I have no interest in persuading you of anything. As far as I am concerned the events that I am about to relate exist beyond the realm of the regular empirical parameters of scrutability and credulous assessment. This is not a shaggy dog and there's no weighing it up. This is a rabid Irish wolf-hound of a tale, baying at the moon, and I advise extreme caution. These are my caveats, these are the terms of the dealio, dear reader.
It's something that I wish had never happened to me, and to be directly, inflexibly honest, as I sit at my typewriter now, I have reservations about setting it down. Prior to this document I have only ever recounted these events to two of my closest friends, and it has upset them. It has perplexed them. It has led to difficult questions being raised, and then questions, gently, graciously, and then silently being dropped. Questions of lifestyle and sanity. Questions of morality. It remains as it is, and was, and always shall be - an unsettling red thread running through the spectral fabric of ‘Good Luck Everybody’ - and it begins exactly where most good stories do.
We had been in a bar on Sunset Boulevard for five hours and the little girl scientist was beginning to get fruity. She snapped an answer at the journalist sat in front of us and then gazed at her phone. (The little girl scientist is the name I use for the remarkable woman I was entangled with at the time, for brevity I may refer to her as the LGS). She was ready to leave. We were there for the LGS to do some press meetings about her forthcoming record release, I was there to drink tequila and orange juice and to lend some kind of moral support and perhaps a little pith to proceedings. Detecting a subtle shift in the microclimate of her psyche, I drained my glass, we signalled cursory goodbyes and in silent acquiescence stepped out into the vermillion dusk of an October LA evening.
We barely spoke as the towncar edged its way through an early evening tide of traffic. We had an arrangement, that we would both do the necessary thing to allow the other to exist in a state of near perpetual emotional non-engagement, a sort of hedonistic calculus that felt like free fall. I think of it now as a sort of symbiotic trance.
The car inclined upwards as we started the long lolling climb up Mulholland on our way to her house, a gaudy seventies megastructure nestled in a blind alley not accidentally situated about three hundred feet from the Hollywood sign. It was a palace of stately isolation, open plan, equipped with a spectacularly ostentatious view of Los Angeles, floor to ceiling windows, discrete mid century furniture, exposed concrete, rugs, and California ephemera. Fucking ridiculous. The crucible for a cricket-score of parties, she had chosen it to frame her existence precisely, the ancestral seat of a goddess of the silver screen. It had an atmosphere of unease and oozed paranoia like wet ink. In the air and on every surface vibrating resonances of new found fame and fear, it was as if the place had become a tuning fork for our relationship, it was where we had signed our treaty of chaos and dysfunction, that ever-widening gyre that I, in my naivety and self-imposed amnesia, found profoundly exhilarating. I loved that house. I had been living there with her since the night we met, prophetically introduced at a mutual friend’s dinner party where she immediately invited me to play a game of hide and seek.
The car rounded a sharp bend, the LGS slipped forward, and I reached for her hand. She looked at me unblinkingly, she had a disquieting habit of levelling a gaze at me that felt like it was the first time she had ever laid eyes upon me, a bat squeak of something passed between us. She smiled, leant forward and turned up the radio. ‘The Mercy Seat’ reverberated through the black interior of the car, I turned to look out the window at the vertiginous hills either side, the curiously cliched lights of LA now glistening below, and the red eye of the sun going down over the pacific. I had a resurgent pang of a feeling that had persisted for the last few weeks, of not knowing who I was, or who I was becoming, and how I ended up in this situation. It manifested as a sort of dissociative rush, a wave that would crest over my mind, time would stand still, I felt weightless for a moment, and then it would submerge back into my unconscious murmurings.
In my mind I was able to compose the sequence of events, order them, see the causality, and yet still not make any sense of my circumstance: I had moved there to make an album, and to get over the end of a relationship. I had been recording in a studio in Melrose for six months, I had made friends and constructed a purposeful life in this city, and then a simple twist of fate had led to me meeting the LGS. And everything had been very weird since that night. The German’s have an expression, ‘Widdershuns’ - for which there is no direct translation, it means, counter, or against and backwards, somehow out of whack, well everything had been widdershuns since then.
We had bonded the night we met over a debilitating sense of self-awareness, a shared fascination for magic and the applied imaginative use of the will. Tarot readings, seances, ritualised high magic, Carl Jung, Aleister Crowley and dear Bram Stoker. We had become a double act, practitioners of the esoteric arts. Some of which we would intuit and just make up the process for ourselves, other aspects we studied and investigated like monastic acolytes of the absolutely weird. Either way we had been getting results, of a sort. The fact that we stayed in the house pretty much all the time had advanced us rapidly down this arcane path. I would go to the studio between 3pm and midnight, god knows what she got up to during the day but once I returned we would immediately set about some line of investigation, usually until the sun came up.
The car pulled to a halt at the gates of the house, the driver switched off the radio …’And the mercy seat…’
- ‘Will you be needing me later Miss?'
- ‘No thank you - we are staying in tonight.’
The car door clicked.
We walked across the secluded drive, statuesque palms and high cicada branches curled around a 9 foot fence, meaning that the house was completely occluded from the road, not that anyone ever came down here, it was a blind dead end, that’s why she liked it. It was a house designed with privacy as paramount. I had never adjusted to how quiet and remote feeling it was, despite being in one of the most frenetic cities in the world, I remarked upon this once again. The gravel of the path glowed a reddish tinge, pebbles like embers in the last light of the sun. I gazed too at the diffuse glow emanating from the skin of her exposed shoulders as she rifled through her purse for the keys. She glanced back at me, but before I could speak she had found the keys and in a moment we were over the threshold into the gloom of the large open plan lounge. The blue light was dispelled by her immediate lighting of the legion of candles arranged in the centre of the low circular table. She lit her cigarette off one of these and reclined on the voluminous red satin couch. I walked over to the glass double doors that looked out over the most singularly arresting feature of the house, a 40 foot square balcony, built into the hillside itself, a stroke of tasteless grandiose seventies architectural genius. Standing out there you felt as if you were levitating over the city itself, we sardonically referred to it as the Mount Olympus of comedown locations. From its far right hand corner you could look across to the Hollywood sign, and down into the steep ravine below. The balcony was flanked on all three sides by sheer drops, all of which terminated in the trees and scree below. Staring down into the shifting lights i said, ‘I think it might be time for a latch-lifter darling.’
I walked to the round corner tiki bar, transplanted from perhaps the seediest cocktail lounge on the strip some thirty years previously. It was maintained by the her housekeeper and was pentagon of intoxicant. At that time our drink de jour was a couple of inches of Johnny Blue, with soda water, no ice and a glace cherry for LGS. We could usually rely upon it to get right to the heart of the matter, or near enough.
Laying back on the couch, we silently observed the gloaming, a meditative mood settling upon us, the room shuddered and jumped in the quivering candle light. Handing me the last gasp of her cigarette she moved to the record player that was positioned on the floor in the very middle of the room, surrounded by archipelagos of records. Records which she purchased obsessively, and treated, in much the same way as she treated most things in her life, with a degree of carelessness that was both infuriating and vaguely enviable.
I drew on the cigarette, tasting her lipstick, and watched as she methodically flipped through the discs. She paused momentarily selecting an LP, her hair had fallen forward and I couldn’t see what selection had caught her eye. Moments later Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique flooded the room. She turned and walked back to the sofa, flamingoing to remove her stilettos, I noticed that her wide green eyes now betrayed a shift in mood and emotion, ‘What’s it going to be tonight, Leonard?’
We had been studying the work of Dr John Dee, Ennochian Magic, Abramellin the Mage, and several other Goetic high magic practices, devising and scrying infinite invisible geometric pathways in time and space - communing with the angels every other day, working from tarot correspondences and the Kabbalah, the usual. I reached for the deck and began to search for a particular card.
- - -
At some point in the evening I must have lost consciousness. I awoke on my back beside the table. I sat up, the room was suspended in almost profound darkness, the candles having all burnt out, save one, flickering on the sideboard near the spiral staircase. I was alone. I stood and groped along the edge of the couch, reaching into my pockets for my lighter. It was then that I noticed my trousers appeared to be covered in honey. My mind flashed to a memory of our magical undertakings that night, and as I relit the candles on the table before me there was indeed the empty jar of California state honey, along with the athame, chalice and blurred markings of the path we had been working. Jesus Christ I lit a cigarette and stared at the xenon sky in the windows above. A few moments later I walked over to the tiki to fix myself a drink, it was then that I discovered I was not alone. Nestled in the space between the bar and bookshelf was the little girl scientist, naked, save for her jewellery. She was asleep.
I went to the record player and put on Jacques Brel. I didn’t feel like waking her up, her moods being unpredictable if she was roused at this hour. Jacques was singing about Amsterdam, and I found my mind wandering to the streets there, to the Paradiso Venue and to a show I had played a year earlier, and the events that had followed… it was then that I heard a sound.
The candles were guttering and I stumbled to the record player to turn it off.. As I lifted the stylus it came again… it wasn’t a sound I had ever heard before. Dear reader, here I will do my best against the inadequacy of language, it is too blunt a tool for accurately rendering any real experience… what I heard clearly for the second time in the silence that had settled on the room was a kind of mechanical laughter. A rushing mechanical sound, mingled with a cackle. A human sounding cackle, fleshy, reverberant and fiercely biological, but not in any way something you might mistake for an animal sound. It was then that I felt a sensation of terror descend upon me, a keen and almost intelligent terror, a terror that is belied by the knowledge that something truly terrible is very nearby. I froze, the room pitched briefly. Silence, nothing at all. I cocked my head cartoonishly. Nothing. The double doors were still wide open leading to the balcony beyond. A gentle breeze was nuzzling the remaining candles. Still nothing more. I stood up very softly, not taking my eyes from the balcony doors… I was certain now that was where the sound had originated from, and I felt myself attuning to an awareness of a presence just beyond the reflective planes of glass… out on the balcony… I stood staring at my silhouetted reflection in those glass doors.. I felt the breeze from the canyon beyond cooling the broken sweat on my brow. I am not sure how long I stood unmoving, staring at the darkness beyond the doors. I had almost begun to recover my composure and then it came again; longer more malign and more assured this time and there could be no mistake, it came from something stood just beyond those doors… someone was on the balcony… laughing mechanically and dreadfully at me.
The kind of fear I felt I can’t summon upon these pages, it was transcendent of common house or garden fear, you will have to rely upon your own personal experiences and sense memory to try and conjure anything approaching the sensations coursing through my psyche. It was nothing like the fear I had felt at incidents of terrible accidents, or being threatened by lethal force, it ran in some perverse way backwards and forwards through the time of that moment, and I innately knew that whatever was on the other side of those doors, whatever was in the inky depths of the concrete balcony, was something I had never encountered before. Looking back now it seems curious that I didn’t entertain for a second that the intruder might be a human being, a villain, opportune thief on the balcony of a big house… I knew that whatever was there, making that sound, was something that I was not going to encounter in a strictly anthropological, terrestrial way.
I flicked my eyes to the sleeping form of the LGS. The laughter came again. I felt like screaming, screaming to wake her up and screaming to warn her, and screaming at whoever was making that sound. It sounded, just a shade closer too. A footstep closer perhaps.
I reached for my cigarettes, and lit one, slowly. Inhaling deeply to let the nicotine sink it’s teeth into my sympathetic nervous system. My head cleared. Still my eyes fixed on the blackness beyond the doors. I decided very quickly to step towards the doors. Before I knew it I was at the threshold, my reflection loomed large in in the thick glass, a narrow opening before me, leading out into the black of night. No sound came. I exhaled smoke that rushed out through the aperture. There was a small sound. A grunt.
I stepped out into the night. I could see nothing at all. I could however now feel something, an irrefutable presence, I speculated about 8 foot away from where I was stood. Beyond the gloom I could see the shimmering of the now infinitely distant city lights. There were shadows cast on all sides by the surrounding scene. I heard nothing. I took a step forward, I actually cannot tell you why I did this. I heard a movement, and the rushing mechanical sound swam around me, it was significantly louder and now nauseating. It was then I knew that whatever was out there with me was truly demonic. It wasn’t human, as I had hitherto understood this notion.
It moved in the blackness, moved like a sea within a sea. A voice came, a voice of similar tone to the laughter, shrill and ticking, it spoke to me. I found myself speaking back, in a language I did not entirely understand.
It moved. A staggering of hard heeled feet on the concrete, I too stepped forward again, and now there was a close distance of communion, a place of direct communication. I cannot relate what was contained in those moments. I will relate that a precipice moment followed, I distinctly recall a sudden awareness that I either had to flee or fight, and to flee from what was before me would mean one of the three remaining directions I could move in, and that meant down to the rock scree several hundred feet below the balcony. The thing before had started to make broken wild sounds.
Editorial note: I at this point spoke a few words [which cannot be replicated here]. From where they came, I know not, and after I did so, I knew that I had a few moments, a few footsteps to get back into the house, before all hell broke loose.
As I type, I still feel the sensation of the door slamming closed. I can also recall the thirty seconds of shrieking as I stood staring back out through the glass, past my own reflection into the night. The LGS didn’t stir. I poured a drink and curled myself around her. I would tell her everything in the morning. I left the remaining candles burning, and before closing my eyes tossed a handful of Palo Santo into the flame.
- - -
Four months later - I am recording ‘Good Luck Everybody’ again, and this time at Stanley Kubrick’s estate just outside of London. We have finished the last take of the last song of that day’s session, it is 3.38am when the Horses and I retire to the control room. We want to hear the mixes of the songs we had worked on that day. As the tapes spool, I step outside into the freezing February evening to catch my breath. I return to a scene of disarray, the producer and engineer are fraught. The Red Book, the A5 red book in which we have been noting every stroke and moment of the recording, composed of every To Do list, essentially the schematic masterplan of the album, has gone missing, inexplicably. A search is commenced. We roam every aspect of the estate, no stone unturned and no maggot left lonely… We split up and roam the grounds, retracing steps from the dining room, across the estate to the studio…. A raging wind blowing, but no rain. It’s bitterly cold. I find myself alone in front of the house, I am stood between the arching pillars of the entrance and the overgrown garden halfway down the crazed paving, the gale is howling off the porticos of the building behind me - I know the Red Book is hopelessly lost, if it had been dropped it would have been carried aloft into the eternal… I pause on the path, arrested for a moment by a sound I hear soaring over the tempest. - I hear it, unmistakable and recurrent and exactly as it was that long strange night past in California... a demonic rising laughter, mechanical and clipped, however, on this occasion, I found myself laughing back.
- - -
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An extract from Kieran Leonard's forthcoming novel A Muse.
Catch Saint Leonard's Horses at the following shows:
6 Dublin National Concert Hall (with full choir)
7 Dublin Ruby Sessions at Doyles
8 Limerick Dolans
9 Brey Harbour Bar
14 Manchester The Eagle
21 Leeds Library
23 London The Lexington
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