Archive for September, 2015

I Don’t Want To Be A Dungbeetle

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

“I think I might be different,” said George. “I think I might be-”

“You ain’t different,” George’s mother interrupted. “You’re a dungbeetle, just like the rest of us. Ain’t no one ‘different’ in this family!”

“But I don’t think I want to be a dungbeetle,” said George. “I think I want to make music, and I think I want to-”

“You ain’t makin’ music! Your father rolls shit, I rolled shit before I ‘ad you, and your granddaddy rolled so much shit it killed him. You’re a dungbeetle, George, and you’ll bloody well roll shit like one!”

“Aye,” agreed George’s dad, scuttling in and shaking the shit off his six feet. “You’ll roll shit, son, and you’ll roll it wi’ pride!”

“Don’t know how,” muttered George. “It smells so bad…”

“That,” said his father, unwrapping a squashed cheese sandwich, “Is the smell of legacy! It’s a proud thing, bein’ a dungbeetle.” He proceeded to devour the sandwich without even washing his hands, and George sighed.

“It’s easy for you,” said George, “You’re a proper dungbeetle. But how am I ever supposed to roll shit with only two legs, and these…awful, mutated flaps? I’ll never be able to-”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong wi’ you, son,” said his mother firmly. “Dungbeetles lose their legs all the time, an’ it’s just a sign you worked hard. Ain’t your fault you came out a bit…different.”

“But that’s exactly what I’m saying! I’m different! And I want to be different! Last night I couldn’t sleep, again, and I heard this music, and it was-”

“Fuckin’ owls,” grumbled his dad. “Fuckin’ menace, those owls.”

“…it was…beautiful…” George finished, wistfully.

“Owls ain’t beautiful! Shit is beautiful!”

George lapsed into silence, and sulkily examined his fingers. Except his fingers were all wrong, just like they’d always been – they were sort of feathery and flappy and useless. Come to mention it, George was covered in feathers all over, the result of some hideous undiagnosed medical condition. Dungbeetles didn’t have feathers. Everyone laughed at George. His mum had tried plucking them out when he was young, but it hurt, and underneath he was all pink and bumpy, not at all like a normal dungbeetle. So they just let the feathers grow back, and George hid away from the beetles who mocked him. The daylight hurt his eyes, anyway – it made him sleepy. Night time was when he really felt alive, and he’d listen to the distant music of those strange creatures they called ‘owls’, and he’d wish that he could be an owl, as well.

The Opium Sanctuary

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

2nd September, 1865:

I think that I like being immortal – it suits my temperament. I always thought I had the right temperament for wealth and power – I certainly had the right face for it, but a face will only get you so far unless you’re prepared to throw your arse into the deal as well, which I most certainly was not. Well…not usually. Only for the right price. And not for anybody hideous, stinking, or syphilitic, which of course rules out the majority of London. But anyway, those days are behind me. Now that I’m immortal, and in possession of a whole slew of fiendish talents, my lifestyle has finally begun to suit my temperament.

Look around you, for instance. This is the sort of place in which I was always supposed to be living. One could almost call it obscene. Vast and sprawling, most certainly, with the lovely dark wood panelling and the Oriental rugs covering these age-worn floorboards, trampled into a warm patina, made silken underfoot by the aristocratic soles of two centuries of Lords and Ladies, the last of whom I confess I ate in order to secure the property. Their disapproving oil-painted likenesses scowl down at me daily, and I smile back up at them, relishing their annoyance. All that power, all that wealth, all that blue blood, and I swallowed the very last drop of it. I was a little disappointed to discover that it wasn’t actually blue – I even took a short trip to Windsor Castle to sample one of the lesser royals, as an experiment into the colours of blood, so I can tell you without any doubt at all – it isn’t true. Not a word of it. They didn’t even taste any different, really – a little richer on the tongue, a little more complex, a touch spiced, but that has nothing to do with breeding, and everything to do with diet. If you want a truly exquisite dining experience, you have to try seducing that enormous homosexual who always presides over the best dining houses – he is vast and ruddy-faced, an elegant brandy glass in his bejewelled fist, his little finger pointed to the sky like a prim old aunt. He will be bedecked in glorious satins like an obese peacock, forever drunk, reasonably amusing, and always receptive to the attentions of someone such as me. And this man, I tell you in no uncertain terms, has the finest blood in all of England. It’s the things he eats, you see. All the spices, the duck fat, the expensive port and the fine cigars – all these things, all these delicious trappings of wealth and finery, they are distilled into the thick red potion of his blood, and it is quite the experience. So much so, in fact, that I never kill this sort of man – I like to keep him alive and friendly, so that I might experience him again and again, and every time is a little different, for he is just as much the intrepid dining connoisseur as I am.

Anyway – I digress. Not that it matters – one is allowed to digress when one is well-dressed and wealthy. People never interrupt their betters, and everybody sounds more interesting in a well tailored suit. I am learning all sorts of things about life these days, which is ironic, when you consider that I am really dead. The details of that event, I do not care to dwell on. It was traumatic, and violating, and unpleasant. I often wish that I could have appeared as an elegant spectre to the slovenly pauper I was before, and told him, “Don’t be so bloody silly about the entire affair! There’s no need for all the screaming and howling and praying to a nonexistent god that we never believed in anyway! It will be over and done with in the space of a few hours, and after that, you will look like me, and your life will be splendid. So don’t be such a wet blanket about the whole affair!”. But of course, I can’t. Time travel and spectral haunting are not amongst my new boudoir of demonic skills. As for the downsides to immortality, well…there aren’t any, really. I can still drink wine and brandy – thank the gods! I mean, what aristocratic figure would be seen to be an abstainer? Wandering about the best ballrooms with a cup of steaming tea? Nobody would take me seriously, and they would be quite right in their mockery! So, I still have all the pleasures of a human.

I don’t have to concern myself with my family either – it was clear from the outset that they had every intention of leeching away my newfound wealth, so, naturally, I ate them, and then the matter was quite solved. As for my new family, my immortal family, they number just two. Obviously, there is the demon who created me, in every possible sense of the word, and he is quite pleasant enough. I only see him perhaps twice a week – he bought me this house, and set me up with a bank account, as he likes to keep me in the finery to which I have become accustomed. For him, I am quite willing to bring both my face, and my arse, into the bargain. His name is Byron. The second of my demonic clan is a rather spoiled and objectionable female named Matild, who is old enough to be my…god only knows what, to be perfectly honest, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. Captured in the body of a pouting teenage concubine, and quite aware of her own good looks. Byron likes to fuck her on occasion, hence the reason for her continued existence in London – he often appears in my bed drenched in the poisonous stench of a whore’s bed-linens, and I refuse to present my posterior until he’s bathed himself clean. I do not interact with Matild. Because I’m jealous? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I suspect that Byron has more of us, to be honest – his appetites are insatiable and yet he only troubles me twice weekly; it is evident enough that he is fucking others in this city. But jealousy is an ugly emotion – I refuse to sully myself with it, and besides, it’s not as though I don’t have other people that I’m fucking. Byron isn’t jealous – it’s one of his many fine qualities; there are really no drawbacks to our little contract. I gave him my mortal soul, and he gave me…everything. Forever. So why should I be jealous?

My favourite thing in the world though, my favourite thing, in the midst of all this splendour, my oil paintings and rugs, my gleaming horses, my young, beautiful, obscenely shaved fucking-boys, my bottomless wealth and newfound social status – of all these things, there is one I love the most. I have many vices, and all of them delight me, but opium is the finest of them all. I am rarely to be found in an opium den, because they are foul places filled with foul people, and one’s reputation can be ruined in an instant if seen in such a place too frequently. But reputation doesn’t unduly trouble me – it’s the squalor that does. When one goes to an opium den, and smokes there, one is forced to sprawl out upon stained, stiffening pillows that reek of sweat and vomit, with dirty straw and rat droppings beneath one’s feet, and worse than this is the company. Opium ceases to be remotely enjoyable when one is forced to endure the inane babblings of the deformed, demented, frothing halfwits that frequent those places. Mortals in the depths of an opium dream are hideous to witness, sprawled about with strings of drool hanging from their slobbering mouths, groaning horrifyingly and scratching their filthy crotches, stumbling about like impinged ogres with their eyes gone crooked – it truly is the stuff of nightmares, and I strongly suspect that opium tar’s bad reputation is solely due to these scenes. But opium itself, is quite a different thing. Opium itself, is elegant and warm and beautiful – I think, in fact, that it is my favourite thing in the world. There is nothing about it that isn’t beautiful, from the fields of flame-red poppies whence it comes, to the intricately carved splendour of my pipes, to the warm golden light of the lamps and trays, and finally to the state of perfect contentment it invokes.

I realised all of this some nine months after Byron made me what I am. I rapidly set about transforming a room of my house into the most splendid private opium den I could manage, with gloriously coloured Oriental silk draperies and cushions, all the necessary setup created from hammered gold and copper, so that in the light of my lamps the whole room would become a glimmering paradise, a warm smoky heaven of my own creation. I purchased a selection of pipes in bone and silver and wood, all engraved and inset with fabulous stones, glittering opals and gleaming tigers-eye, so that I would always have things to touch and look at and wonder over. I brought in a variety of instruments from across the globe, and would spend whole nights hypnotised as I ran my fingers over the strings of a lute, or tilted a crude tribal creation back and forth to make the sound of falling rain. I installed a small library of my favourite books, complete with quills and ink and rose-scented paper, that I might write letters to my lovers from the true depths of my heart, with all my cynicism, all my mortal hindrances, washed clean by the opium. I employed two small Chinese slave boys, who were well versed in the preparation of opium tar, the loading and upkeep of pipes – of course one can do it oneself, but it’s such a bore; the whole point of wealth is to separate oneself from the mundane tasks of mortality, so that one has all the time in the world to pursue loftier and more valuable pastimes, like actually smoking the opium. It took several months to complete, but finally my opium room was perfect, and I loved it more than anything else on Earth.

It was my slave boys who made the trips down to those sordid dens on the river, bringing me back my opium. They get it for a far better price than any white man ever would, and despite their helpless youth, their own people would never beat and rob them – they’re quite safe out there. I feel a strange affection for those boys, borne of so many long, drowsy nights, when they would share my glistening sanctuary, silently loading my pipe and watching from a corner, still as statues, their dark eyes gleaming in the lamplight. They speak a little English, and sometimes I converse with them, just to hear their charming accents – so strange that their voices should sound endearing in English, when their own tongue is so harsh and jarring, a gibbering of wide, incredulous vowel sounds. The other servants I keep here, I confess I often feed on. Several have vanished mysteriously, having succumbed to my appetites and been dumped into the reeking mud of the river, but my opium boys I would never lay a finger on. Recently I have been teaching one to read, and encouraging the other to learn to play my piano. At first they stared at me in horror with their huge dark eyes, convinced that it was some trick – grubby little Oriental children, laying their fingers upon the ivory keys of this gleaming grand piano? It was blasphemy! But finally I convinced them to try, and so they did. He likes to play with two fingers only, picking out strange disjointed tunes that flow in their own odd way like early morning birdsong. I am considering having the piano moved closer to the opium room, that I might hear it while I dream.

Of course, there are plenty of other pleasures in life – often I think that life has become nothing more than an endless stream of perpetual pleasure, and I revel in every second of it, from the simplest to the most indulgent. Small pleasures are usually the product of Byron’s wealth – clean, luxurious bed-linens, to sprawl out upon, drunk and naked. Scented handkerchief water, and elegant cologne – for that matter, my marble bath, in which I might have each of my conquests cleansed and perfumed before we fuck. I still remember with distaste how foul fucking used to be, when I was just as foully poor. No matter how beautiful the boy or girl, I would kiss them and the taste of their mouth would make me recoil, or when they parted their legs, the stench that arose would be ungodly. Of course we would still go about our business, because in those days we knew no other way. People were all smelly creatures, weren’t they? Nothing to be done about it. How pleased I am to be taught otherwise! Tooth powder and brushes were quite the revelation – to kiss people whose mouths tasted of peppermint or pine, and then to perform orally on genitals that taste of nothing more than soft, fragrant skin; these things are pleasures in the utmost.

Another of my favourite pleasures, or perhaps vices, is pride. I always knew that I was beautiful, but there is no pride in that when you are poor, and your soon-to-wane beauty is the only thing you have in the cold, cruel world. These days, I am far more than just beautiful. My eyes were a sort of warm, trustworthy brown before, I was told, whereas now they are filled with light and dimension – gold glimmers and a deep, velvety violet lurks in their depths. The power of my eyes is also a benefit, that I may bewitch the minds of mortals, and have them do my bidding, but often there is no need to wield this advantage – my beauty alone undoes them. I am pale, and youthful, and my eyes are shocking against my white skin, my long dark hair. When I enter a ballroom, everyone turns to stare, and I stare back at each of them, drinking in the adulation in their eyes, assessing it, feeding upon it…working out who I shall fuck tonight. The most beautiful virgin girls in London allow me to deflower them, and then I make them thank me. And so they do. And I adore it.

In my bedroom, I keep an entire cabinet of absinthe – I am currently sampling a new one each night, or sometimes for a succession of nights, as an experiment into the pleasures of dreaming. Absinthe in the correct quantity produces splendid, vivid, and frequently erotic dreams, but you have to get it precisely right. Too little and you will be overly excited for sleep, too full of thoughts and fancies, but too much and you will close your eyes and be overcome with nausea. Yet with just the right quantity, combined with a touch of opium – for this I use the tincture, and add it to my drink – you will fall into a long and blissful sleep, full of awe-inspiring visions and depraved acts. These dreams I will often wake from, and yet strangely find that I may close my eyes, and return once more to the same dream, continued. Occasionally I am even visited with power and lucidity in these dreams – aware that I am dreaming, and then of course, I behave as no man may ever do in reality. In these rare lucid dreams, I have slain entire ballrooms and fucked the corpses as the orchestra played on with abandon, gore spattered across their faces. I have flown across otherworldly purple jungles as though I were a swooping bat, and above all, the things I have seen in these dreams are beyond all comprehension! In the depths of a normal dream, one takes all as reality – one never notices the absurdity. And yet, when one is dreaming, yet aware, one sees all – the people on the streets I walk down will have tongues for eyes, their heads on backwards, the scenery grotesquely, obscenely distorted, and when I awake, I try my best to draw the scenes I have witnessed. The art I create is depraved beyond words, and I never show it to anybody, or rather, I haven’t yet. I am still honing my skills, and I want the moment to be perfect, but I know for a fact that when I show it to the world, I will be lauded and despised as a pervert genius, and I shall love every second of it.

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23rd August, 1872:

I think I am becoming bored with life, this summer. So many balls, so many garden parties and picnics, endlessly fucking brainless youths under oak trees, and all I can think is fuck it all. I’m so frightfully bored. And I listen to the brainless drawling of those brainless youths, and I think, Oh, do shut up. Just shut up, and put on your bloody clothes, and bugger off! The boredom never seems to leave me. At the moment of my very orgasm I am bored – it just never fades! And I can tell you why, as well. It isn’t that I am a boring person, as so many claim – that infuriating, petulant adage that only boring people find themselves bored – I am most certainly not a boring person! The reason for my perpetual boredom, is that Byron has spirited me away to this ungodly countryside shithole, just one of many – we travel constantly from house to house, and ball to ball, but always it’s the same, trees and fields and tedious bumpkins. It’s just intolerable!

Byron’s stated reason for this ghastly exile is that he tires of the maelstrom of London society, and yearns for the unchanged landscapes of his youth, which is a very pretty and poetic way to put it, so like a fool, I fell for it. It seemed such an elegant notion, to be reminded of the spectacular creature who is my lover – to be reminded that this youthful face and perfect form contain a being that has walked the Earth for centuries, alone and unchanging. It’s such a romantic idea! I was swept up in it, wanting to walk those ‘unchanged landscapes’ by his side, and to hear all these glorious, impossible tales of a time centuries before my birth. He is far older than any mortal man alive today, and every single one of them from his own time has died out – isn’t that a thought! What a thing he is, I thought. I will go with him, and I will learn more, for perhaps one day I shall be just the same, ancient and elegant, a powerhouse of hidden secrets and unfathomable depths. So I went along with him, and for a time I was entertained.

When I became bored by our exile, however, and I spoke my mind to Byron, begging for a return to the city, even for just a week or two, he became evasive, and even manipulative. I rapidly began to suspect that everything was not quite what it seemed. He had brought me here under false pretences, and he kept me here under still falser ones. His reasons, I cannot wholly fathom, but I have my suspicions: Byron is beginning to deeply disapprove of my vices, particularly of the opium, and of the absinthe, and above all, of the painting. He was the second person I showed, when I decided that my art had reached a high enough standard. The first was a drunk young boy who I’d just finished fucking, and he was so appalled and speechless that he began laughing hysterically, to the extent of vomiting – right across the bed! This I took as a very good sign. My art was truly as depraved as I hoped! And so, I showed it to Byron, believing that he would be awed, and pleased with me – he is, after all, an immortal demon who has slaughtered thousands, and who taught me everything I know of decadence. And yet…he was not pleased. Not in the slightest. He seemed deeply concerned for my mental state, and the look in his eyes was of one gazing into the drooling face of a lunatic! I was quite insulted, actually! And barely three months after this, I am dragged off to the countryside, bereft of opium or absinthe or paints.

And I tell you, in no uncertain terms, that I am intolerably bored with life!

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17th October, 1889:

This year has been a sad one. I suppose it was all coming for quite some time, but I never truly noticed it. Things, to me, seemed as though they were perfect. My opium boys, once so small and silent, had grown into men, and through necessity had been told, in the strictest of confidence, what I am, and why it is that I have not aged in all this time – they appear far older than I do, now. They never came to view me as a demon though, instead I seemed some sort of god to them – the Orientals have many odd beliefs, and peculiar deities; they seemed to idolise me, rather than cringing in fear, as all English mortals do, if they discover my secret. Although, in general, those English mortals are right to fear – I rarely reveal my secret to anyone who is not destined for a prompt execution. But my opium boys were quite different – I had brought them up into men, and had taught them many things they should never, in the natural course of things, have learned. One became adept at writing and mathematics, and is now employed in accountancy, doing very well for himself and often coming to visit me. The other – who as a young boy adopted the name Stephen, having found that for Londoners, his given name was quite impossible to pronounce – continued in his studies of music. He rapidly learned to use all his fingers to play the piano, and I engaged the services of a tutor for him. He was a fast and adept learner, and I spent many happy nights in my opium room, listening to his songs drifting in through the open door. From there he studied a little with the violin and flute, and was very soon in constant demand as an entertainer at London balls.

Stephen was the one who never left me, despite his many engagements. He lived under my roof always, and although I had employed new boys to service my opium requirements, Stephen seemed to take pleasure in his old work, loading my pipe, then bowing politely, and slipping outside to begin playing for me. I loved him in a wholly parental manner, a wholly clean and platonic sort of love – they are beautiful, the Oriental boys, but Stephen had become a son to me; I would never have dreamed of fucking him. I don’t fuck many people, in truth, these days – I often wondered whether it was simply my age, that although my body has not begun to sag and wither (for it never will), my mind had perhaps grown old and weary, calmer and less filled with lust. But Byron met these views with scorn and anger – it was not the case with him, nor with Matild, nor with any other immortal he had ever known. “We do not age, Lucas,” he stated, rather tersely, “not in mind, nor in body – you are wasting everything I have given you.”

He blamed it on the opium, you see. He blames everything on the opium. He doesn’t like it at all, my love for it – I believe he thought that I would grow weary of my infatuation, and it would begin to wane, but it truly never has. I love it just as much now, if not more, than I ever used to. My love for opium has not changed in the slightest, but I find that my love for many other things has. The theatre rarely amuses me now – I go, on occasion, usually on Byron’s insistence, but by the middle of the second act I begin to feel restless, unsettled, and the whole scene commences to irk me. The stench of sweat and perfume and orange peel rankles in my nostrils, the stage lighting hurts my eyes. My seat feels impossibly uncomfortable, and I begin to feel that I might scream or attack somebody or leap across the room in a terribly inhuman feat, if I don’t escape immediately, and yet no matter how eloquently I try to explain this, Byron always seems exasperated, if not furious. And yet…it never troubles me for long. I feel simply awful as I hurry out of that palace of stinging lights and perfumed flesh, and the carriage journey seems impossibly long – nauseating and horrid. But when I arrive, and I slip into my little sanctuary, and the boy prepares my pipe, everything is instantly alright again. More than alright – the miseries I suffered beforehand seem to amplify the peace I then feel. The silence of my glittering haven washes over me with the soothing hands of angels, my lamps glow all the warmer, their golden illumination seeming pure and holy and angelic, and I feel that I have entered some religious trance, and that can’t be wrong, can it? It can’t be wrong to feel so good, so pure, so holy.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of…unpleasant scenes, between myself and Byron, when it comes to my love of opium. Many of them I have dulled and blurred memories of, having been intoxicated during, or immediately afterwards, but nonetheless, I feel their sting. Sometimes he seems despairing, saddened, pleading with me, and on those occasions I confess I feel the most guilt. I will always try, for him, thereafter, to appear more normal, more outgoing, more jovial. I force myself through theatre outings, through balls and writhing orgies, but always the strain begins to tell – always it exhausts me in the end and I can no longer endure it, and in the depths of some hellish semen-stained dawn I burst into tears and confess it all and everything descends into a sort of blind, deaf chaos, and I never know quite what I have said or what has happened, but always I find myself back in my opium room, and everything seems alright again, until I next see Byron’s face, and the fury behind it. And after that, the pleading and the sadness give way to a terrifying anger, and he storms about my sanctuary like a terrible god of destruction, smashing my pipes and my lamps and horrifying my slave boys, but this only makes me worse – it makes me hate him, for days at a time, and so I throw myself all the more violently into my love of opium, in order to spite him, and to comfort myself, all in one fell swoop. But I never thought that he would take it as far as he did. I never thought him capable of what happened next.

It was three months ago that the tragedy befell me. Our tired old routine had played out once more – Byron pleading with me, despairing of me, until I launched with renewed vigour into Trying To Be Normal. Trying to give up opium. Trying to separate myself from the thing I loved most in the world. It was doomed to fail, just as it always is. Every moment of every day, in every theatre and bedroom and brothel, I found myself bored and restless, never fully present, never truly able to be there, in the room, with everybody else. At balls I would only feel myself when I slipped away to the bathroom, or slunk into an unused bedroom to smoke a cigarette, for in there I could sit down, and be silent, and be sad, and think of my loss and my misery and my overwhelming sense of ennui. But eventually somebody would find me, and I would be dragged back out into that appalling, dazzling chaos, and I would have to smile and laugh and make clever anecdotes, and it felt as though my whole body, my whole personality, was some sort of elaborate but artificial machine, and I was simply fuelling it with the guttering flame of my tired soul – curled up in the back of my brain, exhausted and defeated and depressed, and desperate to escape. That was how it went for three whole weeks, and it never got any better. It came to the point that I saw no reason for my continued existence, and began to think lazily of suicide. It became my entertainment, my salvation, in those ghastly situations, at balls and brothels. I would clutch onto the thought of suicide like a drowning man to a raft, holding it in my mind like the golden key to a final door of escape – escape from all this awful futility, this tedious, exhausting pretence.

Would I really have ended my own life? I don’t know. I don’t like to think so – it’s a little bit weak – isn’t it? I am only 47, and I have the possibility of eternity before me, which so many mortals would give up a limb for. I soon resolved that it was not death I truly lusted after, it was simply that I couldn’t endure the circumstances I was trapped in. My ennui was not inexplicable, incurable – I was not some deranged depressive poet. I knew perfectly well what made me happy – a mere three weeks ago I had been perfectly, blissfully happy, and the solution was simple enough. Opium was my salvation, just as it had always been. Opium makes me happy, above all things. More than happy, it makes me content, which is the sort of happiness that lasts forever – contentment is something purer and deeper and truer than the fickle nature of ‘happiness’. I understood that Byron disapproved of the opium, but the simple truth of the matter was that we would have to agree to disagree, when it came to this particular subject. I had tried it his way, and to put it bluntly, it made me want to kill myself. So, that was that, I thought. I had given it a fair shot, I had turned the matter over in my head at great length, and this was the way of things. I would explain it to Byron, and he would understand. Surely he would understand, because he loved me, and he had created me, and we were family – immortal family, forever and always. I may have some quirks of character that displeased him, but that is the nature of reality. Byron would understand.

As it turned out, Byron did not understand. Not at all. I explained everything very lucidly, and logically, and with – I thought – a reasonable degree of eloquence. I had been carefully compiling my words for some hours, that they might be well received, but…it was as though I was spouting gibberish. He made me feel that I was spouting gibberish, when I knew that I was not! I knew my own soul, didn’t I? Had I not suffered in silence for weeks in an attempt to placate him, to please him? I had tried so hard and suffered so much, and yet he made a mockery of it all. He didn’t understand, and he wouldn’t understand, and I got more and more emotional as he mocked me and belittled me and twisted my words into knots, until finally I could endure it no more, and I picked up an entire desk and hurled it at him. It missed, of course – Byron is far faster than me, a result of his increased age – but it infuriated him, and as I raced into the night I heard him cursing me and damning me, and the whole thing was a terrible mess. I’m sure you can guess where I went, directly. My opium room was the place I had fantasised about for all those miserable weeks, my little haven, my glimmering oasis of serenity. I was so upset by Byron’s words that I didn’t even take a carriage – I leapt up onto the rooftops and sped across the city in a matter of minutes, hurling myself in through my own bedroom window, and racing down the stairs to my opium room. I didn’t even take the time to call for my boys – I loaded my own pipe, heftily, and lay down to smoke it.

It was not to be the joyous reunion I had hoped. The opium soothed me, as it always did, but my distress at the terrible mess I had left behind, the awful chasm that now gaped between us, it tugged at me and it hurt me, despite it all. And so I loaded my pipe again, and again, until I was so intoxicated that the pipe slipped from my fingers and landed on the tray with a horrible clatter, and I just lay there like a depressed worm and stared at it. And then Stephen came in, my beautiful Stephen, and he seemed to sense my distress automatically. He knew without me saying a word what it was that I needed at that very moment, and so he fell back into his comfortable old role of opium boy. Just as it always used to be, he lapsed into silence, and busied himself with my pipe. And that is when Byron found us.

Before I could speak, he had grabbed Stephen about the neck, and hurled him into the wall. Byron had destroyed my sanctuary so many times before, but this time his rage was direct, and it was white hot. All of it went into Stephen – he didn’t merely kill him, he obliterated him, destroyed him – tore him apart and trampled him underfoot, and what was left would have been unrecognisable as a human being. Brains and gore and entrails were strewn across my sanctuary, until it was as if Stephen had never existed – he had been dismantled, and I could not grasp it in my mind. I had been too intoxicated to move, to intervene, even to rise from the floor, and now I could not wrap my mind around the enormity of what had just happened. Stephen had been here, with me, just as he always was, just as he had been for thirty years, and then he had been terrified, and in pain, and now…he was dismantled, into the base components of his physiology, slippery purple sleeves of intestine, a blood-clotted porridge of brains and hair, crunching shards of ivory bone – how could this mess ever have been a person, a living thing? I felt that Stephen’s soul had been torn into bleeding shreds before my eyes, and burned into oblivion! Byron stepped through the gory wreckage, and told me,

“I want you to think of his death and his pain, every time you pick up that filthy pipe.”

And then he was gone.

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After Stephen’s death, things went on as before. Byron visited me the very next day, and he was clean and polite and charming, and he spoke as if it had never happened. I began to feel that it had all been an illusion, some hideous bloated opium dream, but the stench that lingered in my sanctuary for weeks told me otherwise. But Byron would not let it come between us, did not give it time to fester – did not give me time to think in a sober state, and resolve to truly despise him. To Byron, I believe, it was a just and level punishment. It was as though I was a misbehaving child, and he had spanked me, and broken my toy, and I had learned my lesson. And that was that – the lesson was over, and life moved on. I do not understand it, if I am truly honest. I do not understand why I don’t hate him, why I can’t hate him. He is the one who created me, and these days, he is really all I have. And the most painful thought of all, the thought that shreds my throat like razors to speak it aloud, is that I know Byron believed his intentions honourable. He perceived Stephen to be the instrument of my destruction, crouching there with my pipe in his hands, he perceived Stephen to be hurting me, and so…so he tried to help me. To save me. This knowledge has the taste of bitter bile – it would be so much easier, so much simpler, to despise him forever more, but I truly cannot. The memory of that awful night is too terribly muddy, and I haven’t the strength to turn away from him. And so, life continues, without my Stephen.

But I do think of him, just as Byron threatened – I do; I think of Stephen always. I think of him in life, and I am haunted forever by his ghastly end. But it doesn’t turn me away, why on Earth would it? It saddens me and it hurts me, and that makes me want the opium all the more. I can drift back then, and remember him. Sometimes I would swear that I can hear his thin brown fingers racing across the keys of the piano, until I remember that Byron took it away too, and burned it, another punishment for my love of opium. I don’t know why he cares so much. I admit there was a period of a few months where I found it impossible to summon any physical arousal, when he would kiss me and suck me and there would be a shameful lack of response – it wasn’t that I didn’t want to, not precisely. I was just quite content with the opium, and I wanted him to simply lie with me and stroke my hair. I would always submit, and let him fuck me anyway, but my flaccid cock seemed to annoy him, as though it was a personal insult, and on the night during which I fell into a deep sleep with him still inside me, I awoke to find a very unpleasant note upon my pillow. But after that I really did try – I went to the apothecary, and to the Orientals at the opium den, and with a combination of Mariani’s coca wine and a pouch of Chinese herbs, I became quite well able to stay awake and perform to my best, but Byron still seemed displeased. He said that I looked different, that my eyes were glassy and that it wasn’t the same – the vin tonique made my hands shake and I would often find myself talking for hours, as though the conversation were a blossoming flower and I could see every potential root sprouting from the last one and it became an obsession to follow each tangled root down into the dirt of truth and experience, and it fascinated me, but Byron said I was gibbering like a madman.

And yet, life goes on. I suppose this is how it will always be – I am finally learning the truth of immortality. Things can befall you, things so awful, so horrifying and traumatic that you feel the very Earth has ceased to spin, that life cannot possibly go on…and yet it does. Life goes on, eternally, no matter how bleak and gruesome it becomes.

Life goes on…

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10th May, 1905:

I feel very uncertain today, very uncertain indeed. Life seems far more daunting and perilous now than I have known it for half a century. I never realised how entirely I relied upon Byron, my tie to the world, my eternal guardian, until it seemed that he was no longer there, and I cannot truly tell you how it happened.

I have a new opium boy, who is barely eight years old, at a guess, and speaks not a word of English besides ‘sorry’, which he pronounces in the most comical manner – I am very fond of him already. But it is deeply unfortunate that this was the boy I had employed, on that fateful, terrible night. All seemed as it should be, when I awoke from my dreams, and gestured for my pipe to be loaded anew. All seemed wholly tranquil when I lapsed back into sleep, but when next I awoke, the tiny boy was sobbing in a corner, and could not tell me what was wrong. I sent for my second opium boy, some years older and fairly competent now in English, to translate what had distressed him so, and I learned from him that Byron had appeared mere moments earlier. Had he been violent? I asked. Did he hurt you? The older boy said no. “He seemed…” It took them a while to seek out the fitting English word, and finally he told me, “Weary. But…not so. More…failed. And…going. Weary, but…going. He was…done with his weariness.”

At these words, I grew quite cold, and asked them if he had spoken. Yes, they said – at length. There had been rage in his tone, more and more so, and this was what had upset and frightened my boy. But only he – that tiny child – had heard the words that Byron spoke, and to him they held no more sense than the sad and slowing bumbles of a dying bee. His mood was all they could give me. I arose as soon as I was able, and went to search for Byron, but his house was empty, as was Matild’s. I truly fear that Byron has gone. I fear that he has left me.

He didn’t even wait for me to wake up – didn’t care enough for a goodbye, to even tell me where he was going! Just gone – just like that! Gone for how long? I haven’t the slightest idea. But it has a terrible feeling about it, a terrible feeling of permanence. Particularly when I spoke to my bank – Byron would always transfer my allowance on a Thursday, that I might have ample funds for any weekend activities I cared to partake of, which is something we often laughed about. What did the days of the week matter to creatures such as us? Still, it seemed to amuse him, this little private joke, where we would pretend to be hardworking peasants who must respect the grim sanctity of a Monday morning, so I always remembered – Thursday is the day. The money day. I would usually send my opium boys out on a Friday – my whole existence revolved around Byron’s schedule. And this week, no money came. Byron isn’t absentminded – even in the midst of travelling to wherever he’s gone, he would have remembered me, and made arrangements for me…if he still cared. I can’t bear to think of him not caring. I wish I knew what I’d done wrong. I wish I remembered. The last few weeks are such a blur. I mostly remember being quite happy, quite tranquil. I didn’t leave my opium room too frequently, but that isn’t unusual. If I think very hard, and enter the realm where memory meets imagination, I believe I can see Byron lurking in a corner of my room, wearing a face like thunder. My opium boys feared him. He does look so disapproving, or…no, perhaps not disapproving. Bored. Bored with me. How terrible…

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2nd November, 1930:

It is such a cold winter this year. I know not whether winters were always so cold, and I just never noticed before. Finances are becoming problematic – I can no longer afford to fuel the fires. I have held it off for as long as I can, the dwindling of my resources. The only thing I have left is this house, and I am clinging onto it by my very fingernails. I have tried as best I can to get by – I sold off the furniture first, then the oil paintings. When I can find tenants I let out some of the rooms, but the economy is bad, I am told, and nobody wants to live in this draughty old house, with its bad plumbing and no furniture or telephone. We have weathered so much together, this house and me – I never left it during the war. I couldn’t bear to leave my opium sanctuary – the thought of leaving it and it being destroyed by a bomb, never to be seen again – it was all too much. I felt safest here, no matter how illogical that may have been. If there were bombs, I knew that my sanctuary would protect me. And there were bombs – I heard the sirens, I saw the whole of London blacked out, in utter darkness, as never before. It had become a ghost town, steeped in a clinging fog of perpetual fear, those sirens rising up like the cries of the dead – so many nights I shivered, alone, in my sanctuary, listening to those terrible wails, the distant explosions of falling bombs. My house was lucky, in the end – it passed the war nearly unscathed, with only mild damage from nearby explosions. It protected me, just as I had hoped. But this only pains me more, as I watch my resources dwindle – I know that some day, and some day soon, I will have to leave this house, to abandon my sanctuary, and I will be lost and alone as never before. I have used my demonic powers to their fullest extent, in protecting myself from being dragged from this house and tossed onto the streets, but I do not understand the ways of the world now, and it is becoming ever more impossible. When the men come to remove me, I bewitch them into leaving, or even kill them if they come alone, but always there are more, and more – an unstoppable tide of beastly men bent upon my ruination. I know that I cannot stem these floods forever.

The world has changed now, in so many terrible ways. I truly never thought that my opium would betray me, but it has. The horrid schemings of mortal men are meddling in my business in the most heinous of ways – opium has been made illicit, even to the very tincture sold in apothecaries. For a time it made almost no difference; I had to be a touch stealthier in my acquisition, but I paid it little heed. And then…everything began to fall apart. The ground on which I walked commenced to crumble beneath my feet. First of all it was the quality – the opium I bought was always of very good quality, in both consistency and strength; it was easy to smoke, good-tasting, and highly potent. Over the years I had experienced very few problems, and when problems arose, the fury of my threats were more than enough to rectify the matter. But now…all is in ruins. I began receiving opium that was packed with straw and dirt, and no amount of threats could alter it – it was truly the only thing reaching these shores. I began smoking it nonetheless, but I barely felt its effects, and it tasted of filth. And then, in a heart-stopping instant, it was gone altogether. Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months. My lover had deserted me, after all these long and blissful years.

When I went in a fury and a panic to the Orientals, they sold me morphine instead – it was the new thing, they said; nobody was smoking opium anymore. And so I returned home, anxious and bemused, but desperate to try it anyway – desperate to find some comfort in this stark and lonesome world. The Orientals had furnished me with everything I required, and had taught me by demonstration precisely how it was done. The boy who had given me my lesson had been barely conscious by its end, which gave me a small flaring of hope – hope that perhaps there was still bliss to be found in the world; that the beating heart could be restored to my sanctuary. Nothing had been more painful than to dwell there without opium – every surface was coated in the memories of my love, and I felt its searing loss all the more keenly. It was horrid, truly, for my sanctuary to have become the barren pit of my newest hell.

And so it was that I came to be back there, with the equipment I had purchased from the Orientals. It was strange to me, and not at all as elegant as my shapely pipes and glittering lamps. I possessed a peculiar tool of the mortal physician, a syringe of glass and steel. My new drug was a clear liquid, contained in a number of slim glass vials. Finally, they had equipped me with a worn old belt, nicked all over with teeth-marks, its end looped through its closure. And so, with dread and hope in equal measure, I began the act.

I shed my shirt, and slipped the belt about my bicep, pulling it tight and biting down on it as I had been shown. I took the vials and syringe, and drew up the recommended dose, then I turned it in my hand, and began driving the point into my own flesh, into the soft skin at the crook of my arm. The pain was not so bad as I had feared, but the act itself was gruesome. I was seeking in the depths of my flesh with this insectoid silver needle for the elusive vein therein, and I rapidly found myself nauseated, coated with a film of nervous sweat. When the needle met with my vein I felt it – there was a rubbery resistance, until with a loathsome muffled crunch, the point tore through the casing of my vein, and slipped within. My hand had begun to shake, and the metal in my grip was cold and slick. It was with great difficulty that I forced the plunger down, until finally the thing was emptied, and I yanked it from my arm with a groan of exhaustion. For some seconds I stared at the floor, shaken and unable to compose myself, and then, from nowhere, everything had changed. There was an intense and breathtaking wave of tingles across my entire body, and I felt it – the morphine! The world had in a single instant grown warm and soft and golden, and the glimmering trays of my little sanctuary were glowing just as they always used to – the colour of late autumn honey, the colour of safety, and I felt that I was sitting upon some long ago hillside, watching the sun set, with Byron’s hand in mine. Everything was alright again – I was home.

I lay down and slept.

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18th June, 1951:

I truly despise the world of late. There is almost nothing left that I do not despise. My beautiful house has long gone, and with it every memory I ever had, of love and bliss and happiness, has been taken from me and forever destroyed.

I am living now in a small and horrid flat – much of the money from the sale of my house went directly to the bank, but through many stealthy bewitchments I managed to keep for myself enough to live on for a time, and enough to secure my present dwelling. At first I felt that I would warm to this abode, eventually – life had been horribly uncertain, for so very long, as I constantly fended off my angered creditors, that teeming army bent on my destruction; there was no peace to be found anywhere, not even in my sanctuary. And so, once I had the key in my hand to this little flat, I felt that perhaps I would be at peace here – I would be left alone, I would not be bothered by all those meddlesome people. This property was legally mine, and I would be safe here. Perhaps in time I would grow to love it. But it has been many years now, and I truly have not. It is so dingy, so depressing, and there are always hideous children shrieking in the streets outside, drunkards brawling in the evenings, and on occasion I even have bricks hurled at my windows. There is no peace here, and I fear there never will be.

The world continues to change, and more than this, it continues to strip from me all that I love. I had begun to grow comfortable with the morphine – it was never quite as glorious as the perfumed elegance of my beloved opium, and I never ceased to abhor the grotesque ritual of self-injection, but nonetheless, I had adapted. I had just about adapted, when the same hideous cycle befell me! Morphine became scarce, and then vanished altogether. Once more, I was forced to beg and plead with strangers, until I was sent home with another unknown drug. They call it ‘heroin’, the substance I take now, and I loathe it to its core. When first I heard its name I felt so hopeful – it sounded so elegant, so aristocratic, a relic of better days. And yet its name is nothing more than a sinister, filthy lie. Heroin is a grim and slovenly drug – truly it is – it tastes entirely too disgusting to smoke, but injecting it is just so thoroughly vile, this ‘cooked up’ soup of reeking chemicals, always leaving a foul residue of mysterious origins in the spoon. With every needle I poke into my vein I respect myself a little less.

Worse than the nature of this grim synthetic drug is the people I am forced to buy it from. How I yearn for the days when I had my boys, my beautiful, kind opium boys! When they would make the trips for me, to those gruesome dens by the river – when I was never forced to tarnish myself with these horrid people! The men who sell me heroin are peasants, truly, in the worst possible sense of the word – they are lowly and unpleasant to their very bones, mean and stinking, and con-artists with it. I never know what I shall bring home – sometimes it has been nothing more than dirt mixed with sugar, other times I will inject it and be visited by a heinous chemical stench, a mirage of a scent, coming not from the air, but from the chemicals within my veins! It will linger in my nostrils for several seconds, and I shiver all over as I think of the poisons that run in my bloodstream. Yet more than this, I despise the constant uncertainty. I despise being at the mercy of these criminals. Much as I detest it, heroin is the closest thing I have to safety, to happiness, in this cruel and changing world, and like a pathetic beaten dog I crawl back time and time again to my loathsome, peasant masters.

Even when the heroin I buy is of good quality, it is never the same as my lost, beloved opium. The most purely refined opium was not a stupefying, narcoleptic thing, you see – history has mangled this fact, in all its vulgar depictions. I know this, for I read every book I can lay hands on, in the hope that it may convey me back to those wonderful times, but always I am sorely disappointed. They paint my beloved opium in such a cruel and tarnished light – it is clear that the authors know not of what they speak, these idiot scholars wishing only to court favour by regurgitating tired moral cliché! Am I not living proof of the beauty of opium, the perfection of opium – that it was the drug to end all drugs, free from the sins and filth of this gruesome modern era? Look at how my life has changed, beneath the sordid whims of the law-makers, the politicians, who know not of what they speak! It is their laws and their sins and their idiocy that has driven my downfall, and with it that of so many others! In the days of freedom and rational thinking, this filthy peasant underclass did not exist, these wretched criminal ‘junkies’ – each one of them, and the miseries they inflict upon society, is a product of nothing more than the idiocy of their political masters! When opium was traded freely, in dens and apothecaries, people had their dignity still! In the glorious days of opium, blissful intoxication did not bring about such utter ruin. I had my dignity, and I had my house. I had my beautiful sanctuary. And I had Byron…

Opium was a beautiful thing, in truth. If ever I chose to leave my little sanctuary, after I smoked, to take a walk through the darkened streets, I would see beauty and magic in all creation – in the eyes of the mortals I passed, in the cloud-veiled face of the crescent moon, in the reaching leaves of trees. Opium blessed the entire world with her elegance, and within her cradling arms I wondered at each miracle of existence. Heroin is not like that. Heroin sucks me down into a heavy stupor, and I feel no compunction to do anything. I simply lie there, and listen to the wireless, and stare up at the watermarks on the ceiling, watching the dust motes swirl. Watching the light fade into darkness, until I am left in gloom, sprawled across the mouldering dust of these old rugs. It sounds terribly depressing, when I say it like that, but I suppose it isn’t quite so bad as it sounds. Or rather, it is not so bad, because I have known far worse. My greatest fear is that I will be conned once more by those reeking, peasant criminals, and the heroin I buy will be useless. When this is the case, life becomes simply unbearable – I am lost and alone in this terrifying modern wasteland, and there is no escape from my loss and my pain and my sadness! And so, when the heroin is good, it is never truly depressing. Though it feels heavy, and though it makes me slow and sleepy, and I merely lie sprawled across these dusty rugs, in a small way, I find myself content. I am wrapped up once more in the velvet arms of opium’s love, the ghostly arms of my long-lost Byron, and I am safe here once more.

At these times, I have come to realise that my sanctuary was never truly a place. It was never about the golden trays, the exquisite lamps, the Oriental hangings or the beautiful music of the piano. The opium sanctuary was in my heart. The opium sanctuary was the opium itself – do you see? Anywhere could become my home, my sanctuary, so long as I had my opium. My sanctuary was in the opium, and in my own heart, and it protected me from everything. Until it was taken away from me forever.

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4th September, 1982:

Looking into the mirror is the most painful thing, of late. The reflection I see is the oldest thing I possess, the only thing that remains to me of everything I once had. I was forced to pawn every beautiful garment, every glittering diamond ring, many decades ago, until all I have is memories. I have no pictures of Byron, nor Matild. But my own face…it remains with me. And yet within it I see every moment of the pain and loss that I have suffered.

I do not even have the miserable solitude of my flat anymore, not in the way it was. Money became so scarce that I was forced out into the strange and ghastly world, to seek employment for myself. For a time I was surviving on my demonic wits, bewitching mortals into giving me money – just enough to buy heroin, for what else is there, but it was exhausting – so exhausting. Every night I had to go out, like some desperate, low-paid whore, dredging the streets for blood and money – it was endless, and it was exhausting. And lately, I am finding that my powers do not always work. It made no sense to me for a time – from everything that I learned from Byron, my powers would increase as I aged; my speed, my strength, my demonic abilities. And yet they have not. I am very strong, and very fast, when I am not intoxicated, but my power of bewitchment seems…faulty, of late. I fear it must be the heroin, or perhaps some loathsome chemical therein – I never suffered these pains with opium, because it was so pure, and so good, and so natural. But heroin…it is filth, truly, and all the more filthy by the time it reaches these shores. It nauseates me often, I become shaken and sickened – on occasion I even vomit, bringing up the clotted, blackened remnants of the last blood I drank. It happens enough that I keep a bucket in my bedroom, and it is all so grotesque, so awful. So far removed from my opium sanctuary – its glimmering beauty, its elegant library, the gleaming eyes and kind smiles of my opium boys. All I have now is this cold and squalid flat, with its peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpets. Though I do love the invention that is the television. I am no longer alone, you see – not truly. I feel that they are my friends, the miniature humans who speak to me nightly from that happy little box. I have company again, and entertainment.

But my employment brings me no pleasure. I am working in a prison, and it is a grim and godless place. Each day I don my ugly grey uniform, and as I regard myself in the mirror I feel a little sadder every time. Seeing myself in these clothes is like seeing myself eroded. Everything I loved and valued in myself, every ounce of pride I had, it is eroded by this thing I see in the mirror. I feel so lost…so lost in this new world. Some days it feels as though everything I once knew was nothing more than a blissful dream, and now I have awakened into the cold, harsh light of this relentless reality. The heroin is my only escape, my only respite. I put on my uniform, and I stare at myself in the mirror, and I smoke a little heroin – not from an elegant silver pipe, but from the loathsome surface of a cheap piece of ‘kitchen foil’. It tastes of filth, and I despise it, but it numbs me enough to manage the day.

At the prison, the convicts and officers alike mock me. They mock my long hair, though I tie it back, and they mock my manner of speaking. I know not how to change it. I try to imitate the way the tiny humans in the television speak, but it feels so artificial, and I often get it wrong and provoke further mockery. The convicts I am allowed to hit with my stick, which is deeply satisfying, and I do it often – it is the one part of my employment that I enjoy. I frequently find myself taunting them, not directly, but vaguely – I will speak in my most archaic manner, so that they will begin taunting me, and then I hit them about the head with my stick until they bruise and bleed, and I immediately feel a great deal better. When I am hitting convicts with my stick, I feel almost alive.

At the prison, I often feed upon the children who come to visit their fathers. The minds of children are easy to bewitch – I do not kill them, as this would provoke great inconvenience, but I feed upon them a little, to keep myself warm and comfortable, and the blood of infants is sweet and vibrant. Yet even so, it is all so grim. A grim and godless existence, night after endless night. How I long for my oil paintings, for my Oriental rugs, and for Byron. Above all, how I long for my opium. I have nothing left but memories, and all they do is haunt me. Night after night, as I pace back and forth in front of the cages of imbeciles, poking them with my stick, I think of opium, and opium, and opium, and it makes my soul sick with longing. And every night when I roast the putrid heroin over a candle flame, and it releases its ungodly chemical stench into the air, I think of opium, and opium, and opium, and I remember its sweet narcotic perfume, the seductive spice of its smoke, and I feel my soul shrivel a little in the cold, bitter air of this vulgar century.

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24th December, 1996:

The heroin I was sold last night was rather strange, but not unpleasant. I lapsed into a deep sleep for many hours, the drugs overwhelming me so suddenly that I fell into unconsciousness with the needle still hanging from my vein, and I found myself dreaming of Byron. He was here with me, in my little flat, peering down at me where I lay. His face was pale and smooth in the darkness, his hair as long and luxurious as it ever was, and I felt tears rise up in my eyes at the sight of him. I wanted to reach out and embrace him, but I found myself paralysed, unable to rise from the floor. His face was sad, a worn and weary angel, as he said to me,

“It appears that nothing has changed.”

“Everything has changed,” I told him. “Everything has changed…”

“I am so sorry, Lucas,” he said softly, as he knelt to brush his fingers across my cheek. The scent of him brought back a thousand memories, a thousand bedrooms, a thousand ancient midnights, and I wanted to weep. “It was wrong of me to make an immortal of you, when you were so young, so wayward. I would take it all back now, if I could…”

And then he was gone.

I dreamed on, and grew quite peaceful. When I awoke, there was a pan of freshly cooked pasta on the stove. Was he really here?

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2nd September, 2015:

Some days, I feel that I am coming to terms with life. There are still the days when I weep and moan for all I have lost, but they are becoming fewer. I am no longer struggling through my accursed employment at the prison – some three years ago I made a concerted effort to give up heroin for a period of five weeks, and my experiment was bountifully rewarded. My powers were returned to me – greater than ever before! I was quite well able to bewitch every necessary individual at that reeking gaol, and ever since I have been on early retirement, which means that I no longer have to go there, and am instead paid to simply live my life with freedom. What I am paid is a pittance, but nonetheless, I am rather happier than I was.

I could not endure to live without heroin any longer than was vitally necessary, but when I have recouped my mental energies, I intend to undertake a second crusade into sobriety, in the hope of bewitching myself a more pleasant abode. I know not how to go about this, as yet, but I have been visiting the local library, where a helpful lady with shiny hair has become my friend, and helps me with my enquiries. I pretend that I am a novelist, and as such, my strange and disjointed questions about the intricacies of modern housing and banking law are not viewed with suspicion. She is very good to me, and I like to see her smile. I think that even after I have made sense of the modern world, and bewitched myself into a comfortable house in the country, I shall continue to pay visits to her, and ask her more questions. She seems to find joy in seeking the answers for me.

In the meantime, my retirement money is sufficient, enough money to live on – I only spend it on heroin, I don’t eat mortal food anymore, so what else is there to buy? I did buy myself a friend. I suppose all of my life that’s what I’ve been doing – buying my friends. My latest friend is a ferret, a sort of lovely mottled brown with a black snout and tail, and I have called him Byron in an attempt to sweeten the memory of my abandonment. He is warm and furry, and always filled with joy. He makes me feel a hollow memory of joy as he bounds around my poky flat, making wonderful chuckling noises and pouncing on my feet. I take Byron for walks every day, on a lead. Right now we’re sitting by the park – Byron is tired of walking and has clambered onto my lap. He likes to roll over like an otter in a stream, and I stroke his long belly. He reminds me of a fox scarf I used to wear, all those centuries ago, and this shames me a little. In those days, no doubt I would have made Byron into a scarf without a second thought. Were we all so cruel, in those days?

I am rudely jerked from my musings by a raucous chorus of voices, howling again and again, “FREAK! WIERDOOOOO! OI, YOU WEIRDO!”

I know they’re talking about me. I suppose I do look eccentric. I could never bring myself to cut off my hair, and even if I did, it would grow back within a few nights. I like to wear green velvet trousers, and a jacket of some futuristic fabric which gleams like a river, slick and bright red and wholly water resistant. People think me eccentric. People think me homeless. People think it odd, to cuddle a ferret in broad daylight. The voices continue, and they are bothering Byron. I gently lay him down, and turn to see who is mocking me. It is a small van filled with school children, nasty little rotters. Their adult driver is temporarily absent. Even as I face them, they continue, and something about the mocking in their eyes drives me out of my wits. I have just enough forethought to tie Byron’s lead to the bench before I cross the street in a single bound, moving far beyond the capabilities of a human. Some of them don’t notice, others show fear, and it thrills me to my core. I seize the handle of the door, and rip it from the vehicle with a crunching groan of tearing metal, and then I’m inside, in the warmth and heat of eight pulsing bodies, and they’re breaking in my hands, blood gushing into my mouth. Behind me I hear Byron chuckling in delight – ferrets are quite vicious, you know. Once they are mostly dead, lying bleeding and shattered across their seats, I return to the bench, and untie him, carrying him to the vehicle. He laps at the blood, paddling through it and leaving wonderful little red pawprints everywhere he goes. One boy-child is not quite dead, and stares at me with terror and confusion in his wide, gleaming eyes, wordless choking sounds sending delicate sprays of blood from his gaping, stupid mouth. He will mock me no longer – this is quite certain. Smiling, I lift Byron, and we return home. There is some pleasure in the world, it appears, even now.

Life goes on.