I was living as a lodger at the time in one of Edinburgh’s less discriminating quarters, trying to make something happen in my career and my love life. I had a strategy and I was trying to stick to it. And I have to say things were going reasonably well. Somehow I had managed to find a position at a reputable firm of Edinburgh lawyers – a commitment I fulfilled a couple of days a week – and to make ends meet I picked up a couple of shifts in a trendy bar near the station at the weekend. There was a barmaid there that I had a crush on and I pursued her amorous attentions chiefly through the medium of instant text messaging.
I used to send her jokes in the evenings. Tuesday, Tommy Cooper:
- Said to my gym instructor: “can you teach me the splits?” He said: “how flexible are you?” I said: “I can’t do Tuesdays.”
- You’re a loser
- Want to go to the cinema?
- Maybe, probably not though
Progress. Minor, yes, but definitely progress. Wednesday, Woody Allen:
- Went to the zoo today. There was only one dog there: it was a Shitzu.
- Sounds ruff
- Yeah it’s the kind of thing that really TICKS me off
- Just beagle-ad it’s over
The heart flutters; a pun, tiny as it is, is in my world just short of an aphrodisiac. I fell asleep sometime after that feeling energised, content, unswerving. My strategy was working.
A few hours later I awoke in darkness, a constriction in my throat, my legs damp with sweat, my back arched towards the ceiling, my entire body gripped by a freak paralysis. Materialising somewhere in the corner of the room was a soft voice, disembodied, very low, and terrifyingly there – at the door? in the closet? in my mind? – it was difficult to know. It fired questions at me, made terrible claims:
“Who is she?”
I couldn’t reply, I had never felt such fear.
“Tell me who she is?”
I gasped, make it stop I said.
The voice left on a plaintive note.
“She can’t have you.”
Mercifully the paralysis subsided a few minutes later and the strange voice fell silent. What dark force was out to sabotage my budding oath with the barmaid I could not fathom. But it had not been a dream, no no. I had been wide awake – that I was convinced of.
I am quite a rational man – perhaps it’s the lawyer in me – and it is not often I find myself stumped. Shivering under the covers, I went through all the possible explanations I could think of for this horrifying visitation. Was I simply going mad? Perhaps – although I had no prior history of depression or anxiety. Had I been drinking too much? Certainly I had put a few back in pursuit of the barmaid, propping up the bar whilst she served in that charming way of hers. But not enough to prompt this unannounced horror.
I had read once of a phenomenon called lucid dreaming. In lucid dreams the dreamer perceives the dream image in uncommonly vivid detail, almost as if they were actually awake. This I thought to be the most convincing explanation for what had occurred, although the realisation did nothing to calm my nerves. The only other thought was that something of the occult had taken place. But as I say I am a rational man.
Sleep proved difficult that evening as you can imagine. At one point I sat right up in my bed and finished off the glass of water I had laid out for the following morning. As I licked my lips I noticed there was lipstick around the rim of the glass. Not mine I assure you – my landlord Mark’s.
Mark would leave red stains like this all over the home, like calling cards. On occasion I would open my papers at the office to find lipstick in the margins. Did he do this to his previous tenants? Did he torment them the way he tormented me? It was a very small flat, one couldn’t fail to notice these things.
He often complained that I didn’t take any notice of him, but as you can clearly see from this piece of writing, I did. Indeed, as I pen this account it strikes me that just as I had devised a strategy to court the barmaid so Mark had devised one of his own to court me: the lipstick stain. His smear campaign.
Look, right – I work, I work on collating my jokes, I go to meet the barmaid – it’s difficult for me to make time for anybody, let alone my landlord. Two people sleeping in the same house is that not enough? You know, a bit of company?
Not for Mark.
Losing my train of thought for a moment, I noticed that Mark was still awake, sitting in the living room listening to music of a choral nature. I threw on my dressing gown and emerged from my chambers.
I knocked on the living room door. ‘Are you alright Mark? It’s 3am.’
His reply was … unbalanced. It sounded as if he was speaking Latin.
I entered the room. ‘What are all these candles for Mark? Christ, there’s hundreds of them.’
Mark said nothing. He was sitting in the lotus position, his back towards me.
‘Is there something you’re not telling me Mark?’
Finally he spoke, his voice deep and gravelly like Darth Vader’s.
‘This is the fourth moon of Garniroth, it is prophesised in the Book of Memneer that a sacrifice must be made,’ he said. As he spoke, his body levitated above the candles. He rotated and fixed his gaze on me. The choral music – which I had at first thought charming – became shrill and demonic.
I turned to go and put the kettle on but my feet were rooted to the ground.
‘Mark I can’t move.’
Mark’s eyes glowed with unnatural brightness.
‘Mark help me I can’t move.’
He levitated towards me and attached large chains to each of my limbs. It was then that I realised Mark and myself were not batting for the same side. It is of course clear to me now that Mark was a foot soldier of Satan. While I had gone about the town boasting that he was trying to seduce me he had in fact been lining me up for a starring role in some sort of depraved ceremony.
‘The great Zoldan, wraith of the fourth quadrant demands your liver. To Xerxag, Doge of Asteroth, go your teeth. Your remaining organs will feed the dead armies of the night and I, Mark, will wear your rancid skin as a cape for a thousand years.’
The mystery of the visitation had finally become clear. By some twist of demonology Mark had managed to speak to me directly without actually being present. That much was clear to me now. And he had wanted me all to himself not because he was jealous – how foolish of me to think the disembodied voice had concealed a lonely heart – he had merely wanted my human flesh for sacrifice. But I had little time to evaluate this delicate situation.
Mark had wafted through to the kitchen and was rootling around in the drawers for sharp utensils. He returned with a kebab skewer, a cheese grater and a tupperwear box.
‘Mark,’ I said, as he prepared to insert the skewer into my nostril, ‘sincerely I am ready to bend to your will. But I have one final request. I want to hold you in my arms and kiss you, for old times’ sake. Grant me that much old boy. ’
He looked at me quizzically. ‘So be it.’
As soon as the chains dropped from me I bolted for the door, in the race I took a skewer to the neck and chest.
Staggering into the stairwell and out onto the street I fell to the ground clutching my mobile phone. I didn’t have much time; I was bleeding to death. My movements had to be strategic or else, surely, I would perish. Going out guns blazing I texted the barmaid. My hands trembled over the buttons:
- Help, please, oh god, I need to get to a hospital!
- what is it?
- It’s a big building with lots of doctors, but that’s not important now!