It was a small house, not very impressive or well maintained. The grey paint on the doorframe had peeled through years of weather and neglect. The front gate, a rusty, black frame whose latch failed to connect to the hook on the gatepost opened inwards onto an overgrown, weedy yard. The yard was cluttered with its own broken slabs of concrete, leaves and dead grass filling its tiny space before the dreary front door.
The windows looked bleakly out over the empty street, terraces of similar houses, similar yards and equally blank windows. The occupants took little care of their properties, too old, too lazy, too busy to care for beauty. The insides cluttered with magazines and junk food wrappings, the air stained with nicotine.
Single mothers, overweight fathers, children who smoked and drank and prepared for a life at the pub and the dole office. Dressed in labelled clothes and trainers bought with benefit money, the people slouched through their lives and took no interest in any search for the higher good, the greater truth.
Sean talked of bringing transcendence to the world, letting everyone share in what they had found. But many were like these people or worse, ignorant that any higher reality existed. And if they found it they would never be able to see its worth. This place existed everywhere, in streets, in high-rise flats, in the homes of the rich and poor alike. It existed in the hearts of far too many ordinary people.
Here it existed among these houses, the antithesis to the large houses of Evergreen lane, the domain of the downtrodden, the poor. People drifted here rather than chose to come here. Those that lived here complained of their neighbours, their children, their husbands and their wives. The older residents bemoaned how the little area of town had gone downhill over the years. They all bemoaned the world they lived in while embracing all it offered, sloth and gain alike.
Angela was not affected by the gloom that pervaded this world, the cold drizzle of rain that ran water down the outside of the houses that she passed. The sun always shone on her, even when it was hidden behind the bales of water vapour hanging over the earth. The rain refreshed and delighted her in its cooling, life giving existence.
She was completely happy, completely content, for the first time in her life she was experiencing perfection, or closer than it was possible to get in this world. She wanted to lay down in the street, close her eyes and soak it up, to do what Mark had done for so long and merely exist, delighting in the perfect bliss day after day, month after month, decade after decade, to wallow in it, to spend her time in her own enjoyment of the moment, each new moment arriving, experienced to its full and passing away into memory to be topped up by a new delight.
Yet Angela remained in the world, duties still had to be fulfilled. She wanted to create. The house itself was a blank canvas, a thing of beauty to be cleaned and restored to its shining potential. Yet she wanted to create more, to create a new race, a new world larger than the three of them, a world filled with thousand, millions of perfect, content and happy people. People transcended to this new world she had found.
The world to her was like the house, a blank canvas to be restored to its shining potential, the unenlightened desperate to embrace the world Angela offered, if only they could hear about it. Sean’s words had flooded her heart with love, with care for this world she had long lived in. All her life she had lived and laughed with friends, everyone she met she tried to help, tried to brighten their lives with her presence, with her vivacity and brightness. Now she knew how. How to make such transient happiness permanent, perfect.
She had experienced the worst that the world had to throw at her. Her miscarriage had almost broken her. Now she wanted to eradicate the pain, not just from her own life where she could no longer be hurt again, but also from the lives of others. Mark had been content to live alone, ignoring the world, frightened of its intrusion. She believed he had been wrong.
Angela was still linked with the world as they all were. Although free of the prison of their bodies they were still linked to it, their flesh only slept, it did not die. The link was short in them; newly transcended the world they had left was still close, though receding steadily every day. With every heightened feeling, every expression of joy, every experience of their new freed forms the link drew further and the world began to recede from their memories and their minds. Yet now it remained close. The continuing link with the world still affected them.
In Angela it had given her a sense of social duty, in Sean it had given him a curiosity. An instinct that there could be more, more perfection, more experiences. Mark felt transcension differently than he remembered. Before, his link over the years had extended so far he had lost himself in the new world. The short link had caused in him a practicality rather than Sean’s curiosity or Angela’s sense of responsibility. Although the temptation to lose himself in the beauty of the garden he loved was always there his mind turned to practicalities. He had been spending his time preparing, planning for possibilities. He had experienced rescension and was determined not to go through it again. As the others explored he worked on plans of escape in case a similar thing to that which happened to him before happened again.
The rundown house sat stable before Angela as she stood stable before it. Like the house she did not change. The callers at its door did not alter its nature, did not alter its structure or how it was. Neither did the world affect Angela any more. Like the stone of the house the people in this darkened world that she still lived within could not harm her, could not change her nature, her state of happiness. Transience had fled, permanence brought contentment. In this respect Angela was no longer human.
In that crucial respect Conner indeed was human. Every little thing that happened to him, every word said, every thought that rushed barely consciously through his brain affected him. Sometimes it lifted him up; more often than not it threw him down and kicked him in the mouth. Every interaction, with himself or with others, battered his mind and twisted his emotions, making him feel happy, sad, depressed, angry, bitter, jealous, despondent, stressed and merely slightly disappointed.
When depressed, when unhappy Conner imagined the future to stretch on the same for ever, unceasing. Yet each new event, every occurrence changed him and still he imagined his life to be a stable thing, his problems unending, his current emotional state to be forever. Only happiness was the exception. To Conner happiness was always fleeting, even its presence he found himself unable to enjoy due to his certain knowledge that it would soon end and be replaced with suffering. He had been happy, many times, but afterwards his beleaguered mind could not recall among the throng of bad memories, depressed thoughts, ideas of despair. And beside his inability to properly perceive the past he was unable to imagine a brighter future. For it seemed to Conner every time that his current unhappiness would never end.
Only Sarah recently brought happiness into Connor’s sea of despair. Her visits were simple things, conversational, friendly. A few brief moments between her arrival and her departure that gave Conner pleasure in her presence. Yet that happiness was always sullied by his fear of the unhappiness to follow and by his memories of the pain of that unhappiness that he had felt in the past. The present was a freak interlude and would not last, a journey through the light as a bird flew into a room from the cold night and flew back out again moments later.
When she was gone he tried to remember that light. It sometimes kept him going. Other times it was too distant, too separate from the dark slump his mind descended into all too regularly. And he feared he would never see her again. He worried she would realise as she must his problems and abandon him as so many people he had tried to care about had done.
Conner had been cooking a frozen individual roast dinner in the microwave when the bell rang. It wasn’t a very nice meal, mostly gravy with a few limp pieces of meat, two hard roast potatoes and a chewy Yorkshire pudding. He’d had it before and he hadn’t enjoyed it. It was all he had in the house though. He had spent the day in bed, unable to face dragging himself into his wheelchair and rolling down to the shops. He slept downstairs now. In fact he hadn’t seen the upstairs of his house for several months now. He used half of his home and still of course had to pay the full mortgage.
Conner was hungry and he wanted something hot to eat, however unappetising it was. When the bell rang Conner almost ignored it. At first he thought it might be Sarah and his hands had shot quickly to the wheels of his chair to manoeuvre it round. That was before he realised she had said she was in London for the weekend.
It was only when the bell rang again that his hands drifted back to the wheels. He was reluctant, he didn’t really want to see anyone, and more importantly he didn’t want anyone to see him. Conner was painfully aware of how he looked, pale, unhealthy, a mop of uncut, untidy hair, crippled legs, ugly features, overweight. In his mind that was what people saw when they looked at him, and worse, that was what he saw whenever he looked in the mirror.
The third ring irritated Conner enough to get his chair moving. He was purposely slow as he trundled his chair down the untidy, gloomy corridor, hoping the unwanted visitor would leave before he arrived.
He hesitated as the door approached, the shadow through the bubbled glass making him pause. He had a feeling, he didn’t know why, but he suddenly knew, deep inside that this was not an ordinary visitor. This call would change his life. And then, as most humans do when they feel something they can’t explain, Conner shook away the feeling, dismissing it. He opened the door.
*** *** ***
They lay, thin, wasted, pale and starving. To an onlooker they looked dead, their drawn, pale flesh pulled tight over their atrophying muscles, sinews weak, eyes pools of blank muscle in sockets of jutting bone. They were loosely covered by almost translucent, pale folds of skin. Their hair was thin and sickly looking, their veins, blue and purple under their wasted flesh. Ill-fitting clothes that had been bought for people young and healthy hung from jutting joints. Their clothes draped weakly over the skeletal forms that lay so still on the bed.
For fourteen days they had lain in these beds, fasting on and off, quieting their minds, meditating, sinking into themselves, the world slipping away as their weak bodies slipped away, drawing close to death yet remaining on the edge by the strength of their minds, the brightness of their souls. For four days now not a morsel of food had passed their lips. Even water had not been taken.
Their lack of sustenance should have killed them, the bodies that lay gently sleeping on the ill made beds had already passed beyond death, they had crossed the line between the states yet had not died. With Mark, Angela and Sean ministering to them the sleepers had progressed faster than if they had had to transcend on their own. They had now entered the final phase of transcendence and soon the two wasted forms would arise as if from the dead, their bright, blazing souls exploding from their broken bodies.
Now though they lay quiet and silent, as the house creaked gently to itself, settling itself comfortable as it waited for the inevitable brief flare of activity. For now though the two sleepers lay as though dead. Weakened and helpless.
*** *** ***
Sarah Ashden read her horoscope with a smile. Mars was in Virgo and apparently her life was to take ‘an unexpected turn’. Sarah liked the unexpected; she found it exciting and adventurous. Lately her life had grown stale and she found herself stuck in a rut. She had had such high hopes in university, a degree in photography, freelance journalism, a glittering career, visiting the world. Then her flippant nature had grown bored with the exacting workload, the deadlines and assignments.
She had had enough of education and left in her second year expecting to become a photographer’s apprentice for a while before branching out on her own. Again it had never happened, her lack of dedication and concentration had led her on a different path and, finding her savings dwindling had taken a job in an office in this little town on the edge of the countryside. It had been tedious but easy and allowed her mind room to wander as she form-filled and paper-pushed.
She had met Conner in the same office and found him interesting company, a quick and intelligent mind underneath his morose exterior. Others ignored him as it took a lot to get him to speak in more than one syllable answers yet in Sarah’s company he came out of himself and she saw the man behind the self-consciousness.
She soon found that her interest in him was more than mental and as they spent every day together she realised she was growing to love him, his quick, sensitive mind that, when not turned in on itself, was astonishingly perceptive and rich. She had spent glorious times with him, the initial gloom dissipating over the evening and the drinks loosening his tongue. He had begun to talk and he talked not of his problems and petty gripes as she had heard so often. But of his dreams, and his loves. He read widely and his thoughts on philosophies and ideas were sometimes stunning in their beauty.
Yet she grew to realise that though he was capable of great love, he hated himself. It was his curse but in Sarah’s presence the curse was lifted. She grew to love him as they spent more and more time in each other’s presence. She found him interesting, different from the shallow, dull people she had always known. It was impossible to notice if he felt the same way, sometimes she saw a hint that he did and at other times he locked himself up in his walls of impenetrable self-loathing. Yet she loved him and would have done anything for him.
She came close to summoning the courage to breach the wall of friendship and venture into the uncertainty of love. She was almost ready to kiss him until the accident. And with that their situation had suddenly changed. Yet despite his crippling injuries she loved him still. And her visits to his house had become steadily more frequent.
*** *** ***
It was close now, Farrier could feel it, the Chief Inspector had allowed him to take a new interview with the local newspaper and tomorrow the headlines would be filled with a three page spread of the ‘Cult of Transcendence’ as he’d be quoted as naming it. Anyone approached by or knowing someone who had been approached by the cult would be so horrified by Farrier’s theory that they would flock to the station or to Farrier’s own office phone. The newspaper’s condemnation and their sensationalist words and re-printing of the more horrific pictures of the events last summer would enhance the impact.
Soon he would have the elusive cult leader. And Farrier’s name would be imprinted for eternity in a plaque in the town hall. He would have medals and a ceremony all for him. His career would soar and there would be no end to his rise. Chief Inspector as soon as the old man moved on, maybe even rising to regional chief. He could even move to London or Birmingham if he wanted to. Having cracked this case against all the odds he would never suffer the ostracision and fear that he had suffered this summer. He would never be unable to meet the eye of a colleague ever again; he could walk with his head held high and his peers knowing his name.
Though Farrier had never before sought out personal glory but this case had gone to his head and his dreams ran wild. This could be the beginning of eternal fame and prestige and Farrier’s imagination leapt with visions of future glory. The people who believed in this freakish cult would be arrested and imprisoned. And Farrier would rise higher than he had ever dreamed possible standing on the backs of the infamy of those who would fall by his hand. And he would surely make them infamous. No Jury in the land would fail to convict them after he was finished with the papers, no fancy lawyer would be able to pull them out of the cell he placed them in. And the country would ring with praise for him: and would ring with outrage at the horrors of these insane criminals. Transcendence would die and his career would live in return.
All he needed was one concerned citizen, one woman or man to be approached by this cult and he would have them. Lost in his own imagination Farrier was blind to the reality of transcension. If he found them he would arrest and convict them, he would order any necessary reaction to destroy what they were. No words could convince him now, no arguments, no testimony. He knew what transcendence was and his mind was filled with indignant retribution. Vengeance against these people for the personal injuries he had suffered because of them.
*** *** ***
Sarah stared as Conner rushed around the small house tidying, packing, talking excitedly, his arms propelling him in his wheelchair as he hurriedly dragged his suitcase into the hall. He was feverishly excited for the first time since the accident, even since she’d known him in fact. Having only arrived a few minutes ago she hadn’t even taken her coat off. Conner looked more animated, more alive than she’d ever seen before. Finally, shaking herself into action, she stepped forward and helped haul the packed suitcase into the hall.
“Where are you going? Why didn’t you call me, I could have helped you with the case.” A barrage of questions ran through her brain but these two escaped her lips. She repeated the first one, the second stirring emotions within her that were faint but powerful, disappointment, a feeling that she had been snubbed, ignored. Something exciting had happened and he had totally ignored her, forgetting her in his activity. Somehow she felt she had a right to have been called, to be a part of his life.
Conner looked up, the question obviously hard to answer. Finally he said, “It’s too hard to explain.”
“What, the place where you’re going is too hard to explain?” she replied exasperatedly.
“I’m going away…” he paused, then intoned dramatically, “I’m going away from this world.” Sarah stared at him, incredulous. A broad smile was on his face. It was like he was a new person.
She felt scared, a sense of loss. Now he seemed so excited did he need her, would he ignore her as he moved on. She had been a part of his previous life and now as he prepared and packed to move forward she was terrified of being left behind, without him.
Sarah didn’t know how to answer his dramatic statement. It didn’t seem to make sense. She contented herself with a simple “What?” His repetition was more hesitant, as though he realised he sounded insane. The possibility he had lost his mind in the crash hadn’t even occurred to Sarah. Despite Conner’s faults he had always been completely aware of reality, depressingly so in fact. Before the crash she had tried to take him out of himself, steering conversations away from his problems, always so close to the surface, like a dam about to break. If Conner had any imagination he could have escaped from his depressing thoughts with daydreams and fantasy. As it was there was no escape from the bleakness of his life, or rather more accurately, the self-perception of his life. She had been successful, and once focused on the world outside his own head he became a different person. The person that she now seemed to be faced with. After the crash she had found her efforts grew harder, his shattered legs a permanent symbol of his suffering reality that she was trying to avoid his dwelling upon.
Now a broad smile was painted on his face, and he answered her questions with his natural shyness strengthened with determination. Wonder had transformed him, lightened him, opened him up. He almost laughed as he described the morning’s events, the call from the strange, almost shining women, the long talk and then after he had almost believed with just the sight and sound of her itself, she passed her hand through the table as though it wasn’t there. He had decided then and there to ‘transcend’ as she had called it. To abandon this broken, run down body that had haunted him all his life, to escape the face he stared at so despondently in the mirror, the flesh he hated, the mind that plagued him with feelings of inadequacy and despair, the shattered bones that had failed him in the most treacherous way imaginable. He would leave it all behind him and move away on into happiness and eternity. He clutched the gift she had offered him as a drowning man to a drifting life raft.
Sarah was concerned, superstitious though she was and inclined to flights of fancy the intensity of belief behind Conner’s words unnerved her and the glimpse into events so strange as to be of a different world scared her. She found astrology and fortune telling comforting and this was so far away from such things that it frightened her. Yet her belief of things supernatural helped her in her acceptance of what Conner spoke of. Her wide-open mind and Conner’s astonishing story almost convinced her. After half an hour of him beaming with hope, relating the wonder of this new life, this escape from the drudgery of the world, she found herself questioning whether this ‘transcendence’ might not be real.
Eventually, reluctantly she gave in, curiosity and her fear of being left behind mixed together and pushed her forward. In truth she later realised, she would have followed him anywhere. Conner had been given an address by Angela and Sarah agreed to accompany him to it. She did not believe this strange ‘transcendence could be real but she carried his suitcase outside to her car. Besides, she thought to herself, if these people turned out to be anything weird she could always call the police.
A few minutes after Sarah drove off, the car rolling away down the road, a boy rode up on his bike, delivering the local evening paper. It fell to the mat, the accusing headlines screaming soundlessly from the page to an empty house.