The House

It was early October when the man took over the job of directing restoration work in the ancient house in the east of the city, near the tidal tributary that flows south to join the estuary of the great river, along which trade was plied before Memphis and Babylon. The house, despite its Georgian frontage, had been built during the reign of Henry VIII upon the remains of a still older dwelling, the cellars of which had recently been excavated. Fragments of Saxon pottery and glassware from the late Roman period, found during digging work to shore up the foundations in the damp clay that lay beneath the city, showed the house to be a palimpsest of construction dating back some seventeen centuries.

None of this was the man’s immediate professional concern as he carefully oversaw the renovation of Tudor timbers and Jacobean windowpanes, but he’d always been deeply fascinated by history and especially by the layering of remains upon still older remains over the course of hundreds or thousands of years. The work he was now undertaking of course required him to have a good understanding of the current building, of how it had originally been laid out in the Tudor period before being altered in subsequent centuries, of the specific type of brick and cuts of timber from which it had been constructed and of the techniques its builders had used almost five hundred years ago. But in the course of his researches into the construction and fabric of the house, the conservator uncovered fascinating hints about one of its past inhabitants.

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Notes, 10 Oct. Good progress in structural survey of timbers in ground and first floor. No major fractures, bowing, shearing or cavities. Old woodworm holes everywhere of course but only bad enough to warrant replacement in a few small areas. Plasterwork generally sound except in lower half of ground floor where repairs after 1934 flood were incomplete. Additionally some shoddy early-mid C20 restoration work needs replacing. C17 window panes surprisingly intact – some lead ought to be re-soldered/replaced.

            Still reading up about the builder. Roger Demontfort sounds like a right character! No further clues as to how he fell out of favour with H XIII. Catholic, possibly suspected as early counter-Reformation conspirator. Must investigate legend re. his tutorship of Dee.

 

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As the conservator went between the British Library, the reading room at the British Museum and various smaller libraries, collecting information pertinent to the job in hand, he spent more and more time poring over the biographical details (such as they were) of Demontfort, the man who had built and first lived in the house. It appeared he had been born into a family of minor nobility that had fallen into genteel poverty during his childhood, but that while still a young man he had managed somehow to reverse his family’s declining fortunes and indeed not only restore their former wealth, but soon to outstrip even the wealth of his grandfather, Piers Demontfort, who’d owned a large tract of fertile land in Wiltshire.

However, the conservator’s attempts to reconstruct the life of the house’s builder drew a complete blank between Demontfort’s mid-teens and mid-twenties. It was as if he’d simply vanished for almost ten years.

Notes: Oct 21. Last reliable record of correspondence from Demontfort is a note to his schoolmaster dated Feb 1521 (∴ D. was 15). Note is slightly cryptic but appears to be a request to his schoolmaster to allow D. to take up schooling with an Arab merchant rather than go up to Trinity Hall like his father. Then apparent lacuna in all documents relating to D. until 1530.

For the time being, the conservator decided to suspend his investigations of Demontfort – which, after all, he’d been pursuing purely for his own amusement – and concentrate on the house itself. After the general survey for structural soundness, his next task was to try to ascertain as accurately as possible the original layout of the interior, which had been much changed over the centuries, especially by a Jewish cloth merchant who’d lived there with a large family around a hundred years after Demontfort’s time. Of course, even the altered parts of the house were deeply historical, and he was limited in what he could do to reverse any of the changes, but it was hoped that a detailed plan of the property ca. 1550 could be produced for display once it was reopened to the public next year.

His starting point was a copy of a plan of the house made shortly after Demontfort’s disappearance in 1556, upon which the house had been seized by the Church and become the personal property of the Bishop of Southwark. This curious occurrence had been caused by Demontfort’s failure to marry or to produce any known offspring, legitimate or otherwise, and by his mysterious fall from grace with Henry XIII and his newly-founded Church of England. Promising himself that he’d investigate this shadowy train of events at a later date, the conservator got to work with the decrepit and barely-legible parchment document that was kept in the vaults of Southwark Cathedral.

It was by now November, and the conservator’s work was stopped completely for over a week as structural engineers came in to shore up the foundations following several days of intense rain that had softened the clay on which the house was built. The subsoil beneath the house had become a honeycomb of small tunnels and trenches dug by archaeologists interested in the earliest phases of the site, and the appearance of a minor watercourse alongside the plot, swollen by the heavy rainfall, made emergency measures necessary. The conservator was not downhearted, however, as by this time his obsession with Demontfort had actually exceeded his professional interest in the house he was being paid to restore.

Having come to a dead end concerning the early life of Demontfort himself, the man began a side project to discover as much as possible about the obscure Arab merchant the young Demontfort had taken up with. Yusuf Al-Moussali had apparently been born in Baghdad around 900 AH, the son of a respected mullah, and had travelled extensively in his youth throughout Mesopotamia, Persia and Palestine, although by far his longest period of travel had been a stint of several years living as a nomad among a Bedouin tribe in Egypt’s western desert.

These details were all found in a manuscript by John Dee which appeared to be an incomplete biography of Demontfort, and which bolstered the conservator’s conviction regarding some deep connection between the two. The manuscript was in the possession of a private collector of mediaeval and renaissance occult literature, to whom the conservator was directed by a librarian at the British Museum’s reading room.

Notes: Nov. 3. Unable to proceed practically for four days now. Clay-rich soil totally saturated and v. slippery – arch’ists should have been more careful with their damn tunnels! Silver lining: delays have allowed me to continue research into Dem. Totally unexpected revelation re. Dee manuscript describing Dem. and his time with Al-Moussali. Dee cagey about nature of relationship between Al-Moussali and the young Dem. – poss. sexual? More research needed.

One passage in the manuscript that particularly aroused the conservator’s interest referred to a ritual that Dee said had been conducted by Al-Moussali and Demontfort in the Egyptian desert not far from Giza, some four centuries before a similar ritual was supposedly carried out at the same spot by Aleister Crowley and an acolyte. The name of the ritual is recorded as ‘The Rite of Tothis’, i.e. Thoth. This is not what Crowley had called it, but the location and similarities between the details made it seem unlikely the Edwardian occultist had been unaware of Demontfort’s experience.

The conservator was by this time gripped by the thrilling sensation that he was standing at the brink of some breathtaking revelation – a wholly unforeseen discovery that linked practitioners of the occult across continents and centuries.

While the reconstructed web of evidence had so far relied on secondary sources, the conservator made a discovery in mid-November that threw his unofficial investigation into Demontfort into a new light: a wooden chest stashed behind a panel in the staircase that contained a number of objects, including a hand-written book in several volumes that appeared to date from the 16th century and which, the conservator realised with astonishment and joy, was the journal and notebook of Roger Demontfort himself.

The man’s excitement was increased rather than tempered by frustration upon opening the four fragile values and finding that the content was written in a bizarre mixture of English, French, Latin, Arabic and a language written in characters he’d never seen before and could not initially identify. Upon further reference to John Dee in books held in the British Library, the strange script turned out to be the alphabet of the ‘Enochian’ language in which Dee and his ‘scryer’ Edward Kelley had claimed to communicate with angels. However, when transliterated the text was neither in Dee’s invented language nor any language the conservator could recognise.

Notes: Nov 17. DEM’S BOOKS! Still here after all this time – can’t believe it! Ca. 1/4 of text in English, hard to make out but not impossible. Rest is in other languages, will need help with translation esp. of Arabic parts, though these are mostly terse and appear to be incantations from what I can make out of the English and bits of the French.

By this time, the conservator had begun spending his nights in the old house, telling himself and his colleagues it was simply the sensible option given how long he was working there each day and how long it took him to travel there and back from his home in the southwest of the city. The real reason was in order to be alone in the property after the archaeologists and workmen had gone home in order to attempt some of the rituals described in Demontfort’s books.

The man could not truly explain to himself what was happening to his feelings with regard to the house and its builder, which had long since turned from interest to obsession and were now, he knew, bordering on monomania. He’d been a level-headed rationalist since childhood and had always had a scientist’s way of looking at the world; now he was both disturbed and intrigued by his desire not merely to read Demontfort’s occult writings but even to attempt some of the procedures described in them. He knew that a couple of months ago he’d have laughed at himself for such thoughts, but now all he could think of were the strange gaps and inconsistencies in Demontfort’s biography and his eventual disappearance without trace.

Notes: Dec. 9. Dem.’s notes hint at some sort of incense used to achieve the right mental state for rituals – hard to make out archaic terms for ingredients but seems to involve frankincense, opium, hashish and henbane. No contacts for hash since college, god knows about the other stuff.

Some two months after the start of the restoration project, the conservator started to have experiences around the old house which he could not rationally account for, and which seemed to increase in frequency as he read more of Demontfort’s manuscripts. He’d start translating a page of cryptic French while the sun was shining brightly in through ancient diamond windowpanes and pause after what seemed only ten minutes to discover that it had become totally dark and that he was straining to read by the diffuse yellowish glare of street lights. On other occasions he would doze off at the desk he’d set up in the old study and suddenly awake in another room, standing bolt upright, with no idea of how he had come to be there. Once he fell into a reverie while typing up notes on his laptop and came to with a start, finding that he’d typed half a page of nonsense. Chiding himself for working while clearly far too fatigued to pay proper attention, he was about to delete the meaningless text when he realised with a sudden jolt that the non-words he’d typed in his delirium bore an uncanny resemblance to the text he’d transliterated from the Enochian characters in the manuscripts. A quick reference to his notes from a couple of weeks earlier confirmed it; not only was the general sound of the nameless language the same as the text he’d typed, but many of the same ‘words’ could be identified.

This was the first occurrence that really shook the man and made him pause to question the wisdom of his actions. The earlier events he could put down to overwork – for some time now he’d been labouring either on the restoration project or his own researches for up to fourteen hours a day – insufficient sleep and food, and the disorienting subject matter of his obsession with Demontfort. But this was something else entirely. Shakily, he deleted the bizarre text, telling himself that he must have subconsciously memorised some of the meaningless words he’d decyphered from the occultist’s books.

For a week or so he dedicated himself to restoration work, successfully putting all thoughts of Demontfort out of at least the front parts of his mind and busying himself with practical tasks. Demontfort’s books he hid in a holdall in the room he was using for a study, telling himself he’d hand them to the British Museum when the work was complete, and happily imagining himself taking part in the press conference that would surely attend the discovery of such an important document of Renaissance occult lore. The workmen under his direction noticed that the distracted air the conservator had emanated for the past few weeks had abated, and good progress was made. The replacement of the shoddy twentieth-century plasterwork was completed, the last few pieces of damaged lead in the windowpanes were resoldered and orders were placed with a firm specialising in old-fashioned fabrics to have authentic Tudor-style drapes and curtains made to replace those that had been removed or had mouldered away to nothing over the centuries. Each evening the conservator left the house and returned to sleep in his own home, and for the first few nights slept soundly, with only meaningless commonplace dreams that he forgot upon waking.

Towards the end of that week, however, he dreamed on several consecutive nights that he was standing outside the ancient house in the east of the city. It was night and the stars and moon shone brightly; there was no traffic noise or street lighting and the man got the impression that he could be in any historical epoch, or perhaps outside mundane Time altogether. Something within the house was calling to him, beckoning irresistibly – not with words but with some siren call that was wholly pre-verbal. The man knew that someone, or something, was in the house, waiting for him, and he must not keep her waiting. Her?! Where did that come from? But it was undeniably a feminine presence that drew him on, through the unlocked door of the house, through the hall and up the stairs to the bedroom. He opened the door to find the room unlit – not merely unlit, in fact, but filled with an enticing, velvety blackness. He sensed an absence rather than a presence, but an absence that was in some strange way a presence in its own right. The dreaming man walked into the room, was swallowed up by the oddly inviting darkness and awoke just as he was ejaculating.

The next day the conservator rose early, repacked the things he’d need to carry on staying at the old house and left once again for the east of the city.

Notes: Dec. 8. I had NO IDEA how deep this goes! Everything I thought was a superstition or bit of folklore or legend is coming true, or turning out to have been based on something that was once true and perhaps is still true.

            Have to be careful how I proceed. Demontfort’s techniques were obv. much more effective than you’d guess from accounts at the time – Dee clearly knew he was the pupil of a superior magician but didn’t want to say too much.

            Maybe more success in opening the Gate with better pronunciation of the ‘Enochian’ – must look up that sample of Crowley’s incantation, it’s probably online somewhere.

His progress in understanding Demontfort’s notes seemed to accelerate almost unnaturally now that he had finally acquiesced to the will to continue these strange researches. Whether the will came from within himself or from some external source, he could not say. For the first time he began to feel the presence of some intelligence lurking behind what he could see and hear in the ancient house – nothing as definite as a voice or other deliberate communication, but at odd times as he gradually drifted into consciousness in the morning or as he nodded over his keyboard late in the evening, there was a sense of being observed, perhaps appraised.

Three days after his return to the house he had a dream that seemed a sequel to those he’d recently had in his own house. This time the sense of a presence was stronger than ever, but with it was the feeling that the presence was really an absence: an absence waiting impatiently to be filled by him.

And the following night the same unpresence made itself known to him before he’d fallen asleep.

Dec. 16. IT CAME AGAIN LAST NIGHT! No mistaking it now. Not in the bedroom but lurking outside. I can feel it, sort of smell it sometimes. No sensations I can adequately describe but it is DEFINITELY THERE. Maybe I should get out of here. But then what would have been the point of all this work up till now? Should def. stay here to see what happens. I can feel that this isn’t the end, in fact it’s only starting. Seems Crowley’s incantation was correct, although if his accounts are correct, it came to me quicker than it came to him.

Every night from then on, the man lay on his makeshift couch next to the bed in the master bedroom and waited until sleep was beginning to steal over him. It was always in this transitional phase between wakefulness and unconsciousness that he sensed it starting to coalesce in the hallway outside the room. Each day now he’d been chanting out loud the nonsensical sounds he’d transliterated from Demontfort’s books as soon as the other workers had left the house. To what end, he was honestly at a loss to say even to himself; the motivation for these rituals had apparently exceeded curiosity and seemed more and more to be a response to an imperious demand from elsewhere. And just as felt his mind start to sink into that soft darkness that precedes true sleep, the air in the room took on a texture that could not be described but which seemed to emanate from just outside the room, and was accompanied by an unplaceable scent. The strange odour and the even stranger feeling excited in the man a sensation of longing unlike anything he’d felt before, though it crept upon him just as he finally fell into full unconsciousness.

The year drew to a close and the other men and women working on the house prepared to leave the property for the holiday season. As the last of them left, they asked the conservator about his plans; he made vague mention of visiting his parents, knowing he had no such intentions and by this point not even caring whether his colleagues believed him or not.

The following evening, the conservator was poring once again over Demontfort’s manuscripts in the study, muttering under his breath the strange syllables that now came to him as easily as English. Without understanding any one individual word he had come to realise that he was calling out to whatever it was that had started visiting him, inviting it into the place it had clearly once visited centuries before.

Hours passed and the man felt himself to be in a bubble of time, encapsulated and closed off from the world outside the ancient house that had become his entire universe. In his mind he saw the young Demontfort and al-Moussali under the brilliant night sky of the desert before the colossal necropolis of Giza, chanting the same strange words he’d chanted. Whatever it was the occultist had learnt to invoke in that distant place had surely come to him again in this house thousands of miles away, this time without the older Arab’s help, and the man thought of Demontfort’s mysterious vanishing. Perhaps the ritual in Egypt that Crowley had re-enacted centuries later had been merely a preparation for some still greater rite that Demontfort had finally accomplished in this house.

This is it. It will be tonight – I am sure of it. I’ve been saying these words over and over for so long now they’re almost starting to make sense. It’s a kind of pre-lingual or proto-lingual cypher, it reaches into the brain and rearranges patterns of activity there. It’s not the words that have brought this thing, it is my own mind. It will come again soon, and it will come fully and finally. I don’t know what to expect but there is no point wavering now. This is what Demontfort called down, or up, or into this space, somehow.

            That familiar scent – it’s coming, I know it. Mustn’t keep it waiting.

The conservator, as if in a trance, closed the study door behind himself and walked across the landing to the bedroom. Staring straight ahead, his face had assumed a faint smile, fixed and ironic, like that of a pharaoh’s death mask. There was no going back now. His hand closed on the doorknob and he passed into the master bedroom where he’d lived, worked and obsessed for so long now, it seemed, that he could remember no other life.

He crossed over to the ancient bed and lay down on it. An observer would quite likely have concluded that he was hypnotised or under the influence of some powerful deliriant drug. Facing away from the door, he continued to stare straight ahead, passively and silently. The part of his consciousness that remained above the surface of roiling oblivion processed the notion that this was it; this would be the final revelation from which he could not shrink, though it cost him everything.

Time seemed to have lost all meaning for the man, and it could have been minutes or weeks that he lay there alone. But finally there was a change in the feel of the air, which he noticed now with passive, entirely objective interest, rather than the creeping horror it had filled him with on earlier occasions. The weird feeling – was it a pressure? a texture? some subtle vibration? – became gradually stronger, until it was far stronger that he’d ever felt it, strong enough to make breathing difficult and to seem to obscure those few features in the room that could be seen in the meagre light that seeped in through the gap under the door from the lights in the hallway outside. Sounds from the distant street became attenuated and eventually ceased altogether, and a dense silence like cotton wool filled the room. All this the man dispassionately noted, as if observing another and not himself.

Then it came. The indescribable field in the air reached a crescendo, then seemed to stabilise. The door to the master bedroom imperceptibly opened; the man could tell this not through hearing, which now appeared quite useless, but through a sensation of air currents and perhaps a slight hint of unearthly odours, as if thin violet vapours were curling in through the doorway. The light in the hallway by now had been completely extinguished, yet the man could still somehow see the part of the room that lay within his field of vision far more clearly than should have been possible from the feeble, septic moonlight that filtered in through the uneven windowpanes. And now senses more subtle than those mediated by any nameable organ told him that a presence – the entity he’d entreated and solicited all this time – was gradually making its way through the room until it was next to the bed.

By the same uncategorisable sensation, the man knew that this thing, this being, had crept or flowed into the place next to him in the bed, and that it was now lying by his side as if they were lovers. Demontfort’s notes about ‘She’ came back to him, and he wondered about the nature of this thing, this emanation from another space, this void that had somehow acquired a being unto itself. Without any conscious decision being made on his part, he turned around in the bed with infinite slowness until he was facing his long-awaited visitor.

It’s here now. It’s next to me, facing me, if that even makes sense. I feel no fear – the time for fear is long past. I can’t really see it…it’s just a void…a blacker darkness against the darkness of the room. Like an ink blot or a patch of black velvet – soft, inviting. There’s no sound. It’s calling to me. I cannot resist.

            Is it an ‘It’? Or a ‘Not-It’? Or some form of ‘She’? Impossible to say. It beckons to me. I cannot resist. The rest of the room fades to nothing, not even blackness, just nothing. The thing is opening up…that’s it! It’s a gap, or a window of some kind, a gate. That’s just what it is. It seems to be sucking some draft or wind into it, but I’m sure it’s not an air current. The gate is opening, it wants me…I cannot resist…it is opening wider and wider, accepting me…I can no longer see any part of the room; the house – it’s completely gone – I am alone. I am drifting. I am outside the World, I am outside everyth

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