Tonight Kvira Stormandley is going for a walk. Her friends are going to walk with her. They will all wear blood red robes and masks and gloves; they are quite striking, as they walk alongside her. It’s always at night when she walks; ‘a night walk,’ she once said, ‘makes a person think in new and secret ways.’ They will probably head for a hilltop, or stroll around one of the parks, where the lamplight is less present, Stormandley and her chaperones. She has been dead for sixty eight years.
It was the first of August 1949 when she died. ‘I am going for a walk,’ she said to the doorman, as she did every night she couldn’t sleep. It was a crescent moon that night, almost a half moon. Waxing not waning. She was like to look in at people’s windows, to wonder at the lives there within. From the street level it was mostly light fittings and the tops of bookshelves she saw, the lower windows usually being curtained. But occasionally her persistence would be rewarded with someone leaning out the window, taking in the night air, or the poster of a film star on someone’s ceiling. You could get plenty of thinking done at night, pacing the streets of Buentoille.
Pacing was always a distraction, though, from her work. Real work was mostly done indoors, with the girls. She called them friends but the truth of the matter was they were her, at least that’s how she saw them. Back ups. She taught them everything she knew, in her peculiarly charismatic manner, and they all looked like her, too. They did their hair the same, dark and long and straight, they wore the same red dresses. They knew everything about her childhood, at least everything she remembered. Even the time she killed that cat and hid the body down by Trademire bridge. Later they would dig up its bones, not to act as a relic, but to see if she had been telling the truth. Or was it all some strange joke? Was she really a wizard?
They would sit opposite each other for hours, Stormandley and her friends. She would face them each in turn and look intensely at them, deeply into her eyes. They varied in age but were all younger than her. They had all been invited to her home personally, and when they felt her hand on theirs, cold and warm all at once, they found it difficult to say no. She looked at them, in these daily sessions of staring, the same way as she did back then when she first met them, recruited them. She had them stare into the mirror, too, when she wasn’t sat opposite them herself, one-on-one in her study.
She told them when she first brought them all there what her intention was. She was intensely interested in living. She wanted to keep doing it for as long as possible. She was going to stare at them, and then she was going to keep staring, and at some point she would switch across between the two bodies unnoticed, and for a moment they would not notice but she would be them and they her. They all knew what she was planning, and they all knew she was dying, but none of them seemed to mind, nor did they mind spending half of their lives in this presumably interminable manner. Some of them claimed they had felt the switch happen, if only for a moment, their consciousness jumping across the air between them. They said it was like the feeling of uncrossing your eyes. None of the friends were interested in trying to switch consciousnesses with each other; only with her.
There were other souls drawn into her orbit, none of them had to be there. Doormen and butlers and cooks and cleaners, almost all male. They seemed content with the occasional kind word, the touch of her hand to their cheek, although of course they were paid. When she died, out there on the street, the friends disbanded, their quest unfulfilled. Some of the men went with them, as husbands and servants. Some left and were never heard of again.
It was a heart attack, they said. She was nowhere special, just sitting on a garden wall and staring into a window across the street. It was a cold night, for the beginning of August. The young woman who lived in the house she was staring into was the first on the scene, having heard through her open window, as Stormandley fell backwards off the wall. She was working at her desk under a shawl. Earlier that week she had instigated the masks and robes, trying to make the transfer work more quickly, or for longer. Their eyes were still clearly visible through a slot in the masks, moulded from Stormandley’s face. Perhaps it was a desperate, last-ditch attempt.
Were they sad, when they realised that they had failed? Or was there some sense of relief, now that the woman herself was gone from this world, and could no longer influence them? The friends have never said much about it either way. They had never been that interested in talking to each other, or to journalists, it seemed, and without Stormandley there was nothing to keep them together. They never even talk about where they’re going to walk this year, they just gather outside the house and set off. They feel her presence there with them, weakly, in snippets. Perhaps she spread herself too thinly over them all. They feel her presence there, on that walk, and she guides their steps; they carry her with them. They feel her there with them, not staring in as she once did, but staring out, into the night.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of the Silver Spoon
- The Festival of the Seventh Tower
- The Festival of the Odd General