I was about to call him out, tell him how predictable his actions had been since first we had pulled him from the boat, but then Manou’s almighty scream from the direction to which Dan had pointed set my hair from my head and I turned to see the mud covering the Usurper’s grave being pushed up from within. First one hand, then another broke through the earth, the right fist clenching the air, vital, pulling its torso and legs up and into view, head emerging last, shaking itself free of mud and dust, standing rather sullenly as we all watched in terror and many crossed themselves at sight this undead resurrection. And it was him. Of that there was no doubt. Momentarily, he looked back down at the grave from which he had emerged, bent over to pick something up and in one movement somehow swung it round to strike Manou hard on the side of his head. It was a corpse, the half-rotting skull smashing into Manou’s temple with a force that sent him sprawling in that sick sort of motion which immediately made me fear the worst. Then the Usurper threw the body towards us and it landed face up on the table, spread-eagled, half a dozen melons squashed beneath it and the same number of Utopians backing away feverishly crossing themselves still.
It was Emily.
I gawped at my nemesis.
Death, not even death, had contained him. Somehow he had transcended it, returned back through the gate, by what soul-killing magic I knew not, so that here he now stood, commensurate with his new condition, strong, mighty, immortal, and ready for the last time to harrow our paradise to extinction. I glanced at the Utopians sitting rigid in their seats and Dan who continued to eye me with disdain. Then I looked back at the Usurper. In the instant he nodded, I felt searing pain as my arm was twisted back behind me, forcing me to bend to the table where my face smacked hard upon the wooden top, Dan’s laughter increasing as he lifted my arm to breaking point before suddenly letting go, his choking the only thing I could hear as I fell back to the ground and cradled my injured limb. Through the fog and tears in my eyes, I saw him struggling against an assailant, a heavy length of rope coiled about his throat. It was Tom, strangling him to death, but not with rope, a snake, holding it at both ends and pulling it tight. Dan fought against him, kicking out with flailing legs, reaching with his right hand for one of the candle holders we had set by the table but he fumbled and groped thin air instead, the every element he was being denied by the continued pull of the snake round his neck. Fiona rushed to my side, helping me up, and I turned to see Henry holding the Usurper at bay simply by placing his living body in between the ghost and his accomplice. The Utopians were watching aghast, each throw of the die producing new and unexpected chain of event, and they stood immobile as Dan choked, gargled and finally fell limp in Tom’s grip. My brother let him drop to the floor, wrapped the snake around his shoulders and turned to embrace me. I looked to see where the Usurper stood but he had vanished, Henry in its place rushing over to see if we were alright.
It was then he saw the body of his dead beloved.
A single cry left his lips, and he rushed to hold her.
At the same time, I noticed the Utopians starting to mass at the top end of the table. Instinctively, I backed away pulling Fiona with me, but although Tom saw the danger and joined us Henry seemed unwilling to move despite our protestations alerting him to this new menace.
‘Henry,’ I called quietly, ‘Henry.’
He looked at me, then back at Emily.
Four or five of the Utopians began to advance, picking up candle holders and brandishing them. Tom and I readied ourselves to stand up and defend our friend, but as the islanders rushed forwards in frenzy of attack the High Screen suddenly came to life, crackling, flashing then showing a still picture of, it must be, our island paradise, Utopia as seen from the sea when first we arrived. Placid, beautiful, in its very purity stopping the islanders still from their intent as they gazed in wonderment at the image, as we all looked upon it and remarked, reflected inwardly on our original purpose for making adventure from western civilization to the Pacific.
And then I saw movement.
A figure rushing to the next screen, and the next, and someone moving the other side, each time ensuring the televisions showed again the same picture, over and over, the peace of the island before the arrival of the Usurper, Dan…and my brother.
I stared at Tom, my enragement cooling on the instant when I saw him taking the opportunity to pull Henry clear of his mourning Emily, and then we were gone, clear, heading into the jungle, the sound of the chase behind us hurrying our step over paths and tracks, twisting and turning at irregular intervals, rushing through the undergrowth until I chanced to look over my shoulder to see if we were being gained upon by the Utopians and collided with something that sent me sprawling back to the ground. I glanced up to see the Usurper smiling down at me, no trace of my companions in this new, horrid nightmare from which I attempted to escape by blinking hard and slapping myself about the face. He laughed then, holding up a length of bamboo cane with which he joyously whipped my arm. A long streak of blood accompanied the very real pain.
‘How?’ I mouthed clutching the wound, ‘you’re not corporeal.’
He said nothing, just whipped me again.
And again and again.
I tried to get up but was forced to suffer the blows, each worse than the next though somehow I managed to twist round onto my stomach so that he couldn’t strike my face and blind me. But the pain on my back was excruciating, each whip tearing through the skin, lacerating it viciously, the torment seemingly unending until finally respite came and I looked up to see him holding the original, portable television set high in the air, my Utopians gathering to kneel down before the appliance in those by now normal postures of worship.
‘You see,’ chimed their leader, his voice ringing round the jungle, ‘the power of television. It is the only god!’
And with that, he turned to take their adulation just long enough for me to clamber to my feet and make escape, the sound of my people close behind as I tore through the jungle wondering where my friends were and fearing my wife would endure the same fate Emily had so brutally suffered when caught by this fiend who had now set his demon dogs upon me. Somehow, I managed to keep ahead of the baying pack but eventually I slowed and at the same time came to a part of the jungle in which the undergrowth was seemingly impassable. Stopping for a moment and hesitant to retrace my steps I suddenly felt someone behind me, a hand clamping itself round my mouth and an iron grip dragging me backwards off the path and into the trees to a hole in the ground where I was released. I turned round to see my brother with a finger to his lips. We crouched down, waiting for the arrival of the mob, but they never came. It was when my head cleared that I realized he was alone.
‘Where’s Fiona?’ I said. ‘Where is Henry?’
He shook his head.
‘Tom,’ I said looking round at his miserable hovel, ‘where are they?’
‘I lost them,’ he said weakly, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Tom,’ I said again, ‘where are they?’
He looked meekly at me. ‘One moment they were following, the next they were gone. It’s the truth, William. I’m sorry. I’ve ruined your dream.’
‘I don’t care about the stupid dream,’ I fulminated. ‘I want my wife. And my friend. Now which way did they go?’
Without further word, he started off back through the dense undergrowth and tangled brush. I followed him readily, arriving back at the path and running fast after him along a track I simply hadn’t seen before, ducking underneath overhanging branches, jumping over rotten, standing tree roots, enjoying the thrill and exhilaration of the charge until my sense suddenly alerted me to danger ahead, the sound of cascading water, though now I was a deal further behind my brother than I had been at start; I called to him then, my cry sounding just as movement to his left alerted me, and in the moment that he looked over his shoulder, still running hard, a figure also glancing behind itself charged into the sudden opening in the trees, smashing head to head with Tom, the force of the collision knocking them both off the cliff edge and down to the waters below. I stood rooted to the spot, unable to regain myself so I might check upon their landing, but when the growling and snarling shook me from my malaise I looked to see a huge tiger advancing for my kill having lost its previous prey, my friend Henry. It was he, Andrew, he who clashed with Tom, the two of them falling from the dizzy height to the splash below. Except I had heard the thud of ground, not water, and as Pruesur stalked me to the edge of the drop where I chanced to look over, I saw two waterfalls, not one; I was at different spot to that I had spent with my wife, the large pool laid out at bottom in that location simply smaller and in different position here. My brother and my friend had hit rock, whereupon their battered, dead bodies now lay at awkward angles even as they embraced one another sickly in final resting position below.
But Pruesur still intended to maul me.
Hadn’t the animal just seen what fate had befallen me?
Didn’t it care?
Of course it didn’t, it was an animal, a savage beast, yet one that suddenly and without warning transmogrified right in front of me, for before I might notice it the creature had stood on its hind, folded inwards, and collapsed into human form so that in answer to my heaving gasps and increasing anger there floated the last being in the world I had ever wanted to see again.
This time, I advanced.
‘Do not touch me,’ he warned with all the repulsion he had ever owned, ‘for I have not yet returned to the Proselyte.’
‘Prophet of Baal!’ I swiped, my hand passing straight through him so that I lost balance and almost fell from the cliff, ‘you have your reward.’
He drifted out over the edge himself and began to descend. ‘I have so enjoyed pouring water on the fires of your paradise, William.’ He cackled. ‘It will be tragic when the extinction of its final embers ends my little emolument.’
And with that he floated down to the bodies of Tom and Henry, tarrying over them for I knew not what purpose, when all of a sudden two figures broke from the jungle below and charged towards him, surprising and somehow threatening him enough with small objects for the vile ghost to let the corpses alone and be on his way. I strained to see who these people were, and what indeed they held which had frightened the Usurper enough for him to flee in such manner, but they were simply too far away for me to detail either their identity or holding possessions and soon enough they were gone too, chasing, hunting down the felon, or so I hoped would be their recourse. I stared for long minutes at the bodies of my brother and my friend, determining to clamber down the cliff face to attend to their burial but something stopped me long enough to consider how I might prorogue that task in order to finish the pursuit of the Usurper first.
Within seconds, I had backed away from the edge of the precipice and determined upon present course of action; I lay down, closed my eyes and in that lingering twilight when our conscious breaks down the wall to merge with its greater partner I arranged a dream sequence detailing the salient events in Utopia’s demise. I must have been tired because the programme was replete with information, indicating a profound depth of slumber spent garnering the construction of this framework with all the terrible facts which had led to such tragedy upon so blessed an isle. Just before dawn, as I was rising back through the layers and waves of sleep, I sent the finished product out, and it was then that I awoke, not by the cliff edge upon which I had fallen to sleep but on the sea shore in between two lumps of wood.
Something was horribly wrong.
And not just the impossibility of my nighttime peregrination.
A presence, near me.
I looked up, shuffled back.
He was sitting astride the wood, his feet resting upon the two books they were holding pugilistically in their arms.
Not dead timber at all, but recoiling with horror I there beheld my storytellers, Tumba, and Brian, slaughtered like all the others despite obvious efforts, the realization concurrent with my shock and terror, that it had been they the two figures in camp and at cliff foot, still picture of our ideal the former, written over oral word the latter, these weapons of last resort now somehow rendered useless by the revolting fiend who dared perch, legs akimbo, over their decimated bodies.
He saw that I saw then, but as I leapt up he was away down the beach and into the shallows. I raced after him, charging into the surf, thrashing my arms and legs in attempt to stroke after him but he was too fast, moving out steadily into deeper ocean where the swells rumbled beneath us and I was soon lost to fatigue, my limbs failing to respond even though I felt I was closing on him. Eventually, I had to stop, treading water for seeming aeons whilst he floated round agonizingly, tauntingly close to me, and then I saw your boat behind him. But no sooner had I spied the vessel than he turned round and back with a smile. I lunged for him through the water but he evaded my grasp and started swimming towards you. Once more I followed, once again I fell behind, and after a few more minutes I had to take rest a second time. Only he didn’t stop, though glancing back to shore I suddenly saw I had another problem, fins arcing through the water between me and the beach, now some half a mile away. A terrible, sharp pain suddenly shot through my whole body sending me dizzy with agony, and when I felt my side, bringing my hand up to my face, I saw jaw marks of blood and your boat sailing through them towards me. Tell me you have picked him up also, Andrew, tell me you have the felon in custody, ready to be transferred to the authorities for trial and custodial sentence. The blood I still have on my hands is droplets compared to the multitudinous clots he has gathered upon him from a life of crime. Arrest him, please, hand him over, yes, but promise me this, you will never let him escape.
Andrew, in continuation
So saying he closed his eyes, his breathing barely discernible and I feared for the worst, but he was alive, I could tell, and I sat there beside him reflecting on his extraordinary tale, loath to inform him that we had never caught up with this Usurper fellow despite searching the seas around Utopia for days after our initial sighting of him. We had sailed back to Ogilvy at the back end of William’s narration where Claire and I now tend to our injured friend in hospital, often glancing across at one another as he settles to rest, the looks which pass between us testament to the wonder and admiration we feel for poor Mr. Ottoway.
Mary, you have now followed the progress of this brave dream of William’s from inception to termination, marveling I guess as we have at the stoicism and maturity he has displayed in suffering his losses. That he has failed in his enterprise is in my opinion no manner his fault, the appalling cruelty of Fate in conspiring to rob him of his prestige on the island the overriding cause of Utopia’s demise. Some will conclude thus that his experience proves the nuisance of ideals, that concrete reality, the visible here and now is the only model with which we should play. Others will admire him for attempting to make his dreams influence the wider world, believing that imagination is of tantamount importance to the wellbeing and progress of humankind. My own sense is that William and Henry followed a dream, turning their backs on the real world and setting up an idyllic community, but through that course of action they invited the world, however passively, to have its say in the matter, and as my poor friend has detailed it did just that, alone in the manner which has ever proven its custom and its perch.
William dozed for a while whilst Claire and I watched over him, then we left the hospital and returned to our lodgings conversing about Utopia and the incredible chain of events which has led to its demise. In our room was a small television. I cannot begin to describe, having heard my friend’s tale, the alteration of feeling I now owned for it. For Claire, too, her attitude had changed towards the appliance, and yet with more equanimity than mine she pointed out that the device must have had such a deleterious effect on the Utopians because of the dark, negative nature of film which ran upon it. There were many motion pictures, programmes and broadcasts which appealed not just to the lighter side of life but which called us to higher nature ourselves, and surely a balance and moderation of the two types would have had healthier impact upon the population of this unfortunate island?
But of course that was what the Usurper wanted – destruction, of William and his paradise. And he had achieved the former, for when we returned to hospital the following morning we discovered that our dear friend had passed with the expiration of night, just minutes before we had arrived. Our immediate grief was broken by the arrival of a lovely couple who introduced themselves as Heather and Simon, William’s beloved sister and brother-in-law. They had travelled, with their bonny baby, from England to Ogilvy, distraught too at poor Ottoway’s death and determined, once they had heard his story recounted at my hand, to return to Utopia with us for further enquiry thereon amid hopes of possibly salvaging the community.
In that last optimism they are indeed vein, and I dejected beyond measure, for when we reached habitation on that marvelous, beautiful isle it was only to find body upon body lying dead and at twisted angle upon the ground with the High Screen’s reel stuck upon a vicious battery between men and women of different ethnicities. The Utopians had turned on each other, Mary, westerner against islander, our initial feelings of sadness and grief at this outcome again quickly broken, this time by the arrival of the mainland police who are currently questioning us in their ongoing investigation into the large-scale theft of televisions and murder of the proprietor who had sought to defend his stock against their purloining. I feel happier now that the authorities are involved. It is what William wanted from a long time ago, and I hope now that he can rest in some peace knowing that despite the demise of Utopia, the right people will be on the trail and track of that blasted fellow, the Usurper.
He tried Mary, did he not, he tried so hard to make it work? If only his friend Henry had not been so preoccupied by Emily’s disappearance and left the island to search for her, perhaps matters would have run differently. But that is my opinion. Perhaps you view events another way. Still, when all is said and done our friend has shown us what it is to follow our hearts, to strive for those things we value the most, and if, as in this instance, the ideal is dead, it can only be reiterated that the dream lives on, for not five minutes since, a dreadful, bedraggled figure walked slowly into the police station, and on giving her name my heart almost jumped for joy at considering this disheveled woman William’s wife, Fiona. Indeed it proved, for punch drunk and half-drowned, she had somehow managed to escape the island to reach the mainland, and I was permitted to attend her once she had found out her husband had confided so readily in me his profound asseverations. There can be no better tribute, she tells me, to William than that once well we must all return to Utopia, starting over again, learning from the mistakes made in this latest venture to process, progress and produce the perfect society which her beloved husband tried so valiantly to implement and achieve. Claire and I have agreed already to go with her. I have added your name to the list too. I will write again soon.
Your brother Andrew
Letter I (6 weeks earlier)
How I wish you were here. This country grows more beautiful by the day and I know your pen could paint a fairer picture of it than my own might ever do. We have travelled through some of the most glorious locations known to man, the Balrush Falls two nights ago away to our left glittering in the darkness like so many fireflies tumbling down to earth, Warton Country Park a quite breathtaking mass of trees and wildlife left untouched by the greed of man’s concrete expansion, Jah Por that towering edifice we in the western world have only seen in textbooks at school, and my personal favourite the Wall that stretches right along the tracks we travel on accompanying us like some upbeat traveller, keeping step, telling a story at every turn and holding our spirits high with its indefatigable zest for life.
I say ‘we’ though in truth I am now alone. My companion Frederic left the trail last night. His dreams lie in another direction to mine over the mountains in the East and further on towards the horizon - he is desperate to catch sail with his fellow countrymen and so complete the last leg of this marathon journey we embarked upon almost a year ago. As for myself I yearn to visit Utopia, the fabled island that everyone seems to be talking about both on and off the train. I have tried not to listen to the rumour that something disastrous has happened there preferring instead to see and judge for myself when the time comes to travel to those climes, but it is hard not to speculate when all one can hear are hurried whispers and low-pitched murmurs talking of haunting, infidelity and murder.
Oh if only Frederic was still here! At least then I could drown out these irritating rumblings by speaking of loftier matters or at the very worst accept the rumours and consider them with him. But no, I am stuck on my own with just a handful of books for company and the spirit-crushing thought that there are still three days of travel to endure until I can leave the train and take passage to this extraordinary isle. Even as I write I hear voices behind me talking about it not with any degree of excitement but with great sadness as though a terrible tragedy has occurred there and they are personally involved in it.
I think this stems from the fact that the founder is a well-known figure in these parts, a man who is respected and admired for the society he has created, and it seems as though the demise of the island is concurrent with his own. He must certainly be a most interesting fellow and I hope to meet him well but until then I must sit through the ramblings of this Fame machine as it spreads its wings and flies up and down the train increasing with each flight the magnitude of false speak until the whole vehicle believes the entire island has sunk beneath the sea without trace, a veritable second Atlantis.
So for now I shall leave you and try to get on with some reading. If I can just lose myself in another world I might be able to escape the infernal mutterings that so beset me at every turn though rumour being the thing it is I don’t hold my hopes very high. It is only a matter of time before someone engages me in conversation yet I shall endeavour to shun all hearsay and form my own judgement on the situation when I reach the island itself.
I hope you are well Mary and that married life is treating you with the joy you so deserve. I will write again soon.
Your brother Andrew
I cannot wait for this journey to end! Since I wrote to you on Wednesday I have barely slept, a recurrent nightmare assailing my mind whenever I close my mind and drift into dream-state - I lie in agony on the ground, an evil-looking man whipping me with bamboo cane laughing as the blood pours and bruises rise on my skin. In his free hand he holds a portable television set raising it high above him and in seconds the clearing is filled with people kneeling down to pay homage. The man stops, bids me be up standing then sets his followers on me. I run through the forest as fast as I can but soon I am caught, kicked and beaten, my last view their grinning leader bending down to deal the death blow.
I wake up sweating. What a strange dream, the like of which I have never suffered before. By yesterday morning I was so disturbed I simply had to seek company. I wandered through the train carriages looking for a suitable companion and finally found a lady on her own gazing from the window. You know my frailties better than I Mary, particularly that I never can resist striking conversation with a lone woman. Some call it caddish but I hold it to be gentlemanly especially if attempted as I always do with honourable intentions.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘is this seat taken?’
She seemed to be in another world for it took her a second to turn and take me in. ‘I’m sorry?’ she whispered.
‘This seat,’ I pressed, ‘is it taken?’
‘Oh, no.’ She turned her attention once more to the window. I sat down opposite her and gazed from the train myself. Rolling fields and hills stretched away into the distance, the Wall ever running beside us as we jogged through the brilliant countryside and for a moment I forgot all the talk of Utopia and that dreadful dream content to let the panoramic views sweep on before us. Then I noticed my companion yawn and couldn’t help glancing at her. ‘Excuse me,’ she said trying to stifle it, ‘I’m very tired.’
I smiled. ‘Not at all,’ I said, ‘I feel the same myself.’
Suddenly she was all ears. ‘You do?’
‘Yes, I’ve barely slept since Wednesday.’
So innocent a remark, so unexpected the reaction. She looked over her shoulder at the carriage behind us then past me down to the front before leaning in close to the table and beckoning me forward. I acquiesced and was soon lost in the beauty of her features. Her eyes were that sparkling blue which holds one enraptured for minutes at a time glowing with an intensity under which I found it hard not to shrink so completely did they light up the dark recesses of my soul. Her nose so beautifully formed gracing the face on which it took centre stage seemed to bow and take plaudits whilst her high cheekbones like drawn curtains threatened to come together at any moment and hide her whole face from sight. But her mouth, its saviour, curled at the edges into a philanthropic smile drawing those cheekbones back out applauding the feature above it as an audience would a player whilst her forehead young and as yet unfurrowed by the hands of time stood over all, the roof, the ceiling watching the performance below it with disinterested grandeur and ceremony. She spoke to me in a hushed whisper, her voice as sweet as any I had ever heard, her long flowing hair hiding her face from all but my own. I felt privileged. ‘Have you had them?’ she asked, the concern audible even in her whisper, ‘the dreams, the nightmares.’ I nodded dumbly. ‘Then we must stay together.’ She looked furtively up and down the carriage. ‘He is near.’
‘Who?’ I asked still lost in her beauty.
‘The Usurper,’ she growled immediately bringing me back to myself, ‘though he is dead, he lives on. Utopia has failed my friend and they say the dreamers are bound up in the tragedy. We must go to the island to see for ourselves. I fear something terrible has befallen them.’ I told her what I had dreamt and her eyes widened with interest. ‘That is what happens,’ she said eagerly, ‘the sufferers send nightmares to the world. It is their cry for help. We must go there.’
What a splendid location! The sea stretches before us like an azure carpet unruffled by the pitch and swell of incoming waves or indeed by the incessant passing of motor boats, yachts and tankers as is our wont back in England, and one can only follow in awe the shaded blue sky stretching up and over us then bending back down to sea level where a veritable mass of islands stud the surface right out to the horizon, forming an archipelago that is at once breathtaking and daunting. How will we find Utopia in amongst this multitude? Claire thinks it will be easy, we must just concentrate on our dreams and they will show us the way but I am sceptical and my doubt remains whilst I continue to scan the chain of seemingly identical islands out at sea.
Once again my companion is off hunting for something or other. She is a strange woman, beautiful in the extreme but with a temper that would frighten most men with its intensity. Indeed, last night we were making our way down to the sea when a group of local vagabonds accosted us. As you know I am not the greatest fighter but just as I began to appeal to their reason Claire physically attacked the nearest of their number. The others took one look at the ferocity with which she was beating their companion and called a stop to their intimidation immediately muttering their apologies and heading off I suppose for easier pickings. It took me some time to process what I had witnessed and I have to admit I was bowled over by the experience, particularly as to its further revelation of the nature of Claire’s character. I still feel great sadness over Ann’s passing, so lovely a woman, so calm and placid and she has been forever in my thoughts since I left England, but travelling the globe I have learnt to transfer the love I hold for her to that I now carry for all people. I have met countless characters whose faces, idiosyncrasies and benevolences have left a lasting impression on my mind and I have grown to understand and apply the examples set by those who have taught me lessons about life I would never have acquired had I stayed in England with the family, the most important of which seems to be let life take you where it will. Can this really be so? Has my visit to Utopia been fated all along?
Fate, the most complicated concept with which I have ever wrestled. In England I was its master, always the dictator of my own destiny. I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to marry Ann, I wanted, I wanted and I always got. Now through a succession of mayhaps and mischances I am far more Fate’s thrall than its lord. I have wandered onto a train bound for the East hearing of Utopia from a fellow with whom I happened to be playing chess and now I have bumped into a woman who is going to take me there whether I like it or not. Is it chance that we and no others on the train have had these dreams? And how did Claire know of this fellow the Usurper? I can only presume she conversed with some locals before we met and discovered what she knows from them. For my part I still know so little about her - she has lived in France for many years I am sure but how she came to be on a train bound for the East I have still to uncover. I will make it my business to find out more about her once we board ship and are heading for Utopia. Until then I will leave you Mary and hope that your own destiny is smiling upon you at this time. I will write soon.
Your brother Andrew