Hellsing: Section Eight
He supposes he had first begun to notice something…amiss when they had been fourteen. It had happened suddenly, it seems, starting one afternoon in July that had been as ordinary as any other.
“Are you bloody serious?” Islands squints to read the numerals on his grandfather clock from across the room. As much as he is dismayed at the looming thought of spectacles, Islands wouldn’t mind being able to see properly.
“It’s barely eight, Arthur.”
“Yeah, but the sun’ll be dropping soon,” Arthur answers, rising. He smoothes back his hair which, despite the excessive globs of brylcreem combed into it, sticks up in a wiggly cowlick.
Penwood pauses from his game of solitaire. Island’s home is cool and the family room faces opposite the sun, yet sticky July sweat has formed at Penwood’s brow. “But bed?” he asks. “You’ve been retiring early going on a week now.”
Arthur bristles. It is the slightest of motions: a tightening of the jaw, the straightening of the shoulders and back—so slight that one should miss it if unfamiliar with his mannerisms. But it is there nonetheless. Islands’s squint spreads into a frown because not many things can make Arthur look like that.
“I’d rather not be outside while it’s dark, is all,” Arthur says. Without another word he shakes out the creases in his worsted suit and disappears into the shadows of the setting sun, leaving Islands and Penwood blinking at one another in his wake.
That had been the first alarm bell to sound in Islands’s head.
Somewhere amidst the vast acreage that encompasses the Hellsing demesne, Islands throws a curious glance to his left, willing himself not to mention how the tinted glasses make his friend look all the more like a human-fly hybrid. The peaked cap pulled low over Arthur’s brow only adds to the bizarre display.
Instead, Islands leans back on bench beneath him, crosses one leg over the other and says, “You’re missing a stellar sunset, Arthur. Why don’t you take off the shades, yes?”
This is greeted with a little head-shake and something that is too quiet to be an actual snort. “Not yet,” Arthur says.
“Can I…” Islands tries to find Arthur’s eyes behind his ridiculous glasses. “Can I ask why?”
“It’s like blood,” Arthur says.
A crease appears in Arthur’s forehead beneath the cap (a forehead still free from the blemishes of acne), disrupting the cream-smooth calm there. “The sky, mate,” he says, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world. “The colors of the sunset.” Indeed; the sun is a tumescent blood-orange in the sky that washes the surrounding blue with a gradient of crimson light. The west face of the manor looks hot and inflamed.
“Oh,” Islands answers, somewhat lamely. “Is that all?”
Arthur turns to look at him (or at least Islands perceives so). “Come again?”
“Blimey, your habits are getting strange, Arthur,” Islands says. “You disappear in the evenings without telling us anything, and—“he pinches his own shirt for emphasis—“you look like you’ve lost a bit of weight.”
“You know how it is, Islands. Got to make room for my beer gut.” Arthur grins.
“I’m serious, Arthur. Has something happened?” Islands can see his own reflection staring back at him in those oversized lenses, and suddenly he is not so sure he wants to hear what Arthur might say next.
Arthur seems to catch this thought and gives a shrug, turning away so that his face becomes encased in the ember-like glow of the sunset.
“I’ve found something in my basement,” is all he replies.
Islands breathes a premature sigh of relief when, after a few months, Arthur appears to have returned to normal. The raucous, bawdy blatherings that define the very epitome of Arthur Hellsing return. He steals his father’s chartreuse, replaces Richard’s new plimsolls with stilettos, and terrorizes the maids with almost fey élan (Islands once had to comfort a distraught bellboy after Arthur turns his livery purple). Penwood remarks that he is glad to see Arthur eating again, and all seems well for a while.
Upon closer scrutiny Islands sees that Arthur hasn’t returned to normal at all, not really.
There are subtle things.
“Arthur,” Islands hisses, elbowing his friend while Penwood turns a florid shade of salmon and tries to hide behind the nearest lamppost. “That is the fifth one this afternoon.”
Arthur grins, straightens up and looks fondly at the fake cane that he so unfortunately calls his Peekie Stick. “I was only getting a look,” he protests. “It’s a shame long skirts are in. Don’t you agree, Penwood?”
Penwood turns an even darker pink. “Well, I, er—“
“Never mind that,” Islands snaps, “it’s bloody indecent.”
Arthur rolls his eyes and slings an arm around Penwood’s shoulders. The Peekie Stick twirls about in his other hand. “A bloke’s got to have a little fun,” he says to Islands. To Penwood he stage-whispers, “even an ol’ stick-in-the mud like Islands here. Plus, I was only getting a look.”
“You’re fifteen,” Islands sighs, rubbing his eyes behind his new glasses as Arthur ogles another young woman passing by. Her legs (decent, Islands admits) are encased in pale nylon stockings.
“True,” Arthur says, breaking away from Penwood and wiping some nonexistent dirt from his cane, “but you’re only human once. There’s so much to do in such little time.”
“And I suppose lecherous frivolities are on your To Do list?” Islands asks dryly. He does not take note of the emphasis Arthur puts on the word human until later.
“Of course! Live life to the fullest while you can, mate.” Arthur opens his mouth but pauses a moment. A little light leaves his eyes before he speaks again. “The rest seems dreadfully boring."
"So tell me again why you're wearing a rugby helmet and padding when you're not actually playing?"
Arthur, with gauze covering what exposed skin is left, has his legs crossed on a rock as he watches the other boys throw around the ball and dash through the grass after it. His expression is clouded and brooding, pale eyes squinted under a furrowed brow. An untouched deviled ham lies on opened foil beside him. He looks up at Islands, who is sweating slightly with exertion and holding a cloth to his scraped knee.
“I can’t bleed,” he says.
Islands frowns, adjusting his spectacles. “Pardon?”
Arthur opens his mouth to reply and freezes, his eyes on Island’s knee. “Oi, cover that up you fool!” he exclaims, leaning away from Islands. “Blood is precious!”
“I—“ Islands wipes at his knees and sighs. “I don’t have bandages with me now, but I can get some when we’re finished…”
Arthur shoos him away with a flap of his hand. “Don’t come near me until you’re covered, Islands,” he says, staring off into space.
That is the last time Islands can recall Arthur partaking in sport, though it hardly qualifies as “partaking.” After that Arthur avoids almost all outdoor activities.
Islands visits the Hellsing Estate one day and finds all of the mirrors in the house covered with tarp.
“Care to share, Arthur?” he’d inquired after a trip to the lavatory left him more than a little confused.
“What?” Arthur is standing outside his room, staring at the wall for no apparent reason that Islands can discern. He looks distracted.
“The mirrors,” Islands presses. “Aren’t your folks going to have a fit?”
Arthur blinks and gives a slow smile. “I merely told them that my dearest brother has finally discovered how ugly he is,” he says. Islands raises an eyebrow.
“It’s not what you see, but what you don’t,” Arthur mutters, more to himself than to Islands. “That’s one thing gramps got right…”
After that Islands’s visits to the manor become less frequent. He has begun to get a weird vibe from inside the walls, almost as if he isn’t alone. It is always cold at Arthur’s place too, as if the weather outside cannot get past the door.
There are several other mannerisms and quirks that Arthur picks up between the ages of fourteen and sixteen that befuddle Islands. The first is smoking. Chesterfields mostly, then Wintermans. With his kind of money Arthur can afford more than the typical rancid stogie. Islands, who is asthmatic as well as myopic finds this habit utterly repulsive.
He decides to ask Arthur about it. Will he ever learn?
“It covers up other smells,” Arthur answers from behind a plume of white fog. Islands’s eyes water and he struggles grimly with the urge to sneeze. When he thinks he has recovered he curiously sniffs his lapel.
Arthur laughs, expelling more smoke. “It’s not you, don’t worry,” he chuckles, then immediately sobers. “But you wouldn’t believe some of the smells out there, not until you’ve smelled ‘em. The stink of it. Pew!” With two fingers he extracts the cigar and twirls it around his index finger and thumb.
“Necrosis and decay, mate.”
It is this last bit that keeps Islands up late at night, for no other reason other than the fact that he doesn’t understand it at all.
He tries talking to Penwood about it, but as bright as the chap is he seems to dismiss it all as part of Arthur’s inbred eccentricity.
“It’s perfectly normal to give up red meat,” Penwood says, shrugging his shoulders. “For us coronaries waiting to happen—“he pats his gut—“it’s not a bad idea.”
“And you know about all those occult books he reads? The ones we’re not supposed to see?” Penwood is silent. “Shelby.” Penwood grimaces at the use of his first name and turns to look at Islands.
“It’s a phase, probably,” he says, still looking pained. His fingers find the ends of his newly trimmed mustache and fidget with the short hairs. It is a habit that he has recently picked up.
Islands still isn’t convinced. “Have you realized that he’s become obsessed with war? He’ll go off on those morbid battle stories like he’s telling a fond memory!”
“Well we’re most likely on the brink of war,” Penwood remarks.
“Yes, but I doubt it will be as enjoyable as Arthur makes it out to be,” Islands replies. Giving Penwood’s squeamish nature, Islands suspects he has been presented with the abridged version of Arthur’s war lore. The uncensored trivia, to Island’s dismay, has been saved for him alone.
“Oi, Islands. Did you know that if you stick a spear far enough into a person’s rectum, and if the spear in question is long enough, it’ll come out their mouth?” Arthur inquires one time. When he gets into a mood he will talk of unspeakable things, bloody things; things that Islands is glad Penwood has been spared.
The nonchalance of such a disturbing statement makes Islands shiver. “No, Arthur, I did not know that. Why the bloody hell would I want to know that?”
Arthur has a little smile on his face, a thin wedge split to show just a hint of white tooth. It is such a terrible expression that Islands looks away. He will never forget how Arthur had replied; the words still chill him.
"It's quite interesting, once you've seen it."
Islands loses faith in Arthur’s sanity for the better part of two years. Perhaps Richard is the only other who sees Arthur’s descent into madness for what it really is, but Islands knows that Richard is a weasel. His greed and jealousy (so apparent and glittering malicious in a boy so young) will keep him quiet.
Islands also knows that Arthur is gold—a cynosure in a dumpster of lackluster rocks. Impulsive, dazzling, stupid. Redoubtable too, and maybe not in such a good way. But certainly in an alluring way. Islands cannot his avert his gaze from Arthur’s brilliance, and he is smart enough to realize that something is very, very wrong.
Others see it as unique, a boy’s spirit. Since Arthur can use his chiseled, Aryan looks and spectacular savoir faire to get away with pretty much anything, most of his actions are dismissed as the asininity of adolescence (it is all “why isn’t he precious?” and “as expected from a Hellsing,” along with a whole steaming heap of drudgery that makes Islands want to ralph at times).
But it is Islands who sees the doodles of Theban in Arthur’s notes, Islands who notices the oddly high bills from the Ipswich Blood Bank, and Islands who observes the double-padlock chain that Arthur has placed on the doors to the Hellsing manor’s cellar. Islands has stopped asking about these things, but Arthur always seems to read his unspoken curiosity.
“You must think I’ve got a few toys in the attic, Islands!” Arthur remarks one time. He grins and loops an arm around Island’s neck like they used to when they were boys and cups a hand to the side of his mouth despite the fact that no one is around.
“Next year, when we join the Council of Twelve, I’ll tell you everything, mate,” he says.
Arthur keeps his word, and both Islands and Penwood alternate trips to the lavatory to relieve their stomachs while Arthur waits outside with double shots of brandy. It is December, they are eighteen, and suddenly things make sense.
Islands remembers meeting Alucard. The rest is hazy, all save the white crystal clarity of being utterly terrified for the first time in his life.
After the initial shock and a few weeks of recovery, Islands wonders how Arthur had ever coped alone. But then again, they are young, with imaginations vaster than the Atlantic and malleable like taffy. He begins to realize, as life eases back to a tentative normalcy, how Arthur had done it. There is a certain bittersweet superiority that comes with having a secret, quite like digging a fingernail into your gums so that it brings an intense but enjoyable pain. The power of esoterica gives one a sense of comfort, Islands concludes, as he watches the Londoners go about their everyday lives, unknowing.
The Round Table all know about vampires to some extent. Penwood and Islands soon discover that the nobles' knowledge varies—with some it is very basic and others, themselves included, know Alucard personally and are aware of his true identity.
It is this knowledge, half a decade later and during the midst of war, that causes Islands to keep a level head when the ghouls start appearing and Arthur talks about recruiting his Ultimate Weapon. The other members of the Council splutter around him, but Islands merely nods and steeples his fingers together. Had he ever doubted his old friend?
He had once, when he’d presumed the definition of crazy to be covering your mirrors, bandaging yourself when you had no wounds, and chatting incessantly about the gory details of lost wars.
Islands knows a little better now.