THE BOOK OF DEAD NAMES.
PART THE FIRST… THE TALE OF STEPHEN CRICHTON
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Stephen Crichton had, ever since he could recall, been trained to love his father, to wait upon him and attend his eccentricities, to observe him as he lay recumbant in the wake of repast, to listen to his breath as it beat insistent repetition against the veil of sleep, to allow him the privacy that men learn to cherish as they come of age.
It was Stephen’s purpose, there was no other currency to detract from it’s detail, no rite of passage other than abidance, no manhood beyond mute acceptance, a servant patient beyond all circumstantial impetuosity, a eunuch cast forth to tolerantly preside.
During Stephen’s eighteenth year, an age at which his peers were asserting their status upon the forum of exchange, Stephen was requisitioned by his father, to partake in the detail of an ancient ceremony, a convention which, his father informed him, had been practised by their family for almost three hundred years.
“Son,” said Stephen’s father, drawing the boy aside upon a dusty afternoon sometime in late July, “we have to talk”.
“What is it that you wish to discuss?” replied Stephen looking up to meet his father’s gaze.
“Do you remember?” intoned the old man lowering his voice as though to impart treason, “do you remember that I have never requested anything of you other than forbearance, a tolerance of my foibles and a respect for their peculiarity?”
“Yes,” Stephen replied stupidly, “yes of course, I have always held you in the highest esteem”.
“Well there is a reason for this,” said Stephen’s father gesturing forcibly as though to conjure substance from the intensity of his presence, “an intention that underlies my demands, a purpose other than those which would serve in my contention”.
“And what is this reason?” Stephen enquired bemused.
“At the age of eighteen,” intoned Stephen’s father, “as others assuage adolescence with the obligations of maturity, members of our family, those of direct lineal descent, are enjoined to be hung by the neck until dead.”
“What?” Replied Stephen stroking his neck apprehensively.
“There is no surer or more painless way to ensure demise,” breathed Stephen’s father conspiratorially, “no cleaner instrument, no finer end, the process severs the Carotid artery at the juncture between the skull and the nape of the neck, robbing the brain of it’s blood supply and forcing all residual fluid into the muscles of the face, an immediate extinction, painlessly complete,” he paused in momentary anticipation, “after the execution, the body is immersed unbreached in formaldehyde, a testament preserved for eternal posterity, every generation of our family for the last three hundred years has been treated in this manner, their bodies anointed in glass sarcophagi and buried between the walls of the many ancient structures which serrate the urban sprawl. There are Crichtons interred upon the shores of the Thames where the Embankment meets the Temple, Crichtons beneath the spires of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Crichtons behind the facades of Spitalfields, even Crichtons in the walkways and arcades that shy from Oxford Circus.”
“Why must I die?” Stephen asked gazing up at his father trustingly.
“To preserve your soul from the rigours of worldly corruption”, answered Stephen’s father simplistically, “there is evidence to suggest that strangulation enhances faculties that lie dormant beneath more appreciable sense, trephining, for example, is a medical procedure practised in primitive communities to relieve cerebral pressure, a technique which, in exposing what such cultures call the third eye to external influence, permits transgression amongst dreams, a world perceptible only to children before the skull beleagures thought beneath physical constraint”
“Surely such benefits would be forsaken by my death,” replied Stephen furrowing his brow. “You can’t build a castle upon a mire,” replied Stephen’s father calmly, “in life the body is trapped between the rudiment of it’s circumstance and the trauma of pain, to hold the soul from incident one must paradoxically smite the flesh… Tamp it to secure province”, a glimmer of introspection darkened the old man’s features, “We live in a dangerous era my boy, the chances of being killed either through accident or design are so high that sacrificial traditions are lucky to endure”.
Shortly afterwards Stephen was called forward to participate in the ritual, an event occasioned by much festivity, held beneath the eves of a small suburban chapel in the Capital’s West end.
“The gallow have been raised,” Said Stephen’s father looking up at his son, “are you ready?” he led the boy into a small ante-chamber, a confessional that had been adapted to suit the ceremony’s purpose, and climbed onto a stage over which the lethal armature loomed glowering mute potential.
“Yes I am ready,” Stephen replied nerved by re-assurement.
“Then we shall commence,” intoned Stephen’s father lowering the rope.
Stephen kissed the old man on the forehead, and stooped to accept the noose, a crude helix of spun fibre wrought tight in a mariner’s knot, standing in silence as his patron prepared the device, before, after some moments of fine adjustment, the execution was performed.
For blank seconds Stephen fell wieghtless in the darkness of the room before the choke closed fast halting his descent, a reprimand accompanied by a spasm of pain and the threat of asphyxiation, an imperative which inspired him with frenzied purpose, a rider straddling vaccuum in the absence of a steed, until, after some moments of futile resistence, Stephen lost consciousness, his mind fusing dead like a defunct appliance.
“Dear God,” came a voice struggling sudden premiership over Stephen’s senses, “dear God, what have I done?”
Stephen felt his body being forced savagely to the ground, an impetus accompanied by a frenzied barrage of blows, an assault interspersed with a repetition of the phrase which had initially disturbed his reverie.
“Wake up, wake up”, came the voice louder than before, “can you hear me?”
“What?” Mumbled Stephen, his head leaden with pain.
“Poor fool”, cried the voice growing clearer as Stephen recovered consciousness, “My God I hope you are not crippled”.
Stephen opened his eyes, a spark of pain igniting their focus, enabling him to distinguish the presence of a figure standing over him frantically attempting to affect resuscitation.
“Praise the Lord”, whimpered the figure weak with exertion, “you are still alive”.
Stephen shook his head still numb with pain before venturing response, “stop, stop, you are hurting me”.
The figure broke into a deluge of tears as Stephen rose to deflect the tirade, “you should be dead,” it announced biting back a pang of relief.
“Father”, mumbled Stephen shakily, his head still ringing with hallucination, “father, is that you?”
“Traditions,” replied the figure vainly shrugging it’s shoulders, before turning to locate an obect of indistinct extraction from the proximate dark, a search apprehended with a deafening report as a fire-arm was detonated against Stephen’s skull.
PART THE SECOND… THE TALE OF JONATHAN BERNARD
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Neither Jonathan Bernard or his father had become men, their respective aspirations stolen from the naivete of idealistic persuasion before ever having borne fruit, a vaccuum in which Jonathan had floundered insufficient purchase before a faulty model, a hopeless contender in a game of charades.
“I have lost my job”, began Jonathan looking up dejectedly at his father, “clever work, highly paid, a mistake on the shopfloor, easily dismissed but for it’s circumstance.”
“You will die a pauper,” mumbled Johnathan’s father sniping a draught from a small hip flask, “impetuosity always was the prodigy of despair”, he paused, a smile cracking his countenance, and he glanced towards his navel, “I can feel one coming, a real fruit”, a strained expression momentarily crossed his face before he broke wind, the sound of flatulence resonating gutteraly against his flank, “you can’t buy one of them for love or money,” he grunted pursing his lips in satisfaction, “some things get easier with age”.
“Leave me alone, I am trying to think,” replied Jonathan sharply.
“What’s wrong?” Enquired Johnathan’s father amiably, “in youth such things amused you”.
“When I became a man I forsook childish things,” answered Jonathan acidly.
“Ha,” laughed Jonathan’s father, “you have never been a man and, judging from your current conduct, you will never be one.”
“You are drunk,” replied Jonathan grimacing forbearance, “I have plans, it just takes time”.
“When I was your age, I had a job in the city,” muttered Jonathan’s father, a pang of distaste sharpening his pallate, “design consultant for the largest advertising firm in Europe”.
“But that was then,” replied Jonathan defensively, “look at yourself now, a sorry drink sodden wretch”.
“Ha,” laughed Jonathan’s father drawing the last tincture from his hip flask, “if I were to die you would accuse me of abuse to justify your want of social grace”.
“If you were to die I would not care,” answered Jonathan biting back a flush of indignation.
The old man’s voice trailed as the liquor which he had been drinking reaped lucid purchase amongst his senses, “would you honour me if I were fall in conflict.” He said finally.
“Of course,” replied jonathan reconciliatively.
“Even if you were to suffer consequence in the wake of my fall?” continued Jonathan’s father.
“I would fight your cause,” said Jonathan earnestly
“At worst,” said Jonathan’s father issuing a sigh of sardonic encouragement.
“At worst I would resent your defeat and purchase deliverance from it’s salvation,” replied Jonathan with a placatory gesture.
“There is something which I have been meaning to tell you”, said the old man parrying a belch with the flat of his cuff”.
“What?” enquired Jonathan mustering a wry smile.
“You have children,” replied jonathan’s father morosely.
“Impossible,” answered Jonathan, “I have never even kissed a woman”.
“Ha,” laughed Jonathan’s father, “some years ago your mother and I contracted a suitable girl with whom you were to raise family”.
“Surely not,” answered Jonathan unnerved, “I have always been fiercely independent, cautious of marital obligation and the resent that it breeds”.
“Marriage”, mused Jonathan’s father drowsily, “marriage is no more than a convention, no, your mother and I did not wish for you to marry, only to raise children,” he paused, “one night sometime in your sixteenth year, we arranged for the girl of our choice to enter your chamber as you lay asleep, a liason through which she was enjoined to consummate union, an event conducted beneath our supervision in the dead of night”.
“Absurd,” replied Jonathan, “I would have been aroused by such an advance”.
“Dope and a stretcher,” answered Jonathan’s father shrugging earnestly, “your mother’s idea, a covert liason veiled in secrecy and swept beneath the intrigue of other event.
“Why?” Jonathan enquired disturbed.
“To protect the girl from the callousness that your patronage may harbor,” replied Jonathan’s father simplistically, “as you rightly presume marriage seldom survives it’s incident”.
“Who is this person?” Jonathan pleaded looking up at his father.
The old man silenced Jonathan with a gesture of his hand, “you need know nothing of your partner’s identity or the progress of your children, only that all parties are granted an allowance, money received from the funds which hold both you and I in good estate”.
“Beer money to fight wars which I will never endure,” scowled Jonathan outraged.
“It will keep them,” replied Jonathan’s father shrugging impotently.
“How sublime,” spat Jonathan losing his composure, “I am enjoined to accustom wanton dereliction as the apple of my loins persist sustained by it’s ration”.
Jonathan’s father looked up fixing his son’s gaze, “I have something that I wish to show you,” he said grimly, “something which I have wished to show you for some time”.
“What?” Replied Jonathan unnerved by his father’s sudden turn of speech.
The old man rose mumbling some unintelligable curse beneath his breath and stumbled over to a mahogany desk, “turn your back,” he said reaching into an elaborately carved draw, “it’s a surprise”.
Jonathan dutifully obeyed the request expecting his father to present him with a gift, an atonement for the misgivings which had been aroused.
“Are you ready?” muttered the old man steadying himself.
“What is it?” Jonathan enquired intrigued.
“You will see”, replied Jonathan’s father, his finger closing upon the trigger of a semi-automatic pistol sparking a report that bludgeoned the silence of the room into a paroxysm of dispute.
A sudden flourish of crimson printed itself against Johnathan’s field of vision, an image suspended miraculously before the boy’s gaze as though to spite itself with urgency, and as it spread so Jonathan fell, pitched forward by a percussive spasm towards it’s invitation, a mirror shattered eccentric to shear refraction from it’s whole, an irresistable descent into the abyss.
Jonathan felt his body being drawn irresistably across the ground and hoisted into the back-seat of an automobile before he lost consciousness, his thought process vascillating between the traumas of concussion and the re-assuring symphonies of wheel-drone, a spell which succeeded in seducing his attention from it’s immediacy for some minutes before being interrupted by an entreaty from beyond the vehicle’s sanctum.
“Don’t die on me,” muttered a voice ushering Jonathan forth into the street, “not yet.”
Jonathan rose, his head ringing with pain and collapsed onto the pavement, it’s surface scabrous with pedestrian passage beneath his finger tips, he looked up in efforts to deduce the nature of his location, a footbridge somewhere on the outskirts of the city, a site unremarkable but for it’s circumstance.
Jonathan felt a fibrous mass being forced around his neck, a length of rope turned rigid through a coil, a burden which hung easily about his shoulders as though in diminution of unannounced potential.
“This could be an accident”, intoned the voice drawing a knot tight about Jonathan’s throat, an assertion which it tallied with a forceful motion out toward’s the water’s edge.
There was a moment’s silence as Jonathan teetered upon the threshold of the bridge, his mind dully registering it’s sudden imminence, before he fell pitched headlong through the void, his legs sent reeling through the motions of a dance.
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Both youths, though bright with aspiration, were, through the strange coincidence of fate, ultimately elected to death, their souls cast hither upon indifferent winds, both victims to the statutes of their respective orders, apprehended by a collusion of superstition and convenience submerged amidst the detail of more acceptable event, their names fated to appear both at once and forever amidst the frozen charter of obituary lists, records which by design or coincidence, remain destined to simplify the complexities of life.
Two names forever bound amidst the throes of mortal matrimony, Stephen Crichton and Jonathan Bernard, their lives posthumously co-joined despite unequivocality, an inquest read at once in diagnosis of it’s climate, a satire against the reverie of fonder reminiscence, for as life strives errant purchase upon the threshold of investment, so may death cheat it’s spur, and as cold print demands interpretation so the sweep of articulacy empowers it’s dismissal.
Two names that persisted indivisibly intertwined, their blood mingled in the waters of the Thames. Crichton, a corpse washed saline in the tide of an unannounced and forgotten tradition, Bernard, a jettison thrown unceremoniously from a bridge, in disposal of the evidence that murder may announce.
Two bodies turned through the rank tides of urban indifference which typify municipal neglect, their compliment saturated with commercial effluum, an amalgum bound torrid about molten indecision, an alloy that, despite once languishing amidst the prospect of variety, was now spurned towards coincidence beneath the frigate overcast.
London, a city stitched slipshod from impersonal multiplicity, an entity invested with the crude purpose of it’s vestige, a soul wrought about the shift of indiscriminate directive, it’s envies and it’s jealousies, it’s intentions and misfortunes playing casualty to the generalisations of incidental ignominy.
The coroner never identified the corpses…