From the House of Thorn

Found in the clerical office in the Meeting Place

We grow our food here. Potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and beans. They grow in the greenhouse by the water fountain, and in the garden at the end of the green path. I live on the other side. We grow more vegetables than those listed, and further details can be found in Catalogue B in the bottom filing cabinet. I was told to be selective. Eating meat is an option if you can wrangle it through the gates, but most of the residents are vegetarian, some vegan. We keep chickens for eggs, and they die of old age. I say we because Thorn is to be shared. Food is given to those who want it, and there are never shortages, thanks to a lack of wanting and the mathematical precision of the bookkeeping. Our days are quiet and uneventful, that’s why disruptions are so alarming. Eric appeared in the greenhouse glass in Winter, a year after Alice left the community. His figure was nothing more than a grey silhouette, the first time, nothing more than a floating entity fogging the glass. I saw him briefly, as I took a short cut through the greenhouse carrying Brussel Sprouts and a leather-bound book. It was a novel, called A Thousand-Year-Old Vampire. I have come back to the greenhouse to see Eric again.

Yesterday marked two years since I achieved residency, two years since Alice and I walked through the gates together. I’ve been dreaming about her, and they are not polite dreams. They are tormented nights of constructed arguments and pleas for forgiveness. I wake up sweating. We came to Thorn on a promise – the promise of tranquillity, and abandonment from the outside world. An autonomous, socialist structure, without an economy, elections, or levels of achievement. Everyone in Thorn is grateful for good deeds, but no rewards or plaudits will come.  This does not remove the ego, rather, it leaves the ego without a home. I’m afraid I am being reductive, surely you have heard of our paradise here? We are on the coast, the sea breeze welcome in the Summer and biting in the Winter. It is the perfect amount of cold, often a knitted jumper and a shirt jacket are enough, often the sun is shining but you can still feel a chill, often you can see mist when you breathe, often a mug of coffee warms your hands, often the sky is strikingly blue. Summer, well, summer is hard to imagine right now. The town is a collection of wooden lodges that sporadically circle the meeting place – a stone building with frontal pillars and a triangle roof.  Between the lodges are tall trees and coloured paths that intertwine gently to a final point deeper into the woodland to the House of Thorn, our holy site.  

On arrival, you are given a duty to be carried out in your own time. The design of Thorn is for meditation, not busywork, for reading and sitting, for painting and silence, for walking and talking. Those who complete their jobs quickly are known as Bees, and those who complete them slowly are known as Cats. I was a member of the Bee category for a long time, whilst Alice was still here. They gave me Letter duty, which entailed keeping records on all the residents, logging basic needs requirements (food and drink, etc), and ensuring light contact between Thorn and the official government. When I was seen to have Bee-like qualities, I was given the extra duty to chronicle Thorn with rudimentary descriptions of events, crop growths, and obituaries, but I have neglected this practice for some time. Alice was tasked to the garden, and almost every evening I would walk from the clerical office in the Meeting Place, down the green path to walk home with her. I remember the smell of soil and her red cheeks as she closed the greenhouse door behind her. A smile or frown depended on the day, depended on the health of the plants, whether Alice had thought of her mother and her past life, whether she had forgotten the mistakes I had made. We wrote our application together. Alice was always better at those sorts of things, she knew how to express herself, she knew what her best qualities were. I’m still not sure that I have any. The application to achieve residency at Thorn is supposed to be an extension of your breath, you must write your major life events as though you’ve just dropped them all over the floor. Alice was good at understanding where I came from. It was my idea to leave common society for Thorn, but it was Alice that got us there.  

The dream of Eric came after his first appearance in the glass. I was on a busy street in a hot country, barging past mounds of people late for an appointment or a class. There was a police incident in the road, holding back the waves of the crowd, and I pushed through determined to be on time. I came to an elongated building, that once inside, stretched forwards into a black abyss, narrowing and broken up by a series of checkpoints. Each point had an electric gate, and a guard with the face of Eric, who said nothing. I passed through each checkpoint after Eric gave me a full assessment with his eyes, until finally coming to an open space, a skateboard appeared under my feet, and I rolled further into the abyss as floodlights lit above my head. Eric’s films were a massive part of my identity before Thorn. His stories of love, religion, and betrayal were key to my understanding of the artistic transcending around us, that are existences have no stakes beyond heartbreak, loneliness, and sexual desire. There are no film screenings in Thorn. Eric’s arrival cast a long mysterious shadow over my wellbeing.  

Alice was a Cat, not lazy, but leisurely. She could endure silence, sitting on the sandy bank beside the marram grass facing the sea, the wind brushing against her. I couldn’t reach her when she was in this state, she was somewhere else, and my worry that she would stumble over the cliff edge would be lost in the weather. On most days Alice would be in the garden, or greenhouse, reading books on plants, animals, ancient history or art, tending to the crops when the inspiration came to her.  She received a package from the outside once, a novel. It was A Thousand-Year-Old Vampire, and quickly it was gifted to me, Alice had no interest in fiction, she couldn’t see the point in it. I still don’t know who gave her that book. The novel charts the life of Jean, a peasant in Northern France in the 12th century who is transformed into a vampire by a jealous teacher, then out of sexual rage turns his lover into a vampire too. They become mortal enemies, as Jean travels through centuries and cities, becoming a slave for witches, murdering innocents, falling in love again, and again, fighting in wars. I haven’t gotten to the end yet.  

Alice was gone on a Sunday morning, my hand feeling the cold of her place in the bed. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night thinking she is in the room with me, but my hands feel nothing but air. I was advised by the other residents of Thorn to make only a single enquiry into her whereabouts, in the form of an outward phone call to her parents. They did not answer. It was to leave the community behind and look for her, or scan the bottom of the cliffs, or try to ascend in the House of Thorn. I took to my duty, and took to my writing, degrading slowly into a Cat, washing my memory away. Then Eric arrived in the glass, and I dreamt. I could feel his presence on me, his haunting, the ghost on my back. He appeared in the corner of my eye when I entered a room, flickering across my retina, pushing anxiety into my stomach, then he would appear on the horizon out over the ocean wandering amongst the clouds. This continued for some time. I wrote him a letter in agony, it read: Eric, the new film is mesmerising. The colouring of the scenes is quite astounding, almost shocking. It’s a nice surprise. Don’t get me wrong your interiors have looked stunning in the past, but with the new film, it’s like a fresh style is falling out of your gut. 

Has romance really treated you that badly? I can’t say that I’ve had similar experiences, no, not at all, it would be difficult for me to expose myself like that. The parameters of my love can be wrapped tightly with a ribbon. Your characters are so daring, and well, they are attractive, how can one so ugly expect the same kind of treatment. I think you would be described as ugly, now that you are old, now that your thinness is seen as frailty and not beauty.  But you have your new film, you have a scene of white sailboats gliding over blue water, of elegantly painted doors, of invented couples walking through parks. This twilight creative expression is something to take with you into the afterlife, if you believe in that, or if you believe that art will be remembered, you have that too. I’m not entirely sure that 35mm print will survive a supernova. Anyway, I’m losing a minute of sleep each night, and by the time I’m your age I will not get any sleep at all, unless the worst is reversed.  Is it raining where you are? It never seems to rain in your films.  

I received no reply, and I have waited long enough. Today, I came back to the greenhouse and sat as Alice sat. Somewhere between asleep and awake, Eric’s face appeared in the glass. His face is tired, and droopy, like the face of a preacher who has lost his faith, like the face of a mother disliked by her children. I’m not sure when he died physically, sometime in the early 2000s, maybe, now he sits with me along curtain rings of the future, hanging over the sunlight.  This appearance is a response to a letter that needed a reply before the calamity of the haunting, before I was watched over. Looming around Eric’s face is a mist, blending white with the greys on his head, floating towards me and wetting my hands with condensation. We’re surrounded by green plants with oval leaves that are growing close to my forearms, tickling. Eric speaks: It will be a tear the size of an extinct star, washing and engulfing over us, as though the earth was a ball plunging into a river.  Physics cannot save you. The ball will drown.  

Eric’s voice is trapped inside me. It hurt when Alice left but the pain is not strong enough to force me away, to send me back to the chaos of the regular world. Thorn was a service to her, the greenhouse and garden locked her in, the water lapping onto the shore was enough medicine to heal her mind. I have a lifetime left to give. This is a long time to be spent in partnership with Eric, and tomorrow I will visit the House of Thorn to rid myself of this parasite. I will write about my visit tomorrow evening. 

An interview with a survivor of Thorn 

We were young and naïve. Not so young that we had not lived, no, we had been educated and we had regrets. I know that I hated most of the choices I had made. We were not like the usual residents of Thorn; I think that’s why we were so well-liked. Iskra was, anyway. She was wonderful with her hands, which meant that she could make things and cook and be of service to the community. That was not the goal of Thorn, but there was an understanding amongst the residents about who was useful and who wasn’t. Most of us didn’t even worship at the House. Iskra did. I think she was praying for a child, which of course was not allowed, but we always dreamed of having a daughter.  In the next life, or in ascendance.  I tried to ascend once; it was laughable. I hadn’t been to the temple since I arrived, and one day I thought I’d give it a go.  It was silly. I wandered around that ghoulish building lighting the fires, then sat cross-legged on the grave of our so-called almighty one and felt nothing.  I sat there until my legs ached.  Nothing. Iskra could have ascended, maybe she did. Before she died, she told me she wanted to stay with me. That made me cry, and it made my choice for me. It’s coming for me any day now. Do I think that fragile girl ascended? Who knows, the journey would have broken her bones anyway. That boy ruined it all in the end, he couldn’t handle her betrayal, or he couldn’t forgive his own betrayal. It doesn’t matter. He pretended to be at peace, pushed the sadness right down to his feet, ready to trip himself up one day. And he did. 

I was a true believer of our community. The religion, I can take it or leave it. My wife is dead, I am childless, what do I care of what awaits me? I have lived long enough, and I lived within the correct proportions of my station. That’s the key. You can be a dreamer, and I was, but you must know the limitations of your life. That’s what Thorn was, an acceptance of what contentment really entails. Try listing them, wealth, power, belongings, sexual gratification, awards. Do any of them beat a blanket? I remember Iskra knitted a blanket for the two of us, it was a remarkable thing. It stretched across the both of us, covered our whole bodies, and we’d wrap it around ourselves in the Winter, sitting on our front porch, watching the walkers go by.  They were always walking, that boy included when she left him. I can’t walk for long these days, but I try and make it to the sea at least once a week.  Perhaps I want to collapse out there.  (He laughs). I would take that ending.  

The decision made by my friends was short-sighted. I see their faces at night, the ones that burned especially. What choice did they have? That ignorant boy, always going on about films. His downfall was not reading the scripture, as us oldies did. One line cost the whole community: At the sight of blood, run into the blossom to seal the wound. I’m glad not everyone took Thorn too seriously, and I’m glad that my wife was already gone. We had our fill, and we escaped the wretchedness of this thing around that us you call society. I was not blind, but I was a servant to Thorn, I cannot deny that. I would choose servitude to the cause over your lies and pretences every time, to the acquirement of a daily routine of removing stress and completing tasks. (He has a severe coughing fit.) One of your other guys asked me if I was happy to be finally free, if there was any relief felt at what the boy did, and I laughed in his face. It was only in Thorn when I was free.  

Extracts from the Independent Thorn Incident Report

The cause of death for 50% of the residents that perished was the burning of their flesh, including the arsonist. The other 50% was drowning. Those that survived have been systematically interviewed, transcripts of the conversations can be found in Appendix 2.

The House of Thorn was set ablaze on March 19th at 12:05am. The fire spread to the entirety of the west side of town, an orange monster in perfect view from the east side. Those away from the flames ran to the sea and leaped off the cliff edge to their death.  Their bodies collected on the beach in a manner that can only be described as a collection of plastic on a never-ending Pacific shore.