“Hello. Do come in, I’ve been waiting for you”.
The cliches ricochet around the expansive office, off every oak panel, every expensive looking sculpture, off the two guards standing beside me. I walk forward and set myself down heavily in the antique, but hugely comfortable, chair.
“Yes, yes, sit down, do. Leave us now you two, good work. Get chef to make you some tea”. She speaks through thin lips, with a tense jaw that hints at a huge potential for violence. She walks around to the other side of the desk but does not sit down. I recognise this is to be lecture, rather than a discussion.
“I am Esther, although my full title, name, and post-nominals are much more convoluted, and outside the scope of this discussion. You’ve come to my attention, sir, through channels I couldn’t begin to explain to the likes of you. I hope I don’t cause you offence with my words, but you must be able to see that we operate on very different rungs of the social, and intellectual, ladder.” She smirks at this announcement. Just in case I didn’t see the country estate from the car, the hoards of staff, the cars in the garage, or even mistook the young woman in front of me talking like an actress in her first period drama, for just that, an actress.
“Could I offer you a drink young man?”. Young man? I must be her age at least. I ask for a soft drink and she pours a diet coke into a crystal tumbler.
“I assume you’d like me to get the point, and I tell you I am more than willing to get this over with. You have come across my notice by way of certain, monitors, let’s call them. They have been in the employ of my family for generations, tasked with keeping a close eye on unusual events and persons. I am the first member of my long line of relatives to become involved in the oddities and obscurities the monitors find. Too many times did my lineage observe as great events and deeds occurred around them, and did nothing to intervene, even if they could see the outcome would be negative, not just to themselves, but to all and sundry.”
She sits at the large desk between us and takes a drink, by the looks of it whiskey. I’m no expert, but I guarantee that whiskey is at least 50 years old.
“As a child my father would tell me all the tales that are kept in our archives, as I fell asleep in bed. He told me of odd circumstances surrounding a lone survivor of a volcano in Roman Italy. The woman who ducked to avoid a stray bullet in a shoot-out in Capone’s Chicago. He regaled me with the story of how Queen Elizabeth herself struck a subject out of the blue, knocking a dagger from under his coat, and his Fleur de Lys insignia, held only by the Dauphin’s master assassins. I would listen to the stories, and later, as a young woman, I would read all day about the millennia of events like this, where people performed an unusual and unexpected act to avoid or prevent harm coming to their person, or those around them. As all members of my family have, I read each and every archive before my seventeenth birthday. When my father died, just days before I was 18, my world was torn apart. My remaining family seemed unsurprised and even apathetic to his passing. It would take me several years to find a hidden archive, dealing specifically with events occurring to my family. My father’s accident was in there, in full detail, written by his own hand on the ancient pages of the manuscript, in biro no less!” Her shock seemed more upset with her father’s use of writing implement than the story she was telling me, about her father’s death. I had nothing to say, but was listening attentively, as I’m sure most people in this woman’s presence do. She has the air of being comfortable talking like this to kings, emperors and street-sweepers.
“As I read through the reams and reams of text I wondered to myself, if I would ever experience anything like that written therein. It seemed not, that I was due a life of observation and documentation. My precocious youth, and capricious nature, lead me to one, and only one, conclusion. I must be involved with the people who are being monitored and documented. I must take myself into their lives and experience what they are going through, first hand. This is where you come in, sir. My monitors have become very nervous and agitated by what they see in you, and how you are handling yourself. You have a gift, sir, and I want it. You may think I am both entitled and selfish, and I agree with you, but I am also deeply intrigued by you, and wish to experience your abilities, even if for the briefest of moments. I want to see you glimmer for me.”
She knew she had used the magic word, as I clenched and gripped the seat handles, a momentary thought crossed my mind of whether I could damage this lovely chair. I looked across at her, she was truly beautiful, but cold, so cold. My mind began to race and my eyes opened wide. I saw a hundred different me’s running, jumping and trying to escape this place. The light that the other me’s produced was blinding and I squinted to see. I could still make her out, over there in her peach suit, but she was leaning back in her chair, smiling.
“It’s happening now, isn’t it?” she asked. “Wonderful, it seems I have met you at the perfect juncture in your development. Please, come with me downstairs.”
I stood up and followed her through a side door, down a long room, with unnaturally high ceilings and sparse furnishings. We continued on, down towards the far end of the building, some 50 metres or more away. At the end of the hangar-like room there was door. We stepped through and suddenly the floor seemed to disappear away, down a long, slow-curving flight of stairs, down to the basement. As we took each step down I could see doorways leading off at regular intervals, but the enveloping darkness down here prevented me from seeing anything, apart from shadows in the mirky light. The doors were regular but not different enough in height to be a whole floor apart. We passed at least 30 doors and the staircase continued down. At last she turned and opened one of the doors, using a keypad, no, a scanner of some kind, that seemed to sense her proximity and light up to be operated. We were in another room, a much more sanitary environment, more like a lab or a dentists. Up to this point I had been calm, accepting this twisted reality as another example of my complete mental collapse. When I saw the equipment, the chair, the surgical steel all about the place, my heart skipped a beat.
“Don’t be afraid, the worst thing I need from you right now is a small blood sample. Now, you’re left handed, correct?” I could do nothing but nod.
“Good, now come over here and sit down.” She expertly directed me to the chair and rolled up the sleeve of my right arm. I barely felt the icy preparation, let alone the small pinprick as the needle went into my arm and vein.
“My, that’s a fine colour, don’t you think?” she asked, holding up a small vial of my blood.
“I’d say somewhere between a Margaux and a cabernet, although I imagine less tasty that the real thing, when accompanying a good Scottish steak.” She chortled, but corrected herself quickly with a small cough and a touch of finger to lip. I was enamoured of her, so confident and charming, beautiful yet obviously dangerous.
“Apologies; the situation of meeting you and talking with you has made me quite giddy with excitement. I do apologise. This must be quite a shock for you, to be brought to this place with no explanation, to meet with me, an eccentric toff with an expansive dungeon.” I nodded furtively, in case agreement caused her to become angry.
“Come through to the next room, I have some work to do here in the lab, and you will be much more comfortable in there. “
I stand up, my mind lifting up a little further than my head, dizzying me briefly. I walk across the room and look back before leaving, but Esther has her head down in a focused stance, looking into some device at the blood she has taken from me. I walk through the doorway, feeling woozy. I sit down on the small day bed in the anteroom and lay back, my mind is hazy, my limbs heavy. I roll onto my side and let my body relax, then drop the last few inches into a prostrate position, feeling the warmth of my face reflected back from the pillow. I fall into a soft, cosy sleep.