The Books of Darkness
by Robert N. Stephenson
|Table of Contents|
I waited in the front room of Sarina’s apartment. I deleted the message from her phone and ate the dry croissant. Bela was alive. I only had three of the copper down-lights on above me; the rest of the place was in darkness. Bela’s face kept running over and over in my mind. I’d checked the photos on the wall, and it was definitely him.
With nothing but my laptop to keep me company, I went to uTube and watched the music clip for “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus. The clip came from a movie called The Hunger with David Bowie. I’d heard the song a few times, but never seen the video.
In one of the crowd shots I thought I’d seen Sarina’s face, and after several replays and pauses, I still couldn’t be sure. I wondered if she was in any of Bela’s movies? The way Alfred Hitchcock would turn up in his. A shadow here, a walk-by there. After this mess is cleaned up I’d get his movies and see for myself. A dark-haired beauty around the set all the time would have been a director’s dream for a walk-on or background crowd shot.
The locks clicked on the door. Sarina was back. I closed the laptop, taking deep breaths to calm myself. As she walked through the door, the stink of cigarette smoke wafted in with her. After a night of partying, she still looked great, makeup perfect, hair shining with its usual lustre and eyes alive with life.
“You waited up for me.” She barely contained a smile, but I saw the slight movement of her lips.
“I met Bela Lugosi, tonight,” I said. I had to say it. “He’s alive.”
“I wondered when he’d introduce himself,” she said lightly.
“You know he’s alive?” Another shock for the night.
“He’s not really alive, you know,” she said, sitting on the arm of my chair. “And yes, I’ve known since 1955 and suspected his deal with The Dark One since 1912.”
“I’m sorry, Sarina, but I am getting really, really confused here,” I said, feeling tired and at the edge of my wits. “I thought you were saddened about his death, I’ve seen you cry at the memories.”
“He is dead, Diana, and I am sad he is no longer with me.”
“He’s part of The Dark One. He can never come back from there. He has been dead to me since the day he was placed in his coffin.” She stroked my hair, I let the sensation ease away some of the tension.
“Then you know he’s been following you?”
“I only worked that out in 1987, after someone told me they thought they’d seen Bela Lugosi in a cinema watching old vampire movies. I put a few things together.” I leaned back in the chair, resting my head against her side. “I knew it wasn’t the Bela I loved, so I named him Orlando, after my cat in Hungary. She was black.”
“He was sent to get something from you.”
“I know, but I knew he couldn’t.” She touched my face, her finger tips were cool, but welcoming. “Then this book thing came up.”
“It’s all because of Steven,” I said, letting my eyes close. “Goddamned Steven.”
“It’s about a lot of things, I guess.”
“I could do with a drink.” I said.
Sarina had bought me a new bottle of scotch, Chivas Regal, and we drank for a couple of hours, talking about Bela, his life and unlife. She said that during the funeral, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, both well-known actors of the time, stood over the coffin.
Lorre had said that they should stake Bela through the heart just to be sure he was dead. She said if they had, it would have been quite a shock to them when Bela sat up and pulled the stake free.
Ta’ibahs hated being annoyed. The story about Bela wanting to be buried in his cape wasn’t true either. His son and ex-wife had arranged it with one of the studios as show of respect.
“Is it true Frank Sinatra paid for the funeral?” We’d finished half the bottle.
“I really don’t know,” she said, letting me lie in her lap. “I’d wanted to, you know, pay; there just wasn’t a way to do it without bringing attention to myself.”
“You attended the funeral?”
“I drifted in, saw him lying there, but I knew what he’d become. I felt like saying something to him, just to see his eyes open in surprise. It was just too hard. To me his death meant the end of our friendship, the end of those few years we had together.”
The sadness in her voice, the copper light and the invasive black made for a very down mood. I couldn’t quite equate the man I’d met in the cafe to the one Sarina talked about. I’d seen the power of Bela first hand, literally through his hands, and I accepted he was a danger to us. I wanted to believe my staying with Sarina would somehow keep me out of harm’s way. Bela’s words undermined that belief, took away the surety I needed in life.
I don’t know what time we went to bed. I knew I’d drunk too much, talked too much and listened too much. I let her make love to me, though I didn’t really feel anything. She knew. She needed the closeness of our bodies, the act, the little feed afterwards. The scotch did its job and sleep wasn’t too slow in coming. Tomorrow Steven would have to be dealt with. A few stiff drinks beforehand might be needed.
I waited until eleven before driving up to my place in Hawthorndene. The traffic was lighter, and I felt more awake by then. I didn’t have a drink, though I had been tempted by every hotel I passed. By the time I pulled into the drive I was ready for him. Sarina had said this was something that had to be done.
Set within a native garden of tall gum trees and wild flowers, my cream-brick house looked dated, old, yet comfortable. Getting out of the car I heard the twitter of the birds, the smells of mellalluca and eucalypt. This was my place, my home.
The neighbour to the left walked down the drive, happy to see me. He handed my mail and asked if I’d be home for long. A short visit, I said, and he offered to continue to collect my mail. Dave was a good neighbour, and he did watch out for others in the street. Hard to find people like that these days.
I walked down the gravel path to the front door.
The house smelt musty from being shut up for a few months. I put my mail on the country-style dining table. The house felt cold, despite the warm day. He was here, I could feel him. I wanted to call out, demand he tell me what I wanted to know, but being with Sarina had shown me that being calm and allowing things to come to you helps keep the mind steady and receptive.
I sorted the bills from the junk mail, and noticed several overdue accounts. I put the bills in my bag. I would pay them through the Internet once back at Sarina’s. It felt odd to be in my house after so long in the blackness of the apartment. The white-painted floor, the green walls and curtains, the coloured picture frames scattered about.
I thought about putting some music on, or even watching the TV. Instead I opened the curtains and stared out at the overgrown garden, which was, of course, its natural state anyway. The tall gum trees that bordered my piece of real estate, Wallangarras, were good sleeping places for koalas. Not today though. The greens and browns, the ochres and yellows stood out, drew my attention. The colours seen every day in the street, seen in something that is truly mine created a different feeling, a new understanding of what it means to be alive.
“I’ve been waiting,” Steven said from the kitchen. The half-wall divider separated us.
I stared at him, surprised he said anything other than “Follow.” Again a change. If The Dark One wanted to screw with my mind then he was doing a bloody good job of it.
“Why are you here? Why are you talking to me?” I didn’t want to talk to him.
“I’m trapped, Diana,” he said, stepping through the wall and taking a seat at the table. It bothered me.
I sat, gripped the seat in my left hand, to help steady my nerves. “The Dark One gave up on me. He knew I wouldn’t be able to lead you to him a second time.”
“Damn right about that,” I said. This ghost of Steven looked different, more Steven than usual.
“I’m stuck here, trapped in your dimension.”
“Like I really care,” I said. Being bitter didn’t help.
“Diana,” he pleaded. Odd for a ghost, I thought. “You have to give him what he wants.”
“He just wants the book back. I don’t have it.”
“I know. Sam’s got it. I told The Dark One this. I don’t know why things have gone along as they have.”
“That makes you and me both.”
“There’s more,” he said, looking at his hands. “What you did wasn’t wrong. You told the truth about me. I would have done the same if anyone else had been caught out.”
“Everyone thinks I caused you to kill yourself.” I now knew better, but the rest of the world didn’t know. “I’m an outcast in the literary world because of you.”
“I can make it right. I have to make things right, otherwise I can’t cross over,” he said. He looked miserable, in pain. “I don’t want to be trapped here forever, Diana.”
I felt sorry for him, but not enough to forgive him for stealing the book. His cold filled the house, drove away the warm of the sun through the windows. The place felt like a freezer. Silence passed before he continued.
“Samantha killed Uri,” he said.
“What?” That had my attention.
“He stole the book back. Sam confronted him on the river and when her threats didn’t work, she injected him with insulin.” He looked up at me. “Sam and I had planned to kill him; she even stole the injection from her mother for the job.”
I didn’t know what to think. Samantha was a bitch, and wanted something for the book, but I’d never seen her as a murderer. Steven stood and paced the room, his blue ghostly appearance like a fine shimmer of light moving above the floor. This was how he looked when alive, always nervous, twitchy. In the two years since his haunting I had never seen him so, so, alive. I thought of Sarina, what would she do, how would she handle this turn of events. I felt empowered as I drew on the thought of her strength. Now I could bring down Samantha and remove the guilt I still harboured about Steven. I could change the view the literary world had of me. I had of myself.
“I don’t have any proof,” I said. It was one thing to know the truth, but something different to prove. “Do you?”
“I wrote a suicide note.” Steven pacing, wringing his hands as if cold. It was cold.
“But you didn’t commit suicide.”
“I was going to,” he snapped. “I planned it out. The vacuum cleaner hose, the duct tape, everything.”
“You didn’t kill yourself, Steven,” I said again, this time raising my voice. “The Dark One killed you.”
“I know, I know. But I did drive out to the Cuddly Creek Reservoir that night to take my life. But The Dark One came to me out of the trees, he set up the suicide for me, after he’d taken everything that made me who I was. Made me this.”
“What’s in the note?” Steven was on the right page after all.
“I said how guilty I felt for the old man’s death, and that Sam and I had planned to kill him once we got the book back.” He stopped pacing. “The syringe is still in the case with the book. It would have her prints, Uri’s blood.”
“Where is the book, Steven?”
“I don’t know what happened to it. Sam hid it when she found it on the table. I saw her put the syringe inside.”
Sam, I thought.
“In the note I apologized for stealing the book, plagiarizing it, and said how Sam had helped me with the rewriting.” He stopped wringing his hands, stepped towards the table and leaned against it with both hands flat on its surface. “Sam wouldn’t agree to tell the truth, and I wasn’t strong enough to go against her.”
“And where is this note?” It might help get the book back.
“With my lawyer. Ben Richards.” Steven dragged one hand through his curly hair. “I forgot to give him instructions, so I guess the letter is in my file somewhere.”
I blew out a breath. Big news always jumbled my thinking. It was the same when the New York contract came through. I blinked a few times, forcing my thoughts to order, to think about what to do and how to do it.
Steven had given me enough to put Samantha away for a long time. To do so I had to get the letter, then I had to get the letter to the police without them knowing that it was I who was handing it over. I couldn’t be connected to this again.
“Is the note handwritten?”
“Yes,” he looked hopeful. “I want this to end, Diana. I want to go over.”
“I’ll try,” I said, not sure how to achieve this. “Until then I suppose you’re stuck here?”
“I can’t go over,” he said.
“I have three days to get it. Can you wait that long?”
“I have forever. I’ve already spent two years here; another few days will mean little.”
I picked up the mail I had to deal with and left Steven moping about my house. If Bela made contact again I’d ask him. I drove down the hill and into the edges of the city. Ben Richard’s office was on Norwood Parade, not far from Samantha’s place. I didn’t have an appointment, and I didn’t have a plan; it wouldn’t hurt to stop by and get a feel for what might need to be done.
Ben and I spoke for over half an hour. He wouldn’t release the letter, and I wouldn’t tell him what was in it. The file was now Samatha’s property, the sole recipient in the will. Telling her about the letter would surely get it destroyed. The only way to get into Steven’s file was through Samantha.
I asked about other things of Steven’s just to keep attention away from the letter specifically. He’d call Samantha, tell her about the visit and what was talked about. I decided to ask about Steven’s book, pressed Ben as hard as I could. He wouldn’t know about the original. By harassing him over it I was sure he would only discuss this part of our meeting.
It wasn’t a total loss, I at least knew Ben still had the file. Breaking in and stealing it would have been a good option; knowing the filing system might have made the option viable. I needed help and I just knew who to ask. Bela needed that book as much as I did. He had to contact me again. He just had to.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert N. Stephenson