Do you know anyone in any fandom who managed to stay in character all the time when on show, no matter whether at a con or just at some meet-up in some pub? Like, all the time? I mean; we've all met people who can be unremittingly Klingon for an entire weekend or whatever. I've even met people who married as High Elves, and who exchanged their vows and responded to post wedding congratulations in impeccable Quenya. But all the time? Every single time you met them? Never blinking, never straying from his assumed persona? Never once letting a hint of his mundane existence peep through? All the references, all the dropped hints about what happens in his real life when he leaves the brightly lit world that spotlights us all when we meet on fandom's neutral soil, when we're on show, when we put on our other - or should that be our truer? - identities, never mentioned? Or, if mentioned, such off-duty, revelatory moments, when closely examined, all part of a faultlessly worked, flawless, infinitely detailed backstory that always and forever circled back to his fan persona?
Ever met someone like that?
I have. And I can tell you, it was bloody scary. I'd find myself staring at him, trying not to let him see I was looking, waiting for him to make a slip up, hoping he'd make a slip up. And he never, ever did. It freaked me to the back of beyond. I used to wish he'd stop - get out of my space - go away - vanish.
And I can't say what I wouldn't give to have him walk back into Freaks some Thursday evening.
Oh God, I miss him so. And yet there was nothing between us. Nothing at all.
The ironic thing was, he didn't even find his own fan identity; he had it chosen for him.
Ross and a couple of the others - Simon I think, and someone's friend from out Purley way - a folk-rocker who writes for a computer mag and whose name I completely forget - scooped him up in the street a couple of years ago and dragged him along with them to the con. I wasn't with them when they did. I was on duty inside, performing running costume repairs on demand (they didn't call me the Fastest Needle In Middle-Earth for nothing) so to this day I can't understand what possessed them to kidnap an apparently bewildered middle-aged mundane in the street, and haul him along with a demand I root him out some robes and sign him in free to a couple of sessions. And they've never given me an explanation since. I don't think even they knew what got into them.
Anyway, Kim's robes were going begging (she'd been dragged into a double shift at work at the last minute), and she was a tall hefty woman; in fact, I could see they were going to be a bit loose on his stringy, middle-aged frame. I was expecting him to look like a duck out of water in them, but - well, that was the first eerie thing. He changed as he put them on. The best way to describe it is, he grew into them. Everyone else at the con looked as though they were putting on an act: with greater or lesser skill, and a better or worse paid wardrobe mistress, admittedly. He didn't. When he dropped his street clothes and stood up in his robes then he looked properly dressed and at home for the first time.
"So, what's your name?" Ross asked. Everyone waited; a sudden silence fell. He had, somehow, caught the group's imagination: they spotted, even then, that there was a story to be told.
We had not spotted then - how could we? - that it was a story that never would be told.
He blinked around us all, shyly: bewildered, I think, at the intensity of the attention.
"Arthur," he mumbled. There was a snort of laughter.
"Well, that won't do," Rachel boomed. In another incarnation, and had she never met fandom, she would have been a pillar of the WI. She has that sort of presence. An impeccably CofE Valkryie with a copy of the Racing Post perpetually protruding from her relentlessly sensible handbag. "What d'y'do man? What's your last name? Where're you from?"
Her horsey features jutted uncomfortably close to his sandy, freckled countenance. He recoiled (as well he might). Nevertheless, his voice was steady as he responded,
"I can't possibly tell you that. It would be quite wrong. Ministry security. I mean, the powers that be wouldn't allow it."
There was another general snigger.
"Didn't think they watched us that closely," someone said. Embarrassed, Arthur hunched a little in his robes (though they shaped his body no less familiarly) and Ross, clearly feeling defensive on his inadvertent guest's behalf, murmured,
"That's all right. Round here. Plenty of precedent for that." And then, because Ross was (if you believe him, at least) active in the Bonanza fandom back when the 'zines had to be reproduced by hand from jelly trays, and has always been a fan of the Western genre, he added, reflectively;
"He came from nowhere and returned to nowhere, and his name was Shane."
The red-headed stranger's eyes lit up.
"That'll do! Call me - call me Shane. Arthur Shane."
The laugh was louder and more universal that time, but the note in it had changed; the gang had accepted him. He spoke their language, however faltering his voice and unfamiliar his accent. And he recognised that, too; he settled back in his robes and blinked happily round at them all.
From somewhere over towards the main hall a voice spoke; not loud, but decisive in the sudden quiet.
"Arthur Shane: The Wizard From Outer Space," it said.
And that was how we knew him from then on.
Sometimes he wouldn't show up for weeks; sometimes I'd see him three or four nights running. At cons, he'd hang around, fascinated, with the electricians (annoying them dreadfully; I've heard them say that if they hadn't known better, they'd have sworn he must have been brought up with oil lamps for all he knew about wiring, but even they treated him like the con mascot, and tolerated his fiddling with the best grace they could muster). Or he'd volunteer to help backstage, getting through volumes of washing up in phenomenally short time, and somehow always having the knack of smoothing down people who were taking their defeat as Emperor of the Universe a trifle too personally, or sobering up those who'd had one too many Pan-Galactic Gargleblasters.
From his firm hand with the teens, who from time to time tried to take liberties, I guessed he was a father; from the relatively organised state of his clothes, and a certain something about his manner (to say nothing of my making assumptions based on my normal lousy luck) I guessed he was married. But he never said.
If he was married, then his wife didn't understand him.
The line's a cliche, I know, and one he never uttered. Never.
But I caught sight of him once, looking in through the window of that pub - you know the one, named after a Resurrection Man and just off Oxford Street, all gaslight and fake cobwebs - seeing if the gang was in, all tense and hesitant; and then, when he spotted us, and someone waved to him, him suddenly starting to glow; like someone who'd finally made it in from the freezing blizzard.
We were his real family, whatever he might have notionally had elsewhere.
Oh God! I miss him so.
It was a November night; a Thursday, I remember, when last I saw him. Just a basic meet-up with a few of the gang, some pub on Ludgate Hill, not one of our regular haunts. The rain outside was intermittently turning into sleet; the wind was bitter and the street-lights were sour orange puddles in the polluted darkness. Inside, however, all was warmth and good humour. The jukebox, over in the corner, was churning out Fields of Athenry.
Arthur stopped me on my way back from the ladies.
"May we talk?" he said, steering me into a corner well away from the rest of them. From the far distance, I thought I saw Ross flash me a wink. But, even then, I knew - though part of me still hoped - that it wasn't anything like that. He collected our drinks before sitting down opposite me. It struck me, then, how very tired he was looking; more tired even than I was used to seeing him, and he had looked so very tired, for so many months, it suddenly occurred to me, not like when I'd seen him first, wearing borrowed robes as though they'd been shaped to his skin.
"What would you give to protect all this? If you had to?"
Arthur's voice was low, but intense; the sweep of his full-sleeved arm encompassed not merely the group huddled at the far table, but all we'd shared; all the freedom and fantasy. All that made up, for all of us, real life.
I paused. It isn't actually the sort of question one can answer off the top of one's head. Heaven knows, outside the fan world two evenings a month sounds like an insane level of commitment towards fannish matters, and one about which one becomes habituated towards perpetual apology to outsiders. And, as Tom Lehrer observed, freedom of pleasure is a right guaranteed by no constitution. Still less freedom of eccentricity.
But there was something in Arthur's hazel eyes that drove away any tendency towards prevarication. And when I finally thought about it, I knew what my answer had to be.
"Anything," I said. "Anything that it took." And I meant it.
He ducked his head with a small, jerky, assenting nod, and I knew that he'd accepted that what I'd said had been true. He raised his pint of beer to his lips, but put it down again, untasted.
"You aren't going to see me around for some time," he said abruptly. "Perhaps not again."
He must have heard my gasp because his hand went out in an abrupt, chopping gesture, silencing me.
"It isn't - it isn't right for me to stay around you all, drawing - drawing attention to you. Putting you at risk. And anyway- "
He dropped his voice; it was barely possible to hear him over the strains of Mary - someone must have put that bloody song on yet again, for Christ's sake - persisting in informing her Michael of the bleeding bloody obvious.
For you stole Trevalyan's corn
That the young might see the morn
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.
"Anyway," he said with more confidence, "There are things I have to be doing. Things to make sure this - all this -can go on. Whether I'm here to take part or not."
He gestured again, and this time the gesture took in the whole noisy, tacky, crowded pub; from the faked up antiques on the walls to the beer-pumps spewing out their gassy, mass-produced, watery ales. And for a moment I saw it all through his eyes, and loved it with his own innocent, uncritical, all-embracing love.
And then I was afraid.
We seemed to be alone on a dark expanse of moorland. But then not alone: things were around us; almost, but not quite invisible. On the edge of hearing things on the edge of speech screamed. I half stumbled, pushing my chair backwards as something flew towards my face, but Arthur caught my wrist and pulled me to a sitting position again, and it flew on, behind me.
And then we were back in the smoky pub, just up from Ludgate Circus, and the jukebox was still wailing - Michael's prison ship was only then sailing out across the bay, so it all could have taken less than a minute.
Arthur got to his feet.
"Goodbye," he said, and first took my hand, before then pulling me hard against him, and kissing me on the cheek. And before I knew it, he'd gone, and the door was swinging behind him, letting a few faint flakes of snow in.
I've never seen him since. I go to the old haunts, and I think, maybe, I catch a glimpse of him; sometimes in Kim's borrowed robes that fitted him better than they ever did her, or in his shabby, slightly old-fashioned, modern-dress gear. But when I get close up, it always turns out to be someone else, or whoever it is has gone before I can identify them.
And really, at bottom I know I never will see him again; that he and I come from different worlds, and we can never truly meet on common ground again, though once we thought we might.
He came from no-where and returned to nowhere.
And his name was Arthur.