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The Byron Society

by Danny "Don Juan" Henrey and Chris "Childe Harold" Oakley

It is not noon. The gentle wavelets ’pon the silver’d face of the lake throw rich jewels of amber and adamant carelessly into the air as burning Phaeton, giggling recklessly like some wayward schoolgirl, drives his celestial mule train absently ’cross the Helvetic sky.

A small skiff comes into view, gently osculating the shores of Lac Leman, its skipper swearing like an Albanian infantryman as the boat runs aground for the seventh time. They are going to visit the infamous Lord Henrey, world-renowned debauchee and so-called poet, who has rented the villa Diodati on the shores of the lake. In a display of extraordinarily inept seamanship, the crew, consisting of Percy Bysshe Oakley, Juliet Clairmont and Amal Wollstonecraft, attempt to disembark. They arrive, soaked and dripping with the polluted waters, on the lawn. Henrey’s butler, the faithful Grinstead, greets them in his Sinclair C5, leading them to the rear portals of the famous villa.

"So you came. I’m glad that somebody bloody well did," murmurs Henrey, a romantic-heroic grimace momently distorting his proud visage, "at least, came of their own free will."

The party are nonplussed: what could he mean by this? They had responded to his Byron Society invitation; what sinister import did his words bear? It is not until much later that all is made clear. As they play backgammon and swill laudanum after dinner, Juliet fancies that she hears a distant scream. She dismisses it from her mind, until there comes another, this time louder, causing all except Henrey, his French nurse Fiona Gregory-Smith-Haut-Lafitte and ‘Polidori’ Mellors nearly to jump out of their skins with fright; their crimson hearts to knock against their ribs and their hair to rise up (in a Mellorsian manner) like the quills on the fretful porpentine.

"What on earth was that?" shudders Amal. Henrey smiles laconically.

"Come on. I’ll show you."

He leads them down a long, dark, dank passage. The screams get louder and shriller as they go further and further into the bowels of the ancient mansion. At last they are in the cellar, beholding examples of humanity in its most wretched and degraded state. A man hangs by his big toes in the first cell.

"For god’s sake, Danny, let me out of this contraption, yah?"

"What’s wrong, Robert, can’t afford better entertainment?" says Henrey sarcastically. In the next cell a man and a woman are being stretched on racks.

"You fucking clit, Henrey, we would’ve come to the Byron Society Dinner, but Susan didn’t know how many people, and it would’ve been over thirty quid and what with the M.C.R. Christm—LOOK, FUCKING GET US OUT OF HERE!"

"George, don’t fret. Don’t take on so. Your present entertainment is quite free, so relax. Make the most of it."

In the next, larger cell, Richard Toad, Grant, Gilly, Dick and Deirdre, the Baileys, Raffi K. and a dozen others who hadn’t even replied to their B. Soc. Invitations are thronged, watching with horror the scene not ten paces distant. The young nobleman Stevey de Hoey, dressed in a red leathern tunic and striped puffball shorts, is being fed upon by a gruesome vampyre, clad in black, its forehead disfigured by a fire-branded mark reading, "If found pissed and/or lost, please return to All Souls before dawn."

"The silly sod sent me an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party—in New York, mark well—which arrived on the fourth of January," explains Henrey. "However he did write poetry for the last dinner, so he’ll be the first to be let out, whilst you lot will soon be subjected, at length, to the loving attentions of my dear pipistrello here!"

Emboldened by their imminent fate, the huddled throng plead piteously with Henrey. "Nay, mercy, I beg of you … we repent of our folly, my lord … poverty, aye, ’twas no excuse, nor forgetfulness … we are the architects of our own cruel destiny … how may we once more be part of the Byronic fold?"

Henrey peruses the pathetic mob for a moment, then replies, the sneer of cold command ’pon his visage. "There are three steps to deliverance. The first is to reply on time to a Byron Society invitation. The second is to say that one can attend. The third is to write poetry for the glorious occasion. Merely complying with the first precept is almost to save one’s Byronic soul. Meet the second, and you enlarge and enrich the universal Byronic spirit that flows through all things—that which L.B. himself named The Nouki. Perform the third, and The Nouki itself will raise your being to a pitch and degree, the order of which you were formerly incapable e’en of conceiving. Of course, to get some replies in the first place would make a nice change," he adds bathetically.

The light of hope, vital and vibrant in its warmth and intensity, shines once more in the faces of the gathering. The embers of a tremulous, soft-hued, reanimating faith have been kindled in the gloom. Henrey looks about him with a sigh, as if waking from a reverie. "Oh well. On with the torture," he says, simply.