When I got back to the apartment I could hear Notre Dame striking ten. I had had food. I had had drink. I had also – again – lurched near the abyss of some state or place or time other than that which I would normally occupy. Whatever it is it is pulling at me with increasing persistence.
In the dim light of my place I could see that my shoes were deeply stained by some kind of viscous looking substance. I looked back to the doorsill of the beginning of the oaken twist of stairs expecting to see tracks of some sort. There were none. The bottoms of my shoes must have been worn clean in the flint sand of the forecourt and the pavement and cobble stones that I passed upon in my walk from the pavillon home.
I sat in one of the chairs that serve my dining table and prepared to remove my shoes and see what sort of cleaning might be required. Immediately I detected a familiar smell. It was familiar but I couldn’t immediately identify it. It had the effect that smells and sounds often have of seeming to be a transport to some previous experience. In this case the transport was to childhood; I realized it was the smell of blood. By the time I was six years old I had figured out myriad ways to inflict on myself serious cuts that bled profusely. Taking my father’s used Schick razor blades and putting them in my pocket was a classic example. After depositing one of the blades in my pocket I didn’t think about the implications of that action. So when I somewhat later put my hand in my pocket I shouldn’t have been surprised when moments later I withdrew a sticky, bloody set of fingers.
I know the smell of blood well.
So I wasn’t surprised when that Proustian moment rushed back to the present with the discovery that my shoes were covered with blood.
Lack of surprise didn’t act as a buffer to a wave of horror.
I sat there thinking about what to do next. The maddening thing was that I had to really think about what to do next. It would have seemed, had someone casually described a situation in which I had made the discovery that I had blood all over my shoes, that it wouldn’t have taken a moment’s thought. I would have gone to the police. I would have told them where the stain had been incurred and tell them as much about it as I knew about it and be done with it.
But I had to work on it in this case. The first thought was in fact “go to the police”. But I shoved that thought out of conscious contention for a plan of action. It came back. I suppressed it again. It came back a third time and got up from the chair and I spoke aloud.
“Sure. Just go to the cops and say – in broken French – that I stumbled into a pool of blood in the Pavillon de la Trémoille. And, oh by the way, you won’t be able to find it because it isn’t really here and now. It was there and then. That should do it. I won’t need to sit here worrying about whether I’m sliding into nut land. I can just go tell that to the cops and they will put me away. I hear psycho care is quite good in France. Maybe that would be the best thing.”
I was really getting into it.
I sat back down and stared at nothing in particular. The apartment lit up with green glow of a passing tourist barge. I heard the door outside my door open and close.
“OK. That’s it.”
I opened my door and went to the landing and looked at the delicately crafted door that has been such a mystery to me since I have been here. The ancient opaque glass was emanating the glow that I always see coming from within it whenever I look at it. There were hints of shadows in the interior behind the window.
I have pretty well had enough happen to me of an abnormal and unexplainable nature to alter my normally cautious approach to doing things. Paramount among those cautious ways has been my shyness about finding out what is behind this door. After my first few encounters I have ignored it as best as I have been able. It has always glowed when I have looked at it, no matter what the time of day or the degree of sun or cloud.
Standing there with shoes covered with blood, the smell of blood wafting uncontrolled to my nose and a spate of nightmare experiences cluttering my head, I took the plunge. I put my hand out and grasped the handle.
Ever since the episode at Parc Montsouris I couldn’t help noticing the similarity of the handle on the door that I was now preparing to enter and the brass latch of Une Souris Verte. The only real difference was that the latch that I was about to try to flex was of a much more delicate sort. It matched the ornate delicacy of the rest of the door. But other than that it was identically configured for its purpose: that of allowing entry.
I heard a hoarse intake of air. It must have been me.
“This is ridiculous” I thought to myself “but I can’t help it. I am being pushed, and have been being pushed for some time now, way beyond my zone of comfort. Way beyond my zone of reasonable activity even.”
Once opened the door yielded overwhelming disappointment. What had been a glowing exterior immediately became an interior as dark as the hallway: the magic self timed lights in the hall had gone out.
I took a step inward and groped for any tangible evidence of something being there. Something like a chair, or table, or couch or anything that I could use as a touchstone for what the now darkened interior of the place might contain. Before I was able to make contact with any of these things, or any things of a similar sort, the search became moot.
A vista had opened before me. The room, if there had ever been one, was gone. In its place was a canopy of sky of the darkest bluest black. That sky was crackling with stars in numbers beyond imagination. And the wind – the intense icy wind – slowly spun the stars to the point of a symphonic, unified glitter.
There were fires. There were six of them. They formed a circle. And at the center of the circle was a massive table. Even in the flicker of the spinning stars’ light I could see that the table was of oak; it was of massive, massive oak. It had an obvious head and an obvious foot. The head had a raised piece of oak. It seemed to resemble a pillow, except for its size and for its oakness. It must have had a convex accommodation scooped out of it, such as might be desirable to have if a human form were to be prostrate upon its back on the table with head laid upon the “pillow”.
Because, that was the case.
Lying supine, held by massive leather straps, was the woman whom I had encountered beneath the tendril of smoke.
I said that the table had a foot. That was far beyond her feet – it was a big table and she was a small woman – but, beyond her leather bound ankles was the foot. And there was the dog.
She had said his name was Moustache.
I had seen all of this, not from a distance, but as if I were in its midst. I was standing at an acute angle right of the foot of the table and the dog. I was close. But my view was enhanced by something that seemed to be a telephototic enhancement of my vision.
The air became full of a chanting droning human sort of noise. Almost immediately I was able to understand what was being chanted.
“Because of the grave transgressions of this one’s mate we ask the gods to forgive the rest of us and accept her removal from us as our tribute to the gods and our atonement to them.”
I didn’t “hear” that.
I “understood” that.
The air was actually filled with sounds not at all dissimilar to those that I have heard at Gaelic literary festivals.
But that was what was being said.
The dog howled.
The woman said, as if she was aware of my presence – which could not have been possible due to her strapped position – “. I need you to save me. I need you back to take me from them.”
I was engulfed in a feeling that was an amalgam of fear leavened with a large component of self disgust wrapped in an envelope of despair.
I turned in the direction that I thought had been the direction from which I had entered this nightmare – the direction of the door – and stumbled through a starlessly dark never land. I looked to the side as I entered that darkness and saw the door. I saw its other side - the side that was opposite the hall landing. Instead of a latch this side was equipped with a cut glass knob.
Then I was back on the oak landing of the doorway of my apartment. The door to my place was open and I could hear through the open casement, the multi-lingual pastiche of a passing tour boat. The green light flashed off the walls, illuminating the entire room intermittently, and making my black ThinkPad look to be a bluish black – not dissimilar to the sky I had so recently abandoned.
“Who” I wondered, “opened the casement?”
I heard a dog howl as if it were a banshee or some other spirit from mythology. I heard and felt a scream that must have been from the woman. It had a physical – beyond the audible – component. It seemed to enter my ears and, upon exiting me – somewhere – it ripped a major part of me with its exit.
And then I “knew” or “heard” or “felt” – or whatever that unaccustomed telepathic form of communication might be – “that’s four”.
And the blood was gone from my shoes.