If everything worked out, you wouldn’t be reading this.
You may know what’s happened. It may already be obvious — maybe you’ve seen it on TV or something. But if it happens in the way I think it’s going to happen, I half-suspect people won’t be spending their time reading blogs. But maybe it will be quiet to begin with, and no one will notice. At least for a while. With as crazy and things have been lately, I wouldn’t be surprised.
This is an auto-update. I could have stopped it. If I’m safe, you wouldn’t be reading this.
I was supposed to leave London today. Or at least, I was scheduled to.
I looked out the window earlier, just to check. Camilla wasn’t there, like I expected her to be — maybe like I’d hoped she’d be — but there was the bum. I recognized him immediately. I don’t live in an area of London where you see a lot of beggars. They tend to stick to the tourist and financial districts, not the residential suburbs. But I knew it was him, even as easily as I would have recognized him if I saw him back in Kensington. I recognized him without seeing his face: The same old green bomber jacket, the same fleece hood, and the rags of shirts and pants or skirts looped around him. It’s fairly warm here right now, and he should be sweltering. I don’t think he is.
Terror has a human form, someone once said. And Secrecy the human dress.
So okay. The beginning.
Ignacio Muez Ajedra.
Born in Barcelona in 1868, the son of a wealthy and fashionable couple. He was well educated, spoke Italian, French, German, and English, and could read Greek. He developed an interest in poetry at a young age and his class and parents’ own interest in the arts assured its encouragement. After a time he grew bored of Spain and desired to see the world; he traveled in Europe.
He came to London in 1889.
In 1900 he published a book of English prose and verse called The Chameleon. It was a collection of various short stories and poems he’d written during his travels, though he translated them all almost entirely once he’d settled in London. He loved England; he loved London most of all. The city entranced him. Despite his parents’ pleas, he never returned to Spain. During World War I he evidently served in some low bureaucratic capacity in the War Propaganda Bureau, most likely a position procured for him by his circle of writerly contacts — for he maintained friendly if tenuous ties with London writing communities despite never publishing a piece of fiction after The Chameleon.
At some point, he married.
At some point, he had a daughter.
He died in 1941 during the Blitz, at his home in Golders Green, just northwest of where I am right now.
Those are the basic facts. Those are the things that would appear in his encyclopedia article if he had one, and if they were verifiable — which they largely are not. Even more unverifiable are certain claims, conjectures, propositions, theories, whatever you want to call them, certain possibilities about Ignacio Muez Ajedra and his private dealings that may very well have damned us all. Or maybe just me.
For instance, for the last four decades of his life, he worked tirelessly on an unfinished novel called He Who Made the Lamb.
And that novel was largely an attempt transcribe not his own thoughts, but the things whispered to him by the disembodied voices he heard in the empty tunnels of the London Underground.
It might be complete chance that I found Muez’s book The Chameleon in a shop off Leicester Square. The again, it might not. But in the end that’s unimportant, because I did find it, I did read it, and what has happened, has happened.
You’ll recall the strangest thing about Muez at the time I discovered him was that I couldn’t find anything on him — even Google failed to turn up anything worthwhile. So despite the title story of the collection and the ending poem being especially intriguing, I was more or less resigned to letting the book remain something of an oddity. It would be a conversation piece, something to pull off the shelf and show to people, even though there was nothing particularly valuable to say about it.
Then I started my job.
You probably remember me complaining about my internship. Hell, at the time I wrote up those entries I thought working on data entry was the worst thing that could possibly happen to me. And I guess, in a way, it was.
I worked for a poetry organization, a group whose goal is (as they put it) to “create a central position for poetry in the arts and continue to build new avenues to promote poets and poetry in Britain today.” They’ve been active for about a century now, as it happens, and during that time they’ve had more than a few competitions. Part of my work was to type up poems from the past hundred years for digital archival, with the eventual goal being free access to all award-winning poems on the organization’s website. It was boring work, but better than updating databases, so I was glad to have it.
A few weeks into the job, when I was archiving the winners of a small contest in 1985, I discovered that one of the commended poets was a man named C.L. Klein. His poem was called “Good Friday” and in general was very unremarkable — it was written as if the speaker were questioning another person, apparently an older man, a father or grandfather who had apparently died in some grave accident. I remember clearly only the last two lines: “Did you know when you walked out the door? / Did the streets around you roar?”
The poem, just under the title, had an additional, smaller line: i.m. Ignacio Muez Ajedra. In memoriam.
The organization keeps files not only on winners but every contest entrant, going back to the 70s, when they moved offices. When I took my internship I signed a contract promising I wouldn’t use these archives to procure and/or release contact details of anyone. But I couldn’t help it — I hated my job, of course, and felt no real obligation to honor the contracts I’d signed, and besides that, I’d found my first mention of Muez outside of his own book. Someone else knew he existed.
So I looked up C(ameron) L(ee) Klein. He had a Hammersmith address and a phone number that, like all UK phone numbers, appeared to me to be a random string of digits with no discernible pattern.
I called it on my lunch break, anyway. A woman answered: “Hello?”
Hello, I said. I was wondering if this was the number of the poet N.E. Klein?
A pause. He’s dead, the woman told me.
I wasn’t expecting that and immediately realized how ridiculous I was being. I apologized as best as I could, making up some story about how I was an aspiring poet and I’d found some work by him that I really admired, and again I was so sorry, I really was–
The woman didn’t buy it. Klein was her father, he wrote only one poem that she knew of, and yes, it was “Good Friday”, and she didn’t think it was good enough by far for me to seek him out over it.
I expected her to hang up then, but she didn’t. I can’t really say why, but I decided to tell her the truth — I told her about Ignacio Muez Ajedra. I told her I had read his book. “You found his book?” she asked quietly. “In America?” She’d picked up on my accent.
I told her no, I’d found the book in London.
“Good,” she said, and it struck me as strange at the time she would say that, and that she would sound so relieved, but I didn’t ask why. Not then or any time afterward.
Instead I told her that I was actually intrigued by Muez’s book and had been hoping her father would be able to tell me something about him. She laughed at that, saying her father would have been happy to tell me everything. As it was, she would have to do the job.
After all, Muez was her great-grandfather.
But it was a long story, not one to be told over the phone. Could we meet sometime?
How about that weekend? At the Hammersmith Underground Station?
And so that was how I met Camilla.
There’s a statue at the Hammersmith Underground. I’ve seen it a few times and still don’t know what to make of it: three human figures, all standing together on a plinth. They’re posed as if they might be dancers. I’d seen the statue probably three or four times before I realized that none of these figures have faces; instead of discernible features, each one has a jumbled mass of planes and ridges, as if the sculptor got as far as chiseling them out and then snapped, chipping away their faces piece by piece.
I didn’t notice this the first time I met Camilla. Nor the second, nor the third, nor the fourth.
The fifth time we met in Kensington, not Hammersmith.
The sixth time, when we met once again at Hammersmith, I finally noticed the statues. I noticed them because they reminded me of what was left of the bum when Camilla and I had finished with him. I tried explaining that to Camilla, I tried to explain that I wanted out, that I didn’t believe, that I never really believed. It was nonsense, it had always been nonsense.
“Yes,” she said, “of course it is.”
We didn’t go back to her flat that day. I haven’t seen her since.
I saw the bum again for the first time the day after, though. Wearing the same hoodie, the same old jacket. Leaning against the Waitrose outside the building where I go to classes — where I’d first seen him, in fact, my first week in this country. The place I’d told Camilla we’d find him (there was a small alley behind the Waitrose where I’d noticed he slept). At first I didn’t believe it, of course; I thought it was a coincidence. But still, every day, I saw the bum, the vagrant, wearing those same clothes, that same jacket. I never saw his face.
I’d been hearing the voices on the tube for some time by then, but I’d been ignoring them, turning my iPod up as high as it could go. They’d been much louder after the Kensington thing, when we killed the bum and I thought I heard something… roar, is the only way I can describe it. Something roared, unquestionably it did, when we finished with the bum and buried his body in the four corners of this city. I know it was a roar.
At the time, though, I thought it sounded like the low rumbling noise a train makes on the Underground as it pulls up to the station.
When this sort of thing happens in novels or movies, they always make a big deal out of how the protagonist is affected psychologically. Why, of all people, should this happen to me? What does this mean for me? How does this change my place in the world?
I don’t have time for that. As it turns out, in real situations like this, these questions are remarkably unimportant. It doesn’t matter why this has happened to me, only that it’s happened. The only way its changed my place in the world is that the world may not be around much longer. I’ve awakened this City, or something in the City — Camilla told me about her grandfather, the things he believed, the visions he received. He believed he was a prophet.
Apparently, so am I.
But I am a reluctant prophet. When I was seduced by the gospel of the City, when Camilla told me what we needed to do and I agreed, I wasn’t truly thinking, or truly believing. I was overcome by something else, something I regret now, and something I want to destroy. I imagine London, sometimes, being destroyed in an airstrike — in the Blitz, perhaps, or melting to glass under a mushroom cloud, and I am happy. I smile. I am trapped here now; such an end would be a release.
Then I look out the window and I see the black skies, the lightning. I hear the screams and the gunfire. I wonder if my fantasies of destruction would truly end the terror, or if it would instead play into some larger plan, as I did. Is destruction of the City itself what that thing underneath, within, behind the City desires? Is that what it needs?
Soon I’ll go outside to meet the bum. Or the thing that looks like it, anyway. I’m afraid, naturally. What will I see if it pulls back its hood? The warped, chipped faces of those statues in Hammersmith, the face of the vagrant after I killed him, before Camilla and I said the words to wake whatever holds this City in its grip now?
I’ve come to suspect that I know this force, this thing, better than I originally thought. Thanks to Camilla, if that was her real name.
I’m suspicious, you see, because of her name: Camilla Klein. And her father, Cameron Lee Klein. It may be the stress, but when I say those out loud they sound incredibly close to chameleon. The Lion of the Earth.
Perhaps I really did genuflect this new god, in my own awkward way. Perhaps I’ve seen the divine image: its human heart, its human face, its human form. Now is a time of reformation, of transition, and the bum outside is a part of that, the fiery furnace in which this City shall be melted down and made anew.