THE DUKE OF DUSK OR DAWN
Feeling well-born, yet fallen from grace, the Duke needed to pretend he was someone other than a duke, rather than face the shame. Someone ordinary.
He drove a long black car, which, tangentially, was a more dangerous activity during daylight hours than at night, for the not so obvious reason that people’s first reactions were geared in inverse ratio to their pupil size. Also, he passed himself off under the name Stephen, for no other purpose than to further his ordinariness. David and Peter and John were actually too commonplace as names and well-grounded suspicions would have been engendered in others as to his pecking-orders of bluff. So Stephen was the perfectly optimum ordinary, an extraordinary accomplishment to have.
His Royal pedigree was so deep-seated, Stephen had given up doubting it. Yet the very act of such non-doubt could often lead to smug acceptance which was in turn a precursor to plain forgetting. He did not even bother to rubber-stamp his identity with a requisite self-recognition as to who or what he was, especially each time he eventually woke come morning after the seemingly interminable night. Certainty, as ever, was tantamount to ignorance.
And such ignorance forced him out some nights, instinctively fearful of waking up later as someone completely different. Yet, it was an instinct common to all werewolves, particularly those with noble blood in their veins, an instinct incubated somehow within the dark side of their natures: and, like all instincts worth their salt, this particular instinct failed to touch the actual consciousness of the beast that was Stephen.
His forays were, of course, upon full-bright nights, when the catalytic white moonrib, that betokened birth and beginnings, was merely a memory that had slipped from the mental grasp like a bloody stake through an amateur vampire-hunter’s hands.
No, it was the yellow-engorged ripeness of a different moon that drew such creatures as Stephen from his bed. His skin became a pelt of costly ermine or mink that had escaped the fur-haters’ hate; eyes like crown-jewels; cloak a murky mane of miscegenate majesty. His courtiers — the suburban fox and other critters that townsfolk inferred as having emerged from upturned dustbins — followed in his wake.
Meanwhile, cats with pinprick eyes of druggy green were tired of pretending to squeal in long drawn-out pain after sparring and spitting with each other and did open deep the pink of their throats to return colour’s favour that day had granted them. All had their place and duty. Nature meant giving as well as taking. As a man with his body.
But, today of all daybright days, Stephen feels fur unfurling, tip-toeing from the deepest pockets of ancient puberty. This is the first time the transfiguration has occurred outside of night’s jurisdiction. He staggers garageward to find his car still black as the rods and cones in his sleepy eyes. He needs to drive and drive – until it is night. The courtiers of his dark dukedom are curled in a sleep as unstirred as death within dens that day-timers can never suspect, let alone discover. So, with no followers, the Duke is his own rebuke.
He cannot believe that his dreams are day-dreams or his nightmares true. He is a werewolf of the old school. Not the next best thing to a King. The steering-wheel shudders in his hand, even before the engine has choked into life, as if man-made beasts have souls to speak of.
He twists his head with an instinct born from dullness. There is a passenger of sorts laid out in the back like a casket – handles and epaulettes of gold, silver cross, carved vine-leaves, heavy nailed lid. The casket’s woodwork is so far from its own erstwhile tree, there sprouts, not foliage, but rich fur itemised like human hair. A coiffured coffin.
Stephen fears that his duty has always been to drive the town’s only premature burial hearse – and, today of all daybright days, he is to be both undertaker and corpse. A sad outcome for a Duke, since, only at night, could there have been the full regalia of a Royal funeral, but with it soon becoming twilight, he felt himself as nothing but a pauper, a down-and-out, a cloudy-eyed dosser. Poor in spirit and – (he feels his head) – yes, completely bald. Like all of us with ordinary souls, he has died during day or night, too early or too late, with no pomp or extenuating circumstance.
But only at the exact optimum of twilight, our death will have shades of light and darkness.
And Ordinary is King.