The Chapters So Far:
Foreign Deceptions and Home Truths: Satan’s Rock – Frederick Anderson’s Story Blog (frederick-anderson-stories.org)
The Cuckoo and the Nest: Satan’s Rock – Frederick Anderson’s Story Blog (frederick-anderson-stories.org)
Exploration and Discovery: https://frederick-anderson-stories.org/2021/05/02/satans-rock-9
Part Six: Butterfly
At first, in spite of the miasma Vincent’s welcoming spread of food had induced, Peter found his introduction to St. Benedict’s House fascinating. Shepherded by the erstwhile rock star, yet with scant guidance from either Vincent or Alice, he was able to interpret what he saw in his own fashion. Whatever drug Alice had introduced to him, although it did nothing for his balance, seemed to heighten his perception. The small wooden paneled door which now led into a quiet informal garden could be the side door Toqus had secretly used. He could visualize the big man’s form and the shining bronze of his skin, even believed for a moment that he saw his fleeting shadow, and he explained this to Vincent, who asked: “Who was this ‘Toqus’ geyser, then?” Peter managed to garble out the story of Crowley and his mysterious servant.
The long gallery, once buttressed onto the rock beyond these windows, had been torn off by the storm on the night Lord Crowley died, its debris cascading down three hundred feet to the sea. Now full length sheets of glass replaced it to form a sky-walk with a view which took Peter’s breath away.
Here might be the room where poor old Crowley spent his last night alive. Too ill to use the great stairway that fed the upper parts of the house, his bedroom was on the main floor. Although the décor was entirely changed, its oak doors opening now into a warm, modern dining room with a beautifully polished central table and Mackintosh chairs, still it was easy to imagine the big Georgian four-poster bed with its poor, huddled occupant.
“This is where we do the posh eating.” Vincent explained, unable to see, as Peter saw, beyond the recessed lighting and the plain, smooth walls in their sympathetically soft terracotta hue. Peter refrained from telling him of the likelihood that the house’s original owner had died in just this doorway. Certain information might be best left unsaid.
This, then, must have been the corridor along which the maidservant brought news of the old man’s death. In this smaller salon a widowed Lady Crowley had very likely entertained her scheming lover: of course, the designing Mr. Ballentine would have known all there was to know of the house in his day. As in Lord Crowley’s bedroom, though, little real clue to its distinguished past remained: just as the structure of the Great Hall had been gutted to accept the new, so most of the rooms had lowered ceilings with crisp, fresh interiors, refurbished for the comfort of Vincent’s music industry guests. Low volume audio played in most of them, and the air was redolent of nineteen-seventies glam rather than Regency hauteur.
Led hither and thither through so many different rooms all looking so much the same, Peter’s befogged brain began to descend from the height of its euphoria and to tire of the experience. Yet Vincent, clearly regarding his ‘place to be’ with pride, wanted him to absorb each space. Peter noticed, too, that Vincent was moved occasionally to leave him alone in a room, as though his presence might interrupt Peter’s appreciation in some way. He would have been intrigued had he overheard Vincent and Alice on one such occasion.
“Nothing!” Alice hissed in exasperation. “He doesn’t feel anything, he doesn’t see anything – he just wants to talk about bloody history!”
“Right, yeah, right!” Vincent soothed, “Maybe if you hadn’t dosed him up so much? Give him time, girl? He’s got to tune in, right?”
“Vince. Vince? Time is what we don’t have?” Alice paced as she spoke. “I agreed to this, God help me. I came down here because you told me you had the answer. And you’ve got nothing! Just a schoolkid and some crazy fantasy you dreamed up – probably after one of those iffy fags of yours. Well, I’m dead! I’m finished!”
“Will you calm down?” Vince said. “Have some faith, Al? He hasn’t seen everywhere yet, has he?”
“Where else? The guest bedrooms? He’s out on his feet now – are you going to take him around all of those? You said yourself the answer was down here. Where did you get him from anyway? How on earth do you know he’s ‘the right one’?”
“Trust me. I just do. Let ‘s take him through the atrium and do the studio now, right?”
Alice gave him a look of trust betrayed: “I can’t believe I’m going along with this! This is abduction, do you know that? You’re keeping this kid against his will! Look, ask him, Okay? Just ask him if he gets – oh, I don’t know – some vibe or something: whatever he’s supposed to get. Ask him.”
“Can’t do that, love.” Replied Vincent. “It has to be spontaneous. We’ll know when it happens, though.”
“If it doesn’t hurry up I’m going back to London – see if I’ve got a job left.” Alice shook her head sadly. “I did trust you, Vince – you, and your miracle solutions. I went for it, didn’t I?”
“Faith, Al, have faith.” Vincent urged, as he returned to the room which had once been the great kitchen of the old house. “Come on, Peter, mate. Come and see where I’ve got me own personal recording studio!”
The architect Quimple’s original plans for St. Benedict’s House had depicted a main building surrounding a central courtyard in a sort of horseshoe on three sides. Part of this courtyard had been intended as a sheltered garden, where his client could take the air while tempests raged and hurricanes blew, the rest, discreetly veiled by a columned palisade, a cobbled yard whereon much of the business of the house, deliveries of food, cleaning and drying of linen, etcetera, could take place.
The stable block with its attendant noise and odour was designed to be away from the house, forming part of a boundary wall on the seaward side, near the gatehouse. But with the fall of Crowley’s fortunes, and after the more physical fall of Quimple, Matthew Ballentine insisted that economies must be made; the stable was built across the open space which Quimple had intended as a garden. Thus the stables formed the fourth side of the courtyard, so other than access gates serving the tradesmen’s yard it completely enclosed the cobbled area. No-one had much objected to this transformation, in part because all the main windows of the house opened outwards onto the seaward sides, and in part because they knew no differently: Ballentine ensured the original plans were destroyed.
“This used to be a courtyard,” Vincent explained as he opened the small door from the one-time kitchen; “We threw a glass roof over the top, so it’s an ‘Atrium’ now. We got all sorts of stuff in here. The studio used to be a stable. Come and see!”
He led Peter into a small, enchanting garden, dissected by a path among giant tropical foliage and a bridge across a pond where golden carp swam sedately. A fountain played at one end of the garden, sending a tiny stream over a series of little cascades. Water plants scented the humid air and sun from the glazed roof created a rainbow. The mist was dusted with exotic butterflies, some catching the sunlight in vibrant flashes of pure color as they flew, others perched with gently flexing wings upon stone carvings of mythic creatures that lurked in the undergrowth to either side of the path. The enchantment was brief but liberating for Peter. Here, in a tiny tropical paradise, anxiety, stress, his worries about being missed, all dissipated.
It was an experience soon over, however, because for all its variety, Vincent’s temperate house was quite small and the studio-come-stable all too close. Not that Peter was uninterested in what was, after all, the first recording studio he had ever seen.
“Is this the mixing desk?”
Vincent nodded. “Yep. Just as good as any they got in the big company studios. I can do a full recording session here, editing, everything. Come and try the booth, Pete.”
So Peter stood in the sound booth, where he could not help imagining himself with headphones on and a band behind him as he sang. And there was a high stool to sit on, and there were guitars strewn carelessly about the place, and a drum set he wanted to play; but he could tell that for some reason Vincent was not so enthused, while Alice in her shuffling slippers inside the sound booth was positively twitching with impatience, so he did not ask if he could do these things. Instead, he made his excuses.
“Thank you for taking the time to show me all this;” Peter said, “But I think I really have to leave now.”
“Yep, I guess that’s it.” Vincent agreed with an odd, resigned sigh: “Thanks for visiting us, mate. I’ll show you out, Pete, yeah?”
Alice said nothing. Outwardly she seemed the same rather laid-back person who had greeted him at the beginning of his visit. There was a smouldering undercurrent, though, which Peter could not help but detect; and as he and Vincent made to return through the enchanted garden she flounced ahead of them, her hips swinging angrily and her squid-hands clenched so the tentacles were white.
In his dejection, Peter nearly missed the little drama playing out in by the pond. Had he not chanced to look down he would never have seen the giant white butterfly which, presumably while feeding on a piece of rotting fruit lying at the margin of the water, had got itself caught in weed. Two legs were firmly wedged in a frond that tightened its grip every time the poor creature struggled, and the golden carp were circling ominously like u-boats close by. Peter leaned down and released the captive, gently pulling the strands of weed apart until he could lift it clear of danger. The great insect then, far from flying away as he might have expected, clung to his finger as if in gratitude.
“What should I do with it?” He asked Vincent, entranced.
“Do you think he wants to go home with you?” Vincent smiled sadly: “Better let him settle somewhere to dry out, man.”
There was a rock beside the stream, a nice flat table-shaped stool of sparkly black granite where a butterfly might sunbathe, so Peter let it settle there. As he persuaded the creature to leave his hand he had to lean against the rock.
A scream wrenched itself from somewhere deep inside Peter’s head. He recoiled, clutching pointlessly at pain which was firing some furnace in an untouchable place: he twisted around, nearly fell, yet he could not snatch his hand away. Pulses of heat were radiating from the stone, engulfing his thoughts, turning them into shapes – images of people, places, exploding through his mind at terrifying speed. The figure of a faceless woman lost in an agony which cried out to him, wrenching at his heart: behind her, grasping her shoulders, a powerfully-built man whose eyes were filled with hate. A thin, enigmatic male image in clothes of a bygone time whose cadaverous features twisted and worked at some imagined discourse. As these three rushed by they were pursued by rows of soldiers; hundreds, no, thousands of soldiers in battle dress. A tall dark man of utter sadness broke from their ranks to come straight towards Peter, reaching out as though to claim him. The dark man grew larger, ever larger, until Peter knew he must be swallowed by the image: he was bound for oblivion, bound to be submerged, lost in the mass of this gargantuan figure. Then, just as he was about to give way, to plunge into the dark man’s despair, he seemed to tip backwards, and he felt himself tumbling, over and over, through featureless space. He was falling.
From out of the emptiness a townscape came rushing up to meet him. There were no figures now, no people or faces, just a street of buildings, shops, offices maybe: but the street was a pit, standing on its end and he was plunging helplessly down into a hot, raging sea which lay at the bottom. He cried out in terror. Boiling waves consumed him. He could not breathe, could not see. This was it: this was what drowning was like; the water reaching between his lips, into his nose, his throat, down into his lungs. Then, when he thought that death had come, there was a hand – soft plump skin, a persistent grip – a child’s hand. It slipped between his own scrabbling fingers as soft as dove feathers; and it led him, it guided him away. As abruptly as it had begun, the pain stopped.
Peter was back in the garden again. A few panic-induced gasps for air were needed before he could persuade himself he was free of the illusion, that he was not truly drowning. He slumped to the ground, his head gripped between his clenched fists. Looking up, he found his two hosts staring at him.
Vincent grinned broadly. “Bingo!” He said.
© Frederick Anderson 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.