George Killick trudged dejectedly into the untidy kitchen of his bleak and empty home. For almost three weeks he had been alone now. Before, when Jane had been here he would have woken to the smell of bacon cooking and the sizzle of breakfast on the stove. The house would be tidy, his clothes lying neatly where he’d placed them the previous night, his shoes sitting beside his bed, the drawn curtains allowing a stream of warm sunlight to lance his face with its caressing rays. He would come down to Jane in the kitchen, the sight of his wife comforting him like it did every morning since the first time he’d woken to feel her soft body lying next to his on their honeymoon night. He’d brushed her hair from her face and stared for ages at her silent beauty, amazed that she was his wife. He couldn’t believe that such beauty was his.
As the years passed he forgot that first sense of awe and he took the warm feeling she engendered in his heart for granted. He ignored her beauty because it was always there, a part of life he had grown accustomed to. Now she was gone he felt like the warm part of his heart had been torn away along with her and all that was left was scraps and ruins.
The house had used to be neat and tidy, Jane doing the main cleaning and himself putting everything away neatly, every piece of clothing he used placed away just so, as he liked it. Over the weeks of Jane’s absence the house had grown untidy, George unable to see the point of keeping it clean when Jane wasn’t here to appreciate it. He had used to take care over his appearance also, shaving closely every morning, brushing his teeth, having a haircut at regular intervals, making sure his clothes complimented each other.
Now his face was scratchy with stubble, his hair unkempt, his clothes ill-suiting, his teeth stained, his eyes drawn and bloodshot. He no longer saw any point in keeping himself clean. The reason for his life, the reason he worked so hard, the reason he got up in the morning had gone. He had never told her how much she meant to him, how she was the core, the axle his life revolved around. In his comfort he had let the romance die and she had lost her love for him in its absence.
George placed the newspaper that he’d retrieved from the muddy doormat on the table without looking at it. He pulled a half empty box of cornflakes from the cupboard and poured skimmed milk over it. He sat down at the crumb-littered table and stared unhappily at the cold breakfast in front of him.
It was a Saturday and the entire day stretched before him, empty, pointless. He had tried to make an effort this week: he had actually got out of bed and dressed himself before the afternoon. Now he was up he racked his brain in vain for something to do, anything he could do. There was nothing, there was nothing he could do that would make him feel better, nothing that could make him feel.
As always his mind turned to his wife and where she could be. Her note had told him she was with another man but he couldn’t believe that was all. Looking back over the preceding months George couldn’t see anything that might have hinted at her infidelity. She had been the perfect wife, she had been perfect. And now she had been stolen without warning. Perhaps she had been kidnapped. It was the only explanation he could think of. If there had been anything wrong surely he’d have noticed, surely she’d have said something.
He had phoned the police but they had quietly explained that if she had left him for another man that it wasn’t a crime. He didn’t believe the letter that had been left. In his grief he could not believe it and in his denial he sought comfort. Though all it did was perpetuate his confusion and misery. He was unable to correlate his perceived memories of her and the ‘perfect’ time they had shared before she had vanished one morning with any infidelity, any unhappiness.
It was as he sat and brooded over such things, his eyes red from crying, his head heavy with his thoughts that he saw the headlines on the paper and began to read. The front page with its glaring headlines that described the cult of Transcendence.
George read the passage with a growing energy. Blinking away the sleep of the night he read the speculative journalism. As he read his mind latched on to the ideas presented. Unable to cope with his loss his mind desperately sought an explanation that could serve, an explanation that could shift the blame to someone else. For he hadn’t done anything wrong and he could not believe his wife could have done. This was an answer and as he read he slowly realised it could be the only answer, his wife had been abducted by a cult.
He found a piece of paper and wrote down the number the paper quoted. Suddenly, the newspaper giving him proof, letting him believe what his mind had been telling himself in order to protect his sanity, he grew angry. The fire of his wrath at his wife’s abduction stirred his heart for the first time in weeks. To George all the pieces clicked into place. Jane had been brainwashed by a cult. She had been forced to leave her husband, the man, the only man that she loved and the home that she lived in. George reached for the telephone with an energy he had almost forgotten.
*** *** ***
Now four people lay in the darkened room. Three lay unconscious, barely alive. While Conner had slipped frighteningly easily into the oceans of his mind Sarah only lay half-asleep, drifting feverishly in and out of consciousness.
It had been five days since Conner and Sarah had come to the house. Mark had explained the process of transcendence, had hinted at the dangers but neither Sarah or Conner had properly heard. Conner agreed with a reckless abandonment to everything Mark had said, only wanting to get on with it. Sarah, frightened, only half-believing, was struck dumb by Mark and Sean’s tricks and what they told her. Bewildered, only half hearing what they tried to tell her she agreed right after Conner did. She would not leave him, despite her misgivings.
Conner had seemed franticly desperate to leave his body, while Sarah vainly attempted to talk him out of it. At first Sarah had argued that she had better stay behind to keep watch over Conner as he transcended in case anything went wrong. But to her arguments Conner wouldn’t listen and he begged her to transcend with him. He needed her beside him. Feeling inherently the distance between the three transcended and themselves he knew he could never stand that same distance between himself and Angela. Whichever world he was in he wanted, needed Sarah to be in the same place.
He had come close to declaring his love in that hesitant speech, pulling away at the last from the words themselves but as their eyes met the message was communicated. Sarah had felt her stomach leap and her face draw itself into a smile. She had blushed to herself and had declared that she would not leave him. If he transcended she would come.
All of them had had their own reasons for leaving the world behind them, their own motivations that drove them to the attic room. In the end, Sarah’s love for Conner had had driven her there and the bed that she now lay on, alone in her broken half-sleep. Her passage was difficult and slow and as her body wasted her soul stayed trapped within. It would take some time for her to leave.
Mark watched, Sean and Angela standing beside him as they looked on the four people that lay in the room.
“Nick’s almost ready.” Mark said conversationally.
“I think it might take Jane another day, she’s been making excellent progress though.” Angela continued.
They stood silently. Sean spoke out after a while, ending the silence with the word they had all been thinking.
“Conner.” Angela murmured her agreement.
“I don’t understand it.” Sean continued. “Its like he’s almost ready to make the transition but he’s only been lying there six days. His body’s almost the same. The others look like corpses, he’s still fine, but he’s almost transcending right now. How can that be?”
Mark shook his head, no explanation available to him. “We were surprised it took such a short time for Nick and Jane to get this far, compared to us. But this? It doesn’t seem…right.” They stared at Conner as he lay before them, barely breathing, his five-day starved body seemingly still relatively well but inside he was as far gone as the wasted skeletons of Nick and Jane. They had been without food for over a week and barely eating for at least two weeks before that.
Sarah in comparison looked normal, like she was asleep, occasionally snoring, she was struggling to move beyond the sleep itself. She would wake and drift and sleep and then awake again. She was weak, five days of only sips of water and tiny mouthfuls of bread and vegetable passing her lips had weakened her considerably.
She lay on the bed, twitching gently in her sleep, wallowing in the sinking black sands of her mind as she sank further down into her inner being with every minute that passed. Conner though had already hit bottom. His consciousness was gone, lost deep in the brain. A brain that now was only soft tissue gently pulsing with barely oxygenated blood; there was little activity there. His body was only flesh now; his soul was becoming detached.
It was almost time for him to transcend but Mark couldn’t help wondering what was happening. He had thought he knew what transcendence was, what it meant to him. The details were beyond him and he had believed they always would be, before Sean had come along. He had known how to transcend and he knew what happened during the process. For Nick and Sean they had managed to refine and speed up that process.
Conner was breaking everything he thought he knew. Sean and Angela had started to explore what had happened to them. And Mark had become acutely aware of just how little he knew about the process that he had led them to embrace. They both looked to him for guidance and leadership even if they didn’t say so but Mark was just an ordinary person. He couldn’t remember what he’d been before he had transcended the first time but he knew he had had no special planning or leadership abilities. He suspected he was a bit of a drifter at heart, certainly not leadership potential. He had discovered this amazing process. This thing that was capable of causing so much good to so many people and he had spent at least a century merely enjoying himself. He had existed in a fluid state of perfection and harmony. Sean and Angela though were talking of spreading the word, trying to help others to share in the marvellous thing they had discovered.
Angela especially believed it would be selfish of them to keep this to themselves, this was the answer humanity had been looking for for so long. The secret of happiness, the answer to all of mankind’s problems. Mark had never thought of it that way. He’d been grateful for the gift he’d stumbled onto and had been content to enjoy it. To live his life to the full rather than trying to change the world. After his efforts to tell others had failed he had given up, believing it was impossible to change others, impossible to live within a world that was so darkened with crime and pain and suffering. He did not believe the world could be changed. Every experiment, every ideal, every utopia had fallen under the weight of its humanity. Religions were corrupted by the baseness of the people that practised it. Political systems became the oppressive forces they had supplanted. Utopias of the mind became dystopias in practice. And the onrush of civilisation merely led to new ways to commit the same mistakes as had happened so many times before. Wars, famines, murders, torture and corruption were as present now as they ever had been and whatever high philosophy humanity propounded the acts of the masses remained the same.
Mark did not know the details; unable to remember the world he had left, yet this was what he believed in his heart. This was what he suspected about humanity. They could not change, they could not be helped. All you could do was try and save yourself. Angela believed mankind was just waiting for the right answer; her dreams were filled with ideas of an Earth transcended.
While Angela believed totally in the stability of the process they had discovered Mark knew just how little about it they knew. Conner was breaking every rule they thought they knew about it and Mark felt concerned about what would happen. He had thought transcendence was perfect before and suddenly his idyll had ended. He hadn’t even been aware that that was possible before it had been too late. And now, as Conner seemed to be again showing up Mark’s ignorance of what they had found he began to wonder just what transcendence was. And what else it could do.
*** *** ***
It was later. Inspector Farrier was happy, a smile on his face as he ran through the reports that had been coming in from the public since this morning. The headlines had been repeated in the evening edition of the paper and the news and been sensationalist enough to stir up the town, bringing the gossips out. There were a vast pile of reports from across the county; neighbours reporting that the people next door were acting strangely, worried mothers concerned that the ‘wrong crowd’ their precious sons and daughters had got mixed in with was the dangerous cult in the paper.
There were men whose wives had left them and women whose husbands had left them. One particular report was from a mother whose daughter had been recently converted to Christianity and was demanding that the police arrest the entire congregation of St Barnabas. And mixed in with all of these were the usual mixture of hoax calls ranging from the idiotic to the imaginative.
Most would be useless, in fact probably all but one. Farrier believed that. He knew the cult would try and recruit and buried in this plethora of worry and paranoid suspicion he had stirred up was a clue, maybe only small, but it would be there, he could feel it. He would work through each report methodically, he would question every witness, follow up every lead and in days, perhaps even tomorrow, he would find the cult that had almost destroyed him. And he would break them.
*** *** ***
Sean watched, his eyes wide with wonder as the emaciated starved flesh that lay on the bed before him twitched, its eyelids flickering in the death-like sleep it was immersed in. Beside him Mark and Angela also watched silently as Nick hit the bottom of his unconscious mind and eased ever so slowly from it. A faint outline, a blurred image superimposed over Nick’s drawn skull.
The white blur coagulated, seeping into a more solid shape and over the entire surface of the sleeping form the transparent ghost-like image drifted up. And then its eyes opened, Nick’s eyes opened, and with a deep moan from the blank hole that was his mouth he wrenched himself up, arching his back, dragging himself from the constricting flesh that had imprisoned him all his life and as he pulled out the ghost-like shape solidified, becoming Nick, his soul, taking the shape of his mind’s view of himself.
It was a marvellous sight and Sean watched in delight at this birth of beauty. With a brief struggle the flesh slipped away and Nick hauled himself out and off his sleeper. He collapsed to his knees beside the bed where it lay. His deep breathing of exertion stalled and then stopped as he realised he now no longer needed to breathe. He raised his head and looked out at the world with new eyes, clean, pure. They were wide with inexpressible delight and his face shone. Sean stepped over to him and helped him to his feet.
“Welcome to transcension.” He spoke with a warm smile. Nick merely nodded, speechless at the flood of happiness and emotions that flowed through him and he stood and stared around at the barren attic room that now filled his enhanced sight with such beauty.
*** *** ***
There it was, right in front of him. Even to Farrier’s tired mind the name leapt out. The name was Killick, written large in the space for the name of the reporter. Farrier had spent over six months completely obsessed with everything about Mark Camden and everything related to the case. The surname of his physiotherapist leapt off the page as he stared down at the unassuming piece of paper before him. George Killick, the physio’s husband’s name on the top of the report.
The report itself was nothing special, no new leads, no obvious clues, but the very fact that Mark’s physiotherapist had gone missing was strange enough. Admittedly she could have run off with another man like her husband reported her excuse had been. But Farrier knew she hadn’t, the world just wasn’t like that, not here, not now. Farrier felt like he was on destiny’s path now. Inevitable certainty rushed him forward as the keys fell into place.
Farrier had never believed in fate but he felt now as though every step he took closer to the end was already laid out ready for him. Events fell into place, as the future opened up before him a dam breaking and releasing the pressure behind. Inevitably, the pressure he had been under for the last year broke the future open to him. The cult was alive and active, operating in Lewiston itself again. Things were nearing the end, he could feel it.
*** *** ***
The back room of the house on the ground floor was a bath of light as the south-facing porch windows gleamed, the morning sun enveloping the glass and washing the room with gold. From the unblemished glass the beauty of the garden could be looked upon in its magnificence, days of unending, untiring activity had transformed it from a wilderness of life into a thing of beauty.
While Angela had spent her time within the walls of the house Mark had remade the garden into the expanse of nature and colour that it had been before he left. It was, if it were possible, even better than before, closer to the world and with his curiosity peaked about what he was capable of doing by Sean’s experimentations, he had used his imagination and created a place not only of beauty but of artistic form also. This landscape of life shone from the lancing sunlight that cut across it and the petals of the flowers basked in the warmth of the new summer morning, gently, lazily turning to meet the sun and embrace the life-giving warmth that pierced their hearts and stirred their roots as they sank softly into the moist, rich soil below.
The room, warm and rich with light looked out on this vista, this epitome of the rich English countryside, its walls were cooling, a soft yellow with pure white along the picture rail, the ceiling a rich golden cream and the ornate rose around the chandelier fitting was white, brought out with a subtle blue. The floor was polished oak, the skirting boards, sideboard and shelves all a soft, red mahogany, all barely worn since the house was built at the turn of the century.
In this room stood five people. The one standing closest to the glass, staring out at the garden was male, the shortest of the men, his face was ordinary, dark blond hair hanging thin and loose on his head, ear length. His eyes were twinkling with an inner light, a piercing blue. He wore a casual blue polo shirt and white trousers, smart in a casual way. His shoes were plain brown loafers.
A taller man stood just behind him, turning gently, staring at everything in the room and outside of it with a rapt, delighted expression of joy on his face. His eyes were a deep brown and the light in them was one of a childlike delight in something new and wonderful. He was handsome in a rugged way yet now his chin was free of stubble. Clean shaven, his long black hair neat and hanging in easy waves rather than in the slick unkempt ponytail he usually tied it back in, he looked less wild, less dangerous than he had done when he had come. His face had lost its sardonic, almost perpetually mocking look and he looked more grown up. He wore a black t-shirt and his bare arms were muscled.
Standing behind the two men by the door was a woman, surveying the room with a pleased air about her. She was soft and content, her eyes pools of languid gold and her blond hair caressing her shoulders with rivers of the same.
Standing with his arms around her shoulders and caressing her with his eyes was another man, shorter than the long, black haired man yet taller than the other. His eyes were deep brown and were filled with a warmth that drank in his wife’s beauty with a simple, comforting love that filled his heart. They thought of themselves as married now, joined together in their happiness, one person from two, single thoughts, a single bright burning love.
A final person stood in the room, standing in the middle, talking excitedly with every new sight she saw, unable to believe the beauty that surrounded her, unable to believe it could be real, wanting to see everything at once before it was snatched away.
She skipped to the black-haired man and hugged him and he hugged her back, not with the hard, possessive embrace of before but with a soft, enveloping sharing of space and love. Jane had transcended at last and her presence added to the delight of the group.
All five stood in the room, just standing, enjoying the time together, enjoying life. It would not end; it could not end, for nothing so perfect could possibly ever go. Yet though they were no longer part of the world they still lived within its prison. But for now they stood and lived, and wondered in such simple delights.
Mark left the room. His smile remained. It wouldn’t end for some time, he was sure. They had time, he had time to prepare, to plan for the inevitable flight from this house that he loved. As he stepped up to the front door on his way past, upstairs to check on Conner and Sarah the bell rang. Unthinking his hand was on the doorknob, his mind miles away, still in the room, the garden, the beauty. The door was opened and he looked out smiling impassively into the face of Inspector Farrier.
The stern expression on the Inspector’s face fell away like a shattered window as he stared into the man whose face he had seen staring out at him for so many sleepless nights, from the mug shot taken of Mark Camden’s captor and abuser when he had been arrested over a year ago.
In front of him was the man the police had arrested and photographed and lost on that fateful summer’s day. Farrier’s mouth opened and closed for a few seconds like a stunned goldfish before, with an effort of will he managed,
“You…!” his hand, finger pointing, creeping slowly upward like the blade of a guillotine being raised. “You…!” he said again.
Mark slammed the door shut on the dumbstruck Detective and stood staring with wide eyes at the blank wood for a few seconds, his brain reeling.
Outside the Inspector ran to his car, yelling commands into his radio and at the men he had brought with him to search the house.
Mark just stood there, unable to react. It had happened. It was over. He felt the house creak around him, settle on its foundations, prepare to die.