Dollar Dreadful Vol 1:
A Tangle of Shadows
by M. L. Hart
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- Gaea Parallaxis -
- the chronicles and testaments of Citizen No Name Kane -
- Chapter One -
Hand of the Hypnogogue.
That Day, for it will forever remain in my memory as That Day, I awoke as if for the first time. The tortuous journey into consciousness left me more than a little dazed and considerably confused. I was unsure where I was, and experiencing great difficulty in remembering much of anything. I lay in a bed in what appeared to be some sort of hospital room but I wasn’t entirely convinced. The room’s purpose could well have been a monastic rehab centre, or even an exclusive and very private sanatorium of some kind. The next possibility that came to my moribund mind, a lunatic asylum – however exclusive, left me feeling an uneasy chill of foreboding. So I desperately tried to remember what had happened, what event or circumstance had brought me here… wherever here was.
My short-term memory was a blank and the period of consciousness that ended with me in this bed remained totally inaccessible. And my long-term memory fared little better under my probing scrutiny. I reasoned that perhaps I’d been in an accident of some sort. Maybe I had received a head injury… and had been unconscious for days. I certainly felt massively fatigued and undeniably fragile… and I was suffering from an unbearable hunger, while my head ached as if cold icy fingers were callously probing inside my skull.
With trepidation I lifted my head and looked around. It was way too informal for a hospital room, and the bed was much too big and comfortable. As sure as eggs are eggs and bacon is bacon it was cleaner than any hospital interior that I had ever been in… or at least cleaner than any that I remembered having been in. The furnishings were simple but sublime, all made in a robust fashion from a dark, warm lacquered wood with brass coloured fixings and fittings. It gave the room a puritan farmhouse feel… very olde worlde, the walls appeared to be of sand coloured stone blocks precisely butted together to provide a smooth and almost seamless finish, while the high ceiling had an off-white rustic plaster affect. There was a desk and stool with a tall wardrobe to my right, a chest of drawers and a partly partitioned toilet with a small hand basin to my left. As well as the sturdy bed on which I lay there were two bedside cabinets on either side, on each was placed a glowing globe emitting dim warm light to the unfamiliar surroundings.
I realized that they were the only light sources in the room and it occurred to me that I had no idea what time of day it was. I had assumed it must be morning but there was no real evidence I could base that upon. On the left side cabinet was placed a carafe of water with a small glass beside it. Recognizing how thirsty I was I poured myself a trembling glass or three and downed them in quick succession.
Past the foot of the bed the only door to the room opened quietly inward and the back-lit silhouette of a figure looked in on me. “Hello,” my still dry mouth voiced shakily. “Where am I? What is this place?” I pictured myself sitting up straight in the bed but my strength betrayed my will and left me mostly just laying there.
I think I startled the visitor slightly for he paused before entering into the room properly. “You’re awake!” stated the man. “The community will be pleased, we’ve all been worried about you. How do you feel?”
“Have I been in an accident? What’s going on, where am I?” I tried to stay calm though I patently did not feel it.
“Do you not remember what happened to you?” The man asked as he closed the door behind himself. He was an older man, past middle-age, and English I’m sure though with an accent I couldn’t quite place. He had the manner and garb of a priest or monk, but like none I had seen before. He was a little below average height but solidly built with a slight paunch. He had balding, short-cropped white hair and a full beard as if to compensate for the bareness on top, the beard was cropped to match his hair.
I’d been raised a Roman Catholic and have met a fair number of priests in my time, though I could name none of them to you now. I disliked the way that their masculinity was so willingly sacrificed in the name of a misogynist mother church. It was as if they had been neutered, whatever their sexual proclivity, by their too often forced celibacy. I got no air of that here, he gave the impression of a fully rounded male, confident in all aspects of his persona. No denial of his nature was expected, required nor given. He was wearing a kind of monk’s habit or robe, it was tailored in an austere, utilitarian looking dark blue-grey cloth with a rich charcoal satin trim and lining – no sackcloth for this guy, obviously. The roomy hood was down behind his shoulders and the spacious sleeves flared slightly at the wrist. It was belted at the waist and braced over each shoulder with a heavy duty, almost military like harness or holster, like the webbing that combat troops often wear to help carry all their gear. The skirt of the robe, over-lapping at the front and fluted at the back, was shy of the floor by about an inch or two and the shine of black shoes or boots could be glimpsed as he walked further into the room.
“I’m having trouble remembering much of anything at the moment.” I apologized half-heartedly; his strange apparel had caught me off guard. “Err… how did I get here?” I asked.
“One of our community found you while she was taking a constitutional out on the moors… you were unconscious and naked, gravely injured and very close to death in fact.”
“The moors?” I asked incredulously, not waiting for an answer “Does no one know what happened to me?” desperation and an escalating fear were barely being held in check. Never able to handle mornings very well, assuming that it was morning for I had no real idea, the strange surroundings and thumping head-ache were doing little to improve my natural post-waking grumpiness.
“It was Sister Arranwen who found you, she has been nursing you without break since you were brought in. I had to convince her to go to her own cell, rest and get some sleep. You may have said something in your sleep that she may be privy to, you can ask her. I am sure she will look in on you once she knows your consciousness has returned.”
He paused as his gaze studied me, before asking, “Do you know your name?” There was a hint of concern in his voice but also a faint trace of almost excited curiosity. I thought a while before quietly admitting that I did not. His reference to her own cell was needling subconsciously at my somewhat addled brain.
I think he could see that I was trying to suppress a fearful anxiety over my situation… not that I achieved it with much success, my thoughts were racing frantically but with no firm destination to aim for. He said, “I think you should try and rest, I will have some food sent and we will try and strengthen you up a bit. I'm sure it will all come back to you once you're feeling better.” As he made to leave he added, “You can stay here as long as you need to, it is our duty to help all those in need.”
“Can I just ask something?” I managed hesitantly. “Who are you… and what is this place – where am I?” He smiled. “I am Brother Artius Lightbrow, the Rector Secularic here at Ampleforth Seminary." He then added, as if he hardly needed to – "The North Riding of Yorkshire’s Seminary for the Priory.” I stared blankly at him so he continued. “We are up near the moors, north east of York, in the Territory of Umbria.”
Elements of his reply had me confused, but I supposed that was par for the course when you have problems with your memory. Although it seemed wholly inadequate I thanked him for taking me in and looking after me.
“Do not worry about such things.” He said with a gentle laugh. “It is our duty. Life is sacred after all.” He closed the door as he left.
Looking around the now silent room I was suddenly overwhelmed with a need for the toilet. I gingerly got out of the bed. The dark grey slate like flags of the floor were surprisingly warm to the touch of my bare feet, I surmised that it must be due to some sort of under-floor heating system. I was wearing a pair of button fly under-shorts and a T-shirt; both made from a fine white cotton material. Presumably, considering I was found naked, these items of clothing had been given to me.
The toilet seat was heated like the floor and a cushioned backrest protected my back from the cistern that must be hidden in the wall behind it. If this is some sort of monastery, I thought, it seemed to be a very luxurious one indeed. As I sat there on the surprisingly comfortable toilet I mulled over my situation. The North Riding of Yorkshire’s Seminary for the Priory – what was that all about!? Trust me to end up with a bunch of crazy cultists somewhere up on the moors – and what was Territory of Umbria supposed to mean. Now, I know I must have lost a good part of my memory, after all I couldn’t even remember my own name – a fact that vexed me no end – but something definitely did not ring true about what I had just been told. What was I doing up on the North Yorkshire Moors in the first place…? I racked my mind trying to remember, but I couldn’t quite get there. I seemed to have plenty of fleeting glimpses and shadowy facts hiding just under my consciousness but nothing tangible surfaced.
After tending to my ablutions I gave myself a good stare in the mirror above the basin. There was a certain familiarity to the face that stared back at me but no revelatory recognition. I looked very gaunt and pale and, though it had obviously been cleaned up, I didn’t like the look of the nasty looking gash on the top left of my forehead that ran back into my hairline. Noticing my dishevelled hair and beard I couldn’t help but voice aloud “God, I need a trim!”
Pulling myself from the mirror I subjected the room to a scrutinizing gaze and spotted two narrow draped windows in the wall behind the bed – one to the left above the desk and the other to the right above the armchair. I guessed it must be night for there were no chinks of daylight coming through… hang on a minute, I thought with helpless resignation then bleated, “Where did that armchair come from?” before pulling myself together, the chair had always been there, I rationalized, I just hadn’t noticed it from the bed. A bed I now needed to get back into for my body craved rest and my head, now that I'd seen the severity of the wound I had sustained there, felt like someone had heaved an axe into it. I could almost feel the left side of my face and head peel away and slip down like a dead weight of dropping flesh.
I supposed I was lucky to be alive and to have ended up here. God only knows what happened to me, I could only guess that I must have been attacked and robbed, then left for dead. Lucky indeed then to have woken up here… despite how weird it all was, hell – life is sometimes.
I feebly got back into the beckoning bed for my vision was starting to spin and I was beginning to feel decidedly nauseated. Contradictory dark spots of light were flashing before my eyes.
I’d just managed to convince myself that this was all probably a dream as I lay in that twilight state between waking and full sleep. The hypnogogue was about to grab my hand, or sprinkle sand into my eyes or whatever it is that the bringer of sleep is supposed to do, when the heavy wooden door to the room opened inward again.
I have to say that I have never been happier to greet a total stranger in all my life – for she was carrying food! The smell of which made my soul rejoice. As I sat up, successfully this time, to receive my supper, or breakfast – or whatever it was, the bottom of my rumbling stomach seemed to drop away into a cavernous aching void of desperate hunger. I was the hungriest I had ever been and I was ready to eat. It is no exaggeration to say that the bacon and lentil soup, with a good chunk of fresh baked bread and an ample knob of butter on the side, was the most sumptuous feast imaginable for me at that moment. It looked gorgeous, and I set myself to gorge upon it.
“Whoa whoa whoa…” the lady who had brought the offerings to my stomach said. “Take it easy.” She smiled. “You haven’t eaten in days – take your time. You’ll throw it all up if you eat too quickly.” She reminded me of a lunch-lady who used to work at my old school.
I can remember that? I thought testily, but not my own name…typical! She was a chubby, cheerful and chatty woman of about 50 to 55 years wearing a similar robe or habit to that of the Rector, but with the sleeves rolled up, an apron over it and with what looked like a Victorian charwoman’s hat on her head. A rolling pin would have finished the picture perfectly, though she had the haphazard but homely dusting of flour down to a tee.
“I’m Sister Judi Thench.” She stated. “What’s your story then?”
“I’m sorry?” I interjected. “Did you say you're called Judi Dench?” I wasn't sure whether she had some sort of speech impediment.
“Yes… well - you are almost right.” She puzzled a little suspiciously, “Do you know me?”
“Erm… well no… or at least – I thought I knew your name, but its pure coincidence I’m sure.” After-all, she was obviously not the famous actress. “My mistake.”
She immediately moved on, flitting and clucking around the bed like an agitated hen. “You’ve been out a good few days…” she said, “there was such a fuss when they brought you in. Arranwen was most upset – I think she thought that you were dead but then you moved, or convulsed or something… up on the moors.”
I eagerly supped at the soup and nibbled the bread as she warbled on.
“So… you don’t remember your name!” she stated rather than questioned, then added by way of explanation, “Rector Artius told me that the knock on your head seems to have affected your memory.”
She looked at me expectantly so I confirmed to her that it was indeed true, I did not know my own name.
Apparently satisfied by my answer she promptly shooed herself from the room, interjecting the encouragement to finish my meal and get some sleep. I thanked her and she closed the door with the final instruction, “Eat and sleep.”
So that’s exactly what I did, and this time the hypnogogue took me firmly by the hand and led me to a deep and undisturbed slumber. Not in the least concerned, for the moment, that I could remember some random actress's name but not my own.
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