It was a week later. May was coming to a close and the height of a new summer was fast approaching. The news of Sean’s mother’s death had hit Sean hard and Angela could only hold him as he had held her and let him cry. She had been the most important person to him for so long. Before Angela she had been the only one he could let his guard down for, the only person he had loved.
Their lives were falling apart. Sean left the hospital only weeks before its official closure. They lived off the proceeds from Angela’s flat and sat around the house grieving for what was gone. The future was before them if only they would take the step. Hinton beckoned but they sat in limbo, unable to move forward. With both of them now out of work and unlikely to find any Sean was finding it hard to pay the mortgage.
Now, after the dinner party, Angela had practically become obsessed with Mark. After he had left they hadn’t seen him since but Angela had searched out his records with fervour. It was as though it was the only purpose in her life and Sean was starting to feel the same way. They had no job, few friends, no family. They had been cut loose from society and before being forced onwards they seemed obsessed with solving this last mystery, this anchor to Lewiston.
The house on Poplar Road beckoned, a monument to their lost lives, their lost happiness, their lost loves. A barrier to their future with its promise of something else, something they did not know and could not comprehend. Here was something different, something they had never seen before and something they would never see again. An opportunity, separate from the mundane routines that ticked away the hours before the grave. An adventure.
*** *** ***
It was eleven months since Mark had come back and now he settled down to attempt again what once he had chanced upon. He lay stretched out on his back in the darkened upper room. A bottle of water lay on a small table by the head of the bed, within arms reach. The room was bare except for the bed and the table, with its water and a small pile of bread and cheese.
Mark’s eyes were closed as he tried to remember that time so long ago. A different age, a different life before he had moved away, before his reincarnation into this broken body. He hadn’t known what was happening then, he had thought he was dying and he remembered he had welcomed it, welcomed the shifting away from the world that had so pained him. He could not remember why.
Now he tried again, and hoped fervently it would work, that that last time hadn’t been an accident, a freak occurrence in the incomprehensible mystery of existence. He didn’t want to think about that, he couldn’t bear to believe that the bliss of his previous life could never be re-found. He had only got through the long days and longer nights in his hospital bed by clinging to the hope, far way, oh so far away, but always there. The hope of going back, retaking what had been stolen from him. He relaxed and emptied his mind of such concerns. He needed peace to do it; that was the key he remembered. It was peace, acceptance of the transition; no noise, no concerns, no disturbance.
“I told you, I looked.” Angela said. “There weren’t any documents handing the house over. It was bought in 1927 and it hasn’t been sold or left in any will since then.”
“But the police verified the house was owned by Mark,” Sean replied.
“Yes, the deeds are in his name, but they were signed in 1927.”
Sean whistled, amazed. “No wonder the police were so angry when Mark couldn’t remember anything.”
“Or wouldn’t,” she wondered. “He knows much more than he’s letting on. He told me he couldn’t remember the house but then he told me later it was his home.”
“Perhaps that guy from the house swapped places with Mark in hospital, to throw everyone off his trail.”
“A bit of an extreme way to hide, if it was even possible.” Angela sighed. “This is the place,” she called out as Sean drove the car slowly down the quiet lane.
Sean pulled over and the car drove in through the gates, over the gravel and up to the door. The house loomed. For so long it had stared at them out of pictures, out of memory and their imaginations. A brooding giant without a tongue. They had exhausted the records as the police had done long before them. Finally, inevitably they had come to the heart of the mystery, unable to resist its frightening attraction.
“What on earth are we going to say?” Sean asked as he pulled the handbrake on and cut the engine. “ ‘Excuse me, we demand to know what’s going on.’ If he wouldn’t tell you there must be some reason for it.”
“I’m curious. Anyway, we’re just dropping round to see how he’s getting on. There’s nothing wrong with that, just friends coming round for a visit.”
“Without calling first. It’s been a week Angela. He said he’d keep in touch and he hasn’t. He just wants to get away from us.”
“It’s only been a week. You’re just scared.”
“And you’re not? I saw how wasted Mark was. He must have lain here for years, being given just enough food to be kept alive. And all behind these same walls.” They both stared up at them, the sightless windows, the mute brick covered with grasping ivy. It was so quiet, so still. It seemed to shine in the sunlight and its shadow was long.
“Perhaps that man’s come back. Perhaps he’s watching us now from the windows, waiting for us to come in. The police never even came close to catching him.” Angela got out of the car and walked up to the doors. She stepped up to the glass in the door and peered through it.
“It’s dark in there,” she said. “There’s no light.”
“What do you expect? It’s the middle of the day.” Angela didn’t answer. She looked for a doorbell but the clean, flat, sombre door had none. There was only a heavy iron knocker that she lifted up and brought down with a clang. She raised it again and brought it down with another bang that reverberated through the old empty house.
There was no answer, no sound of feet or activity within. The house seemed to ignore them, still and silent. A bird started to sing from the trees to the side of the lawn.
“He’s not home,” Sean said.
“Of course he’s home, where else would he be?”
“He’s had a week to shop.”
“Perhaps he’s round the back.”
Angela stepped back from the featureless door and stared at it. She stepped up again and crashed the knocker down again, harder this time. After the echoes had died the door still sat there and the sun still shone down on the overgrown lawn. The silence filled the day, broken only by the busy trilling of birds, ignoring the two figures that stood against the door of the front walls.
Angela stepped back and walked over to the corner of the house. A weedy path led down the shaded side of the house. The wall was thick with ivy and a chill went down Angela’s back as she realised this must have been the wall the two boys had climbed up to find the body. He eyes scanned the surface of the wall and she suddenly felt cold as she saw a small, dirty window in the middle of the wall. She shook herself and went on.
The path led round the house to a wide garden. The flowers that once had brightened the lawn’s edges so beautifully were overgrown and smothered. The grass was too long, having been left to grow for a year, and the winding path that led down the centre of the garden was weedy and overgrown. Still though there were sounds of birds singing in the trees and crickets chirping in the grass. The wildlife didn’t care that the garden wasn’t beautiful any more; still they lived there, happy in their own world.
Angela stepped round, following the path to a pair of French doors. They were shut and dusty. The glass was stained and as she rubbed at them she looked through to a bare, unused room, the only furniture was a chair covered with a dustsheet.
Angela went on, Sean following her as she made her way to another door. It was the back door to the house yet it looked like it hadn’t been used for decades. Cobwebs were thick around its handle and almost an inch of dust was on its bare wood. The hinges were rusted. Angela grabbed the handle but it wouldn’t turn, the metal knob had long since rusted fast.
“This is so weird.” Angela said quietly. “The rest of the house just looks like it’s been left for a year. The back doors haven’t ever been used. How could someone keep the garden out here so well without going out of the back door?”
“Lets try the front again. It feels really creepy round here.”
“All right.” Angela stepped back from the encrusted door and shivered. She turned and made her way back. The house was large and it took a few minutes to get back. Angela walked up to the door again. She hesitated over the knocker. It was suddenly as though she was trespassing, as though she wasn’t wanted here.
She was about to step back and go home when she suddenly realised she had nothing to go home to. This was the only thing keeping her in this small town.. If she abandoned the house and went home she would drift again. Going from job to job, trying to find a purpose, something to live for. She had almost found an anchor in Sean but their shared tragedy had tied him to her and cut loose the anchor. He was anchored to her but he would drift beside her as they sought a reason for their lives.
It was Mark that kept her here, the mystery of the broken, poor man who had been wheeled in so long ago and she had cared for and nursed back to health. Before them, locked within this brooding giant was a different world. A world different to her’s, to Sean’s, to everyone but Mark. He was the key to this world and the house was the key to him.
She didn’t understand this realisation, these feelings that brooded just under the surface of her consciousness. But she knew she could not leave now. She knew she had to go on. As Sean moved up to stand beside her she raised the knocker up and crashed it down, and again, and again. She beat the wood with the iron until the echoes reached up to the sky. And far in the depths of the house, already close to that world she only half sensed, Mark stirred from the depths of his mind.
Mark’s eyes flickered open in annoyance. He had ignored the first knocks, thinking they were just the police or someone trying to ask more questions. The sound had registered at the edge of his hearing, easily ignored. Now the crashes dragged him from the sea he had sank so far into. With concentration broken, the world broke in on him again, less painful than before but still upsetting and he almost wept in frustration. So close, he had felt the shifting light beneath him rising as he sank to meet it.
Groaning with the pains in his empty stomach he rose to his feet, the crashing iron still in his head as the echoes broke his ears with the faint yet insistent sound. Weak and starving he hobbled painfully to the door and pulled it open. He went back and took a gulp of water and pulled a chocolate bar out of its wrapper and stuffed it into his dry mouth. His lips were cracked and his head swam with the throbbing pain of starvation.
He staggered over to the stairs and made his way down them. The knocker crashed down again and he groaned. He hoped the pains would go quickly, it was impossible to transcend if he was in pain while he sank into his mind.
Mark reached the door just as the knocker fell again, driving the smashing noise straight through his head and making his heart leap painfully in his chest as he jumped at the sudden, loud noise. He grabbed the door handle in anger and wrenched it open.
“What the hell do you want!” he yelled hoarsely at the figure on the doorstep.
“Mark?” Angela said, taken aback. Mark blinked in the harsh daylight.
“You look awful,” she said. He did, his hair was unwashed, his face was haggard and pale, his thin shirt and flannel trousers hung off him and his eyes were sunken in black rings. Mark looked down at himself, suddenly feeling embarrassed.
“I was asleep,” he explained hurriedly.
“For a week?” she exclaimed. “You said you would call.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Doing what. The lawn looks like it hasn’t been touched and…” she glanced past him into the darkened hallway, “…the inside doesn’t look much better.” Mark groaned suddenly and clutched his head.
“Just leave me alone!” he yelled. “Just go away and stop harassing me.”
“You said I was your friend. I’m just trying to…”
“I lied.” he cried desperately. Mark stepped back and tried to slam the door shut but Angela stepped forward.
“Mark! I want to know what’s going on.”
“I can’t tell you,” he cried weakly.
“You… You wouldn’t understand,” he mumbled. “Go away. Please.” Mark’s head was swimming and his vision was blurring. He hadn’t eaten in two days and suddenly he lost his balance and fell against the doorframe. “Go away.” he mumbled, half to himself.
“Mark!” Angela cried. Sean stepped forward and caught him just as Mark slumped loosely to the floor, losing consciousness.
*** *** ***
Angela took the wet flannel from Sean and placed it on Mark’s forehead. He let out a soft moan and his eyes flickered open.
“Thank God. “ Angela cried. “Don’t scare me like that again. What’s happened to you, you look half-starved?”
Mark groaned and tried to sit up. Angela grabbed his arm and helped him up. There was a long silence before Angela spoke. “I’m not leaving until you’ve told me what’s happening. I know something strange is going on. Sean said the guy who tried to take you out of hospital last June looked exactly the same as you do. The police haven’t found any birth certificates for a twin. The house was bought in 1927 signed under your name. What’s going on Mark?”
There was a pause. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Mark paused. He knew she wouldn’t understand, how could anyone. Yet something within him ached to tell her, to share what he had found. He remembered these feelings from before, long before. The memories that came were ones of trouble, of fleeing and of people shouting and in pain. He couldn’t remember what had happened, it had been so long ago but he had never tried to tell anyone again, he had hidden himself away in the corner of the country and sat back to enjoy what he had discovered, alone.
Yet the feelings still stirred in his heart, a desperate urge to share beauty with a friend he cared for. He wanted to tell her, he had wanted to even in the hospital but he knew she wouldn’t understand.
Yet now as he stared into her eyes he saw something new, not just curiosity. Something indefinable, something that made him decide. He wished they would go, he wished they would leave him alone long enough for him to find the light again. If only they would leave him alone for long enough. He sighed. He knew they wouldn’t, he saw the determination in their faces.
“Mark?” Angela pressed.
“The guy who broke into the hospital was me.” Mark said simply.
“The man the police arrested was me, the person who bought this house in 1927 was me.”
Angela stared at him. The truth struck her like a blow. She believed him, she didn’t know why, it made no sense. But she had been after the truth for so long. Her imagination had always been a stronger force within her mind than her reason. And now she had come here ready to believe. She had asked the question and now she listened with ears ready for something new, something more, something beyond the world she knew. The blood sounded loud in her head as she stared at him, shocked at her own acceptance.
“How?” she replied, almost in a whisper. Her eyes met Mark’s and they stared at each other, sharing truth without words, each knowing instinctively the other was ready. And Sean looked over his love’s shoulder and felt what she felt, drawing feeling from her, realising as she realised and believing as she did.
Mark continued, relief flooding him as he let his knowledge, his secret of such beauty reach another. He wanted to share with another, he wanted to save them. And the giving in to this urge lightened his heart. Now, after a longer time than he could remember, he tried to explain the thing he had so accidentally discovered.
“I found… a way to… to transcend flesh. To step out of my body. I’ve forgotten how it happened. I mean I remember how I did it but the details of my past life have faded. I was starving, trapped. I just let the cares of the world slip away, no fear, no worry, no pain. I let myself go. I first I thought I was dead, I saw my body lying there below me. But the world didn’t go away, I didn’t pass on. And my body was still breathing. Slower, of course, but… it was still alive. I had… I had transcended.”
Mark let out a deep breath and looked up into Angela’s eyes. He saw wonder in her face. He went on.
“I was immortal. I think, or close to it anyway. Nothing could hurt me, touch me. When the police shot at me last year the bullets went straight through me, I didn’t even feel them. And the feeling when you’ve done it.” Mark closed his eyes in bliss at the memory, a beatific smile on his face. “It’s… It’s happiness, contentment, pure, uninterrupted bliss. Paradise. You can see the beauty of the world; the sunset fills you with wonder every time, the song of the birds fills you with a warmth that can’t be described. Imagine the most exquisite happiness you’ve ever felt, the happiest time of your life…” Angela met Sean’s eyes and they smiled. Mark went on, “…then times it by ten and stretch it out for ever, with no interruptions, no pain, worry, concern, no disease, no hunger, no thirst, for ever, and ever.”
He opened his eyes. “It was bliss. And then it was taken from me, my body was revived and I was wrenched back into my flesh. And for a year I’ve been separated from that feeling. Yet still I remember it, what was taken from me, what I lost”.
Angela let her breath out heavily. All her life she had believed there was something more than this world, something missing that, if only it could be found, it would be an answer to all of the problems of the world.
“So that’s what you’re doing, trying to get back.”
“Yes. It’s what kept me going, the thought that one day I’ll go back again.”
“What if you can’t?”
“Then I’ll try again, and again, until I die. I can’t live in this world, not after what I found, the feeling of it. This world is too harsh, too painful.”
Angela sat back, breathing heavily.
Mark stood up and stepped over to the door. “You’ve heard now Angela. Now could you leave? I need peace to do it again. If it works again I’ll call you in a week or two and tell you.”
Angela stood up and faced Mark, unable to believe what she was thinking yet more sure of it than anything else before.
“I want to come,” she said.
Mark stared at her in silence. Somehow he’d known.
“I want to come with you. “ She continued, “There’s nothing for me here, I’ve searched for happiness my whole life and just as I thought I’d found it the world took it from me. “
“What about Sean. “ Mark asked. Angela glanced over at him.
He nodded. “I agree. If this works it’s the greatest discovery ever made. I’d be a fool to turn it down. I’d regret it my whole life. We want to transcend.”
Angela turned back to Mark. “Is it possible, can we?”
“I… I suppose so. I could tell you how to do it. I could help you. But it’s dangerous.”
“If it’s as good as you say it is then the danger is worth it. We’re transcending with you.”
Mark nodded and turned to the house. They followed him into the long hallway. Slowly the door closed behind them and the silence of the day returned.