There is a lot to go through as I miscalculated my chapters, so we have 4 chapters to do until the end of Act One. Let’s dive right in.
Martín makes his way home from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, feeling awful. He goes home and takes a few codeine pills. He then notices a shifting of light under the main door, as if someone is at the door. He goes to investigate and finds an envelope on the floor.
Then I saw it. A cream-coloured envelope with a serrated edge. Someone had slipped it under the door. I knelt down to pick it up. The paper was thick, porous. The envelope was sealed and had my name on it. The emblem on the wax was in the shape of an angel with its wings outspread.
The letter is from Corelli, inviting Martín to a house he is staying at in Barcelona on “this coming Friday the 13th”. Martín basically thinks “whatever, I’ll be dead in seven days” and lies down on the sofa to sleep. However, he cannot sleep, so he gets out Cristina’s photo album and looks at the picture of Cristina along the jetty, holding the hand of a stranger. He then falls asleep.
Days are passing and Martín is hardly aware of his surroundings. At one point he goes outside for a walk, but he feels the presence of something menacing.
I could feel its fingers, long and pointed, hovering over my skin, and at that moment the young girl who only lived in the picture I held against my chest seemed to approach through the curtain of rain. She took me by the hand and pulled me, leading me back to the tower house.
When he finally wakes up again, it’s Friday the 13th. That day, Vidal and Cristina get married, a small affair, and Martín witnesses it from a distance. It upsets him a lot and he goes home to put an end to it all. He pulls out his father’s revolver and wants to kill himself, but something happens to stop him.
At that moment I felt a gust of wind whip against the tower and the study windows burst open, hitting the wall with a great force. An icy breeze touched my face, bringing with it the lost breath of great expectations.
Martín decides to go to the house Corelli has invited him to. It is supposed to be next to the entrance to Grüel Park. When Martín gets there, it doesn’t look like he is in the right place, and three large, black dogs come threateningly close to him. Just as he is trying to decide what to do – he is convinced the dogs will maul him – all the lights in a house turn on and scare the dogs away. Martín goes to the house.
As I climbed the stone steps I thought I noticed the outline of a figure leaning on one of the balustrades on the second floor, as still as a spider waiting in its web.
That is quite sinister.
Martín knocks on the door and it opens slightly. He goes inside and calls out his greeting, only to be met by total silence. He ventures further into the hall.
The walls were covered with framed photographs of different sizes. From the poses and the clothes worn by the subjects I assumed they were all at least twenty or thirty years old. At the bottom of each frame was a small silver plaque with the name of the person in the photograph and the year it was taken. I studied the faced that were observing me from another time. Children and old people, ladies and gentlemen. They all bore the same shadow of sadness in their eyes, the same silent cry. They stared at the camera with a longing that chilled my blood.
Very strange indeed. Even though Corelli is supposed to only be visiting from out of town (out of the country really), this house – and particularly these photographs – give the impression that the house belongs to Corelli. The only thing I stumbled on in the description was that Martín assumes all subjects in the photograph are twenty or thirty years old, but a few sentences later he describes them as “children and old people”. What age are they really?
Corelli sneaks up on Martín as he is studying the photographs, startling poor Martín. They go into the living room and Corelli pours Martín some wine. There make some small talk, but Martín is really not in the mood.
Listening to him it occurred to me that the only thing that could give me some satisfaction at that precise moment was to set fire to the whole world and burn along with it. As if he had read my thoughts, Corelli smiled and nodded, baring his teeth.
‘I can help you, my friend.’
Corelli is getting creepier by the moment.
Martín asks Corelli what he is doing there, and Corelli answers that Martín is there because of Corelli’s offer to pay him a hundred thousand francs to write a book. Martín feebly counters that he is under contract for five more years to write books for Barrido & Escobillas, but Corelli waves his worries away.
‘Don’t worry about lawyers. Mine are infinitely more litigious looking than the ones that couple of pustules use, and they’ve never lost a case. Leave all the legal details and litigation to me.’
From the way he smiled when he uttered those words I thought it best never to have a meeting with the legal advisors for Éditions de la Lumière.
Corelli finally gets to the point and tells Martín that he wants him to write a religion for him. Martín naturally starts laughing and tells Corelli he doesn’t know anything about religion. Corelli then makes some very interesting points.
‘Poetry aside, a religion is really a moral code that is expressed through legends, myths or any type of literary device in order to establish a system of beliefs, values and rules with which to regulate a culture or a society.’
Martín asks Corelli whether he really believes that doctrine is just a tale and Corelli tells him that everything is just a tale.
‘Are you not tempted to create a story for which men and women would live and die, for which they would be capable of killing and allowing themselves to be killed, of sacrificing and condemning themselves, of handing over their soul? What greater challenge for your career than to create a story so powerful that it transcends fiction and becomes a revealed truth?’
Although I don’t believe that all religion is just a tale, I do agree with the wider implications of saying that everything is just a tale. Everything has its own narrative and the person who controls that narrative holds the power. Look at how the media has manipulated the general public into thinking exactly what politicians want them to think. That is a bigger discussion for another time, but it is an interesting point in this book.
Martín still thinks Corelli is mad and he won’t have any part of creating a religion. But Corelli isn’t done yet.
‘You name the price. Do you want to set fire to the whole world and burn with it? Let’s do it together. You fix the price. I’m prepared to give you what you most want.’
Isn’t Martín a little bit worried that Corelli can evidently read his thoughts?
Corelli puts the hundred thousand francs in front of Martín on the table, but he does not pick it up. He refuses Corelli’s offer and tells Corelli that he is dying, there won’t be any time left for him to write a book.
‘Let’s say I was able to help you get over your illness,’ he said.
I stopped halfway down the corridor and turned round. Corelli was barely a metre away, staring straight at me. I thought he was a bit taller than when I’d first seen him, there in the corridor, and that his eyes were larger and darker. I could see my reflection in his pupils getting smaller as they dilated.
Corelli convinces Martín to come back to the living room with him and he sits back down in the arm chair. Corelli then asks Martín if he wants to live, and Martín realises then that he would do anything to stay alive.
‘I’m going to help you, Martín, my friend. All I ask of you is that you trust me. Accept my offer. Let me help you. Let me give you what you most desire. That is my promise.’
I nodded again.
Corelli tells Martín to have a rest and go home the next day. He promises Martín he will feel much better the next day.
Martín falls asleep in the arm chair and has a dream. He dreams that the house is filling up with water, but he doesn’t drown. He goes down into the basement of the house, where a group of people are gathered around an operating table. They strap him to the table and cut open his scalp. None of this hurts. And then follows a really gross description that I am going to share with you, because I had to read it too.
Two black filaments were emerging from the wound, creeping over my skin. It was a black spider the size of a fist. It ran across my face and before it could jump onto the table, one of the surgeons skewered it with a scalpel. He lifted it up so that I could see it. The spider kicked its legs and bled, silhouetted against the light. A white stain covered its carapace suggesting the shape of wings spread open. An angel.
I guess that represents Martín’s tumour being cured, as he then dreams that he goes back into the arm chair and when he wakes up again it’s midday and he feels better than he has in a very long time. The house is empty and all the doors are locked. Martín wants to go upstairs, but there is a dense darkness upstairs which prevents him from going there. On his way out, he notices that amongst the photographs on the wall, there is now an empty frame.
And we don’t really have to speculate much about who that frame is for, do we? It is clear – at least to me – that Martín has just sold his soul to the devil in order to live (have I made that clear enough?). I do wonder if he accepted Corelli’s offer only because he wanted to live, or also partly because he wants to write that book that will change people’s lives?
Thus ends Act One of The Angel’s Game.