Video & text teasers for the 9 chapters of The Host in the Attic
The Host in the Attic by Rohan Quine is a hologram of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, digitised and reframed in cinematic style, set in London’s Docklands in a few years’ time.
I Imminent completion of masterpiece
Later that morning Jaymi’s mobile rings and vibrates, where it lies in front of him on the polished wood of a long table in a gleaming conference room. Several large photographic prints are mounted on stands, each depicting in crisp and exquisite detail a single green carnation. Some of these blooms are against a white background and some against a black one. He turns his head and gazes impassively at them.
Rik is starting to drift into a doze, when he jumps awake at the hologram’s sudden pronouncement, “Test-rendering complete.” And right in front of him, there on the desk beside his keyboard, hovers the head of Jaymi Peek, in the form of a little hologram about the height of his laptop screen, staring expectantly up at him! It is only an initial rough test-render, of course: the real cladding for Rik’s Web-guide will come from a professional high-end film-shoot rather than a provisional video-grab such as he’s just effected from that awards footage.
But in any case, how fabulous!
How spooky, too.
II Portrait captures first corruption
His simulacrum has swelled into a great ballooning presence, often silent but operating at a new and unholy level of visibility as an unassailable brand serving almost everyone, such that wherever he looks in the media it is difficult to avoid seeing the mainstream global power of his own image—an image universally trusted to mine the Web for each user, to show them the results of this mining, to track their digital footprints and preferences and keystrokes, and to present them with intelligent options based on their interests and personalities. By the end of those initial months, images of him are floating in the sky above the cities of the earth, incorporeal and ambiguous, like gigantic posters rippling in a breeze, so high up that sound itself has fallen away into nothing, leaving just the majestic silence of a solo trajectory through space…
Every minute, everywhere, these abstracted still-images and freeze-frames burst into motion, the resultant montage being sound-tracked by an exhausting, exhilarating, fractured audio comprising shards of human chatter and snatches of violent hard-edged dance music. These moving pictures show Jaymi at the apex of the high life, across five continents: lionised by all who can gain access to him, he finds no door closed to him or to his constant good-time companion, that indefatigable voluptuary, Champagne Marc. And the heat-lamps irradiate the rooftop terraces, the cocktails flow, the private jets and private nightclub rooms are his, the sex is easy (though never with the still-smitten Rik) and the ecstasy and coke and methamphetamines swirl. But all these moving images have a kind of “cut-off” unreality to them: whether they are glimpses through mobile phone cameras, CCTV cameras and binoculars, or reflections in casino mirrors, limousine windows and cocktail-bar optics, or solarised or negative video images, they are always somehow as if behind a pane of glass…
III Addicted to the image
He enters the bathroom, noticing as usual its corners with their strange shadows, which he has discovered to be bizarrely unbanishable by any wattage of available light-bulb.
He positions the laptop’s hologram and his own head in front of the wall-mirror, such that the hologram’s head appears, in his current sphere of vision, to be only somewhat smaller than his own.
Each of the two faces is spotlit bright against the background of the dim room. Each of these is staring at the other in the mirror.
The effect is gigantically disconcerting.
Silence reigns, while the sole movement to be seen is that of Jaymi’s own eyes, flicking minutely from left to right, from right to left, scouring the two twins hard, seeking any differences…
However, whether zooming in to each face in turn or panning between them, he has to conclude he can find no difference.
Jaymi is spotlit before the immaculate wall-mirror in his dim bathroom, attired as sleekly as ever, eyes stark and cold, staring dead-still in dead silence.
With his right hand he raises into view a long, red-handled carving-knife, brings it to a gradual halt pointing up at his face, and holds it there a long time.
The explosive and protracted convulsion of deafening violence in which he stabs and stabs his face—including numerous horrific images of a growing bloodbath of facial injury and then ever-larger chunks of his face cut away until only a neck-stump is left—is brutally terminated and revealed as a fantasy, leaving him still intact, beautiful and spotlit in silence as before.
He raises the carving-knife again, presses its point by degrees into his throat, presses more and twists … drawing one drop of blood, with three spotlights reflected like pinpricks on its surface.
He keeps the knife-point there, uncomfortably long.
His stark cold stare softens into an innocent little ghost of a smile, and for the first time in the scene he blinks.
IV First cruelty of addiction
Late next morning, Jaymi reclines on his sofa. The hologram beside his laptop is a blur as it throws onto the screen a series of pages from around the world, of an evidently private nature, in response to his spoken navigation and search commands.
Prominent among these search results are images of animals savaging one another, war, violence, rape, medical operations, military installations and sinister-looking building plans, with pulses of light and a chaos of noise including the sounds of pain and suffering, the bleep of racing heart monitors, the wail of wartime sirens and the ticking of financial markets around the world.
Soon they each settle down with a cocktail and a still-warm copy of the novel, and start reading.
From the speed with which they become engrossed, it is apparent what a voice Alaia Danielle has. Page 5 lies open on all their laps at almost the same time, then before long, page 10 and page 20. “Hmm, I don’t know,” says Marc. “It’s a bit febrile, wouldn’t you say?”
“It’s meant to be a bit febrile,” retorts Jaymi.
“OK,” says Marc, “I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, for now. But I can’t help feeling she needs a good slap. And possibly a good poke too, while we’re at it.”
“Marc, please,” says Rik.
“Well, don’t you think it’s a bit febrile?” Marc asks him.
“There are a few breathless moments, perhaps, but let’s not blame the messenger for that. She’s just reflecting the world as she sees it. She’s clearly a sensitive flower.”
Marc grunts grudgingly, and they take up their pages again.
V Portrait infected and shut away
Late that night, Jaymi has occasion to pass from the lighted main space of his apartment, through the hallway and into his darkened study. He fetches a book and sets off back towards the door, not far from his laptop and the hologram, which he half-glimpses on his desk as he passes it.
About a metre past the hologram, he freezes in his tracks.
He remains standing there in the darkness, breathing a little louder than usual, thinking hard … and not turning round, in dead silence, for several seconds.
At last he cannot stand it. He wheels around and stares at the hologram.
Its eyes have swivelled up to follow him as usual, but now seem to be staring into his own eyes with more of an impudent connection than before. It is different, too… Its expression looks crueller.
He flings the book down and grabs the laptop, without looking further at the hologram but pulling it alongside the screen, so it sweeps through the air beside him as he darts from the room.
He strides through the hallway into the bathroom and flicks the lights on, ineffectual though they are. Taking care to avoid appearing in the mirror at all, as yet, he holds the laptop up beside his own head and stabilises his grip on it, with the hologram on the other side of the keyboard from himself.
Then he sidles closer to the wall-mirror, cautious and crab-like, with terror mounting in him.
By degrees he creeps and agonises nearer to the point where he starts to see, reflected in the mirror, first his own image, looking murderous … and then the laptop … and then, very slowly, the hologram.
The head inches painfully into view, staring straight at Jaymi where it hovers in the spotlight. Jaymi’s eyes bore into it, caressing its face with minute, probing flicks across its width and height…
And there’s no avoiding it. The face is still beautiful, but there’s an unmistakably increased touch of cruelty in its lineaments.
VI Horror beneath glamour
As soon as he reaches the point where he has a straight view down to the fire-door, he is hit by a vision of terror: with a grating rush, the corridor walls and ceiling and floor are all made of wet-breathing grey meat, bellowing in vicious pain, impaled by a dozen twitching meat-knives—
The vision slams away, echoes down and is sucked into silence in an instant.
Quiet and still again, the remaining half of the corridor stretches ahead, from Jaymi’s feet, just as close and thickly-aired as before, and dim-lit from nowhere.
And now he has to carry on down it, as he knows very well.
He waits a moment longer, but it’s really no use: for there go his feet, yes, stepping forward, down there underneath him…
While he goes, he next becomes aware that he is seeing every slanted ceiling angle, every leaning wall and object, with an odd kind of floatiness. And he’s also seeing all of these things from a little bit lower than his usual eye-height, as if he’s looking out of eyeballs that are embedded in the front and the sides of his neck, instead of embedded in his face.
The walls’ sallow flickering is hopeless and queasier than ever now: churning, aslant, darkly founded on an alien discomfort and disjunction…
He slows, as he draws near the fire-door and clenches his teeth between the two dark doorways yawning on either side of him.
A dim, cloudy green glow suffuses the square of black inside the hatch. He starts climbing the ladder, rung by rung, his feet weak and slippy on the cold metal, his entire body streaming sweat and shivering.
Hanging open just beneath the ceiling, the hatch-door swings away from the ladder by itself, right in front of his face, then continues to swing back and forth on its hinges, for longer than it should. He puts his hand out to stay it—but just before his hand can reach it, it stops swinging, more abruptly than it should.
He pushes himself onwards, upwards. The cloudy green glow reaches down at him. His head rises level with the hatch…
And over the edge of the hatch, at last, it is visible, up there on the table-top.
It is too far away to be seen in great detail. But even from here, it’s clear that things have changed quite a lot now. The situation has evidently reached some other level altogether.
He scuttles up the remaining steps, half-falls into the attic, rises again, shuffles down the central aisle of the attic with his head lowered, and approaches the hologram’s table with his eyes lowered, like a murderer approaching an altar.
At last he looks up at it.
The hologram is pure evil.
VII …A decade later
A decade later, a gentleman strolls along a misty Docklands street one evening, at a dignified speed. In due course he is revealed as Rik, looking perhaps a dozen years advanced from that tipsy conversation he once had with Evelyn in the office.
At the sight of a figure some way ahead of him, he stops in his tracks. The figure’s coat collar is turned up and it is wearing a hat, but the slim and fast-moving frame is unmistakable to Rik. Disgust fills his eyes. “Mr Peek,” he calls.
The figure’s half-turn indicates it has heard, but it carries on walking. Then it slows, stops and turns around to face him.
In the building’s underground garage late next afternoon, Jaymi lifts a bulky metal canister out of his car boot, locks the boot, rolls the canister to the lift and stands in the lift while the doors close. The display panel on the car-park wall beside the lift shows increasing floor-numbers, before stopping near the top. Soon those numbers descend again, the lift doors reopen, Jaymi crosses the garage without the canister, and he unlocks the car boot.
This process then recurs twice more.
That evening, Jaymi’s bathroom is still as spooky as ever, but no longer silent: the extractor-fan whirs at full-blast, and there is much gurgling and fizzing and fatty slopping and many moist cracking noises from inside the black marble bath with its golden taps, where Jaymi is bent over and busy with an unseen task, wearing heavy-duty gloves, goggles and a breathing-mask over his mouth.
Beside the bath are the three metal canisters, all with their caps off.
VIII The Furies close in and feign defeat
Between the foliage are stretches of glass walls, beyond which the dark of evening presses in, so the contents of the conservatory, sporadically spotlit, are reflected against the blackness.
Noticing himself in half-profile passing under a spotlight, he slows his pace.
He flashes back in memory, to himself in half-profile in the mirror, steamily kissing his new laptop’s pristine hologram … and himself in the mirror beside the pre-corrupted prototype hologram … and himself in the mirror beside the prototype hologram with its ominous first streak of cruelty … and then that hatch, up there in the ceiling at the end of the corridor.
Stopping to stare at himself full-on in the glass, he senses some small, unexpected movement or sound. He listens hard, noticing for the first time a grandfather clock’s tick from the hallway, his own heartbeat, a twig scraping on the glass roof above him…
He creeps down the aisle, glancing between tall plants at the black-lit glass.
Late next morning, the party is loosely spread out across the grounds behind the house, all holding guns with varying degrees of ineptitude and unfamiliarity, but safe under the eagle-eyed tutelage of an enthusiastic Marc, who is in his element. The sinister bulk of The Bodyguard hovers at all times in the middle distance.
The intended targets of these guns are birds, rabbits or hares, even perhaps a small deer or two; and frankly, all these are in little danger from most members of the shooting party. Marc spies a duck not far ahead of him, sitting fatly on the ground in plain view, almost asleep. He turns to his companions, puts a commanding finger to his lips, then braces himself upright with a solid, Churchillian swagger. Soon he has the bird in his wavering sights, and pulls the trigger. As the gun’s recoil sends Marc staggering backwards to keep his balance, the duck stands up, seems about to flap off, thinks better of it and waddles away instead.
“Damn and blast this gun,” mutters Marc, “it needs cleaning.”
“Ah, what an exquisite life you’ve had, Jaymi, I do declare,” Marc muses, through a fat glow of champagne and pleasure and friendship, as they wander along. “I’ve not done too shabbily myself either, but you—my goodness, what a world-class destiny! And who on earth could have predicted it? For anybody at all, I mean. It’s quite extraordinary how things have worked out, isn’t it? Especially when so many people around the world are stuck in vicious chasms of sadness or madness or pain, of one kind or another—unimaginably unbearable chasms, which they often remain in for decades, day-in-day-out, month-in-month-out, with no hope of escape at all… What does it all mean, eh? Still, it couldn’t have happened to nicer chap, I must say. And as I’m sure you don’t need telling, it’s not over yet, by any means. In fact, you’ve only just begun, I should say. For one thing, you still look identical, dammit, to how you looked when the Web-guide was designed. And that, my dear Jaymi—that makes me very cross indeed! Ah well, come on back inside, and let’s get ourselves another champagne, the first of many more.” And he takes Jaymi’s arm and guides them both back into the main house.
Down the narrow straight beginning of the corridor he goes; and then around those several corner-turnings, his eyes wide and glassy.
The corridor is too long, of course. And far too quiet. And the walls press in, too much. But there can be no wavering in him now.
At last he reaches the point where he can see down to the fire-door at the end, and stops.
There is no repeat of that vision, which he has never stopped fearing since it happened so very long ago, of the corridor walls and ceiling and floor being wet-breathing grey meat stuck with carving-knives … but his scanning gaze is grabbed by the silhouette of a single, real knife, which has been stabbed savagely into the wall.
Yes. Halfway down the corridor, there it is: a long, lethal, red-handled carving-knife, at chest-height…
With growing terror he creeps onwards, surprised and suspicious to be perceiving things this time from his natural eye-height, rather than from eyeballs peeping out from in between his sawn-off ribs.
He stops in front of the knife and advances his fingers softly towards it, wary lest it zing out of the wall and slice his hand off, to be cooked.
The above teasers of the nine chapters of The Host in the Attic are also in the Vimeo playlist “The Host in the Attic—samples of the 9 chapters”:
Ii, Iii, IIi, IIii, IIIi, IIIii, IVi, IVii, Vi, Vii, VIi, VIii, VIIi, VIIii, VIIIi, VIIIii, IXi and IXii.
Table of Contents of The Host in the Attic
I. Imminent completion of masterpiece
II. Portrait captures first corruption
III. Addicted to the image
IV. First cruelty of addiction
V. Portrait infected and shut away
VI. Horror beneath glamour
VII. …A decade later
VIII. The Furies close in and feign defeat