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Aleks Sager's Daemon

Lucinda Elliot

Smashwords Edition
Copyright 2013 Lucinda Elliot
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To Jo Danilo
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Table of Contents
Departures: Charley Danton, February 1990
Arrivals: Aleks Sager, May 1990
Arrivals: Aleks Sager's Daemon
Arrivals: Through a Glass, Darkly...
May 1980
Departures: Aleks Sager
Departures: Ivan Ostrowski, Otherwise known at The Daemon
EPILOGUE: May 2012
Some Notes on Aleksandr Pushkin

Charley Danton
February 1990
Charley Danton sulks and glistens with sweat as he thrusts away at Natalie
Nicholson. He's been working on her a long time (it's lucky he's in peak condition)
following on from a session of foreplay that seemed to her more like a medical
examination than an erotic episode.
"There? How about There? Is That It?" He doesn't see the humour in the situation.
His tone of irritation just held in check guarantees that it isn't There or There or
Trouble over her lukewarm response has been brewing for a while. He's started
telling her, with more enthusiasm than tact, how none of his other girlfriends have had
this problem. With others, he couldn't say, but with him...
"What is it that does it for you, tell me?"
"It's fine; keep on as you are."
"How is it fine, Natalie? It ruins it for me if you don't feel anything."
There they have it. Her lack of passion is an insult to his prowess, not an individual
quirk of hers; or if it is a quirk of hers, then she isn't allowed it.
"It's not true that I don't feel anything, I do, but -"
She feels the stirring of desire for him at other times, it's maddening; in bed, though
she does feel some pleasure, writhing delight seems beyond her. Perhaps she should fake
it, putting them both out of their misery. She knows how many women do; yet she has
always had this ridiculous honest streak. 'Guileless' is what her sister Kathy calls her,
spelt, 't-h-i-c-k'.
The women who shriek as Charley goes up the cat walk (he makes much more out
of modelling than he does out of acting) wouldn't believe it. What, with that body, that
lean muscular torso, that Grecian profile?
Suddenly, he rolls off her and glowers at her, breathing hard: "I can't do any more."
She doesn't know if he means he can't continue the current marathon (which she never
asked him to begin) or ever resume the struggle. Later she is to think that there was
something final about his tone.
"Never mind." she reaches out to brush the hair out of his eyes, but he leaps up and
sits on the end of the bed with his face in his hands.
This has to be overacting. She's watched him act a couple of times (while she's
glowered at by women on the set who have their eyes on him) and never seen him so
melodramatic. She hopes he never performs like this in auditions; that would be
disastrous: 'Thank you, Mr Danton, we'll let you know. Next, please!'
Then he groans, "I have to get out for a bit." He reaches for his clothes. That
muscular back as he sits on the bed is a joy to look at. What is wrong with her?
"You're getting too wound up about it; it only makes things worse. Why not come
back and please yourself for a bit?"
Instead of replying he gets up and pulls on his clothes. She doesn't get up as now she
is sulking too.

Finally, he turns to look at her. As ever, his eyes widen at the sight of her sprawled
naked on the bed. Then he flings out of the door. Although he said he had to get out,
when shortly afterwards, she hears him close the door and his feet retreating swiftly down
those three flights of stairs past Great Aunt Sally's lair (he's wary of Great Aunt Sally)
she's struck with sudden dismay, a sense of those footfalls taking him out of her life.
That is the last she is to see of him for a long time.
Fate conspires against them as if determined to make their rift permanent. A couple
of hours after Charley's walking out, Natalie's mother phones: her father has been
admitted to hospital after a bungled suicide attempt (his third). Natalie packs a bag to stay
with her.
The next day, when that drama has been partially resolved (it will never be resolved
properly, in this life at least) Natalie phones Charley, leaving a message to say where she
is. His flatmate Leroy answers; of course, this is the one time he forgets to pass a message
on from Natalie, when normally he would do just about anything for her.
Charley doesn't phone her. She thinks that's mean and most likely, he's more
dismayed by mental illness than he made out before, when she told him about her father.
Then, he'd winced, and caressed her face: 'You poor kid, that must have been tough on
you.' 'A bit worse for him,' she'd said, though secretly delighting in his tenderness. Most
people are dismayed rather than as sympathetic as Charley appeared to be, then.
Sometimes, they look at her as if searching for signs of mental unbalance.
When she goes back to the flat she doesn't ring him again (well, she does, only to
put the phone down; he can chase it up and come to his own conclusions, if he wants).
Some days later he phones.
"Charley here." His tone is one of bitterness held in check. She doesn't know what
to say, so goes for a neutral, "Ah." After a pause, he goes on, "I'm giving you another
chance, ringing you up, even though I warned you I wouldn't. Did you think about what I
said in that message?"
Happy to hear from him though she is, this makes her say coolly, "What message?"
She checks the phone punctiliously for news from her agency, and there was nothing
from him.
"Don't pretend you didn't get it, Natalie. I recorded it twice, the afternoon I last saw
you. What have you decided?"
"But I didn't get it!"
She is later to realise that viciously possessive, underhand answering service choose
to swallow several messages, that being one.
"What you mean is you won't take a risk with me. Fine; I know where I am now.
Your loss."
"What I mean is I didn't get it, I -"
But he has already hung up.
A few days later, she hears - via Leroy, who clicks his tongue and calls him names how Charley has gone to the US; how when Leroy had told Charley about forgetting to
pass on Natalie's message he'd just grunted dismissively and seemed not to want to hear.
So much for his love declaration!
Lying alone in bed, missing him, Natalie sometimes feels what she realises with
horror is Love Come Too Late and not only that, but frustrated desire, too. Why didn't she
feel like this when she was with him and he told her he was falling in love with her?

She'd been evasive, feeling it had all happened too soon, and he'd stopped saying it. Now,
she can't stop torturing herself with memories.
She goes about seeing herself as broken hearted. Great Aunt Sally clucks and brings
her tea in bed and leaves little treats about the house for her to find, as she did when
Natalie came to stay when was a child and unhappy about something; sometimes, her
father; sometimes, her mother. She says that she knows Natalie believes that no-one else
will do at the moment, but it's Only a Matter of Time, Dear. She doesn't say, 'There's
Plenty of Fish in the Sea' but that's what she means.
The appetite loss is a good thing, anyway. Natalie, finding a satisfying meal
sickening, loses pounds. At one point her bosom actually goes down to a B cup.

Aleks Sager
May 1990
Aleks Sager starts of the day fighting his way out of one of those nightmares with
the furious, persistent voice ranting, just out of his understanding like a radio off-station.
It's almost worse than the Pushkin Stuff, though maybe no crazier.
He jumps out of bed half asleep, and surfaces with the memory of the times he's
done that when there's a woman with him, and she's taken it personally, ever since his
first Pushkin dream back when he was a student and he'd bolted from that blonde girl
from the Psychology party's bed as fast as if a sleeping crocodile lay torpid next to him.
He swears, shaking his head, momentarily wishing he could do what Old Liz would
call Confiding in Someone. He won't. It's not in his nature. Besides, it might get back to
Rick, who'd think his crazy ideas confirmed.
Even without that, recently Rick's got even more obsessed about how the Magus
Thing that supposedly came through on the Ouija Board at that student party has cursed
him and Aleks, turning Rick into a eunuch and Alex's life into a weak imitation of
Aleks plunges down the steep stairs to his front door. His stomach turns over as he
sees one of Those Letters on the mat. He flings open the door.
As usual, there's nobody there. The sunshine dappled road is quiet; some woman
nags her kids into a car; a ginger boy drags a trolley thing of free papers further up the
Maybe he's being persecuted by a professional sprinter.
If so, it's a sprinter who writes with a fountain pen on expensive, almost clothy
notepaper. The writing is old fashioned, with those sweeping 'F's and 'H's' that Aleks'
Gran taught him.
Swearing, he picks up the thing and rips it open with those long nails that Rick
whittles on about.
Why does he read the things? Maybe it's because he wants to know when the threats
will start.
Now he knows: they've started:
'I'm not the only one who hates you. So many do, for your arrogance, your
insensitivity, you lascivious lout. Still, I have particular reason to detest you, and you
shall be my victim instead of the other way about; now I am going to settle with you - but
don't take that as a direct threat - no, not yet. Go on, coward, go and bleat to the police.
See if they can find any evidence. YOU ARE FATED; NOW IT IS I WHO DECIDES
Here, the handwriting vanishes, replaced by what Aleks can only think of as
hieroglyphics, as if the pen had run out of ink and the writer had gone berserk with
hatred. That old fashioned nib has even torn the paper in parts.
Now, he goes upstairs to put it in the best place for shit and take a slash on it, hitting
it right on the middle of the word 'FATED'.

No, he isn't going to the police.

It isn't just that he has avoided the police ever since his days as one of the leaders of
the Tottenham Dudes, and later, the dabbling in People Before Profits that led on to Kon's
being found hanged in his prison cell. It's also because he doesn't want to admit, even to
himself, how the force of the hatred behind those notes shakes him, makes him sick; and
he ain't exactly over sensitive.
The Anonymous Scribe could be one of the many people attached to the toes Aleks
has trodden on: he's played about with acquaintances' wives and girlfriends, philandered
with women who resented the fact that he didn't get hung up on them, sounded off about
every topic under the sun when shitfaced, floored geezers who've asked for it and written
abrasive stuff whenever he feels the urge, which is often. He knows that many people
envy his success as a writer (and he likes to think, his talent).
This weirdo is a sort of stalker, shadowing him:
'...So you went to exercise that squat body of yours again; how pathetically vain you
The looks of the women he brings back come under careful scrutiny, as if the hater
hovers near, waiting to strike like some malevolent stinging insect. Maybe it is a jealous
woman? The invective about one of his overnight guests was almost inspired:
'Obviously you like them big and spirited, you horrible little man. The combination
of you and that carthorse of a woman with her long horse face made a ludicrous picture
as she cantered along with you toddling after her on those little legs, hardly able to keep
up. Did you do it with her standing up, like a bristling little donkey thrusting at a
promiscuous carthorse? '
The Anonymous Scribe had somehow witnessed and revelled in the sordid farce
when, after years, Aleks had finally insinuated himself into the house of Marta the Fire
Breathing Amazon. She went ballistic at something he'd said, throwing him out just when
they were on their way to the bedroom: "Get out, you Miserable Misogynist!"
The next day, the letter gloated over his ignominious exit, clutching his shoes.:
'I respect this women, Sager, as she respects others. It is fortunate for you that she
retained enough taste to throw you out of her house before you could get out your filthy,
That was another one where the writing deteriorated into indecipherable marks.
The ones taunting him about his writing always end up that way. In these, The
Stalker shows further the extent of his or her madness:
'All writers are deluded; the geniuses like Shakespeare or Pushkin, who you have
the presumption to try and emulate - though you are incapable even of learning Russian were deluded likewise. All believe themselves to invent our stories, which they only pick
up with their finely attuned antennae to redefine, and finally control. You all of you
batten off us, but you, you disgusting, mediocre, arrogant -' Here the scratch marks
The only good thing about this lunatic is that s/he seemingly isn't racist. Aleks,
despite being seven-eighths white, has the unruly curly black hair, flattish nose and very
full lips of his black ancestry. The writer doesn't seem to find this worthy of remark apart
from the occasional comment on the wildness of his hair. It could even be someone black,
of course, but somehow he doubts it.

Aleks has even wondered if - given these crazy dreams - he might be getting mad
enough to go into a trance and write this poison to himself.
He swears some more and after some tea and toast, goes to his desk.
After spending the morning jotting down sentences, crossing them out and staring
through the window at the trees across the road, he flings down his pen and goes out to
meet some mates in the Turkish Arms.
He returns hours later, feeling convivial. The phone's ringing.
That convivial feeling fades as he hears his mother's voice.
Ten minutes later, she's still rambling querulously while he longs to take a leak.
"Now, Aleks, I'm relying on you to keep an eye on Olga, her being due any moment
Aleks would do a lot for his siblings, but he doesn't see what he could do that Olga's
husband, the medical services, or another woman couldn't do better. "Sure, Mum."
"And I'm still worried about Leo; that Dermot is a Bad Influence (she's said this of
all Leo's friends since he was two). I hoped That Girl would help Steady him, but...Not as
if you've been a good example with all that tomcatting around. It's about time you settled
down. If you don't watch out, all the good ones will have gone." She makes it sound as if
he's late to a sale.
Aleks grunts. "One of these days, maybe I'll surprise you. Stop fretting, Mum, and
have a good break." He jollies her along, "When you come back you'll be grandparents..."
Finally, she hangs up; at last, he can take a leak.
He jeers at himself for that stab of childish resentment when she fusses over his
He remembers watching her playing Tickle Your Tum with baby Leo, as he
instinctively knew then that she never did, when he was a baby himself.
Later, in a rare fit of guilt, she had told him how she didn't seek help for what she
now knows was her post natal depression, scared that living as she was with a still
married partly black man in the racist 1960's she'd end up being put in a mental hospital
or that the baby would be taken into care.
So, things starting badly between them, never got much better, and he supposes that
is why he's never been able to fall in love properly with a woman. It's lucky for him there
are always the ones who like 'em a bit mean to take a fancy to him, no doubt drawn by
some nurturing urge to 'Fix' things with him.
It isn't that Aleks doesn't fall for women sometimes, but it never lasts. Maybe it's
only infatuation over female beauty.
Why is he tormenting himself with this old stuff? He knows that he's a saddo.
His mood lifts again as he gets ready for the party, nerves tingling. He hasn't been so
excited since that first letter from the agents, asking to see more of 'The Adventures of
Ivan Ostrowski'.'
Will the Pre Raphaelite Beauty turn up? Errol Harding says Fifi's primed her
already. With her, he won't be able to keep up that careless, confident air he always puts
on with women. What if he stammers and shakes? If he's not careless and dominant,
acting like he thinks he's a real stud, she'll think he's pathetic, besides ugly (tonight, he
wishes he looked like Errol Harding). Women generally do tend to think he's ugly until he
wins them over with the clever talk. He can be clever with the others because it doesn't

matter much one way or the other, but with this girl it's different, so for once he wishes he
had looks that would do the talking for him.
As he buttons his shirt over the mat of hair on his chest, leaving the two top buttons
undone - if you're as hairy as he is then the only thing to do is to flaunt it - he pulls a wry
face, glancing down at those long nails. He was always lazy about shaving and nail
trimming and it was a relief, a couple of years ago, to stop altogether. For all his passion
for women, he can't bring himself to get rid of the surplus, though most don't like them
and some shy away at the sight of them (of course, Rick obsesses about how Pushkin had
bushy side-whiskers and long nails).
If this beauty tonight doesn't like them, Aleks might even trim them, to show her
how abject he is as the victim of hopeless passion.
Yes, if he can keep his head he might make some impression on her; for all he's
practically given up eating and sleeping in his longing for her and sometimes, when he's
sitting at his desk failing to write, he's forced to get up and pace about the room at the
thought of her, he can still call on his old knowledge of How to Play 'Em Like a Fish.
Natalie is stuffing her face for once, diet abandoned. She shoves in sausage rolls, a
big chunk of pizza, handfuls of crisps, all oozing grease. She seizes some French bread
and plasters on brie. She pours herself a big tumbler of full sugar coke, downing it in
gulps, uncaring who might see her awful manners. Her mother would scream.
That hateful woman from the agency, whatever her title was (Natalie had been too
nervous to take it in); that cold, polished smile, eyes unlit: 'You aren't the type we're
looking for'.
She's beginning to dread that she isn't the type any agency is looking for save for the
one which only finds her occasional work.
'That cup size is likely to cause problems.' The woman handed over a sop: "We all
know how men love big boobs, but they make for difficulties in finding you work. I'm sure
you'll forgive me saying your bottom's hardly small, either...'
It's different with the huge array of men pursuing her, desperate for either sex or a
showpiece girlfriend. There's a never ending supply of Wannabes. They chase her up
streets, bawl wildly down from roofs, leap out from street corners, jump out of taxis; they
even ring her doorbell to present her with a bouquet (though that is only meant to happen
in advertisements for hair products); they vault over walls, beat Olympic records in
racing her to her front door, tongues hanging out.
If only they knew what a disappointment she is!
Two days ago, one even materialised in the little churchyard not far from the house
through which - by a series of coincidences - she was hurrying as dusk approached.
Shadowy and hunched in a long, voluminous, period-style coat too heavy for the
soft spring dusk, very pale and haggard, he'd been leaning on a gravestone, staring at her.
In terror, she thought he looked like an animated corpse as he fixed her with hollow eyes,
raising one bony, be-ringed hand in silent greeting. Then he began to move towards her.
She broke into a trot, heart sounding in her ears, cursing herself for risking this little used
path at this time of day. As she made her escape through the gate she had glanced back
and he - or it - was gone.
On the way home the grotesque thought struck her; does the lure of the flesh outlast
the body? She didn't know why she of all people should think that, until she remembers

her Longing Too Late for Charley Danton; in fact, it is she of all people who should
understand a ghost fired by desire.
It's been three months and she still can't think of Charley without a pang. She's
certain now that she should have spared his ego and faked orgiastic passion.
She reaches for more sausage rolls.
Was that postcard of the Beverley Hills that arrived looking as if it had swum the
Atlantic - the message was so strangely blurred and faded - from him? She couldn't make
out any of the writing. Still, her heart had jumped when she picked it up and for sure that
signature just might be 'Charley'. Then there was that odd, fuzzy message left on that
hateful machine that she sensed might be from him, too. If only she knew his address.
As it was, she risked humiliation by leaving a message with Leroy that she was
missing Charley.
"He's acting like a jerk," Leroy said. "I know he's still not over you. I'll make sure he
gets word this time; I'm sorry; this is partly down to me."
She hopes he did remember that time, but she hasn't heard anything yet.
"Natalie!" Chandra, also a model, with hip length blue black hair and ridiculously
perfect features, nibbles grapes, as shocked by Natalie's eating as she wouldn't be if
Natalie said she was marrying a man of eighty for his money, or off for some fun with
two other women and three men.
"I don't care. All the dieting, for what? Let my arse balloon!"
"Did I hear you right?"
This sudden visitation of developed muscles, shining mahogany skin, Hollywood
cheekbones, teeth and regularity of feature can only be Errol Harding, famous guitarist.
But his attention's already moved over to Chandra, and he starts talking to her at speed.
With him there is a short, sturdy man of around the same age, perhaps thirty. His
hair is so wild it looks as though his favourite hobby is running his fingers through it. As
if eager to show off how much hair he can grow, he has strange bushy side-whiskers. He
is so hirsute that he doesn't have a choice about the designer stubble on the rest of his
face, which doesn't look designer at all; the top two buttons of his shirt are open to
display a black forest sprouting from his chest, while the rolled up sleeves of his shirt
reveal almost ludicrously hairy forearms.
He has an inelegant, ski slope nose (Natalie always notices unphotogenic noses,
having used up some of the money left to her by her Grandmother in having hers bobbed
and refined). His eyes, in odd contrast to his deep olive skin, are light blue. They glow
with some inner fire as he moves in on her.
Just my luck to get the ugly one.
"A Pre-Raphaelite beauty, like a rose among weeds." For sure, he is gawping at her
like someone viewing a spectacular piece of artwork.
She doesn't speak at once, her mouth being full of pizza.
"You're just like those nymphs in that painting by that Pre-Raphaelite painter what's it called? 'Hylas and the Nymphs,' that's it."
She can't accuse him of using some line for all the Aspiring Models. This one is
specific, a balm to her bruised ego. She shouldn't encourage him, but she finds herself
saying anyway, "Thank you. A shame that agency today didn't see it."
"You got turned down? Whoever it was needed their eyes testing. Of course, they
say that it isn't the most beautiful girls who succeed most as models but the most

photogenic. A bit of insipidity goes a long way." He beams at her. In contrast to the rest of
his looks, his teeth rival any in Hollywood. "As they say in stupid films, 'Can I refresh
your drink?'"
"No thanks, I've only just started it." She is going to have to make a getaway,
leaving Chandra being vivacious for Errol Harding. Natalie gives a lingering, regretful
look at the food.
The man makes himself a vodka and soda and says some toast which she misses;
seeing his nails, she recoils (as in some gothic novel, save that these aren't the hooked
claws showing a change to a monster state, just distastefully long human ones).
"I've just remembered -"she begins, but as if on cue Errol Harding cuts in, "Here's
your chance to be Sager's next heroine. I can tell he'll use your looks anyway."
"That would be nice. Hey, I've just remembered, I must see Fifi about something."
She smiles on this wannabe author to her wannabe model, smiles too on Errol and
Chandra and takes herself off.
He follows her: "Fifi, I still can't get over that slutty name. It just ain't a name you
connect with talking except for 'Couchez avec moi ce soir, chri.'"
"Well, there's no need to come with me and suffer it, is there? This is girl talk, you'll
only be bored."
"I was only winding you up, angel, I know her already, in fact -."
She rushes through a roomful of swirling lights and dancers, dodging through the
moving forms, but he's still close behind her, moving fast on those short legs. As he's
only a few centimetres shorter than she is, she's puzzled how his legs manage to be so
much shorter, and she detests men with short legs.
Worse, as they come out into a sort of ante room, he starts chanting, "Calling on
FIFI! Has anyone seen FIFI?"
Her face goes hot. Even if she does find Fifi in this crowd, she will probably be out
of it; if Natalie whispers in her ear that she must pretend to have set up a meeting, she
will gawp stupidly, confirming everyone's stereotype of a full-bosomed non-natural
blonde (she is in fact an ex-Cambridge physics student who's had a spectacular career
It was Fifi who invited her to this party; come to think of it, she'd said knowingly,
'There's someone desperate to meet you; he's half in love with you already, and he's only
seen you once. He was raving about how you look just like a Titian Madonna.'
'How romantic. Who?'
Fifi had just trilled at her like a canary: 'I'm not saying; you'll have to find out.'
Now she has; what a let down.
The Hairy One calls again, "FIFI!"
People turn and stare.
"Do shut up!" Natalie puts on another burst of speed.
Someone takes her wrist, pulling her up short: "My darling!"
It's Rick, a youngish and nice looking photographer who once took a lot of shots of
He also tried to get her to strip, saying it was the only way forwards. She said No. In
the middle of this he went out into the passage. The door swung open again and Natalie
saw him, his back to her, taking a quick peek down the front of his trousers. Seemingly

he was distraught by what he saw or didn't see (you would think the sensation - or lack of
it - might have warned him). As he turned, his face was working.
He had come back in and gone on taking shots and flattering her, though now with a
distracted air. It was mean of her to find it funny, but it was all she could do not to burst
into giggles.
At the end he'd said he could put her in touch with all sorts of contacts. None of
these proved to be both interested in her and willing to do anything for her career without
wanting a Private Meeting (clearly to be held on a casting couch).
Since then, whenever Rick sees her he greets her as though he is wildly inflamed by
her. She supposed that the poor man has to keep up appearances.. Perhaps she should
have told him about her frigidity problem; then he mightn't think it mattered so much.
Perhaps they are meant for each other. It hardly matters that nice looking as he is, he does
nothing for her.
Natalie smiles on him and greets him. Her Hairy Admirer stops short, literally
At the sight of the Hairy Admirer, the man Rick's talking with - who Natalie's heard
described as a top literary agent, Roger Smart Himself of Smarts - flashes capped teeth.
Her Hairy Admirer looks back at Smart as if he is an unappealing reptile.
Rick caressingly kisses Natalie's cheek. Out of the corner of her eye she sees her
follower stiffen his shoulders. So he has the nerve to be possessive already? He is
someone she must escape as fast as she can. She even begins to wonder if he is some sort
of stalker, though he doesn't strike her as creepy, merely strange.
Roger Smart, in early middle age, might be handsome if his face wasn't puffy; for
sure, he's been putting away too many shorts. Still looking at Natalie, he chuckles
indulgently, and addresses The Hairy One. "Aleks Sager himself, the very man I wanted
to ask -"
Aleks Sager speaks at the same time, eyes lacerating Rick, "Her cheek's too lovely
for you to slobber over it with those disgusting infected lips. I'd wash your face if I were
you, Venus of Urbino."
Rick turns to Aleks Sager, looking sulky. "Yeah, Aleks, rant, rant; Natalie's an old
friend, so I'm entitled. She's got too much sense to want to get involved with a lunatic like
you, so you might as sod off and annoy someone else."
Aleks 'Possible Stalker' Sager's eyes dilate, but seemingly not at the taunt: "You're
called Natalie?"
He must be off his head, with an obsession about names. With luck, if he dislikes the
name 'Natalie' as much as the name 'Fifi', it might put him off. Still, ridiculously, she's
annoyed at his apparently classing her name along with the Ooh La La name Fifi. "Why
shouldn't I be called Natalie?"
He is sighing, even relaxing slightly, as if giving in to something. He murmurs
softly, "If it is true, let it come then, as if it comes in your lovely shape, then it's not so
bad." He smiles nastily at Rick. "You've noted that this angel's name's Natalie? Now, who
can you say's the Tsar equivalent? Maybe Roger Smart here?"
Rick swallows suddenly and goes quiet.
Smart is deaf to this crazy talk, addressing Natalie through his Toothpaste Ad Smile,
"So you've been making friends with My Agency's Most Coveted Asset?"

He's got to be sarcastic - yet something soothing in his air indicates he needs to keep
in with this weirdo.
This need doesn't seem to be mutual: "Has she been visiting your accountant in
Pentonville?" Aleks Sager's eyes are as sharp as a barrow boy's in mid repartee.
The Literary Agent stiffens in turn. "Finances, Aleks? Nobody in Western Europe
can hold up their heads when it comes to -" he breaks off as another man rides up on a
The rider is wearing a clown's red nose and advertised in red on his white t-shirt:
'Literary Agent Wanted! P-L-E-A-S-E!!!!!!' Natalie just has time to read it as he wobbles
towards them.
An original approach, for sure. The problem is that he isn't as skilful on the unicycle
as he must have thought - or perhaps he's had too much to drink; he rides too near his
Smart dodges back, slopping his drink on his trousers. He swears, face suffusing;
Rick goggles in amazement while Natalie's Hairy Pursuer lets out a roar of laughter.
Natalie takes the opportunity to make for the lavatory.
This is outsize and luxurious, like all of the house. Hoping that she has escaped The
Hairy One, Natalie fusses at the mirror, rubbing on lip gloss and wondering, as always
when looking in the mirror, what else she can do to make herself look better.
She's supposed to be photogenic, and she does think she looks far better in
photographs than in reality. If she was someone else looking at those photos she'd find the
woman glossy, threateningly perfect, nothing like the image she sees in mirrors. Still,
something is going wrong, if it isn't just the Casting Couch Syndrome.
With any luck, she's got rid of the Hairy Stalker. She pulls down the Floozy's
Knickers (her mother's term for them) given to her by her sister (she's never found thongs
comfortable) and is in the middle of a leisurely leak when quick footsteps approach and
someone tries the door. A woman's voice sounds indistinctly.
Through the trickling, Natalie hears the voice she dreads: "Beautiful Natalie! There's
a pregnant woman in urgent need out here." She hears a nervous female laugh.
She doesn't believe him, but as it just might be true, calls out, "One minute!" When
she breaks her cover it is with the illogical fear she used to have when playing hide and
seek, the feeling that she will scream when catching sight of her pursuer.
There really is a woman with a six month belly out here. Aleks Sager is staring at it,
pronouncing, "You look wonderful; there's nobody more beautiful than a pregnant
woman... Ah, the Peeing Angel."
The woman mutters something and hurries her wonderful belly past Natalie,
slamming the door to.
"You're working hard to escape me." He smiles on Natalie as indulgently as though
this is childish idiocy on her part. "A lot think I'm - what's that great old-fashioned term that's it - unprepossessing looking - but most women say I improve when they get talking
to me."
Natalie doesn't know what 'unprepossessing' means, but can guess.
Yet again she is reminded painfully of Charley - anything but 'unprepossessing' and she speaks sharply to this pest: "You're wrong; there can't be anything between us. I
don't know why you think these strange things, but I can't agree with you, so please stop
embarrassing yourself."

He laughs again, in the condescending manner of the hero of the romantic stories
that Natalie's sister loves. The conquering hero gives this laugh when the heroine shows
one of those ritual flashes of spirit and defiance. As everyone knows she's going to
surrender soon, this surge of independence is so many wasted words.
"Can you put up with me for the rest of the party? If you can, and by the end you
still think me an unattractive weirdo, I'll accept it and not bother you any more."
She doesn't deny that she thinks him an unattractive weirdo. It is intriguing that he's
a famous writer, though she doesn't read much herself. "Why waste our time? There are
lots of attractive girls here who might be interested."
He shakes his head. "They won't be any good to me now I've seen you. If, while we
talk, you see anyone You Might Be Interested in, feel free to arrange to meet him later,
and I'll do my best to be civilized and not fight him on the spot. Now, that is really
demeaning myself -" He breaks off, eyes twinkling, " Or perhaps it's Fifi who interests
It is true that sometimes, standing close to Fifi, Natalie - for all her normal coolness
- has been troubled by a slow burn of the lure of that pearly, ample flesh, the womanly
smell. She prefers not to dwell on why - not that she's got anything against lesbians, yet
how awkward to be one - hoping that there is something in Fifi that brings it out in
everyone. "I'm straight."
"I only wish for a couple of hours of your time, Ma'am." He grins and stoops to kiss
her hand.
As his bushy side-whiskers tickle the skin of her hand, a tingle runs down her spine.
She puts it down to dismay at his hairiness. Life is certainly unfair. Why has he been
given such an excess of hair, when there are men who would give anything to have a tiny
bit more on the head alone? Charley had a friend who was incredibly handsome, but
tormented by his receding hairline.
Why are you thinking about Charley, you fool? He's never coming back.
"All right, then! But I want more of that food."
He smiles at her as he straightens. "I like a woman who eats. The way you were
shoving it down earlier only emphasized your ethereal look."
She snorts with laughter. "I don't believe that."
He takes her arm, drawing her down in the direction of the breakfast room. "I'll eat
something too."
She says nothing. Again at his touch, that sudden shiver runs up her spine, and she
can't tell if it's pleasurable or not. It could be those awful nails, too. She is far from sure,
either, that he isn't a stalker who will make any promise to get her talking to him,
forgetting them all moments later. Yet, he doesn't give off the creepy atmosphere of the
Oddly, she finds his bizarre company amusing enough not to mind wasting the rest
of the party with him, though it will be a bit humiliating if the few people she knows here
think she's attracted by a thirty-plus eccentric who's taking the meaning of 'Designer
Stubble' to a whole new level. Still, she knows there's no way he's getting anywhere with
"Let's get back to those sausage rolls." She is telling herself that the stirring in what
her mother calls her 'Bits' doesn't mean anything if she can get it when within a two foot
radius of Fifi of the Fabulous F Cup.

In the giant breakfast room (what sort of heating bills do the owners pay?) there's a
tempting aroma: people are stacking their plates, new supplies of food having been
brought out from the kitchen.
Natalie wonders if they are comforting themselves for not meeting Anyone
Interesting. As usual when she walks into a room, there are stares of admiration blended
with a sort of astonishment. The only place where she can guarantee she won't get such a
reaction is in modelling agencies; they're too besieged by a stream of beauty running
through their doors each day.
A skinny youth in ultra fashionable clothes, chewing violently, stares, not at Natalie,
but at her companion, and speaks with his mouth full.
Aleks Sager grins at Natalie. "I pay that agency a ridiculous sum to have people say
that and still they can't get a reasonable job done. That line was meant to be: 'Wow! Aren't
you Aleks Sager, the writer'?"
The youth chokes, red in the face. Natalie feels sorry for him; the writer turns his
back on him. "Now, Pre-Raphaelite one, you wanted sausage rolls; here's a plateful."
Natalie is glad that a group of shouting half drunken girls smash their way in on
dangerous heels and block her view of the mortified fan. Having loaded their plates, her
admirer somehow manages to carry these while taking her arm to guide her back up the
corridor. She carries their drinks.
"You were sorry for that moron. I like that; kindness isn't cool, and I love the way
you don't care. I was mean to Rick, and he's an old friend of mine; I suppose you didn't
like that either. The thing is, he attracts unkindness the way cattle draw flies, and he was
trying to mess up my chance with you."
He will see her unkind side soon enough when she gets rid of him at the end of the
evening. She hears from the crowd an outraged Irish accent: "Will you look at those two!
The Beauty and the Beast!'
Aleks Sager turns, grinning. "Jealous!" he waves an admonitory, long nailed finger.
As they pass a closed door a lean figure looms out, also waving a finger, but at
Natalie. There's something insubstantial about him, so she has the momentary sense of
glimpsing the wall through him; also strange is the minor fact that he seems to be wearing
queer old fashioned clothes, a voluminous cream or ivory shirt unbuttoned to show half
his chest and dark, old fashioned looking trousers.
The form seems to waver and become more substantial, though she's only been
drinking coke.
Now she can see that he looks like an animated corpse, haggard, drawn, hollow
cheeked and pale, with shadows under his eyes so dark they look as though they've been
painted on.
It's the figure from the cemetery.
Suddenly, there's an inexplicable draught of cold air, just as ghosts are meant to
But even as this jolts on her, a wave of dizziness and a roaring in the ears comes
over her. She sways a second, spilling part of their drinks.
Meanwhile, her Hairy Admirer flinches, eyes dilating, and his hand grabs her arm.
She is grateful for that, as for moment she is in danger of falling.
You beauty, oh, you beauty, you only can sooth my aching heart...
The voice is clear, though she only hears it in her head.

Aleks Sager supports her by a hand under one elbow, dropping a shower of food
from the plates on the floor. "Are you OK?"
She nods, unable to talk, glancing towards the now empty space where she thought
she saw the apparition. The writer still looks anxious; she says, "Just a dizzy spell, I don't
know what came over me, my heels aren't that high."
He laughs, but his eyes slide towards where the figure stood. His look is angry, even
It simply can't be the same figure which she saw in the cemetery. Then, she'd have
two stalkers, and - Ha, Ha! - one of them dead.
No, she must have imagined it all; Aleks Sager can't have seen anything. It's too
grotesque. Some part of her mind must have opened up to that sort of thing after hearing
Fifi talk about that horrible experience with a dream monster she'd called an 'Incubus'.
Natalie had better close that bit of her mind and - as Great Aunt Sally would say - Pretty
Damn Quick, too.
"Annoying, I've made you throw a lot of food on the floor."
"I'll get some more in a moment. Let's find you a seat." He practically lifts her up
with that hand under her elbow. He is startlingly strong; of course, these stocky, short
men often are.
As luck would have it, in one of the rooms with no music a besotted looking couple
are getting up from a leather sofa for two. Natalie's Hairy Admirer smiles happily on
them as he settles Natalie solicitously on the hideous red leather and places the food on a
nearby table. As he sits down, she moves as far away from him as she can without being
downright hostile, relieved that he doesn't run his hand along the back.
Across from them a middle aged couple watch them with apathetic longing. Natalie
hopes that she doesn't have a relationship like that when she gets to unimaginably distant
middle age.
"I had to smile at that Unicycle attack on your agent." Natalie smiles again
He throws back his head, laughing unrestrainedly. "That made my night; I don't like
"Not even your own?"
"So what if Smart is my agent? He's a jerk in particular, with that flaccid face and
slimy smile. He's missed his vocation; he ought to be selling used cars. Some writers
develop amnesia, and they forget that agonising start, when they were trying to get over
that first, impossible hurdle - namely agents - who don't give a damn about talent, only
making money. Everyone knows how half the time they don't so much as glance at an
unknown's work before sending out that standard rejection."
Natalie doesn't feel like talking about her own recent rejection by an agency. "But
you cleared that hurdle in the end?" The expression in those odd, startlingly clear light
blue eyes is bleak as he nods at her. "I did. I wonder if it was worth it...For any of us." He
takes a gloomy bite of sausage roll.
Natalie fills her face with some crisps. Did he do something he regrets, like agreeing
to a Casting Couch Episode with someone he found disgusting? He hardly has the looks
for many people to be single him out for that. Perhaps some woman short of willing
partners made use of him as a sexual object?

She can't help smiling again at the picture that sums up. He must have done
something he wishes he hadn't; that look gives him away. Tonight, she is in no mood for
sympathising with The Problems of the Famous and she smiles more broadly at the
memory of how Fifi jeered earlier at an actor who was moaning to her about his anguish
over accepting commercial roles. "P-L-E-A-S-E! Spare us the angst. Would you rather be
cleaning toilets?" Natalie wasn't sure what 'angst' was, but got the general idea.
"What do you mean?" She takes a bite of pizza. She should try and put him off by
talking with her mouth full like that fan in the kitchen; pride stops her.
He casts off his gloom like a loose coat and smiles back. "I don't want to disgust you
by whinging, and now my books are bestsellers and I didn't have to compromise on the
content, either."
"That must be exciting." Natalie suppresses a yawn. She hopes he'll ask her if she's
read any of them, so she can say 'No, none, I'm afraid' in a flat voice to show how
unsuited he and she are. She rarely reads anything but stuff on make up, diet, fashion,
body shaping, modelling tips and so on.
"Don't worry," he smiles, "I'm not going to send you to sleep by starting on about
them. I want to hear about these crass agencies that don't recognise an outstandingly
beautiful girl when they see her."
"I do have an agency," Natalie's pride makes the point, "But I don't think they're
doing a great job."
He's looking sympathetic. "I'm guessing things are made harder by all those men
who'll give your career a big boost - at a price?"
She nods briefly, feeling a twinge of distaste at the thought of discussing sexual
matters with him at odds with that strange hot tingling she'd had when he touched her
He nods too (those light blue eyes are startlingly astute; in fact, they are remarkable;
they shine with a strange clear light; there's a world of knowledge in them). "There are so
many jerks about. I'm not one, believe it or not, or I'm not one as far as you're concerned,
anyway. I really do know a man who can do a lot for you and there won't be any strings
attached, he's not interested in women. When I get back to my gaff, I'm going to give him
a ring whether you give me the bum's rush out of your life or not, and that's a promise. I
can't ring him now, because I don't pack a mobile; I can't stand the stupid noisy things."
She knows that 'Bum's Rush' expression from an old film, where the hero in disguise
had been treated to it in a Speakeasy. She laughs, tickled by the ridiculous picture of
herself taking this stocky, muscular, broad shouldered little man by the collar and the seat
of the trousers to rush in her high heels to throw him down the front steps out into the
Islington small hours.
He laughs too, teeth flashing. She finds herself believing him now about the contact,
for all the empty promises she's had about nameless influential people who never emerge
from behind the scenes. This reminds her of Rick.
"So Rick is a friend of yours? He helped me with my portfolio."
He winces. "Ah. I don't like to think of that (more possessiveness! Take a hike,
mate!) Rick is a friend of mine, but don't lets talk about him, I feel bad about him for
reasons I'm not going to go into, Oh Pre Raphaelite One, and talking to you is too good to
spoil with all that. Tell me instead, who you came with tonight? I hope you didn't come

with a man. If you did and he wants to make an issue about it, he's welcome." His teeth
flash savagely.
He's just gone back on what he said earlier about trying not to be jealous; so he's
violent; maybe she ought to watch out).
"I came with Chandra - that girl in the kitchen Errol Harding took to."
"He and I grew up together in bleakest Tottenham. He's a great musician, but he
can't let go of his macho ideas (Natalie wonders how he can say this about someone else
after that speech he just made). I was looking to relax and I went to his gym a few times
but I couldn't take the competitive rubbish with those guys swanking about in their
designer gear and doing their hundred pull ups. Errol, though, he's a great guy, I owe
him." He gives a satisfied smile and chews on a cocktail sausage. "Those idiots in the
gym are lucky about one thing: they've no imagination and no mental clutter."
"I've heard you can get rid of that through meditation."
"I tried it once. At the time I was so hard up it was ridiculous, sleeping on a wobbly
put-you-up in the glory hole in Dirty Dave's Doss house. Dirty Dave had problems about
rejecting anything, however useless, sentient or otherwise. I began to think I belonged in
there along with the rest of the rejected stuff, me and my returned manuscripts. Worries
flew about in my head like savage birds; anything that might stop that seemed a good
'I cleared two feet in the sea of backless chairs, dysfunctional televisions, antique
bull workers, those nice piles of yellowing paperbacks by Zane Grey and Mickey
Spillane and the spare lavatory pan that made up some of Dirty Dave's other collectables.
I crossed my legs, closed my eyes, and waited...
'Naturally, someone flung open the door, knocking me flat. Then I was coming to
with some guy bending over me, mumbling in a drug induced haze. I did have one
moment of peace, free of thought, before the headache hit me harder than the door." He
snorts with laughter, and she clicks her tongue in sympathy before allowing herself to
laugh too.
Time speeds up. Incredibly, Natalie enjoys talking to him despite his strange, scruffy
appearance. He is what her mother would call 'A Good Talker' (Natalie's father never was,
and has now more or less given up talking to her mother altogether). Aleks Sager doesn't
go on about books or intellectual stuff at all, but chats jokingly on all sorts of things.
They finish their food slowly, because they only stop talking to eat now and again.
When later he asks her to dance, she says, "Why not?" quite happily, no longer ashamed
to be seen with this oddity who's shorter than her in her heels.
He takes her arm to usher her through the crowd; she realises it has halved since
they met. Surely it can't be that late?
At his touch she again feels a stir in her 'Bits'. This is humiliating - with this
admittedly entertaining, but hairy weirdo? Has she lost all her taste?
Still, there is no doubt that his closeness sends a thrill through her; as he draws her
to him, his odour - she's always had a sharp sense of smell -appeals to her.
She kicks off her shoes, to make their heights nearer.
The DJ, now as restrained as he was hyper earlier, leans comatose against the wall,
playing a medley of slow songs.
There are not many people dancing now. A manic, tubby youngish man connected
with Scriptwriting and who Natalie noticed earlier coiled about Fifi is now holding close

a woman whose hair, dress and skin are all shades of light brown while he eagerly croons
the lyrics at her.
The hostess - who greeted Natalie on her arrival with a squeal of delight, though
Natalie was sure that she'd no idea who she was - is being used as a leaning post by a
skinny youth who looks as if he's out on his feet.
She pulls herself away (amazingly, the youth remains upright) to hand something to
Aleks Sager. "Someone wanted me to give you this, Aleks." She's had a fair bit to drink
His flinches and his face freezes as he stares at the expensive piece of paper.
"Who?" His eyes switch angrily round the room, as if he expects the sender still to be
She looks flustered. "Do you know, it's gone right out of my head? Hell, that's
worrying. He looked ill, very thin, and kissed my hand. He wore funny looking clothes.
That's it, he said, 'He'll know who I am.'"
Aleks Sager stuffs it into his pocket, muttering through his teeth as if he can't stop
himself, "So, someone here." He glances about again, for a second putting Natalie in
mind of a cornered wild animal.
That image is gone as he relaxes into a warm smile, holding out his arms to her,
"This is terrible music, but for once I don't mind." He adds something about, "My
"About that contact; I have to have your phone number. Doesn't that sound like a
pathetically obvious attempt to get it?"
She smiles. "I'm happy to give you my phone number."
Their eyes meet; the exultation in his is oddly mixed with a look of guilt. "No bum's
rush for me this morning, then?"
"Not just yet."
Their walk to Natalie's Great Aunt Sally's through the Islington spring dawn - with
his arm about her waist, causing her to melt some more - passes quickly in more talk.
Natalie has refused to let him get a taxi, slipping on the ballet shoes she'd left hanging up
in the hall in case she had to walk.
Self Defence Lesson Number One from Marta: If you go to a party, take some flat
shoes that mean your heels won't be heard streets away by The Perves. (she says that as if
The Perves are an official group).
It's not as if she needs that with Aleks Sager, but those heels were making her feet
ache. He exults in her wanting to walk. "Why do we have to have cars? Everything is so
much better without that background roar. So you like the ten toe turbo?"
She laughs. "I do; anyway, I have to walk off some of those calories."
His fingers tighten about her waist. "You know your figure's perfect."
She smiles on him, wondering why she thought of those irregular features as ugly.
Even if they are, those penetrating light blue eyes add charm to the whole.
Before she can stop him, he scrambles up a wall to tear off some hanging blossoms
from a shrub and jumps down to present it to her with a mock bow, "Kindly accept this as
a token of my regard."
"Aleks, it's mean to steal them. Well; it'd be wasting them not to take them now."

They are up to the boarded up shop at the junction, the fly tipping spot by a bin so
misshapen that it looks as though someone with a grudge against it lays into it now and
then with an iron bar.
This is where The Mystery of The Televisions takes place undetected. It was Great
Aunt Sally who pointed out this puzzle to Natalie.
There are always - irrespective of visits from the waste collection service - exactly
two broken televisions dumped there amongst other junk; never more, and never less.
Today a tramp sits on some unrecognisable broken piece of furniture, gazing on the
cracked screen of one as if intent on some programme.
"Good film, eh, mate?" Aleks Sager asks.
The tramp turns a purplish face towards them. "That Russian geezer's all hotted up
and mad jealous, he says he won't be tormented more, it'll be murder. The trouble these
women cause, eh?"
At this drunken nonsense, Aleks Sager flinches, then smiles and gives some cheerful
As they are going up the grandiose front steps of number Thirty-One, King Henry's
Drive, Great Aunt Sally's head pokes out of the sitting room window. When inspired,
she'll stay up painting all night. This must have been such a night, and she wears her
strange poison green turban like a dowager of olden times.
Natalie is disappointed; she'd been hoping to sneak the Aleks Man up to her flat.
Not, of course, for the whole thing, but to go in for some snogging and try and work out
the source of his attraction for her.
Looking at her Great Aunt in the bleak early morning light in that ill chosen colour,
smooth-faced Natalie wonders how it is possible to have so many lines. Poor Auntie! She
forces a smile. "Have you had a good, painting night, Auntie?" She knows the answer
from the way Aunt Sally is beaming at the world.
"Wonderful, darling!" She nods at Aleks Sager, and clicks her tongue at Natalie.
"Tasha, out all night, you youngsters. Does this young man want coffee?"
He smiles winningly. "Aleks Sager...That'd be wonderful, Ms -?" He isn't to be
underestimated; his manner is now as smooth as it was abrasive with poor Rick and
Roger Smart. No doubt he's pleased at being called young, too. Natalie supposes a man of
thirty-odd is young to someone of seventy-five.
"Nicholson, the same as Tasha here. Come in and I'll make it." The turbaned head is
withdrawn. She had looked a bit suspicious, trying to hide her disapproval of Aleks
Sager's scruffy appearance.
As a teenager, Natasha used to be mortified by her eccentric relatives - her often
reclusive father, her peculiar Great Aunt. She'd been scared that they might put off
potential boyfriends for herself and Kathy. They did, too, and she blamed them angrily.
She remembers one favourite who never called her after running into her father at the
nadir of depression, pacing and sighing in his dressing gown.
Now she revels in her maturity in knowing that anyone who would be put off by
such things doesn't have any real feelings for her, anyway. She makes no apologetic shrug
for Great Aunt Sally as they go in, while Aleks Sager keeps on looking at her as if
revelling in everything about her, weird relatives and all.
"You're niece was kind enough to talk to me all night on a hideous leather sofa.
Faugh! The bad taste in that house had to be seen to be believed, eh, Natalie?"

"Some of it was fun. That awful swirly patterned carpet was so bad it was good; I
must have one myself some day." She giggles.
"Aleks Sager? The name's familiar. Are you an actor?"
"Not with this face: I'm the newest but greatest of your niece's admirers."
"Great Niece. Isn't she ridiculously beautiful?" Aunt Sally swoops about like a
clumsy bird in her painting robe as she makes the coffee. "I don't know where those looks
came from. None of the rest of the family are anything special, though Natalie's sister
Kathy is pretty girl; some of us have faces like horses."
"I like horses," Aleks Sager smiles.
Natalie thinks it's a shame she doesn't admire her appearance much herself; when
she looks in the mirror, she can only see faults.
"So, young man, what do you do with yourself?" Great Aunt Sally resembles
Natalie's mother - apart from the horse face, though they are not related -in this appalling
cross questioning whenever Natalie or Kathy introduces them to a man. Natalie supposes
that she ought to be grateful that they don't ask the man his intentions, as in Edwardian
times. Some of the men give silly replies; some answer politely, rolling their eyes behind
the examiner's back.
Natalie's Hairy Admirer smiles as if flattered. "I try to write; sometimes I succeed;
mostly I just annoy people by being an awkward so-and-so."
Great Aunt Sally sighs theatrically and flings out an arm, indicating the paintings
hanging up in the hall. "There's no money in art or writing. I've been painting for over
fifty years, and guess how much money I've made?"
"One million?" Aleks Sager flashes his teeth at her.
He's playing up to her like anything; as he speaks his eyes are on the painting that
hangs across from the window, which is called 'Warsaw 1944'. It is one of Great Aunt
Sally's better efforts; it might be helped by its Impressionist blurring affect. Anyway, the
desolate horror comes across as her attempts to portray the happy and everyday do not.
It shows three fallen matchstick figures of a man, woman and child against an inky
background, while to the foreground is a blood red river. In the corner, a yellow ball
surrounded by straight lines like a child's depiction of the sun throws out a pool of light.
Great Aunt Sally bridles; "Flattery will get you everywhere. I've made less than a
thousand pounds."
He smiles imperturbably. "Van Gogh didn't sell a single painting in his lifetime."
"Luckily, he was unmarried." This is typical of Great Aunt Sally's tactlessness, but
Aleks Sager does some more teeth flashing as if delighted by what is going on in her
Natalie, anything but delighted, raises her eyebrows at her. Caught out, Great Aunt
Sally flinches and waves her hand at her masterpiece in the hall, as if acknowledging an
old friend. "My best one's out there..." Her tone is one of modest pride.
Aleks Sager strolls out to look. They hear his intake of breath. His back is turned,
but his shoulders visibly tighten.
Great Aunt Sally smiles complacently. "You find my version of that tragedy
"You might say so."

Natalie doesn't know why she's always found that painting more disturbing than the
one indicating the unspeakable horrors of the Warsaw Uprising, which, as Aunt Sally
says, can only be made bearable by belief in compensation beyond space and time.
The background is of a winter landscape, frost encased conifers stark against a
gathering dusk, the snow tinged with blue shadows. Two figures face each other, wearing
topcoats of the early nineteenth century.
The men are arrested in motion, each before a coat thrown on the ground to form
some sort of a barrier.
The taller man, bare headed, so that you can see his fair hair (it's hardly sensible not
to have a hat in such weather; still, they wouldn't be doing what they are if they were
concerned with their health) and wearing vaguely militaristic clothes, has just fired a
shot; smoke and sparks belch from his pistol.
Opposite him (surely too near?) a shorter, dark man, equally bare headed, falls,
blood spotting the front of his fur coat at the level of his belly, his pistol dropping from
his hand.
Two other men at the side are slightly crouched, as if in the act of springing forward.
The caption says, "Pushkin's Last Duel'.
"Did he live?" Natalie had asked as a child.
"No, dear, I'm afraid he didn't." Since then, Great Aunt Sally, a great admirer of
Pushkin, has filled in more details of the poet's death. He lingered for two days of
anguish as he developed gangrene and peritonitis from the bullet lodged in his sacrum.
The circumstances surrounding the duel strike Great Aunt Sally as particularly
romantic, and she likes to talk about them to anyone who will listen. Natalie hasn't
escaped hearing how the poet, now approaching middle age, was overcome by jealous
rage at the attentions paid to his lovely wife by some young, handsome, arrogant officer
of the guards. He challenged him to a duel twice; his friends prevented the first meeting;
not the second, where Russia lost its greatest ever poet.
Aleks Sager bounces back into the room, apparently restored to normal: "You like
Pushkin's work, then? What do you make of 'Eugene Onegin*'?"
"A masterpiece, of course."
Natalie rolls her eyes; now Aunt Sally will be off on a long, sleep inducing analysis.
Yet, perhaps it is a good thing and will prepare Natalie for bed (and not with her Hairy
After a minute's filibuster on Eugene Onegin Great Aunt Sally exclaims, "I mustn't
forget the coffee!" She stirs a mug violently. "You know the poem well?"
"It's my favourite too." Aleks Sager glances again at the painting. "No surprises I
developed an interest in Pushkin, the old man called me after him." His look momentarily
Great Aunt Sally hands Natalie her mint tea and their guest his coffee. She snaps her
fingers. "How clever, as a sort of contraction of the patronymic."
"I based my books on that idea o f his; the jaded rake as a victim of love."
"But what bad luck to miss out on success, when that other author made a best seller
out of that novel about a relative of Eugene Onegin's, what's it called -"
Aleks Sager's lips twitch. "There's no justice, as I was telling Natalie earlier, but it
it's any comfort to you, I'm the one who wrote, 'The Adventures of Ivan Ostrowski."

Great Aunt Sally claps her hands like a delighted child in a story: "That's wonderful!
I've been meaning to read it, and now I've met the author I will. My best painting ever
was of the duel scene in Eugene Onegin, too, but burglars stole that not long ago. I was
devastated; if only they'd taken anything else! Someone broke into the house and took
just that, leaving all these antiques and even the twenty pound note I'd left out for the
milk bill. And not a fingerprint or trace of DNA! A real professional, obviously. The
police hinted that I must have taken it down myself and forgotten. Humph! Obviously
they thought I was going senile. I suppose I should be flattered that somebody wanted it
that much."
"I think you should. That was a nasty, No Respect thing to do, though."
Natalie smiles indulgently. "It was a shame about that painting, it was one of your
best, but Aunt Sally, Aleks will think you've got fatal duels on the brain."
"Natalie thinks that I paint morbid subjects. But I paint as I find life, which is often
tragic, though you are young enough to have that youthful optimism still."
Aleks Sager is certainly looking happy as he squeezes Natalie's hand. Those Bits
respond at once, despite her being so tired; they've somehow developed a mind of their
He says, "I can't believe such a Vision of Loveliness as your niece -"
"Great Niece," Great Aunt Sally bridles; all her initial disapproval of his scruffiness
has melted.
"Great Niece, then." - he politely raises his eyebrows, though in her lurid green
turban and after a sleepless night, Great Aunt Sally looks her age and more - "This is a
wonderful cup of coffee, by the way - I can't believe that a girl with such perfect features
got a rejection from an agency today - I mean, yesterday."
Great Aunt Sally snorts, working herself up like a donkey preparing to bray. Aleks
Sager suddenly drains his coffee cup and flashes as smile at them both. "You see if your
luck don't change soon, Natalie. Before I go to bed I'm going to ring that geezer."
As they go out to the door, Natalie's imagination, following her body's insane
behaviour, begins to picture how he will look undressed. He's quite muscular and broad
chested, and for all his being short, he might look appealing without any clothes. You
could even get used to all that hair.
They stand looking at each other by the front door with its stained glass, their lips
seemingly about to meet in a kiss. She's rather looking forward to it, to judge if she can
really be attracted to this peculiar little man. But instead of kissing her, he smiles: "See
you again soon, darling." and he strides briskly down the steps out into the spring
sunshine breaking out over the city drabness.
Great Aunt Sally says as Natalie comes back in, "I didn't think him attractive at all at
first, but do you know, he's got an appeal of his own."
The old flirt.
"He's also got short legs."
"So had Odysseus."
"Who's he?"
Great Aunt Sally rolls her eyes. "The hero of Homer's Odyssey, darling."
"Oh, that old stuff." Natalie suppresses a yawn. "Keep talking about it for a bit,
Auntie, so I can go out like a light."

Aleks Sager's Daemon
Natalie is back at the party. How funny, she thought she'd left and something had
happened since, but here she is and that figure is coming through the doorway. She
"Only you can sooth my aching heart."
"What a line!" Though she hears her voice and his, they're not talking out loud, of
course. They think at each other as is normal in dreams.
Where is that Hairy Admirer who did what Great Aunt Sally calls - quoting, Natalie
supposes, from some historical novel - Stirring Her Loins?
The figure smiles, which given its drawn, half-dead appearance is alarming. "You've
got a sense of humour." Though his tone is weary and his voice hoarse, he's as
astonished as if a frog had made a joke. "That is unusual in a young lady, particularly a
beauty such as you." He has a funny accent; a foreigner.
Out in the brighter light of the hallway, he looks even worse; ghastly pale and
haggard, alarmingly thin, the high cheekbones seemingly about to burst through his skin;
his startling thinness makes his figure appear elongated.
She tells herself that perhaps he's only an ill, skeletal weirdo who likes dressing up,
like those men who strut about as cowboys. He must have some unhealthy habits to look
as ill as that; perhaps he's On Something.
It's bad enough for Natalie to have got tangled up with one weirdo man tonight
-he'll be back in a moment, breathing jealous fire - but two of them is ridiculous. Still, at
least this one would be handsome if he didn't look so ill, for she can see from his features
that he would be, very, in a cold sort of way, if he didn't have that dreadful pallor,
haggard face and shadowed eyes. His lack of colour somehow extends to his clothes,
which are faded, as in an old photograph.
"Excuse me, Kind Sir; are you talking like that because of your fancy dress? You
wouldn't be a ghost by any chance? There's an awfully cold draught coming from
She's astonished to hear herself; she's feisty to an unreal degree in this dream (she's
well aware that it is one). She feels a stab of compassion for him. "You look very ill; you
ought to go and lie down somewhere." Perhaps he will take her advice and leave her
Immediately, his presence seems stronger, his figure more defined. "Thank you for
that kindness; that makes for a difference already; I'll explain later."
She knows something for sure then: "I want you to explain now, after you tell me
why you followed me in the cemetery."
"Because I fell in love with you at first sight." He sounds slightly out of breath, like
someone with bad asthma.
She ignores this nonsense, though it does send a thrill through her (she doesn't
analyse what type of thrill it is). "Were you socialising there?"
"No, the conversation leaves something to be desired. I was waiting for you to go
by. I knew you walk that way, and I wanted to meet you. "

Now she glances round for Aleks Sager, the less sinister of the two. Besides, she
shouldn't be chatting like this to some other man - if he is one, and she suspects that he
isn't - after her promise. Someone unmoving is blocking the way, so she can't see where
Aleks Sager went.
Still, as she knows this is a dream, she can do what she likes if she can keep
controlling it. Lucid dreaming, that's the term: she heard it mentioned in a television
programme. Seeing her glance about, the haggard being tells her, "We're out of time."
At first she thinks he means that The Writer will be coming back to claim her, but
then she understands that he means the exact opposite. While they are surrounded by
people, now she realises none of them is moving, and she can't hear anything but her own
voice and this - being's.
She does feel nervous now; if she didn't do that then he must have.
"This is horrible! What are you and what do you want?"
She gasps as he takes her hands in his icy ones; "Perhaps I'm your Daemon Lover,
Natalie; after all every woman wants one." Again, his smile - which he may imagine is
tender only emphasises his ghastly look.
She's brave in this dream, not feeling as frightened as she might. She even manages
to put on a light tone: "I don't believe in demons."
His bony hands are stroking hers in a horribly coaxing way. "I don't have pitchfork
and horns. Let's say 'daemon' with an 'a' in it, which is different, beautiful Natalie. It's
those husbands I've given horns. Will you come with me away from this gathering of
philistines so I can entertain you in my house?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea from my point of view, do you?"
It's ridiculous; you would expect a woman who's got a Daemon Lover trying to
abduct her to sound horrified; she just sounds ratty and disapproving, like a teacher
who's just been offered a cigarette by some cheeky kid in class.
"Do you fear that I will keep you trapped there? How can I reassure you that as far
as you are concerned, I am quite controllable?"
"You can't. I think I'm going to leave now." She turns away.
"Please don't walk away, lovely Natalie. Now can you see? Everyone else has
stopped, but not you. I think the one who enabled me to come through must arrange it so.
You will be able to escape from my manor - I think that is what you moderns would call it
- at any time you wish."
She seems to be cleverer in dreams than she is in real life and she senses that she
can shut him out, now, with an effort, whatever he is; that it won't be so easy, later on.
Somehow, she senses too that the future hangs in the balance. She should walk away, for
she guesses that though he says he's not stopping her movements, he can't do that yet.
But if she does get away, she knows she'll remember something of this when she
wakes and want to know the explanation; if she walks off and blanks him out she won't
get it.
She stops, glancing back, her heavy mane of waist length red hair swinging about
her. For all his terribly ill look, he is staring at her rear view covetously. She knows too
well the effect that high round bottom of hers (too large by the standards of the modelling
agencies; groan inducing perfection from the reactions of males) can have, but never has
she yet aroused a ghost before. This is a fleshy reaction for a ghost. Anyway, he appears
to be a gentleman, at once raising his eyes from her rear.

Then he is by her in a quick stride, so that it's clear that he could have caught up
with her easily in the cemetery, had he chosen.
He takes hold of her hands; again she gasps at his coldness. "I would kiss you.
Another woman was kind enough to help me earlier, but ah, you -"
She starts back too late.
His frozen lips come down on her open mouth even as she's remembering how she
watched some late night horror film on television with a scene like this, giggling
So cold are his lips - and his icy breath tickling her nose that she dreads that if she
pulls away the skin of her mouth will stay attached to his, tearing off bits of flesh.
Then she doesn't think anything except that she's suffocating and freezing. As fast as
she inhales through her nose, he sucks it deeply into his lungs through his mouth clamped
on hers, so that her head begins to spin. There is a horrible fizzing sensation which she
guesses to be some sort of power leaving her and going into him. There is a dreadful
pulling as he steals her air, as if he is sucking the soul from her body, too. Is this what
dying is like?
She struggles despite her terror of losing part of her lips if she tears away from him.
But he has her head clasped tight in fingers so cold that they send shivers of anguish
through her skull. She will pass out; no she won't, she will die; that must be his idea, to
steal her life. Now there is blackness before her eyes.
Filthy killer!
He starts; she senses his indignation, mixed with a sort of horrible triumph. Yet now
the creature allows her some air now at every other gasp. The blackness gradually
The kiss goes on; this terrible ghoul is not only draining life and energy from her,
but is getting sexual pleasure out of it. Through his clothing she can now feel his
hardness as if he was human. An icy penis, how unbelievably horrible, maybe she ought
to reach down and try and snap it off like an icicle? But she is frozen still. With such an
open mouthed, prolonged kiss his saliva would be everywhere by now were he human,
but perhaps his is frozen, so that he has slivers of ice, instead of spit. She doesn't know
why her own spit isn't leaking out of the sides of their joined mouths. Perhaps it's been
frozen, too.
Now her sense of suffocation and fizzing leakage is lessening, while the hands
clutching her become what her mother would call 'Pastry making temperature' as does
the rest of him, and then lukewarm. She is able to gasp in air for herself. Finally, after
what seems like another five minutes of this, he pulls away.
She gasps and gasps, hardly aware of anything but the desperate need to take in air,
though she is dimly aware that this monster is holding her up with hands now of a human
"I cannot thank you enough. You have given me life over here as my accomplice
could not."
Too late she remembers all those self defence moves that Marta taught her. She's
mortified that she never thought to use them. Somehow, it seemed impossible on
something disembodied. Also, he looks so skeletal she would have hurt herself more than
him. Besides, she was literally frozen, and now her limbs feel oddly weak. Not
surprisingly, as he's some sort of ghoulish thing that has just battened on her power.

Get That Knee Up! Marta, teaching that Self Defence Class in that joyous,
inspirational tone: Slam That Foot Down on his Instep!
Natalie starts to bring her foot down only to realise that her stockinged feet will
make those moves ineffectual. He releases her arms and with astonishing speed is on the
floor, holding that foot. She realises that now he only looks one quarter dead instead of
half dead. There is some colour in his skin. Neither does he look partly transparent.
"From now on, I am your slave."
As the monster kisses her foot abjectly, she sees his eyes gloating over her ankles; it
is lucky that she is wearing a long dress, or for sure he would be taking advantage of his
position to leer up it.
She wrenches the foot away. She would like to kick him in the face, but senses that
he anticipates that and has even released her foot so that she can try, giving him the
excuse to squeeze her ankle.
She's heard somewhere how nineteenth century men were strongly aroused by
ankles; not seeing them every day the way moderns do, they had a fetish about them just
as men have now over breasts. Goodness knows how knees aroused their passions.
"Disgusting ghoul! Get away from me and don't you ever dare come near me
again!" She turns and marches past the frozen figures. As he starts to follow her, an ugly
ringing cuts through everything.
Natalie opens her eyes, wakened by the phone's insistent ringing. Less than six
inches from her own a pair of grey eyes stare into hers. They are alert and somehow
unnaturally glittering, fringed with darkish lashes and surmounted by sculpted brows.
The weight of a body rests lightly but nastily corporal upon hers. His desire stabs at her.
Her heart vaults, she gasps and the vision is gone.
Thankfully, it was only a dream; she must have been dreaming after she opened her
A strange, indefinable odour, some rare scent, lingers in her nostrils as she plunges
out of bed, making for the phone.
It's almost certainly someone selling something. If she doesn't answer, though, it
will turn out to have been her agency with the chance to see a top contact if she can make
it in half an hour.
Her voice is still slurred with sleep as she glances at the clock; half-eleven. It's easy
to sleep during the day up here on the third floor where the sounds of the street are so
"Natalie Nicholson?"
"Yes." Her voice droops. She can't actually be disappointed that it isn't The Hairy
Weirdo? This is becoming ridiculous. That awful dream has left her far more drained than
she would normally be after an all night party; she feels as if she has had no sleep at all.
"Clive Roberts here (Natalie only just stops herself from gasping). I was wondering
if you would be interested in a meeting? If you could bring your portfolio." The first may
be a question but the second is an order.
"That sounds fine." She manages to sound as if offers like that come her way every

If only it isn't a Casting Couch offer. Even if it is, though, it has got to the point with
her now where she's willing to admit to herself that if the man was acceptable looking,
and the offer good enough, she'd be tempted. How awful: that's prostituting yourself,
whatever name you put it under. It's nice for the girls who can kid themselves that they
really fell for So-and-So, though he's married and twenty-five years older, and it's only
co-incidence that he's got a lot of pull in the business.
As she works out the practical details with Clive Roberts, she can hardly concentrate
through the jangle in her head:
My hair needs washing! Is there time? I hope that's not a spot coming on my chin!
Oh, no! With all that salty stuff I ate last night I must have put on five pounds! What shall
I wear? I don't want to look slutty and give him ideas but I don't want to look all dull nice
girl either. Of course, this must be Aleks Sager's doing. Didn't he say then that the man
he'd contact wasn't interested in women? Good.
Behind this a terror lingers from that murderous kiss. She's never going to forget
that. She's worried that it'll put her off kissing for life. That, along with her natural
coolness, may just about do for any pleasure to be expected from men in the future. She
was somehow attracted to her Hairy Admirer, too, and from this phone call it looks as
though unlike the rest, he's been as good as his word.
The ball is over. The guests go out to their carriages in waves. Even Natalya is
tired; she droops against a pillar like a slightly wilting flower, surrounded as always by
crowds of admirers. They bid her goodnight, jostling for her attention.
The poet watches. He is standing slightly back, so that the more thoughtless of them
might even forget that he is there. But he listens, and he watches for any words or
gestures too familiar to be tolerable for a husband with self respect.
Were d'Anthes amongst them, he would come close to overstepping the unwritten
rules of propriety, all the while behaving as if he didn't know that he had. He would be
too excited at just being close to Natalya to be able to stop.
Pushkin knows too that he can't stop himself from playing his own part; rage would
propel him forward, lowering, and d'Anthes would turn as if surprised, in mid laugh or
joke, his glance showing weary acknowledgement.
So they will go on. It's as if they are acting out some ritual, a series of moves, each
drawn inevitably to the cathartic ending that looms, ever present yet maddeningly
As he watches, Pushkin broods, too, on those hate filled anonymous letters. It is
d'Anthes who has made it possible for that contemptible term 'cuckold' to be used with
regard to him, Pushkin, the one time creator of cuckolds, who has always known,
laughing scornfully at those complacent fools, that he would rather die than have it said
of himself.
Pushkin - only it's Aleks, too - can't stand for that handsome, talentless fool to preen
himself as if he has ever stood a chance with the poet's own Squinting Angel - for people
to believe that of her, or that Pushkin would tolerate it.
Besides, he is Russia's premier poet; his reputation for honour doesn't belong to

Of course, Tasha can flirt and loves admiration. That is only natural in any very
pretty girl. It's like a drug, that admiration; the more you get of it, the more you want but the poet knows she is a simple soul in some ways, faithful to her vows.
Very likely she wouldn't have chosen to marry an intellectual twelve years her
senior. For sure beauty as she is - if she'd had more of a dowry he might have been
trampled down in the stampede of gallants rushing to propose. Still, he likes to think that
he'd have melted her anyway, given the chance.
And he did make her love him, just as he assured that appalling mother of hers he
could, given time. There have been very few women he hasn't been able to win over, when
he's put his mind to it.
That is all beside the point; the Squinting Rembrandt Angel is his wife now, and he
has to guard her reputation as well as his.
D'Anthes not being there, matters will not come to a head tonight. So instead, with a
weary sigh, the once careless rake' s thoughts turn - again - to how he will ever make
enough money to keep things going - given that he can't write here in St Petersburg,
living this artificial life of balls and empty talk.
How else can he raise money? He has already mortgaged those serfs (those
'souls'*who would not be his, had his idealistic Decembrist* friends succeeded in the
coup d'tat).
It is a sad irony that the poet, who when the new Tsar Nicholas asked him where he
would have stood, had he been in St Petersburg on that December day, answered directly,
'I would have made one with them' is now scorned by some as having betrayed his ideals
for a lackey's coat in accepting the post of Kammerjunker. But the Tsar wanted Natalie
Nikolaevna to be at the Anichkov Balls.
He grinds his teeth at another few hours forever gone without any writing done.
Since His Excellency was so kind as to give him this demeaning position of
kammerjunker, he must attend court functions in a uniform more associated with boys not
yet out of their teens than a mature man.
Yet perhaps it is as well that he must be here in St Petursburg. At every function,
that swaggering, infatuated fool of a Count seeks out Natalya, giving rise to ever more
talk. If only she would snub him openly, as the poet does without a thought. He begins to
dread that her excuses about her sister Koko's being entangled with the buffoon and
compromised by him are so many excuses, that she is even attracted by such desperate
passion Now a voice is talking insistently in an aggrieved tone, annoying the writer.
He must have succeeded in getting away from the empty glitter of the Winter
Palace, as now he is walking through birdsong, coming to the edge of a copse of lime
trees, while the scent of the air and the chorus of birdsong tells him that he is deep in the
Even in this dream, he feels a surge of relief that he's fully Aleks Sager once more.
But he's not in Britain, for all that, and who is this thin, tall figure, emerging from the
It is surely d'Anthes.
No, whoever it is has darker hair and is still thinner, though d'Anthes has recently
had consumption. This man's leanness is obvious even swathed in a greatcoat. The figure
pauses at the edge of the copse, as if in expectation. Aleks keeps on towards it, finding

himself at the top of a grassy steep slope. Below sprawls a country estate that looks
The oddly skeletal man is familiar, too.
"You see me, now."
Aleks gives a sarcastic grunt, startled that the other's eyes are bright with
indignation. The dream figure goes on, "So kind in you, Sager, to give me all this and to
make it all dust and ashes through unrequited passion."
Aleks knows who it is then, and laughs in surprise. "So you're Ivan Ostrowski. This
is something new, one of my characters rating me."
The figure stands, arms folded, breathing quickly. "No, it isn't new, I have been
trying to make myself heard long, but it is only of late that you have noticed any
communication from me."
Of course, this must be the cause of that annoying, insistent voice in his dreams,
ranting in outrage. Recently, it has sounded almost threatening. "This is insane!" Anger
bubbles up in Aleks' chest. "Recurrent nightmares about Pushkin are bad enough, but shit
from something I've made up is crazy."
The figure moves closer, rage and hatred smouldering in its eyes: "You oblivious
fool, it's all connected. For sure you believe you created me, and for sure too, you have
had control over my fate and have feasted on my sufferings like a ghoul. It is through
writing of Eugene Onegin's distant cousin that you became famous. But what of me and
the others like me? I will endure no more. Now, I have fought my way through, for there
is something I will truly shift heaven and earth to have, Sager, and I give you fair
warning that I will stop at nothing to have it."
Aleks has no desire to find out what this is. All he feels is anger at this animated
corpses' nerve. The heat of his anger startles him, as if it comes from someone else', as
do his words: "I'm not listening to this. This is a dream in Tsarist Russia, where there
were plenty of hares, so let's see if I can turn you into one and I'll shoot you and make a
good dinner of you jugged."
He pictures the hare and a pistol, but the figure keeps on looking like an animated
human corpse: "This is my estate, Sager, and all the pistols hereabouts belong to me. I
give you fair warning, I want her and I will have her and you had best not stand in my
"Who?" Aleks stares, then remembers how he has made Ivan Ostrowski suffer from
unrequited passion for the superficial Madam Lyudmilla. He loses weight to the point of
looking skeletal; finally, half drunk and morbid, he calls in at a graveyard where,
stretching himself upon a grave in the spring chill, he invites death to come. For sure,
this dream figure looks ill and tormented, though not quite as bad as he imagined. Aleks'
sudden anger dampens down in a sudden surge of amused interest.
He never thought of having Ivan Ostrowski win his mistress Lyudmilla for good;
one reason is, it would go against that unpublished piece on Ivan Ostrowski Aleks wrote
years back, where Ivan, now married to an older women, looks back on his turbulent
youth. He has vaguely intended to get round to that bit, eventually.
After all, Lyudmilla allows Ivan to enjoy her sometimes; he's better off than his
relative Eugene Onegin, who didn't even succeed in getting his Tatiana to bed.
So this is what these threats are about; he would never have guessed he was so
imaginative; it makes sense that a character through whose misfortunes an author has

built his own success would be furiously resentful and rebellious. When he wakes this
theme might even make a good basis for a novel.
"You're saying you want me to give you a happy ending with Lyudmilla?" Aleks
laughs. "My conscience's gone today, bugging me about my fictional creations. Could be
I'll think about it, Ostrowski."
Those hollow grey eyes are still bright with rage: "Not she, Sager, it's too late for
that now that I have met Miss Natalie, and you will not snatch her from me. When I
kissed her, and she so sweetly gave me life over there, my soul became hers -"
Incredulous disgust and rage blaze through Aleks, so that he doesn't even hear the
last words. He laughs savagely: "Now I've heard everything; a dream figure wants to try
it on with a real woman? I can't believe the bullshit I'm making up! Get back in my book,
you nonentity. It's a joke to have one of my inventions getting heavy with me, leave out a
walking cadaver."
The figure moves closer. "I, your invention, you miserable ghoul? Ha! That Magus
is not so far wrong about how things must be. I give you fair warning, Sager. She's
Aleks laughs at it again: "Dream on; sorry to remind you, but you don't even exist."
He turns his back, picturing the Thing dissolving.
Instead his heart lurches as he is seized from behind with bony, frantic hands. He
jerks about, swearing ~
Aleks wakes, gasping.
He still can see those glittering grey eyes, feel those bony chill fingers digging into
his shoulders. He throws the memory off.
After his triumph with Natalie last night and earlier this morning, today is too good
a day to let that rubbish get to him, even if he's chased in his dreams by one of his own
He remembers thinking in the dream how that would make a good plot. He'll go and
start writing it now, but as comedy. How about a wannabe actor, trying his luck in
Hollywood? It might well help his screwed up mind; he's got nothing to lose (if he starts
getting dreams about the actor, he thinks he can handle that).
One thing is certain; he's never going to write another word about Ivan Ostrowski;
Smart and the fans can put as much pressure on him as they like.
He laughs, but memories stir: he remembers that blank note that spoilt the lovely
dance with Natalie starting to snuggle up to him.
He goes over to the pair of trousers he's thrown over the chair and pulls the thing
from the pocket. Last night, he'd seen no marks on this paper, which isn't the thick type
The Stalker uses, but is torn carelessly from some writing pad.
In the light of day, though, he can just make out scraping marks that finish off the
So, The Hater was there, mingling with the crowd, staring at Natalie.
Could it have been that half formed figure he thought he'd glimpsed, lurking behind
some doorway at the exact moment that Natalie turned dizzy, and laughingly blamed it on
her heels? No, that is purely crazy.

He jumps up. Keep busy on prosaic things, that's the stuff to brush nightmares away.
For one, he'll make a phone call to the bank to get his overdraft increased. That's needed,
all right.
He's on his second mug of tea when the phone rings.
It might even be Her. He rushes to it.
" Aleks, darling!" Liz sounds amazed, as if she hadn't expected him to answer his
own phone. For sure, he wouldn't have, if he'd known it was her. He doesn't bother
keeping the flat note of disappointment out of his voice. "Ah, Liz."
"Darling, I had such a bad feeling about you I had to ring you, but clearly, it was all
a silly mistake and you are all right."
The over ripe, self indulgent Liz, fleshy shoulders always on display; she sees
herself as sensitive to the point of being clairvoyant. She used to be an air hostess, and
generous with her favours among the pilots and wealthy passengers. She'd bedded a lot of
pop stars and married one - one of Errol Harding's early influences -and they've been
divorced ten years.
She dotes on Aleks, worshipping what she sees as his genius.
She'd love him to be one of her toy boys, but he keeps her at arms length. If she
looked different he'd be delighted to oblige her.
Lately, she tells him there's something she doesn't like seeing in him.
'Yeah, you and the rest.'
'No, I mean I am concerned for you, Aleks. There's a growing tension about you."
'Blame my bank balance.'
Perhaps she isn't far out with her flabby concern. "Sure I'm all right." he says sourly.
Nan's voice from his childhood tells him that he ought to thank her, so he does,
flatly, in case she takes it as an invitation.
She says, "I hear you've taken up with some up and coming model. Everyone who
was at that party is raving about her looks. (Liz hadn't been at that party; he can't
remember why). I was a little envious -" he pulls a face and she continues, "When I heard
about her waist length red hair. I used to have that, you know, back in the nineteensixties."
"News travels fast, Liz. I only met Natalie Nicholson for the first time last night."
"Errol Harding says you're in love with her."
"There's lots of things I could say about Errol Harding and all."
She laughs wildly. "They say that she's going to be the Next Big Thing."
"No, that's Fifi's arse."
After a bit more talk on these lines, she gives him a passionately sincere invitation
to dinner. "Do, Do bring this girl. I'm So, So dying to meet her!' and rings off.
Whistling to keep his spirits up, he goes down to check the mail.
No, one Those Notes isn't there. He knew that anyway; he never misses that hateful
THUNK! of salutation: Come on, Sager; see what a treat is waiting here for you.
There's a large envelope of fan mail forwarded from his publishers. One runs to two
sides of praise without a full stop. Another, from someone signing himself Your Greatest
Fan, asks him to Just Glance Over the Enclosed First Chapter.
Aleks remembers his own struggles too clearly not to look at the first few lines.
Otherwise, the guy might take to invading parties on unicycles.

'Do you have to go, My Lord?' Slant eyed Diomede sat up buff naked revealing
thrusting pink tipped breasts, her awe filled gaze, lingered on Achilles' muscled shoulders
and top rate pecs his biceps had to be seventeen centimetres easy 'got to go, girl' golden
Achilles strode purposefully to his armour, strapped on his helmet. "but they can sing for
me showing before the walls of Troy.'
She drew herself up a queen among woman rising like Achilles mother Thetis did
from the waves but still no rival to Briseis in all her beauty Achilles heart ached bad
thinking of his lithe and lovely Briseis, seized so cruelly by the Mycenaean King.
'Then I will help you don your armour, My Lord.' Diomede ran her hands greedily
over his ripped back Achilles grunted - '
So does Aleks: "Sorry, mate!" He stuffs it into the bin.
The other piece of mail is his credit card bill; he saves this pleasure until last and
whistles. How did he manage to spend such an obscene sum (Sorry, Kon for that
consumerist decadence)?!
He'll soon be in trouble at this rate. He needs another best seller big time if he's
wants to keep on with this lifestyle; better still, two.
He strides as purposefully as Achilles to his study to begin this new work. Who's he
kidding? Somebody ought to award him an Unproductively Bonus.
In the study, the sun shines on the desk, newly polished by Monika yesterday.
He realises suddenly that he'll have to keep Monika at arm's length now. She isn't
going to like that, and she ain't an equable sort of woman. He remembers her telling him
about how she paid some ex boyfriend back for various grudges by sabotaging his car.
Half of these Aleks didn't understand, but women's psyche's have always been beyond his
Probably Aleks never should have got involved with her, particularly as there is
something surprisingly nave about the woman, her brain uncontaminated by reason; she
venerates him as Clever. He doesn't think that she loves him, but he does know for sure
that if he tells her that he's in love with another woman she isn't going to take it as a
Still, what was he to do when a nice looking woman rubbed her breasts against him
while he sat harmlessly trying to scribble at his desk and she stooped over him to empty
the wastepaper bin, smiling invitation?
He's never been one for writing straight onto the PC; he likes to write at his desk in
the bay widow, using longhand, breaking off to stare out at the view. Through the seasons
he watches the trees opposite, chewing his pen while they bud in spring, stir green
plumage in summer breezes, drop their bronze canopies in autumn rains and shake bare
boughs in bitter winter gusts.
After writing two paragraphs, he feels so sick that he throws down his pen and sits,
head in hands. It's too close to that dream - to what may be coming his way outside of
dreams - for him to be able bear writing about it.
He scans through it. If he can't raise a smile at it, for sure nobody else will, though
there's little chance that it will put them in mind of their own nightmares.
He screws the paper up savagely and hurls it in the bin. For all he's achieved lately,
he might as well just sit crumpling up paper and tossing it in that bin without writing a

As he waits for the nausea to pass, he doodles aimlessly. Coming to himself, he

glances down at the drawing. Once again it's a limp figure hanging suspended from a
rope, head lolling. Who but Kon, his own Decembrist*?
The last time they met, Aleks had actually used the words, 'Hang on mate'. Of
course, the authorities said it was suicide: Aleks knew otherwise; Kon had fallen out with
the wrong people. He just hopes they made a proper job of it and broke his neck straight
off, the poor bastard.
And Mickey hanged himself, only months after getting out. Left a mad note about
voices his head and Siberia...
That old boy had waxed lyrical as he handed down sentences that made the court
gasp: 'I cannot see this as misplaced idealism; this was an attack upon the Very Fabric of
our society and it is my Sad Duty Etc Etc.'
...With Kon's mother sobbing, 'But he only ever did what he though was right!' Sure;
that's often a foolproof way of getting into trouble...
Aleks own involvement with People Before Profits was always dilatory; he'd been
cynical even at nineteen. Turning up late - as usual - and hung over from a girl's bed, he'd
missed out on that demonstration that sky rocketed into a riot, and so escaped arrest and
trial for Conspiracy, Incitement and the rest, going on to find fame as a writer.
It ought to have been him; Aleks knows he could handle being inside. His father had
always predicted what he still called Reform School for Aleks and Errol when they were
with the Tottenham Dudes...
Rick has pointed out the bathetic resemblance between Aleks' late arrival to the
demonstration that day, and Pushkin's missing the Decembrists uprising himself, turning
back from his trip to the capital because his superstitious fears had been aroused by
running into some priests and hares on the first leg of his journey.
"It's all part of the curse; can't you see?"
"No shit, Sherlock - So it was part of the fun sent by our friend the Magus, eh?
Except that all that happened before that Ouija Board crap."
"Fuck you, Watson - that Magus said his curse worked backwards as well as
forwards because time is circular, not linear."
"Piss off, will you? Look, you've dreamed all this up, Rick. For the last fucking time,
that Magus stuff from the Ouija Board all came from us and our own psyches; that bit
about curses working backwards and forwards and your dick not standing up and all."
"You might have told me that your contact was Clive Roberts." Natalie sips some of
her champagne, and at once Aleks Sager tops up her glass.
She's going to have to watch out, as she always gets silly and giggly on champagne.
Once, after half a bottle, she obliged Fifi by pulling up her skirt in public to show the
company that she is a contender - as Fifi drunkenly insisted - for the title of Most
Beautiful Bum in Britain. That'd been in a restaurant too; the other customers had
applauded and one girl had slapped her boyfriend's face for ogling too much.
With luck, that delicious meal should keep her from getting too tipsy. If she sees
much more of this man, she's going to have to watch her weight.
He is grinning. "My little surprise for a Pre-Raphaelite Beauty."
"I stumbled out of bed still half awake, sure it was a wrong number or some
salesperson -"

He sighs. "Don't tempt me; the lovely picture that conjures up." He doesn't dwell on
the details she can tell from his breathing are whirling through his mind's eye.
He's as suave as he was as he talked to her on the sofa, and when he charmed the
paints off Great Aunt Sally. You wouldn't think it was the same man who insulted his
agent and his friend at that party, who sneeringly dismissed that unfortunate fan.
He is clearly a creature of moods; Mean and Moody, she supposes. Lots of girls go
for types like that. The Brooding Anti Hero sort of stuff (mind you, that type is generally
depicted as tall dark and handsome, which Aleks Sager certainly isn't; dark, yes).
Natalie has never found that sort romantic herself; she likes somebody cheerful. In
Aleks Sager's case, combined as his Mean Moodiness is with hair that looks as if he pulls
his head in and out of a hedge for five minutes before going out, those terrible sidewhiskers and those unclipped nails, she wants to know why her ice is melting?
She can't stop smiling. "I thought I was still dreaming when he said, 'Clive Roberts
here '. He's wants me on the Tiger Girl promotion."
"Good," Aleks Sager is clearly fighting a tendency of the eyes to glaze over at the
mention of Tiger Girl ('Because You're Young; Because You're Wild; Because You're
Beautiful'). Hers did the same at the mention of 'Ivan Ostrowski'.
"I wanted to say 'Thank you' I still can't quite believe -"
"That there were 'No Strings Attached'? But there were, darling."
Perhaps her eyes are dilating in dismay. Even as she feels that plunge of
disappointment in her stomach, she finds the thought flashing through her mind that if it's
him and not Clive Roberts, the thought of a session on a casting couch isn't physically
disgusting; what upsets her is that he's gone back on his word just like all those other men
so eager to help her out, when he'd convinced her that he was different.
"I wanted to show you my power, in the way of all competitive, sublimating males
in this sad world of repressed aggression. These days we don't fight to the death over
women, generally - or show off our superior hunting skills with one perfectly aimed
spear. We try and impress them with trying to drive each other off the road in
overpowered cars, while, weedy and narrow shouldered, we hunch over the wheel after a
day wasted hunching likewise over a PC."
She laughs. "You're neither weedy nor narrow shouldered."
Their eyes meet. "Thank you. I work out a bit, but I avoid those exclusive health
clubs I told you about, with those empty Olympic sized swimming pools and capped
toothed jerks doing bench presses."
It seems nothing pleases him, either people keeping fit or not keeping fit, and he
obviously has no sympathy for people with capped teeth either, having no need of them
"You're so tolerant of people."
"It's the only way to be; that way, tossers avoid you. What do you do yourself to
keep your figure so beautiful? I accept that your face is just like that naturally, but that
She doesn't usually admit to the plastic surgery on her nose. "I stuff my face at
parties every night."
As Natalie finishes her champagne, he takes her hand under the table. He caresses it
and it does things to Her Bits. To distract herself she asks, "Where do you live, anyway?"
"Off Highbury Fields."

"How select, Mr Sager. You've seen where I live. It's interesting how you can live
close to someone and never see them." Then she remembers that he did see her. He
pauses, ready to tell her all about that. It sends another sort of thrill through her.
"That time I caught sight of you, I'm with a group of mates, going up Kingsland
High Street, not a care in the world; Errol and a couple of the others are high as kites.
Then I see you crossing at the lights, looking so unreal that everyone on my side just
stops, gawping. You don't take any notice; you must be used to that sort of reaction.
'You sail on, that mane of auburn hair streaming in the breeze, expertly balancing on
ridiculous heels, your skin glowing pearly like some stupid advertisement for that gunk
you women shove on your faces for Even Skin Tone or whatever, and as for your profile,
those lips, those eyes! I know I can't let you go, that I'm hooked. Without a word to the
others, I start off after you like an amorous bison, wondering what I can say, when you've
got to have men chasing after you every day.
'Errol grabs my arm, pulling me up short: 'Hey, where you going?'
'I gulp, pulling my arm loose, 'Her!' pointing crazily, like he can do anything about
it. Then, for the first and certainly the last time in the years I've known him, he says
something miraculous: ''I know her, Aleks man.'
'I gibber, hopping up and down as he slowly drawls, 'She's a mate of Fifi's. I know
parts of Fifi very well...Ummm, yeah." He smiles at the happy memory. I've envied him
about Fifi before, but now I gabble impatiently, asking him to get her to set things up for
us to meet.
He nods, solemn understanding breaking through his haze: 'Love... I've had it bad
myself. Yeah. Love, that's it...There's that party coming up, Fifi can ask her along.'
Looking at me conspiratorially, he adds - as if making a profound revelation - "Fifi, Yeah.
Tits, Tits, Tits.'"
Natalie has to laugh, but adds, "There's a lot more to Fifi than that. She was tipped
for a first in Physics at Oxford, you know."
He smiles; she can see his thought on the air, 'Who in her publicity thought up that
"It's true!" But somehow his assumptions don't matter, because what was simmering
between them is heating up still more and her skin tingles as their eyes lock.
The waiter chooses this time to come over and they can't tear their eyes away form
each other. He has to stand by, making a sort of gentle hissing noise between his teeth,
like the steam building in them both.
"Shall we go on to the club?"
Aleks has the waiter call a cab while they have some after dinner brandy, and they
can't stop staring at each other; the waiter's voice comes as from far away: "Your bill, Mr
He drags those knowing light blue eyes away from hers: "What? What the hell is it
now? The bill? Oh, OK."
Aleks excuses himself to go to the gents. As he rises, a man comes through the door
from the corridor where the lavatories are; behind him Aleks catches a glimpse of another
figure, oddly familiar.
It is shifting and transparent (but he's had hardly any wine, he doesn't want to put off
The Pre-Raphaelite One by pissing it up and he's desperately hoping that she Might Just).

He blinks and looks again, just catching another glimpse of the form as the door
swings to.
The man who has come through speaks to him, hesitant and smiling. Aleks realises
it's a fellow writer, practically an acolyte.
Sneakily glad that Natalie can see how well known he is, he has to grin at how the
geezer is clearly - as any man who's in working order has to be - goggle eyed with
admiration at the sight of her. She smiles at him in placid friendliness while the poor sod
looks as though he's about to drool all over the table. "Ms - Er -?"
You're not the only one, mate. Aleks is as full of suavity as 'The Mysterious
McCavity'. "This is Natalie Nicholson, whose beauty has turned me into a grovelling
She allocates him another smile.
"My God, I don't blame you...Good to meet you, Natalie."
After some meaningless chat, the man drags himself away, back to his party and his
pouting wife. Half way over, he casts a longing glance back at Natalie. Grinning, Aleks
excuses himself again and goes through that door.
It's still there. It's the man (?) from the party in the crazy old fashioned get up.
It's also Ivan Ostrowski from his dream, only looking less like a living corpse, more
like a thin, malevolent human being.
No, this can't be happening! Blink, get a grip on yourself, this is ridiculous.
He does blink. The figure's still there.
He, or it, speaks now, with a soft but noticeable mixed accent. Even in his horror,
Aleks thinks how that makes sense; of course, it must the accent of a Russian fluent in
English who habitually speaks the French that was the first language of all the aristocrats
of early nineteenth century Russia.
"You see, here I am in your world. Take care, Sager. I will not permit you to take
her, now she is mine. You turned tail just as I was telling you that she gave me life here
when we shared a kiss. As I said then, I give you fair warning; if you put one filthy,
infected hand on her I will destroy you. Before, I hated you for living in squalid luxury
through making me suffer over Madam Lyudmilla. Now, for Miss Natalie Nicholson I
will destroy you."
Your imagination has gone into overdrive; now you're even seeing your characters
in 3D when wide awake! For all that, this one's got a nerve, threatening its creator.
Aleks responds as if that threat came from a human male: "Ya wanna romp wit me?
Piss off or I'll beat the shit out of you."
"It is I who destroys you if you don't keep away from her. I tell you she is mine: she
knows it too, now. I knew it the moment I set eyes on her."
Aleks lunges forward, careless of what will happen if someone comes out and sees.
The figure laughs as it raises languid, long, bony hands; on one finger, that ruby ring
Aleks described glitters. His Ivan Ostrowski shares some of the dandified ways of his
relative Eugene; certainly, that aristocratic contempt is just as Aleks imagined, and saw in
that dream. As the Thing thrusts out its hands, Aleks seizes it by the shoulders, feeling the
muscles tense. They wrestle together; to his rage and humiliation Aleks finds himself on
the floor.

Its tone is unbearably supercilious: "You wish us to fight for her? How can I
challenge you when you are not of my class? I cannot fight a duel with a loutish
"I'm mad, quarrelling with a fucking figment of my imagination." Aleks, still on the
floor, grabs one of its legs, trying to distract the wiry figure towering over him by forcing
a dismissive laugh: "You don't even exist." As he grabs its leg, it seizes his head,
wrenching it forward as if to pull it off, swinging one arm back. Even as Aleks moves to
block the blow the door behind flings open, the figure is gone and he topples backwards.
With clicking heels and shrill laughter, two women plunge through the door, looking
as though they've emptied a bottle of wine apiece.
Aleks, sitting on the floor, feels almost as stupid as he does weak and sick with
They hurry over to him, exclaiming in concern. Women can be so nice; yet these
same woman may have come fresh from the pleasure of sticking needles into some
unguarded man who has allowed one the upper hand.
"Are you ill? What happened?" One is kneeling by him, the tight skirt of her
stretchy glittery dress riding up so that he can see between those splendid parted thighs to
her lacy white knickers.
He makes to get up, surprised at the shakiness of his legs. He feels as if he has had
an electric shock and his tongue is numbed, so it's difficult to talk. "I slipped, dodging
that guy. I'll be OK."
She is helping him up, exuding perfume, her own female scent and sympathy.
"Did you knock your head?" Her friend, for all the drink, has a professional edge to
her concern. Most likely she's a nurse or some sort of medic, even a doctor. In his normal
frame of mind, Natalie or no Natalie, Aleks would be fantasising about her in a white coat
just covering her bum, stethoscope swinging over the buttons straining over those breasts.
The head waiter comes through the door, his amiable smile twisting into a bitter leer.
No doubt this is the way he looks whenever, escaping through those doors, he can let that
professional mask slip. It slides back on: "Mr Sager!" He obviously thinks Aleks is
shitfaced. "What happened?"
"The sight of these women was too much for me." Aleks wants to flirt to eclipse his
Shock Horror.
They laugh and Aleks assures them he only collided with some geezer on his way to
the gents.
This worries the head waiter. "Did he go back into the gents? - Excuse me!" He
hurries in there to check. Aleks senses his uncomfortably full bladder again. It's a mercy
he didn't piss himself during that encounter. It would really have done it for Natalie to
find him crouching on the floor with urine soaked trousers.
Then, on top of everything else, Natalie is among them, a vision of beauty in her
white dress, on her way to do some piddling herself. Her smile fades as the medical
woman explains that they found him on the floor. "On the floor? Are you all right,
The earlier magic between them has gone. He curses, desperately hoping this
alteration in her feelings is temporary. He can tell as if she had it in neon letters on her
forehead that now she's Not Bothered.

If he was the weak, whiney sort of man he despises, he'd take advantage of her
fussing, encouraging her to accompany him back home, collapsing on the bed and going
on to ask her to join him, just to keep him company: 'I won't Try Anything'.
He has always suspected Rick of being one of that sort on the sly; for sure he'd be
telling the truth these days in saying that he wouldn't Do Anything, though he might try.
Aleks wants Natalie's respect: he dismisses her concern: "I only fell over avoiding
that guy..." Already the lie is building. The waiter is back, not having found anyone there,
and asking the women, "And no-one passed you in the door?"
"No." The medical one smiles at Aleks, "Don't tell me you saw a ghost?"
Aleks loses all sense of flirtatious fun: "No, I won't tell you that."
They Make Their Excuses and Leave.
Natalie is still concerned about him and he's trying to hide the fact that he's even
more concerned about himself: Whether the Ivan Ostrowski manifestation was a figment
of his imagination or a spot of Obeah, it's equally bad.
If the first, he's going off his head at last. Some people would say that it's Been A
Long Time Coming, like a London bus. It's always possible those bad dreams, those nice
guilt feelings and those sweet anonymous letters have finally driven him over the edge.
If the second, then he is in serious trouble; one of his own characters wants to kill
Worse, it wants Natalie: what is that it said about kissing her?
She looks so normal that he can't ask her if she's been kissing any ghostly figures
She gave me life over here with that kiss.
"Natalie, stop this fussing and excuse me while I finally go and take a leak."
Whatever that thing was, it's ruined his plans as well as if it worked it all out.
That expression, 'Filthy, infected' . He heard that before recently, but where was it?
If his mind was less befuddled by horror, he would remember. Now he's torn by conflict,
too; he knows he shouldn't get Natalie involved with him with this hanging over him and
he knows too that he can't resist her. He must have her; he can't bear the thought of
anyone else having her.
As they say goodnight, and she is standing looking at him - wearing ballet shoes, so
they are almost on a level - she sweetly unconscious that those pouting lips are pursed up
in readiness for the kiss - he is abstracted.
Normally, a sudden radio announcement that the end of the world comes tomorrow
wouldn't distract him from concentrating his full, fiery attention on any woman who was
giving him the come on (save poor old Liz).
What - horrors, if he gets potency problems like Rick?
He can't concentrate on this beauty, even as he knows how she's melting, taking to
him nicely, that if he handles things properly he might find his way into this unbelievable
creature's heart and her bed.
Their lips meet in a kiss.
After a moment, he stops and admits to disgrace (wouldn't Rick be delighted?).
"Natalie, this is a bad joke, when normally just thinking of one kiss from you would be
enough for steam to burst out of my ears, to put it politely. There's no excuse; still, I'm in
a weird mood, and I can't give you my full attention. You deserve a grovelling apology,

darling, and it would serve me right if you never want to see me again, seeing as di
ooman dem wanna stamina daddy. "
"Natalie is disappointed; she has been dreading how that terrible, air sucking kiss
from the Animated Corpse might spoil kissing him, but when her Hairy Admirer's tongue
slipped briefly between her lips, it felt just right. She dissolved, in fact. She would
probably have been his for the asking.
It is certainly ironical that she should be in the mood and him not. She can't help
doing some mental chuckling at the thought of how enraged Charley Danton would be if
he knew; she wishes he did.
Stop thinking about him, fool! He's never coming back, I tell you!
"I think I'll forgive you."
"I just hoping you'll come out with me again, and soon."
"Of course I will."
"Hmm, I'm not so sure about that 'Of course'."
"I do mean it."
"You've got such guileless eyes, Natalie. But I'd be a saddo if I hadn't learnt by my
age that no woman is guileless, and as for one as beautiful as you -"
"Marta would say, 'Less of the sexism'."
He draws back looking stung: "Who?"
"I was only joking; a woman called Marta who lives in the road who taught me selfdefence. She's always ranting about sexism."
"I know her, too."
She can't imagine how they get on; or rather she can.
Meanwhile, he looks at her seriously for a while. She finds it impossible to tell from
those light blue eyes of his what is going on under his wild mop of hair. A woman could
get lost in those eyes; there is so much in them of cynical understanding, a strange sort of
grudging tenderness.
She knows intuitively that he is too clever for her; he is a smooth operator hiding
behind a straightforward act. In other words, he's what Great Aunt Sally would call 'A
Tricky Customer'. She's out of her depth, but it is intriguing. She loved Charley Danton will never be able to think of him without loving him - but he was straightforward, not
intriguing in that way at all.
Aleks says, "I am going to have big trouble over you, I can see it on its way. But
how can I resist? And you've got to have trouble, over me. It might be easier for you to
resist my wonderful attractions; we will have to see...Goodnight, Natalie. I'll ring you."
That being said almost in a tone of reassurance, it makes her feel prickly (she really
is going to have to watch herself, or she'll end up like Marta). "And I may even phone
"I'll look forward to that. Goodbye, sweetheart." He smiles and walks briskly down
the steps.
Between night and dawn, between full sleep and waking, in the hour of
transformations, Natalie hears the male come into the flat.
Not Aleks Sager - he hasn't got a key - she knows from her chill of dread that it is
That Other. It's The Kissing Ghoul who stood staring at her in the cemetery like an

amorous corpse; the monster who stole breath and vitality from her in that hateful
She starts up, her heart thumping so it feels it will burst, eyes popping as they glare
through the dim light,, tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth, scalp prickling.
She knows the door will open and it will be standing there in those dandified period
clothes. It will be looking unwell, but not as drained as before, exuding an abominable
gloating smugness, an unchallengeable drawling superiority. The thought of meeting
those chill grey eyes is unbearable. She wants to dive under the bedclothes; panic holds
her fast.
She realises that it can come to her now because of that dreadful kiss. If she hadn't
turned back in that dream, it couldn't have gained that power. She has been dreading this
at the back of her mind ever since, trying not to admit the sickening possibility.
It is better to face it than wait for it to come to her. She feels that if the door opens
and she sees it standing there, she will go mad. Her limbs are numb, but somehow she
forces them to move, her arms to push back the duvet, her legs to swing down over the
side of the bed. She even pulls down her nightie, that longish frilly white old fashioned
thing that Great Aunt Sally bought her: 'Darling, you will look as beautiful as an angel in
it.' Poor, sweet old Auntie. Not having had any company in bed since Charley's leaving,
Natalie wears it.
Her feet are numb still as she moves to the door. It's no use taking a weapon; Marta
has taught her that's one way of ensuring that a weapon is used on you. Besides what
good are such anyway against something inhuman? She opens the bed room door,
sobbing in her terror.
It isn't in the hallway; she knows that it's standing in the sitting room. She feels that
she will scream and faint if she opens the door and sees it where she knows it to be; it's
looking supercilious, patrolling soundlessly by the bookcase crammed with Great Aunt
Sally's books (left there in the hope that Natalie might start reading them).
She flings open the door. The figure turns; she does scream - almost skittishly, as
though she had hurt herself - and it comes over quickly. She dodges behind a chair.
"Please do not be alarmed; I would not frighten you."
"Ghoul, rapist!!" she quavers through shaking lips.
He draws himself up in apparent outrage: "How! Ghoul and rapist?"
Why is she surprised at his outrage? Marta told Natalie how she'd floored a man
who'd attacked her, yelling: 'Fucking Rapist!' and he'd been as stunned by her words as
much as her blows.
But this isn't a man, but some Daemon, without even the By- Passed human
conscience rapists presumably carry about with them.
"Why, Miss Natalie, surely you do not fear that I intend to force myself upon you? I
am not some barbaric warrior from Ancient Greece or Norseman from the dark ages." It
seizes her hand and kisses it. Now, its lips are normally warm. She wrenches her hand
away, sensing even as she does so that in allowing that it is demonstrating its gallantry.
"Neither did I mean, Goddess, that my approach will be as coarse and hurried as
that of - that person to whom you think you may grant your favours. We gallants of
yesteryear know how to pay court to a lady. It is my part to make you invite me into your
into your life and your heart. The beasts of this world, who would force any woman,

could never win the love of any in possession of her wits or self respect. It is wonderful to
be here talking to you so; I have been trying so hard to contact you."
There is something almost reassuringly prosaic about these words, as though It was
doing some equivalent of trying to phone or leave a message: yet of course, this form of
'contacting her' it mentions is unbelievably sinister.
It smiles reassuringly; while she notes that though the face is nothing like as drawn
as it was, it is still thin and haggard enough to look alarmingly ghoulish, it goes on,
"Why, you look so sweet in that nightdress with your hair in plaits so, that I would have
to be a monster to think of taking you by force."
But isn't that just what it is?
The figure - seemingly elongated by its thinness - moves in still closer. She leaps
further away. From somewhere it comes to her how to wound its feelings - inhuman
though they are - and its pride: "Disgusting ghoul! Horrible animated corpse from a
It pauses, anger flickering across its haggard face. It was stretching its hands
towards her, and now freezes, so that she notices a flashy ruby ring on one of its bony
fingers: horrible, dandified monster.
"I no more come from that cemetery where first you saw me than do you, Goddess. I
was waiting there for you to pass."
"What do you want? Why are you haunting me?"
Above those insanely sparkling grey eyes its eyebrows go up. She's seen them close
up, when she wakened to find it lying on her with such horrible intimacy and sexual
urgency. These brows, in contrast to Aleks Sager's bushy ones, are so well shaped that
they look as though they have been plucked. Most likely they have; the chestnut hair
looks as though it is styled with curling rags; those glinting teeth look as if their owner
spends half an hour a day on polishing them; there is a strong cologne like scent, and
those old fashioned clothes, now she takes them in, are immaculate, though it is half
dressed once more, wearing that loose fitting cream shirt with the buttons undone down
the chest, which has only a light covering of surprisingly golden hair. The being is, as she
had sensed before she saw it, still unhealthily pale, though no longer ghastly.
"My Sweet One, do not pretend to be quite so nave; you well know the answer to
Natalie shudders in disgust at its affectionate tone. "I don't! Who are you?"
He bows with what the novelists of the sort of stories her sister Kathy reads would
call 'Practised Ease'. "My name is Ivan Ostrowski."
Her heart jolts: that sounds like the name of Aleks Sager's character. Her lips form
the words, 'Eugene Onegin' though no sound comes.
"Eugene Onegin is a distant cousin."
It's incredibly horrible the matter of fact way that it speaks of a made up character's
being a relation, as if they have some sort of independent existence. Still, everything
about this meeting is horrible.
"I - but I - Why are you haunting me?" Again, she sounds merely irritable; their
exchanges are somehow grotesquely like a quarrel between a couple.
"Because of what that - that miserable imitator of Pushkin has done to me, feasting
off my life like a vulture." It eases about the chair towards her, but she moves too,
keeping it between them. "I saw you even as he did."

He shakes his head. "How could any male be proof against such beauty as yours?
Your face is a pure oval; your features are so delicately sculpted; your skin is as a peach,
and your eyes would draw a soul from eternity. As a gentleman, I will make no mention
of your more corporal charms, though they rouse me to fever pitch. At once, I knew it was
you for whom I had been waiting."
She feels like telling it to go and wait some more, say for another eighty years.
She remembers gloating happily over Aleks Sager's account of the effect of her
looks on him when he saw her going up Kingsland High Street. That was before his
supposedly keeling over. Afterwards he'd been shaken but pretending to be normal until
that disappointing kiss.
Since then, she had wondered if he had fits and kept it quiet; she'd had a friend at
school with mild epilepsy who felt the same and Natalie had helped her cover it up,
though not understanding her friend's shame.
Now another understanding suddenly comes, and with it increased horror; now it
has appeared at least twice in the real world: "Aleks told me he slipped over - he said he
saw a man -"
Its eyes flash. It can't hide its jealous rage: "Aleks, indeed. So he has wormed
himself so far into your favour, while you abuse me as a 'Disgusting Ghoul' and as a
'Horrible Animated Corpse from a Cemetery'. That is the language I have from you,
whom I adore. The man he met was, of course, me. I can't let him beat me to such a prize
as you; I cannot let him have you. I could not bear for you to be wasted on such a man as
he. I at least am capable of appreciating you."
It shakes in its horrible passion as it goes on: "None of these effete beings who pass
for men in your age are worthy of you, but of all people, I could endure it least were he,
my tormentor, to win you. It was only fair to warn him. If he ignores my warning, he must
take the consequences." It laughs contemptuously.
Natalie feels that Ivan Ostrowski laughs, you know he's laughing at you, never with
you, certainly never at himself. It's a cold controlled chuckle, and it sends even more of a
chill through her.
She wants to ask it what these consequences will be, but her lips are frozen by his
words, as frozen as they were by that awful kiss. They stand looking at each other for
what seems a long time.
Then it gives a smile of patronising tenderness: "Your look speaks more than any
words. You reproach me for wanting you, for interfering between you and - and - That
Sager Creature. You must understand: Sager has made my existence a torment, though I
am breaking free; only you can right matters. I ask you to regard me with kindness. It is
the only hope for all of us."
She passes a hand across her eyes, and he starts forward again. She somehow gets
out through shaking lips, "Stop! If you come any nearer, I'll scream the house down."
"Your lips are like a Cupid's bow. I would kiss them again."
At the thought of another such suffocating kiss, she opens the said Cupid's bow to
shriek and howl. He is on her in one astounding bound, slotting something between her
It seems to be some sort of jelly. Is this some drugged sweetmeat it has brought with
it? She squirts it back out again, hysterical with rage and fear, opening her mouth and

throat again to scream. It says, "Don't do so; I had to do what I did the once to you, but
never again; have I not said that I am your slave?"
It drops to the floor, as in her dream. She looks at it undecided. "What was that
disgusting thing you just tried to stuff into my mouth?"
Its lips twitch; their eyes meet; she knows what it is thinking. This is the first flash of
humour that she has seen in this Ghoul Thing, for its nasty chuckling over the thought of
hurting Aleks Sager certainly couldn't count. "A sweetmeat merely, a jelly."
An idea comes to her, straight from some film seen in childhood: "You've just said
that you're my slave?"
"I spoke true."
"Then I order you to leave both me and Aleks alone and to go back where you came
It indicates with a motion of his head. "Look out of the window, sweet Miss
Warily, moving backwards, sensing a trap, she turns her head: the tall, terraced
houses opposite are shimmering and disappearing, being replaced by a strangely foreign
country view of unfenced meadows, trees, and in the distance, horses and cattle, which
themselves are oddly unfamiliar. There is a cart nearby, and to one side is a steep,
wooded hill. In the far distance is a hamlet, the buildings wooden and foreign.
She gasps.
He is shaking with some form of effort and his voice is hoarse. "That is where I
belong. I want you to come back with me. I shall never tire of trying to keep you happy.
With you, the country life I once found so full of ennui would be a haven for me. We could
raise a family."
Here is Great Aunt Sally's carpet under her feet; it hasn't succeeded in transporting
her there yet; she senses that it may have to have her permission.
The being moves towards her, stretching out a hand: "Come, my darling, just for a
little visit at first. You shall not be trapped there, I promise you -"
She does scream, then ~
Natalie, nearly awake, knows herself back in bed, if she ever left it, in a desperate
There are those grey eyes again, staring into hers and that weight on her. It is more
sexual this time, burningly so, but it isn't trying to force itself on her with its body - half
clothed as it is - but to force Its horrible ideas on her with its mind. Her own sexual
yearning, though, for this ghoul, this monster, is immediate and horrific; she has to fight
This goes on for what seems to be minutes, and at one dreadful point she feels a
floating sensation while it makes some sound of triumph, then suddenly it is gone.
She is awake, safe, panting.
Get a grip on yourself, Natalie. It was only a dream.
Her heart races. That fright she had on seeing that man or ghost in the cemetery
seems to have set off a hateful series of nightmares. She can't swear that she even saw
that form at the party, or that it was the same one as she saw in the cemetery; she was too
busy fighting that dizzy sense of a pull out of reality, a tug on her senses -

Like the one you had when you were struggling to wake up just then.
Rubbish! I don't believe it; that was just a bad dream that went on too long.
When Natalie calls on her Great Aunt's part of the house later that morning, Great
Aunt Sally doesn't ask about Natalie's evening with Aleks Sager. For all she has taken in a
big way to him, Natalie can tell that under the wildly curling hair Great Aunt Sally shares
in common with him, thoughts have been churning on the lines of, 'You'll Put her Off if
you Show Your Liking for That Delightful Man Too Much - These Young People are So
Awkward' and 'Don't, Whatever You Do, say, 'How Did the Evening Go, Dearest?'
So, she talks about her redecorating plans instead: "Your part certainly needs
brightening up (And My Parts, Auntie!). What would you say to a touch of that Rose
Blush for the bathroom?"
"I'd say Yuk!"
"Too Barbie-Esque, I suppose. - Goodness, that reminds me, you and Kathy were so
sweet, playing at fashion shows with those Barbies, and do you remember when I made
you a cat walk and your father wired up a light for it? He always did make you girls such
nice toys. I was going through my old photos the other day and I found some of you and
Kathy playing with that. - One wall in that Primrose Promise, then?"
This illustrates why Great Aunt Sally should never have chosen art as a career. "It's
sweet of you, Auntie, but anything but the Primrose Promise."
Great Aunt Sally abandons dreams of using up that last tin with a theatrical wave.
"We'll buy something, then. Herb tea?"
"Peach, please...Auntie Sally, do you remember how Fifi said one night she was
sexually assaulted by a thing called an Incubus?"
"Yes, dearest and in her case, one can hardly blame it."
"After that, I don't know if I'll go on with what I was going to say."
"Oh dear, I'm sorry, Natalie, it was just a tasteless joke. Please do go on."
Natalie goes to stand staring out over the muddy waste of the garden next door. Here
the neighbours in the dead of night have odd bursts of enthusiasm for hurling about what
sounds like giant pieces of metal. She speaks flatly.
"I've been having horrible dreams about a demon thing. It threatens Aleks Sager and
says - and says it wants me and it's that character in his book - Ivan Ostrowski -that's it.
Each time when I've woken up I can see it with my open eyes; it's lying on me in a
horrible, sexual way, but it isn't exactly like the incubus thing Fifi said happened to her
because my head swims and it tries to take me with it as it goes. I don't want to tell
anyone because of my father. What if they think I'm going off my head a bit, too? It never
does to have that on y our medical records."
Great Aunt Sally, standing frozen holding a bag of herb tea above a mug, runs over
to hug her. "Then they'd be fools. You poor dear, such an alarming dream. Still, it's an
obvious case of projection, dearest. You're alarmed at shall we say Feelings you have for
Aleks Sager, so you've mixed it all up in your head with his character personifying the
conflicted part of your mind."
"But it's so horribly vivid, Auntie ..." Natalie tells her something of how Aleks'
character looked and spoke, but Great Aunt Sally continues to be reassuring.
"You've disguised him, making this Ivan Ostrowski look more or less opposite to
him - long and thin and pale and a dandy. Of course it's antipathetic towards him. The

dismay of the sensuality is of course, self evident. I have no wish to criticise your mother,
but I sometimes think she might have been more encouraging regarding natural instincts
-well, I know you don't want to discuss Such Matters with your Ancient Aunt and I won't
embarrass you or insult your intelligence by going into it further..."
And so on and so forth.
She makes an excellent job of explaining it all, while putting matters as delicately as
Marta would be blunt. Great Aunt Sally believes in a world open to rational explanation as a child, Natalie had always found that reassuring, though that denial of an afterlife was
Now, though Natalie longs to believe her, she is only partly convinced. "But Aunt
Sally, both times it was still there when I opened my eyes; it stared at me horribly; so was
that strange scent still there and the awful sensation of being dragged somewhere else."
Great Aunt Sally pats her. "It's only a classic nightmare scenario, dearest. Perhaps
you've been reading too many horror stories."
"Auntie, you know I never read at all if I can help it."
"Seeing too many horror films, then. What you need is a nice walk to clear your
Natalie shudders. "You've just reminded me. I saw -it - before, Auntie! In that little
churchyard down the road. You remember I said at the time there was a man who
beckoned to me in a horrible way and started after me? It told me that was it."
"But surely, dear, you can see that that was the beginning of the trouble. Of course it
gave you a fright to have some peculiar fellow acting like that, and then your unconscious
seized on it and has even turned him into a sort of Incubus. Dear one, you know, it's three
months since you split up with that wretched Charley Danton - if I ever see that young
man in the street, I'll go up and slap his face, I swear - so naturally, now one side of your
psyche is looking about for another man."
Natalie comforted and embarrassed at once, says, "Perhaps you're right." She goes
to kiss her hollow and wrinkled cheek. "And I'll take your advice about a walk, too."
There being threatening rain clouds, Natalie goes up to get her umbrella. She could
be lazy and just borrow one of Great Aunt Sally's, but they are so hideous and old
fashioned that she can't stand being seen with one.
On her way across her sitting room floor, her toe strikes something, skittering it
under the table. She bends down, and bites her lip as she sees a jelly from the box on the
table that silly man - she's forgotten his name - forced on her the other week, as if she
ever eats sweets! It's a jelly that has lost its sugary coating, as if it had been in someone's
As it has, of course; hers.
Five minutes later, she is on her way to Fifi's house in Islington, hoping that today
Fifi won't still be in bed with one successful man (as meanwhile a score of others scheme
to replace him).
As Natalie comes up to the corner of the main road, a commotion surrounds the
flower seller. Natalie always notices him, wondering at the incredible loudness of his
voice, and if, given his weight, the astounding redness of his face and his constant
smoking, he worries about the chances of a heart attack.
Now, he is surrounded by a group and holding forth even more loudly than normal:
Natalie is concerned for the hearing of the people at close range.

"Weird looking geezer, all skinny in a crazy get up with a funny shirt and fancy
necktie thing and he's only carrying a cane, too, like Sherlock Holmes. Some big softy of
an actor, I think.
'I tell the weirdo straight, I go, 'Oi, mate! You keep your hands off my stock if you
know what's good for you.' He only goes on poking at them carnations like I was talking a
foreign language. I think, 'OK maybe you're a foreigner but I'm not having this' and I go:
'Hands off!' Next thing I'm only flat on my back with half the buggering stock missing..."
Natalie stops dead. The woman trundling something along behind her swears and
just misses her. Automatically Natalie says, 'Oh, sorry...' The woman huffs away,
dragging along a loaded shopping trolley with a wheel so bent it looks as if it's about to
come off; no doubt Natalie's just added to the damage.
"So he stole some of your stock, then?" a man asks the stall holder in cultured tones.
The man - face suffused alarmingly- glowers at him: "Sure he stole it 'cos this ain't
legal tender." He holds out a gold looking coin in disgust.
Natalie trots away as if she can run away from it all.
Aleks Sager isn't pulling his head in and out of a hedge, but he's doing the next best
thing in running his hands through his hair.
He paces round the room, swearing - just as he did last night - longing for Natalie,
fighting the urge to ring her, knowing he should leave it a couple of days - dreading that
she might throw him over after that pathetic ending to the evening.
After all, there's got to be a queue of guys jostling for a chance to be so much as
seen with her. What's so special about him, apart from being a famous writer- and she
doesn't read?
Last night as he stared emptily at the television he'd put away most of a bottle of
brandy. Then he'd realised that he was watching some horror film about a doppelganger
with murderous intentions, the sort of thing he'd have cracked up over once. He'd
switched channels to some faded film star talking about the lowlights of his career. He'd
stayed with that until skulking to bed, dreading a dream of the cadaverous Ivan
What he didn't remember was going into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich;
yet he must have made a fine mess cutting into that crusty loaf, to judge from the slivers
of bread and crumbs and butter smeared on the table this morning.
Either that, or he had hungry burglars or Surely it can't have been The Thing?
If so, why didn't it call in on him as he slept? Was it dragged away too soon,
clutching its sandwich?
As he swam to consciousness this morning, Aleks first thought was: It's come and
it's worse than I thought, followed by, At least I didn't dream about It, though.
He's heard of people's imaginings appearing to them as hallucinations, acting with
seeming independence. It has to be that; he can't let himself start believing Rick's blather
about Ouija Boards and The Curse of the Magus.
Even the weather's turned Gothic. A gust of wind howls mournfully about the eves,
making creaking, tapping sounds round the maisonette, as if someone was moving about.
Is that Ivan Ostrowski, back for another sandwich? Aleks ought to find his prosaic
taste in food funny. Did they even have sandwiches in 1830's Russia?

He's so often gloated about how vividly Ivan Ostrowski came across to those
reviewers. One woman wrote: 'You almost expect to meet him in the street.'
Perhaps he will meet it in the street, when he goes out to the flower shop to order
Natalie a bouquet on express delivery, never mind the expense, it can add to his
overdraught. It'll be wearing a greatcoat, carrying a cane, sneering down that long,
handsome nose.
Aleks must ring someone; he wants to see anyone, rather than stay in here, dreading
before he opens a door that the mad vision will be behind it.
Maybe it will be in his study, glancing up from Aleks' desk in hostile recognition, as
though Aleks, and not it, is the intruder.
Maybe, absurdly, he will find it in the bathroom, raising those plucked eyebrows at
the modern facilities in astonishment and disgust. After all, what could be amiss with the
chamber pot and the wash bowl of hot water of its own age?
He dreads that he will see his doom written in its eyes. Rick's ramblings about
curses and a sinister connection between Pushkin's life and his own is light relief in
But surely they're connected?
Stop doing this, you moron; you'll make yourself see the Thing.
Maybe he'll ring chatty chatty Old Liz, and if she says she would like to come round
'For coffee' Aleks, instead of being a sensible boy and locking the doors and windows and
switching out the lights before retiring under the sofa, will whine 'That will be Very Nice,
Thank You'.
He wants to see anyone who'll listen to him - now - while he's in the mood to do
what women of Liz's greedily nurturing type would call, 'Talking About It'.
No, he can't tell anyone.
What if it gets back to Natalie that he's crazy? Rick's already called him a 'lunatic' in
front of her.
As Aleks passes the bit of the bookcase where he stores his own books, he stops
dead. Suddenly, it comes to him exactly how much cause he's given his character has to
hate him, something he couldn't sense in that dream.
Aleks had discovered Pushkin's writing in his third year at University. He'd picked
up a copy of 'Eugene Onegin' in the library, expecting to be bored. He'd still been caught
up in that those vivid word pictures when at closing time, the librarian started turning
down the lights. Since then it's been his ambition to emulate Pushkin's achievement, just
a bit.
Gradually, he had made up a distant relative to Pushkin's jaded rake Eugene Onegin;
Ivan Ostrowski was to be driven while Eugene was world weary and enervated, though
sharing that same pose of Byronic cynicism.
Like Aleks (until Natalie!), to some extent like the younger Pushkin himself, none
of the women who become the object of Ivan's brief worship proves worthy of it. Ever
more bitter and cynical, his wit turns vicious and like Eugene, he sees himself as a man
set apart from others.
Aleks has always made Ivan's love affairs end bathetically. Finally he falls wildly in
love with the coquette Lyudmilla, empty and not even pretty, who takes him as a lover for
fun, only to find him a bore as he succumbs to a passion so debilitating he feels it as an

Aleks roots through the shelves, and snatches up 'Skeleton at a Feast' from his
series, 'The Adventures of Ivan Ostrowski'.
'...So Ivan pines for his Lyudmilla; sometimes he stands for hours under her
windows: the weight falls off him; his skin tums ghastly, the bones poking through, his
eyes hollow. He broods on the similarities between his fate and his relative Eugene's.
Ivan heard as a youth of that Byronic poser's sufferings from a love come too late;
how it led him to spend a winter in seclusion, hunched over his study fire, agonising over
his former rejection of Tatiana. As an innocent country girl, she had given him her heart.
She had admitted her love in a guileless letter. He had handed her them back with some
words of brotherly advice. Meeting her transformed as a Princess, the most elegant
woman in St Petersburg, he had fallen madly in love with her, too late, when she acted as
a woman of ice.
Finally came the spring thaw: Eugene emerged at last from his study into the
incipient warmth, to speed in his carriage by those blue ice blocks hewn from the Neva to
Tatiana's house. He'd walked into her drawing room looking like a corpse. He'd come on
her in a reception room, looking heartbroken; he had fallen at his lady's feet.
There she'd rejected him in measured phrases. She is now another's wife; she still
loves him - why lie? But she'll stay faithful all her life.
Somehow hearing of this (How? Surely from neither Tatiana nor Eugene's faithful
valet?), cuckolded husbands chortled; cast-off mistresses jeered; men who had writhed
under Eugene's acid wit competed in making the most devastating witticism on his
getting his just deserts.
So the story came at last to the callow ears of young Ivan Ostrowski. For the first
time, he'd felt the twinge of another's pain: he'd flinched even as he smiled, knowing he
could never be such a fool himself.
Then, fingering his ruby ring, he went back to calculating how much to bribe that
maid, so that tonight he would be the opera goer ushered into Madame Sonja's dressing
Now, Ivan's handsome looks decline every day. A wag asks him if he has turned into
one of those legendary creatures from Transylvania as for sure, he looks as though he has
died and been disinterred.
Ivan fights against this curse. He orders tempting dinners: he can only swallow a
few mouthfuls. Then, sipping his claret alone, he glances at the great mirror that hangs
across the room and sees indeed a skeleton at a feast.
He drives out in his carriage: he shivers in his furs; he kisses his hand to the
fashionable ladies: shocked recognition dawns on faces rosy in the spring chill. He turns,
and in the shop windows he sees reflected that skeleton again, grotesquely convivial and
draped in a greatcoat.
The day comes when, half drunk, cationic with a sense of inevitability, he pays a
social visit to a graveyard and stretches his long and starved frame upon a tomb -'
The phone rings. Aleks lunges for it. "Yes?" He expects that abominable languid
voice, drawling out threats with weak 'h's' and throaty 'r's'. It may have found out how to
use a telephone to threaten him.

"Got you!" Rick hides nervousness behind false bonhomie. "Aleks, where've you
been? I want a drink."
"Do you need my permission or something?" Aleks licks his lips. His own face in
the mirror opposite is that of a Gothic hero Taking it to Extremes.
"Come on, this evening, after you done those thousand words; that used to be your
"No; I ain't even started. Why would I want a drink with a jealous jerk like you? You
tried to queer things with Natalie, calling me a lunatic and all."
"I've seen you do the same yourself if somebody's got to a woman you want."
"Sure, but all the girls say you're cute, Rick. They don't say that about me."
"Time was when they did." It sounds as if those words leap out of Rick's mouth by
"I don't remember meeting any that stupid."
"I'll be over at eight. Lay on some dinner."
"I don't cook. Come and cook yourself if you're so keen to eat your food looking at
my face."
"OK, I'll be round at seven." Rick's tone is falsely hearty again.
Aleks winces as he puts down the phone, abruptly cutting off that human contact.
One thousand words in a day? He can't remember when he last wrote any work that he
didn't tear up two minutes later.
But now he doesn't spare a thought for this writers block, so recently his greatest
If Rick starts on about his rubbish then Aleks will get a bitter laugh out of picturing
how his silly face would look - jaw dropped, eyes popping - if he were to tell him about
his character and it's threats.
How is it going to kill him, exactly?
Perhaps easily enough; after all, it is very strong; it pushed him over when they
clinched, though stocky as Aleks is, his centre of gravity is low, which should give him
an advantage in a wrestling match. Wait a minute, though - didn't it use the term
'Destroy'? Maybe it means something worse, like driving him completely off his head.
Aleks wouldn't be able to further things with lovely Natalie in a closed ward in a
mental hospital, would he?
Or maybe those threats mean he's becoming suicidal?
He can't die yet, not when he's just found the one woman with who he might find
"You ought to tell her, Aleks. You know it yourself."
They've eaten the steak and chips, onions and mushy peas Rick cooked - Rick has a
thing about mushy peas, Aleks had forgotten that from when they'd shared a flat - and
now Rick prepares himself for The Lecture.
Irritation rises in Aleks. Often Rick, with those earnest, frank brown eyes and
curling dark hair, reminds Aleks of nothing so much as that water spaniel of his sister's.
When - unlike now - he's in a friendly mood, all Rick needs to do is loll out his tongue
and pant and roll on his back and the resemblance would be complete.
Probably the dog's advice would be more sensible.

"You jealous little scumbag, you mean Natalie, and tell her what? Anyone'd think
I've got an infected Hampton."
"Don't fucking talk to me like that." Rick doesn't put enough threat into his tone for
other men to take it seriously when he gets aggressive. Only sheltered women get
"Yeah, why? Like when've I ever been civil to you?"
They look at each other solemnly a moment, and then burst out laughing. Perhaps
the old empathy is still too strong between them for this thing to destroy it.
Rick is still snorting with laughter as he goes to get some beer from the fridge.
"Smart fridge, Aleks. Remember that disgusting blue fridge in that flat in Marlowe
Drive? I can still remember you telling that buyer, 'A collectable, like most of the pieces
here'." Aleks laughs again as he opens his beer. "And that old miser standing there, his
false teeth out so hardly able to talk, but nodding like one of those dogs in the backs of
cars, yearning to make an extra few quid.
'When that rich mug agreed to take the lot, for the first time ever we see the old
miser's face crack. Then he starts making sounds like some old gate creaking so I'm
saying, 'He's having a fit, sod doing mouth-to-mouth on that filthy old geezer''; but then
we realise the old tightarse is only laughing, it's just gone rusty from forty years disuse."
Rick, laughing himself, sobers as he takes his first sip of beer. "I don't laugh enough
myself, these days."
"That's because you've turned into a miserable sod yourself."
"I don't deny it. And what are you turning into?"
Aleks doesn't avoid his meaningful look. "A success. Ha! But you can't accuse me
of selling out my literary standards. I write like I always did, it's just that people suddenly
decided they wanted to read it, 'cos Roger Smart and the publicity machine told them
they did. I've got no illusions, half of them don't even read it properly, but the thing is,
they buy it."
"You know I mean you've altered, your not fully yourself any more, it's like half the
time your heads taken over by someone else." Rick goes on staring intensely at Aleks.
"Your eyes have changed colour. They had grey in them. Now they're pure light blue with
a weird look."
"You were in the habit of gazing into my eyes? And you never told me how you felt,
my sweet. They've always changed colour, mate, so the women tell me."
"That's it, rub it in about the women, why don't you?"
Aleks' unbends slightly. "It's your own mind that's making you wutless, boy."
"No, it's not. That's my share of the curse on us."
"Don't talk shit. You sound like some hysterical girl."
"'Course you can't see it properly, being caught up in it even more than me. But at
the party, you said: 'If it is true, let it come, then, as if it comes in your lovely shape, then
it's not so bad. You've noted that this angel's name's Natalie?' You saw then."
"I don't remember saying that. You sure you're not making that up?"
"You wouldn't remember; it affects my body most and your mind most."
Aleks snorts and Rick smiles placatingly. "Aleks, hear me out this once, as they say
in the films. I'm not going on about this cos I like talking about it. I'm trying to stop it, but
we've got to work together. Horrible things have happened already, and it's all down to

me for getting you involved in that sance when you were pissed and all you wanted to
do was to fight that jerk."
Aleks swears at him, jumps up and paces about.
"Like I say, what's worst about it is how it works forwards and backwards in time:
why did your father, who doesn't care about books, name you after Aleksandr Sergeevich
Pushkin as a joke? Did you know your brother Leo's name has the same roots as Lev,
Pushkin's younger brother's name? Maybe you've noticed he had a sister called Olga, too.
You're one eighth black, like him, and how many people of mixed race have blue eyes?
And one day at college, you just happened to pick up a book about Pushkin and start
writing about a relative of Eugene Onegin's.'
Aleks is over by the window now, staring out and whistling.
Rick comes up behind him. "I'm sorry about this, mate, but I've got to say this, too:
what do you make of how our watered down modern Decembrists, Kon and Mickey,
ended up hanged?"
Aleks whips about: "Fuck off, will you!"
Rick holds his ground. "Aleks, I know, it hurts me too, but that's why I'm doing this.
She's called Natalie Nicholson, for God's sake. What sort of a hint is that? That's a
version of Natalya Nikolaevna. You must've seen those portraits of Natalya Nikolaevna;
you can't have missed the resemblance. Natalie's a tall auburn haired beauty the guys all
drool over, and you're crazy about her, I could see that at the party, and you want her all
for yourself. You'll do anything to have her, anything. You won't tell her the truth: you'll
pretend there's no need, that it's superstitious rubbish, you'll kid yourself, and you're good
at that, I know you. I bumped into Chris Watkins today and he saw you with her last night
at Pepi's - you don't even like the place, but you were that eager to impress her. "
Aleks goes back to string out of the window, whistling.
'Maybe you'll even get to marry her and have some kids like Pushkin did. You'll be
the envy of your friends until some fair haired guy turns up to try and take her off you
and you know what you'll do then, don't you?"
Aleks whirls round: "You're raving. You've gone out of your mind; it's your
miserable dick not working. Yu yeye too red, it's pathetic. I know you were after her
yourself, offering to improve her portfolio. Yeah, right, only it'd be a sodding waste of
time even if she'd bothered looking twice at you. I thought you'd got the generosity to rise
above that - Ha! Sorry for the play on words, mate. I'm not listening to any more of your
Now Rick grabs Aleks' shoulder. "It's not fair on her! I can't sit by and let it all
happen, I don't want you shot, you crazy bastard, and you will be, don't you understand?
I've been trying to get hold of that Magus these years, but he won't talk. Maybe he's gone,
but it's just possible that if you can make peace with him the whole thing can be called
off. There's no point in trying to run from it, you've turning into an imitation Alexandr
Then they are wrestling together, swearing.
Rick, who puts all the vigour into weight training that he can no longer put into
joying in women's bodies, is strong, but Aleks, compact and enraged, knows himself the
He pushes Rick off balance, breaks free of his grasp and drives his fist into his ribs,
knocking him backwards.

Half winded, Rick collapses onto the sofa, wheezing.

"You asked for that." Aleks wheezes himself with rage, but he stays put.
They stare at each other for a minute. Then, Rick speaks shakily. "Maybe you're
right about me being jealous, but it makes no difference." He breaths heavily before
going on, "No woman deserves to be mixed up in this fuckup with either of us, least of all
a lovely girl like her, don't you understand? Why should she suffer because I messed
about with that Ouija Board stuff and you were shitfaced and dissed whatever it was that
came through?"
"You miserable, twisted, crazy bastard, I'm not kidding! I'm fucking warning you,
keep away and don't try to spoil things or I don't know what I'll do. Don't say a word to
her about the distorted fantasies your sick brain's made up. I mean that."
"You're threatening like a madman already."
Aleks' bunched fists twitch but he keeps them by his sides.
Rick laughs again; this time it's appropriately mirthless. "Remember the line from
that Western we wrote together back in those good old days? 'Jed looked at Shorty
soberly: "I don't scare easily, he opined."'
Aleks lets his breath out shakily. "You haven't been doing any more writing recently,
have you? Vicious invective spewing from a sick mind?"
There's no guilty awareness in Rick's eyes, and Aleks didn't expect there to be. "No,
Aleks, that's your style."
As Rick's footsteps go -surprisingly slowly - down the steps, it's like years of
friendship departing to Aleks. He feels that now begins a new stage of his life, without
the warmth of friendship, as he knows he'll push the others away, too, in time, maybe
even swaggering Errol Harding, his best mate since junior school.
Now Aleks is at the door, starting forward to sprint after the fool, to change things,
to demean himself by admitting, "Rick, I'm sorry, mate, I never meant that, there's
something in what you say, yet I can't stand losing her; we've got to help each other, not
He whips about as a strange laugh rings in his ears. Was it in his head or outside it?
He has never known what writer's meant by the term 'Silvery Laugh' until now. It's
as devoid of human feeling as some instrument.
No, not entirely devoid of human feeling; there's triumph and mockery in it.
Maybe this is somehow That Thing's doing, it somehow queered things between
Rick and me; it's working to isolate me; I can't play into its hands like this.
But which Thing? His character or that Magus?
What? Are you saying, Boy, that Thing Puts Thoughts into Your Head? Talk too
much like that and you just might get a holiday courtesy of the Mental Health Act. That
row was brewing for a long time; it was just his jealousy over Natalie that ignited it.
Aleks still stands, poised to bolt after Rick. Then he turns away, telling himself to
leave it a while for them both to cool off.
He sits on the living room sofa, face buried in his hands, allowing those memories
of that night - or early morning - to flood into his head.

Arrivals: Through a Glass, Darkly...

May 1980
It's an impromptu party - there are maybe twenty-five of them, mainly students, at
the flat playing music, boozing, dancing to please the girls. There's a shortage of girls,
and rivalry especially over a glowing girl with an hourglass shape and a big mouth made
to kiss. Her slightly weary look makes her extra delectable to Aleks, hinting at the nights
she's been kept busy.
Honing in, he tries to talk to her. She looks at her feet and answers in
monosyllables. He works hard to make her laugh, knowing how once you've done that
they always look at you suddenly with different eyes. She forces a titter once, looking
uneasy, as if trying to work out whether he is deranged; otherwise, she says 'Ah." She
exudes apathy and finally she makes some excuse about having an early tutorial.
"If you do, it'll ruin the evening for me, darling." Aleks won't give in. She doesn't
smile. "I've got to go." She starts moving towards the girl she came with.
Aleks follows, objecting that she can't walk home alone. It's strange how this
wouldn't worry him so much if she was a different shape.
That flashy Merchant Navy sailor from over the road with many tattoos, who has the
nerve to be called Jock and who fancies himself as a raconteur, has joined the party half
an hour since and he's been eying the girl while standing chatting with some mates.
As she crosses the room, Aleks in hot pursuit and still trying to coax her with, "Hey,
are my jokes so bad you've got to vote with your feet?" Jock moves swiftly to intercept
her, talking fast.
Aleks is in two minds about starting a fight. 'Hey, I'm with her' is ridiculous when
she was trying to escape him. Still, jumping in like that's fighting stuff. Aleks can't take
that and remain a man.
Besides, those juicy lips are suddenly smiling happily at the rubbish the tattooed
fool is spouting and her face is lighting up as if someone's put a glowing candle inside it
and Aleks is willing to bet that early tutorial has slipped her mind already.
This decides him about putting his fist in the guy's face. Never mind Rick said the
mouthy jerk goes about tooled up. Aleks starts forward, ready to get him in the nuts if he
pulls it, otherwise he'll begin with a sweet head butt which should demoralise him if it
doesn't floor him straight off.
Someone grabs him from behind. Aleks turns, fists ready, but it's Rick. "Steady,
mate, it's not worth it, she's had the hots for him for ages."
"I don't give a fuck, Sailor Boy cut in and he needs teaching manners." Aleks' fists
bunch tighter as Jock's laugh rings out loud, as though taunting him.
"If you get in a ruck with that moron you'll miss out on something I want you in on."
Rick looking excited, breathing fast.
"Like what?" Aleks eyes the couple: that girls' bum is magnificent.
"Like a psychic experiment."
Aleks just swears. Jock is exuding smugness, the girl smiling invitation at him. Aleks
starts forward again but Rick tightens his grip on his arm. Aleks throws it off. Rick grabs
it again, speaking eagerly: "We've got an Ouija Board set up."

Aleks snorts his contempt: "What d'you want to go messing about with that rubbish
"It started talking about you, and then the table lifted. At that point one of the girls
jumped up and broke the circle."
"Give it my regards, you saddo; now leave go of me or I'll fight you, too."
"It said you'll make it as a famous writer."
Aleks relaxes slightly to stand undecided, visions stirring in his brain of rows of his
books in bookshops, seeing his name on the bestseller list, reading glowing reviews,
signing the film rights. Rick loosens his hold.
"I'll smash Sailor Boy's nose another time." Aleks follows Rick into the kitchen,
while Rick gabbles some stuff about how they had got through to something unpleasant
but with luck it's gone, just play it safe and be polite, Aleks, I'm asking you as a favour...
Aleks doesn't listen, his mind still half on that girl's body and Sailor Boy's nerve.
In the dismal kitchen with the battered cream cooker with the sloping grill, the
stained old sink, the chipped, ancient poison green kitchen cabinet that bows forward as
if in humble greeting and those walls with tiles missing, three people sit at the old
scratched table under the ugly greenish yellow strobe light, now set out with a circle of
alphabet cards and a glass.
There's a very blonde girl, a skinny guy with a cockatoo and someone stout and
shapeless with cropped hair who could be of either sex, but Aleks knows to be a woman
cultivating an ultra masculine look, Lee by name.
There's also something electric in the atmosphere which tenses Aleks in a different
way from the adrenaline pumping anger of before. Suddenly, he feels as though his
nerves protrude form his skin by three inches; it's not nice.
He takes a bottle from the stash on the cupboard and opens it on the buckle of his
belt. "OK, so who's been talking about me?"
"It may not come back," Lee says, "and I'm not sure I'm sorry. It said it was a
Magus, and it just didn't feel right to me. Surround yourselves with a clear blue,
"Isn't that the name of a pregnancy test?" One of Alex's ex- girlfriends had to take
one, once; luckily, it was a false alarm.
Lee says, "Stop it, Aleks."
Rick says, "Sit down, Aleks, putting your hands on the glass, and keep a civil tongue
in your head for once, this is dodgy stuff."
Aleks prepares with a long swig of beer. "Do I say, "Is Anybody There?"
"Now, Aleks; you've got to treat this with respect." Lee, briefly a teacher, can still
put on a great schoolmistressy tone. Aleks isn't rude as he doesn't mind her, liking people
who talk as straight as he does, but for all that his sour mood increases as he takes a
place next to the blonde girl.
...The nerve of Sailor Boy; Aleks can't let him get away with that; if he sees him in
the street tomorrow he's going to punch his lights out, that's certain...
He reaches for the glass, which begins to shift about at once, so that for a moment
he doesn't realise how icy it is to the touch.
The blonde girl gasps. He doesn't know why she's been roped in, he can feel her
fear, and he'd like to say something reassuring to her about how this is only coming from

them anyway, probably some joint electric charge or something, not some passed over
spirit, but he supposes he has to keep quiet.
The glass glides on, seeming to move slightly above the surface of the table, so that
there is no scraping noise. Rick jots down the letters with one hand.
sagerwillbefamousasisaidbutitwillbedustandashes(Sager will be famous as I said, but it
will be dust and ashes)
Lee is quicker than Rick in deciphering this; she smiles, "So Aleks is definitely
going to be famous? Wow, we'd better get his autograph. When?"
thereisnotimeformerogersmart (There is no time for me; Roger Smart)
Lee frowns. "Are you called Roger Smart?"
hirstsforrevengebeyondspaceandtime (Do not ask foolish questions; I seek for one who
can help to set us free. Do not disrespect me; Sager, you are drunk and your violent
thoughts take root; I am a Magus and not to be mocked. Ivan Ostrowski thirsts for
revenge beyond space and time.)
The blonde girl's hand finches under Aleks; she seems to have made some sense of
this. "Perhaps you should -" she begins, as he gives her hand a squeeze of reassurance,
but she's interrupted by Cockatoo Hair, his voice wobbling: "Can you hear me?"
Youareofnoaccountyousoldyourfriendstobeprefectatstdunstans (You are of no
account; you sold your friends to be prefect at St Dunstan's.)
"Perfect?" Lee has her neck craned at an agonising angle. The youth goes red to his
jolting Adam's apple. He shoots a look at the fair girl, but she's staring down at the glass,
soft lips pinched tight.
Rick tries to sound casual. "Hey, so Aleks is going to make it. How about me?"
Youtoowilllongtobebackhere (You, too, will long to be back here.)
A pause, as Rick translates. He smiles incredulously. "Maybe, but tell me if you can,
will I make it as a photographer?"
lnotevenlistenannoymenofurther (You pester me with your selfish questions; I tell you we
are all in thrall to your dimension and you will not listen; annoy me no further.)
Aleks transcribes the bit about 'Selfish questions' and has to snigger.
The glass nearly whips out of their fingers as it darts about the board:
(Sager, I will turn the tables on you all; you will be my instrument; there is one who
is in torment at your pleasure: beware.)
Aleks' transcribes the words 'Sager' and 'torment'. His eyes meet Rick's and he has
to fight back laughter. Supposing there is anything in this and some disembodied being is
suffering some form of purgatory, that it is horrific, yet, somehow he has to laugh. It's the
same as when the mumbled inanities of the class clown on the front bench in 2B
chemistry always broke him up under the eye of that bitter teacher.
The blonde girl speaks with nervous haste: "These seem like threats, mostly. Please
don't act against Aleks. Tell us; are you in torment, then? Is there any way we can help?"

ski (Ostrowski will be free when he meets the woman in the painting . You laugh, Sager;
and the fool with the portfolio of naked women, you will be flaccid; you will not laugh
when you meet Ostrowski.)
"'Flaccid'and something about 'naked'? I don't like this." Lee's voice is tight now.
Aleks can't hold back his shout of laughter.
The glass wrenches itself out of their hands and hurtles about the letters:
uwillfindoutthroughthelordsofkarma (One kind word from the pretty one in all my quest;
you will not listen; I turn my back on you. You will find out through the Lords of Karma).
It hurtles across the table to burst on the floor. The table rushes up: the cockatoo
youth hurls backwards to sprawl on the floor, while the blonde girl whips back and her
chair tips; Aleks in one movement catches her and pulls back himself.
The hefty Lee is caught by the elbows, hoisted in the air like a rag doll along with
Rick, who dangles, suspended, jaw dropped and eyes goggling. The table crashes down,
complete with Lee and Rick, while a subterranean thundering rolls underneath this
basement room. The strobe light flickers on and off, illuminating the cockatoo youth at
the door, fumbling wildly at the handle.
Rick swears. Lee comes out with something more old fashioned: "Blow me!"
Aleks releases the blonde girl; she sobs quietly and he takes her hand. "Don't worry,
darling, we produced all those special effects ourselves, I've read about this sort of stuff."
His reading on the projection of psychic phenomena amounts to a newspaper article
that he'd found on a train and glanced through a few months back. Still, there's no need
for him to admit that and he wants to reassure her.
Dawn lightens the window. That is odd, as it was just before half one when Aleks
began talking to the Walking Hour Glass, and surely under an hour has passed since.
Lee runs her hands over her eyes. "We should've said at the beginning, 'Do you
acknowledge Jesus Christ?'"
Aleks squeezes the blonde girl's hand. "Don't be daft, Lee; it wouldn't have made a
lot of difference. Supposing that there really was something there - which I don't believe,
anyway, I say it was some energy charge given off by us all joining our fingers to make
some sort of circuit thing - just think; any number of war criminals and mass murderers
would call themselves Christians, and that's leaving aside good people with a different
Rick is picking up the scribbled notes on the floor, looking peaky. "You were right,
Aleks. We shouldn't have messed about with that stuff."
"No harm done." Aleks is occupied in stroking the blonde girls' fingers with one
hand and picking up the beer bottle to have a swig with the other. Lucky he left it on top
of the work surface, and it wasn't spilt. "So, I'm going to be famous; let's tell the landlord
that, eh, Rick, and see if he'll let us go in arrears."
Rick doesn't answer. He's crouched on the floor, staring at the scribbled messages.
Aleks realises that how quiet it is in the flat. When he opens the door, he sees that
everyone has gone, save for one comatose body sleeping on the floor, half wrapped in the
long, unsavoury velveteen curtains.
They need some milk for tea and Aleks volunteers to get it as he walks the blonde
girl home. He chats cheerfully to her as she's still upset. He'd half noticed how pretty she
was before, taking in that startlingly light fair hair, her wide light blue eyes, the complete

absence of make-up. Now this prettiness intrudes itself on him so that he wonders how
come it didn't affect him earlier at the party. Well, he was too taken up trying to get his
hands on the Walking Hour Glass then.
"Marta, that's Scandinavian, isn't it? Ah, a Scandinavian mother, that's where you
get that natural fair hair. But you're no big strapping Valkuri of a woman who could pick
me up by the scruff of the neck and throw me over that wall." He nods towards a garden
wall along the top of which a snail slowly crawls in the cool of early morning.
She's of middle height and middle build, and from what he can see, nice
proportions. Just being with this girl, he's beginning to be glad that he failed to make any
impression on the Walking Hour Glass.
She says wistfully, "I wish I was big and strapping."
"You're very nice the way you are and I get sort of fed up with being chucked over
walls by women. I'm only little and they shouldn't pick on me."
Unlike Hour Glass, he can make her smile. By the time they get to her house in
Stoke Newington they're chatting like old friends. As they pause at the door, Aleks has a
sense of something important coming, though it might be lack of sleep.
"So, when do I see you again?" Her natural look and lack of sophistication, never
before now qualities he has found attractive, have grown massively on him.
She puts up a hand to stroke his face, which is bristly with incipient beard as usual.
She's looking sad. "You don't."
"Agh! You've got a boyfriend."
"Not since he literally ran out on me earlier. You know, you're very nice, not a bit
like people say."
He pulls a face. "You don't want to listen to what people say."
"Neither should you completely discount it." Those eyes are sharp with intelligence,
again unlike the Walking Hour Glass.
The full meaning of what she said about her boyfriend literally running out on her
earlier dawns on him. "So that loser with the hair was your boyfriend? You're well rid of
that jerk, darling. So, don't entirely discount what people say about me, then, but judge
me by how I am with you. So, when do we meet? You tell me."
"I wish we could too, but we'd never be suited."
"Marta, wait; the funny thing is, I can tell we should try -" But she plants a quick
kiss on his cheek and escapes through the door with amazing speed. Left standing there,
he wonders if his sense of time is still distorted from that rubbish with the Ouija Board.
Now he remembers people saying they'd 'lost time' after meddling about with the things.
More likely though, it's because he's still half pissed.
Aleks walks home feeling like a child deprived of a treat, stopping off for milk on the
way. Standing in the stale smelling little shop, he's haunted with melancholy that some
door had opened to give him a tantalising glimpse of something unexpected and
delightful, only just perceived, but now forever missed.
He runs into Sailor Boy at the top of the street, smiling gloatingly to himself,
perhaps even come straight from the Walking Hour Glasses' bed (she only lives up the
road). His expression goes guarded as he catches sight of Aleks.
Aleks greets him, "OK, wanker!" and goes for him at once in the still deserted
street. Jock is too late in snatching for his precious knife. Aleks aims for that pretty
straight nose. He gets a direct hit.

Jock's lights do go out for a second as he goes over backwards. That's always
dangerous, but on the way down he regains sense enough to land in a sprawl and save
his head, while blood from his nose splatters the pavement in front of him.
Well, that pavement's used to it. It gets a libation often enough to satisfy the Gods of
War. This area hasn't yet gone up market, though it's been predicted any time these past
ten years.
Aleks tells Sailor Boy, "Any woman who looks twice at you's got to put it about so
much she doesn't care what she picks up, but you need to learn some respect."
Jock just makes spluttering sounds.
Aleks supposes that he's due for a hiding from some of Jock's Merchant Navy mates.
Maybe, he'll end up cut up in hospital, but he doesn't care.
As he walks away, he passes a neighbour, that guy who reminds him of his guitar
playing uncle over in Jamaica, who speaks like the voice of conscience: "That was dirty
"He'd got a knife." Aleks mutters.
The man goes over to help Jock. Aleks goes inside.
If there's anything in these Ouija Board predictions, Aleks has got an assurance that
his dreams will come true. This morning, it's all just dust and ashes.
Aleks and Marta do run into each other now and again over the years. Meanwhile,
she transforms into a Fanatical Man Hating Feminist, now strong and muscular from
weight training, savage from practising martial arts and horrible self-defence moves. She
avoids him, but life or fate brings them together occasionally. When they meet, he knows
she feels the unspoken truth between them as much as he does.
At that party, a few months before Natalie Time, last New Years' Eve, he thinks she
is gorgeous in her black velvet. He claims a kiss at midnight. She can't hide her response.
He winks: "I'm yours anytime, sweetheart."
"And every other woman's between sixteen and sixty."
"Not in the same way. You know that and I know that. I don't kid myself about
Ironically, he does have another chance with her that very night. She finally relents
and lets him come back to her house for a drink.
He queers things up nicely, saying something outrageously sexist, even for him. It's
weird, almost like he's been programmed to spoil things again.
Naturally, Marta drives him out with curses.
Now she'll never know how for years, she's haunted him with that gut wrenching
sense that something that could have been so good between them has been thrown aside,
with both of them sabotaging themselves for an empty triumph.
But that night - before the Bum's Rush scene so relished by the Anonymous Scribe,
she says something that makes him uneasy.
"Aleks, you'll laugh, but I had a miserable dream the other night, and about that
character of yours, Ivan Ostrowski. I wish I could remember it properly.'
He laughs, of course. "What, darling, you taking pity on a male, even a character in
a book?"
Now, Aleks thinks that perhaps if they'd got together that evening, it could have
changed everything, but it's too late now. Now it's Natalie Time and he's hooked.

Fifi's cleaner answers Natalie's knock. She's young, from somewhere in central
Europe and shares Fifi's taste for unnatural blonde hair and obvious sex appeal. Her
bosom thrusts like a James Bond heroine's under her overalls and she teeters in a pair of
white shoes with lethal heels which Natalie thinks she has seen on Fifi's neat feet.
Natalie smiles at her. "I'm Natalie. I'm just calling on he off chance. Is Fifi in?"
The girl runs her eyes over her in hostile assessment before she grudgingly nods and
leads Natalie through the house, her bottom moving dismissively. She has the sort of legs
whose heftiness Natalie, with her own rangy slender pair has always found amazing, the
sort that still look sturdy in five inch heels. Natalie is used to women reacting as if
threatened by the way she looks, but this girl seems outraged with her.
Well, didn't she hear that Aleks Sager and Fifi share a cleaner? Natalie feels a
twinge of distaste. If he does have something going with her it's somehow like an
aristocrat of old seducing a maid.
Fifi is out on the patio, watering her plants. She shouts for Natalie to come through.
She's casually dressed this morning, wearing jeans that look as though they've been
painted on and a clingy green gingham shirt presumably made to measure, as there's no
strain on the buttons over that renowned bosom. Her blonde hair is loosely gathered in a
pony tail, and she wears little make up. Natalie thinks she looks far better than she does
all done up.
"Hello, honey." Fifi sweeping eyebrows are up. She and Natalie aren't close enough
for Natalie to call round normally without phoning. "How are things?"
"Hmm." Natalie says. "Fifi, I hope you don't mind my turning up like this, but I
need your advice."
"My advice? Well, for what it's worth...I hope Aleks Sager's being a good boy?"
"Does he know how to be?" Natalie finds herself blushing at the name. "I got the
idea he'd fallen for you already. I'll hit him if he's been messing you about, seeing I
played a part in getting you together, me and Errol both."
Natalie has to smile; what with Marta always so savage, and Great Aunt Sally
planning to slap Charley Danton's face in the street if she sees him again (I want to see
him again! Oh no, I still want to see him again!), and now Fifi making threats about
Alexs Sager, the area is starting to be peopled by female vigilantes.
"Monika!"" Fifi bawls through the door. "Any chance of coffee, sweetie, and then
you can go off early?"
"Fine." The girl's tone doesn't make it sound like that.
Fifi closes the door and sits down on the low wall. "So, what's been happening,
darling? Nobody will hear us here. Both sets of neighbours have gone to church to Pray
the Bejasus Out of Themselves, as an Irishman I know puts it."
Natalie smiles briefly and takes a deep breath. "Do you remember that you had an
awful nightmare about a - a thing that was sort of suffocating you and was sexual, too?"
Fifi's eyes darken. "I'm not about to forget something like that."
"I've had something like it, and I'm scared. Could you tell me about what happened
with you? Did it talk?"
Fifi looks horrified. "Talk? No, thank God. It wasn't even human; it was like a sort
of corpse or skeleton thing. I remember its head just seemed to be bone, and it was a
funny bleached colour. Ugh! Don't say yours talks?"

This isn't reassuring for Natalie; she had wanted to Share the Experience as much as
any stereotype of a Californian, and now it looks as though she's alone with the full
horror of it. "It talks a lot, and I'm really scared. It makes threats -"
Fifi's eyes, always round, are now like saucers. She gasps. "Threats? Against you?"
Natalie swallows. "No. Against Aleks. It says - you'll think I'm crazy - that it's some
character he's written about - it says it hates him for 'making it suffer' - it tries to take me
with it when it starts to go back to -"
"Hell!" That about sums it up as Fifi stares at Natalie. "You poor darling, this is
horrible. Have you told Aleks Sager?"
"Not yet, it seems so crazy - but something weird happened to him, and I think it
was connected..."
Natalie is just finishing telling Fifi about the Incident in the Restaurant when
Monika comes out with two mugs of steaming coffee on a tray and a bowl with sugar
cubes and tongs. The last time she saw one of those was as a child in a seaside caf.
Somehow, it all fits in with the tacky ambiance of Fifi's place.
Fifi jumps up to pull a wallet from her jeans pocket, hand Monika some notes and
kiss her on the cheek. "Thank you so much, hon. You're wonderful."
"Same time next week? Ciao. Next time I bring that recipe." Monika shoots a last,
resentful glance at Natalie, which lingers on her bosom, and teeters away on those heels.
At any other time, Natalie would ask Fifi if she does all the housework in them too. She
forces a smile and a 'Good-bye," to the girl while Fifi trills amiably, "That'll be good.
Bye, Monika...She's a sweetie, but she has this phobia about toilets. Aleks Sager himself
recommended her to me after my old cleaner got pissed and smashed a window and two
She frowns. "Natalie, you've got me worried. This sounds much more serious if this
thing's sort of materialising, I don't like it, and we've got to do something about it ASAP.
Sugar, darling?"
A silly question for a non-glamour model. Natalie's hands shake, slopping coffee
onto the patio. She doses herself with a few hasty sips. "What did you do to get rid of
Fifi holds up a finger to indicate her coming answer while taking a sip too. "Yours
seems different to the Incubus thing that came after me, but I saw a man called a Psychic
Counsellor who showed me how to do some protection rituals. He'll know what to do. I'll
call him at once, as this thing needs dealing with before it builds up more power, or
whatever it's doing. That kiss sounded terrifying."
Natalie giggles nervously, wishing that this Psychic Counsellor was a woman; it's
going to be embarrassing relating the last bit to a man. "It's such a relief you've had
something similar enough not to think I'm going off my head."
Fifi clucks sympathetically. "The worst thing was the sexual aspect. Somehow, the
foul thing made me want it; with a monster like that, it was really disgusting."
Natalie's face warms. "I felt that. I just so hope I'm wrong about what happened in
the restaurant. Perhaps Aleks just ran up against some opportunist thief who escaped
through the back some way; but there was something so edgy about him afterwards. He
doesn't strike me as someone nervous generally."
"Nor me; maybe he had a fight with the man, that'd be just like him from what I've
seen and maybe he was ashamed about getting the worst of it and that pissed him off for

the rest of the evening." Fifi gives her a reassuring pat on the cheek. Natalie has the
Ghoul Thing to thank for one thing: she's too strung up to have that sudden thrill of
awareness of the wonders of Fifi's Famous Flesh.
Before Natalie's finished her coffee, Fifi is beckoning at the back door, talking to
someone on the phone, raising her eyebrows at Natalie: "So you can fit us in today? Ah,
that is so good of you..."
Fifi rushes Natalie over to Hampstead in her two seater, cutting up other drivers.
Some toot their horns and a couple make V signs. One man yells obscenities through his
Fifi shouts back, "Go and tug that withered thing some more!" His plump face goes
from crimson to purple as he leans on his horn.
Natalie has to giggle, half admiring and half disapproving. Marta, whom you might
say is on the other side of female Non Nice Girl Behaviour, goes in for it too when
driving that battered old van for the Women's Collective. She'd given Natalie a lift once
along with a free lesson in aggressive driving and savage invective.
"How well do you know Aleks Sager? Sorry, that sounds weird." Natalie asks as
Fifi's rampage is stalled by some lights. She notes the faint but discernable sting of
jealousy as she thinks about this. Somehow Monika's hefty legs make her seem too
vulnerable for Natalie to feel any jealousy of her, only annoyance with Aleks.
Fifi's round blue eyes - light blue like Aleks Sager's, but how different in expression,
besides his having a glassy tint to that blue - are without guile. "I've only met him once
years ago, before he was famous, and a few times since through Errol Harding. I never
feel at ease with these literary types; anyway, they can be such a pain in the bum about
their writing. When Errol came to me saying Aleks had been ranting about how gorgeous
you are, it seemed only fair to give him a chance by bringing you together. As it's turned
out, I wonder? But I suppose it's not his fault."
The lights change and she is off like a racing driver amongst a flurry of horns.
"...It nearly succeeded in taking me with it, it was terrifying, and at one point I felt
myself floating and it made a horrible triumphant noise but the next second it was gone.
And it's so frightening about what I heard that flower stall man saying; that sounded like
The Thing."
"Wow, let's hope it wasn't, that is too horrible." Fifi's eyes are like saucers. Natalie,
whose experiences have never impressed her before, feels a little childish triumph along
with her horror.
Rudolf Tupper is in early middle age, good looking, streaked blond and sun tanned.
His flashing white teeth are rivals to Aleks Sager's, though almost certainly not natural.
He's in perfect condition, muscled yet somehow indefinably effete. Unlike his two offduty professional model clients, his clothes and grooming are immaculate. His outfit must
have cost the price of a small car.
He lives in a house the size of Great Aunt Sally's, which in this area is possibly one
hundred times as expensive. It is furnished in a combination of antiques and replicas.
Natalie can't help wondering how spiritual a person can be who makes so much money
out of his dedication to providing psychic help. Still, he helped Fifi, and Natalie is scared.
Glancing at the frescoes in the big airy room, she realises that she forgot to ask Fifi
about the fee. She hopes Tupper takes credit cards.

For all his inhuman glossiness, Rudolf Tupper (Psychic Consultant; In Depth Tarot
and Horoscope Forecasts; Past Life Recall for Selected Clients Only) treats them
tenderly. This makes it easier for Natalie to confide in him about the sexual nature of the
Thing's attacks. For all that, she still mutters and goes red in the face, and wonders if Fifi
thinks she's acting like some blushing Victorian maiden.
Now, across the other side of the eighteenth century mahogany table, Rudolf Tupper
puts down the cheap biro with which he has been taking notes which seems so
incongruous in a house fitted out as luxuriously as his body; perhaps his clients are light
fingered through nervous tension, and he keeps a supply of cheap pens.
He taps his ultra clean fingers on the notes. "I don't think we should jump to the
conclusion that the episode with the flower stall had anything to do with your experience.
It may well just be an unlucky co-incidence that the seller described a tall, thin man in
old-fashioned looking clothes."
"I hope so. But is it the same thing that attacked Fifi? How can I get rid of it?"
Rudolf Tupper shakes his head. "That was a classic Incubus manifestation, and a
comparatively simple problem to remedy. This, I'm afraid, has elements of complexity.
There is the peculiar fact that it says it is a character from your - from Mr Sager's book.
I'm sorry to say that though that's been on my To Read list a long time now, I haven't read
it. I've read reviews and I know it was inspired by that poem of Pushkin's - what's it
called -"
" 'Eugene Onegin'. Aleks' book's about some second cousin or something, Ivan. My
Great Aunt, who I live above, has always been crazy about that Pushkin poem; I don't
know if that's got anything to do with it. She even painted a picture of a duel in it that
somebody stole a couple of months back, I don't know if that's relevant either."
Natalie can't bring herself say that she finds it hard to believe that anyone of sound
mind would steal a painting of Great Aunt Sally's.
"And Mr Sager's book, is your aunt interested in that, too?"
"It's on her To Read list too." Natalie thinks her giggle sounds hysterical.
"And mine." Fifi smiles.
"Hmm...I really will have to do some research before I can come to any firm
conclusions. As I say, I don't think we should assume that the story of the man on the
flower stall has anything to do with this. In the meantime I am going to give you some
advice about psychic protection which I hope will help. My own intuition is that it is a
"A Tulpa is a term for a being brought into existence by thought forms. Usually,
they are created on purpose for a specific use by magical practitioners, who disperse them
when they have fulfilled their function. However, there is always the danger of their
escaping from their creator's control. I believe this one may have been created
accidentally, have escaped from its maker's unconscious influence, and increasingly have
developed a will of its own and a way of drawing power to itself."
Fifi's eyes meet Natalie's in horror.
Rudolf Tupper goes on: "Only think of the amount of energy a writer must put into
his or her characters, how real they become to that writer, who visualises them every day,
and with passion. That is a magical process, and to be honest, given how obsessive
writers can be about their work, it's a wonder there aren't more of these Tulpa's

accidentally created. It is most likely that Aleks Sager, having made it, isn't even aware of
Natalie shakes her head. "I'm lost; is it a sort of ghost? Where was it trying to take
me?" A surge of panic runs through her at the thought of the Thing succeeding. "Why
does it look like a corpse and hate Aleks so much?" she bursts out.
Fifi reaches across and squeezes Natalie's shoulder. "It's terrifying. Is it dangerous or
just frightening like those dirty old men Incubus Things?"
"Don't worry, Ms Nicholson." Rudolf Tupper takes Natalie's hand and pats it
expertly. "I'm confident we can keep it contained while I try and find out more about it.
Also, please do remember that these psychic manifestations often make the most
gruesome threats without being remotely capable of putting them into practice. How
many ghostly manifestations have you heard of who have actually succeeded in doing
actual harm to anyone? Out of all the research I have done, I could count them on the
fingers of one hand...It would help if we knew if Mr Sager has seen it, though."
"I hardly know him yet, so asking him about it's going to be difficult. When I think
he saw it in the restaurant, it was our first time out together after meeting at that party,
and if he did see it, then he didn't admit to it, making out he just ran into a man who made
Fifi says, "It could even be true, or like I suggested, maybe he had a tussle with an
ordinary man."
"When I saw him in the passage, I could tell he was shaken up but hiding it, and he
was sort of funny afterwards, brooding. I don't think he'd be like that after a fight,
somehow. Two other women had found him on the floor. But if he accidentally made this
thing by thinking about his character so much, why's it able to appear to me?"
"It seems to have fixated on you, unfortunately. I'm not sure, but in his book, isn't it
meant to be desperately in love? I've heard the story described as very romantic. I hope I
will be able to tell you more in a couple of days. Now, shall I book you in for a further,
provisional appointment? I'll just check my diary in a minute.
'Meanwhile, here are some rituals I want you to do, which will ensure it isn't able to
take power from you, as it obviously did before, with that alarming kiss. I'm going to give
you some sticks of incense and candles to use..."
"Fifi, how nice to see you! Would you like a cup of tea? Natalie, darling, you had a
nice long walk. Did you bump into Fifi on the way?"
"You might say so, Auntie." Natalie sighs in resignation. Sometimes, it seems that
Great Aunt Sally lurks inside her door like a predator, ready to catch any prey Natalie is
bringing up to her flat.
Great Aunt Sally smiles conspiratorially. "Something arrived for you, darling, come
and see!"
There is a floral invasion in the dining room. Roses, lilies, carnations, exotic
blooms; the room is scented with orange blossom.
"Wowzers!" Fifi stares about. "No guessing who sent these."
Great Aunt Sally looks smug as she hands Natalie a card.
'For a Pre Raphaelite Beauty from her Besotted Admirer with Apologies for that
Farcical Finale to our Evening. Don't go back on your word to see me again. Love You,
Aleks xxxxx'.

It had been a let down, certainly; she'd really enjoyed that kiss. Her body seemed to
know something that her mind didn't. Given her general Ice Maiden tendencies, that he
should be detached and she in the mood was particularly ironic. She'd replied lightly to
him, but she hadn't liked the haunted look in his eyes; it made her want to look behind
her, though she knew there'd be nothing there.
If there had been something, she would have sensed it. She's beginning to recognise
the feelings she gets as the Daemon Lover puts in an appearance.
Natalie can also sense Great Aunt Sally's satisfaction as she watches her read the
card. Then she looks puzzled: "But then something odd happened immediately afterwards
Even as Natalie senses what is coming, she wants to shout that she doesn't want to
know about anything else odd happening.
"- I was just getting out vases for them when there was another knock on the door. I
went out and there were all these carnations, and this note just folded over, not a card
you'd get with one of these orders, and they weren't even wrapped." She hands Natalie a
folded slip of thick, almost clothy, expensive looking paper.
Natalie nearly wets herself. There is some writing - so faint it is almost illegible, and
looks more like scratch marks - on the outside in the palest mauve ink; this might include
an 'N', but it is impossible to say. She's sure Aleks Sager's writing isn't like that.
She must look as horrified as she feels; Great Aunt Sally and Fifi stare as her
shaking hands scrabble open the note.
Again, it is mainly faint markings, as if someone was trying to write with a pen
almost out of ink; a real old fashioned pen, not a biro, which has made indentions in the
paper and even torn part of it. Two words are more or less legible: one is 'betrayal' and
the other is 'adore'.
Natalie shrieks before she can stop herself. She blurts out: "It's the Ghoul Thing,
what he called 'The Tulpa'! I knew when I heard that flower stall man's talk!"
Rudolph Tupper's answering service has taken three messages. He clicks his tongue
at the first, which is from a man who wants to know if he's a Naughty Boy. To that he
mutters, "Answers on a postcard."
The second is from someone so drunk that even his or her sex is indeterminate, who
is trying to order a taxi.
The third is from a distraught Natalie Nicholson, saying that she's had a bouquet of
flowers delivered with a note in old fashioned, faded writing, of which only the words
'betrayal' and 'adore' are visible.
Rudolf whistles. He tries to make a few phone calls himself. The first is to his old
mentor, Fiona Scott. He gets an answer phone message in turn, saying that she'll be away
for the next week on a lecture tour of the US. He leaves a message anyway.
The next number is engaged, and the next gives a 'No such number' tone. That
Jacques was always negligent about paying his bills.
Rudolf's fourth attempt is briskly answered by a heavily breathing baby, who
admonishes him, 'A Ma Ma Ma Doo Doo Me'. Rudolf Tupper says, 'Thank you. Goodbye, sweetheart.' This suggestion might contain the key to this and all metaphysical
problems; it's a shame it needs translation.

Then Rudolf sits, chin in hand, sighing. However do you destroy a Tulpa? He knows
from wherever he leant the term that these things originally created from thought forms
can exist independently for years, should they manage to draw energy from a source other
than their creator. A Lama might know to dissolve one.
Rudolf remembers reading somewhere, years ago, how an intrepid woman called
Alexandra David-Neele learnt from Tibetan monks how to make and unmake such a
Still, he doubts that she would think of letting the uninitiated know how this was
done in her book on her experiences, which he vaguely recalls was called something like,
'Magic and Mystery in Tibet', so probably ordering it would be a waste of time from the
point of view of finding out how to dismantle The Thing, and time is a problem here.
He wouldn't have dreamed of frightening that soft faced, terrified girl further by
admitting how it is clear to him that this Thing is increasing in power, and how, motivated
by Gothic dark passions of obsessive love and hate as it is, certainly more dangerous than
he cared to admit to her.
A disembodied Heathcliff, you might say.
Then there's all this business about Aleks Sager being fascinated with Alexandr
Pushkin, and this character of his being a sort of offshoot from one of the Russian poet's
own creations.
Rudolf has a fair library of his own on the occult (he also has - in common with
Aleks Sager's one time landlord Dirty Dave - a sizable library of novels by Zane Grey
and Mickey Spillane, but that is irrelevant). He'll start his researches at home.
He doesn't connect the slight chill of foreboding as he opens that heavy, panelled
door to his library/consulting room with anything but concern for Natalie Nicholson until
he sees the long figure lounging in one of the pale green early Victorian armchairs. As a
final touch, it is leafing through one of his books with an expression of derision.
His heart jolts upwards, taking his breath.
The being is sitting where Rudolf ushers his clients, over by the tempting display of
his Self Help books. In fact, it's in the same chair where Natalie Nicholson sat earlier,
almost as if drawn by some lingering essence of her. Its matter of fact manner as it
glances up at him and tosses the book contemptuously on the table only makes it the
more horrible.
It gets up, giving a fleeting look at those inspiring titles: 'Stepping Stones to Sex
Appeal' 'Unloved? Blame Yourself' and 'The Key to Your Dreams' which exudes such
scorn that it is a wonder that they don't shrivel up. It makes a nominal bow. This cursory
politeness is clearly intended as an insult.
Then, speaking English as fluently as a native, but with an undertone of an oddly
distinctive French accent, it begins some speech so dreadful to Rudolf that he can't
properly take it in. Its tone is drawling and supercilious.
It's odd; Natalie Nicholson described this being as 'skeletal' 'ghoul like' and 'looking
like a corpse'. Though very thin and pale, the Tulpa strikes Rudolf Tupper as
outstandingly, undeniably handsome, while as for being 'corpse like', there is colour in its
cheeks. Certainly, those heavily lashed grey eyes, bright with suppressed anger, are
anything but corpse like.
It is tall, and when not half starved looking, would be well made if spare. It has
startlingly regular features, high cheekbones, long jaw, elegant long Grecian nose and

finely shaped mouth. Those blazing eyes are beautifully spaced, its slightly waving
chestnut hair lit with gold under the light of the standard lamp it must have switched on,
and its sweeping brows and lashes dark in contrast.
He thinks of himself as surrounded by an invisible bubble.
"Mr Tupper, I have come to warn you not to interfere in my affairs." Its tone is
Smooth But Menacing.
Rudolf Tupper fights for breath. He is, after all, a Psychic Counsellor and Advisor
on Psychic Protection. To behave as if a conversation with an apparition is anything out
of the ordinary would be tantamount to admitting to himself that his house and its
contents and his portfolio of investments are not the deserved fruits of hard work,
Positive Thinking and Creative Visualisation, but of duplicity and guile.
He once did judo; probably it's this rather than any psychic warning that makes him
sense that The Thing is about to spring on him. His first ring of protection must have
been incomplete. Even as The Murderous Monster tenses, Rudolf surrounds himself with
a ring of clear blue light. The Thing stays where it is, and has to satisfy itself with a bitter
Rudolf swallows and manages in a shaky voice, "You must tell me what you want."
Those eyes spark some more. It Knows That He Knows That It Knows That He
Plans to Destroy It, and he doesn't like looking at those accusing orbs. "You can hardly
pretend ignorance of my wishes after Ms Nicholson's visit." Its voice lingers caressingly
over the name. It wasn't lying about being in love, anyway; it is truly besotted.
Its voice is anything but caressing as it goes on, "Seemingly from this rubbish that
litters that table, you delude an infinitely gullible public with books which in comparison
make Aleks Sager a literary genius and a man of integrity."
When dealing with an awkward member of the public, give them no handles. The old
piece of advice from an Assertiveness Training Course years ago sounds in Rudolf
Tupper's brain. Perhaps Murderous Characters Come Writer's Personal Daemons might
be amenable to it.
Oddly, he finds himself more perturbed by this vicious attack on his writing than he
is by its stalled physical attack. Anger gives him courage: "I understand you claim to
have fallen in love with the young lady when she passed through the graveyard where she
saw you." He is proud of his sarcastic lift of the brows; it would quite fit in with one of
those Regency Romances to which lovely Claribelle Johnson is addicted.
"I first saw the young lady in Kingsland High Street." The Thing seems equally
proud of the prosaic nature of this alternative meeting place.
Rudolf has never been to Kingsland High Street; he saw a news clip of a
bloodstained part of it once, following a shooting; this inspired no wish in him to visit.
The Tulpa goes on, "I have nothing to do with the graveyard. Does the lady yet
insist that I do, and that I am a ghoul?" It looks outraged, seemingly taking a dim view of
ghouls; perhaps it has met some uncongenial ones.
Rudolf is troubled at the stir of pity he feels for it. Even as he realises that, the Thing
glances at him sharply, seemingly having picked up on his thoughts and become affronted
at his daring to feel sorry for it. Angrily, it brushes some imaginary specks of dust from
its sleeve.
Perhaps he wouldn't feel sorry for such a creature if it wasn't so handsome. In fact,
looking at it properly now that his first shock has abated slightly, he finds it even more

outstandingly good looking even since a few moments ago. He can't help admiring
Natalie Nicholson for being so proof against this Daemon Man and its desperate love.
Most women would be happy to have a male who looked like that casting his - albeit
inhuman -self at their feet.
"She doesn't know what to believe, but is terrified of you and scared that you wish
to harm Aleks Sager."
The Thing looks unimpressed. "Tsk, Tsk! The foolish child, to come babbling of her
skittish feminine fears to such a comical rogue as yourself."
"Do take a seat."
"No, Tupper, I cannot accept any form of courtesy from you." Its smile is nasty and
supercilious enough for actors in costume dramas to take as a lesson in how to play a
convincing Aristocrat with Evil Intentions...
...Or a murderous, uncontrolled Tulpa with a predatory passion for a woman and a
destructive hatred for its creator.
For all that, he has to repress a sting of envy for Natalie Nicholson; what it is to be
young and good looking and arouse that sort of yearning! Certainly, he's had more than
his share of delights with both sexes over the years, including the delicious Claribelle
Johnson herself - but his time left for that is running short.
He realises that he's thought of Claribelle twice in one minute is a nudge from fate
that he ought to contact her. Although her approach has become rather commercialised,
she does have genuine power.
"So you are Ivan Ostrowski. I was going to order the book to learn about you."
It's besides the point to tell himself that it is incredible that he is having this
conversation with a character from a book.
The Thing's eyes spark again. "You will learn little enough from that imitative
"But it's where you come from, mate." Rudolf Tupper was Reg Tupper of
Dagenham before his transformation and elocution lessons, and he reverts to his former
way of speaking as he tries to put this monstrous being in its proper place, which is not in
control of this meeting.
He's glad to see that the Creature doesn't like that at all. It winces slightly, as if an
insect had bitten it, and adjusts one of its cuffs.
He remembers some details from the plot of that book. The philandering Ivan
Ostrowski is meant to be tormented by his brief infatuations that never last until he meets
the cold Madam Lyudmilla, who drives him almost insane with longing.
"Sager wrote you as a man driven by an overwhelming passion for a woman." As
The Thing's eyes flash some more at his impertinence in discussing its private affairs, he
goes on inexorably, "You seem to have transferred that obsession to Ms Nicholson, and to
believe that you have some sort of right to her and to keep other men away from her."
The Thing makes no reply. It starts forward suddenly. It takes all Rudolf's courage
not to flinch backwards as he reseals his protective ring of sparkling blue light. It seems
to be secure, as the Thing stops after two paces, its lip curling: "That is a fine force field
that you cringe behind. Are you frightened of me, little man?"
"It's as well to take precautions. Do you fear what I can do, little Daemon?"
"I haven't come here to justify myself to such a person as yourself. You plot with my
beloved to destroy me; I forgive her, and shall put a stop to your meddling. As I said to

Sager - only it seems he is fool enough to ignore me - I have given you fair warning: if
you persist in opposing me I shall destroy you. I did not begin the hostilities, but I shall
complete them."
Rudolf is proud of his retort: "Come off it, these are histrionics from a Gothic novel.
Shall we begin again and attempt to discuss the matter reasonably? Why not take a seat
while I pour you a drink - that is - if beings like yourself do drink?"
For his own part, he will make sure that his drink is non alcoholic wine.
The Thing draws itself up to stare down its aristocratic nose. "You vulgar,
presumptuous little man, you traduce me as 'a Tulpa' to Miss Nicholson and dare to offer
me some of your tawdry hospitality." It glances about the room in disgust, its gaze
coming to rest on the reproduction tiger skin rug of which Rudolf is especially proud. Its
nostrils quiver, as if the room has a common odour.
Rudolf thinks it greatly underestimates Aleks Sager's writing talent. After all, in it
he's perfectly depicted an arrogant, languid aristocrat.
"I have no choice but to oppose you, Mr Ostrowski - or should I say 'Monsieur
Ostrowski? You are completely fluent in English, but I take it that as a nineteenth century
Russian aristocrat French was your first language?"
"To judge from your outpourings, any familiarity with English grammar entirely
eludes you, though it is your first language. One of my serfs could produce something
better. I have no wish to satisfy your curiosity regarding my fluency in English. Neither
do I seek to justify my actions to you, Tupper, though I might point out to you that there
can be nothing about this hideous world that can hold lasting attraction for anyone of
sound mind. I offer to take Natalie to a vastly superior existence as my wife. You interpret
her feminine misgivings as reasonable objections."
"Have you bothered consulting the young lady about your plans?" Of course, Rudolf
knows from Natalie how the Tulpa made a nominal attempt to persuade her before it tried
to draw her by force to its other worldly domain. The horror of this is somehow made
worse by Natalie Nicholson's soft young face. It is like a replay of Hades and Persephone,
and he swears to put a stop to the girl's danger at all costs.
The Thing breaths unevenly in rage as it reads his thoughts. He can sense how it
yearns to kill him on the spot: "You dare to tamper with your grubby fingers in our
affairs. You presumed to call me a 'Tulpa' to Miss Nicholson."
"I believe a Tulpa is what you are. Is that so bad? After all, humans are arguably
only a developed form of ape."
"Certainly, that is easy enough to believe when looking at such a specimen as
yourself. Take care for your vulgar possessions, Tupper." The Thing strides towards the
Before it has taken two long strides, it vanishes. This disappearance somehow
emphasizes the solidity of its former appearance.
Rudolf is left breathing hard and shaking.
After a minute, the phone rings. The answer phone cuts in: "A Ma Ma Ma Doo Doo
Me." The baby's tone is one of 'I Told You So', with a note of pity.
"Well, there's no need to rub it in." Rudolf mops his face with his silk handkerchief.
Alarmed at that message from That Sweet Girl, Rudolf works on a number of
exclusion and protection rituals, both for Natalie Nicholson and himself.

Jaded wretch though I am, I could almost fall in love with her myself; no doubt that
Thing picked up on that, and hates me the more as another potential rival; I must take
good care to protect myself at all times, particularly after a shower.
Despite naming himself, 'Psychic Counsellor and Advisor on Psychic Protection'
Rudolf isn't such an expert on this side of his work as he would have people believe. His
client's cases tend to be easy to remedy with a few basic rituals. He refers the minority of
complex cases to a specialist in just the same way as would a GP.
Rudolf once heard on the grapevine how a bitter ex lover had gone to a practitioner
of the black arts and had a figure made of him in which to stick pins. This didn't seem to
have any affect on Rudolf apart from some pins and needles in his toes and an outbreak
of acne. Since then, he's rather prided himself on the strength of his aura.
This being, though, is frightening. It is more strongly materialised than anything he
has so far come across, and more casually murderous, too. He still shudders now and then
as the memory of how it was poised to spring on him like a wild beast. It would have
killed him with as little concern.
He has always known theoretically that the darker forces at large in the universe are
like that (while playing this down so as not to disturb his readers); still, to have it proved
in practice is another matter.
As he goes through the rituals, he sometimes hears (or rather, senses) an angry
snorting noise. So The Thing is still lingering; he thought as much.
Once, as he goes into the kitchen to get some more matches to light yet more
incense, he catches an audible groan nearby, and loud.
Absurdly, it seems to be coming from the cupboard. He rushes to fling it open in
combined terror and triumph. A cold draught comes out, but there's nothing there.
Surely he can't have succeeded so easily in banishing the Thing. Also, he is not in
the detached, calm mood necessary for magical workings to be effective. Its taunts about
his Self Help Books (and he admits that grammar never was his strongest point) and the
derisive looks it turned on his antique collection still rankle. Anyway, he thinks he has
done enough to expel The Thing from his vicinity and to weaken it too.
He has to go to the theatre tonight. He can't get out of that.
Still, he reduces the amount of time he spends in getting ready to a miserable three
quarters of an hour so that he can make some more phone calls.
He even writes a quick letter asking advice of someone abroad, going to some
trouble to look up the address.
He doesn't like writing letters, usually. He does have a whole file of letters written
over the years to him by men and women in love with him and some bigger ones of fan
mail. He likes to read these when his ego needs a boost.
He's glad to escape and meet his friends. As he can do nothing further until
tomorrow, it is best he has some sort of distraction.
Once he leaves his house, he wishes he had stayed at home and kept guard.
Throughout the performance and the dinner afterwards, he can't shake off a feeling
of impending disaster. He laughs and is convivial while stings of premonition course up
and down his spine. A couple of times, he even smells burning. He's relieved to get into a
taxi at last, diving in quickly to escape the wind disarranging his hair.
As they approach Rudolf's road, the surly driver has to draw in to allow a fire engine
to race by. He grunts that they might as well settle up here, his road's closed.

I was probably picking up on that.

Rudolf Tupper insults the lout with a derisory tip.
"Mean cunt!" the man yells through the window as he turns the cab to speed off.
Rudolf Tupper, standing narrowing watering in the smoke, doesn't hear.
Now he knows.
Aleks Sager is fighting himself.
He won't let himself ring Natalie.
He's always made a policy of letting a woman see a bit how she's got under his skin
(though of course, none of them had the way Natalie has).
That was by way of a taster; she'd want more of such gratifying stuff; she wouldn't
get it, because then he'd act casually, as if he'd cooled off suddenly, tantalising her,
piquing her, making her wonder if he meant it or if she'd done something wrong. Then,
he'd drop his guard just a little and she'd be delighted, but he'd only let it last a minute
and then he'd be acting cool again.
'Treat 'Em Mean and Keep 'Em Keen'.
That's how he'd ruined his chances with Marta on the Night of the Bum's Rush: he'd
overplayed his hand -an insane thing to do, though his sabotaging himself with her
doesn't bother him now.
But the Playing it Cool consideration isn't the only thing that's keeping Aleks from
ringing his darling; before he sees her, he wants to find out how real this Thing is. He's
frightened of its talk about making her its wife.
How is it going to do that? He can't bear to think.
What if it even tries to abduct her after the manner of an unprincipled rake of that
age? Sometimes, they did it with women they wanted to marry, too.
It talked of wanting to destroy him, but he wants to destroy it just as much -WAIT!
Why didn't he think of this before?
He'll kill Ivan Ostrowski off, now.
He'll write of Ivan's suicide.
It'll all follow on nicely from the point where he'd finished his last novel in the
series. He'd left Ivan desperate, lying on a gravestone in the faint spring sunshine,
wrapped in a greatcoat.
But will it work? After all, coming from the 1830's, he should have fallen off his
perch long since, anyway, yet here he is, a fictional remnant from another age, like a true
It might just work on Aleks' own psyche, if nothing else.
Just as Pushkin left Eugene Onegin hanging, meeting his lady love's husband in the
hall in a bathetic ending to the moving drama of the encounter between Eugene and
Tatiana, so Aleks had just left the character hanging (what an expression, sorry, Kon;
sorry, mi key.).
He hadn't thought of Ivan Ostrowski as done and dusted because readers have been
clamouring for more for years. As he always needs more money, until this latest fun
Aleks had intended to write further miserable adventures for him.
As he opens the study door, the thought comes to Aleks that it might be in there at
his desk, writing his suicide in turn, that it will turn with a sneer as he comes in.

His rage flings open the door.

The room's empty, the PC screen observing at him in non-committal glossiness.
Monika came in yesterday. She'll have hoisted in the vacuum cleaner, tottering on
ridiculous heels, dusted his desk, beaten up the cushions, aimed a violent burst of spray at
the inside of the window and rubbed wildly.
Instead of staying in and watching her (she always felt his eyes on her ball of a
bottom in her tight jeans and turned, smiling) Alex had been a coward and sneaked away
to avoid temptation.
He'd left her money on the desk, the usual extravagant tip and a quick note; 'Help
yourself to lunch as usual, darling. Aleks xx.'
He's going to have to face her with the truth soon. If she sabotages his car, he doesn't
care. On the scale of one to ten, it merits a one with him at the moment; things that score
a ten are in the offing.
For all this being the noxious air of London, the wind wafts in a delicious fresh
smell through the partly open window. It being late spring verging on early summer, the
foliage of the trees outside is a tender green. Still, now as the twilight falls on this rainy
day of low clouds, it's as dark and overcast as autumn; gusts sway the branches dolefully.
Sometimes the sough of the buffeting wind outside seems almost like footsteps
pacing in his sitting room. It's hard to say why he can hear those sounds, that room being
soundproofed by the walls of books. The first thing he did when he made any money out
of his writing was to start buying books.
Oh yes, like Pushkin, Rick, if you've looked into that - and like any number of other
people and all.
Don't think about Rick.
He sits down, opens his notebook, picks his pen and begins to write in one smooth
'Ivan Ostrowski moves stiffly. He is so cold from lying stretched out on the tomb he
realises he may have caught pneumonia, but like Eugene Onegin, he isn't yet dead. Again
like Eugene, neither is he a poet; as for the mad part, that is a matter of opinion; he feels
himself to be mad.
He intends to remedy the first matter today. He will go back to his house to ready
his duelling pistols. One might misfire. He wants no laughable mishaps in his end. Look
what happened to poor old Mark Anthony, misjudging how he fell on his sword. Ivan's
own Cleopatra wouldn't let him through her front door were he to get his men to carry
him there on a mattress, dying - let alone have him hauled up to her front window.
Imagine the gossip that would cause!
Ivan strides past the liveried servant who admits him,and up to his rooms. He rings
for his new valet and orders his pistols. Anton would know by one look that a crisis
looms; he would try and do something to avert it, but not this new fellow, who never
forgets his role as automaton.
Ivan stalks out again through the hall. The flunkey steps up, but seeing the blank
look Ivan turns upon him, falls back. Ivan goes out.
Another flunkey sidles up to the first. "Did you tell the Master that Madam had left
an urgent note?"
"He gave me such a look as stopped me in my tracks."

The carriage waits in the road. Not far into the copse, though sheltered by the trees,
shockingly near the royal residence, Ivan glances about.
The low sun slants through trees casting long shadows; the cold of late spring
twilight descends; already frost crisps the ground under his feet.
He can't believe that this is his last look at the world. He will not aim for his mouth,
having read of those who maimed themselves that way. He loads his pistol, using one of
Lyudmilla's cursory notes as wadding, hammering -"
Aleks, for the first time in months caught up in the flow of writing, hardly notices
the cold gush of air until the yell of rage: "Cowardly assassin!"
It is rushing up from behind, snatching up his notebook with one long beringed
hand, seizing him with the other, wrenching him violently backwards.
It intends murder; it means to post him through the partly open window.
Judging by the strength it showed the last time he tried to tussle with it, Aleks
knows that he stands no chance. Still, he will fight it to the death anyway. He would give
his life just to tear some pieces off it with his teeth.
He drops his weight and hauls on its arms, meanwhile tightening his neck muscles
as the Thing's bony arm locks about his throat and his breath starts to go. It half slips over
his shoulder and falls against the PC, which crashes to the floor.
There is an almost festive tinkling, and even in his rage Aleks is reminded
incongruously of ice clinking in champagne buckets, Christmas chimes, the distant sound
of bells on sheep in the fields that surround Mycenae and moored yachts heard when
dozing on a summer beach.
While the Creature is still off balance he seizes a handful of its waving bright hair,
dragging it forward to butt it in the face.
He's aiming for that pretty Grecian nose, but he misses, getting it above the eyebrow
instead. Its light's don't go out -can a monster like that lose consciousness? - but it at least
seems dizzy. It staggers, grabbing him, clenching.
As they seize each other a concussion darkens Aleks' sight and a hum rings through
his ears. He nearly drops, clinging on to it in a grotesque embrace, trying to pinion the
Creature's arms. It's his misfortune that he wrote of Ivan Ostrowski trying out wrestling
and boxing. It's amazing he even managed to throw the Filthy Thing.
He sinks his teeth into its upper arm, tearing through the layers of clothing, chewing
hard into the flesh, tasting blood on his tongue. He can hear its ragged breathing, though
whether this is through pain he can't guess. More likely, it is through rage. He makes
himself a dead weight, but it is forcing him inexorably towards the half open window.
Some detached part of his mind wonders if his neighbour the nervous music teacher is in,
and what he will make of Aleks' headlong dive out onto the lawn.
He has to release his tearing bite - though he so longs to rip through the flesh of its
arm - because he wants still more to remind it of one thing before plunging to his death:
"You filthy monster, Natalie will never let you near her!"
His voice is so slurred, his tongue so numbed and clumsy, his mouth now choked
with blood from either his tongue or the Creature's hateful flesh that he can hardly make
out what he is saying himself.
Yet he knows that it understands, and the thrust has gone home: for all it boasted
about Natalie giving it life with a kiss, of her belonging to it now, its straining muscles

tense into iron as it struggles frantically to push him through the window. He clings to it,
determined to take the Filthy Thing with him.
He catches a glimpse of its hateful face, classically handsome features convulsed
with rage, one eyebrow split and the blood dropping down to blur one grey eye insane
with hatred, nostrils flared, mouth contorted.
Suddenly the form begins to dissolve, to sink in on itself, seemingly imploding in
the force of their passionate embrace of hatred. It begins to shout something, but
whatever it is sounds only as an echo in his head.
The figure is gone. He collapses to his hands and knees, cutting himself on the
broken glass from the computer screen. He stays crouched, spitting out the blood and
retching in disgust.
Great Aunt Sally is incredulous that, 'You girls actually went to a Psychic
Consultant and Advisor on Occult Protection? For Heaven's Sake!'
She regresses into treating them as she did Natalie and her sister Kathy when they
were adolescents who had stayed up late to see a horror film. Nathalie and Kathy would
encourage each other into terrors, sneaking up behind each other with chilled hands to
place on the back of the neck and shrieking wildly. Great Aunt Sally would lose patience:
'Now, Stop That Nonsense! You Girls Are Just Being Silly!'
Now, Great Aunt Sally makes silly jokes herself: "Just send this Daemon to me; I
guarantee that the sight of me in my hairpins and nightdress will frighten him off."
She bombards their fears with reason. "Of course this Rudolf Tupper fellow takes
this sort of stuff seriously, he's doing very nicely thank you out of it. A Belsize Park
address? Ha! That speaks for itself." She flings out one arm, dislodging a teacup with a
bell shaped sleeve. Fifi catches it.
"But Auntie, how about that stall man having his flowers stolen by a strange man in
old fashioned clothes, who disappeared?" Natalie wails.
"Now, dearest, now dearest..." Great Aunt Sally intones, but Natalie goes on: "And
what about that weird message with that old fashioned paper and scraping marks with
those traces of ink?"
"The man who stole the flowers was probably a harmless lunatic, dear. There's so
many of them wandering about these days, it's very sad. As for the funny note, no doubt
it's from a ninety year old admirer of yours who never gave up writing with a pen and
bottle of ink and the bottle has dried up; or let's be optimistic and say it was intended for
me. How exciting! I hope he's got lots of money."
"I wish I could believe you, Ms Nicholson." Fifi shakes her head. "But honestly, I'm
concerned for poor Tasha. I do hope you will be all right, darling. Ms Nicholson, please
do excuse us being even Sillier and phoning Rudolf Tupper about this latest thing."
"Humph!" Great Aunt Sally flings her arms wide in a gesture of despair, swatting
the cat (named, of course, Pusskin) which stalks off to the cat flap.
Fifi accompanies Natalie as she makes the phone call to Rudolf Tupper. "Damn, an
answer phone, sods law! Do leave a message, darling. He might have some further
Fifi has to go; she's Seeing Errol Harding, whom Natalie thinks is a favourite. "I do
think you should ask Aleks Sager to come over and tell him everything as I've got a

feeling that he'll know you aren't imagining things, even if this Thing hasn't appeared to
him - No? Well, you must ring me first thing."
"That mightn't be a good idea, if you're seeing Errol tonight."
"We'll see. Ring me soon anyway."
Great Aunt Sally is to share Natalie's room tonight. She's near the bottom on the list
of Natalie's Desirable Bed Companions (infuriatingly, Charley Danton is still first on the
list - sniff - though Natalie wouldn't let herself think about that even if she didn't have
greater worries). Still, Great Aunt Sally is company, and Natalie needs human company
It's nearly half one in the morning. Great Aunt Sally snores. Natalie lies on the other
side of the bed, listening to the wind howl about the eaves. The sound is lonely enough to
be Gothic even in the middle of this city of millions. There must be thousands of other
insomniacs out there, but she feels alone.
She must sleep to sparkle for the 'chat' with the Tiger Girl Promotions people
She's nervous about Aleks Sager. She has been, all evening, but she didn't want to
ring him, though she knows she should thank him for the floral tribute.
She doesn't want to see him again, at least for a while.
Besides, she can't help blaming him for The Being singling her out. If he hadn't
made up this Ivan Ostrowski character and thought so much about it and then chased
after her himself, the whole unbelievable, dreadful situation wouldn't have happened.
From what Rudolf Tupper says, Aleks' picturing the thing too vividly is the key, making
the thing develop a lethal half life.
Making it develop a half life? If so, only for now: she knows it's getting stronger.
She knows too, that she's being cowardly and ungrateful, given how he
recommended her to Clive Roberts.
But she doesn't see why she has to be dragged into all this! She's going to get out.
It's a shame; Natalie would never have believed she could take to a hairy weirdo like
him, but she did. Somehow, too, he can do what the others, even Charley Danton - for all
those looks she so admired - found so difficult, and melt that ice of hers effortlessly. It
must be hormonal.
Maybe he doesn't deserve her to feel guilty. He can be awful. Still, there's something
so nice about him at the same time.
She's doing him a favour in a way, though, perhaps sparing him from The Thing's
threats about 'Destroying him'. Maybe it doesn't mean actually killing him - though from
the violent look in its eyes she thinks that it does - but whatever it means, if she's not his
girlfriend then it may well leave him alone.
It might - but what if it doesn't? It hated him anyway.
All right - being selfish -it might not leave him alone, but is this her problem? It
might well leave her alone if she breaks off with him!
Again, what if it doesn't leave her alone either, even if she does break off with him?
It might say she mustn't have anyone else. Didn't it say that while it hates the thought of
Aleks Sager having her most, still, 'No man from your debased age' is worthy of you'?
Obviously, it thinks that it has much more to offer.
Is she really sure she wants to finish with Aleks Sager?

She's does that test she learnt from a magazine about how much you want to finish
with a man: Does the thought of him with another woman make you feel: a/ Relieved?
b/ Bored ?
c/ Uneasy, possibly jealous?
d/ Like bursting into Tears?
The thought of Aleks and Monika males her uneasy while the thought of him with
Fifi makes her jealous outright.
What if all this is just the hereditary mental derangement she dreads coming out and
this being doesn't exist for anyone else but her?
She will have to try and talk with Aleks about it tomorrow, somehow.
So Natalie lies waiting for the sleep that doesn't come, thoughts chasing about in her
head. Following Rudolph Tupper's instructions, she lit some incense and turned in a circle
while imagining a brilliant light blue halo surrounding the house. She did this not twice,
as he recommended, but three times, three being her lucky number.
She turns and sighs and wishes yet again that Great Aunt Sally would stop making a
noise like a motorbike. She pokes at her in one more hopeless attempt to make her turn
Natalie is going to look awful for sure tomorrow. Just her luck when she's got a
meeting to do with the Tiger Girl promotions. Maybe she'll look so bad they'll change
their minds in disgust.
All at once, she knows that it is outside the house, standing lashed by the storm.
Natalie, my darling, I want to tell you how I forgive you your betrayal today. I know
it is skittish fear.
No, I didn't just hear that, my head made that up!
You bar your doors against me. So be it, but come to the window; let me see your
sweet face, my darling.
Oh, my God, it is that Ghoul Thing! The barrier can't be working properly!
It's worse lying listening to it wondering if she has gone quite mad, then it would be
actually seeing it.
So she gets up - no chance of her disturbing the heavily sleeping Great Aunt Sally and steals to the window. She doesn't part the curtains, but peers out of the gap at the
Her heart jolts painfully.
There it is, looking up at the window, the wind ruffling the greatcoat draped over its
shoulders and it's carefully styled hair. She knows that it senses that she is by the window.
As it turns its head, its eyes seemingly fix on her face. Chills run down her spine; it
sweeps a bow.
Your cat partially penetrated your barrier, my sweet. Let me in to see you a while,
then I must deal with an enemy, who dares to try and threaten me.
It seems - almost ridiculously - to have been in a fight; there is a gash above one
eyebrow; it holds one arm stiffly.
That stops being funny as she realises who it fought.
Aleks! What did you do to him?!

It draws itself up in fury - surely she can't really be seeing the flash in its eyes from
this distance? That imposter is your first concern!
The world spins.
You didn't kill him?
It paces in its rage, its cloaked greatcoat swinging out behind it in the wind. Even in
the middle of Natalie's terror, it comes to her how it looks every inch the Daemon in Its
sweeping loose cloaks, like a vampire's in a film. Perhaps it envies traditional vampires
their striking persona.
We long to kill each other. Today's futile tussle was laughable.
Oh, thank goodness that Thing hasn't killed him!
It tears at its hair, shooting words at her: Your relief is palpable, and not for me!
Natalie, you provoke me beyond endurance by favouring that fraudster. What has he that
I haven't, tell me?!
He's human.
It spins about as if hit by a bullet.
Ah, you spiteful one!
Natalie's allows her cruel thoughts to plunge on, wild with her longing to drive it
away: Go away, I hate you, you disgusting creature! I'll never love you, you filthy ghoul
from a cemetery, you disgust me!
It glares at her, its chest heaving under its greatcoat: You torment me beyond
It is gone.
Natalie totters back to the bed, where Great Aunt Sally sleeps on as if drugged.
Natalie sobs aloud. She doesn't know for whom it is that she is crying, maybe for all of
His booted feet march swiftly through the crisp snow. He's taking the walk he never
misses, whatever the weather. He carries a stout cane, partly to build up the strength of
his arms. He likes to say that he needs strength to keep his aim steady for duels. Not as if
he's had one for a while now, though the way things are going on, that'll soon be
Yes, others may cower inside as the temperatures plummet. Such cowardice is not
for him, he thinks any true Russian should joy in the winter. He pauses to watch the ducks
on the river's ice, one moving too fast and skidding as though sliding for the fun of it, the
others circumspect, waddling like women far gone with child.
He met a young woman obviously pregnant earlier, alarmed by a particularly
treacherous sheet of ice, and he'd given her his arm, getting her across safely.
He always gives Tasha strict instructions about being careful in the ice and snow; if
he isn't to hand she must lean on the coachman's arm all the way to the door; he knows
even as he speaks that she takes no more heed than she does when he urges her about
leaving St Petersburg.
There we are.
After that brief, happy respite, his thoughts are back to their normal grove. Round
and round, like a donkey working a well, never varying, sickening, monotonous,
unbearable: d'Anthes presumption; Natalie's reluctance to deliver some excruciating
public snub to him; the anonymous letters; whether it was that slimy Baron Hekkeren

who wrote them or one of half a dozen enemies; and now, his own promise to the Tsar
that he will not fight d'Anthes.
The scene fades.
Now the writer is at his desk, taking out the insulting letter* that must provoke a
duel from the meanest coward, sitting down to write it again, making it even more
Solligub be damned. Though he's a good fellow, Pushkin should never have
permitted a well meaning peacemaker to bring things to that conclusion. Hekkeren
sneaked d'Anthes out of the duel, protesting the bastard's prior commitment to Koko.
Whatever had possessed her to throw herself at the scoundrel? Now, d'Anthes is married
to her and a relative, but barred from Pushkin's own doors, snubbed on all occasions by
him. When Hekkeren had tried to hand Pushkin a note from d'Anthes he'd thrown it in the
old pimp's face.
Now, d'Anthes is delighted by the rumours spreading abroad about his heroic self
sacrifice in marrying Koko when his heart belonged to her sister. The imposter takes
every occasion to turn burning looks upon Natalya, while throughout St Petersburg the
tongues wag, trampling Pushkin's honour in the dust.
His Excellency has said ~
Aleks feels as though he has to fight to surface from the dream. He battles heavy
limbs that would keep him trapped in that other life moving inexorably to its end.
In those dreams he knows clearly how happiness is everything after all; he knows
intimately how Pushkin went to his doom tormented, how that the portrait of 'doubtful
attribution' which shows the haunted face of a man in anguish tells the truth. In these
nightmares, Aleks knows how wrong he once was to say that for a fraction of Pushkin's
genius he would willingly sacrifice all happiness.
Now, more than anything, Aleks wants to live; to try and discover that elusive
happiness; to try for it with Natalie Nicholson if he can only make her love him - and
after all, he's always been good at that with women up to now - to settle down with her
and make babies and find the stability and contentment that he's never known.
That dream may not have been the Character Turned Daemonic but it was nearly as
bad. He knows somehow if he ever lets it run on to that Meeting, then that will be the end
of him.
No, it won't be like those dreams when you jump off a cliff and land unhurt at the
bottom of the ravine. He knows for sure he won't come back from that one. It doesn't
matter what logic he uses to dismiss that idea in the daytime, he just knows it.
He staggers up and pulls on a dressing gown. After all, Monika might arrive early,
and there's no need to tempt fate by being undressed. His head still aches, maybe from
that jab his character stuck on him but no doubt also from the brandy he knocked back in
the hope of putting himself to sleep.
He meets his face in the mirror on the built in unit about his bed (tacky, he knows;
but he likes them anyway, and what's the point of having money if you can't surround
yourself with the things you enjoy?). That look of Heathcliff after a particularly bad night
of scrabbling in Cathy's grave and howling is back with a vengeance.
He takes a leak, splashes water on his face and staggers into the kitchen for tea. He
fights the urge to ring Natalie. He wants to warn her against the possible danger from The

Thing, but as much as he dreads danger to her, he dreads equally that there's nothing to
warn her about but his own crazy self.
Natalie, my character fancies you.
Oh yes? How nice. Is he good looking and rich?
For sure he's rich, he owns thousands of poor sods of serfs. Good looking? Well,
I've got to admit it, The Thing's got quite handsome since I first saw it , I did notice even
as it tried to stuff me out of the window. It's mad jealous, you see. The only problem is,
you haven't read the book. Anyway, let me explain; this geezer is Eugene Onegin's third
cousin or something, innit, so he comes from Tsarist Russia. I'm scared he or it wants to
take you with it into its reality. I've seen its country estate in dreams.
Ah. How mean to want to kill you. Obviously, I don't think this is some madness of
yours, and knowing that in taking you on I'll also be taking on some Daemon Man's
issues with you doesn't faze me at all. I'll risk everything just for the pleasure of gazing at
your hairy face.
How solid is this Thing? It felt completely material as it tried to kill him, those
muscles straining to hurl him out of the window. This pain in his head where it stuck one
on him - surely there's no way he could've done that to himself? Gone mad, thrown
himself about in a frenzy, knocking down his computer, sticking a jab on himself as he
fought the urge from his other self to leap out of the window?
No. He knows it was real, or at least, that he fought another body; he'd felt a first
chill and then a foul warmth from the thing and its straining muscles through its old
fashioned, dressy clothes as they had fought. In the restaurant it had thrown him down
easily, while hardly touching him, almost by the force of its will, but it hadn't been as
solid; when they fought last night it had a real body, but one not much stronger than his
Has it been using up its filthy energy on something else? For sure it has, it's been
calling on Natalie. He must phone her to warn her, whether she thinks he's mad or not.
No, first he must write Thing's death again.
It just might work.
He'll have to go into the book lined study he once loved - which, since last night, he
hates - to get another notebook from the drawer. It took that red notebook with it when it
Last night, after he'd got over his dizziness, he'd searched the room for that
notebook. He'd gone down into the small front garden where nice Ivan Ostrowski had
tried to land him. He'd searched among the bushes; no luck.
After that, he'd roughly swept up the broken glass in the study.
He ought to get on with ordering a new PC. More expense; it's a shame that he can't
claim it on the insurance:
A Daemon Man just smashed my PC.
I'm sorry, Sir, but that counts amongst Exclusions as an Act of God.
The wonder is that he'd got any sleep at all last night. He'd lain awake for hours,
waiting for the Daemon to come in and try to slit his throat. After all, the Filthy Thing
seems to have forgotten all its haughty talk about not lowering itself to brawl with a
commoner like himself.
On top of everything else, Aleks has a meeting with Roger Smart at midday. He'll
ring and cancel it at the last minute. Serves Smart right for being a literary agent!

"Glass is all over the rug in your study." Monika stands accusingly in the sitting
room doorway.
Yes, darling, I had a fight with one of my own characters come to life.
Oh, is that all?
Aleks is sitting at the dining table, pretending to write. He'd sneaked like a thief into
the study, picked up a pen -not the one he'd been writing with last evening - and the
purple and red striped notebook he'd been using before branching out to the ill fated red
one last night. Then he'd used the table in his sitting room to begin again on the scene of
Ivan Ostrowski's suicide. He'd ploughed through it, expecting the Mad Monster to
materialise at any second.
It hadn't.
He was just finishing when he heard Monika's key in the lock. Since her arrival he's
been nervous for a more prosaic reason; he's trying to work up the courage to tell her
about Natalie.
Now he says, "I thought I'd got most of that mess up, honey. I broke the PC."
"You look terrible, Aleks. What is the matter?"
"Nothing - well, you might say I'm sickening for something. Monika - "
"Aleks, I've seen your new girlfriend. She's why you look at me all shifty eyed. She
came to see Fifi and they talked about crazy stuff."
He gives a wild laugh, and hears his voice saying stupidly, "I thought you liked
"So did I, but I don't like your Natalie, and it seems like they're good friends." She
glowers, "I've seen her; she's not even pretty."
How nice it would be if Monika's was a majority viewpoint, if Natalie wasn't madly
desirable to any number of men. Aleks sighs. He'd been wondering if he should lock
himself away in that hateful study to protect Monika in case the Thing materialised in a
rage. Now he's in for a different sort of confrontation.
"Darling, this looks thing is just a matter of opinion. You know you're gorgeous. You
know and I know that when you fall for someone, it's like being hit by a train."
"You said you'd fallen for me."
"I did. This Natalie thing just came out of the blue."
He wasn't lying when he said that he'd fallen for her: he had - for maybe two days.
Monika draws in a deep breath, lets it out as a howl, and staggers off towards the
kitchen in those ridiculous shoes. He follows, stricken.
She sobs loudly as she switches the kettle back on.
"I'll do that, sit down."
She does. There's a magazine spread out on the table and he automatically takes in
the heading, 'Hunk Of the Month: Charley Danton' with a spread of some guy from some
silly epic film stripped to the waist, wearing a toga and snarling, showing off a chest that
would make Errol Harding mad jealous.
She's already got the biscuits out and bites into one, sniffing. She gulps and accuses:
"You think she's special and I'm not. You think you're too good for me. You say, 'She's
only the cleaning woman.'"
Warming to this theme, she lets out a muted wail: "It's like in the old stories, where
the gentleman fools about with the maid, feeling nothing. After all you say about when

you're a boy you run with The Tottenham Dudes, all doing that walk and the police
picking you up, I thought you were different." She lets out another, more prolonged wail.
Aleks feels like cowering in the corner. He makes the coffee with shaking hands.
"Don't be daft. You know I don't believe that sort of shit; cleaning woman, nothing!"
He casts about desperately. How can he soothe her injured pride? One thing is a
relief; he's pretty sure love doesn't come into it. He knows how a woman looks when
she's falling for you and Monika never looked at him like that. A thought suggests a
possible way to placate her. Something like a glint of expectancy, of calculation, even, in
those clear eyes of hers urges him to give it a try.
She might take it as an insult, an attempt to buy her off - and isn't it just that?
Matriarchal Marta would launch herself at him across the table for making such a
suggestion, but she is a different kind of woman.
"Monika, you know how I've always said that people are underpaid for cleaning
work..." He pauses, waiting for her eyes to flash at the hint, but hope stirs in them instead.
While he has always paid her double the market rate he still believes that she is poorly
paid for her cleaning services (he doesn't like to think in terms of having purchased any
other services).
He goes on, "I owe you holiday money at least by any fair reckoning. Would you
like a trip back home, or a nice holiday in the sunshine, maybe Italy?"
It's going to add to that Untenable Financial Situation, but the spark in her eyes
makes up for that. He takes a risk by placing the mug of coffee in front of her. Here's her
opportunity to throw it in his face.
She doesn't. She blows her nose thoughtfully and takes another biscuit, still looking
at him. "Will the job be open when I come back?"
"Of course, honey, as long as you want it."
It's going to be awkward, particularly if by great good luck Natalie spends the night
with him, and there's a danger of them meeting. Still, he ought to look on the bright side:
perhaps the Daemon Lover will succeed in stuffing him out of the window before the
problem arises.
Monika's eyes glow, but the corners of her mouth turn down: "I will only think of
you and how I miss you."
"Me, with all those good looking Italian guys chasing after you? Why'd you miss
seeing my ugly face?"
Aleks doesn't want Monika walking through the door, ending all the pleasures
between them, especially as everything is still so uncertain with Natalie. When he leans
over to give her what he intends to be a Just Friends kiss on the cheek she turns slightly,
so that his lips come temptingly near hers, and he feels her warmth and inhales her scent.
"Don't think I wanted this to happen...See you again soon. Ring me when you get
On her way out, with the holiday money zipped securely into that bag Fifi gave her
for her birthday, Monika pauses, looking stern. "This is for your own good, Aleks -"
He rolls his eyes. She goes on, "They did go in for nasty talk, your Natalie
Nicholson and Fifi, about strange sexy goings on in the night. Be careful, Aleks, it may
be a threat to you."
'Strange sexy goings on in the night'? Monika's tone is one of disgust, but Aleks has
to fight a rush of lust at the thought of Fifi and Natalie's lovely, differently curving bodies

rolling together in pleasure. His voice comes out unsteady as he mumbles vaguely, "Girls
will be Girls."
She holds up one finger. "That Natalie says that a Man Thing come to her in the
night and says it loves her." Her contempt at the Man Thing's taste would make him laugh
at any other time. As it is, the world is spinning with relief and horror.
"Take care, Aleks. I worry for you." She's gone.
Natalie has seen The Thing! He isn't as mad as he'd dreaded!
With Monika gone, the threatening atmosphere closes in on him, but he's glad she's
out of it. He doesn't think that it would hurt her or any woman - he supposes that, as it's
the character he wrote, it fancies itself a gentleman - but he doesn't want her mixed up in
Poor Natalie. She's already mixed up in it, and he's sickeningly glad, because now
he can't do anything but stay around to try and protect her from it.
"Ugh! You disgusting thing!" Natalie pulls a face at herself in the mirror. Her eyes
have a streak of pink from the sleeplessness and that crying fit and are shadowed too, and
she looks pale. She doesn't look at all like a wild, independent Tiger Girl candidate, with
something of Marta's look about the eyes; Amazonian, but fitting nicely into male
fantasies with a tiger print bikini with lots of uplift to make for a spectacular cleavage.
Natalie's full breasts will come in handy for that, anyway.
As Natalie works on her face, Great Aunt Sally brings in a cup of Earl Grey tea, hot
despite its journey up three flights of stairs. "Tasha, you might have woken me. Did you
have any nightmares?"
Natalie sips the tea gloomily. "Yes, when I was wide awake. I saw The Thing
standing outside. Now I suppose you'll say I ought to Think About Going to See
Great Aunt Sally snorts. "No dear, now I'll say that you thought you were awake
when you were asleep."
"But Auntie, I walked to the window and back, feeling the carpet under my feet."
"Well, dear, you did tend to walk in your sleep when you were little. Your mother
admitted how she did too, and from what she said, you can have waking dreams in that
"I just wish you were right! This whole thing's like a waking nightmare. I'm going to
talk to that flower stall man after I've had this Tiger Girl Promotion meeting."
Great Aunt Sally pulls her I'm Not Going to Argue With You Face. "So nice of Aleks
Sager to put that chance your way."
"Yes." Natalie works determinedly on concealing those shadows beneath her eyes.
Infuriatingly, Great Aunt Sally guesses her thoughts: "Dearest, you're not thinking of
blaming him for your nightmares?"
"Sorry, but I really don't want to discuss that with you, Auntie."
"I just hope I get the opportunity of painting that Interesting Face." Great Aunt Sally
huffs out with the empty teacup.
As if on cue, the phone rings. When the answer phone cuts in she hears that well
known voice (and why does a thrill run through her?) 'Natalie, I've got to talk to you
about something urgent."

From nowhere, the thought comes: why does that answer phone work for Aleks
Sager when it swallowed Charley Danton's message without trace? She'd like to smash
the thing.
Natalie walks at top speed from the tube through an afternoon of late spring
sunshine so perfect that the bleak winds of last night seem as unbelievable as fictitious
characters coming to life.
The Tiger Girl meeting went brilliantly, despite Natalie's sleepless night. This has
softened her towards Aleks Sager, but only a little. She's determined to stay angry with
him. That's the only way she'll be able to finish with him.
His maisonette is in an expensive road of tall terraces and trim little front gardens.
There's a metal gate and an old fashioned path with creamy yellow and purplish red tiles.
Natalie stands looking at the house, working hard at visualising a light blue halo
surrounding it.
Incongruously, someone's dumped a torn up red notebook with a broken spine in a
bush. It lies spread open, the print blurred as if by exposure to water. A sense of order
drives her to pick it up as she rings on the doorbell. She flinches at a sigh in her head: Ah,
my Natalie!
That was her nerves talking, for sure.
Flat 1A, 'Sager'.
Her heart thumps and not through happy excitement.
Natalie always thinks that bells have different sounds, depending on whether there is
someone at home. She can tell he's in (if she was longing to see him, you could count on
that hollow sound to the distant buzz). Here are his footsteps plunging down the stairs,
the rattle of the lock.
She's taken aback by the stir of warmth as she looks at that hairy, irregular face.
He looks even more startlingly vigorous and hairy than she remembers. His sidewhiskers alone could supply three men with abundant coverage to bald spots. His arms
and chest could help those willing to try anything, while as to the hair on his head - he's
been allotted four times the normal amount, though he does seem to have attacked it with
a comb today. His strange light blue eyes spark at the sight of her. "Natalie!"
He's got her in his arms before she can move back, and is kissing her. Of course,
her body disobeys her; it reacts though she pictures the contents of unflushed loos
used by someone with gastro enteritis and tramps' socks.
Those lips are doing a good job of making her forget about getting rid of him
without his saying a thing, when luckily he pulls away. He possessively arranges a lock
of her hair. "I've been trying to ring you and getting an answer phone, it's great you're
here..." A shadow crosses the back of his eyes. "I should take you out."
She'd like to go back to kissing, but says, "No, I want to talk to you in private. Is
your flat in a state, then?"
"No, the girl who gives it a clean's been today." He pulls a face. She's sure that they
'Had an Explanation'. Serves him right for philandering, not to mention making up nasty
rakes from Tsarist Russia with a tendency to come to life and turn into stalkers.
He rolls his eyes. "This doesn't sound good, Natalie. This is either the Bum's Rush
Out of Your Life for me, or maybe, just maybe, you want to tell me the same thing I want
to tell you, but from the other end. Probably, it's both."

She doesn't deny any of it. "This was in that hydrangea bush."
He hadn't noticed before that she was grasping that damaged red notebook in the
same hand as her clutch bag. He blanches, eyes dilating, and takes the notebook with a
sort of horrified distaste, so overcome that his "Come in," is mumbled.
They go up steep, noisy wooden stairs through a Regency style white door into a
large, light, book lined sitting room furnished with either perfectly preserved antiques or
reproduction furniture. Natalie, brought up in houses full of bargains bought at auctions,
feels surprisingly at home.
For whatever reason, there isn't the dismal grey atmosphere which often permeates
where single men live. Instead, and worse, she picks up on a sinister, almost electrical
charge to the air. She's never thought of herself as psychic, but she knows that something
bad happened here recently.
As, of course it has; that fight between the Ivan Os-What's It Character and Aleks
Sager. What had the character said? 'We long to kill each other; today's futile tussle was
Aleks Sager throws the notebook on the sofa. "I ought to offer you a drink but I
don't think you want one. I think you want to get on with this."
As Natalie paces over to the windows, staring unseeing over the tree lined road, she
guesses that she looks as if she is acting badly, just like Charley that last time together.
She's half aware of Aleks standing, biting his lip.
Just as she opens her mouth, he speaks. "Natalie, have you been having half waking
nightmares about my character Ivan Ostrowski?"
This unbelievable conversation is made worse by the May sunshine flooding the day
with golden promise. The twitter of nesting birds comes through the great half open
She nods, swallowing.
He is breathing heavily. "I thought this was all in my crazy head and you'd think me
mad if I told you, but maybe this is worse. Has it come to you - outside of dreams?"
She swallows again. "Yes. I saw him at that party - just for a moment, and last night
he was standing in the street outside my house. Aunt Sally said I was sleepwalking. I
knew I wasn't."
He bunches his fists. "Does The Thing talk to you?"
"Oh yes, a lot." Ridiculously, she finds herself using an expression from some old
period film. "He declares himself, tries to persuade me to go with him."
His body is so rigid he looks as though you could use him in a hypnotist's act to
place across two chairs without any need of invisible support. "Where does it want to
take you?"
"To his estate."
He shakes his head. "Which I created. This is so crazy."
She is shuddering all over. He moves towards her, then stops, glancing at the open
window. "Natalie, don't stand there, I -" She cuts across him. "Last night he said you tried
to kill each other."
"We did; I tried to write Ivan Ostrowski's suicide. I was in my study, at the desk by
the window, and The Thing rushed in and snatched the notebook and we fought. It
must've thrown it out of the window. It was trying to stuff me out after the book, but I

was set on taking it with me. Funny thing, though, afterwards I looked round the front
garden and couldn't find it anywhere, the book, I mean, not The Thing."
The drop from the windows is high for a first floor, easily enough to kill you.
Natalie tries not to picture Aleks Sager fighting for his life with his enraged character,
perilously swaying at a half open window. She moves away from this one. It says
something interesting about Aleks Sager that he's left these windows wide open; she's not
sure what it is, insane bravado, matchless courage or suicidal tendencies. For sure, she
doesn't want another man in her life with the latter.
Her teeth continue to chatter. "Great Aunt Sally's painting of that Eugene Onegin
duel went missing, too, remember. That didn't turn up again."
His eyes widen. "I'd forgotten that." He shoots a look of disgust at the broken spined
red notebook on the sofa.
Natalie paces. "I saw a man Fifi recommended. In fact, she made an appointment
before I knew it. I hated talking about it, but -" He shoots her an outraged look; to her
annoyance, her voice trails off guiltily.
"Fifi?" His tone is one of dismissive scorn. "Like who is this guy?"
"Somebody called Tupper, who helped her when a half waking nightmare being
bothered her too." Well, 'bother' is one way of putting it.
His mind obviously manages to find time out to run through some graphic images of
Bothering Fifi, even as he keeps on looking indignant. "Natalie, you should've told me,
not gone to Fifi and some New Age Samfi."
Her rising anger comes as a relief as a normal feeling: "I think you've got a nerve to
say that. At least I was able to keep him out by doing what Rudolf Tupper suggested."
His eyes flash. "Does it come into your bedroom?"
"Oh yes, and lies on the bed." For some reason, she doesn't add, 'On top of me.' He
bunches his fists, swearing: "Why wasn't I there?!"
Because I didn't invite either of you. She paces some more, feeling like a bad actress
portraying Tension and Conflict. "You saw him in the restaurant and fought there, didn't
you? But you didn't bother telling me, oh no." She sounds like a bad actress, too, and this
irritates her still more: "How long was this going on before you dragged me into it?"
For his part, he does look genuinely anguished. She can't but be moved by his
emotion, but she won't let herself feel it properly. He implores her: "You've got to believe
me, darling, that time in the restaurant was the first time it appeared to me. That is, I think
I saw it at that party, but so did you. I had been getting these hate letters in funny ink, and
sometimes scratched like the pen was running out but that was before -"
She shudders at the mention of those letters. She can't deny that she saw the
Daemon Man at the party and from Aleks' reaction, she didn't think that he saw more than
a blur himself. She'd nearly fallen over from shock; now she remembers how the figure
spoke to her, too: Only you can soothe my aching heart.
She'd forgotten that and she doesn't want to think about it.
"He sent me flowers," she throws at Aleks now, as if he's responsible, as of course,
he is. "Plus a note I couldn't read, with scraping marks. I knew then that I wasn't
imagining it; plus when I went by the flower seller's stall in the high street he was talking
about a man in old fashioned clothes pushing him over."
His look combines a look of Bitter Jealousy and Resentment with Feeling
Anguished and Misjudged, but he's not acting; finally it does move her a little.

"No wonder you're mad at me, you're longing to give me the shove and escape from
this horror I invented, but it's not that simple. I hate having dragged you into it, but That
Thing fixated on you the minute I set eyes on you even, like its wanting you is
inseparable from its hating me, and like it or not we're in this together now."
She feels 'or not' enough to stamp her foot like a child: "Why did you have to write
this stuff - that Tupper man said that you'd unwittingly created a Tulpa - why don't you
write a happy ending and maybe he'll go away?"
He shakes his head. "I can't do that, I hate it too much for coming between us and
anyway, with luck it's too late. I've already killed Ivan Ostrowski off. I wrote out his
suicide this morning."
This comes almost as the shock that she would feel if he admitted to killing a
human. She suddenly wonders if Ivan Ostrowski's disappearance last night had anything
to do with this. She'd assumed it was her taunts that made him vanish, at least
temporarily, though he's always gone suddenly. It wasn't exactly the first time that she'd
insulted him, either: come to think of it, she's hardly done anything but.
Aleks' self satisfied expression - as at a job well done - unaccountably strikes her as
hateful. He nods at her, "I wrote his shooting himself in a copse outside St Petersburg."
She paces: a bit. "Why would that stop him? Probably, it'll just make him hate you
He makes a move towards her, but stops short. "It seemed worth a try. I expected it
to come and try and finish me off tit for tat again, but it didn't."
She feels a great urge to pull those bushy side-whiskers, he is so infuriating (has
anybody, ever?). She wanders about, wishing she could stop shuddering. "I don't know
how this whole thing works - maybe Rudolf Tupper knows - but Ivan Whatsit isn't
exactly doing what you wrote of him as doing, is he? Living as an aristocrat in St
Petersburg in the Eighteen Something's or whenever it is and being kept on a string by
some Arch Duchess or whatever she is?" she shakes her head. "He showed me a vision of
some country estate you say you invented that?"
He is now doing what she imagined in fun, running his hands through his hair,
disarranging it wildly: "It'll take you there over my dead body! Natalie, I know you're
mad at me, but I can't bear seeing you standing there like some doe at bay or something,
Let me make you a cup of tea or get you a drink while you sit down."
"I think I should leave. It'd probably be better for both of us." She turns on her heel,
but as she stalks towards the sun barred door he puts himself between her and escape. She
remembers his character's quick spring.
"We'll be stronger united." He smiles, though he looks sad. "Funny, an old friend of
mine used to say that. Well, I've lost him, and I don't want to lose you too: if I let you
walk out of that door then I've lost you for sure."
She takes a few steps back towards the sofa, and then stops. Her taunts to the
Daemon come back to her: Go away, I hate you, you disgusting creature! I'll never love
you, you filthy ghoul form a cemetery, you disgust me!
For some reason, this enables her to say coldly, "Maybe he's gone for good. Maybe
you did succeed in killing him after all. But then, Rudolf Tupper did say that he'd get on
to someone else who knows more about these Tulpa things and -"
He swears. "So this con man you've dragged into it is going to discuss my affairs
with some other New Age rip off artist? Thank you, Natalie."

"Tough!" That welcome surge of anger floods back. "If you think this is going to be
Our Secret, you've got another think coming." She makes for the door again.
Once more he intercepts her.
She hears her own voice, shrill with hysteria: "Go away!"
Her mother would say: 'Now, Tasha; Remember Your Father.'
Natalie never knew by that if she meant that she shouldn't make too much noise and
disturb her father, or was reminding her that she Shouldn't Get Too Worked up, having
somehow persuaded herself that by this simple precaution her daughters might escape the
family skeleton of hereditary mental illness, forever crouching, rattling its bones in the
"I can't let you leave in this state, Natalie. I hate myself for causing this, but do
please, stay and have a cup of tea or a glass of wine or something. Then I'll drive you
"Fine." She plumps herself inelegantly on the couch, her skirt puffing up (his eyes
widen and he shifts them quickly (he and his creation are a pair about legs). "But if you
don't let me go afterwards, I'll scream out of the window." This too reminds her of her
conversations - if you can call them that - with the Daemon.
"If I don't let you go after that, feel free to take a leaf out of That Thing's book and
stuff me out of it. What'd you like, a glass of wine?" She nods, hardly hearing.
When he's safely out of the room, getting glasses, she reaches across to pick up that
battered red notebook with the broken spine (the broken spine Aleks himself might have,
had his own character succeeded in throwing him out of the window). Touching it sends a
jolt of horror through her fingertips into her heart. She wonders if it's somehow charged
with electricity.
Pages have been roughly ripped out, leaving half pages and shreds; the wire, torn
from the spine, protrudes jaggedly. She'd already noticed how the ink on the remaining
pages is faded and blurred as though it's been under water. She's too distraught to
remember of what that reminds her.
She leafs through at top speed, hating to touch the thing, not able to bring herself to
read any of it, though she spots the name 'Ivan' repeated in the faded, bold modern male
handwriting, until she comes to the last pages and the change in the style which somehow
resembles that attempt at handwriting on the note she had with the flowers, there's that
old fashioned slant, though there the letters were only scratching on the paper, almost as
though the writer was in a frenzy of rage:
'You are dead. She is mine.'
He's drawn a picture in ink, too.
It reminds her of Great Aunt Sally's pen and ink efforts up on her dining room walls.
It shows a copse, trees, conifers and a foreshortened Aleks Sager lying face down, either
dead or unconscious. His face, turned to one side and instantly recognisable by one bushy
side-whisker and the ski slope nose, rests on one arm. His eyes are half closed and even
in a couple of strokes the artist has conveyed their unseeing stare.
A duelling pistol lies next to him. The artist must have been familiar with these to
portray one so convincingly in a few lines.
Loving care, however, has been put into the details of the grass underneath Aleks,
round his belly. There is a patch of darkness shaded in, so dense that at first she thinks
that it is a shadow, and then she recognises it as a spreading pool of blood that has soaked

through his shirt and trousers. Round about him, blades of grass are bent, darkened and
stuck together.
She gazes as though trying to divine the extent of the artist's hatred. Is it a threat, a
savage fantasy, something in the nature of a spell, even?
She really ought to show it to Rudolf Tupper.
Her hysterical feelings have vanished. It has always been like that with her; when
she knows that she has to face the worst, whatever it is - that there is no getting out of it suddenly she is calm.
She is still looking at the drawing when Aleks comes back into the room with the
two wine glasses, talking cheerfully. His words go by her ears. At her expression, he puts
the glasses down. He draws in his breath when he sees he picture. She can't bring herself
to look at him at once.
When she does raise her eyes to his face, his look is the same as it was at the party
as she said that her name was Natalie. It involves grinning, raising one eyebrow and
widening his eyes at once. He is so alive while he does that, such a contrast to that still,
glassy eyed dead or half dead figure drawn with such vicious care on the lined page in
front of them, that a shiver of delight in him takes her by surprise, running up her spine,
while her heart wrenches.
She snaps shut the hateful notebook, tossing it aside. She'd like to incinerate it. She
gets up and puts out a hand to caress one whiskered side of his face. His eyes stir, all
cynicism vanished. "I'd risk that - or anything - for you. What man wouldn't?"
Does he really believe that? It's impossible to say. Natalie can think of any number
of men - like ninety-nine point nine per cent of the male population, for instance - who
she's sure wouldn't agree; perhaps a small minority of violent lunatics are with him.
Then they are in each other's arms; he's saying, 'I'll never let that filthy monster get
you - I'll destroy It somehow," while she's insisting childishly, "You mustn't let him kill
you!" and as she speaks, she's surrounding them with a circle of bright blue light. Now,
their lips stop making futile affirmations to meet parted in a kiss.
His hands caress her waist, slipping down to stroke her hips and bottom, up to
caress her breasts, while their tongues meet and she drops one hand to fondle his
hardness. Now even the thought of a wild, outraged Ivan Whatsit appearing doesn't stop
her (though he might well be waving a duelling pistol, for as he can manifest fully
clothed and even has access to writing paper, why wouldn't he pack a gun?). Aleks breaks
off from the kiss to mutter something through quick breaths which she can't catch
properly - it sounds like, 'Do you like my Well Intentioned*?'
Of course, she has been wondering what it will be like to kiss a man so hairy, and
with such rough looking hair, too; wouldn't it prickle her skin and irritate it? That other
time, she'd scarcely noticed before it was over - but now, though his hairiness tickles her,
somehow it adds in its otherness to the rest of her singing nerves. This is what she never
felt properly before, only stirs here and there; this is what carries silly girls away so that
they end up pregnant by accident, this surge of amnesiac longing pleasure.
She opens her eyes for a moment, catching sight of motes of dust suspended in the
brilliant sunshine. "There's only us."
It's true.
In contrast to the tasteful sitting room, his bedroom is flashy, with sheepskin rugs, a
white wall unit with mirrored doors and gold coloured handles about the brass bed and

crimson and gold bedding. Delighting in it, she catches the vulgar mood, stepping back to
pull her dress over her head in one sweep, tossing it on a chair. His eyes pop at the sight
as do anyone's who sees her naked - as did You Know Who's - but she's not going to think
about You Know Who; that was then, and this is now.
"Well, I've got more hair than you," he says, pulling off his T -shirt. He is even
hairier than she imagined, but she likes its masculinity now. He is, as she noted, strongly
built, muscular and well knit. He must still work out somehow, to be in such good
They kiss again. Then he is pulling down his jeans, while ridiculously, Natalie has to
glance away - are woman like Fifi really never discomfited at this point? Maybe she's just
a prude. It was easier with her one-time fianc Giovanni and You Know Who later on
because they were lying half covered by bedclothes with only the bedside light on - don't
think about him, don't think about him!
Her momentary flinching makes Aleks smile. This irritates her; it makes her seem so
unsophisticated. She suspects that the others have welcomed the sight of his arousal with
a gentle tug.
He indicates their reflection in mirror. "We look like a satyr with one of those lovely
nymphs in that Pre Raphaelite painting."
"One that she has the hots for."
And it is all as it should have been with - only she isn't going to think about that with his lips all over her, lingering, delighting. She is exploring him all over, caressing,
kissing, stroking his hardness, delighting in it, squeezing it still harder, anticipating how it
will feel inside her. He kisses her lips, her throat, between her breasts, and goes kissing
down her belly. Now those side whiskers tickle her thighs, sending quivers of pleasure
through her, readying her for that exactly planted kiss. He looks up at her, grinning.
"Such a beautiful Titian diadem' and he gives the kiss that makes her gasp. He's found the
exact spot as if by radar.
It is infuriating to have to think in terms of protection - not psychic this time - but he
anticipates her. As a good responsible philanderer he keeps a supply by his bed - and they
share a laugh as they get the thing on.
He is plunging in her and she has her arms so tight about him a less muscular man
would wince, urging him with each thrust of her hips up higher as time stops or has no
meaning as they are there in that shuddering convulsion.
Soon afterwards, he takes her from behind and watching in the mirror, she has to
admit that it does look like a satyr debauching a nymph.
"You have such a beautiful back; not one blemish, and as for your behind, it'd arouse
a man of one hundred and twenty."
Or a Daemon thing?
She isn't going to let herself think about that, either.
Later, in the twilight, he gets up to bring in those abandoned glasses of wine. She
hates to think of him seeing that broken red notebook, still spread upon the sofa with its
message of hate. She can't tell by his expression in the half light whether he's had another
look at it or not.
Later still the phone goes; the answer phone cuts in after half a dozen rings. "Old
Liz, I betcha." he grins, stroking her shoulder.
"Who's old Liz?"

"A mature woman I know who gushes like a geezer. I don't think it was tonight I
was meant to be having dinner round at her gaff. Sod it, anyway." He goes back to kissing
She thinks that's a bit mean. Still, why be surprised? He's shown her already that he
isn't too bothered about being mean when he feels like it.
Marta would say that she ought to learn by it: Remember: the way you see him treat
other women at the beginning is how he's going to treat you later. Don't fall for the It's
Different with Me delusion, because it is only a matter of time Etc, Etc.
Natalie doesn't want to spoil the delights of the present with calculations like that.
Marta can sometimes resemble someone who could say to a child on Christmas Day,
'Now, remember that ordinary life starts again tomorrow'.
The phone rings rouses them again as they are dozing, her head using his shoulder
as a convenient pillow. This time he's annoyed: "Fuck off, Liz! She's after my body, too,
Natalie; you'd better watch out, I don't know how long I'll be able to fend her off. I wish it
was Rick ringing, though." He looks sad.
"Why's that?" She remembers their brush at the party. She feels like asking him why
it mattered to both of them that her name is Natalie, but now he's stroking her again.
"Never mind...Your skin's amazing, it's like silk. I don't think you're human. You
certainly don't look real, you're too like one of those nymphs in that painting, turning
Hercules' boyfriend..."
The phone rings again later. "Could be Anton. Can't remember when I promised to
meet 'em, either."
"You ought to answer it."
"What, and lose a second of you? You've got to be kidding, girl."
At some point between night and morning, in the grey light of dawn, in the time of
dreams, perhaps in a dream, she sees The Being, but he's only slightly there. He can't get
through, though straining towards them in rage, and while she lies frozen he covers his
face with his hands and weeps.
Natalie is awakened to the full light of day by the muted rattling noise of mail
arriving downstairs. She's surprised that it's woken her, as it's no louder than it is at Great
Aunt Sally's. She's more surprised at Aleks' expression, though. It's one of wide eyed
dismay. It's not even caused by the sight of her face without make up, either, as he has
shown signs of serious problems by insisting how incredibly beautiful she looks all
tousled and natural. Now his look changes into relief, and he lets his breath out in a sigh.
"What is it?"
He kisses her nose. "Morning, Natalie my darling, nothing."
She remembers then that he said something about hate letters, but her stomach
reminds her that she hasn't eaten since grabbing that samosa yesterday on the way to the
Tiger Girl meeting. So, after taking a shower she goes to make bacon sandwiches while
he showers himself. He offered to make the sandwiches, but from her experience, men
never bother to cut off all the fat.
She leaves the tempting smell and homely sizzling to go and have another look at
that terrible red notebook.
It's still on the couch, open at an angle. Perhaps he didn't touch it when he came in
yesterday evening to pick up the glasses of wine. She picks it up to be horrified all over

again by the picture. It is as if she had somehow hoped that it would have disappeared
In defiance, she searches about for something to draw with, finding a biro on one of
the shelves. She goes to the book and begins to draw under the picture, making a heart
and writing in it, 'NN x AS' like a schoolgirl. Like a schoolgirl too, she doesn't put the 'L'
in, because though Aleks told her last night - repeatedly - that he is in love with her, she
doesn't know how she feels.
That's what you said with You Know Who and look where your playing it safe led
She cuts off that warning, gasping as she notices something else. Something has
been drawn or written overleaf. Turning the page, she comes on another sketch.
This time it's Aleks' character, recognisable at once by his height, his leanness, his
clean cut features and carefully styled hair. He bends forwards, grimacing, and the artist
has carefully shaded in the blood coming between his fingers, staining the front of his old
fashioned shirt. From the patch she can't make out if the wound is in the chest or in the
Surely Ivan Ostrowski wouldn't draw that? If Aleks' Daemon, her Daemon Lover
didn't do it, who did?
It's all too horrible to tell Aleks, whistling cheerfully in the shower. He must find it
Holding the book, with Ivan Ostrowski's suffering in front of her eyes, a stab of a
different sort of anguish touches Natalie. It is as if she hones in - as clairvoyants like
Rudolf Tupper claim they can - on the pain that makes this being hound them: it's raw
and immediate, like a wound, and now she remembers her dawn half waking vision of his
"I'm sorry." To her amazement, she finds herself speaking to the character, safe in
the muted sound of the running water from the bathroom. "I mean, not for getting
together with Aleks, no, but for you. It's better - surely - they make you go, than your
going on all tormented like this? I don't want you to kill each other! These pictures are so
horrible. I thought you did the first, but -"
She drops the book as the voice comes into her head, sharp with scorn: Don't
presume to sympathise with me! You have lost all the influence you had with me in acting
the slut with such a man as that. I should have taken warning by your other betrayal.
She clenches her hands, shuddering, looking wildly about, though she knows the
voice was only in her head. This is like madness. But then, is it any more like madness
than the rest of it?
Anger stirs; she answers it back: Don't presume yourself! You've got a nerve to call
me names; this isn't eighteen-thirty something!
Ridiculously, her mother's old fashioned warnings about Making Yourself Cheap are
back with her.
Enjoy your sordid love affair with him while you can. I thank you for acting the
harlot; you have freed me from my passion for you; now you are defiled in my eyes.
Her stab of disappointment and hurt is so unexpected, so ridiculous, that she can
only suppose it is something left over from times when things went wrong with previous
- real - admirers.

She finds her own sullen muttered response ridiculous, too: Now you can leave us
alone, then, if you think I'm such a slut.
The voice comes back at once, intolerably haughty and contemptuous: That cannot
be. Goodbye, Natalie. You'll never know how I loved you. I would have given you
everything: my name, my lands, my children, my life at your feet. It is just between us
men now.
Oh No, It Isn't!
Ludicrously, that reminds her of shouting at The Villain in pantomimes, competing
with Kathy and her Current Best Friend and Kathy's Current Best Friend about who could
yell loudest. Her mother, of course, never yelled, but when her father took them (unlike
their economical mother, forgetting to bring a bottle of water and letting them have too
much coke instead) he always joined in, as when not depressed, he revelled in exuberant
fun. The taste of those ice creams is back on her tongue.
But the being has stopped talking to her, leaving her breathless, angry, and terrified,
feeling that she's let Aleks down, that there must have been some way to persuade this
creature to leave them alone.
He might still be listening, even if he has decided to send her to Coventry. She
murmurs - only she must be quick, she can hear Aleks coming out of the bathroom - "I
am sorry to have hurt you and that you hate me too, now. Please, try and forgive Aleks for
tormenting you (She remembers him saying something about 'torment'). Try to forgive
me for choosing him. I couldn't go with you; I belong in this world."
There is no reply.
She concentrates and has a clear vision of him.
He's in some long, light room with low windows. He's outraged, has stalked over to
those windows to stare out unseeing rather than have to look at her now she's betrayed
him by Demeaning Herself. That term, not in her own vocabulary, comes oddly into her
head. He's a nineteenth century man after all, believing profoundly in that Double
Standard of Sexual Morality Marta rants about.
Yet, Natalie senses that all is not as lost as he imagines, that though he's convinced
himself he has dismissed her, that she's dirtied in his eyes, he would still listen if she
chose the right words. He wants her, she senses, to come up behind him and coax him
with soft words. She stares down at the floor in indecision, seeing the light playing on the
polished wood She's out, gasping as she realises what nearly happened. She was partly there horrors - but now she's back. She curses herself for forgetting to put that blue ring of
protection round herself, round Aleks too, round the whole house.
The old one must have worn off. She forgot all about the need for psychic protection
in all that physical delight, as if believing that would somehow safeguard them both. She
didn't even think of it as she picked up the book and allowed herself to be in contact with
him again.
What a fool.
Perhaps as he thinks she's such a slut, now, he wouldn't even try and keep her there wherever he exists - anyway. Almost worse than him trying to suck her over to his world
to pay horrible court to her would be to be stranded there without even his savage

The strangest thing is that now, after surrounding the house with that blue light twice, this time, as recommended - she can go in a matter of fact way to check that the
bacon isn't getting frazzled. She's determined to act as normally as she can with Aleks
until after breakfast.
When she gets back home, though, she will ring Rudolf Tupper - he who Aleks calls
The New Age Con Artist - and tell him about the fight, about the threat in the drawing,
muttering how she was with Aleks overnight and saw the new message in the morning.
She supposes she ought to be grateful her one time Daemon Lover didn't appear
when she and Aleks were rolling together in lust. Would he have tried to kill Aleks on the
She tries to think about something else. This kitchen, for instance. It's somewhere
between the book lined, antique good taste of the sitting room and the tacky splendour of
the bedroom with its pine floor, fittings and round pine farmhouse kitchen table.
Somebody has knitted an old fashioned tea cosy. Was that his mother? He's only
mentioned her and his father in passing, and coolly. He's talked warmly about his silly
younger brother and also about his sister, who he says is Ready to Drop Her First.
She prides herself on her matter of fact look as Aleks strides in, flamboyant in an
orange bath robe, rubbing at his side-whiskers with a purple towel. "That smells good hey, what's the matter, darling?"
"So much for that attempt to look normal till after breakfast. There was another
picture, this time of your Ivan What's it hunched up with gunshot wounds -"
He tenses a second, then calmly folds the towel and hangs it in the airing cupboard.
"So it's still not dead yet, eh? Shame, I'll have to try something else. I'll enjoy looking at
that picture of it shot in the guts." He takes her face in his hands. "Are you scared,
"Not for me."
Relief melts his expression, just as it did earlier. "Then we won't let that creature
spoil our appetites with its crazed hate messages." He runs one finger down her cheek.
"You look like some glamour girl playing a housewife in a ridiculous TV ad - well, I
suppose that's what you'll be doing soon enough. No woman should be allowed to look
like you; it's not fair on the rest."
She smiles. "I think I'd have a bit more make up on for that; I only have a few things
with me."
She finishes pouring out the tea into the bright yellow mugs; she's proud that her
hands are steady, wanting to show that she can Do Stoicism, too. As they eat she chats
lightly about yesterday's meeting. He nods, though she's sure he's not listening properly
about Tiger Girl any more than he did in the restaurant.
Still, she doesn't think that he's brooding about the threat either; he smiles now and
then. She suspects that he's thinking - as she is herself - that this is like some rehearsal of
times to come. She's non committal, though, because of this not knowing how she feels
about him (perhaps his character is right and she is a slut, going to bed with a man she's
so unsure about).
Anyway, it's fun to play at being domestic together. She gets up to fetch him another
bacon sandwich and pour him out another mug of tea as he's wolfed his down so quickly
- that's good, the threats haven't spoilt his appetite, anyway. Nor have they hers, though
she eats slowly. She's used to making the most of meals as she doesn't allow herself to

Snack on pain of death. Avocado pears, oranges, raw carrots and weak cups of Earl Grey
tea are her normal treats.
The phone in the sitting room goes again as he is finishing his third mug of tea. He
goes through to snatch it up. She hears some of his words: "Yes? Oh, Kirstin. Did he?
Went right out of my head. Maybe, but I'm a bit tied up now, don't make that
definite...OK, pencil it in then, honey..."
He doesn't come back for a bit, and she knows he's looking at the new picture.
He's back, smiling eagerly. "I wonder if you'll do me a favour, Oh Pre Raphaelite
"What is it?"
"Come with me to a boring meeting with my friend Smart about the release of the
new edition of the second book about Our Friend the Monster Man. I'd love to show you
off. If that Smart knew the truth I wonder if he'd invite Ostrowski along and all as a great
publicity stunt? Sorry, Natalie, that's a sick joke."
"Your sense of humour beats me...Show me off? But I need a change of clothes.
Well, it's lucky I've got a new pair of tights and some make up with me."
"You daft thing, you look perfect, I'll love seeing their stupid eyes pop at the sight of
you, that Smart's, particularly."
She starts to clear away the dishes and he joins her. "So you'll come? I've made a
provisional appointment for midday. I'll wash up; you go and put on your ridiculous war
She pauses at the door, "How many books did you write about - about Ivan
"Three, unluckily...Don't look at me so solemnly, I'll get rid of the jerk somehow."
His eyes smoulder: "He'll have done that picture to make you sorry for him."
"Are you sure this is all coming fro him?" Memory stirs: "Once, he said something
about 'The one who enabled me to come through.' Who could that be?"
He stares at her sourly: "What did you make of that picture, showing him shot up?
Still looked nice and pretty, didn't he? I hope it didn't soften you up towards him." He
doesn't need to add, After all, it worked for me.
"Aleks, Of course I find that horrible; and you haven't answered my question."
He isn't listening, smiling again now as he looks at her. "I've just worked out what
the most beautiful thing is about you. I can't think how I didn't notice it before."
She's always ready to hear about what people think is her best feature. Some say it's
her waist length mane of red hair, some her legs, her mouth has many supporters, though
even more insist it's that ball of a bottom.
"That slight squint of yours*. Bugger it, I've put my foot in it, please don't be
offended, Natalie. It's only sometimes and it's hardly noticeable but it adds the finishing
touch to your beauty."
She'd hoped that slight squint that used to come out in moments of stress had gone;
nobody's mentioned it for years. A Tiger Girl with a squint doesn't go, somehow. Yet, in
these days of political correctness, maybe it does, and that is what swung it for her. "It's
OK. That's annoying, because I hoped it'd gone. I can't think how you find it beautiful."
"Tasha, please don't get mad at me for mentioning it, darling, because it makes for
the final touch, making you ravishing, not just lovely. It's typical of female silliness for
you to hate it."

She's too anxious to go and have a look in the mirror to bother answering. As she
leaves, she hears him mutter, 'My Own Squinting Madonna. If it comes in so lovely a
Natalie tries not to yawn as she sits in Roger Smart's inhuman office with the metal
and black plastic chairs, the artificial plants and the huge desk with the horrid metal desk
tidy and desk toys. Aleks and the Smart man are talking about business matters, and she
can't concentrate the way she could so easily over Tiger Girl Promotions.
She crosses and uncrosses her legs in her boredom. Roger Smart's eyes keep flicking
to them, and this makes Aleks grin nastily. She was too busy trying to escape from Aleks
himself to take in her effect on Roger Smart at the party. Now, he can hardly keep his
eyes off her. Once she excuses herself and goes to the loo, and she feels them almost burn
holes in the back of her skirt.
On a cabinet opposite, there's a photo of two young boys grinning toothily; his sons,
she supposes. Perhaps they or their mother bought him the 'adult toys' that litter his desk.
She wonders how anyone can be fond of him, but he probably thinks the same about
Aleks; from what she's learnt about how Aleks treats him that isn't surprising. Should
Ivan Ostrowski ever fall off the best seller lists, she suspects that Smart will drop Aleks
like an unexploded bomb.
Despite this, he invites Aleks to come to some literary party he's holding, turning
immediately to Natalie: "And I do hope that you will be coming?"
"We can live in hope." Aleks raises his bushy brows at her.
In Natalie's boredom as the two of them haggle over discounts and book signings,
she wonders what Roger Smart would make of it if Ivan Ostrowski were to stride in
wearing his greatcoat, denouncing them all.
Idiot! Don't think of him, that's dangerous. She hastily surrounds them all with rings
of clearest blue, but for some reason she can't do it with Roger Smart. Each time she tries,
she loses her concentration.
Roger Smart flashes his teeth at Aleks: "Those short stories you've been working on
these few months. Any joy there?" He even manages to talk through his smile. This
fascinates Natalie, and she tries to work out how he does it.
She had thought that show business was full of insincere tooth flashing, but if he's
typical, the literary world is nearly as bad; earlier, the PA was beaming too as she brought
in their drinks.
Aleks sneers blatantly. "I've got stuck halfway through the things. Writer's block."
"What's the average length?" The agent taps his pen between chunky fingers.
"Maybe two thousand a piece..."
"See if you can fight through it and give me a couple, we've got an anthology
coming out edited by Dale Collins, and we can include them...Weren't you doing one on
Ivan Ostrowski? I wanted to talk to you about that."
"I've just killed that bastard off."
"You can't lose an opportunity like that to make him go out on a blaze of publicity!
See if you can make it run to 15-20,000. Then we can bring it out as a novella."
"I'm done with writing about the loser. He can sod off to Siberia for me."
Roger Smart taps the pen with his nails at spaced intervals. Perhaps he's counting to

"The house is destroyed; it'll have to be gutted. All the memories and collectables
from thirty years up in flames, or so damaged by smoke I don't see how they can be
restored." The distraught Rudolf Tupper has aged ten years overnight.
Claribelle Johnson is horrified. She so admired that house of his, and to see her one
time mentor so weak and vulnerable is alarming. Once she hero -worshipped him as a
guiding rudder in the bleak oceans of Making a Profit While Offering Sincere Service.
They'd also been lovers, but she couldn't handle the difficulties of his bi-sexuality.
Perhaps she should have tried harder: here they both are at thirty-eight, still unable to find
a The One Who Ticks All the Boxes.
"And you're sure this Being did this?"
"I told you how he made some threat about 'Watch out for your possessions' before
he disappeared." Claribelle winces at his bitter, nervous laugh. "I don't suppose he left
any DNA evidence. They did look at me oddly as they said there was some question
about how the fire started. Perhaps they think I did it myself for the insurance."
"Do you want more coffee? Oh dear, this is quite frightening."
"I'm sorry to drag you into it, but I know you understand these matters better than
anyone else I know save those real experts, and as I said, as luck would have it, all of
them are out of the country."
"But surely this writer who created the Thought Form originally should be
involved? He might go on adding to its strength unwittingly, otherwise. It seems to me
the best thing that this girl could do is to come clean with him and to break things off
with him at least for a while, to be honest."
"Well, you know these affairs of the heart. Anyway, my gut feeling is this Aleks
Sager isn't the type to admit to what he's done, or how dangerous it is. I can't blame that
pretty, soft-faced girl for what this being did."
Claribelle feels sour; she was once just such a pretty, soft-faced girl and she doesn't
want her own house set on fire. "I may need to see her and I'll probably need to see this
Sager, whether he's keen or not."
"I have the feeling he won't play. I saw him interviewed on television once; he came
across as an uncooperative, arrogant So-and-So. Thanks for the coffee, Claribelle, and I'm
sorry to put this on you."
"Don't be silly, what are friends for?" That is what he used to say to her in the old
days. "Where are you staying? You look shattered. Remember, you can always stay here."
He sighs, "I'm in The Nouveau Riche at the moment. I'll ring the lovely Natalie
Nicholson and keep her updated. That is going to give her a scare. I hope he doesn't set
fire to the writer's house, too. Before I went out, I did exclusion rituals, and I surrounded
mine with a ring of protection. I've never known it fail before, but I must admit to being a
bit rusty about these stronger rituals. - Wait, though, I remember hearing a groan. At the
time it struck me as almost funny, like someone with stomach ache."
"You poor dear, that must account for what happened. He managed to withstand the
onslaught. Surely, it must have weakened him?"
"He's very strong; do be careful of him, Claribelle. I'm still torn about involving
you, but -"
"You're still being silly, Rudolf, we both know I'm a tough on the astral."

She feels another pang as she watches Rudolf get into his car (at least that wasn't
torched). There's a weary slump to his shoulders that she's never seen before, particularly
as he works out so assiduously, fighting off any threat of sagging shoulders and spreading
waistline. She's seen him fed up and discouraged, but never diminished and weakened.
She just hopes that he will rally.
Claribelle is a keep fit fanatic herself. After watching Rudolf drive away, she goes
off herself for a session in the gym to throw off any Negative Feelings and get herself
ready for this - not battle, for that implies conflict and hatred, but - Challenging Meeting
with this Being, Tulpa, whatever it is.
Two hours later, as she is taking out her front door keys, a man appears round the
side of the house. She controls her start as she realises that he matches Rudolf's
description so exactly that there can be no doubt about who he is. He looks as solid as a
He approaches her with a leisurely, somehow out of time walk, makes a nominal
bow and sweeps off a hat, which is both old fashioned and foreign looking. He wears a
tight fighting, longish jacket come coat and dark trousers. Rings glint on his fingers and
he exudes the scent of cologne. His hair is done in some wavy, tumbling forward style
that was probably The Latest Thing during the early nineteenth century. A bruise above
his right eyebrow rather detracts from this smooth image. He looks very thin, and that is
all in line with the dramatic ending of the third volume of his story, when Ivan did the
same as his distant cousin Eugene and tormented by unrequited love, half starved himself
for weeks. Claribelle supposes he is still at it, only now over Natalie Nicholson.
Unlike Rudolf, Claribelle knows those books by heart. She read them avidly. So, she
feels that she knows Ostrowski a little, jaded rake that he is, lucky at cards, unlucky in
"Mrs Johnson?" he smiles; he's a suave villain, obviously. Rudolf had said he was
very good looking, but mere words couldn't reproduce the effect of seeing this handsome
devil, with his perfectly regular features, sparkling grey eyes and athletic (though slightly
unwell), arrogant bearing. He would make a fortune in Hollywood. She notes he exudes a
slight chill as he asks: "Will you permit me to enter?"
She completes her Psychic Protection, taking care to surround him, too. He doesn't
like that; he shifts uncomfortably, though it is beneath his dignity to show he feels it.
Incredibly, she is tempted to smile: Round one to me!
Indeed, you are in the right, Madam.
She starts; of course, he will be a mind reader. He has after all, shadowed people on
the astral plane. She speaks quietly and reasonably. "If you abuse my hospitality, then I
won't hesitate to call on Higher Forces."
His eyebrows shoot up in exaggerated dismay. "I am sorry that you think me
capable of abusing a lady's hospitality."
She speaks softly again, "You set fire to Rudolf's house; I don't want to lose mine or
fry in my bed, thank you."
He smiles gently, "Where is the evidence that makes you accuse me so confidently,
possibly in the hearing of interfering neighbours? The perpetrator must have taken care
firstly to remove your modern smoke alarms; yes, Madam, he had picked up the requisite
information about those along with much of your modern inventions; perhaps he used the

trickster's vulgar books to ignite the blaze, a pretty touch. That meddling fool Tupper was
warned not to interfere, yet he persisted. Now in his weakness he stoops to call on a
woman to join in the fray. How sad, to cower behind a woman's skirts. As you are a lady,
you need of course fear no such treatment from me. But he is not a lady nor born a
gentleman." He permits himself a nasty smile.
Claribelle surrounds him with another ring of blue light. This time, he twitches
irritably as if stung: "Faugh!"
She smiles nastily herself. "Do come in, Sir."
He holds out an arm. She thinks he is making some gesture before she realises that a
gentleman from his age wouldn't dream of letting a lady walk unsupported up half a
dozen steps. She allows him to take her arm; for her part, she wants to take a reading,
though it may weaken the defences slightly. He instantly catches her thought and puts up
a barrier himself. There's nothing to be read but underlying rage about the girl; it bubbles
like lava through his mind, burning him.
He is warm to the touch, odd when he gave off that first chill. No doubt that was a
warning from her higher self, or part of the manifestation process. Now he's solidly here.
She notes the hollows under his cheekbones, his shadowed eyes. He is not doing himself
any good with these histrionic passions, but she knows that from the story.
She mustn't allow herself to be sorry for this creature, or only as a prelude to
banishing him back to where he belongs.
And where is that, Mrs Johnson?
She ignores this. He releases her arm so she can use her key. Inside her pleasant, if
rather narrow halfway, she speaks briskly, "The first door on the left, if you please." Now
she is talking like a character in a nineteenth century novel herself. He opens the door for
her. "I cannot accustom myself to this modern making do without servants."
She continues to be brisk. "That is one of the many reasons why it would be better
for you to return to the astral plane, let alone it's being best for the others."
He merely looks at her. She wonders what he sees, as she can't tell from his polite
but detached gaze and he's cut his thoughts off. When she was younger she would see the
admiration in his eyes: she was slim with a tiny waist and kept her natural pear shape
under control by diet and exercise; she had pretty, small features, and her pouting,
provocative lips, her curvy lower half and that slight wriggle o f her hips as she walked
gave her a sensual air.
Now, most likely the term 'well preserved' is sounding in his head, or some early
nineteenth century equivalent. Since hitting thirty-eight, just like Rudolf she's had to start
the opening moves of the coming fight against the onslaught of middle age. She'd always
hoped by now to be happily married, too preoccupied with a growing family to worry
about such fripperies as fading beauty. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.
In the sitting room, where she interviews her clients, she says, waving to the
armchairs by the bookcase, "Take a seat, Mr Ostrowski."
He looks down his perfect Grecian nose. "No, Mrs Johnson; if I am forced to
discuss that Sager Creature then the only way I will be able to contain my rage will be to
move about. I am sufficiently outraged anyway at this grotesque situation, with my
private affairs subject to the interference of - pardon me, Madam, I must speak frankly officious strangers."

"As you wish. You threatened to kill your creator if he succeeded with this young
lady?" She is thinking of the similarities with the Frankenstein plot. No doubt picking up
on this, he shoots her an outraged look: "My creator, that creature?!"
Having disputed with thought forms before, she isn't surprised at his blindness. "He
brought you into manifestation by writing of you -"
"No, Madam, he latched onto me and somehow began to control my life. I have
memories dating back long before his interference."
She can believe that. After all, in dreams you sometimes 'remember' a series of
events leading up to the current events of the dream.
He recovers some aplomb, curling a lip and flicking at imaginary dust on one
sleeve. "You disappoint me in your supposed clairvoyance. You probably do not know,
then, that last night he and I tried to defenestrate one another."
She tries not to feel horror. She has never seen anyone's face 'pale with rage' before,
but now, his does. He begins to pace about as he predicted, speaking between clenched
teeth: "I was held back by the prior interference from your cowardly friend which
ultimately wrenched me away, so saving That Pushkin Imitator's miserable life. He went
on to debauch Ms Nicholson. She showed lamentably poor taste in permitting his loutish
caresses - which I never would have allowed, had it been possible for me to appear and
prevent so rebarbative an outcome. As it is I must live for revenge: no wish of hers can
now influence me."
Claribelle shakes her head pityingly, feeling her heavy mane of glossy, mid brown
hair, which she wears in a long bob, swing; she's proud of it; at least it's a very youthful
feature, nearly as shiny as ever, and has no grey in it yet. "Really, this is like a speech
from Heathcliff. You young men are so silly. Her choice has nothing to do with any slight
to you and is no insult to you. Given that she and Sager belong to the same world, it was
the only choice she could reasonably make. Come, Mr Ostrowski, I've read of your own
amorous adventures! This is hardly the first time that you have been in love; what of your
grand passion for Madam Lyudmilla?"
He gives her an icy look. "It is repellent to me, besides pointless, to discuss these
matters with a woman."
She surrounds herself with the strongest visualisation of protection before speaking.
"That is unfortunate, as I had hoped that we might come to an understanding. But if you
will not co-operate at all, given the threat you pose to Mr Sager, I will have no choice but
to carry out the banishing rituals without your permission."
He gives another nasty laugh. "My permission?! Do you imagine that I would ever
give it?"
She smiles back gently. "I do feel for you. Your suffering's misguided but agonising
for you. You can't see the way out, but I can show it to you. You are wretched at present;
you can hardly wish to stay in this state."
He comes to a stop. "Forgive me, Madam, I must speak plain, though I am your
guest; I have no wish for such facile pity. Retain it for your sorry clients."
It is ridiculous to allow herself to feel snubbed. "It's understandable that you hate
Aleksandr Sager as the inventor of a bitter life for you, but what would you have had this
Natalie girl do? Go away with you on the astral plane?"
He goes away himself, but only as far as the window, to stare out in disgust.
"Harken to that soulless, ceaseless roar of those horseless carriages. Even your meanest

citizens run them and are so addicted to riding in them they refuse to walk anywhere, so
creating a disgusting miasma of gases. Everywhere, people rush about in an insane hurry,
desperate to spend as much money as they can in those ugly giant shopping emporiums,
while your countryside is despoiled and your livestock kept imprisoned. Does another
existence offer no temptations?" He adjusts a cuff.
She has to smile. "I so agree with your environmentalist views, but most women
from this age would hardly find the prospect of life in a pre-industrial, serf based
economy tempting - even with you for a companion, Mr Ostrowski." That last is meant as
a sop to his pride; she divines at once that it has soothed him slightly. She hurries to press
home her advantage: "You were in love with Madam Lyudmilla -"
He tenses and forgets his gallantry for a moment: "Sager made me endure
humiliation on humiliation from that dumpy, stupid woman, finally stretching myself out
on a gravestone in despair."
She is coming to believe that her understanding of him as a thought form created by
Aleks Sager was wrong, and the implications are staggering.
"Mr Ostrowski, I think I may owe you an apology: I increasingly suspect that Mr
Tupper and I have been entirely mistaken as to what you are. I don't know what has
happened, but I do want to help. To be fair to Aleks Sager - which you understandably
have no wish to be - he can't have known that through some unconscious magical process
he was inflicting misery on a sentient being on some other plane of existence, which
seems to be what happened in your case. "
She winces before going on, "I dread to think how many more cases there may be. I
don't know how common it is for a writer to be in telepathic and magical contact with
some other world, but I can see no reason why it shouldn't happen. I'm frankly horrified
at the implications. As so-called fictitious characters almost never manifest in our own
reality, no writer is likely to think of such a thing. What, Mr Ostrowski, would you say to
a happy outcome to your affair with Madam Lyudmilla? Perhaps Sager could bring that
He turns about fully, to give her yet another version of his Affronted Stare. He has
already treated her to a dozen of these, with each one slightly different. "Indeed, I am
glad you begin to question your assumption that Sager invented my life, though I know
that he has largely influenced it and has dwelt like a parasite on it; but I am breaking free,
and now I am influencing his."
He laughs mirthlessly, and she knows that he is thinking that if he has his way, then
Aleks Sager won't have any life at all. He does some more Nasty Smiling before going
on, "Before I saw Ms Nicholson your suggestion about his writing a so-called happy
ending for me might have served. Not now."
She sighs and murmurs, "Must you be so stubborn?" as if reasoning with a younger
man from everyday reality.
He shoots his eyebrows up at her, then does a bit more pacing before going on, "I
came by my intuition as to what has happened to me - and I have no doubt, many others through a being who began to haunt my dreams, giving me hideous revelations. For a
long time, I dismissed them as meaningless nightmares."
She nods agreeably as he shoots another look at her. As she is being sufficiently
docile, he goes on pacing and being slightly confiding.

"One day I came home to be told by my valet that the painting I expected had been
left in my study for the moment. I had no memory of ordering one. When I looked at it, I
was astonished at the sheer ugliness of the thing. Above all, I was angry, as it depicted my
relative Eugene Onegin's unlucky duel when he killed young Lensky. I assumed that
someone was playing an elaborate and tasteless prank on me, and I asked details of who
had delivered it."
His eyes meet Claribelle's as she waits, appalled and fascinated. She says nothing
and resumes his walk, "None of my staff were able to give a sensible description, talking
vaguely of a muffled figure, and this added to my annoyance; it seemed the prankster had
even disguised himself or his messenger."
Claribelle does speak, then: "This is so terrifying!"
His look strikes her as somehow gratified as he says, "Indeed, Madam." He goes on
looking at her. He is so incredibly handsome that she wishes he would not, as those looks
of his are starting to arouse all sorts of Inappropriate Feelings in her, and she guesses that
he suspects as much. She waits, fearing that any further interjections will make him stop
He stops and leans against the wall, watching at her still as he goes on, "Yet, vulgar
and poorly executed as it was, it somehow drew my attention, so that I felt obliged to
have it hung there. I would gaze at it and feel myself sinking into a trance, and where I
was led had little to do with Eugene Onegin and everything to do with the dismal area
where the lovely Miss Nicholson lives with her strange, painting chaperone. I was
somehow aware of the threat from Sager, that he was not far away, in all senses. At first, I
would shake myself awake from these trances, but I came to wish to explore this state,
until -"
He breaks off, but as he has to some extent opened up to Claribelle, she has a vision
of this painting of the duel, which certainly looks incongruously modern, and of his lying
stretched out on the tombstone in the cemetery in imperial Russia of the 1830's. She picks
up a sense of his despair over his former lover Lyudmilla being slightly soothed by the
thought of his new possibility of this young girl, a flower in the desert of that tatty street.
He starts, as if aware of her intrusion, and sets up a barrier again before going on,
"So, Madam Johnson, I began to lull myself into your reality, lured by Miss Nicholson's
fascinations; I gradually found myself following too, as in a vision, or bad dream, the
sordid activities of that Pushkin imitator Sager." He manages to look even more
supercilious than he has yet, and gives a disgusted, "Faugh! Tsk, Tsk!"
Claribelle has to fight down an Inappropriate and Unprofessional urge to giggle; it
must be a nervous reaction after his former sinister story.
He sees her dimple, and his eyes widen and spark with interest; then he says, "I tried
to communicate to Sager - but that makes no matter in so far as you are concerned,
Madam." He goes back to looking haughty.
Inexplicably she finds him sweet. "Perhaps this telepathy lies at the heart of the
problem. I sense that you have a good deal of free will, now, anyway. I know how hard it
is for you to see beyond this, but given your history - forgive me - you will tire of the girl
in time, however infatuated you are now."
"No, my rakish career would have stopped with her."
She is touched, even though she thinks that is pure self delusion. He believes it, and
she feels his pain. "I would so like to bring some comfort to you."

As she renews the Psychic Protection he comes over, moving more slowly, and
stands opposite her, staring intently into her face.
Claribelle shifts a little under his searching gaze. She remembers a time when she
liked men staring into her face, but now she worries that they are noticing her shallow
lines, the minor slackening about her jaw, the fact that she will obviously never see thirty
For the first time, his voice has something in it other than fury and bitterness. "Do
you know, only one other person from this foul world of yours has said a kind word to
me, long since, when first I made contact with it? Then I heard her words as in a dream,
and did not speak myself, nor could I speak to one of you then. I was more aware of the
fury of he whom you might call my enabling force, and of Sager's drunken mockery. I
reacted ungraciously to your sympathy just now, but I am like a beast turned savage from
ill usage."
As was Heathcliff, and you are just as dangerous, perhaps more so. My goodness,
do all these classic characters exist somewhere? Or is they as dead as the authors who
made contact with them?
"I do truly feel for you. It is so unfair that you have met with nothing but
unkindness. It is all so unjust, with you suffering through no fault of your own. Yet even
so, I cannot let you keep on here, tormented and determined to murder this writer. What
you did to poor Rudolf was terrible. You destroyed his home just because he agreed to try
and help this young lady."
"I dealt leniently with him, knowing he wasn't my real enemy." He raises his brows.
"Surely you can cast a protective spell over the Sager Creature, Mrs Johnson, nullifying
my efforts? Then you wouldn't have to align yourself against me. I can tell that you don't
wish to."
"It makes more sense to use the same amount of energy to get to the root of the
problem. Mr Ostrowski, I do not like your mention of this other - force, this being. It
seems to me that he threatens to control your destiny as much as ever did Sager, and that
of the others, too. Who and what is he? "
He smiles unpleasantly again. "I shall not tell you, Madam, but you need not fear
that I will ever allow myself to be anyone's puppet again; I act for myself. You look at me
in dismay; I am very wicked, aren't I? And quite unrepentant, too. I served that meddling
Tupper fool as he deserved. I want to kill Sager for ruining my hopes. You surely don't
believe you will be able to bring me to a better frame of mind?"
"No indeed, I would have to be wildly optimistic to imagine that a few words of
mine could have such an effect. Besides, you can't do that for someone else." She fiddles
with her charm bracelet, toying with the book charm given to her by John Johnson on
their third date. "I am sure you know, intellectually, killing someone's never satisfied
anyone's desire for revenge. It's invariably more satisfactory to see life pay them back, as
it always does over the years. I remember I felt murderous about the woman who stole
my husband ten years ago, but she ended up with a man with more debts than hair and a
bad temper."
He smiles condescendingly. "But then, you are a lady. Honour has a different
meaning for you."
No doubt he thinks honour only means for women Not Putting It About.

"Does your notion of honour mean that you must kill Aleks Sager because he's got
the girl you wanted?"
"Were he a gentleman, I would have to challenge him, yes, but he is a common lout.
Street brawls are his forte. That makes for difficulties, as he is by my code of honour
excluded by definition of his common origins from a challenge."
"You tried to push him out of a window?"
He surprises her by smiling, though without warmth. "'Push him' or 'Pushkin'
Madam? I confess I lost my temper; he was trying to write my death like the sneaking
dog he is. Yet, I must confess, the lout is no coward."
"But you threatened him before?"
"Certainly; I warned him that if he laid one of his filthy, infected fingers on Natalie
Nicholson then I would destroy him for sure."
She fights to keep her voice steady: "So you don't intend to shoot him in a duel but
you do intend to kill him?"
He looks at her inscrutably, and she adds with insane optimism, "With those duels,
though, isn't it true that as often as not people shot into the air?"
He shakes his head, smiling, as if amused at the inconsequential chatter of a child. "I
have done as much myself; it depends on the nature of the affront."
"You must see that I cannot possibly stand by and let this happen! This talk of
shootings horrifies me. Did you say that Aleks Sager tried to write about your death?"
"My suicide, Madam."
"And could he have killed you that way?" She hopes that he doesn't notice her
sudden, unexpected alarm. But he does; her voice betrays her by itself, let alone her
expression and the thoughts that she knows she is failing to keep from him.
He smiles, almost playfully. "If he could not, then I wouldn't have been quite so
angry. But wouldn't it be the best thing for you if he killed me off by making me shoot
myself, which is what he tried to make me do? Then you wouldn't have to destroy me
"But it wouldn't be! My aim is to banish you from this world, not to destroy you in
your own. Now I realise how mistaken I was in thinking you some type of thought form,
created by Aleks Sager. But your appearing here has only caused misery all round,
especially for you. It would be horrible if he uses this strange magical tie to kill you off
prematurely - why - what he tried to do is just as much murder as your plans for him."
Her voice is shaking; she sounds breathless; her effort to control him is going
ridiculously wrong, and they both know it; this is like some dreadful version of the
Regency Romances she has always yearned over.
He smiles again. "Be assured that he will encounter difficulties in destroying me. I
thank you for your concern. So, my sudden death would distress you, Mrs Johnson?"
She doesn't reply. He doesn't need a reply.
This is a nightmare; she cannot let herself be beguiled like this. She tells herself
hopelessly that she must keep emotionally detached: however tragic this being may be, he
is a monster while he is here. But she doesn't want him dead, least of all to end his young
life (he can't be more than twenty-six) - in that other plane - in despair.
He glances wistfully over at the sideboard. "I am sure your hospitality is not
generally so deficient. I do think you might offer me a glass of wine."

"And I wish I could offer you a glass of wine, Mr Ostrowski; I don't enjoy having to
be inhospitable. But I can't offer you one, because it would strengthen you on this plane,
as well you know. As you've given your word as a gentleman not to abuse my dismal
hospitality, I'm confident that you won't help yourself."
To her embarrassment, her voice sounds flirtatious, when she intended to be brisk
and dismissive. He has shaken her badly; there is no doubt of that. He is an undeniably
appealing 'Daemon', so that she can almost envy Natalie Nicholson having such an
admirer, terrifying as it must be.
Now she has to wonder at the girl deciding so firmly on the uncouth Aleks Sager. If
Sager's yobbish, sullen attitude during that television interview was anything to go by,
that is; perhaps he had been showing his worst side then, and he can be equally charming
when he chooses. Anyway, from what Claribelle has seen herself of Ivan Ostrowski, he is
far more beguiling than Aleks Sager.
He crosses his arms over his chest. "Of course, you are in the right, Mrs Johnson:
even were I to forget myself so far as to behave as a lout and help myself to your wine,
you could prevent me from swallowing it."
She has an image of his swallowing bread in a bright modern kitchen with pine
fittings and yellow crockery, nearly choking, his gullet almost blocked by hatred.
He paces again, and goes back to staring out of the window. The view of the rows of
houses opposite and their small front gardens isn't spectacular. He sighs, glancing round
at her. "And yet I would love to sit down to a civilised dinner with you, Mrs Johnson. I
will take advantage of the candour of our conversation to say how delightful a woman I
find you, and this small pleasure is denied me."
"Thank you, Mr Ostrowski." Her tone is flat, but of course there is no chance of
hiding her surge of pleasure in his words. It rushes through her just as she reminds herself
how she must take care with this manipulative devil.
He reads that thought even as she puts up a barrier. He smiles with a hint of triumph.
Aleks Sager wrote him as a practised rake, expert in beguiling women; it was the more
ironic that Lyudmilla, one of the few women he couldn't beguile, obsessed him, just as
Pushkin had made Eugene Onegin obsessed by the now unresponsive Tatiana.
Reading, 'Skeleton at a Feast' Claribelle had been forced to widen her eyes and
swallow in parts; she wasn't going to be pathetic enough to cry over a novel, but it had
been hard not to. She had finally given way and sniffed a bit over the ending, with Ivan
stretched out, skeletal and careless of his life, on a gravestone, tempting the spring chill to
give him pneumonia.
She makes sure her tone is brisk, this time. "Having read the books, I know how
much you enjoy female company. Your life over there had many pleasures, though so
often you couldn't enjoy them through your self imposed melancholy: your visits over
here hardly do."
His lips contract and he throws up his head. "I scarcely need you to remind me of
that, Mrs Johnson. Even had Miss Nicholson not made her degrading choice, I could
hardly have endured more of her insults."
"No doubt the girl was frightened."
He makes another impatient, "Tsk, Tsk!" sound and does some more pacing about,
murmuring something to himself about, "Skittish feminine fears..." Perhaps he imagines

that the girl was a virgin before she took Aleks Sager as her lover, like the Nice Girls of
the 1830's.
Claribelle finds herself thinking that the wretched girl doesn't deserve to inspire
such passion. She feels indignant with her.
"I think if you can only draw back from this, you may later congratulate yourself on
a lucky escape from this whole situation, including the tiresome girl. There is also the
sinister presence of this other figure, who could be one of these disembodied unrepentant
souls who delight in interfering with our world and causing mischief. Really, please do
try and open your mind; I can show you the way out. Surely you would rather be over
there - not here - provoking Aleks Sager into - into trying to make an end of you?
Hopefully, he will fail as you say, though I don't know how you are so confident of
He turns about again. "I know aspects of the situation I have no intention of
confiding to you, Mrs Johnson, beguile me as you know you do, with that delicious
softness. Do you want, then, to help me, rather than join my enemies in trying to destroy
She nods. She can't speak for the inexplicable lump in her throat.
He comes over to sit at her feet on the floor, taking her hands, stroking them. "I will
be even more candid. You are so desirable, how am I supposed to resist? That must be
why that Tupper creature turned to you, to trap me with honey, but I don't care. I have
always appreciated mature beauty quite as much as the charms of the young. You put me
in mind of Lord Byron's words on Lady Oxford and her delightful, autumnal charms."
He does a lot more hand stroking and squeezing. She tries to block her thoughts not
only from him, but from herself. She can't, however, block her sensations.
"Don't begin excluding me quite yet, Mrs Johnson. I know you can do as much in
time; I feel your power. That fool Tupper knew you are stronger by far than he. Even he
succeeded in excluding me when I needed most to be at hand. I would talk with you
longer; continue coaxing me, I love listening to you."
She is trying to surround herself with pure white light, but her imagination falters;
she's only aware of his touch. She says, disgusted by the quiver in her voice, "You are in
love with this girl. Why are you trying to seduce me? Is it to gain power over me, so I can
be discounted as opposition? After all, the other, more powerful practitioners are out of
the country -" she breaks off.
He smiles again, and puts up one finger to run down her cheek. "Were those my
motives, I would be a fool indeed, for you are an astute woman, and powerful, as I say.
To fall foul of you by using you would be not only ungallant, but stupid. I have confessed
I do find you desirable. I suspect you might even persuade me to forget that girl who has
rejected me so contemptuously, and my rage and thirst for vengeance."
He smiles again, tickling her fingers. "You might say that the whole balance of
power rests in these soft hands. But is your heart as hardened against me as Natalie
Nicholson's, and Madam Lyudmilla's before her?"
She can't reply. He moves in for the kiss then. He doesn't spoil things by haste. His
every move is leisurely, which she supposes is to be expected in an experienced rake,
who practises seduction as an art and doesn't understand the Age of Hurry.
Claribelle asks herself how, knowing this, she can allow this. She orders herself to
draw away.

She doesn't.
She tells herself to distance herself from this awful surge of longing; only then will
she be able to appreciate the danger of giving way to this - this monster - but his touch is
effervescence on her skin, and surely he isn't a monster, only an outraged young buck
from another form of Tsarist Russia?
She wants more of those strokings.
He kisses up her arm, the heat of his lips warm through the sheer material of her
summer dress. Then he pauses, and kisses her cheek. Only after two of these, and a kiss
by the side of her lips, does he kiss her full on her mouth.
He is a wonderful kisser, far better than any modern man. His lips caress hers
lightly, knead them, part them, and his tongue gently tickles them. She parts hers, and his
tongue enters her mouth, and she turns to jelly.
And then, somehow, he takes the kissing too far, kissing her until she is breathless,
until she has a feeling of suffocation, until the world beings to spin. He seems to be
stealing her air. She pulls away in alarm, and it is quite a fight to get free of those lips.
He smiles slightly. "There is no need to fear, I am carried away a little by my
passion but for sure I would not hurt you."
He puts one hand behind her knees and literally sweeps her off her feet. He carries
her - he comes from that school of seduction; he even pushes the Consulting Room door
open with one foot, as she has read of so often in historical romances. Her fantasies are
coming true; well, it's about time. He goes up the stairs with her as effortlessly as though
she were a featherweight, instead of a well built woman with childbearing hips gone to
waste. At the top, she indicates the room, though she blushes and avoids his eyes.
How ridiculous, Claribelle; are you acting the part of one of those shy heroines in
this young buck's arms?
He places her gently down on that bed with the Victorian cream coverlets where she
has spent too many nights alone, telling herself that perhaps a good sleep matters more at
the moment and her time will come. She doesn't undress.
He gradually undresses both of them, between interludes of kissing.
He is certainly too thin, but would be naturally lean anyway, and is still muscular. In
fact, Claribelle finds his body near perfect.
She knows even as she fondles him, delighting in that hardness, teasing it, coaxing it
in turn with the tips of fingers, with her lips, how afterwards she will be humiliated over
that ridiculously easy surrender.
How does that awful line from Chuck Berry go? 'She says don't but I know she do...'
He knew he could win her over after some pathetic token resistance on her part. It will be
one of many, savage regrets.
She sighs and strokes him, refusing to let herself think.
As a lover, he amazes her. He knows everything known to modern men and more,
things forgotten. It is ironical that a man from an age of downtrodden women should
know so effortlessly how to bring one to ecstasy. Part of the delight he gives her is his
sheer uninhibited pleasure in her body. He is full of compliments on her over ripe bottom
and hips, delighting in them. He knows ways of fondling, of tickling, of coaxing by
caressing. He delays the consummation, though she is ready enough and he has seduced
her with such humiliating ease.

She winces at an ugly bite wound on his upper arm, the teeth marks clear on the torn
skin. She is careful not to touch it.
She has to feel him in her, rubbing with such startling - maybe even clairvoyant
accuracy - the exact spot. This is awful - what it leads to must be terrible, and yet she
can't stop herself. For the first time in a long while she shrieks with ecstasy.
Afterwards, he falls into a doze. She lies there refusing to let the guilt attack her yet.
She caresses that delightful, perfectly toned if too thin body (she remembers that in the
story he went in for boxing, wrestling, riding, fencing and goodness knows what else)
and gazes down at his youthfully handsome face with the bruise above one eyebrow.
She mutters rebelliously, "It was asking too much of me, to expect me to get rid of
you. I had to feel for you...You are much too thin." She tries to speak lightly, still
avoiding thinking of her betrayal of Rudolf's trust as she runs a hand over that hard belly
to those too prominent ribs.
His eyes open and he puts up one hand to caress her face and smiles, teasingly,
almost mischievously. Did he smile in the same way as he set light to poor Rudolf's
beloved house? "Am I invited to dinner, my Claribelle?"
"We will have to feed you up...And put something on that bite."
He keeps his eyes veiled, but she can sense his triumph. "Tsk, Tsk, that is nothing at
all...Then order dinner, my sweet."
She laughs. "I will have to cook it myself, Sir. You have no idea how expensive it is
to pay for domestic help these days. My cleaner and gardener alone cost a small fortune."
He stretches. "A consequence of extending the vote to the peasants."
She feels his eyes on her as she gets up. She worries about how she looks, but when
she catches sight of her face in the mirror, for all her smeared make up, she looks better
than she has in years, her cheeks flushed with youthful bloom. She wriggles as his hand
tickles lightly down her back, sending tingles through her still. She smiles back at him
over her shoulder as she goes to get her Moroccan caftan from the chair.
She insists on bathing the injury with antiseptic, though he laughs at her; she is
worried that it might go septic, and she likes tending to him; she realises that this is a
very bad sign.
She is ridiculously happy as she prepares dinner - hesitating over whether or not to
serve chips with the steak, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes. She decides to try them on
him, though very likely early nineteenth century aristocrats hadn't heard of les pommes
frites. Soup first, of course, and it's lucky she has that nice stilton in the fridge.
She is too happy to be more than slightly ruffled to notice 'Cosy Chat' magazine
open on the kitchen table at the page of her interview with that abrasive reporter - what
was her name? The headline, attention grabbing in bold red, is: Think the Man of Your
Dreams Into Your Life!
That hard bitten journalist had asked with a nasty little sarcastic smile: "Have you
thought the man of your dreams into your own life, Ms Johnson?"
Claribelle had replied equably, embellishing her words with her own smile of
mysterious confidence: "That would be telling; I can only recommend your readers try
my techniques."
The woman had murmured as she put away her equipment, "No doubt there's some
desperate enough to snatch at anything."

As Claribelle tosses the magazine onto the counter, it opens up at another page
showing some Tipped for the Top new Hollywood phenomenon, who, while only playing
a minor role in the coming star studded epic, 'Theseus!' is predicted to be the Next Big
Thing in Hollywood. He's one Charley Something, complete with sculpted abdominals
and blond streaked hair. On seeing that photograph, Claribelle had ogled; that was before
she had set eyes on Ivan Ostrowski, and got her hands on him, too.
"The Universe Works in Mysterious Ways." Claribelle reassures herself, as she takes
out the steak from the freezer. She wonders if Ivan Ostrowski would like red wine or
ros. No eating in the kitchen, of course. She'll set out the table in the dining room, with
proper cloth napkins, and bring in the vase of flowers from the sitting room.
Later, in the bedroom, she'll light scented candles if he stays the night, which she
thinks he will, and they won't be for any exclusion rituals, either.
"Ah, dear one!" Great Aunt Sally's head thrusts out through her door. If her favourite
green turban didn't flatter her, this pink one strikes Natalie as being an even worse choice
as she and Aleks pause like caught out teenagers on their way up to Natalie's flat.
Aleks speaks teasingly, "I've brought her back, Ms Nicholson."
Great Aunt Sally wags one finger. "You've stolen her from us." She sounds pleased;
unlike Natalie's mother with her talk about 'People Controlling Themselves' she is all for
lots of sex and romance.
Her fianc was killed in the Western Desert in 1942 and she never married, but she
enjoyed a full love life over the years.
" That is, I've brought her back just for the moment." Aleks grins.
"I've got some young people over," Great Aunt Sally offers proudly. Aleks goes in to
join them while Natalie continues up the flights of stairs to change and pack her weekend
Of course, the first thing that Natalie does is to check her messages on the answer
phone, both for news from the agency and from Rudolf Tupper. There is a bossy
sounding message from Dawn at D'Arcy's, reminding her of various details to do with the
Tiger Girl Promotion.
Then there's a scrambled message, weirdly distorted. Natalie's heart jolts as she
dreads that it's from the Deamon Man, but then she thinks she can just make out the
words, 'Charley, haven't forgotten...'
She puts that down to wistful thinking. True, he may have sent that illegible
postcard weeks back, but still...Then after a series of squeaking noises - as if an officious
rodent were leaving a message of its own - Rudolf Tupper's voice comes on, sounding as
flat, as filleted as Natalie's own father in the depths of depression:
'Ms Nicholson, I'm phoning from the Nouveau Riche Hotel, as my house has been
damaged and this misfortune prevents my being as pro-active as I wish in helping you.
Now, you're not to worry. As you know, I've already contacted the experts in the field and
am confident that we can stave off the Tulpa from seriously annoying you until their
return. I've also contacted Claribelle Johnson, who will temporarily be taking over from
me until I can get something sorted out...' He doesn't sound capable of sorting out his
change, let alone the enraged Ivan Ostrowski.
Aleks Sager's prejudices about names must be having an influence on Natalie, as she
has some misgivings about anyone called 'Claribelle'.

These are confirmed as the next message comes on. It's the woman herself, speaking
in such a silly voice that Natalie wonders if she is wriggling as someone tickles her: "Ms
Nicholson - Claribelle Johnson here. I'm working on your case at the moment...I'll be in
touch again, meanwhile, there's no need to be too anxious, just go about your normal
business and believe that all will be well...'
The voice stops a moment; a thrill runs through Natalie as a male voice murmurs
something in the background. Then this Claribelle Johnson is talking again about the True
Experts' return from holiday, and how she will be going away herself soon but everything
will be sorted out before then...Her voice is offensively laced with pleasure.
Natalie drops the phone. So Ivan Ostrowski is with her and he's her lover.
The reasonable part of her brain tells her that she ought to be grateful to the woman
for distracting the Tulpa. Still, somehow she's nettled. That infuriatingly smug, sexual
tone! How could anyone posing as spiritually advanced encourage that monster's playful
Now Natalie must wait for these elusive True Experts, and they may be as long
coming as the recognition of her artistic talent that Great Aunt Sally awaits. Natalie even
feels tempted to tell Rudolf Tupper what his wonderful Claribelle is getting up to. No,
given how distraught he was, that would be too mean.
She's calmed down enough by the time she's done the packing to Appear Normal as
she come into the dining room.
Marta - of all people - is one of the guests to this Sunday dinner. Natalie sighs.
There are sure to be fireworks between her and Aleks. Marta's next door neighbour is
here too, the male ballet dancer Vasili from somewhere in Russia (in defiance of the
stereotype, not gay; he has long been a hopeless admirer of Marta's).
Natalie sniffs the smell of roast beef appreciatively as she takes her seat, aware of
Aleks own intake of breath at the sight of her in her green body and jeans. Great Aunt
Sally, when she bothers cooking, is an infinitely more skilled cook than artist. She buys
joints of meat most weekends for Sunday dinner, but because of Natalie's Dieting
Nonsense she usually hurls them in the freezer for when they have guests.
Great Aunt Sally wants to hear the news about Tiger Girl Promotions while Aleks
drinks wine and Marta tries not to look scornful.
It seems to Natalie that there's a strange atmosphere between Aleks and Marta that
goes beyond any clash that they may already have had while Natalie was upstairs. It isn't
exactly detestation, either. It could be, though, that Natalie's getting paranoid about
atmospheres, what with recent happenings.
Over dinner, there's talk of some television series, 'Too Late My Love', all about a
love triangle. After the recent goings on, Natalie wants to change the subject.
Aleks doesn't seem to mind; he laughs about the director: 'That guy's always pissed:
talk about love triangles, with him it's the bottle; I've heard he even takes that hip flask to
bed with him, whether he's got company or not."
"It's so romantic that poor Jacques is prepared to die rather than lose his wife...More
Yorkshire, dear?"
She says this to Vasili, who frowns as he tries to follow her chatter. "Excuse me, did
you say, 'Would rather die than lose his life?' I can't follow that?"
"No, 'wife' dear. More beef, anyone? Remember there's trifle to follow."

Natalie sighs as Marta starts off: "But Sally, that story just elevates patriarchal
sexual possessiveness, which is based the same instinct that leads male animals to fight
over mating rights..." Marta pauses to slice through her beef as incisively as she cuts
through Patriarchal Romantic Illusions. "Now, in the Ancient Matriarchies..."
Aleks winks at Natalie, but she's turned off already, busy calculating how far a
moderate serving of trifle will take her over her daily calorie allowance.
Later, when they're back at his flat, Natalie breaks down. One minute she's trying to
put on a brave front, the next she is sitting howling on the sofa.
Aleks has her in his arms, holding her head against his slowly beating heart,
murmuring to her, "It's all right, it's all right, we'll come through this..."
"That Ivan's still here! He's with that Claribelle woman!"
"Claribelle? Who the hell's called a name like that?"
"Some contact of Rudolf Tupper's. I heard his - The Character's, that is - voice over
the phone, I tell you! He was with her, and sounding at home. She's not doing anything to
banish him - she's probably making him stronger! He'll come back and kill you, I know
he will!"
He hugs her tighter. "Shush, it'll be OK...These crazy people with their occult
rubbish - you should never have involved them, but I know, you were scared and that Fifi
urged you on. Don't let them drag you into their stuff any more. I know how to handle it,
I've been working it out, that is, on the few occasions I've been able to think with
anything but my Well Intentioned. (she was right, that first time; he really does use this
ridiculous name for his penis, but when she asked him how he came by it he says he
doesn't remember.) With you about it's difficult to think of anything else, but I know
where I went wrong before. These occult weirdoes are right about one thing, about
She does calm down a bit, and blows her nose. "He came back after you said you'd
written about him - him killing himself and then he - or something - did that hateful
He pulls a face. "I know he came back after I thought I'd killed him; I'm guessing
the drawing thing's more complicated. But this time, I'm going to get the bastard good.
He can mouth off about destroying me, but his time's running out. I'm not telling you the
details as you're too tender hearted."
Hope rises in her; still, she can't help feeling that there's something mean about his
writing a nasty fate for his character. She tells herself that is crazy; he must do anything
he can to get rid of this murderous Daemon he's raised, who plans to kill him, who
schemes to abduct her, who has done something devastating to Rudolf Tupper.
Has he done something to that house of his? What if he does the same to Aleks'?
Yet, he didn't act at all like a Daemon to Natalie herself, save during that first,
awful, kiss; he was only like a besotted, desperate lover from another age.
"I don't know what your character has done to Rudolf Tupper, but he's a wreck."
"Serves that New Age con man right if That Thing shook him up. That's the first
good thing I've known it do."
"It's so disgusting - I think that Claribelle woman's Carrying On with him, never
mind his not being human." She's startled that her mother's prissy term comes out of her

He pulls his crazy face. "She's got to be hard up - but these occult weirdoes live in a
strange world of their own, kidding themselves that they're all powerful, that they can
control the universe with their silly heads. Promise me you'll keep away from them from
now on. If anyone's going to protect you, it's me. Tell this Rudolf to fuck off back to the
other reindeer. How much money did he take off you for doing sod all? I'd like to do
something to him myself."
"Only a few pounds... Aleks, for God's sake, we're living in a strange world of our
own too, with this horrible secret. Anyone who heard us would say we Needed Urgent
"Everything'll be OK, darling. You know what, what we both need is a holiday.
Before this Tiger Girl rubbish kicks off, I'll take you to Paris and show you all my old
Natalie supposes that in those romantic novels her sister Kathy loves her smile
would be called 'watery'. "Maybe not quite all of them."
"That's the spirit, my darling. Ah, I love you." He cups her face in his hands and
looks into her eyes, waiting for her answer.
One part of her mind thinks that she must look a mess; another is floundering,
alarmed at the intensity of his look. He's gazed into her eyes like that before. So did
Giovanni, and she remembers Charley Danton giving her his own version back when she
had the luxury of his being in love with her while she didn't know her own mind Don't think about that!
Now here she is again, not knowing if she loves the man loving her with his eyes.
Even if she could forget that infuriating Charley Danton, with these current horrors, she
can't relax enough to know what she feels about Aleks.
The terrible threat hanging over him that ignited her feelings on The Day of the
Drawing has in the longer term damped them down. This constant, lurking dread is
draining her already; she feels as though there's an invisible barrier between her and her
Who knows, maybe it's to do with those psychic protection rituals. By some irony,
she can relax enough to enjoy sex with Aleks, but what a magazine called 'Emotional
Engagement' is beyond her.
"That's so nice." she says finally. "I think I'm falling for you, but you must give me
time. This thing hanging over us is too horrible for me to know my own mind about
anything." She suspects she got that line from some film, she's forgotten which.
He accepts it, sighing. "I see I'll have to work on you."
Natalie has to borrow some money from Great Aunt Sally to pay something towards
their week in Paris. She's ashamed to take money from her again when she hasn't paid her
back fully from the last time.
Great Aunt Sally waves one arm, sweeping down one of her antique vases from the
display cabinet, declaiming as Natalie catches it: "Rubbish, my sweet. You'll be rich and
famous in no time; then I'll touch you for a loan myself so I can go out and get paralytic
every night at the Dalston Arms. That's going to be the life for me when I get into my
Over the next few days Ivan Ostrowski stays away.

Rudolf Tupper leaves a couple of vague messages on Natalie's answer phone. He

doesn't say anything more about Claribelle Johnson and tells Natalie to ring him if she
has 'Any Immediate Concerns' and that he's 'Looking Into the Matter'. He seems to be
taking a prolonged look at it from all angles.
Of course, this Claribelle Johnson could have distracted Ivan Ostrowski from his
obsession with Natalie herself - Natalie doesn't know why the thought of this annoys her,
it must be vanity - but that doesn't mean that he hates Aleks less, or isn't still bent on
'Destroying Him'.
The Tiger Girl Promotion is due to start soon. Word must have got out: suddenly,
there's a stir of interest in Natalie's portfolio. Now, walking into the D'Arcy Agency,
Natalie gets the Warm and Personal Greeting when it used to be the Bright Smile of
The evening before they go away, Aleks arranges for Natalie to meet his sister Olga
(whose baby was due last Thursday) her husband Damien and their rascally younger
brother Leo in a nightclub.
Leo greets her with a broad conspiratorial smile. "I've got my eye on a place like
this. There's so much more they could do with this floor space."
His siblings shake their heads and Aleks changes the subject: "Natalie, you're
surprised at an ugly sod like me having such a lovely sister, eh?" He's been watching her
closely as usual, discerning her thoughts.
She's defiant: "Well, your right about your sister being lovely, but I don't think
you're ugly at all, so now!"
Everyone laughs. "That's love, honey." Leo flashes his smile at her again.
Olga says, "Hear, Aleks? Natalie, we've heard too about just how lovely you are,
and for once he was just telling it like it is."
Olga makes a facetious prediction about what their father will say when Natalie
meets their parents. Aleks, pulling one of his faces, has already suggested this meeting to
Natalie when his father and mother come back from their extended visit to his uncle,
Errol Harding's one time guitar hero.
Natalie isn't looking forward to it; Aleks never mentions them with the easy warmth
that he does his siblings. Besides, if you get to know a man's family well and later break
things off with him, it's that much more of a wrench.
During this evening the threat of their own private Ivan the Terrible seems unreal,
though once it comes back to Natalie, and that is when Damien is urging Aleks to rejoin
the rifle club. "Can you shoot?" she turns to him in alarm.
He smiles modestly, "So-So."
"He's got a good eye." Damien says.
It seems as though everyone is abroad at the moment. Fifi is working in the Canary
Islands, so Natalie can't talk to her about - she cuts herself off; she mustn't think about
that; if Rudolf Tupper is right, that adds to the power.
For all his dislike of Roger Smart, Aleks takes Natalie to his literary party. This is in
a hotel and boring and staid. She's sure that Aleks isn't enjoying it either, though he
downs lots of champagne and gloats over the impression she makes in her backless
gingham dress.

Maybe he does it to torment the Smart man. Natalie finds Smart's obvious lust
embarrassing, and feels sorry for his wife, who's tall and elegant and could have been a
model herself ten years back.
Smart makes Natalie laugh by asking solemnly if she's ever thought of writing a
book herself. "Hardly, when I don't even read much." Most people are ashamed to admit
that. She doesn't care.
"I've heard on the grapevine you're one of the rising stars for next year. Books by
any celebrity go like fire, so if you have any ideas over the next few months, do let me
She laughs again, though a hardened businessman like him calling her 'A Rising
Star' is as intoxicating as the champagne that is one of the few good things about this
Nearby, a man with a face like lecherous rabbit (whom Aleks pointed out to her as a
writer of Lads Fiction and War Adventure) is almost drooling as he goggles at Natalie.
Smart leers himself, "Do have another glass of champagne."
"This'll have to be the last. I've got things to do this evening."
"I hope you're not rushing off, Natalie. You don't mind if I call you Natalie, do
Aleks, who was dragged away to talk to some television director, is back; he puts an
arm about Natalie's waist, downing his glass of champagne. "Sorry to disappoint you,
mate, but we've got to go."
"Aleks, try and finish that Ivan Ostrowski story, will you?" Smart flashes those caps
in a weary smile.
"I already have." Aleks pulls Natalie away with him.
During this strangely suspended time, Natalie meets several of Aleks' friends and
fellow drinking companions. She guesses that while he keeps his own alcoholic intake
low during this stage of their relationship, he doesn't intend to keep on like that.
Other associates of his they run into by accident. In Vito's After Dark one night in
company with Errol Harding and Fifi (who seem finally to be Together) they come across
one Dean who's a professional gambler in the company of another acquaintance whose
name Natalie misses, whose skeletal appearance reminds her uncomfortably of The
Daemon, and who Natalie is sure is a glorified ponce. Certainly, he runs his eyes over her
and Fifi with a professional detachment, as if speculating how much money they could
Errol Harding laughs outright, but Aleks mutters something at him which makes
him laugh hysterically: "Aleks, you are one comedian."
Aleks glowers and mutters some more, and Dean rises to smooth things over.
They meet the woman whom Aleks calls (not, thankfully, to her face) 'Old Liz'. It
seems he didn't bother turning up for to a dinner to which she invited them, let alone
letting Natalie know about it. Liz rebukes him playfully, wagging one finger.
"Sorry, Liz, I was preoccupied at the time."
As they both are, and not just with each other.
Yet Natalie still doesn't like how Aleks treats this Liz; it's almost as if he's punishing
her for something that isn't her fault.
He smiles blandly. "I forgot all about it; Natalie's not to blame."

Liz flings her arms as dramatically as Great Aunt Sally, though she's twice the width
and has only about half the reach. "Why, darling, I never for a moment thought she was.
She couldn't have that angel's face if she wasn't entirely lovely. So much the opposite of
Natalie smiles, thinking of another model, whose own version of angelic looks has
brought ten men and five women to the point of suicide.
She and Aleks are together a lot - discovering things about each other experimenting at being domestic, pretending it's only play. He's on his best behaviour, she
knows. As for her, not being infatuated with him, she's just herself. He seems to think that
this is quite wonderful.
He buys her presents: an antique gold locket, a pair of shoes she has to take back
because they are two sizes too small, awful perfume, a notebook with Hylas and the
Nymphs on the cover... Whenever they are apart for more than half a day, he sends her
If only those thoughts about You Know Who didn't intrude all the time. If only she
had never met You Know Who!
As for the Other One - during this time they only mention him a few times, but
always, he is an unspoken presence between them. When Aleks does speak of him, it's
with resentment bubbling at the back of his eyes as he looks at her, as if he's jealous.
There's even accusation in that look. Though Natalie is sure she hasn't done a thing to
provoke these feelings, when Aleks turns that lingering stare on her, she feels as guilty as
if she had.
Sometimes, half waking, Natalie feels a stab of anguish that brings tears to her eyes,
and she knows it's Ivan Ostrowski's pain at her rejection. But she blocks it off with a
circle of silvery blue light, as instructed.
At first Natalie and Aleks have fun in Paris.
They stay near the Luxembourg Gardens. This place isn't too expensive - she
insisted on that; she's always been horrified by the prices in Paris. She tries to keep her
spending as low as she can, and to curb Aleks', but it's a constant struggle.
He's the most extravagant person she's met. Now he wants to spend recklessly on
presents for her, expensive trips and meals.
It's lucky that he's not that interested in flashy clubs and bars, preferring out of the
way places known generally only to locals. She wonders how, even having written three
bestsellers, he can afford to spend like this. She suspects that he can't, that he's running
heavily into debt. Back in London she saw him sigh as he opened a credit card bill, pull a
wild face at a letter from his bank manager.
For the first couple of days, he's in an elated mood; he seems to have left all concern
about his Daemon back in London, or Tsarist Russia. She guesses that in this mindset he
believes he has worked out a solution to the slight problem of a Daemon Lover.
As promised, Aleks shows Natalie the places tourists don't know, old haunts of his.
They do touristy things, too, like going on a boat trip along the Seine and buying tacky
souvenirs. He's fascinated by these, eagerly searching for things in the worst possible
taste, chortling over a light-up Eiffel Tower. They wander about the Tuilleries gardens in
the evenings, along with their long shadows.

She thinks that he is too cheerful: she suspects that a reaction will come, as with her
father. She's realises how his moods fluctuate; perhaps this explains, if it doesn't excuse,
his contrasting attitudes towards the same people in the space of a few minutes.
As she sits, writing out postcards outside a caf in a quiet backstreet somewhere on
the Left Bank, she asks, "What's happened to Rick?"
He looks annoyed. "I haven't heard from him. Send him a postcard from us both, if
you like."
He's asked her to write ones for his family, giving her the addresses, adding that it
isn't worth writing one for Leo; his girlfriend's throwing him out and he'll be turning up
again on Aleks' doorstep for a certainty.
"They'd rather hear from you."
He refuses to answer, and as the choice seems to be that either his family and friends
get a card from her or nothing, she writes them, feeling cross.
On the fourth night, Aleks starts having nightmares and talking in his sleep. The
worst thing is that he talks in rapid, masterful French.
By day his French is good - Natalie, ashamed of her mostly forgotten school and
phrasebook French, lets him do the talking for both of them - but it's not flowing and easy
like this. This fluency is like someone speaking in their first language. His tone is jeering
and outraged; he sounds provoked beyond endurance.
Alarmed, she tries to wake him. First she pats his arm, and then shakes it, while he
goes on talking and arguing in that bitter, hateful voice. Frightened, she sits up and shakes
him bodily.
Slowly, he surfaces; coming up for what seems a long, long time, as if through
centuries. He's still talking in French.
"Aleks, stop it! What's the matter with you? Speak to me in English!"
Gradually, he returns to normality. "What - what d'you mean?"
He is sweating all over; she pushes the damp hair out of his eyes. "What's the
matter? You were talking away in French, and you didn't sound like yourself."
He mutters, avoiding her eyes, "Don't worry about it."
Natalie is dabbing at his sweat covered face with her handkerchief. "What was the
dream? Tell me while you remember. Was - That Character - in it?"
"I don't remember what it was." She knows he's lying. "Look, girl, I have to do all
the French speaking during the day. Let's go to sleep."
He's covering something up besides himself as he turns away, refusing all sympathy
and communication. She doesn't believe him. She knows, somehow, that the crisis comes
nearer and he can't prevent it and she can't and neither can Rudolf Tupper, let alone the
silly, sated Claribelle Johnson.
Claribelle and Ivan (to think that she thought of him -as Rudolf no doubt still does as The Tulpa, when he is completely a man, down to ejaculation) lie in the delicious
breeze that stirs the curtains. The scent from the honeysuckle that climbs up the trellis on
her front wall masks the underlying petrol tang,
He runs a hand over one of her thighs, which are not a feature she's proud of; they
will always be too heavy, for all her working out. Still, he seems to like them and to
delight in her shape.

Earlier, they had only been in bed about five minutes, with him making her giggle
by tickling her stomach with his tongue when a furious outburst of knocking broke out
next door. This convulsed them both with laughter. The neighbours must have heard that
too, as after some more furious tapping there was a hefty thump.
"I think it is that sorry little man, trying to break through to you. Shall I answer with
some more noise? Perhaps I should ring a bell."
"No, ignore them..." Claribelle distracted him again with kisses.
Now, he says, caressing her face, "Come with me to my estate. There we will be free
of such impertinence."
She thrills, both with apprehension and delight. "Does that mean that you want this
to go on?"
His eyebrows shoot up. "I would have to be an eccentric to wish otherwise."
"If it was just us. But there are all other things."
Their eyes meet. She hopes she can see real feeling at the back of his, struggling
with all the guile. Then he lies back, eyes half closed, his thoughts closed off from her.
They've been living in a time out of time, with her knowing he was mainly using
her, but wanting him anyway, enjoying the present like a child. She's been making forays
into the world outside sometimes to shop, feeling eyes boring into her as she gets into her
She cancels all her appointments, pleading a sudden crisis. Well, that is one way of
putting it. Some of her regulars make a fuss; one woman bursts into tears: "I don't see
how I will manage without you for a month."
"Of course you will! Use Positive Affirmations and Believe in Yourself. All the
strength and the positive energy comes from you..."
As Claribelle puts the phone down, she suddenly realises that she resents being a
mother to all these people (she sternly pushes the word 'Losers' from the forefront of her
mind) when she would like to be the same firm, brisk mother to a growing family, with
the father - She tells herself not to be pathetic: Sorry, Claribelle, that isn't going to
If she ever becomes a mother - and it's possible, as she neglected to do anything
about birth control before, still unable somehow to appreciate then how human Ivan
Ostrowski is - it'll be as a single parent, with him gone back to his own world...
...Or banished by The Real Experts, on their coming return...
...Or perhaps he will killed off by Aleks Sager.
She can't bear to think of those outcomes: she won't let it happen! Now it's him she
surrounds with a barrier of protective light.
When she goes out, she always dreads that she will come back to find him gone. She
suspects he makes trips away at night, when she is asleep, but always when she comes
back with the shopping, he comes out to carry the bags in, sighing at the absence of
One afternoon he goes missing when supposedly taking a bath; she knows he has
from the silence in the bathroom. She catches him looking at her uneasily afterwards.
What did he do? She picks up some half formed thoughts.
'It was no more than he deserved' is one. 'She is a sweet creature, and mustn't be
distressed' is another.

She knows it isn't Aleks Sager or Rudolf he thinks of. She bursts out, "Who did you
"Quiet, Claribelle. I will tell you nothing."
She'd rather not know; what a coward she is! But she tries to prevent his attacking
the people he thinks of as his enemies by surrounding him with Light and Love.
The dreadful thing is, she finds it funny when he reacts by grimacing, or shuddering
and saying 'Faugh!'
Sometimes when she turns about, feeling his eyes on her, he is looking at her
thoughtfully. What does he scheme? Sometimes he shakes his head, smiling indulgently,
as at the naivety of a child.
On one of her first sorties in the real world, Claribelle buys Ivan some modern
clothes. Not jeans - she is sure he wouldn't wear those - but a couple of pairs of dark
trousers, belt and cream open necked shirts. She gets him a pair of shoes, too, guessing
the size well, and socks and underpants. She guessed the length of the trousers accurately
He is both pleased and indignant: "That you should be supporting me is too
demeaning. I cannot use my own money here. Yet I linger, trapped by your honey..." He
kisses her ear, murmuring in it about her honey and his tongue.
He doesn't like the clothes, but he wears them, looking wonderful in them with his
prominent cheekbones and hollow waist.
Though at first he looked ill, he has recovered very quickly.
If the woman next door is sourly envious, the girls across the road go pop eyed on
seeing him. They pull in their stomachs, alter their walks and talk and giggle loudly to
each other. Claribelle almost wishes he had stayed looking skeletal.
The bitter couple next door - the large woman and the weedy little man, so ill paired
that they seem to belong to a pre-World War Two postcard - patrol by the adjoining fence
when Ivan and Claribelle are out in her back garden. The woman pokes about by her
flowerbed, obviously desperate to catch any word about the relations between The New
Age Woman and this Younger Man who has suddenly moved in, and who hardly goes
out. Does the Johnson Woman keep him chained to her bed?
Ivan likes to take tea with Claribelle out on the patio -taking lemon or jam in his, of
course. He has taken to British scones, too. She bakes some more; he mutters about how
terrible it is that she doesn't have a cook. She is tempted to say that it might help if he did
something round the house sometimes, like making the bed, for instance, but she holds
They even have a barbeque. He does help out with this. She supposes they must
have had some sort of Tsarist Russian equivalent, weather permitting. Of course, he
comes from west of Moscow, though he often lived in St Petersburg, where Aleks Sager
set most of the action in those novels. As she lights the barbeque, Claribelle winces,
thinking of another fire.
He doesn't approve of her sitting in the sun. "You will spoil your complexion, you
foolish one."
"Perhaps the years are starting to do that already."
"More foolishness on your part..."

She tries to work out from the remarks Ivan lets slip what exactly is the relationship
between the author and his character. He now refuses to answer if she asks him, though
sometimes, strangely, he proffers titbits of information.
He mentions the being who is involved, calling him, 'The Magus'; he's a discarnate
entity whom Aleks Sager insulted and who bore a grudge.
She suspects he has bad dreams; sometimes he starts awake, but he will not tell her
what is happening, though he allows her to sympathise with him wordlessly, taking his
head on her shoulder.
On one of these occasions, when Claribelle is stroking his hair, Ivan speaks again of
coming on a pathway through the painting by Natalie Nicholson's elderly relative, a link
created by this Magus, tempting him, leading to Aleks Sager, beginning to see his
tormentor, to communicate with him in dreams, eventually finding himself in this world,
but breathless and disoriented. At that point he breaks off in that infuriating way of his.
She is tactless enough to ask eagerly, "What happened then?"
He will not say.
Once, when he is getting dressed after one of their 'siestas', Ivan says that he now
suspects that this Magus is manipulating them both for his own purposes, which are
obscure and may just be a delight in causing suffering.
Claribelle bursts out, "But Ivan, why play into his hands?"
He looks stung. "I have assured you that I will not, my Claribelle. But as you
upbraid me rather than listen with sympathetic attention, I shall confide in you no more
about it."
He goes off, sulking in a way that she would find funny in other circumstances. He
sulks for two hours. Finally he comes sneaking up on her to make her giggle by kissing
the nape of her neck as, wanting to apologise and knowing that she shouldn't, she droops
over the washing up. "This nape of yours makes me weaken."
Sometimes, she tries a quick zoning in on his thoughts: he holds up one finger at her
playfully, as though she were a naughty child.
She retorts: "I hope you aren't spying on mine."
He smiles superciliously: "I confess I have tried to do as much before now, but it is
not the action of a gentleman."
Neither is trying to post Aleks Sager out of a window. The thought comes before she
can block it.
His retort is instantaneous: You are correct, and I may yet demean myself enough to
challenge him if you join that foolish girl in taking his part against me.
Take his part against you! Is that likely, my darling?
Claribelle doesn't want to think about Natalie Nicholson, doesn't want to know how
much he is still in thrall to her.
Yes, it is pathetic; though Claribelle knows he is at least partly using her, she doesn't
care. She must have gone mad, to have fallen so masochistically for this being.
They have had a tacit agreement to put off discussing the matter properly.
Ivan does talk about his reality a little; of how he lived before Aleks Sager honed in
on him, writing about his life, somehow predicting his actions, finally determining them.
That life seems to have been one of an ordinary pleasure seeking noble of that time, a
round of social events and intrigues; she appreciates the way he gallantly avoids speaking
in any detail to her of his love affairs.

To Claribelle his account makes sense. Aleks Sager made little mention of his
character's childhood. He only makes brief references to Ivan in his teens, as when he
heard of his distant cousin Eugene Onegin's romantic misfortune - that would be
sometime in the eighteen twenties, if Claribelle remembers the dates correctly. Aleks
Sager began the main action of his novels when Ivan was twenty and leaving his
widowed mother on the family estate, journeying to St Petersburg.
"But how come your English is so perfect?" she wonders once.
"I did know a fair amount of English before - though of course, coming from that
time, French is my first language. My knowledge of Russian is limited. When Sager
began to plague me, then I somehow became fluent in English, and I had many strange
insights into your unpleasant world -" He breaks off and won't tell her any more about
that, either.
Rudolf Tupper doesn't phone. He has guessed what is going on, or taken a reading
of the situation, and knows that Claribelle is in thrall to La Beau Monsieur sans Merci. If
her lover goes, she will certainly be left Paley Loitering, and no birds will sing for her
then or ever again.
Ivan jeers about Rudolf now and then: "I confess myself astonished that effete
puppy should ever have been your lover. What lamentable taste you ladies can show. For
sure, he cannot have pleasured you as I do." He looks smug, knowing the answer.
Claribelle remains silent, though she thinks at him: Haven't you hurt him enough?
His eyes glint with grim humour: What would he have done to me, my Claribelle?
She sighs, and gathers him in her arms. He blocks his thoughts, then. But mostly
their communication is wordless, anyway.
It isn't that she isn't struggling against him all this time in her own way; besides
encircling him with shimmering Light and Love, she visualises a Happy Outcome, with
Ivan and Aleks Sager shaking hands.
She visualises Rudolf Tupper getting a dream house, even better than the one Ivan
destroyed. She visualises whoever it was he attacked making a complete recovery.
Her mind runs on before she can stop it, and she pictures herself living with Ivan in
that estate in the Russia of the eighteen thirties. Shockingly, she finds herself picturing its
being run by serfs. That is all wrong, and yet, it's where he comes from; she can't imagine
anything else.
It's all wrong to want him so much when he has acted as almost demonically to
Rudolf, to Aleks Sager; she can't help herself.
The telepathy continues, when they don't work to block it out; that is the only way
he is different from a man, and he says that it is no more common between people back in
his dimension than it is here; but between their two realities, things are different.
Well, she knows that is how all the trouble began, after all, with Aleks Sager picking
up mental images of that other reality and Ivan's life.
Once when he is dozing in bed in the afternoon, she tiptoes downstairs and dials
Natalie Nicholson's number.
After a series of clicks the answering machine lumbers up its stiff joints, gives a
quick hiss, and the girl's young, bright voice comes on saying that she's away for a week
in Paris. Claribelle just hopes that she managed to cut off Ivan's voice that time when she
phoned the girl and he started fondling her, but she doubts it. She thinks of forcing herself
to telephone Rudolf to find out how he is, though she knows the answer to that already.

The door opens; Ivan stands there in the bathrobe she keeps for male guests, his face
inscrutable. She puts the phone down.
Claribelle tries not to resent Natalie Nicholson. It isn't the girl's fault that the mere
sight of her stirred Ivan to such passion. For sure she is lovely; she's far better looking
than Claribelle herself ever was, even in the full bloom of youth. Rudolf Tupper gave
Claribelle the photograph he had from the girl, so necessary for certain workings, and
Claribelle winces over it now and then. She puts it down with a sigh, supposing that
Ivan's passion was drawn up too by that mental connection with Aleks Sager, while his
rivalry and resentment of him must have played a part, too.
How can she hold her own against such beauty?
Aleks has more of the nightmares. Natalie keeps on coaxing him to confide in her;
he won't, grunting out the lie that he doesn't remember what it was about, there's no point
in her pestering him.
But he's arguing with someone, for goodness sake! It's particularly horrible, as there
are pauses between his rapid outbursts of French, as if he is listening to replies. She hears
him use the term, 'Magus'. Even in the half light, the faces he pulls during these dream
quarrels have to be seen to be believed, they've got so much hatred in them. But whose
hatred is it? Is it his or another's?
What's a Magus? Natalie associates it with something benign, The Journey of the
Magi in the Nativity story, but can it be something sinister?
Occasionally he does speak in English. 'You wrote those filthy letters, you bastard!'
She hears him mentioning 'Pushkin' too, someone called 'd'Anthes' and people
named 'd'Archiac' and 'Danzas'; he rants at a Baron van Hekkeren. That name would
normally make Natalie smile, reminding her of van Helsing, the Dracula professor, hero
of so many of those horror films she giggled at with Kathy. Now she shudders as Aleks
breaks into what sounds like a sneering tirade, finishing with some sort of formal farewell
It is as if he's dictating a letter; an old fashioned sounding letter, and full of insults,
by the sound of it.
Then he cries out, and seems to be struggling to wake up, as if she hasn't been
shaking him for the last two minutes. His eyes open, but there is no recognition in them.
"Aleks, what is it? You have to tell me; this concerns me, too!"
When he's got his breathing under control he says, somehow making his tone casual,
"I can't tell you what I don't know myself, darling. Dreams can't hurt me."
"But they can."
Eyes closed, he pretends not to hear.
The writer's boots crunch over frozen snow dappled blue with the long shadows of
approaching dusk. It is bitterly cold; he did well to take his warmest fur coat, though it
meant turning back, and that is meant to bring bad luck (But isn't there a mistake? it
ought to be warm in Paris in May.).
He and Danzas walk wordlessly towards the others, waiting already. There is
d'Anthes with his hateful, arrogant Royal Guards swagger, his vigorous look silently
disputing the fact that he will soon be a corpse. His friend and brother officer, d'Archiac,
stands with him.

The writer wants to drop him, no matter what the consequences, even though from
nowhere comes the memory of that first meeting in the restaurant, months before the fool
became obsessed by Natalya; then the poet had enjoyed his unreflective heartiness and
joie de vivre.
There is no turning back: if one of them doesn't kill the other today, it must happen
later, and it is just unlucky about the promise to His Excellency not to fight.
Now the seconds, d'Anthes joining them with that sickeningly obliging air, begin to
tread down the snow, flattening an area corresponding to the measurements set out in the
agreement the seconds drew up.
The writer waits, and the words of the German fortune teller hover near, but he can
dismiss them, for surely she spoke of his thirty-seventh year, and as his birthday is in
May, isn't he in his thirty-eighth?
Now the seconds are throwing down the coats to mark the barriers, and
He is fighting his way up, sucked back, seeing the stark landscape again, drowning
in air, fighting, up, up, helped by Natalya shaking him, and he expects to see flickering
candlelight and heavy furnishings and drapes, but instead it is the grey light of dawn in
what is unmistakably a hotel room.
She is distraught, pleading with him to tell her about his dream, but he puts her off
brusquely again, turning away to hurl himself down the well back into that world of
dreams, calling for that Magus.
He's funked it long enough.
Aleks has never had cause to call himself a coward before, to accuse himself of
bottling it, not in real life normal struggles and fights. This is different: it involves
admitting to unthinkable things, facing unimaginable dangers, sinister co-incidences and
a world apart as dependable and predictable as melting plastic.
But Natalie is threatened by it. He goes out to meet it now because she makes all the
It's like some horrible game; some version of Dungeons and Dragons or something.
Only if he somehow overcomes this Magus (and he guesses something of that unknown
power he must face) does he even stand a chance of winning his true love.
As he sinks further down into unconsciousness he calls again and again: "Magus,
where are you? Come out into the open. Face me! If you're such a powerful guy and
working to destroy me, come and do it clean. Don't hide behind anonymous letters and
my characters. Come out and fight me in the open!"
No answer, as usual. It's sickening, maddening.
But now he sees the cards with the letters written on them, as on a giant table, and
the glass going from one to another, the words sounding in his head in a silvery, bell like
tone - like that laugh he sensed just after his fight with Rick. It is easy for him to read the
words now, that voice sounding in his head as he reads.
'I respect courage - something you have in common with Pushkin - and so I
Aleks finds it hard to speak - even in this dream state; his chest feels compressed:
"All right. I disrespected you; I can't undo that, and I won't grovel, not for me, anyway.
Rick says you've put a curse on us; he doesn't deserve it, and for sure Natalie doesn't -"

"She is safe; she will be happy. The one you call Rick I let go; he has served his
purpose. You have not and now I cannot flinch.
'Does not one of your contingent of the telepathic, plotting Ghouls who feast on our
lives insist that you must show no mercy to those from my world whose story you have
picked up - your victims?
'Doesn't he say, 'You must follow through'?* By which he means that if you Ghouls
have visualised violence and suffering for what you see as your creations, for the sake of
drama you must press on and depict it. Truly, you act as gods."
Aleks, his head reeling, struggles to speak; he can't even croak: he watches and
listens, as passive as if hypnotised, while a great sense of heaviness envelopes him.
"Once I was a victim even as Eugene Onegin was Aleksandr Pushkin's; even as
Onegin's distant relative Ivan Ostrowski became your own. I used my knowledge to break
free - only to lose my body through one act of carelessness."
Aleks fights to speak; it's impossible.
'Still I struggled through, only in contact with fools demanding messages from
Uncle James to tell them where he had left his savings hidden. I encountered you, Sager;
through you, I turn the tables. How can you complain when I mould your life to a pale
imitation of your hero's?
Then, as sexual desire is a key to manifestation between our worlds, that sensualist
Ostrowski served me well. You have been one of my amanuenses, too, but drama is more
effective than dry argument. Rick shall be your -"
"Aleks, do wake up! They stop serving breakfast at nine-thirty!"
He swims up to consciousness. He is no angrier with Natalya - Natalie, that is - than
he could be with a baby who played with the keyboard of his PC and deleted all his files,
though already his own memory is losing that precious information it just ingested. Now
there remains only a sense that he got through to the Magus; that and his determination to
stand between this pretty girl and all harm.
He does remember one thing as he toys with her glorious auburn hair, gazing down
into those beautiful, unreflective eyes. "Now, what does 'amanuensis' mean?"
"For Gods sake, Aleks, do I care what it means? As if it isn't bad enough your
talking away all night! I want my breakfast."
During the daytime, Aleks is full of high spirits, tender and eager to satisfy Natalie's
every whim. He is always trying to force presents on her. She has to say all the time, 'No,
it's sweet of you, but I don't even like that top much, and that price is crazy.'
"But you'll look so lovely in it."
"I can get one like it for one quarter of the price back home.'
She urges, "Let's take the metro or a bus, not a taxi."
His jealousy flares more obviously. Well, she saw hints of that from the start. Now
he glowers at leering waiters and mutters and glares at obviously staring men in the
street, insulting them in French. He even gets into a tussle with one, which ends
ridiculously with the other toppling backwards into a fountain.
Not as if Aleks doesn't flirt himself, particularly with the waitress who has their
table. Natalie smiles; she finds his lustiness sweet.

She asks him as they are wandering through the cobbled streets somewhere on the
Left Bank, "Who was Baron Hekkeren?"
He doesn't seem to mind her asking. "The man who was the sponsor of Georges
d'Anthes, the man who killed Pushkin in that duel your aunt painted. Why?"
"You said that name last night in your sleep."
"Ah." The silence between them lasts a long time. He pulls a casual face, looking
about brightly.
"You talked about a Magus, too."
His eyes meet hers, as resentful as if he's caught her reading a private diary.
"Did I?" His tone is neutral, his eyes guarded, his smile wide. "Sounds like my
imagination's been on overdrive at night. Let's hope some of this action comes through by
day. So, do you fancy some dinner in a little place I know near here, sweetheart?"
Losing patience, Natalie turns away, clenching her teeth: "Things have come
through by day, haven't they?"
She doesn't know if he hears her or not.
As they lie in bed together that last night in Paris, spent, she rouses from a doze as
he runs a finger down her cheek. She opens her eyes to find his light blue ones inches
from her own. She gasps; it puts her in mind of Ivan Ostrowski lying upon her, staring
into her eyes. A memory of that stab of sexual desire for Aleks' Daemon stabs at her, and
she wriggles at the recollection.
He says, "I love you; and you don't feel the same. I'm hooked; you've played me like
a fish. You keep talking about needing more time. Exactly how much more time are you
going to need?"
She's upset for him and annoyed for herself all at once: "You know I said what with
that horrible business with your character, it's not so weird that I can't work out what I
feel about anything. Terrifying things happen, and you want me just to act as if it doesn't
matter. Well, I can't. I don't feel normal at all."
"I didn't need to work out my feelings for you, Tasha. I knew the moment I saw you.
That Thing don't make any difference."
Not being able to think of anything to say, she says nothing.
She expects him to be angry. Instead, he sighs and repeats dismally, "You've Played
Me Like a Fish."
"No, I've always tried to be straightforward with you." Perhaps she should have told
him about Charley Danton in the beginning, but it seemed so pathetic; now it's too late.
"Your idea of straightforward and mine seem to be different."
She's insulted: "How haven't I been straightforward with you?"
He refuses to answer. Perhaps he doesn't know himself.
There's still a strained atmosphere between them over that last breakfast of
croissants and apricot jam, which should be enjoyable, with the sun shining on the table
and the proprietor shaking his head over Natalie's English need for tea.
The tension stays between them all the way back to London, where they arrive long
before those postcards. Here, by tacit agreement, they part, using the excuse that they
both have business matters to sort out.
Aleks wants to take her to her flat or, naturally, call a taxi as she has a suitcase.
Natalie won't let him. "It's not even that heavy, it's got wheels, and I'm no piece of

As she turns away, something impels her to glance back.

He's staring after her in a sort of torment. The terrible idea comes to her that she
won't see him alive again.
She runs back to take him in her arms. "Oh, Aleks - Do take care. How'll we ever
get free?"
He squeezes her head. "Don't worry about it. I've got it all worked out, like I said."
"I must tell you something." Ivan turns to Claribelle as she lies dozing and breathing
in the scent of that honeysuckle, deliciously combined with cut grass and a sleepy drone
from where one of her neighbours is doing the mowing nearby.
She sighs, raising her head, apprehensive at his tone. He is going to admit to
something she doesn't want to hear.
He takes hold of her chin between thumb and forefinger. "Look at me when I say
this, and you will see no deception in these eyes." She does look at him, and indeed there
is no deception there, and she waits in dread that the tenderness that she believes she can
see in them is sparked by a pitying affection, of the sort that you have for a pet; she
suspects that he is going to finish with her now .
"When first I courted you, desire for you only played a part. You knew well then
that I had other motives. I thought you silly, if charming, though oddly powerful. I never
foresaw any real tie growing between us. Though I was confident that as a sophisticated
woman you wouldn't expect any commitment from me, still, I was in some doubt about
how you would feel about my duplicity, which no doubt you partially discerned,
clairvoyant as you are. I was partly using you to gain power, to anchor myself in this
world and so obtain revenge. You knew as much."
She can't speak; what he says is true, but she was hoping against hope how that
might have changed, given this charge between them. She forces herself to keep listening.
He is telling the truth; there is none of the former deceit in his eyes.
He smiles then. "Don't look so sad! You have won me over - not to joining you in
your laughable beliefs, which I scorn as much as ever, my Claribelle - but with your
human warmth, your feminine charm. I cannot deceive you as I intended; the thought is
disgusting to me. You know that I have planned murder for this Pushkin imitator who has
made my life a torment, and his collaborators too.
'I haven't altered in my detestation of them, but I have altered in my feelings
towards you. I find I quite love you. Though it is an altogether different feeling to what I
have had for Natalie Nicholson I know it to be more real."
She lets her breath out in a happy sigh. She doesn't need to tell him about her
feelings for him; they've been obvious from the first.
"Are you still in love with her?" She waits, nauseated, for his reply.
Again, there's no duplicity in his look. "I no longer know; I begin to doubt it. You
will be delighted to hear that you have had a great effect on me."
"So you were never being completely dishonest."
She can't resist kissing him for a while. Reluctantly, she pulls away: "Is it worth
doing violence to this Sager, then? And if you do I'll be largely to blame as I have made
you much stronger on this plane."
She lays a hand on his shoulder, feeling the taut muscles. He is no longer alarmingly
thin, though still spare. All those meals of grilled steaks and fruit scones have securely
anchored him in this world; that, and their sexual ecstasy.

Sometimes, at the moment of abandonment, she feels herself there in his dimension,
and has to struggle to keep her eyes closed, and get back. When she knows she is securely
here again, and she does open her eyes, he is looking at her. They both know that even in
a state of ecstasy, he tried to abduct her. Somehow, it's almost funny.
He says, "The more I think about it, the more I believe I love you."
She realises that this is her heart's desire. "And me you...But I shouldn't. What of
poor Rudolf? What you did was terrible, though you dismiss it with a wave of one hand,
and what you plan to do to Aleksandr Sager, too - and I know you attacked at least one
other person." There' she's said it: he will be angry.
He isn't. "Tsk, Tsk." He waves one long hand dismissively once more. "They all
planned my destruction, but I will have the final laugh... Don't speak of them any more,
as you will not sway me, whatever you say. Particularly, be warned; do not mention that
Tupper again, as I have no wish to think of what your relations were with that - person. I
am not from your world or time, and I am not tolerant of such matters regarding a woman
I have come to care for."
She should break free from this control, but she can't do it.
As if the situation isn't complicated enough, there's an additional factor.
After some more kissing, she excuses herself, puts on a robe - pushing one of his
hands away from her bottom - and goes to the bathroom.
As she suspected - with her period two days late, these odd dreams of babies and
this odd feeling - the test is positive.
She drops the stick in horror, and the father seems to her again a Daemon. But she
knows the next moment that he is a human from another dimension, though capable of
enough wickedness to seem demonic at times.
She goes back. He must have allowed himself to read part of her thoughts, as he's
sitting on the bed in his robe and looking alert.
She approaches, and he takes her hands. She begins, "I have some news that is going
to startle you and changes everything." To her amazement, she's blushing. A woman from
his time would stage a faint.
He actually smiles. "This news of yours doesn't come entirely a surprise, if it is to
do with possible babies, given how we cannot always mask our thoughts, and yours have
come through to me whether I would or no, these last few days. I never thought when we
began that we would reach this point and in such haste, but I'm delighted, Claribelle.
How do you come to know this so early?"
"There are early tests, now...But it's all so awkward!"
"I am decided; come back with me and we'll get a priest to marry us."
Her heart expands, thought the prospect of giving birth in 1830's Russia makes her
shudder. "You really want that so soon?" Absurdly, she says - just as though that were the
only difficulty - "I'm too old for you."
He merely smiles, so she points out another slight objection: "We come from
completely different worlds." In romantic stories, when the heroine tells the hero that, it
isn't literally true.
"The matter of your age is for me is for me to decide, and I have just decided. Your
news changes everything, Claribelle. Will you not come with me to my world? I have
long been wearied of my empty single existence. Now, I want to break free of this hateful
business with Sager and take you with me to raise a family on my favourite estate."

He gives her belly a playful tap with one finger. "You worry about your age, and
won't tell me what it is, surrounding it with a haze. You can't be more than thirty-three at
most, but even if you are, I am sure we shall manage to have two or three."
Suddenly, she finds herself wailing: "You are going to try and murder Sager, or
maybe he will succeed with you. What if he writes some horrible fate for you? You insist
he can't!" This hysteria must be hormonal.
He puts his arms about her. "If he thinks he can do as much, he is due for a surprise.
But the only way we can be together if in my world, not yours. Will you come with me?
Remember, you can always come back."
She finds herself nodding. The serf based society of rural Tsarist Russia will be
bearable with him. She often used to dream of being one of the heroines of a Regency
Romance, and now the Universe is testing her to see if she has the courage to try it for
"I think I must...But perhaps I may come back for medical appointments." Even as
she makes this proviso, Claribelle realises what complications her pregnancy being
known in this world of red tape will make. No, she will have to disappear utterly with
him and risk giving birth in Tsarist Russia.
"As you wish. You will find my old nurse an experienced midwife."
Rick is in. Aleks sighs as he hears those feet coming up the hall, as they did in the
good old days during his first year at university when Kon was alive and he and Errol and
Aleks called round to wherever Rick was living, tempting him to get involved in a
monumental piss up or to gatecrash some party where there'd be plenty of girls - so long
ago, when they were young and hopeful, their future only dreams.
Dreams, yes.
Rick tries for a hard stare as he opens the door on Aleks and his travel bags. Aleks
gives him a rueful grin. "Don't kick it shut in my face, mi yute. I've come to say I'm sorry
for everything, you were right and I was wrong. I went mad because I knew it."
Rick swallows. "Come in."
Inside, sitting down, beer bottle and glass in hand, Aleks smiles as he shakes his
head. "I thought we'd never share a drink again. I'm trying to fight my way through this
thing, but that bit's up to me. I've been thinking; do you want to do the Ouija Board stuff
and see if we can get hold of that Magus Thing again? Late in the day, I know. I won't
grovel to the sodding thing for me, but I'd grovel to it for Natalie - if she was in any
danger through me, but I don't think she is - and even for you, mate, if you want that.
After all, it's all down to me mouthing off and annoying the thing. Funny, I have this
feeling of dj vu..."
Rick sighs, shaking his head. "It wasn't just you; we shouldn't have messed about
with that half pissed. I acted like a moron, I could tell you were good and mad about that
business with that sailor jerk -what the hell was his name - getting that girl you wanted
and I should have left you alone. I've tried to get through to that Magus over and over: I
only got through the once. That is, I suppose it was him. It said, 'I can't undo what I set in
motion. Find another Magus if you dare.'
Aleks snorts. "Good of him to tell us that. These occult types again! But you do
what you think can help you, mate. Serves me right if I end up with your problems as

well as being haunted by my own character. I set the whole thing off. Do you want to try
and get hold of the thing again?"
"What do you mean about haunted by your own character?"
"It's a long story - as they say before the flashback in films - but this crazy situation
is more complicated than my life starting to be a sort of modern day echo of some bits of
Pushkin's. Never mind about that now. I shouldn't have taken the piss about your dick -"
he breaks off as Rick laughs: "That's all changed - I'm what your old man would call a
grindsman now - but I'm a real gentleman, so I'm not going to tell you how I found out."
Aleks slaps one thigh, swearing in his relief.
He only stays for one drink; long enough to make sure things are right between
them again. As he gets up to go, he gives Rick a rare hug. Rick wants to talk more about
the Pushkin Imitation Stuff, but Aleks says, "I'll tell you about it later, but now, you want
some more of this woman and I've got things to do."
Rick frowns, "Aleks, you don't look as happy as you could do, given you've got
lovely Natalie, even if there's all this other stuff going on. Sure you don't want to try and
get through to the Magus and see if he'll call a truce?"
"No, if you're OK I'm OK."
As Aleks walks away, Rick calls after him, "Don't do anything silly without telling
Alecks grins back at him: "Rick, when've you ever known me to done anything
A woman is waiting in Aleks' porch. She's too thin, her posture hunched yet taut,
and wears scarlet top and black trousers, colours too harsh for her pallor. He guesses her
to be in her late thirties; her bright clothes, lustreless blonde hair cut in an unflattering
bob, red lipstick too strong for her complexion all emphasize her haggard look. There's
something nervous and strained about her. She's selling something or she's a fan he could
do without.
She starts towards him, biting those reddened lips, eyes shifting nervously. "Aleks
Sager. Do you remember me?"
There is something vaguely familiar about the longish jaw, the broad lips turning
down at the corners, the short neck. He shakes his head. "I know you from somewhere,
but can't place you. No offence, sweetheart. I've got a terrible memory. Remind me."
"Nineteen eighty, the Psychology Party. You were studying literature. Jacqui
Smythe. You came back to my room and left without bothering to say good-bye."
Now he remembers waking from that suffocating dream, having to get free, bolting
down the flight of metal steps. He'd meant to phone her to apologise, then put it off,
recognising that there was something obsessive about her, good looking though she then
was, with that mane of blonde hair and gorgeous legs and arse. He'd put off contacting
her. Later, running into her by accident, he'd forced a smile; looking furious, she'd cut
him dead.
Gradually his gaze pierces through the dismal changes in her appearance. Not
shallow lines and the loss of that first youthful sheen of hair and glow of skin - that's only
to be expected after thirty-five or so - but that enervated dryness of skin and hair, that
bony tautness where once she had been slim and lithe, those overly hollow cheeks - she's
a heavy smoker, he can smell it on her - while those darting eyes indicate terrible nerves.

She smiles vaguely even as she finishes her accusation, and he knows she's on something
for these inner torments that have made her so haggard.
She speaks, jaw clenched, "You don't look that great yourself." The dismay in his
eyes must have been blatant.
"I don't feel that great either, Jacqui. Nice to meet you again, but what can I do for
"I thought I knew, but I don't...You could apologise for Using Me as a One Night
"That's easy; I'm sorry: there was a reason for the way I took off that time."
Her eyes stop shifting nervously to pinion his. "I swear it was something outside me
that wrote those letters."
It takes a moment for him to understand. Then he swears, overwhelmed by
astonishment and disgust: "So you've been stalking me?"
How did she track him down? She must have followed him when he'd gone back to
Marta's place, even waiting outside an hour so that she saw his ignominious exit; and he
never caught a glimpse of her! For once, it seems he has misjudged Ivan Ostrowski in
thinking he wrote that poison.
Then it comes to Aleks that he has seen her; in a pub once he'd noticed that face
surrounded by a mane of over bright red hair which he'd assumed was real, but which
must have been a wig. She'd been sitting by herself, nursing some drink and staring
across at him and whatever woman he'd been with.
So she's even followed him in disguise. She's really crazy; maybe even dangerously
so; well, compared to Ivan Ostrowski she's a non starter.
She says, poking at the tiny lawn with one foot, "I didn't want to write them. After
my third husband left I was quite ill and anxious. A friend of mine was experimenting
with an Ouija Board and said I should ask what the future held in store for me -"
She breaks off, glancing nervously at the porch, as if she can see someone lurking
there. He follows her glance, but there's nobody. He hopes she doesn't try and follow him
in. He doesn't want to stoop to having to restrain her, and even the thought of touching
that strained, drained body would be distasteful. To think that he once kept her awake half
the night!
"He came through, that Magus you know -"
The world lurches: nausea rises in his throat.
" -And he told me that my future wasn't clear, but yours was. I knew your books,
and I'd even read one. I'd got over being angry with you ages back, but then he kept on
about you and how you had all this money and success and these women after you and
my husband having walked out on me it made me hate you all over again, when I hadn't
been able to keep my job, you see, and had to move out of our lovely house after the
divorce. My nerves had been bad."
He doesn't bother asking her which divorce; he speaks as gently as he can. "That's
putting it mildly, girl. You need to talk to someone; do it for yourself, never mind me."
She goes on as if not hearing, "So I did write the first one, but then, whenever I sat
down at my desk he took over, the Magus. He pestered me till I went out and bought that
special pen and paper and took his dictation, but my head was mixed up." Her lips work.
He wonders if they are both mad. But Natalie and Rick, not to mention Marta, all
know it's true, even if he dismisses those New Age occultists, that Tupper and that

women with the equally silly name as a lot of crazies too. He dreads that this encounter
with a sour smelling, deranged, prematurely dried up woman will always haunt him when
he is running his hands over Natalie's silken curves, revelling in her sweet taste and
"Why tell me this now?" he wonders aloud.
"Because it's time." She takes off at amazing speed, so that she is through the open
gate before he has moved a step.
"I don't want any more of that fucking fan mail!" He shouts after her, but she is
already dashing down the road. A woman getting out of a car stares at him in disapproval.
A shame the poor crazed woman missed her vocation in life as a sprinter. Still, she'd been
pretty good as a The Anonymous Scribe.
No, he knows it has to be the same Magus. What are the chances that the tormented
women would conjure up the same name separately? Whatever he is, he's never going to
let Aleks off the hook.
Rick has broken free, anyway, and from somewhere Aleks has a sense of assurance
that Natalie will be safe.
He swears again, and then notices a leather case in the porch. A present from
Jacqui? A home made time bomb, maybe?
It's an antique leather case. As he touches it, he knows at once what will be inside;
two beautifully carved duelling pistols. They'll be loaded, too. They'll be lying inside like
a depiction of evil beauty, hand crafted, elegant and lethal, like two heavy, glossy snakes.
They'll feel nice and heavy in his hand, and somehow just right. Of course, they're a
gift from the Magus. Aleks doesn't even have to check their date; they'll be circa 1837.
He knows that he will be able to shoot with them, too, that his body will know what to
do, though his brain will only remember his target practice with modern guns that he
hasn't even done for a couple of years.
He takes the case inside with him, heading straight for his study after dumping his
baggage in the hall, not even bothering to check his answer phone.
Monika's been in and cleared up the items he left strewn about in his hurry to pack
for Paris.
Fool he'd been, thinking that he could somehow win Natalie over to loving him
back: 'I'll Have to Work on You ', eh? Funny joke, Aleks man.
Never mind those words of hopeless kindness she'd used, trying to fob him off about
needing time; he knows the truth: he's managed to arouse her sexually, that's all. There's a
sort of inner tranquillity in the look she turns on him which tells him everything he
doesn't want to know.
He had worked on her - even down to trying to make her jealous by playing up to
that waitress in the hotel and other women; she'd smiled kindly on them both as they
flirted under her nose. He'd tried some of his old Treat 'Em Mean and Keep 'Em Keen
tricks: none of them worked.
Maybe she's in love with someone else, but he doubts that anyone has stirred that
self centred little heart. He's probably done as much as anyone, and that's Not a Lot.
That's bad enough, but it's not all: he has a sickening perception that her feelings
about Ivan Ostrowski have changed. He senses with sick jealousy how she's melted
towards him, that she silently opposed Aleks' schemes to destroy him. It's mixed up with
that stupid occult woman with the ridiculous name sleeping with Ostrowski herself.

Natalie had said she was grateful to her for distracting him, yet she couldn't keep the
indignation out of her voice.
A couple of times in Paris, when making love to Natalie, Aleks had seen her half
closed eyes take on a distant concentration, as if she was thinking of someone else.
He couldn't mention that, not even when he had that outburst about her 'Playing him
like a Fish'. But it was that which had provoked him.
Maybe it's too early to give up, and yet he's had an increasing sense of hopelessness,
the sense that she is never going to fall for him if it doesn't happen now.
He knows one thing for sure; His Daemon is to blame for that and there's no way
he's going to let him come out of this struggle between them alive, or half alive, or
whatever it is. Perhaps he and Ostrowski are only tools in the hand of the Magus, after
all; still, he doesn't care. He wants to kill Ostrowski for spoiling his chance of happiness
with Natalie.
Over in Paris, he'd remembered what he never should have overlooked; that first
Prologue he'd written to The Adventures of Ivan Ostrowski. It must have been that which
stopped things when he tried to kill off his character.
He'd included it in that first version he'd sent to Smart's as a Hopeful Unknown,
going wild with excitement when they'd wanted to see the rest of the manuscript. It might
even be lying round the office somewhere.
In it he'd written about Ivan Ostrowski looking back on his stormy youth from
maturity, now married to an older woman and with an unspecified number of children.
Aleks hadn't given many details, but he'd pictured that ending he's often overlooked
since, and he's beginning to understand that that process of visualisation is one of the
most important things in this mad World of the Astral.
Smart had said that prologue was a spoiler: to have Ostrowski looking back safely in
the beginning detracted from the drama in the novels where the character gets into danger
in murderous duels, let alone the part Aleks already had planned then, where Ostrowski
becomes suicidal. Smart had been right; Aleks had put it to one side.
Over in Paris, too, Aleks had suddenly remembered how he had doodled a rough
sketch of Ivan and his pregnant wife, though he'd never bothered filling in her features.
Now he can guess at the counteracting effect this must have had on his attempts to kill off
his character.
He makes straight for his study - expecting The Thing to materialise at any moment
- and starts pulling out files and papers from his desk, flinging them down on the floor.
After an hour, he's been right through his desk and all his filing cabinets. There's an
incredible mess of burst open files hurled to the floor, papers torn across in his rage. He
still can't find any version of that prologue and he's already used up a lifetime's swearing.
Then, as his eye falls on his last notebook with the purple and red cover on his desk,
his gold pen neatly on top, that crazy woman's words come back to him with a sudden
chill: 'The Magus...He pestered me till I took down his dictation. It was like automatic
His hands shake so that he can hardly turn the pages. When he does see it, it's worse
than looking at that picture of himself, shot down and bleeding.
Of course, it was the Magus who made that picture and the taunting message in that
red notebook, and the drawing of Ostrowski Shot and Looking Oh So Handsome; that

picture Aleks knows softened Natalie's stubborn little heart towards him, though Aleks
also knows she'd never admit it to him if he lowered himself by asking.
And all this time, he's thought he had written out his character's suicide in this
notebook with the jolly cover.
This isn't his style, or his handwriting. He's so stunned he can't take in more than
random words: 'Magus' 'multi dimensional' 'multiple universes' 'pathways' 'visualisation'
'telepathic communication' 'control by invoking imagery'.
He must have been in a trance that time he sat writing at the sitting room table on
the morning he broke off things with Monika; then and many other times too: there's
pages of this stuff.
You have been one of my amanuenses.
Where did he hear that?
Bile rises to his throat, there is red in front of his eyes, and then black. He fights the
sea of darkness back, but he feels that he is drowning in it, that it is overwhelming his
senses. He can only think of one thing - shooting d'Anthes dead. Finally, he fights his
way out of the darkness, panting.
That was that Magus up to some trick, for sure. These last few days, he has come to
realise how that Magus has been his real enemy all along, and Ostrowski no more than a
pawn in his game, as he may yet be himself. Yet, this doesn't make him hate Ostrowski
any less; they are still rivals for Natalie.
He scrabbles through to the end of the notebook, somehow finding time to note his
own long nails, which Natalie had never asked him to cut, any more than she'd nagged
him to trim his bushy side-whiskers. That was sweet of her, but then she's surprisingly
unspoilt given how she must have been worshipped for years. It isn't her fault that she
doesn't love him: she's tried.
On the last page is scrawled: Ostrowski holds out his hands come my darling with
me for all her fast beating heart she allows him to take them there is confused swirling
then she finds herself standing on grass supported by him deathly cold and fighting for
breath he was given life in her world in that shared kiss now he presses his lips down on
hers and breathes life into her in his
Aleks leaps up: the chair skids over the glossy cover of a file, plunging him
backwards. Ripping files underfoot, he scrambles wildly to his feet, cursing himself for
letting Natalie go back alone to her flat.
Even now, that fiend Ostrowski might be taking her over to his reality. Perhaps, in
some part of her psyche inaccessible even to herself, Natalie wants it, will provoke it into
The blackness is back before his eyes, taking away meaning from everything, except
for his rage over d'Anthes and Hekkeren, his need to issue that challenge.
As Ivan holds out his hands to take her over, Claribelle panics and begins to gasp.
What if he's lying, what if he's wrong, anyway, and she can't get back?
He is holding her tight. "Don't worry, you can always get back. That dreadful picture
by Natalie Nicholson's old lady relative will work as a pathway if nothing else. I took it
with me when I cast off Sager's influence enough to leave St Petersburg for my favourite
estate. That Magus created a pathway through it for his own purposes. At worst, my

Claribelle, should you wish to leave me, you will end up in the wrong house, confronted
by that strange old lady in the turban."
"This evil Magus, I'm terrified by him; where is he?"
"I don't know; I think he is a spirit. I have to be honest with you, my Claribelle, and
say that I have sometimes even seen him as a shadowy sort of form even as my valet did
when he delivered that picture."
He kisses her forehead with startling tenderness. "We will break free of him. He was
once a victim of this writing torment even as I and others have been, but you see that I
have been controlling my own fate these last weeks and have won myself a prize in you,
too. Now have a Magic Woman of my own. I will tell you more later, about how I tried to
write to Sager and could not, but for now, put your arms about my neck."
Then everything whirls and blurs. She staggers, but he is holding her up, and they
arrive smoothly on a grassy knoll. She has the impression of a strange, alien landscape
down below. She tries to speak, but is suddenly short of breath. Not only that, but she
doesn't seem to be entirely here, as everything keeps on blurring. Claribelle panics again,
but Ivan has the answer.
"Come kiss me, and take my air; that's the way."
It comes naturally to her to take his air as he kisses her. Gradually the whirling and
blurring diminishes. Even as she once increased his strength, so now he breathes strength
into her, grounding her here.
She lets him go, suddenly realising that she has been suffocating him. He gasps for
some moments, and then says shakily, "- Do you feel a little better?" Claribelle thinks he
might well address that to himself, and a shiver of pleasure at his protectiveness runs
down her spine. "- Now I know how that feels; you were icy cold, too. - Take my arm and
we'll go down and you can have some tea. - This very day, I'll summon the priest to
arrange the marriage. - But first I will have to make up some tale about your lack of
documents, though for sure, he won't make trouble about it with me."
As Natalie walks up Kingsland High Street, a headline on the stand outside a
tobacconist's advertising the local paper catches her eye: 'Washing Machine Horror: Man
Tortured in Launderette'.
Shocked, she pauses, and a magazine on the rack nearest the doorway catches her
It's Star News, and all about a Special New Face (and the rest of him, which is just
as nice) in Theseus!, a tacky epic due to be premiered soon, with Star Studded Cast and
an unintentionally comic script.
She'd know him anywhere, for all that longish lightened hair and the Californian
Her heart wrenches, and she knows - that instant - that she's still in love with
Charley, that her feelings for Aleks Sager can't compare. However much he Works On
Her, it will be so much wasted time. She lets out a sob, and a couple coming out of the
shop stare. She turns away to hide her tears.
She is only thankful that Great Aunt Sarah isn't in to poke her head out of the door
like a sociable tortoise, full of questions about her trip and eager to see Aleks, who she
now admits is the Apple of My Eye, Dear: I Love That Boy Like a Son.

Natalie plods upstairs, hiccoughing back sobs, and goes to that hateful answer
phone. It's all its fault she's lost Charley, and she'd like to throw it out of the window.
"I hate you, you useless thing!" In her childish despair, she doesn't even swear. The
tears come again.
There's several messages from d'Arcy's which would make her happy at any other
time; now she doesn't give a damn. Then comes one from Fifi: "Just phoning up to find
out how you are. When you're back in town, give me a ring...I'm absolutely shattered
after that work in the Canaries, and got a bit sunburnt, which isn't good. Darling, did
you hear about Roger Smart having a heart attack, he's Aleks' agent, isn't he?"
Natalie knows this heart attack has to be Ivan Ostrowski's doing.
She's drained; she goes and lies down on her bed. She imagines the layers and layers
of blue and silver circles with which she's surrounded herself unravelling, dissolving. She
concentrates on Ivan Ostrowski.
She knows he'll come. It takes longer than she might have imagined, so that she
begins to wonder if he will come at all.
Suddenly, he is with her, lying on top of her, belly to belly, though as a gentleman,
he takes his weight on his elbows. She supposes that he's been pulled through by her, as
he looks startled and a bit sheepish. He is less thin, far better looking than she has ever
seen him, in fact, astonishingly handsome, his skin glowing, his eyes clear.
She's somehow over there on his estate, too, and over there, they are standing up in
each other's arms. She realises that they are on the summit of a hill by the edge of a copse
of lime trees. It seems to be a combination of the two; though she's still aware of her body
in the bed, she sees that landscape stretched below, that little wooden village at a discreet
distance from the manor house, the fields all about. She can hear birdsong.
She tries to speak, and finds that she can't, as these two realities are exchanging
with dizzying rapidity like a kaleidoscope pattern while now she is gasping for air. She
wasn't suffering from this, that other time when he was standing by his window inside the
house, and she approached; maybe it's because she hadn't yet tried to speak then.
He looks concerned. "Why, Natalie, I must do for you as I did to Claribelle, who
waits below for the priest. She will be angry with me for this, and rightly, but I must -"
His lips meet hers. They are warm, like the rest of him, and she takes in his air and
warmth as she kisses him as though she has been doing it all her life. Warmth surges
through her, indistinguishable from sexual desire.
Then there is the sound of the door crashing open, a howl of fury, and thudding
footfalls. In Dalston, Aleks rushes up to them, roaring, "Get off her!"
He is both here and back in Dalston, and she is in both scenes at once, somehow
superimposed one on the other. Back in her bedroom, Aleks is hitting out at his hated
rival lying on his girlfriend. Ivan Ostrowski rolls off her to face his attacker. At the same
time, on this other dimension, Ivan pulls away as Aleks hits out at him.
In both, Natalie is frozen, fighting for air.
Ivan and Aleks struggle together. Aleks swears and calls him, 'd'Anthes.' Ivan
Ostrowski is shouting something about 'The Magus'.
"I'll kill you this time!" Aleks eyes are mad with rage. They try and best each other,
but equally matched in strength, come to a standstill. Natalie tries to scream, to move,
and just as in a nightmare, she is stuck soundless and motionless.

"No," Ivan Ostrowski sneers, as they remain locked together, "You sheltered behind
your pen as you tried to kill me, but you wrote his words, Sager, just as in your reality I
could hardly write at all. All his doing, Sager, so I no longer want to kill you, do you
understand? That kiss -"
Aleks wrenches free with a howl of rage. Pulling an antique pistol from his pocket,
he swings it at him, so quickly that Natalie doesn't see where it connects with Ostrowski
as he goes down: "Filthy sneaking ghoul!"
Ostrowski is struggling to get up, dizzied by the blow. He gasps, "Don't provoke me
further, Sager! You can't win a duel with me, though I dishonour myself in challenging
you. Can you even shoot?"
Aleks flings another old fashioned pistol at him and yells abuse in French.
Natalie fights to say the words that might stop them, struggling to move, still rooted
on the spot.
Ivan struggles to his feet. "So be it! You've abused me enough. Come and emulate
A short man trots up to them, wrapped in some cloak like coat, a hat pulled low over
his eyes. He speaks quickly, seemingly rebuking them, also in French. Natalie's schoolgirl
understanding of French wouldn't enable her to follow him normally; now she can only
make out, 'Messieurs' and 'Excusez-moi' and 'Mademoiselle'.
Natalie yearns silently, breathing laboriously. Her panic isn't only about the coming
duel; it's also about not being able to say those words to Aleks that she always withheld
from him before it is too late.
Now both Aleks and his character seem to Natalie to be in a trance, moving like
automatons; yet Aleks says distinctly as he glances at the grass at his feet, now speaking
in English: "So, I'm cheated of years with her, and it's the wrong time of year; there ought
to be snow for the blood."
Neither of them looks at Natalie as she strains to scream after them, her head
feeling as if it will burst. Aleks must blame her for that kiss: why, oh why did he have to
turn up at that moment? It's as if it has all been foreordained.
The elderly man in that hat, worn so ridiculously low over his eyes, yet sinister says something to her. She can't follow it, and she realises, with a numb sort of terror,
that she can see through parts of him. They go, walking eagerly away as if to a treat. The
elderly man moving with an uncertain gait after the springing young men. They go down
the slope and she can still see them. It would be better if she didn't have to watch as well
as wait for that shot and the fatal injury. Or maybe, it wouldn't; then she would strain to
Even now, she can see the wardrobe opposite in Dalston, the dent where Kathy
kicked it in a fit of temper.
Why didn't she know until now, why does she always know too late? She goes on
straining, knowing her fight is hopeless, struggling anyway like a doomed animal.
It's all oddly soundless. They are on a level piece of ground maybe twenty yards
away, sideways on to her. The man stands crouched, checking both weapons. He has
them standing back to back. They take fifteen paces each and turn. He waves his
Then comes the sound: it seems to Natalie that the crash of the shot and Aleks' fall
are simultaneous.

He drops down slowly, almost as if he's taking a rest, and his pistol falls from his
hand. She can't see the blood yet, but it will spread out from the front of his shirt and join
the blades of grass. The shadow may be deceiving her eyes, but she knows there is no
hope, no hope at all. From nowhere, Natalie remembers Marta's talk about ancient belief
that Bloody Sacrifice appeased the Great Mother.
Ivan Ostrowski and their one second start towards him, but some of Aleks' words
come to her clearly, his voice surprisingly strong, "...Take my shot."
The figures draw back. Ivan Ostrowski retraces his steps and stands, sideways on,
one hand over his head, one across his chest, as if according to some prearranged
The shot rings out. Ivan falls. Aleks cheers.
Surely he must know - just as Natalie does - that injury isn't fatal, unlike his own?
The stranger shouts out a laugh of triumph, whipping off that hat to wave it madly,
and his burning eyes in that wrinkled face are wild with exultation. "It is done!"
Now, Natalie can see the blood spreading out underneath Aleks; he collapses
forward, his head falling onto his arm, slightly to one side.

Departures - Aleks Sager

The scene is spinning, dissolving. Natalie is back on the bed, while Aleks lies face
down on the floor, the life seeping out of him, his fingers letting go of his pistol. She can
move at last and springs towards him, howling like an animal.
Even through her own noise she can hear a shouted enquiry from Great Aunt Sally,
just coming through her front door.
"Phone an ambulance! Now!" Natalie shrieks louder than she has in her life.
She takes Aleks in her arms - careless of the blood - sobbing those words, but his
eyes are closed and maybe it is too late. His face has a bluish look, particularly about the
lips. "I do love you! Don't die!" His eyes stay closed, and she wails aloud.
His lids flicker. "Did you say you love me?"
"I do, I do! Why am I always too late?! Don't die, don't die, I can't bear it, I tell
"It was worth it, for you to say that." Then he's unconscious again.
While they wait for the ambulance Great Aunt copes as she always has within
Natalie's memory. She asks no questions -which would be a waste of time anyway, with
Natalie hysterical and Aleks mostly unconscious - doing her best to staunch the terrible
flow of Aleks' blood as it spreads over Natalie's clothes as she holds him in her arms and
begs him not to die. It flows on, and out over the carpet.
Great Aunt Sally tries to soothe Natalie, to assure her of what they can do these
days, warning her too, not to touch that pistol.
During the hours that Natalie waits with Great Aunt Sally while they operate all
Natalie can think of is her anguish of regret, throbbing like an open wound: why didn't I
appreciate him when I had him now it's too late I'll never forgive myself I know he'll die I
heard them saying to Marta the bullet pierced the lower intestines and splintered the
sacrum and even if he lives he'll never walk again as that's part of the spine why didn't I
realise that I loved him I'll never forgive myself
And so on, round and round.
Everyone seems to think that Aleks must have shot himself accidentally. It occurs to
Natalie that she might fall under suspicion, perhaps ballistics will show that he was shot
from a distance; she doesn't care if she's charged with murder or manslaughter and ends
up doing life. Nothing matters.
Marta turns up at some point when Great Aunt Sally has gone to get Natalie some
water, and takes Natalie's hands. "I don't know what happened, but I do know there's been
something horrible going on with Aleks for a long time. Rick wanted to talk about it, but
I didn't want to hear, as he said there was no convincing Aleks. I saw the beginning of
that, you see, ten years back. Whatever happened, you're not to blame. We'll talk about
this more, later."
Natalie mutters, "He didn't shoot himself, like everyone believes. It was his
character, Ivan Ostrowski."
Marta's eyes dilate, but she says quietly, "I can believe it, after what happened long
ago....Lie down on this excuse for a sofa."
At some time, Aleks' brother Leo and brother-in-law Damien come, saying they've
told Mr and Mrs Sager, who are on their way. Olga is in hospital with some complication

of pregnancy and they are going to induce, so she hasn't been told. Natalie realises
numbly how terrible it will be for Damien, shuttling between two hospitals, with birth in
one and death in the other.
At some time in the grey dawn one of the surgeons comes back exhausted to tell
them what they already know. Great Aunt Sally takes one of Natalie's hands and Marta
takes the other, and she doesn't feel that she deserves any sympathy at all.
It doesn't go on for two days as Natalie knows from Great Aunt Sally that it did with
Pushkin. It lasts for less than one, perhaps because they give such massive doses of drugs
to kill the pain. Again, that isn't like it was with Pushkin; Natalie knows from Great Aunt
Sally that he was only given half a dozen drops of opium in all those agonising hours.
Perhaps because of the drugs, Aleks isn't conscious much.
When first she goes into the room, she is horrified - not so much by the equipment
or his ghastly pallor with the bluish tinge about the lips - she'd been prepared for that- but
by how his body already looks diminished, resembling the empty shell it soon will be. He
looks a corpse already; he and his character have changed places. His eyes are closed,
and he doesn't open them at her approach.
She sits down and takes his hand. "I do love you, you know. I didn't intend the kiss
and he was giving me air -"
His eyes open then, and she is startled at how unchanged the light in them is, sunken
though they are. He tries to give her hand a squeeze and she is appalled at the weakness
of his grip. His hoarse, weak voice is unrecognisable to her as he slurs with terrible effort,
"Don't ever blame yourself, or let other people. It was all me and That Thing and the
Magus controlling us both and others."
She sobs, uncaring about what 'The Magus' is.
He slurs out, "I love you...That bastard cheated me of six years together... And a
family of kids."
She wonders if he is confused. "Please don't die and we can still do it."
She supposes he is trying to shake his head. She says, "Maybe you killed your
character." She doesn't find the thought comforting, but maybe he will.
One of his eyebrows goes up in a feeble attempt at that old crazy face. "No. That's
not how it is...but he might come back to take you, Natalie, and I won't be there to fight
him..." After a long pause, he adds, "And maybe you won't mind."
"He won't come back." She is puzzled at her own conviction. "I'm sure of it. But if
he tried, do you think I'd go with your killer? He's ruined my life."
Despite the bathetic, teenage sounding phrase, those words seem to reassure him.
Pleasure or relief flickers in his eyes, but he says, "You softened towards Ostrowski, I
could tell..." If his rasping voice could have any tone, it would be petulant.
"Never enough to have chosen him."
"I know it was the Magus behind it, but I hated Ostrowski for trying to take you...I
don't any more...I wouldn't have done what I did if I'd known what was happening... Back
there I thought he was d'Anthes...In a way he was."
She sits, holding his hand. It doesn't matter now if he misjudges his own character,
believing what even she can now see was merely an enraged, swaggering young buck of
that era to be a monster. That monster was only the one anyone could become if driven to

At some point, Marta persuades Great Aunt Sally to go home to rest for a bit. Aleks'
brothers are back, wearing pre-arranged faces, voices bright.
Over the next hours, a number of people come in with those pre-arranged faces,
besides the medical staff, who do things to the equipment and top up the drugs and offer
them tea. When you are offered tea on the NHS, you know that you are involved in
something terminal.
Marta comes in regularly. She always greets Aleks softly, and he always seems
pleased to see her. His parents still aren't here, and his breathing gets ever more laboured,
his face more ghastly, Natalie begins to dread that they won't come in time. Now Natalie
understands the meaning of the word sinking. His body looks as if it is collapsing in upon
His friends Peter and Andrei come, among others. So does Errol Harding. Natalie
hears the stir from the nurses as he turns up. He comes in the picture of handsome fitness,
looking as though he is going to say words of encouragement. One glance at the figure in
the bed changes that: he screws his eyes up hard and instead, they exchange some
muttered words, speaking in the patois they once used as Tottenham Dudes.
She hears the woman Liz sobbing loudly in the passageway. When she does come
in, she has a nurse with her. She only stays for a minute to murmur, "I'm thinking of you,
Aleks." His lips move, but Natalie can't tell what he says. She hopes that it's something
kind. Liz squeezes Natalie's arm and goes out, shoulders wobbling with sobs.
Aleks sinks into a stupor. He only comes back to full consciousness once more.
Then he says almost distinctly, despite the wheezing, "Natalie, find a man who'll make
you happy." She can't reply for sobbing, and maybe that is the best reply of all.
Leo and Great Aunt Sally are back again some time in the late afternoon, while
Marta has been about the hospital throughout. Now Aleks is muttering indistinctly, but
happily, to people that Natalie can't see as she sits, still holding his hand. She hears the
words, "Kon, mate."
"Ah, Kon's among them come to take him over." Leo's tone is almost matter of fact.
Aleks looks relaxed, so for sure these beings who have come from him are not ones
he will mistake for Daemons.
A doctor comes in to give him an injection. In a minute, he is fully unconsciousness.
All this while, Natalie has been willing his parents to arrive, but now he won't recognise
them. She knows well enough what that awful rattling breathing is. Soon, it stops.

Departures - Ivan Ostrowski

Otherwise known at The Daemon
Natalie is back there again. She thinks it's safe but isn't sure. Oddly, this time she
can breathe perfectly well, and there aren't two dimensions shifting back and forth.
"You can get back any time." Ivan Ostrowski reassures her. That's nice of him, as
he's just been shot. Aleks and the sinister man with the hat - surely 'the Mugus' have
He leans against a tree. He's looking so startlingly young and handsome, despite
the blood soaking through his upper sleeve and staining the bark behind him, that she
knows it's not a serious injury. "Natalie, I tried at the last to prevent it. Now you must
abhor me."
She shakes her head. "No, I don't. Poor Aleks forced it. I was wrong to say those
horrible things to you in my panic. I made you hate Aleks more and everything worse."
She remembers that in that other reality, Roger Smart, unlike Aleks, is recovering.
She can't even be bothered asking Ivan Ostrowski about that attack. She's unsurprised to
find that she can read his mind, and his regret over Aleks and indifference over Smart are
the first thoughts that she picks up.
Another thought, cutting with startling clarity through his pain, is his realisation
that his obsession with her has gone; she can sense his eyes viewing her as just a very
good looking girl, no sort of Goddess to Worship. Behind run all sorts of tender and
sensual inarticulate feelings about this Claribelle.
Ironically, she could tell that it was going as he gave her that kiss, so fatal to Aleks
in the other dimension. What conclusions would a man come to but the obvious on
finding another man lying on top of his girlfriend on her bed?
Hello; sorry, I was just giving her the kiss of life she once gave me.
Natalie has even wondered if, emotionally numb though she was when she had tried
to called Ivan over, it hadn't been partly because she wanted to see if she'd lost her power
over him since he'd taken up with the Claribelle Woman.
Ivan Ostrowski sighs, "In a way, we were all the tools of that Magus; he showed me
how to come through to your dimension."
Marta has told Natalie something about the Magus: she'd imagined that Natalie
already knew about how the Ouija Board Business set it all off. Natalie knows objectively
that Aleks should have told her about that himself. She supposes she may be indignant
about that at some time in the future. For now, she still feels too much in the wrong
herself to blame him about anything.
"That wound needs tending." She doesn't touch Ivan Ostrowski. Though she yearns
to give him one pat of comfort and apology, it would be an insult to Aleks.
"It can wait, it's nothing." He speaks soothingly, as to a child.
Hearing noises, she glances about for that sinister figure with the pulled down hat.
There is nobody there, but a commotion breaks out down below, near the wooden
manor house. Voices are raised in anxious enquiry.
Natalie recognises one voice amongst them, though she only heard it once. She
glimpses the figures through the trees. One of them is a sturdy brown haired woman, who

wears a long but modern looking dress and seems to be calling instructions to the figures
in nondescript clothes.
"Claribelle Johnson. Will you settle down with her?"
"I want to take care of her." His eyes tell her all the things that he doesn't say. He's
playing down his feelings for the woman to spare Natalie's pride, now he's killed off her
own lover and she's all alone.
She says, though he has no reason to sympathise, "I just hope some part of Aleks
survives somewhere."
He smiles then, oddly enough, as if the idea appeals to him too. His rage at Aleks
seems to have vanished with his death. "I think he does. It would be a sorry prospect if
your only reality was that poisoned world."
"Be happy." Even as she forces herself to say that, she can imagine how Aleks would
jeer at what he'd call, 'The Banality of that Phrase'. She doesn't care; it's what she
Natalie catches a quick, gloating thought from Ivan Ostrowski about Claribelle
Johnson, 'She mustn't have any shocks in her condition.'
Irritated, Natalie tries to shut off his thoughts. She gives him a last smile and leaves
this part of the dream as easily as he always promised she could, by just concentrating on
the house in Dalston.
Natalie sits, doing nothing.
This is a new, bad habit. Nothing seems to be worthwhile. She's heard somewhere
that this is a sign of serious depression, but she can't resist the urge to sit staring vacantly
into space.
It isn't even as if she's on any medication. Her mother had a quarrel with her GP
about that; he told her that these days people are left to go through the stages of grieving
naturally, without the interference of possibly habit forming drugs. Natalie wouldn't have
taken them anyway.
She knows how kind people are being. Of course, red eyed Great Aunt Sally waits
on her hand and foot; Fifi and Errol Harding call round to take her out to places, and
Marta comes over every day; Olga and Damien phone several times a week with news of
the baby, who is, of course, called 'Aleksandr'.
The funeral yesterday was gruelling. Aleks' parents insisted on a religious ceremony,
though his siblings said it was going against his wishes and from what Natalie had seen
she agreed. Still, it might have brought some comfort to Aleks' fat, sobbing and
tormented mother, and his father too macho to show his misery.
Rick was there looking anguished; by the time he had heard of Aleks' shooting, his
old friend was already dead.
He came round the day afterwards, and admitted to Natalie, face distorted, how he
was the one who'd started the Ouija Board Business back when they were students, how
they'd got through to something sinister called the Magus - how he'd noticed coincidences going back in time linking Aleks' life with his idol A S Pushkin's.
Natalie was inclined to brush these aside until Rick brought out photographs of
paintings of Pushkin, complete with those light blue eyes, bushy side whiskers and long
nails. He'd shown her one too, of his Squinting Rembrandt Angel Natalya Nikolaevna.

Natalie doesn't think she is anything like as beautiful as that, but her own squint came
back soon after she met Aleks. Now she realises it has disappeared, like him.
She'd seen Great Aunt Sally's portraits of Pushkin, but...
She'd shuddered then, and told Rick all about Ivan Ostrowski, only breaking off to
sip the tea which Great Aunt Sally brought up for them both, served in her antique
Willow Pattern service.
"Why didn't he tell me?!" Rick paces about in his anguish.
"What could anyone do? Those occult people were worse than useless, though
maybe if those experts had come back from abroad in time they might just have been able
to do something. Aleks and Ostrowski were set on a collision course."
Rick also had an odd request. "He'll have left a lot of papers. I wonder if you'd mind
if I went through them and took some away?"
Natalie certainly didn't feel she had a right to object. "Why would I? If his family
don't mind I certainly don't."
She guessed that Rick is looking for something specific, and doesn't want to find out
what, or what he intends to do with it.
Now, Natalie is holding a copy of 'The Adventures of Ivan Ostrowski' and reads a bit
of it now and then (only she knows about the last adventures). She knows that it's safe to
read now.
It seems she isn't going to be arrested. Aleks' death is down as accidental.
That's one way of putting it.
Natalie's mother and Kathy have come to stay and want to take Natalie back to
Cirencester. Though Natalie is happy to see Kathy and fairly happy to see her mother, she
refuses to go even for a few days, for any number of reasons. Her father phones and as
she takes the calls, she has the absurd feeling, a remnant from early childhood, that he
might somehow put things right, as he once so often had, just as he so often put things
wrong, but nobody can put her life right now.
After the funeral Great Aunt Sally had showed Natalie the painting she was working
on. As she stared at it, Natalie could actually feel the blood drain from her face. Great
Aunt Sally looked stricken, and rushed over to take her hands: "Oh, my dear, I am so
sorry! I should have thought; I had an idea it would comfort you to know I was working
on Aleks' themes."
Ivan Ostrowski sits at the head of the table of some family celebration, looking
every inch the young patriarch. Natalie recognises his wife at the opposite end of the
table - older than him, but still pretty, wearing lots of lace and silk; she'd seen her in that
dream. Claribelle Johnson, blended happily into her role as nineteenth century wife of the
owner of thousands of serfs. There are three pretty children at the table, and numerous
smiling adults.
"So stupid of me, I should have thought -you had those nightmares about him, and
they even made you walk in your sleep. Yet there was nothing sinister about him in the
stories, my pet. Merely a dramatic and foolish young rake, and quite charming in his own
I suppose he was (is).
Natalie forces a wobbly lipped smile. "It's all right; he doesn't haunt my dreams any
more." She forces herself to look at the painting more closely. It is, for once,
unmistakably good, almost like looking into a room of real people; the light playing on

the luxurious drapes, the heavy period furniture and the festive table seems to sparkle,
while the characters' contrasting features have been conjured to vivid life in a few
confident strokes. Natalie tries to hide her shudder. "It's really well done. How long have
you been working on it, Auntie?"
"Such a funny thing; even before you met Aleks, dear. I don't like that Ivan
Ostrowski at all; I don't know why, as for sure, he is very handsome; and when I was
reading it I did so want a happy ending for poor him, but since painting that, I don't like
him any more . If I didn't think such ideas were nonsense, I'd say it was telepathy that
made you have nightmares about him. Would it upset you, dear, if I did some portraits of
poor Aleks himself? "
"Of course not, Auntie. I'd like one." Natalie is wondering again if the Magus took
that painting of Eugene Onegin's duel with Lenski, and used it as what is called in fantasy
stories a 'portal' for Ivan Ostrowski.
On a more prosaic note, Natalie tells herself that she must pull herself together, or
misery will soon make her look so awful that she'll be a failure as a model after all (and
serves her right, for not appreciating Aleks).
Tiger Girl Promotions are keeping things on hold for her. That doesn't seem to
matter either. She doesn't even care about how she looks, though she drearily puts on
clothes and make up every morning, and does her hair. This mane of hair is such a chore
to care for that she's even tempted to have it cut.
Sometimes, seeing herself in the mirror, she's surprised at how little her outside has
been affected. That hair still falls as a shiny red curtain to her waist, her lips pout full and
inviting as ever, her eyes may be mournful but still large and clear, even when red from
crying bouts; only her skin looks pale. She has lost a few pounds, too, but that suits her.
Now her mother is calling her name irascibly; one of her most annoying habits is
shouting up the three flights of stairs to save herself the climb. Natalie ignores her. After a
bit the shouting stops.
Those are a man's steps coming up the stairs. For a moment of insane hope, Natalie
believes that it's Aleks Sager, come to comfort her. He'd want to do that; like his idol and unlike a lot of men - he never blamed the woman caught between the two men in that
Eternal Triangle.
Don't be crazy; of course, it's not him.
No, but those footsteps are familiar.
It takes some time for her to realise who it is standing there, looking at her in tender
concern, waiting for her to acknowledge him. She doesn't remember that patience in him.
It is odd that he has come by it now, because the last thing you associate with people
from there is patience.
"Natalie, how are you, sweetheart?"
She spreads her hands in a gesture of resignation, unable to speak.
"When I heard two days since, I just took off without permission. It's supposed to be
A Wrap, but I don't care anyway. Sod that stupid film." He is so incredibly handsome, for
all that awful long blond streaked and lightened at the tips hair and that over the top
bronzed tan, that's she's astonished - but that isn't the main thing -the main thing is that
it's him, back again as she so longed. She holds out her arms, but pauses. "You must have
a girlfriend?"

"Not now. There was one in Dalston I couldn't get over, but you don't want to hear
about that now."
She throws herself at him, and as he catches her in his arms her heart feels as if it
will burst with joy. He's careful how tightly he holds her, being even stronger from the
new muscle building regime. The tears come as she says, "I always realise too late. I
couldn't love Aleks enough because I couldn't forget you, either. I can't believe you've
come back, Charley."
Their kisses are tender at first. Gradually, they are more urgent, open mouthed. Now
it's different, and she warms and then heats and it's all as it should have been back then.
They make for the bed with the thrills running through her; they keep on and on
while they revel in every inch of each other's body. He delights in her as he always did,
only even more; but for her, it's all new to enjoy the stabs of desire as she fondles those
spectacular muscles on his back, his chest, his shoulders, his belly, all over.
She kisses him all over and pauses teasingly at the most important part to kiss and
says to it, "Welcome back; come in."
As he glides into her it is as if those months between that last time when everything
went wrong, and now when it's all going right, have never been; all that matters is their
gathering anguish of pleasure until that final, shuddering oblivion.
But the nicest thing is that throughout, he's saying hoarsely, 'I love you, I love you,'
and she's gasping it back, as she never did before.
"I saw you in a magazine." She says, later. "I cried."
"Do I look that bad with this stupid hair? I've got to keep it until I get the word that
they don't have to do any more shooting -Sorry." He winces, seeing her flinch. "Sorry, my
sweet. What a thing to say."
"It wasn't the hair, oddly enough. It might just have been because I knew I'd lost
"What rubbish are you saying? When you ignored that whining message I sent you I
thought, well, I'm half American, I might as well go off to fail in the US as stay and fail
around here, tormented by this girl who doesn't really want me. "
"I told you how the machine swallowed your message, but I don't think you took in
what I was saying. Did you leave me another one?"
"Sure did. And some more, when Leroy wrote me how he'd seen you and it could
well have all been a misunderstanding. Don't tell me the thing ate those ones, too? "
"It ate all but half of one. I hate it."
"Not as much as I do. I'll smash the thing....You know what? I've been out there
supposedly with the most beautiful women in the world, and all the time thinking not one
of them matches up to you. "
"Either you need your eyes testing or you do really love me." They go back to
Later, he makes sure nobody is below the window, and then hurls the answerphone
Natalie tells herself afterwards that if among the crashinh there came a noise
sounding like a screeched, 'Magus', then that was just nerves on her part.

May 2012
Getting ready for the premiere of 'Rinaldo Rinaldini''* more than twenty years later,
Natalie finds herself thinking of how lucky she is that she and Charley still are together
after so long. She's lucky he's never taken off with a younger woman; some have tried,
but he has remained as besotted as she has.
She remembers what Aleks said to her when he came back that once in a dream on
the night before the wedding.
She is back in the Tuilleries gardens among those long dappled shadows of evening,
and there he is, standing beside her. He seems to have lost his jealousy, as he smiles at
her without bitterness. "Good choice, girl. He'll keep you happy."
"Oh, Aleks!" She lets out a wail, taking him in her arms, revelling for a second in
his solid reality. "I'm so sorry! I never realised -"
"Shush...Some other time, eh?" He is gone. She calls after him, "I miss you! Oh, I
did love you!"
But he never came back after that. Perhaps the Powers That Be over there think that
she only just deserved that reassurance.
She told Charley most of the story Aleks, Ivan Ostrowski and The Magus. He'd been
horrified for her, and he didn't doubt her; he'd had a weird neighbour once who'd got up
to all sorts of psychic tricks, including projecting her astral into his father's bedroom at
Great Aunt Sally never did adore Charley as she did Aleks, though she came to like
him well enough. Unknown to her, she owed him more than her pleasure in Natalie's
happiness and the two children.
Charley had pulled some strings that led to Sally Nicholson's belated recognition as
an artist, so that by the time she died at ninety, still living in King Henry's Drive and
painting in her turban to the last, she had made a lot of money from her art and would say
complacently on her Hollywood visits, "Well, darlings, talent earns recognition in the
long run."
Now Charley is striding into Natalie's dressing room, sparkling eyes widening at the
sight of her in her backless dress. She thinks he looks wonderful too, and goes over to
kiss him, soon inserting one hand under his shirt.
"You tempt me to undress you, Sir." Ever since she helped him practice his lines for
this film, they've been in the habit of flirting in old fashioned language.
"Go ahead: the hell with this Premiere."
"No, I must keep my hands off till later." Hearing a knock, she tucks his shirt back
in, "Come in!"
Their daughter Carlotta looks at them as if her greatest fears have come true. You
can see written on her flawless young face: It's sad enough coming on the poor old things
groping each other, but dressed like that?! "Dad, I suppose it's interesting. Mom, that's
way too skimpy."
"It isn't skimpy enough." Charley strokes Natalie's back.
"Can we use your car?"

Natalie wonders which one; she's always telling Charley off about the Environment
and Unnecessary Pollution.
"Dream on. You and Nat can get a cab from the usual firm."
Carlotta says bitterly, "Guess what film's came on, so I changed channels fast.
Theseus! Every time that old rubbish comes on, people kid me about Dad strutting round
in just that toga thing and pulling that face." She pulls a face herself and the door to.
Charley rolls his eyes. "That kid; she's getting worse than him."
"They'll grow out of it." Natalie sighs. "Why can't they be babies for five years, and
teenagers for a year? Where's my wrap? we'd better go down."
"They can wait, sweetheart." Charley puts it on her shoulders and wanders about,
collecting this and that. He's not in a hurry; the limo will wait four hours if necessary, but
somehow Natalie has never got used to being a VIP, though she's been one half of a
Golden Couple for all these years. If her own success has been impressive, his has been
spectacular, with his awards cluttering their mansions, the ridiculous payments and the
It is a strange thing; now, as always, when Natalie and Charley attend a premiere or
an awards ceremony, and they go through those doors into the flashlight illuminated
sacred space, the gasps and cheers of the crowd announcing their arrival, she can almost
see Aleks Sager standing at the front of the crowd, waiting to greet her, his face
dismissive of it all, but his arms stretched out for her as if to draw her to his heart.

*'Souls' : The majority of the Russian population were peasants, and the greater number
at this time were serfs, owned by their masters to be sold or mortgaged as a commodity,
and known as 'souls'.
*'Decemberist friends': Many of Pushkin's friends were members of the unsuccessful
'Decembrist Uprising' against the regime held in the Senate Square in December 1825
(see Notes on Aleksandr Pushkin, below).
*'Eugene Onegin': This deceptively simple tale recounts the story of the selfish, jaded
rake Eugene Onegin who lives briefly in a rural area where the innocent young Tatiana
Larina falls in love with him. He rejects her trusting, nave confession of love and leaves
the area under a cloud after having killed in a duel his friend, the poet Vladimir Lenski,
who is Tatiana's sister Olga's fianc.
After several years' wandering he meets Tatiana again in the capital, now married and
transformed to a leading society figure. He falls madly in love with her but she rejects his
advances, having learnt to suppress her feelings after the best society manner, as he once
advised her.
Apart from literary references, one of the main points of the story is to criticise this
unnatural suppression of emotion imposed by polite society, and also, the restrictive
emotional frigidity of the sort of Byronic pose that Eugene adopts before he surrenders to
his feelings at the end of the poem.
*' 'Insulting letter': A translation from the French of this letter that Pushkin sent to Baron
Hekkeren, quoted in Robin Edmond's biography 'Pushkin, the Man and His Age'
(Macmillan, London, 1994) reads in part:
'The conduct of your son has been known to me a long time past and I could not be
indifferent towards it. I confined myself to the role of observer, ready to intervene when I
judged it appropriate...I received the anonymous letter...I made your son play a role so
pitiable that my wife, astonished by so much cowardice and banality, could not prevent
herself from laughing, and the feeling which perhaps she had felt for this great and
sublime passion was extinguished in the calmest contempt and the most well-deserved
You, the representative of a crowned head, have acted paternally as the pimp of your
son...Like an obscene old woman, you would lie in wait for my wife in every corner, in
order to talk to her about the love of your bastard, or one who is so-called; and when he
was confined to his quarters by pox, he said he was dying for love of her...I cannot allow
that your son, after his abject behaviour, should dare say a word to my wife, nor, still
less, that he should recite regimental puns and play the part of devotion and unhappy
passion when he is nothing but a coward and a scoundrel...'
* 'Well Intentioned': This was the name of journal published in Pushkin's time. In 'Eugene
Onegin', he mentions 'Ladies with the Well Intentioned in their hands'. This became the
basis of bawdy word play among his friends.
* 'That slight squint of yours': Natalya Nikolaevna had a slight squint, which people
agreed only added to her charm.

* 'You must follow through': James N Frey's (brilliant) advice on the crafting of stories
in: 'How to write a Damn Good Novel': a step by step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic
Storytelling' (1988).
*'Rinaldo Rinaldini' Captain of Banditti, a 1798 melodramatic robber novel by Christian
August Vulpius .

Some Notes on Aleksandr Pushkin

Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin is widely regarded as the Russian equivalent of
Shakespeare, being the first poet to use the medium of Russian for his great works.
He was born in Moscow in May 1799. His father Sergei L'vovich Pushkin was
descended from one of the oldest noble families in Russia (now fallen on financial hard
times). His mother, Nadezhda Osipovna Pushkina, was from a family comparatively
recently ennobled. Pushkin's maternal great grandfather, Abram Gannibal, a protge of
Peter the Great, had been brought as a slave from Africa and presented to the Tsar,
subsequently prospering in his service and eventually being promoted to the nobility.
Pushkin was proud of his descent from both branches of the family.
Pushkin had a normal education for an aristocratic boy at this time, with tutors and
access to his parents wide library. His uncle was also a minor poet and no doubt this
influenced him. His beloved nurse (he called her 'mother') Arina Rodionovna taught him
Russian and many Russian legends. From the age of ten he had the same personal
servant, the serf Nitkita Kozlov, who worked for Pushkin until his death. There is some
evidence that Pushkin was not close to his parents, though he seems to have been fond of
his surviving siblings Olga and Lev.
At twelve, Pushkin was sent to the newly opened lyceum at Tsarskoye Selo (since
1937 renamed after him). He made many close friends and his precocious poetic talent
On leaving, he entered government service but had purely nominal duties; he
concentrated on developing his poetical skills, publishing his epic poem 'Ruskin and
Lydumilla' in 1820. He lead a dissolute life in Moscow and St Petersburg. He joined
several liberal secret societies, which were not absolutely forbidden at this time (as they
were to be after the aborted Decemberist uprising) including the liberal literary group,
'The Green Lamp' (though as ballerinas and actresses, then with a reputation for sexual
freeness, were included amongst the guests at parties their activities were hardly all
Pushkin was also a member of the same Masonic lodge as some of the conspirators
in the later 'Decemberist' uprising (so called because the revolt against the Tsar happened
in the month of December).
Some of Pushkin's ex school friends and various acquaintances became members of
this radical political movement, which pressed for universal suffrage, the freeing of the
serfs, and other political freedoms.
Russia at this time was economically, politically and socially far behind Europe, run
by a corrupt oligarchy under the rule of an absolutist monarch in the Tsar. Much like
medieval Britain, in contrast to the Russian speaking majority, the nobility spoke French.
There was no parliament or outlet for effective political action. Most of the great majority
of the population, the peasants, were serfs. Everyone, including the Tsar, seemed to agree
that serfdom was an evil, but no effective steps were taken to abolish it. The liberally
inclined Mikhail Speransky said of Russia at this time how it was made of two classes,
'The slaves of the sovereign and the slaves of the landowners. The first are free only in
relation to the second.'

Pushkin was regarded as temperamentally unsuitable to be a member of the secret

Decemberist societies, being too mercurial and indiscreet, but the liberal tone of his early
poetry ensured that it was widely distributed amongst them as a sort of rallying cry.
Pushkin's temperament was complex; he may have been what today would be
described as 'bi polar'; certainly he was subject to alternating moods of euphoric
optimism and bleak despair; his attitude towards life was similarly split, combining a
cynicism alternating with fits of romanticism.
His attitude towards women was similarly contradictory; he said of courtesans that
they were 'quicker and more convenient' and during these years he suffered from attacks
of venereal disease from his promiscuous lifestyle; this did not stop him from falling in
love with women of 'easy virtue'.
He habitually fell violently in love with a wide variety of women, as much of his
poetry demonstrates, though to which of these women it was written is still a matter of
debate. By the time he was engaged to his future wife he admitted to having been in love
113 times at least.
He had a touchy attitude towards his honour and is estimated to have been
embroiled in about 29 duels including his last, fatal one.
His appearance seems to have been a matter of debate, though it is agreed that he
was short, had disorderly curly black hair, bushy side-whiskers and long nails which he
refused to trim. His eyes were a light blue and penetrating and striking.
Despite his dissolute lifestyle, Pushkin continued to work hard on developing his
literary talents in these early years. A poem of his, 'Ode to Freedom' attracted the
unfavourable notice of the secret police and the Tsar, and he was subsequently exiled to
he south, where he continued nominally in government service and to work on his poetry,
publishing his 'The Prisoner of the Caucasas' (1822). He continued with his amorous
adventures, and fell in love with the wife of his chief Count Vorontsov, which contributed
to a growing hostility between them.
At about this time, a letter of Pushkin's in which he expressed some sympathy with
agnostic doubts, was intercepted by the police, and he was dismissed from government
service and exiled again, this time to his parents' isolated estate of Mikhailovskoe. Here
his spiritual welfare was to be supervised by a local priest, while his father agreed to
censor his correspondence. This led to an open breech between them of some years.
The rest of the family left the property and Pushkin lived alone there save for his
servants, visits to and from neighbours (he kept up with his normal amorous intrigues)
and occasional ones from friends, until he was recalled to the capital in 1826.
Although he chaffed at this exile, it was here that Pushkin fully developed his
mature style, beginning work on his masterpiece, 'the novel in verse' 'Eugene Onegin' in
1824, the story of a jaded rake who falls in love with the woman he once rejected as in
innocent country girl.
Pushkin became more desperate about his exile from intellectual stimulation at
Mikhailovskoe and made various plans to escape. In December 1825 Tsar Aleksandr died
unexpectedly. During the hiatus after his death Pushkin tried to get to St Petersburg.
Had he succeeded, he would almost certainly have been involved in the Decembrist
uprising, as he would have stayed at the flat of one of the leading conspirators, his friend
and fellow poet, Kondrati Ryleev. However Pushkin, who was always superstitious, was
horrified to encounter on the road what was seen in Russia as a sign of bad luck, a group

of hares and then a number of priests, and he turned back from his attempt to get to the
In the days after Aleksandr's death, there was a succession crisis. In the end his
younger brother Nicholas was proclaimed Tsar, but in the meanwhile the Decembrists had
agreed that the time was ripe to revolt.
About 3,000 disaffected troops and their officers faced the 9,000 loyal to the new
Tsar. The rebels were disheartened by the desertion of the leader, Prince Sergei
Trubetskoi, who at the last minute changed his mind and took the oath of allegiance to
Nicholas. After a long stand off during which support from other troops for the rebellion
failed to materialise, Nicholas ordered the government troops to fire on the rebels, who
were driven back onto the frozen Neva and defeated. There was an uprising in the south
but this was soon defeated too, and the leaders were interrogated and tried.
Pushkin had known most of these men and some of the key conspirators were his
friends, including his old school friends Ivan Pushchin and Wilhelm Kchelbecker.
Immediately after the revolt he destroyed the tenth chapter of 'Eugene Onegin', which
was political in tone and almost certainly dealt with the Decembrists. Because of this, it is
impossible to tell with certainty quite what his attitude towards the Decembrists political
aims was. A police spy was sent to the area to give a report on him, but could only gather
negative information.
Of the leaders of the revolt, five, all personally known to Pushkin, were sentenced to
hanging, drawing and quartering (this was commuted to hanging by Nicholas). Hundreds
of others were deported; a hundred were exiled to hard labour in Siberia; these including
Pushkin's close friends Ivan Pushchin and Wilhelm Kchelbecker.
The ropes of three of the men being hanged snapped. In Russia there was a tradition
that in this case, the prisoner should be freed, but Nicholas ordered them to he hanged
again. He began his reign under this dismal cloud.
In late August Tsar Nicholas sent orders for Pushkin to be escorted to St Petersburg;
he may have thought this apparently liberal gesture would regain him some popularity
with the intelligentsia.
In the Kremlin he had a long discussion with Pushkin about his future, during which
he asked Pushkin what he would have done had he been in St Petersburg on the day of
the revolt. Pushkin is known to have replied fearlessly, 'I would have made one of them'.
Certainly, he made no attempt to hide his friendships with and sympathy for the
conspirators. In the end he agreed with Nicholas that he would not in future join any
secret societies or write against the government. Nicholas promised that he, personally,
would be Pushkin's censor and then led 'the new Pushkin' out to meet a group of courtiers
assembled in a nearby room.
Over the next few years, Pushkin was to be disappointed in the Tsar's treatment of
him; he continued to be monitored by the notorious 'Third Section', the government
sector responsible for surveillance, so that, to his fury, later even his letters to his wife
were intercepted; while the Tsar may have had the final say on the acceptability of his
works, he was also subject to the rigorous interference of Count Benckendorff, head of
the Third Section. He was never allowed to travel outside Russia, and his movements
inside it had to have official permission. He was on a sort of permanent parole.
By a strange co-incidence, while at a staging post on the road to St Petersburg about
a year after his return from exile, Pushkin met his old friend the Decembrist conspirator

Kchelbecker being transported to Siberia, at first unrecognisable from his privations.

The friends embraced, but were separated by the guards.
Pushkin's biographer Robin Edmonds comments in his book, 'Pushkin: The Man
and his Age' (Macmillan London, 1994): 'It would have been surprising if a man of his
sensibility and intellectual integrity had not suffered from unease at the very least, and
perhaps worse, while he was enjoying the fruits of the Tsar's patronage (by whatever
disadvantages this patronage was later accompanied) during the years in which his
Decemberist friends were leading a very different life in Siberia...'
Perhaps the rough sketches Pushkin made on some of his manuscripts, which show
figures being hanged, is sufficient indication of this inner torment.
During the next few years Pushkin, now a nationwide celebrity and a lionised figure
in society, continued to produce brilliant poetry and prose (some of which, including the
dedications, can be interpreted as obliquely radical in tone, though disguised so as to
escape the censors, as in the dedication to his poem 'Poltava' written in 1827).
He published the drama he hoped would transform Russian theatre 'Boris Godonuv'
(delayed until 1831 because of censorship difficulties), his uncompleted novella 'The
Blackamoor of Peter the Great' (1827), and collections of poems. He worked at historical
research and contributed to literary journals. He also reverted to a dissolute lifestyle
which his old friend Prince Vyazemsky feared would destroy him. He made many new
friends, including the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, and the twice widowed
Elizaveta Khitrovo, who worshipped him.
In later life (in so far as one who died at thirty-seven could be said to have a 'later
life') Pushkin became more overtly religious, perhaps under the influence of his wife. In
youth he had played with blasphemous ideas, and one of his poems, 'Gavriliada'
resurfaced, and he stood in danger of being charged with 'obscene blasphemy'. He was
forced to admit his authorship, which was one of the events that led to the decline of trust
between Nicholas and Pushkin.
Pushkin became eager to find a wife and typically fell in love with a few suitable
girls before becoming besotted with the sixteen year old Natalya Nikolaevna
Goncharova, already renowned for her beauty, who would have had any number of
proposals had her parents been richer. He referred to her as his 'Squinting Madonna' and
his 'Rembrandt Angel'. Her mother was reputed to be harsh and her father lived as a
recluse, either due to alcoholism or mental illness, it is unclear which. Pushkin and
Natalya were eventually married in 1831 and had four children.
Tsar Nicholas and his wife were impressed with Natalya's beauty and manners, and
she soon became a favourite at court balls. All her letters have been lost and it is
impossible to come to any firm conclusions about her character or her feelings towards
Pushkin himself. For his part, it is obvious that he remained besotted with her for the rest
of his short life.
Contemporary opinion about how far she was a conventional 'good wife' to Pushkin
and how far she was to blame for the eventual tragedy was divided and remains divided
today. Pushkin's letters to her, sometimes humorous in tone, sometimes anxious,
frequently accuse 'his angel' of flirting.
Before and after his engagement to Natalya, Pushkin's most productive times were
during period of enforced separation from the distractions of St Petersburg society, when
he was staying at one his family estates, Boldino, always during the autumn. Here he

wrote the brilliant gambling story 'The Queen of Spades' (1833) his satirical collection of
short stories 'The Tales of Belkin' (1831) and his renowned poem 'The Bronze Horseman'
During 1832 Pushkin became interested in the possibility of combining in one work
the popular themes of romance and excitement with literary merit as a method of
educating public taste. The result was 'Dubrovsky', a melodramatic tale of a peasant revolt
led by an aristocrat turned bandit and his love affair with his greatest enemy's daughter.
As with so many of his other fascinating prose works, he abandoned this work
uncompleted to concentrate at this time on historical research.
Natalya's parents had not paid her dowry; Pushkin's literary journals failed to make
money; he had to take over the management of his father's estate, which was hopelessly
encumbered with debt; his feckless brother Lev was also in financial trouble.
Pushkin was distressed by the deaths of first his old nurse and then his mother; he
continued to gamble and live extravagantly. Natalya's older, unmarried sisters came to
live with them in 1934. Natalya took them to a constant round of court balls
Pushkin was appointed by the Tsar as a kammerjunker. He found this official
position, which obliged him to attend court functions in uniform, both time consuming
and demeaning, as it was generally given to men much younger than he was. He
remarked wryly in his diary, 'The court wanted Natalya Nikolaevna to dance at the
Pushkin's finances began increasingly to slip out of his control; in order to make
money, he needed leisure and peace to write, and this was not to be found in St
Petersburg. He tried to resign his official position, but was persuaded by his friends to
retract this resignation.
Around 1835 Georges Charles d'Anthes, a young, dashing officer of the guards,
became obsessed with Natalya and began to pursue her openly at balls, even arranging a
private meeting with her where he begged her to run away with him. Pushkin was
outraged and challenged him to a duel, but this was prevented by his friends and those of
d'Anthes, including d'Anthes older patron and adoptive father, Baron van Hekkeren, the
Dutch ambassador. Pushkin promised Tsar Nicholas not to fight d'Anthes, but was further
humiliated by receiving several vicious anonymous letters, taunting him as a 'cuckold'.
Natalya's sister Ekaterina was in love with d'Anthes and he married her, but
continued to make his passion for Natalya obvious, giving rise to much society gossip.
There is some debate about whether or not Ekaterina was pregnant by him. Pushkin
refused to have anything to do with the newly married pair, and to snub d'Anthes and
Hekkeren openly in society.
A portrait of Pushkin, 'of doubtful attribution' by A L Linev painted around 1836 or
1837 shows a man looking ravaged and desperate.
Finally goaded by a pun made by d'Anthes (who was addicted to puns) to Natalya,
which she subsequently repeated to him, Pushkin wrote a letter to Baron van Hekkeren
which was so abusive that the only outcome could be a duel. D'Anthes, who had been
unwilling to withdraw from the previous duel, issued the challenge.
The time arranged was 27 January 1837 towards dusk. Ironically, the superstitious
Pushkin ignored two auguries: one a prediction made long ago by a German fortune teller
that he would live a long life if he did not become involved in a violent quarrel with a fair
man in his thirty-seventh year; the other the fact that in Russia it was considered unlucky

to go on a journey if one had gone back into a house to collect an item; Pushkin had gone
back to collect a fur coat on finding out how cold the weather was. The duel went ahead
in the snow in a secluded spot on the outskirts of St Petersburg with Pushkin's old school
friend Lieutenant-Colonel Konstantin Danzas as Pushkin's second, and d'Anthes fellow
guardsman Viscount Olivier de Archiac as his.
At the signal from Danzas, Pushkin rushed forward to the makeshift barrier of coats,
apparently to fire on d'Anthes from the near point; before he reached it, d'Anthes fired,
bringing him down. The bullet had penetrated his sacrum, but Pushkin did not at first
realise how serious his injury was. He insisted on taking his shot, injuring d'Anthes, but
not, as he believed, seriously.
When Natalya saw Pushkin carried back into their flat, she fainted. His first words
to her were, 'Do not worry; you are not to blame for this.' Doctors pronounced his injury
as fatal and he showed great courage through his terrible sufferings over the next two
days as he developed peritonitis and gangrene; for some reason, the doctors only issued
him a few drops of opium for pain relief. The Tsar sent a pencilled note, giving his
forgiveness, promising to look after his family and urging him to die as a Christian.
Presumably to spare Natalya from seeing his sufferings, Pushkin only allowed her to
see him for a few minutes at a time, and was nursed by his friends. He expressed concern
that she would be blamed for what had happened, and urged her to go to the country for a
couple of years and then remarry. While various close friends took their leave of him
inside, a huge crowd gathered outside to hear the latest news of the national poet. Pushkin
died at a quarter to three on 29 January 1837.
Fearing public unrest, Tsar Nicholas ordered Pushkin's burial to be private, and
made his friend Ivan Turgenev accompany his body to its final resting place in the
grounds of the Svyatogorsk Cemetery in Mikhailovskoe.
D'Anthes and the others involved in the duel were sentenced to hanging,
subsequently commuted to deportation in d'Anthes' case, and temporary clouds over their
careers for the others. Hekkeren was ordered to leave the country. He and d'Anthes went
on to have long lives and successful diplomatic careers. Ekatarina died young after the
birth of her and d'Anthes first son.
The Tsar paid Pushkin's massive debts and undertook to pay for the upbringing of
Pushkin's children in the court. Natalya briefly retired to the country, but returned to court
on the Tsar's request. She married a friend of d'Anthes, Major General Petr Lanskoy in
1844; the Tsar was godfather to their first child and promoted him rapidly after his
marriage to Natalya; by all accounts the marriage was a happy one and she was an
exemplary wife and mother.