RESURRECTION by Dave Ludford
The sonorous clanging of a bell in the heavy gloom of the early morning hours wakes you from a fitful sleep during which you had once again been dreaming of Sarah Bramwell. Guilt revisiting you. Perhaps the bell was part of the dream, too, sounding clear and cold, like a judgement. The geography of this area is unfamiliar but you didn’t notice any churches on your journey to this lonely, desolate place. So, part of the dream it must have been. You throw back the twisted sweat-saturated bed sheets and stumble awkwardly to standing, disorientated and fuzzy-headed from a mild hangover. Walk unsteadily to the un-curtained window and look out at a grey-white world of thick snow illuminated by the hesitant, uncertain light of a moon that stares like a huge, unblinking eye.
Mid-morning you are trudging through virgin snow in boots lined and cracked with age, huddled stiffly inside a woollen coat that only just manages to keep out the harsh cold. Ruddy cheeks and vaporous breath that snakes upward, forming the clouds, you think fancifully, that lumber across a pristine blue sky, swollen and pregnant with more snow. The landscape, as far as you can see, is covered with a heavy white blanket that deflects the impossibly bright sunlight, dazzling you. You left the cottage unable to bear the silence any longer but here the silence is absolute, everything slumbering or dead beneath the numbing cold of its winter covering.
A mile further on another cottage comes into view, built of limestone brick the same as the one you have left, your temporary refuge. No obvious signs of life: no smoke from the chimney or anyone engaged in clearing snow from the front door to the track down which you walk. Dare you risk an encounter with other people, even in this remote area hundreds of miles from where you once lived but where your crime may still be known of? Better to walk on, surely; or, better still, turn back and retrace your steps homeward. But the cottage draws you inexorably onward, pulling you trance-like towards it, you seemingly unable to resist its silent beckoning.
It is when you are a hundred metres or so away, no longer feeling in control of your body that a figure emerges from the front door. Female: early sixties you guess, steel-grey hair pulled tightly back, looking ridiculously small and lost buried inside a thick padded anorak. Attractive: face hardly lined, a careful and subtle application of make-up and lipstick. But it is her eyes that you notice as you get even nearer; intense, but with a faraway look of world-weary sadness. She is softly humming a tune: Onward Christian Soldiers. Now, merely feet away from her, she stops humming, a broad smile spreading across her face. She speaks, her voice quiet but strong, assertive.
“Ah, Mr Jansen. Please come in. I’ve been expecting you.”
The words send shivers down your spine. She nods her head several times in satisfaction, then suddenly turns and walks back inside the cottage with no further utterance.
You follow her, meekly, powerless to do otherwise.
“Now do please settle yourself, Mr Jansen,” she says, indicating an ancient but comfortable-looking armchair. Make yourself at home, as the cliché has it.”
Once more you obey. She seats herself in a similar armchair opposite you. Your eyes scan the small room but fail to register any details as thoughts crash through your mind. How does this woman know my name? How could she be expecting me? Why am I powerless to resist her will? This is ridiculous, too bizarre for words. You shake your head as if to dislodge the thoughts.
“Now I do so hope that you are in the mood for a little chat,” she continues, leaning forward with both hands clasped in her lap. “It gets so lonely up here, miles away from anywhere. So remote, no other cottages for miles. But I think…in fact I know, Mr Jansen that this is why you chose this location as you place of refuge. You are on the run, aren’t you Mr…can I call you Ray by the way? On the run from some terrible crime that you’ve committed. Why don’t you tell me all about it?”
It is a fine but chilly mid-autumn evening, you are on your way to the Strand Hotel in town and your first date with a girl in over six months. You are exhilarated but nervous. Sarah Bramwell, the girl you are meeting, is an old friend; you’ve known her for fifteen years at least. Nothing could possibly go wrong: deep breaths, you’ll be fine. Sarah has recently split up with her long-term boyfriend and is feeling lonely and isolated, in desperate need of comfort and friendship and possibly a shoulder to cry on. The boyfriend had been having an affair with a girl whom Sarah had been happy to call a friend, having no idea or inkling of the deceit she was being subjected to. Only a full, drunken confession from Graham had revealed the level of duplicity. Sarah was angry, of course; but more than that. She felt used, foolish, annoyed with herself for being so stupid. All of this she had explained to you in an hour-long phone conversation two nights ago.
Your stomach lurches and you feel faintly nauseous as you negotiate the crowds of people milling outside cinemas, pubs and theatres. Slow down, you tell yourself, nearly there. You have always fancied Sarah and feel sure that the attraction is mutual; it just never happened between the two of you. And then that arsehole Graham came along. Another opportunity missed. Well, now another opportunity has arisen and you are determined to grab it and never let it go. You turn the corner of Haymarket Street and there it is: The Strand Hotel. You look at your watch and see that you are ten minutes late. Panic sets in. You rush up the hotel’s stone steps and head straight for the restaurant.
She sits at a small table at the back of the room and your chest constricts as you approach her. She is looking more beautiful than you have ever seen her: black evening dress matching her ebony-black, shoulder-length hair which seems tinged with blue beneath the restaurant’s lights. Given how you felt on your way here, and how you feel now, you wonder crazily if love can be detrimental to health. For it is love, you are certain of that. Or what passes for it in your (admittedly limited) experience.
She smiles in greeting as you reach the table, showing perfect white teeth. Her blue eyes twinkle with a mischievous, liquid light. She is swirling a glass of white wine around in her left hand; is holding a menu with her right. The restaurant is full and you are dimly aware of the light clatter of cutlery on plates.
“Sorry I’m late,” you say, taking your seat. “That mad cat of mine insisted on being fed before I came out, and then I couldn’t find the bloody tin opener. Ought to buy the pouches, really.” You blush out how stupid this last remark sounds.
“No worries, Ray, I knew you wouldn’t stand me up.” There is something playful, teasing in her expression. Your heart thuds violently against your chest and it is some moments before you can fully compose yourself. A waiter appears and presents you with a menu which you peruse, baffled. It was Sarah who wanted to come here, it was recommended to her. Not your preferred type of venue, though; pubs with loud music competing for noise with TV’s broadcasting Premiership football games is more your scene. But if this is what Sarah wants, you are happy to respect her choice.
The evening goes well, not that you thought that it wouldn’t. Sarah helped you negotiate the menu in a non-patronizing way and you push away your plate having enjoyed the best steak you have ever tasted; perfectly cooked and mouth-wateringly succulent. The wine and conversation have flowed. There have been no awkward silences. You find talking to Sarah so easy, natural. You are a good listener and pay her constant attention, which you can tell she appreciates. She hardly mentions the Graham situation but is keen to find out how you are getting on in your new job, what your new colleagues are like. By the time the last course has been consumed you are both feeling distinctly tipsy. It is then that she leans toward you, looks you straight in the eyes, and takes one of your hands gently in hers. Says those magical words.
“Ray, I’ve booked a room here.”
A brief statement that explains her mischievous, playful but enigmatic expression that she has maintained all the time you have been here together. Your reply is instant, unequivocal.
“What are we waiting for?”
You are aware that you have a glass of brandy in your hand but have no recollection of how it got there. You take a sip and the red-hot liquid tastes good, comforting as it slips down your throat. The woman who has introduced herself as Sadeyes (what kind of name is that? you remember thinking before embarking on your narrative. She is still seated opposite you; her sorrowful, mournful expression has never wavered. A complete contrast to Sarah’s eyes on that wonderful, but ultimately tragic evening. And then it occurs to you: Sadeyes. It can’t surely be her real name but it perfectly encapsulates her generally despondent mien.
Before you know it, you have drained the brandy and now feel slightly woozy. Sadeyes leans forward once more. She says, in a barely-audible whisper:
“That better? Then please continue, Ray.”
You feel happy to do so, relieved at the chance to get it all off your chest, emboldened by the fiery alcohol.
The room that Sarah has booked is on the third floor. You both stagger somewhat unsteadily towards the lift, giggling in a conspiratorial manner. The hotel reception area is totally deserted. You cannot believe your luck; this is like a dream come true, can’t surely be happening. You will be spending a joyful night with the girl who you now feel, even in your befuddled state, is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. You recollect some words from Macbeth learned at school, something about drink provoking the desire but taking away the performance, but quickly dismiss it from your mind.
You feel there is no need to elaborate on the details of that night spent with Sarah, not with this seemingly kindly lady who is still a stranger, nevertheless. Being basically shy, it wouldn’t be something you would even brag about down the local with your mates. You just don’t do that macho bullshit. Suffice to say that the sex was incredible, your best experience ever. It was as if Sarah was giving vent to all the pent-up emotions, frustrations and yes- even anger- since being deceived and ultimately dumped by Graham. It is the events of the following morning that you have tried, in vain, to block from your memory.
“Tell me, in your own words, what you found the next morning,” Sadeyes says. Her words puzzle you; how does she now that you ‘found’ anything? You start to feel distinctly uneasy. You feel compelled to carry on with your narrative, however. Resisting that insistent gaze is impossible.
You tell her how you awoke at around 8am, a shaft of sunlight cutting through the partly-open curtains, the noise of heavy traffic outside as rush hour commenced. You lay on your back, temporarily confused. Then memories of the events of the previous night come back to you, and a stupid grin spreads over your face. Sarah is silent and unmoving next to you but you can sense her presence. You look to your left and see her wrapped up in a mass of bed sheets. It is then that you get the overwhelming feeling that something is wrong. You sit up and gently shake the vaguely human-shaped bundle next to you. No response. You take hold of her shoulder and roll her over towards you. It is then that you scream and shake your head in disbelief, transfixed by the raw, gaping wound in Sarah’s throat that is still dripping with blood. Her eyes, still open, are dull and lifeless, like glass beads. You leap out of bed and it is then that you see that she is lying in a pool of her own blood; furthermore, there is blood splattered across the wall above the bed. Your eyes drop back down to the bloody mess before you and then you notice the sharp letter-opener lying on the bottom sheet, smeared with blood. Your mind is racing, your heart is thumping in your chest, seemingly ready to burst. You hastily pull on your jeans and shirt in preparation for running downstairs and summoning help, but of course it is far too late for Sarah. You feel that you are caught up in some sort of horrific nightmare.
You rush towards the door; it is still locked. So whoever did this can’t have entered the room that way. The only other possible ingress is the window; you walk across the room but it too is shut and locked. Besides, you are on the third floor and there is no fire escape or balcony or any possible way someone could have climbed up here. This can only mean one thing.
“That you did it,” Sadeyes provides.
“Yes, only I didn’t, I swear to you that I didn’t kill her. Why would I? I was in love with that girl!” You are aware that your voice has risen to screaming pitch. Sadeyes makes calming gestures with both hands and pleads with you to shush. You start to relax. Sadeyes is silent for some minutes while you compose yourself, then says:
“Oh, I believe you, Ray. I know that you didn’t kill Sarah Bramwell.”
“But how…how could you possibly know… that I didn’t kill her?” You have become agitated once more, you stammer over your words, sobbing. Tears flood your eyes.
“I know you didn’t kill Sarah Bramwell, Ray,” Sadeyes says. “Because I did.”
You fled the hotel in a mad panic, your mind reeling with the insanity of the whole situation. You remember Sarah climaxing with huge, deep gasps of electrifying pleasure the second time you had entered her. She had then fallen into a deep sleep. Alive. She had still been alive; despite the whirling maelstrom of your thoughts, you are certain of that. So how…what the fuck had happened to her in the six hours you had both slept?
At least your luck has held. The morning porter has taken in your dishevelled appearance and obvious hurry to get out of the hotel but says nothing. Probably seen this a hundred times. Bet they’ve never had a murder here, though, you think crazily. He may well be able to provide the police with a description of you later, though. Shit. Get as far away from here as possible, a voice in your head advises. Leave town altogether. Your friend Rob owns a cottage in the remote Highlands. Has told you that you are free to go there any time, has even given you a key. Thank god for Rob and his rich, eccentric family who own so much property they’ve probably forgotten where most of it is. You hail a taxi and tell the driver North Street, please; where your flat is situated. Hopefully there will be time to pack a few things and get the fuck out of here before Sarah’s body is discovered.
You stare at Sadeyes in totally stunned disbelief, unable to speak. The elderly lady has tilted her head slightly to one side in a gesture of what…sympathy? Understanding? What can the crazy bitch be on about, she had killed Sarah? There had been nobody else in the room. No sign of entry at door or window. This you had established. I must have killed her, you think; it must have been me. This is fucking insane. Sadeyes is looking at you with that faraway expression once more. Her voice, when she at last begins to speak, is still soft but louder than her previous hushed whisper.
“I feel I need to offer you an explanation, Ray,” she says. “Well, of course I do. That’s the whole purpose of me summoning you here. All I ask is that you bear with me and try not to interrupt. I’m sure you’ll have questions; leave them to the end, please. Now, what I’m going to tell you may seem bizarre. Unbelievable, in fact. But I absolutely assure you that it is the truth. Do you understand?”
You nod your head slowly, thinking that this whole crazy fucking situation surely can’t get any crazier.
“Good. First of all I’ll start by saying that the Sarah Bramwell you knew died six months ago in a car accident. No suspicious circumstances whatsoever. Her car skidded on black ice and crashed into a tree. She was driving far too fast for the weather conditions. It also occurred at night on a poorly-lit road. Death was instantaneous.”
“Ray, you promised. Now, where was I? Oh yes. Do you know what a succubus is?”
“Lady, I have no fucking idea. Enlighten me.”
“May I request that you moderate your language? There is simply no need for it.”
Your eyes drop to you lap, your expression sheepish.
“Sorry. It’s just that…all this is a bit difficult for me to take in.”
“Granted. I realize that. So…a succubus is a female demon who takes on human form and seeks sexual congress with male mortals in order to procreate. In other words, to create more demons. The male equivalent is an incubus. Ray, what I’m trying to tell you is that the creature you met in that hotel wasn’t Sarah Bramwell. Not the girl you knew, anyway. It was a very clever deception by a particularly malignant evil entity. It took on the form of someone you have always loved, preyed on your emotions and your vulnerability. Yes, very clever indeed. In a way, you could say the creature resurrected Sarah.”
Sadeyes stands and walks towards you with the brandy bottle, refills your glass. You are only to gulp it down. Too much, too fast. You splutter and nearly choke.
“Careful, Ray, take it steadily. I know this is a lot for you to comprehend.”
“Too damn right,” you reply, now recovered. “But…does this mean I’m…how can I put it…infected in some way now? Am I going to die as a result of what I did? And why me?”
“Demons often select good, decent, but innocent and susceptible humans for their work. You are a typical example of that, Ray. An easy target, one might say. It has happened thus long throughout history. The forces of darkness are always with us, always around us. One may not always see or perceive them but they are there nonetheless. And no, Ray, you are in no way infected or diseased as a result of your union.”
You stand and slowly start to pace the room, side to side. You feel relief that you will not become ill, but there is a heavier emotion weighing on you: grief. You loved Sarah, always will.
“So, Sadeyes, granted that all this is true, and why shouldn’t it be? Christ, it’s certainly crazy enough…what’s your involvement? And why kill Sarah…sorry, this creature, in such a brutal, horrific way?”
Sadeyes smiles. “Please resume your seat, Ray, and I will try to explain to you who I am. Let me start by asking how old you think I am?”
You sit. Spend a few moments regarding the person sitting before you.
“Oh…err…mid-sixties? Early seventies, perhaps? I’m crap at guessing peoples’ ages. Particularly ladies.”
“I’m touched. Now, prepare yourself for another shock. I am approximately 600 years old, Ray.”
You laugh like a maniac. “No way! No fucking…sorry…but no way! How could you possibly be that old?!”
“It’s true,” Sadeyes simply replies, ignoring your laughter. “And I’ve been hunting demons for most of that time. Now, in answer to your earlier question, I killed that demon in such a ‘brutal, horrific way’ as you put it because I had to be absolutely sure it was slain. It’s a time-honoured way, most effective and absolute. Its blood needed to be spilled. You didn’t notice the other wound. I drove that letter-opener through the creature’s heart. So much blood.”
You think back to that dreadful scene in the hotel room that you woke up to. Blood seemingly everywhere.
“OKAY, but another thing- how the hell did you get into that room?”
“Oh, Ray, I can be wherever I need to be. Whenever I get the call, I’ll be there.”
There is now a twinkle of light in the elderly lady’s eyes. You drink the last of the brandy.
“I believe you, Sadeyes. The whole thing is total insane…surreal…but I believe you. But I have one last question. Do you know where the real Sarah is buried?”
“Yes I do. I’ll tell you tomorrow, when you have rested. I strongly recommend that you sleep here tonight.” She looks out of the window. It has begun to snow heavily.
“Sleep? I don’t think I’ll sleep for weeks.”
“The brandy will help, I’m sure. Sweet dreams, Ray.”
This she says with no sense of irony.
Next morning, after breakfast, you are standing by the front door, ready to return to your own cottage. Sadeyes is standing behind you. You tower above her diminutive figure.
“Go back to your job, Ray. Go back to your life. Nobody is hunting you down. The police have nothing to find. They have not even been called. I returned to that room later and…tidied up, shall we say?”
You lean down as if to kiss Sadeyes on the cheek. Think better of it; settle for a warm, gentle handshake.
“Thank you, Sadeyes.”
You can think of nothing else appropriate to say. As you trudge through the thick snow that has completely hidden the path you do not turn back and wave. Sadeyes is humming a tune: ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”