Chapter Two - The Dying Immortal - David
Behind the large doors is a sight I would very much like to forget.
The ceiling is painted with lots of soft colours, depicting angels and cherubs and kings and wise men. This manor is much older than the town, so the design of the building’s interior and exterior are much more outdated than the decorations and furnishings. This room is obviously a ball room. There is a small balcony area that was probably made for an orchestra and a stage on the far side of the room that was most likely used for speeches and small plays and that sort of thing.
There is another chandelier in here, just as magnificent as the first, and the room is just as tall, but since it is on the first floor the ceiling in here is level with the second floor. There is a small set of stairs on each side of the room leading to large balcony-like places with large tables and lots of chairs. It all looks like there were lots and lots of people here centuries ago, but they all had to leave in a hurry and no one cleaned up after them. There are large rats sitting on the tables. Their ancestors ate all the food a long time ago. They all look at us like we have caused them a personal offence. I briefly wonder what they are living off, but then my mind switches back to more demanding subjects: for instance, the massive machine in the middle of the darkened room with fresh skin hanging like a coat on a washing line and newly gouged eyes waiting to be used in a small saucer. The machine has a sort of cherry picker that appears to go up and down the same way a bucket in a well might. On the one of the window sills is a small candle. That was the light we could see from outside both the building and the room. In the small, unstable lift is a young woman, if you can call her that. She has old, rotting skin and no eyes, though she is in the process of putting disgusting, rotted mush in a saucer and reaching for the new eyes that I had seen earlier. And now she is starting to sing.
She sounds like she is crying, but nothing is coming from her new eyes. They gaze without focus at the new skin and the blue-green seems so dull, compared to when I saw them before, in their last owner. Poor Diana was only seventeen when she died and her skin and eyes are already being reused. I don't recognise the song new Diana is singing, but I can hear every word, clear as day and I know that it is lullaby. She seems to be trying to calm herself, like after all these years of stealing skin and eyes and even occasionally hair, she still hates that she has to, and still regrets that she does. Now she's taking off her skin and putting the new layer on, instead. She doesn't change the hair since the straight ginger is still useable. This can only be Lydia Turner. It couldn't possibly be anyone else. She appears to be made of clockwork and it reminds me of a few Doctor Who episodes.
This woman is not human. She is a clockwork monster and she knows it. Once her new skin is fixed in place, she starts fiddling with some wires that appear to connect her to the machine. Once she has unattached herself, she turns the wheel and the rope starts to move, bringing her down in her primitive cherry picker. She opens the small gate and steps out, then she turns around and her song dies on her lips as she sees us. Her eyes instantly scan Grace and Fiona and Amy. Her visual exploration hesitates at Grace's hair before continuing on its course. The rest of us step in front of them.
"You are Lydia Turner, aren't you?" I ask. She cocks her head at me and then takes a step forward. Everyone but me take a step back in response. I stay where I am.
"Yes sir, I am. And who might you be?"
Silence: this place is full of silence, isn't it?
"I am David." I break the heavy silence to answer.
"These are my friends. That is Blake, that's Theo, There is Luke and his sister Grace, that's Fiona, that's Ben, that's Amy, and that there is Jacob. We mean you no harm and ask you to please leave us unharmed, as well." We wait almost three minutes before she answers.
"I have all I need. I will not harm any of you. Though I cannot make many promises. I can promise, however, that as long as I am unharmed, the men of this group will be, too. And as long as I have this skin and these eyes, the women are also safe. I am sorry that I cannot be more certain, but I am afraid it is impossible. Why are you here?"
"The police are looking for the thief who took Diana Grey's skin and eyes. We are here to find out if you are real, and if you are the one who took her... You know. Well it turns out you are and... You did: so... I guess we'll be going now. Goodbye." We all turn around to leave, but Lydia cries out for us to wait and we all turn slowly back to her.
"Yes?" I ask quietly. I can't say I really want to be here for too much longer.
"Please?" She asks, also quiet, like her life depends on our answer.
"Please...? Please do not leave me alone...? I... I do not know how much longer I can take the solitude. The last time someone found me like this, they stayed here for seven years, before they wanted other more... Human company. You all have each other. Your women can leave for safety, and as many of you as you like, but I need someone, at least one of you. Please? It has been one-hundred and twelve years since I last spoke to someone other than the rats and the bats and myself. Please, I am begging you?" Well. She makes it sound like such a good idea, doesn't she? Luke, Amy and Blake all turn and run from the building. I shout after them to wait, they might get lost in the fog, but they don't stop running. I doubt they will stop running until they are in their beds. I hope that they at least stay together. I can't imagine how terrified Luke would be if he got lost out there. Grace screams for her brother, then runs after him. That leaves five of us: me, Fiona, Theo, Ben and Jacob. Lydia looks at us all with eyes that shouldn't be able to see.
"Please?" It was just a whisper this time and she sounds unbearably lonely. I sigh softly. I can almost feel her pain. My mother died when I was thirteen, and my father left six years ago when I was seventeen, just four years after mum left us. Her skin and eyes were taken. I remember how much it hurt, seeing the woman who had once meant everything to me reduced to nothing but bones and organs. I look at the woman in front of me. She has my mother's hair. She looks about seventeen, because of Diana's skin and eyes, but Lydia is taller, and the eyes are a little small in the sockets. Despite her new appearance, I can see a twenty-two year old, still mourning her father, begging for company and forgiveness. Something about the way she sounded when she was begging makes me stop and think. I can't believe I am really considering it, but now I am, it doesn't actually sound too bad. I have been living with Ben and his family since my dad left, but they have nothing for me. Not anymore. I have been lost for a good long while now, and I know I could probably sort this place out with a little time and help. Theo places his hand on my shoulder.
"Don't do it, mate." He whispers in my ear.
"You don't know anything about her. She might be planning on murdering you, for all you know. Please don't do it?"
"We hardly even know each other, Theo. You only came along because you’re dating Amy's brother. He didn't join us and she's gone now, so you might as well go, too. Why are you still here?" He just looks at me. There is silence for a while then he turns away. He mumbles something, I think he said "no reason," but I can't really tell. I sigh and drop it.
"Well I guess I'll stay. I don't really have anything to go back too and I can go to town for food and the like."
The town was run on clockwork. Everything was the same. I don't think I would have been able to stay in those boring, smelly streets much longer, anyway. This will serve as an interesting distraction from the monochrome ways of the townspeople.
Silence; I hate it. Sometimes, not saying anything can tell a person a lot more than speaking can. I don't much like what the others have to say in this silence. It's far too scared, like they think I've gone mad. I doubt very much that anyone will want to stay with me and New Diana. I mean Lydia. I guess I should call her Miss Turner. I don't think they did first names back in her days. Speaking of Miss Turner, she looks like I just agreed to marry her, rather than join her in her coffin. I probably shouldn't call this place a grave, anymore. I feel like it can hear my every thought.
"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Oh! Oh, no! I am so sorry! I mean thank you, sir. Thank you." She went a little wild for minute. I don't think she would have got away with that when she was alive. Still, I'm glad someone's happy.
"I'll stay, too." Thank you, Theo.
"And me." Fiona: very unexpected.
"I... I'll stay, too... I guess..." Ben. Showing a little healthy nervousness, I see. Nice to know someone here is at least a little bit sane.
"Well I'm not walking home on my own in that fog. I'll wait till morning, but then I'm going." Well, that's all of us. There were nine of us ten minutes ago. Maybe even ten, if you count Miss Turner. Now there are only six. There'll be five by the morning and no doubt, no doubt, three before the end of the week. I will be inexpressibly shocked if Theo and Fiona don't leave soon. Theo doesn't have any reason to stay here and Fiona will no doubt get bored before too long. Ben might stay for longer, for my sake, but he has a life and family back in town. He will be impatient to get back.
Lord, this place is massive. We must have been walking for nearly an hour now, I'm sure. Miss Turner, I think she likes me calling her that, has shown us through forgotten kitchens and decaying dining rooms, rotting galleries and abandoned bedrooms, disused bathrooms and collapsed sitting rooms, ancient parlours and untouched drawing rooms and god knows what else. Fiona is lagging behind. She must be really bored. Ben is trotting along like a puppy at my heels and Jacob is arguing with Theo. Do they ever shut up? Ah, another library. How nice. No doubt these books have kept Miss Turner occupied for the past few centuries. And that's just one room. Think of the rest! We have seen fourteen libraries today, at least. Okay, I might be over exaggerating a little, but this house doesn't ever seem to end. There must be over ten-hundred books in this place. No doubt if someone were to sell this house and everything in it they would be set up for the rest of their life and probably the life of their family for a few generations, too. Oh, look! Another sitting room: I wasn't expecting that at all. I wonder how much more we have to look at. It's getting light outside. I hope the others found their way back safely. Wait. What was that?
"Did you hear that? It sounded like a gunshot!" Thank you captain obvious: Theo is really good at saying what everyone is thinking as if he's the only one who noticed.
"Yes, I did. I don't think it sounded like a gun shot, though. More like something really big, or lots of smaller something's, hitting the floor. Maybe there's a giant rat that managed to knock over a shelf of books or something." Everyone looks at me like I just suggested doing the can-can to work out if the sun is upside down.
"You know... Or not." Even Miss Turner rolls her eyes.
"It was probably just James." We all turn to look at Miss Turner. She is smiling slightly, in a fond manner.
"James?" I had to ask. No one else was. I do know that James was her father's name, but he passed away a long time ago. He can't possibly still be around like she is. Plus, she would most probably call him Mr Turner, or Father. Not James. Her smile falters a little, before falling away completely.
"Yes. James. My father was called James. I miss him terribly. A stray cat wondered in here a few months ago. I called him James, after my father, in the hopes that he would stay with me and love me, as my father did. I do know that a name does not change an animal’s... personality... animality... manner. It was wishful thinking, I suppose: just me missing my father. But James has stayed and given me a little company, if not the kind of company I craved. He does have a nasty habit, however, of constantly knocking things over and he is an unusually strong cat. So yes: it was probably just James." A heavy sadness seems to envelope us now and we all look at each other, not sure what to do. Her eyes are downcast and she is wringing her hands. I get the feeling she would be holding back tears, if she had any to shed.
"I am sorry. We can continue our tour now."
"Do we have to? I hardly remember what the ballroom looks like, let alone how to get back to it!"
"Jacob!" Nice. We hissed his name in unison. Miss Turner seems okay, though, so it's not too bad. I actually think she's laughing!
"Oh, you should have told me sooner, sir. Remember, we are only on the second floor and there are five floors to go through. If you did not want a tour, you should have told me before we began. Even I haven't been in half of these rooms for centuries. Tell you what. I will bring you to the bedrooms and you can choose which you want to stay in. I will make sure they are all close together, do not worry. In fact, if I remember correctly, the corridor in which my chambers are located also has three or four guest bedrooms connected. I will show you the way. Come, follow me." And she's twirling off, her skirts sweeping the dusty floor elegantly.
It takes almost five minutes to get from where we were to the bedroom corridor. She points to the door at the very end and tells us that it leads to the tower in which her chambers are to be found, then she turns to the closest door and opens it. The room is desolate and dirty. She hums thoughtfully then closes the door again. The next is opened and that one, too, is empty. The next three are the same. The fourth we try, however, has a large four poster bed with drapes and a disused fireplace. There is a large chest of light wood in one corner and a wardrobe made of a lovely dark wood with ivy engraved around the doors near the bed. There is a big desk with a candelabra sitting on it by an equally large window. The curtains are the same as all the others in the house, made of a deep and warm red velvet. The drapes on the bed are the same. There is a door in another corner of the room. On the other side of this, Miss Turner reveals to us, is a large tin bath, a basin and a flushing toilet: sounds posh. The bed is king sized and as majestic as the royal it was probably made for. The sheet is stainless and white. The blanket above the sheet is a lovely deep green that reminds me of the grass in a summer shower. The duvet on top is the kind of deep purple I imagine the curtains being in Edgar Allan Poe's poem 'The Raven'.
"And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more."
I don't realize I've said it aloud until Miss Turner states the poem and poet to the room. I look up at her from where I was absentmindedly stroking the blankets and she smiles at me.
"I love that poem." She tells me.
"So do I. It's beautiful." Her smile grows larger and she nods enthusiastically.
"Oh, I know. I could just waste away reading Poe. He is such a magnificent poet." I agree, of course, and she laughs happily.
"I think this arrangement will be much more tolerable than your old companions supposed if we have enough things in common." The night continues like this, until we all start falling asleep where we stand. Miss Turner promises us food when we wake up and we all go to bed.
I wake to the sound of quiet talking outside my door. It's sunrise outside. I tiptoe to the door and hold my ear close to the keyhole, hoping the small gap will improve my chances of hearing everything. The voice outside is Miss Turner's and there is never any reply. I guess she is talking to James the cat. Her one sided conversation continues thus:
"... Seem nice. I only hope he is not lying. It would be lovely to have a friend. I doubt he will stay very long. They never do. But then again, I doubt I will need him for very much longer. My vision is fading, James, dear. My joints are rusting and the people at town get suspicious when I ask for parts and refuse to sell to me. Maybe if I bought food first they would not mistrust me so. Maybe David will buy things for me. I can supply the money, of course. I do not expect that much of him." Miss Turner sighs heavily, like she has grown tired and weary of this world.
"I only hope we do not grow too close or else my death may hurt him and I do not desire that. Oh James, I wonder how long I have left. My father made me to be immortal and yet I am dying. If only I could get to the equipment I needed... Oh, if only I could survive without human skin and eyes! I would chose death over this monstrous way of living any day! But... But I cannot die. I will not die, if I can help it. I cannot bring myself to destroy life, even if it is my own. My father made sure I would always preserve my life and my personality and opinions from my life are still the same now. I could never hurt another person. I could never even hurt other animals. My father stopped shooting and hunting for me because of that... Oh father. How I miss him. James, dear, what should I do? I cannot hold David and his friends captive here, even if I wanted to, yet I know they will leave eventually. I believe David will stay longer than his friends, but that does not mean he will stay any more than a month. Nor does it guarantee any loyalty toward me on his part. I have promised not to hurt him and I will not stoop low enough to break my word. He has been good to me and I only hope I can repay his kindness. If I do not, then only The Lord knows how long this will last."
Miss Turner sighs
again and I hear her stand up and walk away, the sound of her shoes clacking
gently on the wooden floor dies as she gets further and further down the
corridor. The dream like state I was still in upon waking dies with it and the
reality hits me hard. I turn and walk quietly back to the bed. I get in and
pull the covers over my head. Miss Turner is dying. Well that changes things.
If I can hold on for a few years, maybe, then she will die and I will leave. I
might stay here if I grow too attached, but I will probably go to London or Bath
or some other big city that will help me forget all of this. I have gone from a
clockwork town to a clockwork girl; the woman who is both old and young; the
mechanical patchwork doll; the dying immortal. I fall asleep again with a sense
of guilt troubling my gut. Even though I know she isn't human, I can't help but
feel bad for thinking of her as a robot; an unfeeling thing that will run out
of batteries and be chucked in the bin. I decide that when I wake up, I will
prove to myself and the others how human she really is.