“What is it?”
You ask me this as if the question were reasonable. I do not have an answer. After a lifetime of fighting it, I am certain only of what it is not. I know it by the smoke-drawn outline left in its absence.
Perhaps, after all, that amounts to an answer of a kind. Absence may be a part of its name. It has sometimes come to me as a ravening hunger or an overpowering thirst. On long nights when I was young, it came to me as a perverse and objectless lust that could never be satisfied.
Whatever else it might be, it needs.
I have found it in Whitechapel in the dark, waiting and grinning, the only thing in that noisome neighborhood that doesn’t smell of fear and gin and despair. It smells instead of sex and blood and a hundred other horrid perfumes I have never been able to bear. I have met its shadow in Westminster, and in the mud along the river below the bridge. It has whispered foul endearments to me in the voices of the street sweepers as I’ve stepped out of my carriage.
No matter what shape it takes, its dangers never change. It wants my soul, and it will have it. The only thing I can do to protect myself is to refuse to feed it. When its wanting comes upon me, I simply…refuse. This is the only power a human being can have against it — the power to say “no,” even to myself.
I have learned, over the years, to make an art of refusal.