Whilst reading the obituaries in the local newspaper, I came across the name of an old acquaintance of mine whom I hadn't seen in a number of years. In our youth, we were the best of friends. We went through school and on to college together and were almost inseperable. That was, until a miss Helena Watt entered our lives with a certain air of confident beauty that swept both of us off of our feet. We were both besotted. She knew this and she played on it to the extent that it broke up our friendship and we lost touch. The notice said nothing of the cause of death, only that it had been sudden and that he'd be sadly missed by all who knew him. This saddened me greatly as, reading the obituary notice, many fond memories of our youthful frolics came rushing back in a flood of reminisce that put pain in my heart and a tear in my eye. I contacted the local paper's office and enquired as to where I should go to pay my respects and was pleased to hear that he had inherited his father's house, for this meant that he was no more than a half-hour's journey from where I resided and that this would make it easier for me to attend the funeral. I admit to being a little apprehensive as to how Helena, his widow, would receive me after so many years of non communication, but the fond memories of our youth set those fears aside...or perhaps it was guilt on my part. No matter, I was determined I would attend the service, after all, James Anderson had been a very good friend of mine in our younger days and although Helena may have come between us to cause our fall out, I would not let her stop me from paying my last respects to such a very dear acquaintance from my past. I needn't have worried, for Helena welcomed me with open arms when I arrived at their house. It's funny that a bereavement can cast away all the ancient ill will. After the funeral service, I hugged Helena and left her with the promise that I would keep in touch. I can't say with any certainty though, that I fully intended to keep the promise. For perhaps it was my own grievance, but I still held a certain apathy toward her, for it is true that I still blamed her for the break up of our friendship.
Later that night, just after I had dined, the phone rang, arousing me from the melancholy muse that had endorsed my emotions with thoughts of the long past summer days James and I had spent exploring our surroundings as adveturers in comic book capers. Our imaginations, it seemed, knew no bounds in those days of innocent boyhood. I straightened myself up and rose from the chair I had been slumped on and went over and picked up the reciever. "Hello?" I enquired. When no answer was forthcoming, I repeated my greeting, "Hello, who's calling?" Still I got no answer, just the faint sound of a soft sigh. Feeling a little flustered, I spoke once more, a little more abruptly this time, into the mouthpiece. "Look," I said, "whoever you are. If you can't have the courtesy to relay your business then I shall feel obliged to hang up. I have had a particulary stressful day and I am not in the mood for tomfoolery!" Just then I heard the slightest whimper from the other end of the line, too faint to make any sense, too weak to be anything more than a murmer. "Pardon?" I asked. When I again got no reply, the aggravation rose within me and I rather angrily demanded, "Look here. You either state your purpose or I shall hang up this instant!" Just then, the phone line went dead and I was left to ponder the strange matter in a turbulence of confused thought.
For the next two days everything was routine, managing my small business, lunching with clients and unwinding at home with dinner and a fine wine. On the third day after the funeral I recieved a call from Helena inviting me over to discuss the management of the Anderson estate. I accepted her invite and arranged to be there by no later than six-thirty the following evening. I felt that that was the least I could do to help the recently widowed wife of an old friend, such was the guilt I had been feeling over the long years of neglect of our friendship. Later that evening, I came across an obscure note written on a page of the Evening Post that said simply, 'Beware the Syphon of the Seductress!' I had no idea what that meant, but it sent a shiver of involuntary fear cascading down my spine, that chilled me to the very marrow. I could not help but feel that I was being scrutinised and that it was James who was judging my actions. That he was determined to stop me from seeing Helena. It seemed to me that, even in death, we were unable to come to a truce over the lovely Helena. It seemed to me, that James was not for letting go of her just yet!
That night my sleep was disturbed by dreams. Dreams I could not understand, dreams that made no sense. I dreamed of James as I remembered him from our youth. We were sitting on a bench on a railway platform, the location of which, I had no idea, waiting to board a train to God knows where. A train that seemed reluctant to arrive. As we waited, we watched as other passengers came and went about their business, passing us, seemingly, without ever noticing our presence. I knew we had an important appointment to keep, but knew nothing of the nature of said appointment. I knew this, because we were both very agitated and apprehensive about the lateness of the train. James more so than I. In the dream, I seemed to look on helplessly as James aged so rapidly, that I was able to watch his hair turning gray and his complexion wrinkle and wither. So fast was the transformation that I worried about my companions ability to face up to the task at hand, to accompany me to the meeting that loomed so heavily on our minds. Yet still, I could not find a reason for the anxiety I felt, for I was totally dumbfounded as to the nature of the appointment in question. Just as he seemed to be too old and decrepit to be of any vantage to my fears,- threatening, it seemed,- to breathe his last, the train finally arrived at the station. As it drew to a halt with a hiss, a great fog of steam rolling across the platform, I saw, looking out of a carriage window, the beautiful face of Helena. She smiled and waved to me. I now knew that Helena was our appointment in question, but knew not of a reason why. Strangely, she looked not one day older than the eighteen years she had been when I had first laid eyes on her, all those many years ago. As she alighted from the train, I turned back toward James, only to find, to my horror, a partially decomposed corpse which took his place on the bench. The fear and disgust that overwhelmed me then, threatened, I felt, my own heart's ability to continue beating, the sharp intake of breath caused by the sight, burned my lungs with a raw horror filled scream that failed to escape my lips. Helena didn't even acknowledge the scene. She simply smiled at me as though we were the only two people on the platform. As though James had merely been an inappropriate interlude to her own passion play.
I woke up with a start, my heasrt pounding in my chest, the dream already dispersing into fragments of confusion, save for the imprinted vision of James's decomposing body and Helena's seemingly apathetic smile. I gasped for breath as I tried to retrieve as much of the vision as I possibly could. What did it mean? Was it an omen? What made me so sure that it was in some way a significant message? These questions I mulled over for the best part of the day. Even so, I found no answer to their dilema. No matter how much I puzzled over the significance, I could find no reason for the strange dream. Other than my confused ponderings, my day was normal, routine, my small business venture taking precedence over all else, for life must go on, earnings have to be made and the musement of a dream, strange as it may have been, could not be allowed to interfere with business. On my return from a busy day at the office, I bathed and readied myself for my prearranged date with Helena. I called a taxi and set of by six pm, by six-thirty I was being ushered into the home recently inherited by the lovely Helena Anderson, nee Watt, due to the demise of her late husband, James. Just stepping through the door reminded me of just how prosperous James's family had been. The house was a mansion with acres of garden at the back. I recalled James's father having been a very successful business man, a city broker at the top of his field, much sought after for his business acumen. He could demand top fees for his services. Memories began flooding back of long summer days roving around the grounds with a young James, exploration and adventure being our forte. We were always the heroes of the hour, the gallant, swashbuckling buccaneers of the high seas or the cavalrymen riding to the rescue of the homesteaders besieged by warring natives. Helena broke my muse by offering me a small aperitif. I opted for port, took a small gulp and was glad of the journey it took that warmed my cockles. I looked up from the glass to see her smiling intently at me. "Still the same old Alistair", she said. I smiled back and said, "You haven't changed a bit, Helena." She gave me a more serious smile in return and said. "It's been such a long time since I last saw you. I had almost forgotten what you looked like." "And are you disappointed?" I asked her in a voice that barely hid my own disappointment at her forgetfulness. After all, before the fall out, she professed her love to both James and I, before ultimately choosing James over me. "Don't be silly," she said. "It's just that so many years have passed that I found it hard to imagine how you would have changed. Although, now that I have seen you, I know I needn't have fretted. You're so easily recognisable." I felt almost humbled by her words, for somewhere among them, I thought I recognised a compliment. "You don't look a day older," was all I could muster by way of a reply. "You're just being polite," she said. "Come, let's have some dinner and maybe afterwards, we can have a stroll in the garden." She led me through to the huge dining room, which to me, seemed more like a banqueting hall, and profered me a chair oposite her own at the top end of the table. "I do hope you like asparagus soup and chicken cordon bleu," she said. "then for desert, I thought we could indulge in chocolate gateau with cream." She may not have remembered what I looked like, but she seemed to be well aware of my tastes in fine fare. I merely nodded my agreement with a smile. We were waited on by a gentleman whom I presumed must have been James's personal valet, the rapport between himself and Helena, seemed a little distant to say the least. Be that as it may, dinner passed delightfully enough and after coffee and cigarettes, we took that promised stroll in the huge gardens at the back of the house. "Now, when was the last time, apart from at the funeral, we enjoyed each others company?" she asked, then added by way of an afterthought, "Must be ten years or more." "It'll be ten and a half years," I said. "If you recall, James and I parted company on the announcement of your engagement. I didn't attend the wedding." I looked groundward with that memory, feeling a little ashamed and embarassed at my childishness from that time. "Ah yes. I seem to remember you taking a huff at that," she mused. "Still, that's all in the past and you are truly forgiven, for I think, if you were still aggrieved, then you would never have attended the service on Monday last." I smiled my acknowledgement, but said nothing. We walked on in silence for a few moments, until we came to the little stream that ran past, near the bottom of the garden. She stopped and turned to me then, and then, catching my eye, she spoke in a soft, almost melancholic voice, "James loved you Alistair, he missed your friendship very much. Sometimes I think he blamed me for your fall out, and I suppose he was right, to a certain extent. But I must let you know now, I never meant to break you up, for it is true that I loved you both." She looked around the garden then and back toward the house, then added, "It's just that James had so much more to offer. "I hope you can understand that and will accept the appology I'm offering you." I was lost for words. I looked into her eyes and tried to catch the emotion that lingered in their darkness. From what I could ascertain, her sadness seemed genuine enough. But something else lingered there also, something I could feel but not quite put my finger on!
Later, back in my own humble abode, I poured myself a large scotch and took a sip. It burned more fiercely, although no less pleasantly, than the port I'd had earlier. I loosened my jacket and tie and sat in my armchair, the room lighted only by the small table lamp that served my mood well. I felt relieved to be back home, as though my date with Helena had been strenuous, a notion that couldn't have been further from the truth, for the evening had been relaxed throughout. Perhaps then, it was the feeling of guilt at having disolved my friendship with James over his, or rather her, choice of consort. I can only suppose that I am, at least at times, prone to bouts of jealousy after all. I closed my eyes tightly and squeezed the bridge of my nose in a vain attempt to rid myself of the headache I felt was trying to invade my privacy. My failure to ease the burden saw me finishing my whisky in one gulp and heading off to bed. Upstairs in the bedroom, I sat on the edge of the bed and stared into the mirror on the dressing table. Just then, a shiver of cold came over me, causing me to turn around and face the window. The curtain swayed gently on the remanants of a breeze that had obviously just gusted through the open window. I turned back to the mirror and almost yelped with fright at what I saw, for it was not I who looked back at me, but James! He stared back at me with a look of forlorn sadness and simply shook his head from side to side. I closed my eyes tightly and shook my own head, likewise, in disbelief. When I opened them again, James was gone, and my own reflection, once more, took it's rightful place. Another shiver of cold crept through me then. I don't know from where it came, but it chilled my very soul!
That night I slept soundly, my sleep undisturbed by dreams, nightmares or ghostly intrusions. Being the weekend, I had a lie in, my alarm this Saturday morning, being the sound of nature and the brightness of the springtime sun that penetrated my blinds. These, combined with strong morning coffee, had me feeling refreshed and ready to face a weekend of self induced laziness and relaxation, my plans being to lay back and finish the novel I'd been reading. Saturday passed without incident and not once did I think of the past week and it's unusual events. On Sunday morning, however, the chime of church bells brought back solemn memories of the funeral. James was a prominent image in my mind for most of the day. It was only toward the end of the evening that Helena pushed her way into my thoughts.
I think I must have dozed off, because one moment, I was thinking of James, a feeling of guilt and shame filling me with self-pity, the next, I was sitting in my armchair, staring intently at the image of Helena, standing before me, naked as the day she was born. I could only sit and stare in disbelief. I couldn't come to grips with the fact. That Helena could be capable of such wanton behaviour was beyond my comprehension. She seemed to be making a statement with her perfectly formed body and wonderfully cascading red hair, a lustful declaration of femininity that she felt an impulse to share. She seemed to be using her nakedness as a method of control, for suddenly, I became afraid. Her eyes seemed to stare with a lifeless blackness, pitch orbs whose darkness became deeper and more penetrating the more I tried to decipher their enigma. I just sat there motionless, unprotesting, watching the events unfold. For I couldn't move, I couldn't speak, I couldn't even scream. I was mesmerised.... Hypnotized by her stare. It held me motionless. I felt paralyzed, unable to respond as she levitated, a look of malignant madness on her face. She floated toward me, her smile a grimace of ugly torment, a snear filled with hatred and spite. I couldn't understand why she should want to harm me, but my senses were filled with fear and trepidation. I sat there staring as she floated across the ceiling above me, her face a beastly mask of demonic horror, a ravenous deathly horror with a craving to devour living flesh. I raised my arm above my head and closed my eyes tightly, in a futile effort to protect myself. I fought for breath as I sensed her stealing in for the kill. My lungs burned with panic as I tried to release the scream that wouldn't come. Then, silence joined silence as I felt the menace dissipate and the atmosphere return to a semblence of normality. My breath came back in gasps of relief and I slowly opened my eyes. Helena had gone. She had vanished like a dream... Had it really been a dream, no more or less than that? My mind spun in confusion. How can an experience, real enough to invoke such terror, be nothing more than a dream? How can a nightmare create such fear as to keep it's vivid imagery imposed in one's mind to such an extent as to seem physical? For even now, just recalling the experience, I feel the pain said horror has left implanted on my sanity!
I was startled from my trance by the ring of my telephone. I picked up the reciever, my hand shaking with frightened nervousness, and I stammered into the mouth piece, "H...hello?" I queried. "Alistair, it's Helena," came the reply. "I need to see you, Alistair. I need your advice about the estate. Can you come over tomorrow evening?" For a moment I couldn't find any words to answer. "Alistair?" "I'm sorry," I said eventually. "I was miles away." This was partially true, for the sound of her voice had, momentarily, thrown me back into the nightmare. I pulled myself together and tried to sound as calm as possible. "I was reminiscing about our college days." I lied. I'm not sure if she detected the lie, but if she did, then she said nothing to contradict me. "I have too many bills here, Alistair, and I need advice on how to go about dealing with them. James dealt with all our money matters, you see." was all she said. I mulled this over, for I didn't want to get involved. Something in the back of my mind was telling me to steer well clear of Helena, and although for the life of me, I couldn't tell what was causing my anxiety, my gut instinct was somehow connecting my recent, shall we say, strange anomalies, as warnings and yet, I felt compelled by guilt. I felt a certain duty to James, to look after his estate. Besides, she was almost pleading with me to assist her in matters she was having difficulty administering. Perhaps then, I could give her some advice and leave it at that. "Alistair?" "Yes, yes." I answered. "Tomorrow will be fine. Shall we say same time as last?" "Thank you, Alistair, you can't know how much I appretiate this," she said. "I will have Wiggins serve us dinner before he retires for the night." With that said, the phone went dead and I was left to ponder just how dangerously erotic Helena could be, for true as my mind was defensive, so too was my heart so spooked by a curiousity of what if's?
That night, in my dreams, James was trying to warn me to be vigilant, telling me to 'beware her venomous bite, lest she slither away with my life's energy' and 'not to take a bite from her poisoned apple'. These messages came amid alternating visions of James, from as solid as when we were schoolfriends, through opaque misty, transparent shapes, to the flesh dripping, rotting corpse from the unknown railway station. I tried to converse with the images but all I got back was more riddle. 'Her seductive ways will steal your last breath, she is a devil in disguise.' I was left none the wiser for my queries. All of these dreamed messages seemed to be portents, but they made little sense to me. I could not connect them to the beautiful Helena, for I had never heard her say an angry word to anyone. Not even when James and I had rowed, for even then she had kept her silence and although I still blamed her for the break up, I could never see her as anything less than the perfect lady. For only James and I had ourselves to blame for our fall out. His arrogance and my jealousy were the main antagonists there. My dreams may indeed have been an omen but they were most likely the result of the guilt I felt. I could not, nay refused, to connect them, in any real sense, to Helena. It had been my own self-concious regret that brought on such horrors, and it would be my own self-concious regret that would be my tormentor. I proposed that I should talk to her about it tomorrow, for I couldn't allow said nightmares to fester and destroy our relationship again. I had only just renewed it, after all.
Monday was the usual business duties, opening mail and sending replies where neccessary, auditing paperwork, accounts and evaluating business proposals. All of this was being dealt with in my usual manner when I came across a note, hand written and hand delivered, among my inbox. The plain piece of paper on which it was written did not have our usual business headline and I took it, therefore, that it was not from another member of staff. I wondered to myself, for a moment, as to who could have delivered such a note, unseen and unheard. For it was true that I myself had locked the office door on Friday evening and that it had been locked all weekend, as sure as it had been I who had unlocked it again this morning. No one, except my secretary, had been in my office this morning and I knew she hadn't left it, as I had arrived before she, and had been here all morning. She couldn't have left it without my noticing. I shrugged my shoulders, thinking that it must have been put there sometime during Friday afternoon, and that I must have been out of the office at the time. I sat back in my chair and held it in my hand for a moment, before opening it slowly, almost as if I were afraid of it's content. The note shook in my hand as I read it... 'Don't let the serpent steal your soul!' I read it over and over, trying to make sense of it, but no sensible thought came to mind. I looked over at my secretary, but she seemed too pre-occupied with her work to have noticed anything untoward. I thought of asking her if she knew anything of the note, but decided against it as I was certain she was completely unaware. For the rest of the morning and the whole of the afternoon, I tried to solve the enigma, to no avail, as my ponderings only led to more questions than answers. How could this note have gotten into my inbox without it's deliverer having aroused my suspicion? What did it mean by, 'Don't let the serpent steal your soul?'... Just who, or what, was haunting me? These questions and thoughts wearied me to the extent that I considered cancelling my date with Helena, so tiring was the weight of uncertainty that pressed down on me.
I didn't break off our date though, and by six-thirty that Monday evening, I found myself, once more, being ushered through the doors of my late friend's mansion. Helena welcomed me with a smile and a hug and ushered me through to the lounge, where she proffered to me a chair by the fire. She poured two ports and offered one to me, which I readily accepted, for truely, I felt in need of a stiff drink. She kept the other for herself and sat in the chair next to mine. "Wiggins assures me dinner will be ready by seven, prompt," she said. "It'll be the same as Friday's, I'm afraid, as I wasn't sure what other preferences you might have. I do hope I have not done wrong?" "Not at all." I said, almost uninterestedly. For it was true that my mind was roaming many miles away from any thoughts of food. As if scanning a distant horizon in search of my musings, Helena looked at me with a rather puzzled expression, and asked, "Are you ok, Alistair? You seem to be miles away." I shook my head and blinked several times before answering. "I... Yes. Yes, I'm fine." I managed to blurt out. I looked down at my feet for a moment before continuing. "It's just that I have been having some very strange dreams lately, dreams that include you and James." She smiled thinly at me and said, "It's only a week since the funeral, Alistair, of course it'll be playing on your mind, especially it being death that ended ten years of estrangement." I looked across to her and opend my mouth to speak and then closed it again. For I could think of nothing to offer by way of an answer. Of course she was right. All these strange events were connected to the guilt I felt at the way we had parted company so many years before. I had to accept that, had to forgive myself and to return to normality. For as sure as the guilt I felt was real, so too was life and life was something I had to get on with, it was not some vehicle I could board and alight from like a train. All the dreams, the nightmares and illusions, were unreal and I would have to discard them...lest I risk losing my sanity.
Dinner was a rather quiet affair, both of us sticking to small talk - of how the weather had turned cold and a storm seemed to be brewing in the west and not a word of the real reason for my visit, in front of Wiggins. I'm not sure if this was through a need to know basis or if Helena simply mistrusted Wiggins. Wiggins, for his part, served the same dinner, in the same manner and with the same distant rapport toward Helena as I had noticed last Friday evening. All of this served up a feeling of the weirdest deja-vu. After dinner, once we had returned to the lounge and sat on our respective chairs in the company of a coffee and a cigarette, Helena dismissed Wiggins, who nodded courteously before retiring for the night. She turned to me then, and said, "And now to business." I merely nodded my approval. "As you no doubt already know, Alistair, this estate is rather large, perhaps too large for me to run on my own." she said. "Are you making a proposal?" I asked her. "Perhaps that can be discussed a little later," she said. "But for now, I simply seek your advice as an accountant." I nodded for her to carry on. "As you know, James inherited the estate from his father, who had built up quite an empire through his business dealings. Unfortunately, James didn't have quite the same acumen and made a few flimsy investments, which, whilst not exactly bankrupting the company, nevertheless, put a certain amount of strain on it's finances. "Now whilst this strain may be eased through careful planning, I fear that it may have to involve cuts in financial investment and therefor, sackings may be unavoidable. This is where you come in." "You want me to sack your employees?" I asked her incredulously. "No, silly." she laughed. "I want you to use your skills as an accountant to keep the sackings to a minimum, and perhaps, to sell off some of the less profitable assets." She then handed over the company ledgers for me to peruse over, which I did. After a little while skimming through them, I looked up to her and said, "I'll have to take them home with me and study them more fully." "By all means." she said. "Take as long as you wish." "I should have them back with you in a couple of days. Hopefully with some satisfactory facts and figures." For the next couple of hours we made small talk over a few drinks. At around eleven-thirty, I made my excuses and she called me a taxi. We bid each other good night and I went home.
Back home, I felt rather drowsy, the effect of the alcohol I suppose, and so I went straight to bed. Within minutes, I was fast asleep. That night, I dreamed of Helena again. She came into my bedroom and stood above the bed, watching me. She wore a red silken robe which she peeled off slowly, seductively, never once taking her eyes off me. I could only stare back at her in wonderous awe, her perfectly shaped body complimented by that red, cascading hair that flowed over her shoulders like a silken stream, to partially hide her firm breasts. Her tongue passed across her crimson red lips and her hypnotic, green eyes held me in their lustful stare. She drew back the bed clothes, climbed in beside me, and kissed me passionately. My lips could only respond by kissing her back. No words of protest were allowed to escape them. I could only cede myself to her passion. She kissed her way down my body, arousing me in a way I had never experienced before nor have I felt since. Then she made love to me with an almost wanton lust. So hard was her passion, I thought that I would pass out from the exertion. As she neared her climax, she grunted and snarled like a ravenous beast, a starving dog, desperately trying to feast on the carcass brought down by the pack. I felt completely helpless as she drew her head back, bearing her carnivourus teeth and growled like a predator about to strike it's prey.... And then I woke up, the sweat on my back cold as ice, my whole body convulsing uncontrollably, and there, from the corner of my eye, a shadow that seemed to evaporate through the wall, leaving me alone and terrified!
I thought I'd never be able to go to sleep again, but sleep I did, for I was far too exhausted to do anything else. I don't know for how long I slept, for I was once more, startled awake, this time by a crash of thunder that split the heavens, heralding the onslaught of the storm that loomed so threateningly the night before. I shivered with cold, my whole body ached as though I was coming down with a bad flu or fever. I felt lethargic and weary,- so fatigued. I just wanted to lay there and pass out. Work was not a particularly welcome option this morning. I lay there, trying to remember the details of my dream, trying to find a logical explanation to my recent spate of nightmares. Why was Helena always turning into some sort of demon? Why was she behaving in such a sultry manner? And yet, when we were alone, there was not even the slightest hint of her being anything more than a lady. And what of these little 'ghostly' messages that seemed to keep turning up? Were they from James? If so, what exactly, was he trying to convey to me? I could find no answers to the conundrum, other than that the two were, in some way, connected. James, it seemed, was trying to warn me away from Helena, but why? Was it a case of protecting what was his, even after death? Or was there something more sinister afoot? I closed my eyes tightly, trying to summon my strength and my logic into action, for I had never believed in the supernatural and felt that my dreams had to have their basis in a psychological phenomenon. I should go and see my doctor, I reasoned. He should be able to give me some pills that will help calm my nerves. For surely, I reasoned, this could only be of a nervous disorder, brought on by the recent and tragic death of a friend, with whom I had fallen out so many years ago. And what, with my recent laisons with his dear wife, innocent as they were, it just may be that they are feeding my guilt, fueling the burning regret in my subconcious mind, so to speak.
I managed to clamber out of bed, wash, shave and dress, then climb down the stairs and make myself a cup of tea. I didn't eat, I felt much too nauseous for that. Indeed, I didn't finish my cup of tea for the same reason. I picked up the morning post and skimmed through it. Nothing of importance seemed to be among the letters, so I left them on the hall table. I could always open them later, but right now, all I wanted to do was make an appearence at the office and check on any business matters that may need urgent attention. My intention was to spend a couple of hours there before leaving my secretary to lock the office up at the end of the day. As I turned the corner of the street that held my small business premises, I noticed a man standing in a doorway about two blocks up, his head, in shadow, bowed toward the ground. As I neared the man, he stepped out from the doorway and blocked my path. I was too tired to show my indignation and so I waited a moment for him to state his business. I watched as he slowly raised his head from his chest, then I almost yelled out in horror at what I saw. It was James! He looked ill, to say the least, wan and pale, his eyes were dark, almost pitch, his skin, bloodless and grey. He said nothing to me but merely gave me a thin, half smile, that looked sad and pitiful. He looked afraid and lost, a look one would expect of a person stuck in a state of purgatory. But I didn't believe in purgatory, didn't believe in ghosts or demons. I bowed and shook my head gently and blinked a couple of times in disbelief. When I looked up again, he was gone. In a mere fraction of a second, James had completely disappeared. I wanted to call after him but the street was filled with other commuters heading for their day jobs and I felt that they may think me mad for shouting after that which was never there. I didn't go into the office that morning, I took a detour and went to see my doctor instead.
When I got to the surgery, I felt a little awkward and silly, to be annoying my doctor with such a trivial matter as a few nightmares and the strange happenings over the last week or so. I knew there must be a logical explanation for all of this, and I began to build up a reluctance to tell my doctor of said events. As I sat in the waiting room, pondering my dilemma, I heard my name being called and so my decision had been made for me. I walked to the door and read the name plate, 'Dr. Richardson.' I rapped gently on the door and waited for his invitation to 'come in', which, of course, came immediately. "Ah, Alistair." he said to me, profering a hand, "Do come in." I shook his hand and smiled back at him. "Take a seat," he said, "and tell me what ails you?" I looked around the room, trying to think of how best to explain my predicament. I didn't know where to start. And then, he broke in and started for me. "You look dejected," he said. "Have you got something on your mind?" I nodded in the affirmative, then said, "I've been having these dreams....nightmares. They've been keeping me awake at night." Then I added, almost as an afterthought, "I have been seeing visions in the daytime too." "I see." he said. "And do you have any idea what may be causing these nightmares and hallucinations?" I told him all about the events of the last while, of how James had died. I told him of how Helena's influence on our friendship had caused a fall out that had lasted a full ten years and I told him of Helena's appearance in my dreams. I went on to explain that I thought that my guilt at our fall out may be the root of my anxiety, and that perhaps a dose of tranquilizers could settle my nerves until I got over the initial shock of James's death. He was nodding his approval as he wrote out the prescription. He held it away from me as he asked, "Are you in love with Helena?" I was startled by his question and didn't know how to answer. Then he said, "It's just that jealousy can be a very negative emotion, and when dwelt upon, it can muster illusions. If it is combined with a sense of guilt, then it is no wonder you are having such dreadful dreams and hallucinations. "I'm recommending that you take a short break from your usual duties. You should take a short trip to the countryside and relax for a few days. Take a book with you if you like, go for walks in the fresh air, but most of all, relax. No work or strenuous effort on your part. And no alcohol. I want you to cut yourself off from all the hustle and bustle of the city. "Come back and see me on your return and I will expect you to be revitalised," he said, handing me the prescription. "Now, take two of these a day, one in the morning and one before bed, they will calm you and help you get a good night's sleep." "Thank you," I said taking the slip from him. I reached over and shook his hand again, then turned and left, already feeling a bit better for the advice he had given me.
When I got home, I was so exhausted, I just threw my coat into the closset, kicked off my shoes, and lay on the couch. I took one of the pills, closed my eyes and was soon asleep. Almost as soon, Helena entered my dream. She strode into my room, all indignant, demanding that I don't go on my planned short break. I said nothing in return, but lay there half dazed by her intrusion. She paced up and down my living room floor, never once taking her eyes off mine. Her gaze was hypnotic. I followed as she paced. I watched as her expression changed from demanding to pleading and then, with a sudden roar of rage, back to demanding. She snarled and grunted her anger at me, spat her spite, pointed an accusing finger and even, at least once, threatened my very person. I could only look on, mesmerized, transfixed by her strange, irate behaviour. I had never seen Helena so upset and agitated before, not even in my dreams. She demanded that I don't go to the country, that I was needed here, and that I should return the ledgers at once. I couldn't even ask why she should need them before I had a chance to study them properly, after all, it was she who had asked for my help and advice. And then the dream changed. Helena's chastisement gave way to James's utter desperation. Suddenly, she was he. And he looked awful. His skin was decaying fast. Bits of skull showed through broken skin, welts and scabs protruded, worms and maggots crawled over his face, feasting on what was left of the flesh, burrowing into every orifice. The thin smile gave way on the left side, to bared teeth and gums, his lips having been rotted away. And still that forlorn, purgatory look in those darkened eyes, pleading, it seemed to me, for an end to his torment. And then he changed back to Helena, the bared teeth pointed and sharp, carnivorous, hungry teeth. She hissed and spat venomous saliva. It burned my skin as it hit me. I closed my eyes tight in an effort to subdue the sting....
And then the telephone rang, breaking the spell of the nightmare. I woke up with a yelp. I was physically shaking as I picked up the reciever. "H...hello," I managed to stammer. "It's Helena," came the voice on the other end. "Have you made any headway with the accounts?" Her voice was calm and polite, even serene. I was still breathing heavily and she seemed to notice. "Are you alright, Alistair?" she asked. "Yes, yes, I'm fine," I replied, hoping that the small lie wasn't too obvious. "You woke me from a slumber." I added by way of confirmation that everything was fine. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'd have waited till later, if I'd know you were having a nap." "It's o.k." I said, "I needed to get up anyway. I have things that need arranging." "What things," she asked, a hint of suspicion in her voice. "Oh, not much. I was just going to go away for a few days. It'll let me concentrate on those ledgers." I answered. "Ah, I see," she said. "Then I take it you have nothing to report, as yet?" I didn't answer her, for she quickly went on, "O.k. Just be as quick as you can, I need to get things organised as soon as possible." And then she hung up. I held the reciever in my hand for a moment, trying to make sense of it all, to put all of this madness into proportion. I looked around the room. Everything was normal. I began to think I was going mad!
I picked up my adress book and looked up the proprietor of a little cottage in the country where I used to holiday. I dialed the number and the proprietor answered almost immediately. "Yes, Hexley Cottage, who's calling?" "Hello, It's Alistair Cameron here. I was wondering if I could hire your cottage for a few days, sometime this week?" I asked. "Ah, yes," he said. "I remember you, I believe I let you my cottage in th summer of last year. And yes, it is free next week, it's still early in the season and I don't have any other bookings for a fortnight yet." "Would it be possible that I could come down tomorrow and stay, say, until the weekend?" I queried. "Of course you can, Mr. Cameron. You can pick up the keys from my house in the village as usual." "Thank you. I should arrive around eleven-thirty in the morning, if that's not too early?" I said. "Not at all," said he, "I look forward to meeting you again." I thanked him once more and put the phone down. I went to the bathroom, feeling a dire need to scrub myself clean. I ran myself a bath and turned and looked in the mirror. I looked ghastly, white as a sheet, my eyes rimmed in darkness. I almost wept at the sight. Recent events were obviously taking their toll. I lay in the bath for a full hour, and I must admit, I did feel a little better for it. After drying myself off and dressing for bed, I went back down stairs and poured myself a stiff whisky. It went against my grain and against doctor's orders, but I swallowed another pill and washed it down with a large gulp of the whisky. After finishing the drink, I retired to bed. My sleep was undisturbed until I was awakened by my alarm clock. It was a lovely, sunny, spring morning, and for the first time in over a week, I felt quite spritely. After a light breakfast of boiled egg and toast and a cup of tea, I quickly packed a few things and headed for the station, where I boarded the ten-fifteen train from London, which ran through the village of Hexley on the Thames. By eleven- thirty, I was in the cottage. I put the kettle on and made myself a cup of tea, then settled down to study the ledgers. The first was easy to deal with. A few recalculations and the accounts were back on track, with no need for any redundacies. I picked up the second ledger and noticed something a little odd. For although the book was one of the same make, this one seemed to bulge a little on the hardback cover, as if something were hidden away in the lining. I was pondering my curiousity as to whether I should open it up or not, when an image of James came into my mind. It was the James of old, not the corpse-like James of my nightmares. Still, he looked sad and forlorn. He smiled thinly and nodded to me in the affirmative. I took this to mean that he wanted me to open the back protective cover of the book. I picked up the letter opener and proceeded to peel back the inner sheet of the books hardback cover. Inside, I found some scribbled notes in James's handwriting. I read them and what I read shocked me beyond belief. I am writing it here as I read it......
My name is James Anderson and I used to think I was lucky. I was born into a wealthy family, my father owned property and was a very successful business man. His expertise was much sought after in the city. My childhood was an extremely happy one, spent mostly in the company of my much loved and deeply trusted friend, Alistair Cameron. It seemed we were inseperable. And then Helena came into our lives. Helena was a very beautiful young lady and, it seems, both of us fell in love with her. At first it was more a playful rivalry than an all out contest to win her affections, but soon enough, the bitterness raised it's ugly head. Looking back on it now, I know she encouraged our little spats, for it seemed she would tease each of us in the absence of the other. Anyway, I'm afraid the rivalry became bitter and in the end, we left it to Helena to pick between us. She chose me, to Alistair's resentment. I praised the old Anderson luck. Oh how wrong, it turned out, that I was.
Within six months, Helena and I were married, to a cacophony of cheers from all except Alistair, who couldn't find the forgiveness in his heart, to attend the ceremony. This saddened me like an omen of things to come. I never saw Alistair again!
About a year after the wedding, my father passed away and the estate was passed over to me. At first I coped well with the management of the estate and then Helena started making suggestions. As much as I could, I ignored them, for they were not sound investments, rather, they were extremely risky to say the least. Then she started throwing tantrums. We'd row, sometimes for hours on end, and sometimes she'd become quite violent, throwing plates and cups and glasses around the kitchen. I tried to reason with her, but she wouldn't have any of it, so determined was she to get her own way. Eventually I ceded and set her up in her own business venture. Within six months, she was almost bankrupt and I had to bail her out by giving her more money. A few months later, the same thing happened and it kept happening, until seven years into our marriage, I couldn't take anymore and we went our seperate ways. I never seen Helena again until a year ago, when she came back into my life. Or should I say, she came back into my dreams? She haunted me. Quite literally!
She'd enter our bedroom in the dead of night and climb into our bed. She'd seduce me, caress me, make love to me with a passion she had never shown before. A lecherous lustful, passion, sinful and depraved. She'd grunt and growl and roar like a beast, claw like an animal. I could do nothing to stop her, I was helpless to her wanton cruelty... And each morning I would wake up feeling more drained of energy, more exhausted. And each morning, I'd be alone in the room, feeling depraved and corrupted. And the nightmares kept coming, night after night. I couldn't stop them. I could only grow weaker as the days went by! Then, one day, I was accosted by a complete stranger in the street. A haggard old man in ragged clothes and silver-grey beard. He held onto my arm, looked me in the eye and said simply, "Beware the succabus!" I didn't have a clue what he meant, but just as I was about to ask him, he simply vanished before my eyes. This encounter puzzled me so, that I went straight to the local library and enquired as to where I might find a book dealing with the subject. I was directed to the section dealing with myths and legends, ghosts and the paranormal. I picked a book up called, The Mythical Vampire and Other Legendary Demons. I scanned the list of contents until I came to a chapter on Incubus and Succabus. I read the article with a curiously strange wonderment. These vampires were not your usual hollywood vanguard. They did not drink blood, but drained the body of energy, they did not kill you with one bite, but attacked over a period of time, draining the energy and lifeforce. This was an absolute description of what was happening to me! After leaving the library, I hurried straight home, my instinct being to search for any inclination that may shed more light on her activities. The idea had come to me that this was in some way connected to her failing business venture. How right my instinct was. It seems her business was merely a cover for her real activities. She was using my money to buy blood from a vampire coven somewhere in London. I managed to trace the coven by hanging around the seedier parts of the capital, pretending to be an author doing some research for my next project. I was quite shocked to find that the nest was in a more dynamic part of the city, full of clubs and bars and spirited party goers. It seemed to me, hard to believe that such a coven could be so active right under the noses of the authorities. For where there are people, there are supposed to be police, to maintain order and decency. And then, from my vantage point among the shadows, I saw her. She was, indeed, socialising with these brutes. I know now, that she is intent on stealing, not only my wealth, but my soul also. But I shall never cede my soul to this demon!
ps. If I should fail in my resistance to her evil, then God help me! If anyone should ever find this page, then I can only urge you to pray for my soul! Yours respectfully James F. Anderson
I was shocked and sickened by what I had read. It seemed the delightful Helena was not so perfect after all. Indeed, what I had read had been a revelation. It threw new light on my recent ill will. It wasn't madness that plagued me, nor was it jealousy or guilt. It was a demon from Hell!
My hands shaking, I folded the paper up again and put it in my pocket. I didn't intend for Helena to get wind of it. I had already resolved to hand it into the police here at Hexley on the Thames. I would then catch the first train home and go and confront Helena myself. Perhaps I was still being too romantic, but I intended to give her a chance to flee, for it was true that I could not, even yet, bring myself to be the cause of her downfall. By four o'clock, I had left Hexley cottage and walked the rwo miles to the village. I handed the key back to the proprietor, telling him that I had just recieved some news that needed my urgent attention back home. I paid him in full and bid him farewell, he in return, offered me a discount on my next visit. Next, I went to the police station and handed over a plain, sealed envelope to a rather disinterested police sergeant, saying simply, "Someone else's property, I believe." The sergeant put the envelope in the in-tray and I nodded my thanks and left for the railway station, where I booked a ticket on the next train to London. I alighted at the station after my usual, to be within easy walking distance of the Anderson house.
By six o'clock, I was once more, being ushered through the door of James's home. Wiggins, sober as ever, led me through to the lounge where Helena waited for me, expectantly. This puzzled me for a moment, but it needn't have, for it seems she watched me walk across the gravel drive, from her bedroom window. "You have news for me?" she asked. I nodded then looked toward Wiggins before saying, "Yes." Helena waved Wiggins away with her hand. He deftly about turned, and left the room, closing the door behind him. "You are not such an enterprising lady as I thought." I said. She stood up and gave me a look of suspicion. "What do you mean?" she asked. "I mean, it's not James's business that is failing, but yours." She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again, saying nothing. This, it seemed, was her invitation for me to carry on, to explain exactly what I meant. I went on, "You don't really have any business acumen. You were just bleeding James dry. It seems that blood carries a hefty price." By this time, I was certain that she knew what I was getting at, but still, she said nothing. "Who is your master, Helena?" I asked her. "Lucifer? Beelzebub? Lamech?" By this time she was growing agitated. She started to sneer and hiss, and her eyes became snake-like and hypnotic. I averted my own away from hers. She started to pace the room, walking in circles as though stalking me, readying herself to pounce. I hesitated for a moment before continuing. "Or are you a serpent of Lilith?" I asked. Her hiss became a roar as she opened her mouth exposing sharp, carnivorous teeth. She sprung at me. I dodged out of her way and she flew across the room. She spit, she growled, she snarled. And she levitated. I looked around the room for something to defend myself. There was nothing. No wooden stakes, no garlic, no crucifix.....I doubted if any of these mythological measures would work anyway, outside of a hollywood studio. I needed something more practical. A dagger, or better still, a gun. I could only watch as she floated up the side of the wall and across the ceiling. She glided toward me, arms spread like giant pincers ready to grab. She was snearing at me, mocking me, toying with me. There could be no other reason for her holding back from crushing me. I backed away until I was stopped by the mantelpiece, my arm instinctively shot out across the shelf, fumbling, searching for anything that might resemble a weapon of sorts. I touched the candlestick, almost knocking it to the floor. It teetered on the brink of the shelf before I managed to grip it firmly in my fist. Just as she was swooping down from above, I swung the candlestick and caught her on the temple, stunning her temporarily, just long enough for me to make a run out the door. She gave chace, spitting her vile wrath, cursing my fortune and damning me to Hell. I ran through the hall and into the huge dining room. Even in all the commotion, Wiggins was preparing the table for dinner. Helena came flying in behind me, so close, I could taste her rancid breath. I instinctively dropped to the floor and crawled under the table. She flew across the room towards Wiggins, who dropped the crockery he'd been carrying. It smashed on the floor, splinters of china flying through the air. She roared, he screamed, I tried to find a weapon among the broken crockery. There was none. I thought I was done for as she stuck her head under the table and hissed at me. And then I heard a shout, "Die, heathen fiend!" It was Wiggins, and that call of defiance was enough to cause Helena to turn her attention away from me. She hissed her anger and frustration and was gone in a flash. I exited from under the table and turned, just in time, to see Wiggins charge at her with a huge carving knife in his fist. She flew at him with the roar of a wild beast and was upon him before he had a chance to make any use of the knife. She tore out his adam's apple with a single bite and the blade fell to the floor. He followed a split second after. She looked toward the ceiling in triumph, licking her lips and savouring the taste. This small distraction gave me time to reach for the blade. I watched her intently, the blade gripped firmly in my hand. She turned and saw me staring and grunted, spit mixed blood, spattering the floor. She bared her teeth, her eyes flamed with rage, then she swooped toward me. I rolled over onto my back and thrust the blade upward. The blade sunk into her chest with a slurping sound. She wailed and squealed like a tortured pig, and then she moaned softly and slumped to the floor beside me. I sat up and looked at the slaughter around me. Poor Wiggins was dead as a doorpost but Helena's eyelids still flickered. I knelt above her with the knife in my hand. I raised the knife and brought it down, stabbing at her heart again and again, before exhaustion caused me to slump across her body.
This is how the police found us. Wiggins lying on the floor with his throat torn out, Helena lying beneath me with her heart ripped to shreds, her face so innocent, almost angellic. And me, covered in blood and the only one still living. I fear though, that I will be joining them soon. For it is true, that at dawn tomorrow, they will lead me to my gallows! Yours ruefully, Alistair Cameron