The term Twilighter started being used in the early 2000’s by the arts council of England to distinguish between respectable people and the type of person who was not worth counting as potential audience. They were poor, single, disabled, in temporary accommodation, in unstable employment if any. Elsie’s boss Douglas was one of the art consultants that first came up with the term Twilighter. “There’s something of the darkness about them” he said.
Douglas was a very determined man, there was something of the missionary in his righteous zeal, not religious, no, unless you called the religion Douglas.
He wasn’t a horrible man, on the contrary, he was one of the most pleasant people Elsie had met in the art world. Intelligent, witty, passionately engaged in his profession. In his fifties now, director of a large arts company, millioniaire arts dealer, father of five children by three women, regular judge at big arts prizes, one of those men who, despite the bad teeth, balding head and long grey ponytail, could still manage to flatter a woman with his attention. A well respected and charming man, yes, charming. He was also a sociopath with a grand plan.
Abel could hear the sound of running water. It was coming from the altar. He approached it crawling on all fours, standing had not occurred to him yet. In the centre of the alter the rock wall was exposed and from it there trickled a small but constant flow of clear water. Abel, his mouth still feeling like a chalk mine, flung himself towards it, only to be whacked across the back with a large stick.
The mad harmonica lady stood growling at him like a wild cat, stick clasped in one hand, lantern in the other. Then he heard voices, lots of them coming nearer and nearer. To avoid being hit again he scrambled into a corner.
Suddenly the room was full of people. Men and women, maybe 60, maybe more. All silent. No one seemed to notice Abel, even the harmonica lady seemed uninterested in him now. She was kneeling down beside the spring.
One by one each person knelt down at the alter. Each took their turn, slowly, rhythmically. They closed their eyes, bent and sipped the water. And each time the harmonica lady dipped her figure in the water and made some kind of symbol on the person’s head. Then each took out a jug and filled it with spring water before returning to the crowd.
For a minute Abel was convinced he could see Steve in the crowd, but it was too dark to be sure.
After what seemed like years the crowd slowly started to leave the room. Abel, his back still hurting from where the stick had hit, creeped out with the others. They were a scruffy bunch so he blended in.
Tunnel after tunnel they walked, one being no more memorable than the next. It was so dark Abel found he was moving with the pace of the feet of the crowd and could not see where he was going. Still it was somehow restful this steady hippnotic pace leading him along, so much so that on waking up on what appeared to be a shelf at the side of a tunnel, a slightly damp blanket flung over him, he had no idea how he got there. Beside him lay a packet of Spletzer-Martins.
Abel stumbles and falls into the ankle deep drain water. He’s been in the tunnels for 5 hours and found nothing but sewage and rats. He’s only managed to keep going through fear of what he’ll become if he stops. Dread is tap dancing heavily in his head, and something seems to be following him. He is lost. Actually he is in the storm drain that carries the Westbourne river to the Thames, but he doesn’t know that.
He tries to get up again but only manages to slide the upper part of his body against the tunnel wall. Then he passes out. If Elsie saw him now she wouldn’t recognise him, he looks so old and ill.
It is the mad harmonica lady that finds him, turns out she knows her way round the the underground rivers very well. She dances along the tunnel, her ripped skirts trailing through the water, singing to herself :
In the blood in the gene Malformed and obscene Its a crack in the glass And a whisker in the cream A snake in the garden He goes unseen Theres an apple in the tree And a devil in a dream
There’s bones in these tunnels Your hands won’t wash clean There’ll be meat in the belly Where the carnival has been
She grabs his arm and drags his now corpse-like body over her shoulder. She is surprisingly strong for an old lady.
When Abel wakes he finds himself in a small cave-like room lit only by candles. There is what looks like an alter on the far wall, and straight in front of him is a roughly carved wooden Jesus on a cross with a hand painted sun as his halo.
Elsie was a good girl. Always had been. From a middle income family who wanted the very best for their little girl. She was an only child. At 12 Elsie was remarkably good at art and harboured an ambition to go to art school. Her parents informed her otherwise. There was no point in them paying for her to do an art degree, what good would it do her? Certainly wouldn’t get her a job. So she went into arts admin, and worked hard. She became PA to a notable art director. He grew dependent on her so she got a decent salary. She was very good, but she was very bored. That’s when Abel came along. An arty type, he played in a rock band, full of dreams and ego. They met at a gig in Dalston and the very sight of this guitar-abusing beast on stage made her heart turn somersaults.
“Looks like a tramp!” her mother said.
Elsie knew he was trouble, a self-obsessed nobody who cared for nothing other than his guitars and effects peddles, but she also thought she could change him.
There are several hundred people living under London. No one can say when the first people started living down there, but it has certainly been growing steadily since 2000. They are a close, strong community due to the harshness of their circumstances. The elder generation are mainly people who lost their homes during the big recession, those who couldn’t get jobs, the sick and the disabled who were abandoned as successive governments privatised the NHS.
The elder generation, although mocking of the above-landers, still hold a buried shame and desire to return to the daylight. The second generation however, now in their late teens and early twenties, don’t have this desire. Born in the tunnels they are proud of what they are, scavenging is their art and the above-landers are cattle to be milked.
The biggest difficulty about living down there is finding clean drinking water. Although Underlondon is partially flooded most of the time, and contains the old buried rivers of London, the water is dirty and the rivers have become sewers. Instead the people of Underlondon have sort out the ancient springs, trickles of fresh water flowing from cracks in the brick work. These springs are precious to the people down there and the holy qualities of the springs, appreciated in the past, are returning.
Where as many an above-lander has come to the rational conclusion that there are no gods, the Underlondoner knows there is nothing more rational than treating what sustains your life as Divine.
( I know I should be listening to CD’s instead of writing this, but I really can’t stand those little black speakers I’ve got, and when I do listen to a piece I like on CD I have to listen to it again and again and again.)
Ah yes, Elsie is worrying, Steve is drunk in stilettos, the mad woman at the station is preaching and blowing down a harmonica, and Abel is slowly creeping down a tunnel looking for the opening Steve told him about. His mouth is like a miniature chalk mine, his brain is set on automatic as he touches his way through the darkness to the tune from the Spletzer Martin advert.
Underlondon is a vast place, a maze created by accident, innovation, experiment and deceit. Ancient rivers merge with sewers, wine cellars link with catacombs. Deathly dark, as you’d expect, and as complicated as the city streets above it. Large parts are permanently flooded ankle deep in water. This does not bother it’s inhabitants, who, aside from the terrapins and crocodiles, have built shelves for their beds above the flood level. All their belongings rest on these shelves, from marmite to stolen diamonds, vast platforms made from found timber and steel, scavenged, as their life is, from the above-landers.
Elsie paid the bill for Abel’s hospital stay, of course. Once he was out he took up residence in her flat. He had no job now so couldn’t pay any rent. Elsie lived round the corner from me, I saw Abel hanging about Barons Court and West Kensington, there was something lost about him. He made friends with my neighbour Steve, the transvestite I told you about, I think it was their shared love of alcohol. Abel started to spend his nights and days round Steve’s flat in drunken delirium. Occasionally they ventured out to the Coop, Steve dressed in high heels and furs. They made a strange couple, brought alcohol and intimidated customers.
One day, after Elsie hadn’t seen Abel for five nights running she went round there at 2pm and knocked on the door. She waited, she knocked again. A howl came from within, then the sound of locks being unfastened, eventually she was confronted by a man in a stained white lace blouse, and a pair of grey pants one size too big, which he was partially hanging out of. He had long greasy hair hanging down in rats tails, he was so thin and so waisted one touch and he’d have fallen like a leaf. It was Steve. He’d obviously been asleep and she’d woken him.
“Where is Abel?” she asked
He beckoned her in. She was reluctant, the place stank of rot and seemed covered with newspaper, but she was worried about Abel. She stepped through the doorway and into the house.
“Tea!” cried Steve, who seemed to be coming round a bit
“Er, no thanks”
Steve put the kettle on, swigged from a bottle of gin and placed two teabags in two dirty mugs.
“Where is Abel?” She tried again.
Then slowly “I’ve seen im, I’ve ad im round here.”
The kettle boiled, he tried to pour it but missed. Tried again with more success and handed Elsie half a cup of black tea with teabag still in it and a spiders web decorating the rim.
“Is he here now?”
“Na, gone, gone”
“ There. Needed his tablets”
“His tablets, yer can get em there, they can get anyfing for yer there. it’s the tunnels see. But they’ll charge, not money, other stuff”
Elsie had two contradicting thoughts simultaneously:
1. “Oh no, what’s happened to him? I must find him!”
2. “Bloody idiot, why am I running after him? I’m not his mother!”
She stood there in the slime covered kitchen, her dark blonde hair covering half her face, a frown appearing over the top of her large brown eyes.
Sometimes to pretend that everything is alright when it quite obviously isn’t is the most logical thing to do. Sometimes it is the only thing to do. When the carpet has turned into snakes that are curling round your legs, when the patterns on the wallpaper are growing wings and flying off, when there’s a goat in your bath and David Cameron’s head is emerging from your toilet, it is often best just to take a deep breath and carry on. In fact to the experienced hallucinator this becomes the habitual practice, life would not seem quite right if one wasn’t continually ignoring things and pretending. Life has its rules, if you experience something that logically can’t be there then pretending it is not there is the logical thing to do. Of course this can get tricky, especially to the new comer, I have read many an account of an acid victim whose mind gets lost in the “what to ignore and what to take note of” reality whirlpool. Yet riding the whirlpool can be so addictive!
Abel, despite being a newcomer, was a talented pretender. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for his slide downwards, he was too good too quickly. Where as an experienced hallucinator has often learnt to ride through the descending waters out of sheer necessity, over the years, sink or swim, Abel had an option, he could have turned back.
He could have asked Elsie for help. She would have helped him, she could have guessed what was about to happen. But Elsie loved him just a bit too much for him to ever love her back. He kept his distance, he could see every problem he ever told her instantly become her personal problem. This closeness made a bubble of nauseau pink enclose him and steal his breath.
So it was that at 2am on February 8th 2020, Abel was found unconscious on the floor of the factory. Stuffed in his pockets they found 18 bottles of Spletzer-Martin 5, and one empty. The hospital pumped his stomach. The company, who had noticed increasing amounts of Spletzer-Martin tablets going missing from their pharmacy, made no statement but deleted him from the payroll instantly.
Dread sat in the corner picking his nose. He was naked. A large man, his skin took on the colour of the shadows in which he sat, altering shades of grey throughout the day, a green tint, a blue tint, a touch of magenta. It could be best described as having that quality you get if you’ve been using watercolour paints but never bother changing the water. You dip the brush in, take it out and splodge it onto the thick pimply surface of the watercolour paper, the result you get is like Dread’s skin.
Abel had been seeing him in the corners for sometime now, particularly at work. At first he’d been afraid, a strange naked man appeared to be following him. No one else seemed to notice though. He didn’t dare ask people outright, he knew his colleagues thought him odd already.
He panicked, was this proof of his insanity? Then he came to the conclusion that even if he was mad, he couldn’t afford treatment so probably best just to keep on as normal and ignore Dread, everything would probably be alright.
Once he tried to talk to him, but Dread is a silent creature, the only noise he makes is a munching sound when he eats from his hands. Abel was not sure what he was eating, it appeared to be light.
Attempts at communication were given up. Gradually though, through some kind of thought osmosis, Abel knew that it was Dread, but dread of what exactly he didn’t know. He briefly mentioned it to Elsie once, but the look of terror in her eyes made him shut up. Still it left what felt like a large hole in his gut, and a churning feeling that made him manic when in public. It didn’t help that his diet now mainly consisted on Spletzer-Martins and alcohol.
After six months of Dread hanging around, Abel was getting used to him. At work in the early hours of the morning Dread was somehow a more comfortable companion than those all seeing, all knowing eyes in the machines.
Abel held his breath, closed his eyes, and counted backwards from 10. When he opened them the machines were still looking at him. Big, metalic, shinning creatures, he wasn’t sure where their eyes were, but they definitely had eyes.
Was it his boss spying on him? New company policy to monitor staff ? Or the government tracking him? All seemed very possible, yet there was something else, something in the machines themselves, that knew him.
At first he’d thought he was delusional but now he knew it was more real than anything else he’d ever experienced. Not only were they looking at him from the outside, they were inside him as well, they could see his thoughts, they could taste the ingredients of his being.
He was coming to the end of his 40 hour shift. It hadn’t been so bad, though he’d had to take another one of those Spletzer-Martins. They were meant to keep you going for 40 hours no problem, but he always found he was flagging after 35. Not that it was tiring work, just rotating those huge machines, but failing to do it properly could muck up the whole network which would be catastrophic. Yes, better that he sneak an extra bottle of Spletzer-Martins from the office pharmacy now and then, than risk the whole network going down.
Elsie had told me he’d been feeling rough. To be honest I didn’t care. I didn’t know Abel that well, but I was developing a certain curiosity for the dramas surrounding him.
He is a friend of my friend Elsie. I chatted to him via Facebook and met at gigs occassionally. He’d always seemed quite pleasant and cheerful until that time I saw him in Clapton. It was late at night in a small venue off the main road, he looked so tied and old then, and nervous. He’d seemed a very confident almost arrogant man before, but now he was uncertain, shaky in his speech, and with the guilty look of a man whose just rummaged through your underwear.
Elsie told me he was worried about debt, working long shifts to pay it off. It is a relief that one can do that now, what with these new tablets, just keep working and working till you pay off all your debts, as long as you resist the temptation to get new ones come pay day.