Bed, Bedroom, Brother, Crime, Death, Demon, Drugs, Edinburgh, Fruit Bat, Ghost Story, Ghosts, Hell, Horror, Humor, Love, Lovers, marijuana, Medium, Memory, Party, Pornography, Seance, Sex, The Devil, Torture
Last night I attended a party at the home of Noah and his girlfriend. The party was an impromptu thing which had been thrown together at the news that the police had dropped some substance abuse charges against Noah and returned his passport. Over the past year, Noah has holidayed exclusively in English seaside resorts – he celebrated Christmas alone in Blackpool, a world away in both body and spirit from the festivities at his family’s home in Turkey – but now he could cancel the looming fortnight in Scarborough, happy that he would never clap eyes on the town whose name had left him with such a feeling of desolation. He was now eager to return home.
The party, however, was a failure. By eleven o clock there were still less than a dozen people milling around Noah’s living room, commenting to each other on the progress of the party like doctors monitoring the health of a half dead infant; speculating on the whereabouts of various absentees whose arrival would have put some courage back into the gathering; and munching grimly on helping after helping of already-stale party food. Everybody commiserated with Noah and they told him that life was a bastard and that he looked as if he was taking it very well. Yet the partygoers felt increasingly abandoned, like a battalion which has charged off to seize unwanted territory. Soon most of them had got through all that they could possibly say to each other, and silence was repeatedly descending upon the party like the eyelids of one who was virtually asleep.
These things happen. At some point earlier in the day, the question, “are you going to Noah’s party?” would have been floated for general consideration, and the successive verdicts would have been pronounced with a suitably troubled look, declarations of loyalty to Noah would have been qualified by the mention of awkward commitments, and thus it would have been commonly agreed, if not necessarily consciously or through words, that Noah’s party was not at heart a real party, or a definitive event which required total attendance, however much it remained in itself an entirely worthwhile venture. And when the time for the party approached, it was taking too long to get through dinner or it was very agreeable in front of the television, and any guilt at playing truant was not powerful enough to put them on their feet and walk them down the road to Noah’s flat.
Several of the partygoers started to dance with determined abandon to music which was being piped out of a laptop. The music was repeatedly interrupted by adverts, which made all of the dancers howl like savages during an eclipse of the sun.
There was a woman at the party in a white trouser-suit who seemed vaguely familiar to me. For a while it was too much work for me to go about remembering who she was, but then it hit me and I recognised the gypsy medium whose spirit guide was a great black dog. She did not acknowledge me and I did not wish to trouble her by renewing our acquaintance. But then Noah was suddenly in the centre of the party, jabbering at his girlfriend in a stream of furious Turkish, and the music was turned off and it seemed that there was some call for the gypsy’s assistance.
Noah had gone into his bedroom to fetch his camera, whereupon he had found that his bed had been slept in. It had been tremendously hot in the room with a sour, wet smell hanging over the bed, and Noah had observed a pillow on the floor, dishevelled sheets, and half a condom packet on the bedside cabinet.
Everybody at the party – all nine of us – had been in the living room, either trying to dance along to the laptop or trying to take pleasure in watching the dancing. Noah then surprised us with the news that he had held several parties in this apartment, and that on each occasion the same thing had happened: a couple had slipped into his bedroom when nobody was looking and they had made love on his bed. Noah had suspected that he was being tormented by the same couple, but it now seemed that the culprits were phantoms.
The gypsy immediately presented Noah with her business card. She told him that as a professional medium, she was particularly good in just these sensitive areas, and that the intimate conditions of the party were more than conducive to a successful séance. Perhaps the partygoers jumped at the séance as a means of relieving the party’s failure as a party, but as soon as a séance was agreed upon, somebody raised an objection.
For I have some notoriety when it comes to séances. No doubt I am singularly unlucky, but every séance which I attend seems to end in violence, usually after I have received some unwelcome tidings from the spirit world. At my last séance, I broke a woman’s jaw. This party did not have men to spare and it was in no position to send me away, but after some excited conferring on the far sofa it was decided that I could attend the séance, if only after smoking a little of a certain cigarette.
There were knowing smiles as the cigarette was rolled. Presumably whatever was in the cigarette was being saved for an after-party, although it was hard to envisage a gathering which could be smaller and more exclusive than the present one. Perhaps I had intended to ride the high like a wave, but my mind was soon as perceptible as a microscopic insect scurrying in the hairs of my arm and, calmly and from afar, I was aware of its tiny, intricate pathways.
My mind had tangled itself up in some horrifically complicated problem – something to do with the energy which one could absorb from television screens – when I became aware that I was apparently crouched in a wardrobe, hugging a thick, hefty pile of magazines as if they were a baby.
They were old porn magazines, the sort which we hoarded under our beds as children and which crabbit old men still purchase from newsagents. I put down the magazines, scarcely glancing at the covers, although I could not escape seeing one which displayed a drugged-looking woman who was wearing twice as much lipstick as clothing, and looking as exhausted as if she had just made love to an entire football team. I could almost hear her panting.
Climbing out of the wardrobe, I found myself in a bedroom. I looked up at a clock overhead to register with a shock that it was past two in the morning. But before I knew what was happening, I was transfixed in a moment of total sliding horror, with a gaping sensation as if my mind was being emptied like a bottle of wine. In the middle of the bed, an incredibly old man, who was scarcely four foot in height, was making love to an equally diminutive and ancient woman. Both were naked and their leathery bodies were shredded with wrinkles. The crone was squealing hoarsely and lustily like a pig, whilst the little old man mumbled frantically as he rocked to and fro.
The bedroom door opened and the pair suddenly dropped like a candle flame. Noah was staring at me from the doorway. He looked as if he had been crying and I wondered whether he was distressed at the failure of his party.
“What are you doing?”
I walked over to the disused fireplace and, from the items on the mantelpiece, I isolated for scrutiny what I imagined was a stuffed fruit bat – a dry hairy relic with outstretched wings and glass eyes. It was inconceivable that this thing could have ever been alive, although it looked too real to have been made by human hands.
“Where did you get this?”
Noah snorted with surprise. “Jeremy? My girlfriend brought him back from the Far East. I think Malaysia.”
“I would place him in the kitchen. There will be no more disturbances in your bed.” I imagined the ancient spirits making love over the washing machine in the middle of Noah’s next party, oblivious to the revolted partygoers around them. Or perhaps the old lovers would appear totally naked on the dance floor, jiving away to the strains of the laptop.
Noah gazed at me. “My nerves are shot to fuck!”
I had lost at least two hours of my life and this seriously unnerved me. I imagined that I had been walking amongst the partygoers in a state of total truth, speaking with complete honesty, casually revealing my deepest and truest secrets like a zookeeper throwing open the cages and letting out all his tigers. I checked my phone, but I had not called or texted anybody since the start of the party. No money was missing from my wallet, although I noticed that there was no longer a condom tucked behind the credit cards. My body felt blank and dry, so I did not believe that I had been sexually active. I interrogated Noah about my whereabouts or conduct over the last two hours, but all he could report was an awareness that I had been in the apartment somewhere.
I gathered from Noah that the séance had been such a disaster that it had knocked anything which I could have achieved into a cocked hat. It had begun in a mood of cheerful expectation, and the ambition of identifying the specific spirits who were disturbing Noah’s bed was soon replaced by an indiscriminate interest in the whole spirit world. Séances are as generally predictable as a trip to the hairdressers, and perhaps everybody was vaguely anticipating the sort of banal, vacuous messages which one typically finds in the greetings cards sent by elderly relatives, along with the news that somebody’s aunt would pass her driving test or that there was a farthing left down the back of a settee. But as soon as the lights were put out, the medium had immediately assumed the voice of Noah’s little brother Kenny, who had died in somewhat suspicious circumstances whilst working for a humanitarian aid organisation in the Gaza Strip. The medium had replicated Kenny’s voice with an uncanny accuracy, or rather she would have done had not the voice been roaring with an almost inhuman force and volume.
In between bloodcurdling howls, Kenny reported that he was being disembowelled – that one of his intestines was being literally unwound out of his body. “And my skin is burning! It’s burning!” he bellowed.
In the flat upstairs, a hitherto peaceable neighbour was now pounding on the floor with the end of a broom.
Noah was weeping for the torture to stop. He had never imagined that he would hear his little brother’s voice again, but now it was before him, horrifically real, and he had no means of coming to his brother’s assistance. The partygoers were as helpless and as frightened as passengers trapped inside a runaway bus, with little clue as to how to prise the controls out of the dead driver’s hands. They were struggling frantically to restore the medium and put the lights back on, but then the medium asked in a mild voice whether Noah would like to converse with the demon who was torturing his brother.
Believing that he could plead on his brother’s behalf, Noah nodded helplessly. But the demon was not accommodating in this respect. His voice was a thing of pure horror, a thick throaty bark choked with mud and weeds which no human could have ever produced. “This morning I fucked your brother in the arse,” the demon barked horribly. “And then I hacked off his prick with a knife. And now I eat his guts.”
“Stop it!” Noah bawled, totally unmanned.
The demon was all for continuing, but after a moment of frantic dithering, one of the partygoers finally bashed a vodka bottle across the medium’s skull, abruptly hanging up on the demon.