Thursday, November 30, 2006

Back in the study.

I’ve spent most of today hidden away in the study. Samuel has bought half a dozen lamps so it doesn’t always feel like a sacrificial chamber. It was nice to be in there alone, despite the lack of sun and air. Samuel’s always hanging around the house waiting to instruct me, and he only goes out at night. He’s like Batman. Angela deliberately stays close to him so she can make sarcastic comments. Neither of them know much about the real world, so I waited for Norman to come down from his attic, to ask about the post. There was a handwritten letter for dad that I’m not opening, but there was also a reminder about the council tax. Norman said not to worry, and now I’m not. Norman thinks I’m worrying too much about… well he thinks I’m in a constant state of non-specific anxiety, but that’s because he cooks so much food there’s always a full meal’s worth left when I’m done eating.

It’s typical that magic has disappeared. Cataloguing the now redundant books and bodkins, I find myself wondering what each item could have been used for, how my father would have used it, why he wanted it. It’s typical that just before I reached the age when he would have included me in this, this became less impressive than stage magic or dodgy séances. What Samuel straight-facedly calls my father’s legacy has all the value of the wisdom of Greek gods.

In one corner of the study I found some books that I could read. The blank books have post-it notes in them, so they’re numbered. The nonsense books likewise. I tried reading one out loud, but nothing happened. Some of them are an endless paragraph without a break, just continuous words for hundreds of pages. Samuel says that’s because the whole book is one spell. I thought Charlotte Bronte was a tough read.

Dad’s journals are stacked up on the desk now. I’m still looking for a key to the cipher around-about, but I’m going to try and crack the code myself. I figure the technical words are hieroglyphs, and the normal words are the shapes-for-letters. Samuel says most magicians devise their own system of encryption early on in their training, so there’s no standard practice. I asked him how many magicians there are in the world, but he couldn’t tell me.

The books that make sense are mostly natural history. I guess they helped him to find ingredients for his potions. There’s a guide to magic throughout world history, annotated by dad with exclamations and expletives. I don’t think he got much from it.

And then there’s another annotated book, with lists of ingredients and instructions, and dad’s handwriting, pointing with arrows to correct the printed text. At first I took it for a book of potions, because I’d learned not to expect sense from the words I read and only paid attention to the notes. Only on the third page did I realise I was reading a recipe for soup, and that the notes were feedback on how well the finished dish was received. The book contains some of my favourite meals from when I was growing up. This is what he used to teach himself how to cook when my mother died. So what kind of man does that make him now?


Samuel has taken changes into his own hands. He’s replaced the front, back and study doors with those ones with the five bolts. He’s given me the only key to the study.

A burglar alarm has been fitted, including a special circuit on the study door, so it sounds every time someone goes in there. I asked him why it was worth it. If there’s no more magic anymore then aren’t all the contents of the study junk?

Samuel says it is now, but no one knows what happened to the magic, and a lot of people are working hard at bringing it back. If that ever happens then the study becomes priceless again.

If that’s the case, I should be glad the burglar didn’t get away with anything more than the tree root, and he probably only picked that up to hit me over the head. Samuel doesn’t think magic’s coming back now anyway – he says it’s worked its way out of the world. For centuries man has gradually reduced the need for magic, which existed only as an imbalance in nature, and now the world has corrected itself. The phrase he used was the world has perfected itself.

This got Angela talking to him again, for the first time since he questioned her. Apparently on Sunday night he spent a couple of hours each with her and Norman, like he’s the CIA. Norman says he’ll still cook him food with everyone else – but if anything gets dropped he knows what plate it’s going on. Angela’s sticking with the anti-fascist stance.

“That’s a very select view of magic.” She said. “Treating it like a quirk in nature that needs to be ironed out. Very Aryan.’
“Not really. Just a theory,” Samuel smiled. “Quite a well subscribed theory,” he added, to me.
“Yeah.” Snorted Angela. “In Vatican city.”
“And what’s your theory?” He asked her.
“Magic is the power beneath the universe.”
“Was. And now? What’s your theory for this?”
“I’d assumed it was personal. A series of attacks on-”
“It’s everybody. From highest to lowest. It’s everything.
“Then it’s a dampening spell of some kind. Somebody, or maybe a collective, they’ve figured out a way to amplify a dampening spell, made it cover the whole world.”
“And who would do that? They’d be crippling themselves.”
“Well the church no longer believes in magic,” said Angela, “and for once it’s the rest of the world that’s caught up with them. 1349?”

Samuel looked impressed. I don’t know what 1349 refers to – I’m guessing it’s a code for a thingum in magical circles.
“Not that I believe in 1349,” she added, and Samuel laughed, agreeing.
“The main theory out there,” he said, “is that someone created a vacuum, in a genie lamp or a sacred stone, doesn’t matter what in. They figure somebody’s sucked all the magic into one place – to try and own it all. Doesn’t make sense though. That much power can’t do anything but destroy you.” He turned to me. “Even your father couldn’t control that.”
“Was my father powerful?”
Samuel didn’t give an answer.

Norman comes down to cook us food, but he spends most of his time up in the attic. Samuel’s in my room, and he’s given Norman the TV out of there, since he never watches it; he says it hurts his eyes. Angela says that serves him right. Norman worries a lot about who will take over from Des Lynam on Countdown. He likes Deal Or No Deal.

Samuel has given me two sets of keys for the front and back locks. One of each is for me, and the others are to be loaned out only as required. He’s given me strict instructions on looking after the study. It’s like I’m being employed as my own baby sitter.

I’ve not been into the study since just after the theft, but Samuel wants me to do a full and proper inventory – not the scrapbook stuff I did before. He says I need to know what I own now, but I don’t need him to tell me how to look after my father's possessions.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Angela asked me how long Samuel was going to be allowed to stay.
She also asked if I was going to lie there all day.
I said I wasn’t sure to both questions.

Samuel went off again today. I gather he’s got a car. He came back in time for tea, rather politely. When he goes out he wears sunglasses, blocked in at the sides with little leatherette tabs. I think they’re meant for skiers.

Norman’s hardly spoken since Samuel arrived. He always seemed to like Angela‘s stories, but maybe only as stories. I think he knows himself that it’s time to go.

There was an odd meal, with the four of us sat in the living room, and then Samuel started talking. He took his glasses off so he could stare at us – and I realised how few people must see his eyes. He must have felt the need to intimidate me yesterday.

“How many people have been to the house since Halloween?”
“Nobody, apart from friends.”
“How many people have a key to the door?”
“Only me.”
“How many other people have stayed here?”
“Only Angela and Norman.”
“How well do you know them? Had you met them before your father died? Have you any reason to trust them?”

And then Angela began. She seems to have a genuine hatred for that man. She said something about Fascism which I didn’t follow. A lot of the time, people chuck the word fascist about because they know it’s pretty bad, but that’s a Hitler ‘n’ Holocaust specific brand of badness. I don’t know if most people know what fascism is. I don’t think it means much. Something else will replace it in the hierarchy of name-calling soon. Capitalist or Polluter are a bit too tie-dye and lentils. Fundamentalist maybe.

This is what I was thinking about while the girl who’s lost her demon argued with the man with blood red eyes. Then I got up and left.

I went to Cobber’s first, but while he let me in, he was with his girl and their hands were having one of those secondary conversations that let you know they’re not paying close attention to the verbal one. I left, without protest.

I ended up sat in Hillsborough Park, hoping no one too drunk would see me in the dark, and then came home when I could see they had all gone to bed.

I don’t have much choice now but to believe in magic. I wonder why I was so against the idea, since I’ve always wanted the world to be made that way. I suppose now you and I are on the same page.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Saturday night.

I haven't moved from the sofa today. There was daylight and footsteps about the house. Norman brought me food but I didn't feel like eating, so it's still by my feet. Samuel has been busy, and he's staying another night - he came in to talk to me and went away.

I don't know how I feel about these people in my house. I wish they'd go and I wish they'd help me.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

We have another visitor at the house.

Angela woke me up this afternoon, and behind her was a man. Someone else who says he knew my father.

“I should have come sooner,” he said. His name is Samuel Hayne. He waited while I unstuck myself from the sofa and found some food. Norman hung around the door like a butler, looking grave but aimless.

I sized up the visitor in glances as I ate. He looked about forty odd, short dark hair, greying at the temples; pretty thin, but he looks like he could hurt someone – he’s the sort of person you see in town and step around. He wears heavy boots and a long leather coat, light brown but dark in splodges.

It wasn’t until I stopped eating that I saw that his eyes are bright red. Not just the irises, which are like red marble, but the whole eyeballs are the colour of blood, with only the blackness of the pupils offering any hope.

“They used to be magical,” he explained, because I was staring. “Now they’re just normal eyes. Obviously. I suppose I should be glad that I bothered with the full works when I changed them.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Used to be magical.”
“I’m a greyman.” He said, explaining nothing.
“And why are they just normal eyes now?” Asked Angela.
He looked at us, each in turn.
“What do you think has happened?” He said. “All the world's magic has died.”

Angela ran upstairs to her room. Norman joined me on the sofa; he still wears his shirt and smart trousers – he must look like my social worker.
“What do you think has happened?” Samuel asked again.
“All I know is that my father died. The others think it’s about magic spells.”
“But you… I’m sorry for the loss of your father. He was an important man. You’ve seen his study?”
“And yet you’re sceptical about magic?”
“Yes.” I tried to ignore his eyes.
“What would it take to convince you?”
“Well then, I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for your doubts. Because there is no magic, not anymore. It all fell off the edge of the world.”
“And you’re saying that’s why my father died?”
“Of course. Caught out by a cheap trick, so to speak.”
“You know how he died?”
“What did the doctors say?”
“Not much of anything useful. They said it was like acid ate his lungs.” That was the first time I had to say that out loud.

All those potions in the study had to be brewed, and the chemical ingredients gave off fumes, and the fumes were inhaled over the years. My father would have protected himself against toxins, just as it’s possible to protect the body against aging, but if he did it too quickly, if he cut corners, then his lungs would have held the corrosive at bay, rather than being renewed. To grow new flesh is much harder. And when the spell failed – when all the spells failed on Halloween – then the walls collapsed.
“And my wife.” Said Norman. “Did the same thing happen to her?”
“I never met your wife I’m afraid, so I couldn’t guess her fate.”

And there was the mystery solved. My father’s last words and his need for you, as he lay, confused by his own death, had been answered. If you believe in magic, which my father did, and I must, then it was the loss of magic that killed him.

I told Samuel he could stay the night if he wanted. It seems like the thing to do now. I thought over what he’d told us, and put together some words of gratitude. I began by explaining what my father’s last words had been, and how he’d now brought some understanding.

Samuel said my father would have known why he was dying. He would have felt the magic ebb from him, and he would have known. But a power capable of expelling all magic from the world is greater than anyone or anything known to exist. My father was careless because he couldn’t imagine any force that could take magic away from him. That was the answer he was searching for. Samuel knows witches, wizards, sorcerers and warlocks all over the world, and no one knows what happened that night.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What they've stolen

It turns out that the books were just out of place. The only thing missing from the study is the tree root. I don’t know who else would want that, who else has been there, who else Angela or Norman told. Angela still says she doesn’t know what it was.

I didn’t sleep last night. I spent the night on the sofa and fell asleep this morning after daybreak. Angela and Norman have been moving round me quietly until we had time to check the study properly. I have a cut on the side of my head so I don’t want anyone else coming round, but that leaves me alone with these two and their stories of magic.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Law breaking.

After I’d finished last night, I went to sleep. There’s a noise that the study door makes, like a snarl as it scrapes the floor of the hall. That’s the noise that woke me up at four.

I went downstairs. Halfway down, the lights were switched off again. I should have turned back then but I kept going. I thought it must be Angela, couldn’t think who else would go in there. I don’t remember being hit.

I woke up in hospital. Norman drove me, Angela stayed. They kept me through the night, to keep an eye on me. It’s a horrible place, behind all the people who make a living there, there’s the structure of it – like a vision of the future from the sixties, in concrete and uniforms.

When they found me last night, the back door was open. Everyone thinks it was locked, but no one can remember checking. A couple of the blank white books are missing from the study, and the tree root. Nothing else has been touched that I can tell, but we need to check the inventory. I feel too sick to do that today. I feel fine, and at the same time I feel exhausted.

It’s not just Angela that’s taking magic seriously. While I was in the hospital, I started to believe it myself.

Normal life.

None of us have talked about the weekend. There were looks amongst us this afternoon, and I thought I saw Angela smile about it, but no one wanted to start that conversation. They both kept on like it was Friday.

I had a call from my history teacher to ask if I was going back to school. She admitted that her boss wants me back to improve their grade average, but she said she misses me in her classes – because I made them more fun to teach. I don't remember them being fun.

I don’t see myself returning to that life either. I’ve no longer any interest in filling my life with information as though it will give me answers. My father clearly pursued knowledge to the point of delusion – Angela still lives there, deeper in than he was, but it’s the same thing. It’s the same thing as believing in god – just because the sentences make sense, it doesn’t mean there’s truth in them. I have a study full of books that babble out words like they’re trying to guess a password, and no doubt my father thought they were the route to wisdom, but it’s all the same act, of insulation against the fear of nothingness. It’s all just taking shelter behind coherence. And in truth the only clarity I’ve had since October is when we ran from the explosion and I didn’t have time or the breath to think. I can’t live my whole life at that speed.

Angela has taken hold of a cause for optimism, since I told her again about the will, which states the study specifically because, in her theory, the study was supposed to remain invisible beyond my father’s lifetime. The will was written to prompt me to look for the study, but the fact that it is visible suggests a mishap. She apologised for the glibness of the word mishap, but not for being so happy that she’d figured this out. She’s convinced a spell backfired to cause a zone of neutralisation; there are such things as dampening spells, she says. And all this means her demon need not be lost forever.

I know she’s insane, but I like to hear her talk about these things. It’s nice that she believes in what I can’t.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's been a strange weekend.

Miranda, unsure whether I’d accepted her invitation, came to the house to see me on Saturday. Norman hid himself in the attic and Angela stayed in my room, where she could listen to the radio. Angela likes Radio 5, because she likes to hear voices.

You’d think it was a date, not dad’s ex-girlfriend. I spent the first half hour in a frantic chat-tidy, hiding traces of Angela and Norman’s residential status. I don’t know why I hid that from Miranda, after all, all my friends know. I wouldn’t want her to feel protective against them - and she’s more likely to recognise Norman. She did see all the dishes in the sink – but I said my friends had been over. She thought it was odd we’d been eating Norman’s creamy potato stuff rather than McDonalds, but she bought it.

I liked seeing her, which I didn’t expect. Maybe she broke up with dad because his behaviour was strange, or else he smelt of brimstone, but she doesn’t know about the side of him that dwelt in the study – she talks about him like a normal person.

Angela’s stories never stop. Norman egged her on all last week, and I was glad we spent the day apart. She talks about magic all the time, like the same way I’d talk about a bad song. She told us about a man who wanted his kitten to never grow into a cat, but he forgot the tail – so it grew longer and longer until twenty years passed and it just fell off. Or the man who made a woman to keep him company – just made her out of sticks and stones – but he couldn’t make her love him. She ran off with another man, and cried every day because he’d programmed her to miss him, like a drug. Angela can’t explain why that’s not the same as love. And then there was the man who fought a demon, just because it was a demon, but they were both trying to protect the same woman from each other. Angela loves telling stories about demons – not even stories, just rubbish information, like how demons see starlight much brighter than we do. And I think it’s very convenient that all the people who get the magic wrong in her stories are men.

Miranda talks about the past like it’s a maze on a puzzle page, and you can retrace your path to start again from the choices you had earlier. She says the past is better if you don’t think of it as over, but be glad that it ever happened. I don’t get it, but it made sense when she said it.

She also said there was a job for me if I wanted – she runs an art gallery nearby. I told her about the will and how it’s left me pretty much sorted. We drank coffee – it was very civilised.

Saturday night I went out with my friends, into town, to see where we couldn’t get served. Not many places as it turned out. We got back in the morning and sat up talking about what was right with the world.

Angela said Jo, Cobb’s girlfriend, came looking for him while we were out, which explains why he’s always inviting himself over, if he’s trying to avoid her. She’s pretty, but constantly in a mood – like she’s got tight high heels and a septic toe.

On Sunday, when I was fit for it, we drove to Bradford – Angela, Norman and I. It was Angela’s idea. Miranda had asked why dad’s car was in the driveway and Angela reasoned it was only a matter of time before neighbours remembered to the police that they’d seen Norman’s car in the street.

We went over the peaks, avoiding the motorway, and got there just after dark. Angela said to find a rough neighbourhood, but none of us knew where that might be. We just drove around until we saw a gang of twelve year olds smoking and then parked close to them. Norman gathered up any last personal belongings. Angela and I wore gloves and hats because of a whole CSI conversation we'd had. The keys were left in the ignition.

What we hadn’t thought of at the planning stage was that to get from the car to the train station and home, we had to walk through the dodgy area we were relying on to trash the car.

There’s already a divorce between myself and kids. I can see it in their eyes; I’m just surplus information in their world – like a drifting road sign, or nutritional stats. A few years ago I used to aspire to be my age – I used to respect me. Now it’s like their brains are all wadded up, and I get why we used to get dirty looks in the park, why adults would go quiet as they passed us – because they didn’t trust us to have morals. And now I’m the same. Already I look at kids like the ones we walked past in Bradford, and I look at all the things on them that shine, and I think they are capable of anything. Don’t look them in the eye.

There are cameras on buses, so we walked all the way down to town, but not before Angela got the jitters that the kids couldn’t be relied upon to be bad enough. Norman had left a can of petrol on the back seat and reckoned that would seal it, but Angela went running back to the car. She says the kids were nowhere near it, that they’d gone home for their chips. We’ll have to take her word for it, since we turned round and headed back, but before we saw the car again Angela was running towards us, steam engine style. There was an orange glow behind her, and then Boom.

She kept running right past us, not even a look or a break in her pace. Norman looked at me and farted. In a couple of days I might find that funny, but at the time it seemed the perfect thing to say. We pursued her, Benny Hill style.

Sirens started up the hill towards us and we legged it down a side road. Fire engines and a police car went past. I could taste blood coming up from my lungs and Norman spewed. Angela sort of skipped until we were moving again.

By the time we reached the station, the last train had gone: it took two hours to get there, via dead ends and car parks. Angela swears that no one saw her, and that kids like those don’t talk to the police.

Then the really bad part started. Norman started to pick at Angela for the plan in the first place, let alone going back to fire the car. Angela said he ought to be grateful, or was he just sitting around waiting to get arrested. I wonder if he’s told her more than me. Then they bickered all night as we walked around the city centre, trying to keep warm, not to get mugged, not to get noticed by the police, not get lost, not feel hungry. I suggested we go back to the scene of the crime, just in case it was still burning.

We got back today. Norman and Angela still aren’t talking.

Cobber, Top and Fuzz came around this evening. They think Angela’s gorgeous, but Norman’s weird – or that he’s still here is weird. I wanted to tell them what we’d done. I wanted to tell Fuzz that I’d experienced that buzz of criminality – but it would open up too many questions. I had to wait until two for them all to go home.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Moving and getting stuck

If there is such a thing as magic, why doesn’t the world know about it? We’re not in the age of burning witches anymore – the TV’s full of freaks and charlatans because people want these things to be true. If you could actually do magic the film rights alone would be worth a fortune – you wouldn’t sit in a dark room everyday like a mad professor, thinking and tinkering.

What was he doing? I can’t reconcile this room with the man who bought me Christmas presents, cooked my meals, helped out with homework, took me on holiday. It’s impossible that he went from being my dad to a man with books on demonology and necromancy.

Demonology, Angela says, is only as negative as the magician who guides and summons. Her own demon, Tomlin, was courteous and witty, with no malevolence, but a sense of duty. He was very protective towards her. Sometimes he would hide in her shadow, other times he would sit beside her and they would talk through the night. She feels as though part of her mind is missing. As though the world is quieter.

Despite what she says, out of all the types of spellbook she’s described, it’s only astral magic that sounds in any way nice. I thought natural magic sounded okay until she explained that it included the powers of mind control and physical mutation.

The books that are written in code look to be my father’s journals. Why he wrote them in code we don’t know. Angela doesn’t know as much as she likes to pretend when she tells her stories. The tree root with a black stain is a mystery to her. The glass orbs might be looking devices – she doesn’t know where they look to. The gold thing like a fishing reel might be for communicating – she doesn’t know who with. There’s a dried up piece of bark or skin she doesn’t recognise. She hasn’t heard of you.

The journals don’t have any recognisable dates, so I can’t tell when they started. If I could, I wonder if they began when my mother died. I can barely remember those days. I don’t know he changed at all after that. I don’t know why he needed to encoded it – who he was hiding the contents from. Was it from me?

There was a phone call from Miranda, asking if I wanted to go and see her this weekend. I said I’d think about it. What she thinks we’ll talk about I have no idea.

I got another call from Cobber, inviting himself over. I told him I’d rather get out of the house. Norman’s moving his things up to the attic. There are boards over the rafters up there, but it’s hardly a room. It’s full of boxes of my old toys and my mother’s clothes. He’s found a camp bed and cleared some space. I don’t know why he’s turning this into a permanent arrangement.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A look at the future.

Today I got the letter from dad’s solicitor. Uncle Gordon came for the opening, but there was nothing in there for him and now he’s gone. Back down South for another god knows how long.

Everything has been left to me, to be held in trust with the solicitor for the next six months. So Gordon’s mumblings about being my only family went south with him.

It specifically mentions the study. The study and all its contents are the exclusive property of me, and not to be removed from the house until I reach eighteen. I guess it means the contents aren’t to be removed, not the room itself. No other part of the estate is mentioned in detail. I thought about that for a good while before I called for Angela.

The first thing she did was throw out the dead rat – which might have been what I could smell from the front door, and I’ve been unfair to Norman. She said she didn’t know what we were thinking of, keeping it.
“We thought it might be important,” said Norman, who’s been feeding the others in their cage.
“It was important while it was dying. Now it’s just dead, so it’s dead.”

The blank books are spell books, Angela tells us. The leather bindings are colour coded to a common rule: red covers are demonology spells, for locating, summoning and binding; black books are necromancy, for returning the dead to differing levels of life; blue books are astral magic, for contacting other planes of existence; green covers contain spells on natural magic, to manipulate living creatures or plants; purple books hold inspirational spells, also known as royal magic, dealing in the creation of matter and energy out of nothing. She doesn’t know what the white covers signify.

Nor does she know much about the other objects in the room. The curios and artefacts she’ll guess at, she says. Similar objects have been described to her. The bottles and jars are unidentifiable, so she can’t help there, except in their general nature.

Magic is a corruption of the proper order, and accordingly requires a deal of power. All the objects and liquids are vessels for that power. The objects are vessels that are tools for specific tasks, while the liquids (Angela calls them potions, of course) are spells already cast with a delay in the result. Demons work the same way, she says. People like her use demons as vessels for magic, because they have no power of their own.

She walked up to the study’s vast mirror and said,
“Your father drew him out of here, and bound him to my shadow.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Tomlin. The demon.”
“I thought he was your boyf-” said Norman, but I cut him off.
“Why are the books blank?”
“Well that’s a worry. Because your father didn’t write those books, did he – they conform to the codes, so he must have acquired them. They're probably older than him. And if they’re blank it’s because they were written in magic, and the magic has failed. Do you see?”
“No. But what about the books that aren’t blank, the ones full of gibberish?”
“They don’t matter. They’re just more spells, but lesser spells. It’s the blank pages that are the worry – because if the magic in those pages died too, then it wasn’t just your father’s power that stopped working, and maybe that means Tomlin is lost forever.”

Angela is beautiful, but quite mad. I've met girls like her before.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Room at the inn.

Norman wants Angela to stay, but that’s because she’s offering him an answer for what’s happened to his wife.

She has, however, asked nicely – which is more than Norman ever did. He just stumped in and lay down. Now he just sits in the living room and waits for me to come upstairs, before he unpacks his blankets. The living room smells of him now. When I came home from Top’s this afternoon I could smell him from the front door.

He wants to show Angela the study. She’s been in there before, with dad.

Norman says it’s ridiculous that I refuse to believe in magic and yet I accept that the study exists; I accept that my father spent most of his time in there, with all the books and bodkins. I even accept that my father believed in magic, but there’s no evidence for magic itself – there’s just dead people and strangers.

Angela's version of the world.

There is no such thing as magic. Until it is proven to me then that is what I believe.

Angela is spending the night again. Norman has taken this as a cue to cook huge extravagant meals that no one can finish, and then when I’m sat, stuffed and unable to move he says
“You need to hear this,” and nods at Angela, who explains to me what she knows about magic.

I expected her to tell me about teleportation, or telepathy, or how to conjure a fireball. But she’s cleverer than that. She stuck to the theory, rather than the demonstrable feats. She told me why magic is supposed to work.

If science is the rule of logic on existence, then magic is a flaw in the logic – and just as you can defy logic linguistically, you can also defy the order of the universe linguistically. Through language, the truth of the world is corrupted, and through that opening in the fabric of the universe, all manner of strangeness can be drawn out – like the dead, and demons. The universe can be altered if the words are powerful enough.

This means you can make potions that stop you from aging. You can make whole rooms disappear and nobody wonders where they went. You can create a living being out of the ether, complete with a complex personality. You can do anything imaginable, if you have the words.

I suspect you know this already. I think that’s why my father needed you, because you believe in this too. But I don’t.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I need some headspace.

The girl in the spare room is called Angela. She met dad a few years ago. He was able to help her.

For the last two weeks I've been sat in that room wondering what it could mean and coming up with a long list of things it couldn't possibly.

Blank books, coded books, nonsense books, bottles and rats and things I've never seen before anywhere. Both my father and, I suspect, Norman's wife aged years in one night and died of old age. There is a room that wasn't there and now it is. There's a mirror daubed with symbols. A dead rat. There are black candles. There's a tree root stained black with blood. A gold contraption like a fishing reel.

For the last two weeks I have been telling myself that I'm going mad, because no matter how many books I've read, or the games we used to play when we were younger, in spite of everything we wanted to be true, there is no such thing as magic.

There is no such thing as magic.

And this morning there's Angela at breakfast, who says-

"Oh yes, there is magic. Of course there's magic. But mine's run out - that's why I came to see your dad. That's why I'm here. You see he was the one who helped me conjure Tomlin in the first place. Six years ago. I've hardly any skills myself, but your dad. Now I wonder if Tomlin's gone because his summoning was so contingent on Mr. Fold, and when he died, the link with this world was broken. Or was it that he died and Tomlin was lost because the magic failed? What are your theories?"

I have none.

She thinks it's funny that the son of Edward Fold has no idea that magic exists.
She thinks Norman's story is terribly sad and has parallels with her own.
She thinks it will take her another couple of days to get her strength back, and in the meantime she would like to see where we scattered dad's ashes.

I haven't told her about the study, but she laid her hand on the door as she passed, and her face looked as though she held the photo of a loved one.

I haven't spoken to her at all since breakfast.

There is no such thing as magic.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

House guests.

There is now someone else, in addition to Norman, staying at the house. I have no idea who she is.

I got the call on Friday afternoon from Top to go round, get away from the house for a bit. Pele, Cobber and Fuzz were there, with no girlfriends and yet a box of red wine. I don’t much care for the drink myself, but the expense was appreciated. After the first couple of glasses Pele called for hush and toasted “To Origami,” which is me, “may he find his future.” And everyone else raised their glasses. The toast is from a novel he’s lent me about reinventing the past and competing time travellers. It embarrassed me a little, but no one’s said anything finer than that in a decade. No one’s properly stopped to think. Norman offers his sympathy daily, but only ever as a precursor to his latest theories about anti-aging potions and my father being some sort of alchemist.

We watched Lord of the Rings as the wine kept coming, aiming for another marathon session, but we’ve never got to the sixth disc after five attempts. The final victories are forever postponed – but then Top always says he’s disappointed by the way they hurried the ending. He’s not joking – he wanted more of the return to the Shire and a reprise for Christopher Lee.

Halfway through, Fuzz went into the kitchen, took all the pans out of the pan cupboard and climbed in. I think it was to demonstrate something. He wasn’t hiding. He might have been protesting. Anyway, we all forgot he was in there and he fell asleep. He fell out of the cupboard in the morning and spent an hour straightening his back.

We waited at Top’s for most of the day, weighing the disapproval and silence of his parents against the chance for a break in the gale outside.

I came home at eleven tonight, having taken a lift back that was more of a boot out, and found Norman under blankets on the sofa. He’d made himself useful around the house and deserved a rest – which wasn’t what I was asking. He wasn’t in the spare room because it wasn’t available – which was closer to the point but still evasive.

I eventually learnt, through unbelievable persistence, that a girl arrived this evening – by which he means a woman who’s younger than he is – and she was asking for my father. She said she was a friend of his; she’s known him for years. She started crying when Norman told her my father is dead. She started talking to herself and then practically screaming. He was worried that the neighbours would hear and call the police and then he digressed for ages about what would happen if they had called the police, avoiding the core question I was trying to ask – which was, why is she still in the house?

She has no car, and has travelled up from Devon over two days of hitch hiking. He's taken pity on her. He wouldn’t say if she’s pretty or not. I suppose it’s an unfair question to ask him.

Apparently she said that my father would have the answer. Now I have to wait until tomorrow to find out what she means.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


I met dad’s ex-girlfriend again yesterday. She’s called Miranda. She came up after the service and asked “Do you remember me?”

With the exception of red hair, she’s hardly changed at all. Although she used to dress like a woman with cats and leg hair. She looked more like an old fashioned film star yesterday. I remember I used to come home and find her reclined on the sofa, or they’d pretend she’d only come over to borrow something and I don’t even want to think how they really spent their afternoons.

She stood between Uncle Gordon and me, to say she was sure my father was in a much better place. She had missed him over the years, and regretted now not getting in touch again when she’d wanted to. And she wished she’d had the chance to know me as I was growing up. And she always thought funerals were terrible – so ritualistic, with nothing to do with the man or how he lived, and not a good way to say goodbye at all.

Uncle Gordon stood over us, nodding and grunting, waiting for propriety to kick in. He’s a true believer in objective decency, and his eyes watch patiently from under a ledge of white eyebrows, waiting for the world to be the place it ought to be. Which is how I felt obliged to invite Miranda back to the house.

At home I could hear Norman moving around upstairs, but it’s an old house and no one else noticed.

I found Miranda in the hallway, looking at the study door with lemon-lips and her head on one side. It’s seven years since she last came to the house, but she could tell something had changed, or was out of place. I wonder how detailed her fantasies of living here were.

“It’s a shame,” I said, “more of dad’s friends couldn’t come today.”

Besides myself, Uncle Gordon and Miranda, there had only been two bald men who, if they’re who I remember, are book dealers dad knew; and there was a younger man with greased hair and sallow skin. He stared at me before he walked out.

“Edward was a very private man.” Miranda said.
“I guess. I found the names of a few friends in his stuff. Matt Poole, Ilford Dyson, and Daniel Hardcastle. I sent them all letters, but none of them got back to me.” The other two I made up, if you’re wondering.
“Maybe the addresses are old.”
“I suppose. I think I might have met Ilford Dyson when I was little. I think I was ten.”
“I never heard him mentioned,” Miranda said. “It must have been before my time. Or just after, of course. Was he a close friend of Edward?”
“Don’t know.”
“I thought you might be able to tell from the source of the address. Was it correspondence or..?”
“Just a note.” I said. I thought of address book later. “Like you say, it could be old.” I like to think if a friend of his knew, then they would have come. “And you’re right – dad was very private. When they asked what music to play, I didn’t have a clue.”
“What they played was very nice.”
“I just said something classical, cause he used to leave the radio tuned to Radio Three. Come to think of it, he might have liked jazz.”
“No, he would have liked what they played today.”

I was glad Miranda said that, but not enough to leave her alone.

“I’ve no idea about his favourite food, or colour, or film.” I told her, “I guess he used to read a lot. He never watched TV with me, except for magic shows.”
“I can’t imagine Edward watching television at all. It’s sort of charming.”
“In all of his stuff, it’s all so ordinary. There’s nothing. Like my friend’s dad likes cars, so he’s got magazines about cars, pictures of cars, he wears T-shirts with cars on them. Dad’s clothes are barely coloured. What did the two of you talk about?”
“That’s sort of personal-” Miranda said.
“But the two of you went out for like a year. Didn’t he have hobbies or interests?”
“He was a fascinating man – with great depths of knowledge. It’s a shame you don’t feel he shared that with you.”

I didn’t push it any further than that. She didn’t know anything or say anything other than to be polite. She said to visit her, if I wanted to, as she was leaving. Then she said again that my father has gone to a much better place, like he’s only gone to Alton Towers and then he’ll be back to explain why there’s a dungeon library full of blank books and dead rats in a corner of our house.

Norman came back down when the house was empty, but he didn’t talk much. It was like he was sulking, and I didn’t get it until just now, but I think that he’s jealous of me, for having the funeral.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

About Norman

For some reason, Norman won’t admit to what we’ve both discovered while he’s in the normal part of the house. He just acts like he hasn’t heard me talking.

We went back into the study late on Tuesday night, after he’d swapped the cars over, and we talked again about what it might mean, or who my father was. Norman often wonders out loud about the worth of all the books and bodkins, as he calls them. They’d be worth nothing to sell, but must have cost thousands – even if it’s all just decoration. One of my favourite theories is that the study is a gothic fantasy room. Norman keeps asking me what sort of man my father was.

So on the first of November, Norman woke up to find an empty bed. He went downstairs, where he thought he saw his wife, but before he could ask why she was up so early he realised it was an old woman wearing his wife’s dressing gown. She was sat by the phone crying. She did look a bit like his wife, but too old. Old enough to be her mother but, like Norman, her parents had both passed on before they met. Apparently his wife is stunning: ten years younger than Norman and looking ten years younger still. The old woman in his house turned when she heard him and tried to reach out. The wrinkles in her face became folds, and her hair was growing like loose threads being pulled from her head. She’d broken off six inches of nails to use the phone, but they were curling back out again. When she tried to move towards him, her legs buckled and she fell.

The address book, where he found our address, was open by the phone. He’s not telling me anymore than that.

And that’s all I’m going to talk about today.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fresh air hurts.

For the first time in a week I went outside, where the cold air burnt my eyes, yesterday. It was only to go to Morrisons. The greatest refreshment was to see so many people who had no idea who I was and looked right past me.

My uncle paid for the stock up and gave me the change from £200 – as if he felt the need to make up for all the missed birthdays. He barely said a word, except to express surprise at what I eat. I won’t see him again until tomorrow and the funeral.

Back at the house I put the TV on in time to catch the end of the news showing a photo of Norman and his wife, and another of his car, with an appeal for information from the police. Uncle Gordon was in the kitchen and I doubt that any of my friends will have watched any news. I’ve told him now to move the car into the garage and swap it with dad’s, after I looked up the story on the internet. The police are treating the disappearance of both Norman and his wife as suspicious. The body of an elderly woman was found in his house – they didn’t say how she died. He has children, grown up, who have no idea where their parents are or who the old woman is.

No one is coming over tonight. I think I need to ask Norman exactly what has happened and why he hasn’t gone home.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Out of synch.

It occurred to me last night that we are all waiters. I don’t mean that we’re all waiting for something – although that’s probably a better point than the one I’m making. What I meant was that it doesn’t matter what sort of people we are, as long as we do what people want from us and look smart, then everyone thinks we’re fantastic.

It seemed more poignant last night.

My Uncle Gordon came back round yesterday afternoon. He woke me up and it was dark already, so I wasn’t fully sure of what was happening. He’s in touch with the solicitor and has finalised the funeral – which is now on Thursday. He took a quick look at the house – as though it might fall down – and then left.

I didn’t tell him about Norman. Not after the reaction of my friends, who thought he was a possible mental. Norman stayed up in the spare room when they came around last night. They mistook the stare in his eyes for the same you see in supermarkets on men who have trolleys full of nothing but cans of beans and alcohol. They don’t know about his wife. But then nor do I. Nor does he, after all.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The man in the car.

The man outside had slept in his car overnight, and was still there yesterday morning. He’s got a Lexus, so I’ve only so much sympathy. He probably slept better than I did.

I decided over breakfast that this was not normal and spent a good two hours of Sunday morning staring at him from the window.

Cobber came over, with more food from his mother. He said his parents could take me to Tesco and get the house stocked up if I wanted. Their awareness of my need for food, in terms of responsibility and routine rather than hunger – as though the house needs the food more than I do – this is almost the oddest turn-around of the last few days: Cobber’s parents have never said more than goodbye-hello to me in the seven years I’ve known him. He agreed that the man parked outside wasn't normal at all. We watched TV, didn’t drink this time, didn’t say much.

About five, after Cobber left, the man got out of his car and came up to the house. I suppose he’s forty, he’s pretty big – tall, and like a body builder who’s let it all go to fat. Most of his face is a beard, but blue, bloodshot eyes are buried in the all the curls of black hair. The suit he’s wearing is creased from the nights he’s slept in it – and he smells, of BO and meat.
He said: “I was looking for Edward Fold, but I gather I’m too late. I’m very sorry.”

His name is Norman Salway, and he found my father’s name in his wife’s address book. He says he doesn’t know what happened to his wife. I think he does.
What he said was “My wife – she’s… I don’t know what happened to her.” Which is not the same thing as “my wife is missing.”

We talked for a couple of minutes – I kept him on the doorstep, asked him a few questions. He’s never heard of you. I asked him why he waited so long outside and he looked as though he was going to cry. I almost shut the door in his face. He said he wanted to go home but he couldn’t: he had to find out why he’d come here. I couldn’t help him, and he walked away, a bit of a shambles.

Before he got to the road I called him back and asked why he chose my father. “There must have been more names than his in a whole address book. Why single out that one name?”

Because it wasn’t there before. It’s at the top of the page, just above her sisters’ names – so he’s seen the page a hundred times. It was never there before – nor was there even a gap where it could be written in later. All the handwritten entries have moved down one place to make room.

He showed me the book with, “Have you ever known anything like it,” as though the words were materialising before our eyes.

I invited him into the house and took him to the study.

We sat there all through the night, talking about what it might mean until we ran out of fantasies, and then we just sat there in silence, like the only two passengers on the wrong bus out of town – sober but baffled, and worried they might never get home again.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Is this odd?

It’s impossible to tell whether or not something is normal now.

My uncle Gordon came round this morning, but as he came up to the house I saw him talking to a man who was waiting in the road. The man got back into his car and just sat there, but when I asked Gordon what he wanted he said “nothing of any consequence”.

We went through the funeral details together, and he drafted a letter to dad’s solicitors, to notify them and activate the will, if there is one. Gordon said he doubted there would be – but wouldn’t say more than that.

He went back to his hotel straight away and seems to be annoyed that this is a weekend. The man was still sat in his car outside the house.

When my friends came round in the afternoon he was still there. Cobber had brought a lasagne his mum made, because she was worried I might not be eating properly. Top and Pele brought more drink – and were duly dubbed swashbucklers of the first order. Fuzz brought nothing except his dirty, empty hands – and was duly dubbed our jeeves for the night. He said he’d given up a bonfire date with Pamela to be here, but that didn’t really cut it.

Pele said “how are you?” and I said “fine”, and that was as far as we got into that conversation.

When they left, I got my school bag and took a pen and some A4 into the study, where I’ve started to make a list of everything that’s in there. There’s a toy-box full of candles behind the desk, and the place is lit up now like one of those spooky churches you only see on murder mysteries. The list however is an act of futility: it’s four pages of unknown objects and rough descriptions corresponding to torn up, hand-made labels. I don’t know why I’m doing it, other than a belief that’s where my father was for the last few hours of his life, and that this room that has suddenly been revealed is somehow the reason he died. The books, bottles and allsorts are unexplained, but not beyond explanation. And I bet you know what they mean.

That man is still sat in his car outside. No doubt he got a good view of all the fireworks but it’s freezing out there.

I’m beginning to wonder if he is you.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

In-between visitors

There is no light, that I can find, in my father’s study – so last night I could only see from the light of the hallway – and half of what was lit was hidden by my own shadow.

I found the desk in the middle of the room, and could see bookshelves all around me, and there's a mirror that I thought was a ghost, and there were other things on the shelves I couldn’t make out or get to. The floor is covered in things to stumble over, and there's a smell in there – like a rotten lunch box.

The hunt for the torch was interrupted by my friends arriving: they brought buckets and boxes and drink, having met in advance to plan how to deal with me. I liked it that they were awkward – that they weren’t sure if A-level homework was important enough to talk about. They’re the only people I’ve spoken to that don’t deal matter of factly with death. I could see them mapping out sentences in advance so not to upset me - which of course they can’t.

The only other person I’ve talked to is you – but you don’t count, since you won’t talk back.

I wanted to find the torch and get back to the room. I wanted them all to go as much as stay. And I’m glad they kept making jokes, even though no one was laughing, but they didn’t leave until this morning.

The torch is from the emergency breakdown kit in dad’s car. It’s only the size of a bottle of red sauce – and it’s weak, because it’s old and dad hardly ever drove.

I found my way to the middle of the room, and to the desk. It’s covered in papers, and what looks like a tree root, and a rat stabbed through with a long needle. It is the rat that’s a big part of the smell in there. There are more of them – live ones – in a cage at the side of the room. And there are bottles and jars in amongst the books that give off a funky odour of their own – a few of them. None of them are labelled.

There are more books and loose papers on the floor, although most of the room is neat and ordered. There is no dust. The only cobwebs are in a glass box of spiders he was keeping like pets. The floor is covered in massive stone slabs.

There’s not a single thing in there that runs on electricity.

I sat for a while, just searching out corners with the torch – or bouncing the light off the mirror. I'm still trying not to work out what the rat means.

No wonder the window’s bricked over – there isn’t a free inch of wall anywhere. In-between two sets of shelves is a huge version of those things you get in furniture catalogues with all the tiny drawers and tinier drawers.

When dad was in the house but I couldn’t find him, I never thought it was odd. And then there he was.

The books looked like they were going to be the most understandable stuff in the whole room. I’d expect a book to make a lot more sense than a rat stabbed with a needle – but I’d be stupid.

So far I’ve found three types of book amongst what looks like a thousand.

A lot of them are blank – which might make sense except they look old. They’re leather bound and well worn. The bindings are broken.

A few of them are notebooks or journals, all handwritten, but it’s encrypted into a mix of geometry and hieroglyphics.

And the majority of them, also old, leather bound and well used, are full of English words that I know, but they make the least sense of all – since the words are just strung together randomly, not into sentences, more like lists, or like someone trying to think of a word. They can go on for pages without a break, and not even a fluke of grammar.

And then my uncle arrived around eight. He didn’t stay here – he was booked into a hotel already. He said he’d come back tomorrow, to go over stuff.

Uncle Gordon is my mum’s older brother, so I’ve not seen him since she died, but I expected him to be younger. He must be in his sixties.

He hasn’t heard of you either. When I asked him he said Ilford Dyson sounds like a type of hoover.

I didn’t tell him about the room. I haven’t told anyone about that except you.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Unexplained occurrences

My father died because his lungs had almost disintegrated. The hospital can’t explain it: they said it was like an acid destroyed them. Like he’d breathed in acid – but without it leaving a trace. Only a fifth of his lungs was left.

When I found him, his hair had turned grey at the sides, his breathing was asthmatic and he couldn’t stand up. It was painful for him to say your name. He wasn’t rambling or talking to himself – he was fighting to say your name.

By the time he died his hair had fallen out in clumps and his muscles were all stretched out thin. But his eyes were still as bright and clear as a baby’s.

He was in perfect health on Tuesday, as he always was, as far back as I can remember. I don’t think I’ve ever known him even to catch a cold. And the doctor can’t tell me, or even guess at why he died. They’re keeping him so they can cut him open and prove how puzzling it all is to each other.

He said you would know.

My Uncle Gordon is coming up tomorrow. I need him to help with the funeral, which he said he could do. He understands insurance policies and forms much better than I do.

Another puzzle, although hardly as important, is the sudden appearance of a door in our hallway.

I saw it first yesterday morning, but because of when it was I thought it must just be a lapse of memory: I hadn’t slept and I was hungry and distracted. Not hungry, but tired from hunger. And why would I care?

I thought the door must always have been there – like the coat stand or the wallpaper – but since I never go in the room beyond, I’d simply stopped noticing. But we’ve lived in this house all of my life, and now my head is clear I know I have never seen that door before now.

Outside, the opposite is true: I’ve always known there to be a window to the room that had no door – although I’ve never wondered what was inside the room – I never looked through that window. From the back garden it gave the house symmetry, but now it’s bricked up – and it always has been: the mortar is dirty and old, with the same ivy growing thick over this patch-up as the rest of the wall.

So it’s true what they say: when one door appears out of nowhere, another window vanishes.

Of course it makes sense that there is a room there, physically: directly above it upstairs is dad’s bedroom, so something must have held it up all these years – I’ve just never wondered what before. I never even wondered why a quarter of the ground floor was inaccessible.

The new door matches the other doors off the hallway perfectly and there is no lock.

Inside is what appears to be my father’s study.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Please contact me.

It is not too late.

If you do find this I still want you to get in touch.

I had to call a funeral home today but now they’re saying that they won’t release my father’s body until they’ve done a full post-mortem. They said that the state of his lungs – the speed with which they became

It is not too late.
Your name was the last thing my father said. He said you would know.

It is too late. The hospital just called to say that my father is dead.

Please help.

I am the son of Edward Fold.

Last night I went downstairs to find him on the kitchen floor.
He had collapsed and could hardly breathe. He was holding something in his hand, like a medallion. Or maybe a broken coin. I don’t know if that's important at all.
The only thing he said was your name. Ilford Dyson.

I’ve just been sent home from the hospital, where he is now unconscious, using a machine to help him to breathe. The doctor said he was stable and told me to get some sleep. I’ll go back in a few hours.

I’ve spent the time since I came home looking through my father’s address book, and any post I could find but I’ve found nothing about an Ilford Dyson.

The only thing I could think to do was this – to put your name on the web and hope you find it.

My father is asking for you.