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WHEN I woke it appeared to be morning. The fog had thinned and one or two factory workers were moving about. I had been sleeping on my feet - something to which I had quickly grown accustomed - my shoulder propped against the alley wall and brick dust dirtying my disarranged coat. Attempting to straighten myself I was forced to sit on the ground, having lost strength in my legs. With my uninjured hand I wiped the dust away and rested my head on the loose water pipe running down the side of the building.
I was angry I had allowed myself to drift into unconsciousness for what must have been at least an hour. It had been my wish to dispense with sleep altogether but my body betrayed me and made it impossible. The best I could do was nap as sparingly and as lightly as possible. Because of my night terrors I had been living on precious little rest for months now, so I felt confident I could survive on four hours a day. I divided my sleep into segments, as best I could. Twenty minutes every two hours. This duration seemed ideal, long enough to provide quietus but too short for anything but the shallowest slumber. It was my hope that any significant noises - the red door opening, the sound of Elise's voice - would pull me back into wakefulness. Was it possible the young nanny had left the house while I was insensible? An undisciplined moment may have caused me to squander my last chance to spark up the relationship with her that I so fiercely desired. My stomach turning at this notion I pulled myself to my feet, striking a pose that suggested alertness in the hope of encouraging it. I could not allow myself to be so reckless again.
It is impossible to give an accurate account of my extended stay in the alleyway. Whether I was there for a week, or two weeks, or simply a matter of days, I cannot say. No memory of this period is certain and my recollection has no sequence, as if it all happened at once. Despite the inhospitable conditions it was not an entirely unhappy time. I found some pleasure in the protracted nature of the task, the feat of endurance. I was unburdened by society, my only concern being the continuation of the watch. I existed in a strange place, beyond ordinary human concerns, where the only markers were the occasional need to eat, sleep and excrete.
For much of the time I gave no thought to food. I even believed I could survive without it, finding my nourishment from sunlight alone. Sometimes, however, I became so gripped by hunger my whole body shook. I saw everything in double, fluctuating colours floated before my eyes and a terrifying pain tore through my belly. I retched but was unable to vomit, convinced I was dying. These pangs, though, never failed to pass and my vigilance returned.
I did not go completely without sustenance. The small amount of money I had on my person was enough to purchase a pot of jam and two loaves of bread on my first morning, from a small grocer at the end of the road. Having no knife to use I tore pieces off the loaves and spread the jam using the fingers of my good hand. The first portions were eaten quickly but later I learnt to ration them, consuming only a bite or two at a time. Once the bread had been finished I ate the jam on its own, scooping it from the bottom of the jar and getting blackberry seeds lodged uncomfortably beneath my fingernails. My body stopped producing stools. I urinated thickly and odorously behind the pipe.
All this time I thought about the man who had answered the door to the two women. Even though I had not seen his face I fancied I could picture it, and I hated it, hated him. Doubtless he would have no appreciation of how fortunate he was to be in his position, in the company of a person as special as Elise. I wondered if, perhaps, he should be reminded of this somehow. I wondered if he should be taught a lesson.
At night, when the street was empty, I was confident enough to stand at the alley's entrance. In hours of concourse I stepped into the shadows. Blocking the pedestrians from my consciousness I focussed only on the door.
I perceived my surroundings with greater acuity than I ever believed might be possible. The small world I had created rushed in on me with luminous clarity: the fantastic and multitudinous hues of the fog and the shafts of light which glanced through it; the tiniest details of the red bricks. It was as if my eyes had never fully opened before. A veil had been lifted.
With no means to clean the dressing around my hand it inevitably became infected. The wound prickled and suppurated. Ants crawled about the lint. Picking them off, I swallowed them for nourishment.
When it rained I sat on the ground and huddled behind the loose pipe, my frock coat pulled over my head…
… A drainage grill. The hard ground.
At the far end of the passage, a black dog with its tail docked. It is watching me...
Sunshine reflecting brilliantly from puddles...
...I have suffered enough. No more now.
The sound of fingers snapping or a tongue being clicked. I am not alone. Someone takes me in their arms. I rest my weight against the old man, rubbing my cheek against his silk coat. His smell is familiar, like woodland undergrowth after a storm.
Long fingernails trace a line across my forehead and down my cheek. Gently, my lips are parted.
Black silk, wet soil, the rich odour of his breath.
Click here to purchase Visitor in Lunacy from Amazon (and it's an excellent read)
About the Author:
My name is Stephen Curran and I am writer, currently living in York.
I started writing Visitor in Lunacy at some time around 2002. After finishing the first part I put it in a drawer, where it remained for ten years. Parts two, three and four were written in 2012. It is, in part, a homage to Victorian ghost stories - and is composed in a voice which I hope is reminiscent of that era – but I wanted it to read like a ghost story that has been left out in the rain: one that has become buckled and warped and hard to decipher. It is the story of Renfield, but not necessarily the Renfield you might know from Bram Stoker's Dracula.
I have three more books in the pipeline: a character study set in a catherdral, a modern take on Les Enfants Terribles, and a SF adventure partly set in the 1980s. Which one pops out first is anyone's guess.