Historical fiction novel, by Dimitris Apergis. Exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS in 36 weekly episodes, in English and Greek languages.
Synopsis: London, 1824. The boss of London's Crime Syndicate, Wilbur Barnaby, assigns two men to travel to the -rebelling against the Ottomans- country of Greece and locate the poet Lord Byron in order to obtain a gambling debt of his to the underworld. One of the two men is Welsh Bugs Hamhaduke, the so-called "neckwringer." The other is the enigmatic Lord Greywood. The two men will embark on an adventurous journey to the Greek city of Missolonghi via Paris. None of those involved, however, is aware of Lord Greywood's terrible secret: That he actually belongs to the Order of Strigoi Morti, the oldest and most dangerous generation of vampires.
ISBN : 978-618-00-1549-2
PRELUDE : Guilá Naquitz (1 chapter)
PART ONE : London (4 chapters)
PART TWO : Paris (10 chapters)
PART THREE : Vampires (10 chapters)
PART FOUR : Missolonghi (10 chapters)
EPILOGUE : Los Angeles (1 chapter)
[ep. 18 of 36]
During their inseparable companionship as vampires, the Lord and Hamhaduke were engaged in various exploits aimed at supporting the poor social class of Paris that lived in conditions of starvation as well as fighting some of the injustices that plagued the French capital. Although their actions essentially suggested two modern Robin Hoods, Hamhaduke was always introducing himself as Spring-heeled Jack, attributing to himself the additional designation criminal genius.
One night, for example, the two vampires robbed a dispatch of Banque de France and distributed the money to those in need. Another night, they eliminated an entire gang of ruthless blackmailers-usurers who plundered the slums of the eastern suburbs (thus giving Hamhaduke an opportunity to taste human blood again). Another night, they managed to retrieve the nine-year-old daughter of the du Courtemanche family from a gang of kidnappers who demanded an enormous amount of ransom for her release and returned her home safe and sound (though, in this case, the kidnappers were not punished by the two vampires but were dismissed with a strict warning). Another night, they found a corrupt wheat trader and ordered him to donate 20% of his profits to his workers whom until recently he had been exploiting with meagre wages (in this case, the two vampires were forced to show their sharp fangs because the gentleman initially refused to comply with their instructions). Such were the exploits of the two vampires, and Lord Greywood was pleased that Hamhaduke was gradually atoning not only for Josephine's death but for all his other victims.Then the two vampires made the decision to adopt a more moderate routine in their daily lives and to distance themselves from their heroic activities for the time being because they had already attracted the attention of the Parisian authorities. For that reason, they spent most of their time chatting in the small Montmartre abbey or making low-key night excursions to the quiet taverns of the city.
Although Hamhaduke was particularly enthusiastic in the performance of their various charities, Lord Greywood never deluded himself as to the true nature of his vampire friend. He was very well aware that deep down Hamhaduke was not pleased because his accomplishments helped to relieve the classes of the weak, but rather that he was having fun with the new pompous identity he had now acquired for himself. Not to mention, of course, the prospect of drinking fresh human blood which was in every case a very powerful (if not the only) motivation for Hamhaduke.
The Lord however did not stop hoping for a happy reconfiguration of Hamhaduke in the future. For the truth of the matter, the Lord had set as purpose of his existence to create an exemplary being of morality and intellect out of Hamhaduke. And - by heavens! - he was willing to do whatever he could to achieve it.
This peculiar characteristic of apathy had always been evident in the general conduct of the vampire Hamhaduke, but made its full manifestation on that fateful night of the visit of the two companions to the Louvre Museum. It all started when the Lord, observing Hamhaduke meditating with his eyes wide open in the Montmartre Abbey, suggested that they both visit the famous museum.
"Bugs, what would you say we visit the Louvre Museum tonight? You will see many remarkable things over there, things that might help you in these endless meditations of yours. You shall also cultivate a more sophisticated view of the arts, a fact that 'll definitely help you in your flirting with the French ladies."
"Hmm, yes. Why not. Why not, indeed."
While the two vampires walked on Rue de l ' Echelle, Hamhaduke seemed stubbornly cogitative, so stubbornly that occasionally inspired awe and fear. It was obvious that some concerns were bothering his mind, labyrinthine thoughts drowning him in these worried silences. However, the Lord considered this fact to be very encouraging because he had the unshakeable conviction that in order to evolve into an intelligent being, a vampire must undergo the (torturous) ordeal of successive reflections, to accept the challenges of supreme intelligence, to endure the tribulation of incessant queries that lead to annoying dead-ends and do not corroborate to some solid and unanimous conclusion. But there came the time when Hamhaduke wanted to break his silence and thereby diffuse the discomfort of those reflections.
"Lord, I want to have a talk about some issues. I want to ask you some things about these issues because your explanations have not completely satisfied me and I am constantly being plagued by queries."
"Of course, Bugs. Speak freely. What is it that concerns you?"
"I don't understand, Lord. I tried hard but I don't understand. I want us to discuss again, Lord, the importance of moral aesthetics. And I also want you to explain for me using concrete examples what is the link that connects morality and aesthetics. These are the issues that continue to stand unintelligible in my head."
The Lord broke into loud laughter. This laughter was spontaneous and the Lord could not suppress it. Hamhaduke stared at him embarrassed until he began to feel offended by this erratic behaviour of his vampire companion and frowned angrily wanting to know the reason for this sudden merriment.
"Hey Lord! What's so funny then? Do I look so ridiculous with my questions?"
"Oh, no ... No, Bugs ... I'm not laughing with you. Don't worry. I'm laughing at myself. I made a funny thought in my mind. I laugh every now and then with myself, Bugs. This is a quirk of mine you shall need to get used to."
"Could you share then that funny thought with me so we can laugh together?"
"There is absolutely no point in confessing my funny thought to you, Bugs. It's a thought that concerns me exclusively. You wouldn't find it funny at all."
"All right then. Since you've had your laugh with your funny thought, would you now have the courtesy to enlighten me as to my queries?"
"But yes, of course, Bugs ... I had talked to you about moral aesthetics before and how it derives from common sense. I shall therefore give you an example. An example so clear and explicit that it will eliminate any queries in your mind. Imagine a man being of sound mind and who's not in need of any psychiatric attendance because of - let's say - an incurable mental trauma. So suppose this man abuses or hurts or kills innocent children. There is no other specific reason why he is doing these vile acts beyond his imponderable will to do something evil just to spend his time less tediously than he would if he did something else or did absolutely nothing. So now I ask you: Shouldn't this man be punished? I believe so, and the same - I am sure - is believed by the overwhelming majority of people. If, then, you agree with me that this man is worthy of punishment, then we have both realised a form of rudimentary common sense between us. That is to say, we agree on an established truth that cannot be disputed. Got any questions so far?"
"Hmm, I don't think I agree with you, Lord."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't agree with you that this man is worthy of punishment."
"You're certainly joking."
"No, I'm not joking at all. I happen to have met such a man just as you described him. Guilford Davenport, his name. His nickname was Lollipop Guil because he was obsessed with abusing and killing underage children. And he was fine in his mind, I mean he didn't need any psychiatrists. Toddlers were just a quirk of his. All people have quirks. So let me tell you that Guilford might have seemed like a disgusting scum for your taste, but he had an ingenious mind with a great talent in mathematics. And I say this with a dose of empathy because I was jealous of him, since I was always a bonehead in maths and my brain wouldn't digest it. But believe me, Lord, the man was a real genius, and that was the opinion of many professors and academics who came to know him closely. And I ask: How many true geniuses of science are there in the world? Eventually, Guilford was arrested by the authorities and was led to the gallows. However I never cease to believe that society might have been rid of a scum, but the sciences definitely lost a great mind that would have much to offer to mankind."
"Bugs, could you do me a favour?"
"Tell me the favour and I'll answer you."
"Could you, when you meditate on concepts such as that of moral aesthetics, avoid looking back at the socialising of your vicious past? You shall never find the answers you are looking for if you regard your earlier lewd acquaintances as cases for socio-anthropological study."
"Hmm, I think I could do you this favour, Lord. However, keep in mind that my past - which you so easily reject - is all I have in this world. And if I really have to take a step forward as you urge me to do so, I ought to trace the teachings contained in my own past and not somebody else's."
"I understand your claim, I am not so callous in spirit. I simply ask you to consider that a concept such as moral aesthetics becomes quite complex in perception after a thorough investigation, and requires a wise mind who can appreciate its fancy ambiguity. Your past - like the malevolent people who comprise it - will not help you with this task."
"You're a vampire now, Bugs. See that you get used to the idea. Try to look at the world with different eyes, eyes that will have long forgotten that repulsive past."
"Are you a Christian, Bugs?"
"Are you a Christian?"
"Yeah ... hmm, yeah ... I mean, I was a Christian ... It would be slightly contradictory to identify myself as a Christian while I'm a vampire, right?"
"Same thing. As a former Christian, you must know Jesus' saying: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. I imagine this golden rule is familiar to you."
"We must not do to others what we do not want others to do to us. Right?"
"Precisely. So what would you say we agree upon this golden rule and we jointly deduce that anyone who does not adhere to this principle is an evil man and therefore needs punishment. And if this man manages to escape the punishment of the executive power of the people, then we, the vampires, take action and punish the said man and at the same time we get to taste human blood that we are occasionally in serious need of. How does that sound to you?"
"Hmm, yes. Sounds good to me. I guess."
The two vampires eventually arrived at the Louvre Palace where the museum was housed. Standing in front of Pavillon Sully 's façade, they gazed at its classic architecture that drew the eye as a god-sent muse. The obtuse angle at the top of the facade was defined by a triangular pediment framed by two female marble angels lying on either side. Four pairs of Caryatids made of alabaster supported this obtuse-angled pediment as columns, and between the pairs stood three oblong windows with arched lintels.
The two vampires entered the Richelieu inner courtyard and marvelled at the enormous statues of the river gods Loire and Seine as well as those of Fame and Mercury riding the winged Pegasus. Then the two of them entered the interior of the museum. Its enormous galleries exhibited works of art from far countries of the world, bygone civilisations, objects such as two-headed anthropomorphic statues from Jordan, Etruscan clay amphoras, limestone metopes with reliefs of goddess Sedu from Assyria, sarcophagi of Pharaoh from Egypt, silver rhytons in the form of goats from Ancient Persia, Mesopotamian Islamic art ceramics.
The two vampires wandered together for some time in the showrooms until they were separated and each one took his own route as the exhibits were innumerable and required individual attention from the visitors. The Louvre had this peculiarity in its rich scenery: It obliged the observer to faithfully follow his own introspective flow of thought in order to stimulate his intellect in the best possible way.
The predisposition of Hamhaduke's general questioning that night soon evolved into an intense aversion to the museum's exhibits. The works of art represented for Hamhaduke a world that caused him hostility, they constituted a separate universe of inaccessible ideas that stood contemptuously towards him, as if it depreciated the man's status to a crushing degree. Hamhaduke, refusing to accept this negative aura that the place emitted without cause, launched his reaction with derogatory comments which he whispered to himself.
The statue of Venus de Milo: “She's awkward, she's bland and her hands are amputated. The man who named this woman Venus was surely either sexless or queer."
The statue of Michelangelo's Dying Slave: “This must be the smallest cock in the world. This is definitely the smallest cock in the world."
The painting of Leonardo da Vinci 's Mona Lisa : "So this is the famous Mona Lisa? She looks like an East End prostitute strolling the streets for five shillings and I would gladly defecate on her face after humping her."
This sourness of Hamhaduke's soon began to be perceived by the museum's formally dressed visitors who, annoyed, drew distance from his overt presence. Nothing within the Louvre could ever form an emotional link with Hamhaduke, not even the Cycladic votive figurines that, with their lack of a physiognomy on their faces, seemed like they were trying to succeed in vain some sort of sweet support towards their glum viewer. But even the suffering expressiveness in the figures of El Greco's oil paintings wasn't able to alleviate the bile that poured out from the mouth of the condemnatory vampire.
After having had enough of the showroom spaces and mumbled so much that he finally ran out of saliva and swearwords, Hamhaduke took the decision to rest on the chaise longue of a showroom. That chaise longue stood before the statue of Sleeping Hermaphroditus, created by an anonymous sculptor of Roman antiquity. The statue depicted the androgynous mythological figure of Hermaphroditus recumbent on a mattress.
The element that initially stimulated Hamhaduk's interest was the shapely back of Hermaphroditus with his vigorous feminine rear and the athletic legs. But when he proceeded to examine the front aspect of the statue, he screamed an aggravated shout of disgust at the sight of the male genitals posing on the body instead of a female vulva. Exasperated by the overall impression left by the Louvre, Hamhaduke sat on the velvet burgundy duvet of the chaise longue without paying any attention to signora Di Cantone who was already seated on the same chaise longue and examined with pious devotion the anatomical details of the statue.
Signora Di Cantone was of Italian descent, a fact indicated by her family name. Her father was an Italian who settled in Paris fifty years ago, her mother was French from Provence. Di Cantone's father was a diamond maker in profession, one of the best of his kind, and his shop in the centre of Paris - the Di Cantone bijouterie diamant - became the most famous point of purchase of diamond jewellery. Signor Rodolfo Di Cantone, the king of diamonds.
When Signor Di Cantone and his wife passed away, their valuable fortune came to the possession of their only daughter. Thus signora Di Cantone was a wealthy lady of Paris who however, in her forty-nine years of age, remained single, childless and isolated. The reason for this became apparent as one looked at her face, which amongst others transmitted a sense of permanent melancholy.
Signora Di Cantone was born with a hormonal abnormality in her nature. This abnormality made her look masculine in appearance, especially in her face that suited more a man of middle age, a face haunted by coarse angles and deep lines and inelegant features. This physiognomic masculinity of hers gave her a comic style of authoritarianism on the borders of grotesque: looking at her, one would believe that it might be some reputable gentleman of the Chambre des Pairs Senate who decided out of pure madness to stroll the streets of Paris disguised as a woman.
Her skin was affected by wild brunette hair growth which signora Di Cantone thoroughly took care to remove using methods that could be repeated at regular times and which could cause her severe pain. This hormonal abnormality stigmatised signora Di Cantone from a very young age, alienating her social milieu and eventually casting her into a voluntary desolation which she stubbornly refused to release herself from. In a social environment where visual aesthetics posed an imperative necessity, signora Di Cantone represented both a scapegoat and a nadir.
Her Mediterranean temperament coupled with this unfortunate abnormality created in her character a compulsive intolerance towards people of diminished intelligence as well as admirers of subculture. Her general seclusion was the reason she spent her evenings travelling from the Di Cantone mansion of the Poissonniere district to the Louvre Museum in order to devote her two quiet hours to her beloved Hermaphroditus.
As he sat on the chaise longue, Hamhaduke gave her only a very hurried glance before focusing his gaze abstractly on the statue. That hurried glance however was in itself enough for Hamhaduke to ascertain that he had a very unsightly woman next to him, and possibly one with some incurable illness. This, of course, did not seem so paradoxical to him as he considered that only such people would fit the museum: freaks with frightening looks who would happily spend endless hours in the museum's showrooms rather than revelling with people in taverns.
The two remained silent on the chaise longue for quite some time. Until signora Di Cantone turned her face towards him and stared at him with a passive awkwardness as if she were struggling to find a rudimentary channel of communication with him. Her stare was of course noticed by Hamhaduke straight away.
It would be fair to state here on the author's behalf that Hamhaduke's sexual impulses had now been intensified to an exaggerated degree since his receiving of the vampire's anointment. As a result, his selectivity in regards to the female sex had now been nullified, and he now coveted any woman that happened in his way. So, at signora Di Cantone's stare, his sexual strokes made him to smirk in vulgar amusement and eventually awakened his hormones. He soon came to the conclusion that he would accept to sacrifice himself if given the opportunity and satisfy a woman who was -possibly-desperately seeking sexual contact with a man.
But even with this awkward move on the part of signora Di Cantone, Hamhaduke insisted on not turning his eyes away from the statue. He waited sadistically for her to start some silly discussion that would have undoubtedly to do with art. Signora Di Cantone lowered her gaze from shyness and then decided to speak to him.
"Hypnotic ... Wouldn't you characterise it as such? The statue of Hermaphroditus exerts a hypnotic power on the viewer, one that traps him defenseless in its marble sight." she said. Her voice was whispered with abrupt sharp tensions. Her fluent French accent did not in any way validate her Italian origins.
Hamhaduke turned his face and looked at her. That aphrodisiac impulse which shined complainingly on her retinas caused a malevolent bliss in him. Oh yes, she was ugly, very ugly. But he wouldn't mind offering her a service. It wouldn't cost him anything, anyway. On the contrary, it would have been an extremely entertaining experience for him to personally observe her (undoubtedly) sex-starved vagina angrily seeking the pleasures it was entitled to. Oh yes, Hamhaduke had already begun to be occupied by erotic fantasies in regards to signora Di Cantone even if he hadn't even spoken a word to her yet.
"It's the most disgusting and perverse thing I've ever seen in my life," he replied, referring to the statue of Hermaphroditus.
Signora Di Cantone's face adopted an eerie expression of utter indifference, one that surprised Hamhaduke. That was an unexpected expression for her rugged face and conveyed to him a cold dejection. Her bulgy nose seemed to be agonising from the vindictiveness of the female sex beneath the crude skin. But the mind of signora Di Cantone - based on the reading of that eerie expression - seemed to slip away from the bounds of charmless reality and to move to another planet, a planet inconceivably distant from the Earth. That planet - unlivable, freezing, burning, suffocating, humid, deserted, serene, a planet just made for one - appeared as her ultimate refuge, invisible to humanity and its empty conventions. These were the things that Hamhaduke diagnosed in that eerie expression of signora Di Cantone's.
"I have now gone beyond designations such as disgusting and perverted. I stand above disgust and perversion. So above that I was struck by unparalleled beauty. This is what Hermaphroditus represents to me: unparalleled beauty." she told him, and her trimmed eyebrows returned to their previous idleness.
"I wonder how one can find unparalleled beauty in an abomination of nature," countered Hamhaduke with pugnacity.
"Abomination of nature? I'm sorry, did you just say abomination of nature?" said signora Di Cantone.
"How else could I characterise it? Is this a normal person represented by the statue?" said Hamhaduke.
"No ... Certainly not ... But Hermaphroditus is above even the normal ... He rests indolently in his unassailable existence, on that apocryphal bed that stands beyond characterisations and questionings. His androgynous individuality isn't but a cheap utmost trick in order to escape the thorough research of the spectators and to be entrenched in his silent loneliness. Many fall into this trap and refuse to look at him more than is necessary. Hermaphroditus, monsieur, requires a shrewd mind who can appreciate his fancy ambiguity," said Signora Di Cantone.
"Should I assume then, that, being both man and woman, Hermaphroditus achieves a completeness that we, the common mortals, do not come anywhere near to?" said Hamhaduke ironically.
"Yes ... You could very well assume that ... Compared to Hermaphroditus, we are all tragically incomplete." replied signora Di Cantone sharply and turned her gaze back at the statue.
Hamhaduke made a hollow groan through his nostrils. This move of signora Di Cantone's to distract her gaze off him seemed in his own senses as a display of outright contempt. And Hamhaduke had received enough contempt for one night, so much that his stamina was outweighed for good.
He made a momentary reasoning with his mind, one that proved to be saving as to his irritated nerves: he assumed that signora Di Cantone - in spite of her shameful ugliness - should have an undeniable experience in the minds of hypocritical men who'd desire to exploit precisely this misery of hers in order to satisfy their malicious appetites. Certainly signora Di Cantone would not be ignorant as to the slimy ploys of male rabble.
Having processed all these facts in mind, Hamhaduke wagered that signora Di Cantone should be smart enough to discern the lewd glare in his eyes. What Hamhaduke ought to do now was to convince her that he was not one of those hypocritical vagabonds who just aimed to pleasure their phallus without giving her the proper respect. Or the due tenderness.Signora Di Cantone now posed a challenge for Hamhaduke. He had to deploy his cunning instinct to talk her around. So he rolled up, preparing his next words with her. He concluded that the best tactic to accomplish his purpose hereto was to maintain his disapproving attitude unchanged.
"I cannot find any meaning in this statue. I don't see the reason for its existence. Isn't it an artwork's obligation to educate the public and provide food for thought? What exactly does this monstrous concoction of man and woman symbolise? Why should I esteem a creation that causes in me nothing but repulsion and malcontent?" said Hamhaduke impromptu.
Signora Di Cantone did not respond. She stared at Hermaphroditus lost in her thoughts. Hamhaduke felt offended once again by these insidious displays of arrogance in her behaviour. Now overwhelmed by rage, he let his eyes examine - sneakily but in excruciating detail - both her body language and the stifling clothing she wore from top to bottom.
Signora Di Cantone was wearing a thick deep-green velvet overcoat with strips which begun from a tight conical neckline and ended at the ankles. A flounce of black lace covered her neck while she wore a pompous deep green hat with a small brim and decorative imitations of pink voile flowers on her head. Her boots were deep-green too and reached her shins, tied with lacings. Two accessories complemented the outfit: an umbrella and a fan, both in black. The only points that were in sight from the naked flesh of signora Di Cantone below her (obviously aristocratic but also suffocatingly prudish) attire were her face and her hands from wrist to fingertips. On her left wrist, a diamond bracelet. Signora Luisa Di Cantone, the princess of diamonds.
Studying her thoroughly while she stood silent, Hamhaduke unwittingly committed a gaffe: he allowed his undead aspect to overpower his human one. This happened on its own, without forcing it himself. Consequently, his erotic fantasies of passionate sighs and funny flashes on signora Di Cantone's part were soon replaced by the blood-thirsty cravings of the vampire. The female body with the masculine imperfections beneath the thick velvet no longer supplicated for carnal pleasures but it rather suggested coldly and irrevocably a carrier of fresh human blood.
Hamhaduke now stood indecisive as to his true intentions with her. But before he'd manage to attempt some new verbal manoeuvring, signora Di Cantone performed a monologue unleashing her inner thoughts:
"You're just making a commonplace argument from the ones made by the average person. I'm not blaming you, it is your right. The subject of your criticism, however, concerns the tastelessness of the statue. And I don't think I'm the right person to talk about tastelessness. A look at my face, monsieur, is enough to convince you that I am not one of those people who would ever accuse Hermaphroditus of tastelessness. Quite the opposite in fact. Hermaphroditus has now become my brotherly friend, a compatriot with whom I am defined by very close ties. Wondering why I call him my compatriot ? Hermaphroditus, monsieur, was found beneath the grounds of the Gardens of Sallust in Rome. The spot he was excavated from is very close to my ancestors' home, the Casa Di Cantone . Thus, Hermaphroditus is to me a companion with whom we share the same homeland as well as the foreigner's bitterness in a strange city. But we also share another common trait: we are both created in such a way as to draw people's query, their embarrassed discomfort, their inability to trace the highest logic within us. You know, people think of me too as a hermaphrodite. These are the things that unite me with Hermaphroditus. What separates me from him is the fact that Hermaphroditus possesses the luxury of apathy in the face of human judgement. Embraced, as he is, in his cold marble he feels no pain from a human environment while I, on the contrary, have to endure it. I have nothing against people, they too have their own share in misery as I do. It's just that, it sometimes takes a lot of courage on my part to get them to accept that I'm not a man who was born accidentally as a woman. There are times when I have to try and persuade them to see me as merely a woman who simply lacks in beauty. I am anything but a beauty, monsieur, as you can judge for yourself. I suffer from a hormonal abnormality that has plagued my life since its inception. Nature has severely wronged me. But it was nature itself that taught me that there is another abnormality in man, far worse than mine. That is the stupidity, the degraded spirit. That is why I always treat the fools with superiority and contempt. Let's face it, the world is full of them. They have flooded the world for good, the fools. It is not difficult to distinguish them from the crowd, the fools. It is they who are responsible for the rotten course of humanity. It is usually those who like to philosophise about morality or aesthetics. It is they who regard me as eccentric and weird. Or even as mentally handicapped. The fools are the reason why I visit the museum on a daily basis, the reason why I keep observing Hermaphroditus in case I may harvest some of his freezing apathy."
Hamhaduke took a while to analyse the situation hereto. His mind was now completely detached from dreamings of infernal orgasms, and he was now managing the bursting thirst for the blood that was constantly flowing in signora Di Cantone's vessels. Having felt an obscure invitation (which could well be described as erotic) through her intimate speech, Hamhaduke decided to attack by applying to her heartstrings.
"I never cared about people's opinions or beliefs," he said, assuming an elegiac look on his face. "I could even claim that I am sharing this common trait with you, madam: I am, like you, an outcast of society. That is why I understand you deeply. An incident has occurred in my life recently, an incident that I am not allowed to say much about but which changed me radically as an entity. But I assure you, madam, that regardless of this incident, my treatment of people has remained unchanged and I continue to be as insentient in regards to the human factor as ever, without discriminations. I never thought I should suffer someone I am jealous of because they are smarter than me or someone who annoys me with their stupidity. Morality and aesthetics are meanings without substance to me. If I don't like someone, I just eliminate them. On the spot. Without a second thought. Through this methodology, I am always able to reap the most beautiful pleasures in life."
"You eliminate them? How exactly do you eliminate them?” asked signora Di Cantone enquiringly.
"Oh, I beg you, do not press me to say more than is necessary. I only dared to confide in you some of my secrets, those which I keep hidden from people all over. And I did this because I recognised in you a soul that stands interconnected with mine. If I was wrong in my estimation, I humbly ask you to forgive me.” sighed Hamhaduke, suppressing in him the sardonic giggle that was constantly struggling to signify its presence in his facial muscles.
Signora Di Cantone's gaze hardened. She then dozed off her eyelids hedonistically, examining Hamhaduke's abominable hypocrisy. The idea passed through her mind to ignore him right away, interrupting every conversation with him. But it wasn't what she really wanted. Hamhaduke - rightly or wrongly - had excited within her the venom of curiosity. She therefore did not intend to miss the opportunity of a playful discussion with him. And this was in order to discern the size of his nerve behind this melodramatic facade.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, monsieur."
"It is obviously your intention to mock me."
"To mock you? How exactly did you get that impression, madam?"
“We don't know each other but only for a few minutes of time. And our discussion was nothing more than a trivial exchange of views in regards to a work of art. I offered you an unremarkable confession of my emotions to show you how art can redeem or exalt the human soul from the anxieties of barbaric routine. It was a pointless confession, all I did was to bring myself up as an example to support my argument. And yet you attempt to take this confession as a sign of weakness and to begin a whole operation of mockery at my expense."
"You have not yet explained to me where it is exactly you base your accusation of mockery, madam."
"Just now - indirectly, albeit implicitly - you introduced yourself as a potential murderer, monsieur."
"Did I actually do that?"
"Yes, that's what you did. How else could I interpret your implications about eliminations of humans? "
"I'm very much afraid that you've misunderstood me, madam. I always speak on a philosophical basis. You have interpreted my speech as a confession of guilt while in actuality I merely collated some basic facts about my attitude of life that I have been faithfully adhering to as a human being. "
"You therefore claim so boldly that you have discovered the meaning of life? Have you witnessed the solution of the cosmic enigma and you are living a life completely devoid of grief and misery?"
"My dear madam, I do not know if I have really discovered the meaning of life. I might as well have discovered it, but I may not have noticed it. For one thing I assure you though: my life is nothing more than a constant sail on seas of bliss. I have always believed that life is given for entertainment and not for sadness. So I acted according to this doctrine, as I continue to do. There are people who pant and struggle and suffer in order to discover the meaning of life. I don't belong to them. I am always happy as this is dictated by the doctrine I serve. And if there is anything that stands in the way of my happiness, I just take it out of the way and become happy again like before. I draw my own independent course on this world, madam, and I conquer the kingdoms I deserve. I count no resistances in my path, I smite the resistances and forge ahead. I have no fear nor regret, my allies in this lonely expedition are the trees of the forests and the stones of the earth and the birds of the sky. Now tell me, where do fear and regret fit in when I lead such an army?"
Signora Di Cantone considered Hamhaduke's response sufficiently disarming and felt a shy uplift in her heart. But this uplift of hers was nothing compared to the sweet horror that overwhelmed her when Hamhaduke's eyes focused on her own eyes. She gave in hypnotically to the flame-red hue that now flowed from the irises of his eyes and pervaded incandescent in the atmosphere, burning and obliterating concepts as foul as those of space and time. That lethal glint in his eyes was interpreted in her own sense as dark happiness barricaded in its impregnable fortress. It was no longer possible for signora Di Cantone to defuse the unyielding impetus that prompted her to learn the man's well-sealed secrets, and so she resumed her courage by overcoming any hesitation.
"You indeed appear to be a special man, monsieur. A man with exceptional talents ..."
"I may as well be, madam. I may as well be, indeed."
"I would like to know, monsieur ... I would like you to educate me ... I want you to indicate to me the way by which you manage to be so happy in your life..."
"Are you certain, madam? ... Could it be that you are just consumed by that temporary curiosity that has no real purpose and it only exists simply to exist? Let me quote for you the saying of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love."
This quote of St. Bernard's was one of the little things that Hamhaduke used to pick up from his discussions with Lord Greywood. Hamhaduke had now made a habit out of it, he used to memorise quotes uttered by Lord Greywood here and there, and then made use of them whenever the circumstances required. Of course, signora Di Cantone was unaware of this, and - thinking that Hamhaduke possessed sophisticated dispositions of his own - increasingly fell under his magic spell.
"My purpose is happiness, monsieur. If happiness corresponds to unworthiness, then let me be blamed for spiritual misery and be punished for it. I am ready for such a punishment ... And since you had the noble kindness to cite St. Bernard of Clairvaux for my sake, allow me to juxtapose another quote of his: The true measure of loving God is to love him without measure. If therefore I am going to see God through your own intercession, monsieur, I want this to happen in all its glory. Because this is a happiness I seek in its entirety."
"Are you certain, madam? ... I mean, are you certain you wish so much happiness? You know, you might not be able to bear it."
"Yes ... I'm more confident than ever ... I'm more confident about it than anything else in this world ..."
"All right, then ... Surrender yourself to my will, madam ... Surrender to my will, and I shall reveal to you the meaning of life ... I shall reveal to you the great solution to the riddle of the cosmogenic Sphinx ..."
Thus spoke Hamhaduke and gently grabbed signora Di Cantone's hand. And she obediently surrendered to his touch whilst reciting the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
O chaste and holy love! O sweet and gracious affection! O pure and cleansed purpose, thoroughly washed and purged from any selfishness, and sweetened by contact with God’s will! To reach this state is to become godlike. As a drop of water poured into wine loses itself, and takes the color and savor of wine; or as a bar of iron, heated red—hot, becomes like fire itself, forgetting its own nature; or as the air, radiant with sun—beams, seems not so much to be lit as to be light itself; so for those who are holy all human affections melt away by some incredible mutation into the will of God.For how could God be all in all, if anything merely human remained in man? The substance will endure, but in another beauty, a higher power, a greater glory.
Meanwhile, Lord Greywood was a few showrooms away from Hamhaduke and signora Di Cantone, in front of Antonio Canova's marble sculpture Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss that had just been entered to the museum. The sculpture represented a scene from the Latin novel of Asinus Aureus (= The Golden Ass) by Lucius Apuleius in which Cupid revives Psyche with his kiss. The Lord was studying the ethereal way in which the mythological figures of Cupid and Psyche merged to share the coveted kiss on the lips. Then his gaze examined the wings of Cupid that were stretched high as if by burning pleasure.
Bearing in his memory the tale of Apuleius, the Lord began to explore the meaning of the jar that lay behind the bodies of the two lovers. And then he recalled that it was the jar that the goddess of the Underworld, Proserpina, had supposedly filled with beauty. It was the jar for which Aphrodite had warned Psyche to not open or peep into the [jar] you carry, and repress all curiosity as to the "Imprisoned Treasure of Divine Beauty". Psyche disobeyed Aphrodite's warning and eventually stared at the jar's inside to get some beauty for herself. But the goddess Proserpina had not filled the jar with beauty but rather with the “Sleep of the Innermost Darkness, the night of Styx, which freed from its cell rushed upon her and penetrated her whole body with a heavy cloud of unconsciousness and unfolded her where she lay.”
This was the first time Lord Greywood had come close to Antonio Canova's sculpture. He was, however, aware of the criticism that this work had drawn from the distinguished German art critic Carl Ludwig Fernow who, before his death, complained that there is no singular view from which it should be seen, you must run around it, look at it from high and low, up and down, look at it again and keep getting lost; but the observer strives in vain to find a point of view from which to see both faces together, and in which to reduce each ray of tender expression to one central point of convergence.’
Desiring to test Fernow's theory in person, the Lord began to make slow circles around the sculpture examining its details but also comparing its symmetries from every angle. And it was then, while he was doing those indolent circles, that he received a sharp sting in his consciousness, a precognition that made him freeze all over and stop his walk.
No, his sense did not falter. Something bad was about to happen or it was already happening.
Lord Greywood abandoned Cupid and Psyche in their silent idyll and set out to locate Hamhaduke inside the museum. He used his wolf's developed sense that allowed him to immediately distinguish the sweaty smell of the obese Hamhaduke from the other intoxicating aromas of the Parisian aristocracy. He arrived at the statue of Hermaphroditus. The chaise longue that stood before the statue was empty. The Lord looked around and watched the tail from Hamhaduke's coat emerge behind the corner of a wall. Hamhaduke was hidden in a small square joint that was formed secluded on the wall and he was obviously busy with someone or something.
Lord Greywood rushed towards that little joint in a fury. Once there, he was horrified upon seeing Hamhaduke having plunged his sharp fangs into signora Di Cantone's throat and relentlessly bloodsucking her. Signora Di Cadone stood motionless in Hamhaduke's embrace. Her face was wrinkled by the extraordinary blood loss. Her eyes were focused high within their freezing apathy, as if to betray the peremptory departure of the woman for the planet she'd created in her imagination and which always constituted her ultimate refuge.
The Lord grabbed Hamhaduke by the shoulder. Hamhaduke turned abruptly and looked at him in fear. Signora Di Cantone collapsed dead on the floor.
"Imbecile!" grunted Lord Greywood through his teeth and gave Hamhaduke a strong slap that sent him a few yards away.
Hamhaduke sat up on the floor and shook his head to recover from the blow. He got angry. A wild roar sounded from his bowels. He stood up and moved towards the Lord with a threatening look. With a quick gesture that would not be captured by human eye he sent his fist into the Lord's face. The Lord failed to avoid the punch. Hamhaduke had now become accustomed for good in the supernatural qualities of Strigoi Morti that now made him fast in movement. The punch was strong and it threw the Lord into the wall, almost unconscious. A crack formed on the wall from the Lord's force.
"I've tolerated you enough, Lord. That's enough. I don't want to hear any more nonsense about moral aesthetics and all related drivel again. I suggest you gather all of your goodwill scab-philosophies and stuff them in your butt. Our partnership ends here. And it's over, for good. I'll follow my own path now. I don't need you anymore. I'm almighty. You hear that? Almighty!” said Hamhaduke, standing over the Lord.
The Lord did not respond but was overwhelmed once again by loud laughter. Hamhaduke looked at him puzzled, unable to understand the cause of these laughs. Such was the Lord's laughter that it plunged him into a vertigo whilst having his back resting on the wall. And the laughs continued until the Lord's eyesight had sunk entire into a black darkness. Blacker than tar.
What the hell are you laughing at, Lord?
What's so funny?
Tell me what you're laughing for, you cretin!
He woke up.
[to be continued next Friday, 15 May 2020, exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS]
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A few words about the author
Dimitris Apergis was born in Larisa, Greece, in 1978. He graduated in BA (Hons) Film Studies in the UK. He lives in Greece.
His books are published in both English and Greek languages, by the OKYPUS PUBLISHING. https://en.okypus.com/okypus-publisher
Dimitris has received several awards for his literary work.
In 2018 he received the First Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his novel Gerard & the father. Additionally, in 2018 his novel Gerard & the father also received the First Literature Award at the 8th International Literature Contest held by E.P.O.C. (Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus) under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2017 his novel ‘At the Whiskey County’ received the First Literature Award at the 7th International Literature Contest held by the Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2015 his novella ‘Jazz Room’ received the Second Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers.
In 2013 he received a Praise from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his short story Labyrinth.
In 2012 he received the First Literature Award from the MONITOR Press for his short story Acid Rain.