to Covey had helped him. He was better able to sleep, much less prey to nightmares. The panic attacks he had suffered in the shower at the hospital, and on one horrible occasion in a hospital lift, stopped occurring. Mostly, though, he was helped by Covey’s demeanour, as the psychiatrist puffed on his cigar and listened to the tale unfold. Covey never once looked incredulous. He never once betrayed any doubt through tone of voice or facial expression about the credibility of the story or his patient’s sanity. Maybe he believed what he was hearing, Seaton thought. If he didn’t, the man was a convincing actor.

‘The iconography can be explained in one of two ways,’ Covey said, in their final session at the hospital, after the hypnosis.

‘The iconography?’

‘The stuff you thought you heard and saw. The period detail.’

‘Hear and see. It’s still very much with me.’

‘The things you hear and see, then. The music played on shellac 78s. The camphor and lavender water and spats and morning-coat paraphernalia.’

‘I wish I could dismiss it as mere paraphernalia.’

‘It could simply be that you are suggestible. You are, quite, you know. It comes, of course, from Pandora’s account. The trappings of her narrative inform your mind and, crucially, your imagination in ways that disturb you. Consequently, you devise your own nightmare movie and fill it with period props.’

‘To what end?’

Covey hesitated. ‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know? You can surely do better than that, doctor. It’s your job to know.’

‘There’s a bleaker possibility,’ Covey said.

‘Illuminate me,’ Seaton said.

‘You won’t be illuminated, Paul. The alternative explanation is much darker, you see.’

Seaton exhaled. He felt frightened. Covey’s voice had taken on a gentler and more sympathetic tone. He realised that he had tensed his own wasting muscles, had braced himself in his chair in the way someone might steel themselves against the delivery of awful news. He thought, though, despite his fear, that even bad news would be a welcome change from the staleness and tedium of hospital routine. Seaton knew enough, now, to know that the routine here would keep him stable. He knew, equally, that it would never be enough to make him well. This part, what the doctor was about to say, was why Covey was here. Everything else had been preamble. All of it. Sigmund Freud and Freddie Laker. Wittgenstein and Jesus Christ.

‘Illuminate me,’ Seaton said again.

‘The second possibility, is that the thing really does exist. They brought it into being. In the terminology of their own coven, they spawned it. This would have taken powerful magic and it would have been done only at terrible risk. But Crowley and Fischer were powerful magicians. So, I believe, was Wheatley, however buffoonishly he came across to you in the Gibson-Hoare journal.

‘What the demon knows of us, mankind if you will, it first learned from Fischer and his circle. We’re all at our most impressionable in youth. And it was so very young and hungry and impatient for sensation in those far-off days of Fischer’s house parties, was it not?’

‘I don’t know,’ Seaton said. ‘I don’t know anything about demonology, Doctor Covey. I don’t know why something from hell would have a taste for Fats Waller. I don’t care, frankly. I’m beginning to doubt, though, that you are who you say you are.’ And beginning to regret, too, allowing himself to be hypnotised.

Covey leaned back in his chair. ‘Do you think your brother’s death was accidental?’

‘I do. It was a coincidence. Thinking otherwise is very tempting. But Patrick died because he was in a hazardous place, careless because the day had been long and hot and he was drunk.’

‘Why were you not taken by the beast?’

‘Because it can’t cross running water. It had me. And then it didn’t. It’s the only explanation.’

‘You’ve just told me you know nothing about demonology.’

‘It’s the reason they spawned the thing on an island,’ Seaton said. ‘I’ve had a great deal of time to ponder on this. Tides, Doctor Covey. Currents. They wanted to keep the thing corralled. After a fashion, for more than fifty years, they’ve succeeded.’

‘Why would a demon suffer earthly constraints?’

‘I think that was part of the craft of its invoking,’ Seaton said. ‘It was obliged to accept certain preconditions in order to come here. It would have to be. If its power had been unconfined, it would have been no use to the likes of Fischer. It’s only the constraints that make the beast keep its part of the bargain. It’s the Faustian Pact in reverse.’

Covey smiled. It was an impossible smile to read on a man Seaton now knew he would never really warm to. That was partly because of the horrible circumstances that had brought the doctor into his life. He would always associate the man with grief and terror. But it was also because Covey gave nothing of himself away. It was clear that, whatever else he wanted, he didn’t care especially whether or not he was liked. Fuck it, Seaton thought. He was tired, exhausted, truth be told. The hypnotism had worn him out. ‘What do you think?’

‘About your running-water theory?’

‘About any of it.’

Covey was silent. The smile held. ‘I think that you’re as sane as I am,’ he said, eventually.

Seaton was in the hospital for just over eight months. In all that time, Lucinda Grey never came to visit him. He was greatly saddened and hurt by this. But he was also relieved. In order to leave the hospital with any hope of genuine recovery, he knew it would be necessary for him to leave his old self behind. Some decisions about the curtailed life he would lead had already been made on his behalf.

He had been summoned to the county court and had a judgment against him now over an unpaid Access bill for the sum of a hundred and twenty pounds. So he was blacklisted and, without the collateral of property, had no means of getting credit. And he had been sacked from his job, so he was unemployed, his reputation sullied in the only profession he possessed the skills to practise. He was homeless. Perhaps least importantly, but not to his vanity, he was diminished physically. The muscle had shrunk off his frame in the enforced idleness of the hospital and he felt almost insubstantial when he saw in a mirror the puny apparition he’d become. (The briefest of glimpses, this. Paul Seaton no longer possessed his past, preening attachment to mirrors.) So a lot had been done to him without his having felt he’d determined any of it.

But he was obliged to do the rest of what would need to be done. He would have to relinquish all his old pretensions, routines, associates, ambitions; his old persona in its full entirety. And he knew that it would make it much easier to deal with his new diminished existence if he made it possible to believe in his heart that he would never see Lucinda Grey again. He had to store Lucinda, as he had to store his brother, safely in the locked refuge of his memory. There, he could treasure both of them without incurring the risk of further pain. There, they could continue to live. Only there, really, could he hope to have them at all without incurring the risk of his madness coming back again to overwhelm him. And it would overwhelm him, this time. A fresh rejection from Lucinda, a single sighting of his brother’s grinning spectre, and he knew he would be fit only for the deeper and more private recesses of the hospital, with their padded walls and their stiff leather constraints.

On the day of his release, he signed for his belongings at the admissions desk. A porter took him to where they had been taken from the flat, at some time after his own untidy departure from Old Paradise Street, and stored. It was a bad moment for him, this. He signed for a suitcase full of optimistic clothing and his typewriter and tennis racket and a case of albums he knew he would never be able to listen to again. In an envelope there were ticket stubs he’d saved, as souvenirs, after they’d been to see the singer Carmel, on a spellbinding Soho night in Ronnie Scott’s. There was a snapshot of Lucinda, taken at a table aboard a boat that served as a floating pub on the Thames. He raised the photograph to his lips, remembering the heat of the sun on his back as he’d taken it, recalling the perfume of her skin and the lost texture of her lips on those occasions they had brushed against his. There hadn’t been enough of them, of those occasions. There never would be, now. He closed his eyes and rocked on his heels under the tense scrutiny of the watching porter. Then he took from his possessions only the clothes he needed on his back and the shoes he required on his feet to walk respectably out of the place and asked the porter would he please put into the incinerator those remaining things of his he needed now so vitally to part with.

For better than a decade, Paul Seaton did no more than run away. He went first to America, to New York, where he thought the insatiable myth of the Irish diaspora made anyone with a Dublin accent fondly welcome. And the welcome there was warm enough. But it was only ardent if you had it in you to live up to the myth. You were only really warmly welcome, Seaton discovered, if you could play your predictable part in the great and panoramic drama of expatriate Irishness. But he couldn’t. Not at all, he couldn’t. In truth, he lacked the heart. Experience had robbed him of the easy equanimity required to enjoy the
. He was a troubled soul and he could not conceal his torment. He was morose, fearful, haunted. And he was vindictive, too.

One night, an argument was picked with him by an exiled Provo in a Brooklyn bar. The man was an active-service volunteer from East Belfast with a hatred for Irish accents softened by life in London. That was his excuse, anyway, for singling out Seaton for abuse. Maybe he missed his wife or his children, back home. Perhaps, after a drink, he thought it might ease his frustration to give a Judas such as Seaton a therapeutic pasting. But when it went to the cobbles, all he got was decked twice and what looked to Seaton, running away from the scene, like a bad case of concussion after going down heavily the second time.

It wasn’t a case of being the better man, he thought later, nursing a cheap suitcase and bruised knuckles in the Greyhound station. I was just the angrier of the two of us, possibly the less drunk, certainly even more pissed off at my predicament than he had been at his.

Boston followed. He worked in a boatyard and was even cajoled into rowing in an eight-man crew in the harbour twice a week. He took shifts in an Irish bar, all the better to stop merely drinking in them. In Boston, he found himself able to be more congenial. So much so that one evening in the bar where he worked, an acquaintance got friendly enough to warn him that the East Belfast Provo he’d crossed in Brooklyn was almost entirely recovered and fully conversant with his current movements.

He travelled to Canada. An Irish passport was a wonderful thing to have, he realised, if you’d the instinct to travel at all. He discovered he didn’t mind the winter in British Columbia. He’d a mind by now to believe the chill in his soul would make even Nova Scotia in the winter warm and welcoming. He sensed the scent on him from the gunman he’d hurt grown cold, in Canada. He learned to ski there. He taught English and history at an elementary school. He gave evening lectures at a college running a twice-weekly course on practical journalism. And then he had an affair with a gentle and attractive woman of Danish extraction who taught ceramics there. And the catastrophic finish of it convinced him it was time once again to run away.

They went to a cabin owned by her father in deep woods on the edge of the National Park at Banff. It was snowing hard when they got to the woods. A trail reached, narrow through the dense endless spread of conifers. The going on this trail was heavy through the falling snow. And the woods swiftly enveloped them. The hush of the wilderness was profound, as though they had strayed into some undiscovered ancient place, somewhere humans had yet to intrude upon. Trees steepled over the trail, impenetrable to either side, so they progressed along a dark abyss of them, entirely still under the burden of snow weighing on their foliage. So it remained until they happened on a gap, after an hour’s hard walking, a break in the bank of trees to their left Seaton turned into, assuming it must be the path to the cabin.

‘No,’ the woman said. Her voice caught. She was breathless with the heaviness of the going, he thought. ‘Not that way’, she said. And he thought, that’s fear in her voice. She’s afraid.

He stopped and looked along the path forced through the wall of conifers. The snow was scattered with fallen branches and the trees themselves were pale and exposed where bark had been torn from them in great patches and strips. Closer, there were grooves and tears in the wood of the trunks. He walked over and fingered one of them in wonderment.

‘No,’ said the woman. He turned back and looked at her. Again, her tone had surprised him. Her breath plumed. She stood rooted to the trail. There were bright spots of colour on her face, under her hat. She had lifted her snow goggles up on to her forehead. Her eyes were pale and wide in the blank whiteness of the ground and sky. Her voice, its urgency, had made the hairs on his neck rise in the chill.

Seaton looked back along the new path rampaged through the wood. Something immense and ferocious had marauded its way through there, cleaving timber, turning nature to chaos and ruin in its strength and rage. Had the damage been done by a heard of stampeding elk, by their tossing antlers? There were no hoofprints. There were no tracks he could see of any kind, but he was no tracker and the snow was falling heavily. Now, in this aftermath, it was very still in the wood. But in the bleeding sap and dripping pine resin, Seaton could smell the violence. No. It had not been a skittish heard of elk. It had been a force far wilder and more formidable than that.

‘A bear,’ Seaton said.

‘Not a bear,’ the woman said. ‘Not in the winter time.’

‘Then what?’

‘Come here, Paul. Stay on the trail and hurry. We are a mile away yet from shelter and light.’

BOOK: The House of Lost Souls
7.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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