Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rumours of an answer.

Finally, Samuel has spoken about what happened to him. I’d asked him directly a half dozen times, but he told me it really wasn’t my concern. Only when I accused him of enjoying the attentions of Angela and Norman (as nurse and butler) did he become agitated enough to forget his intended secrets.

He’d gone down to Castle Market, which was almost all the answer I needed. Samuel has a manner with people that can irritate. He has a habit of letting Angela know what he wants by talking to Norman. And Castle Market isn’t full of the most intelligent, tolerant people either.

I joked with him, was he down there looking for the olde worlde experience. I know he hates supermarkets and barcodes, and the market is more like the lost Britain he wants back. Samuel said it was nice, but what he went for was to meet a friend.

“So who beat you up, your mate?”
“My..? No. I don’t know who they were. There were six of them.”
“Of course.” I said.
“Took my legs, and then kicked me while I was on the floor. I don’t know who they were.”
“You said. So you suspect someone?”
“Not as such. There are people.”
“And where was this, in the market?”
“Out of one of the exits. I suppose they use it for deliveries.”
“Was this before or after you met with your friend?”
“After, but that’s not really important.”
“And how come you’ve got friends here all of a sudden? I didn’t think anyone knew you here.”
“No one did.” Samuel said.
“It was a woman then.”
“Not at all. A friend, as I said. Or rather, a contact.”
“Suggesting information. Suggesting a motive for a beating. Suggesting liberties with my hospitality.”
“I think that’s something of a hasty judgement. I spoke to a former ally of mine, who suggested we meet near the markets. There’s a lot of activity there, or rather there was, they may have all moved on now. Under the markets, as I’m sure you know, there are the foundations of Sheffield Castle – which means a link back to before the civil war, and further back, to the age of the Ordovician. Which is turn means suspicions of a dormant power – fingerprints of magic on the stones themselves.”
“So what?”
Samuel’s other bad habit is telling people stuff like it’s a lost commandment.
“So all the former magic men got very excited,” he said, “about the possibility of a power old enough and stubborn enough to resist whatever it is that’s stopped their magic working. The idea of it has them hanging around the Tower Of London, and had them scurrying up here.”
“You don’t believe in it yourself.” I said.
“I think desperate men are more likely to drown when the water is shallow.”
“Or beat people up when the market is closing?”
“I’ve no proof that they’re connected to-”
“Didn’t you have your sword on you?”

Samuel chose to stop talking to me then. He’s been a bit of a girl about the whole thing to be honest. I’m sure he’s in proper pain - I’ve seen the purple marks across his body, and his face is still decidedly Balboa – but he refuses to talk about it unless I goad him. He’s been living like a superhero for the last seventy years, and now he’s as mortal as the all rest of us. But it sounds like they’re all still chasing the power – dressing it up as investigation or research, refusing to accept that this is the world now. What they used to have is just fairy stories.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Not Christmas.

The last few days have been spent in private, observing the winter solstice. It is Angela’s holiday – although she keeps telling me not to call it that, the word festival doesn’t seem appropriate either. Norman, despite being a childhood Christian, has embraced the spirit of the solstice with his full commitment. Samuel has been too injured to put in a vote for Jesus.

The essence of the holiday is that we give thanks, because we have survived the worst and now the days are getting longer, and the world is getting better. I agree it makes a more appealing celebration than Christmas and gifts under the tree. There’s no selfish element buried in the giving of presents. There’s no gaudiness. We’ve all lost so much this year, it makes sense to concentrate on what we still have rather than miss those who are gone.

It hasn’t been the tinsel, TV specials and turkey I’m used to. Angela has led us in her equivalent to prayer. It was calm and peaceful.

It’s all rubbish though. To base a philosophy of the modern world on the cycle of nature, as though humanity eases its ambitions or devices according to the seasons. As though it doesn’t get colder and darker again after the summer. As though it doesn’t get colder now - in January February the winter is always at its most crippling. As if the death of my father was some world event that has to be commemorated with candlelight. As though Samuel hasn’t just been beaten near to death while we pretend the worst is over.

How are we to know the worst has not just begun?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Talking to Samuel, part 3.

The Akul Giants retreated and retreated until they were back in the Ural Mountains, pulling down boulders and hurling them at the champions in pursuit, but still they lost numbers. In desperation they tore at the sides of the mountains, opening up huge caves and digging down into the rock. The speed at which they dug in was far beyond what would be expected from their form, as if the rocks split at their invitation, as if it was their original purpose. The Tassamec champions followed them down into the depths.

In the end the Akul had nowhere left to dig down. Their way was barred by veins of lava. They had blocked the pursuit of the champions, but only by burying themselves in the mountain. The warriors only had to wait on the mountainside until hunger forced the giants to re-emerge, and then they followed the path down and finished the Akul in a trap of their own making.

The disappearance of the Ukrainian knight had not gone unnoticed, nor undiscussed by the rulers of the seven nations and their ministers. They feared that when their champions had finished their war against the Akul, their furious energy would need a new enemy. Nor could they trust their former patriotism or honour to hold them true.

As the champions leapt into the labyrinth of caves, they were followed, more cautiously, by sappers and miners in the employ of the Tsar. Little did they know, as they slew the last creature capable of opening tunnels through the rock, that the routes down to the deepest caves were being closed behind them. The caves were not just blocked, they were collapsed right the way back to daylight. The heroes were left, entombed at the site of their final victory.

Over the centuries, many have searched deep into the Urals for the Tassamec Chests. The seventh, Ukrainian chest has never officially been found – but it was rumoured to have been recovered by the Russians in the 1960s. They deemed it to be impotent compared to nuclear weapons, so rather than use it they took it to pieces.

This is what Samuel and I have been talking about while he’s resting. It doesn’t matter now of course, since all the power within the armour will have gone the way of all magic, but in the 1930s it was Samuel’s belief that the Tassamec Chests could be found, that they could stop the new horrors that he had discovered were real, and if the war was still being fought when he was finished he could win that as well.

It was then he met my father, already someone spoken of among occult circles with the deepest of respect. My father didn’t agree with Samuel’s puritanical zeal, but he did see the advantage of favours due from a demon hunter, and he was intrigued by the story of the Tassamec Chests himself. He gave Samuel a second life – a new person to be, with a new face and a medical discharge from the military. He considers his stay to ensure my safety to be the favour returned, which is ironic, given that I’ve never seen anyone more beat up this side of the TV screen.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Talking to Samuel, part 2.

The champions of the seven nations met the Akul Giants amongst the remains of the annihilated army. Russian ministers had forced farmers to send their herds and flocks to the battleground, to halt the giants’ migration North West. In the Communist era the old proverb resurfaced, that a struggling farmer can feed his family, but a prosperous farmer feeds giants instead.

The effectiveness of the Tassamec Chests was quickly proven, with the champions managing what a thousand men could not: cutting one of the Akul through, and down. Among these heroes was the youngest prince of Romania, who had been raised to be brave but to have no ambitions of his own; a Tartar, who had been offered his own nation; a young Imam from Turkey; the daughter of the King of Persia, the only person he was certain loved him; and a Bulgarian officer, rendered incapable of fathering children as a pledge of loyalty.

At first, with the elation of success, the champions pressed on, chasing down the giants and engaging them – each time victorious. They were not prepared though, for the speed of the thirty-foot creatures, bounding across the country in zigzags and spirals to avoid their hunters. When wearing the Tassamec Armour they lost themselves in the power they were now capable of. The world is a different place when your senses all expand to hear each raindrop as it falls, to smell the scents released as it strikes and rehydrates the dust, to be able to count each drop in a storm. The world is much smaller, if once you had to ride for days and now you can run for minutes to cover the same distance. And then there are the Akul: huge, vicious man-eaters that tower above you – and all the stories that you heard you thought were lies, but here they are, charging you, screaming, knowing they’re in a fight to the death, and it’s the most exhilarating moment you’ve ever known – so much so that it expands to eclipse the rest of your life.

Not every battle was won. Despite the protection of the armour, a thirty-foot giant could still push the warrior into the ground, or throw them a great distance, so they were dazed inside, yet intact. Advised of their lack of tactics, the champions began to push the Akul back towards the southern Urals, maintaining a steady line of attack, but then the giants – shrewd within their brutal minds – realised a flaw in the Tassamec Armour’s design. They held the Ukrainian knight so firmly that he couldn’t move. He burnt them with the crystals in his gauntlets, but they changed their grip and held him tighter. And then they held him under the Kama River.

The six survivors took the loss strangely. Within their lives as champions, it was as though they were the only people in the world. From believing they were demi-gods, they were suddenly vulnerable, and their fear was as distorted as their excess of pride. When the new champion from Ukraine arrived to take on the Tassamec Armour – as agreed by all the nations beneath Guyrovic’s tower – the six others refused to accept him, leading next day to his murder and the deaths of all witnesses. The seventh Tassamec Chest was hidden, and the six survivors resumed their campaign against the Akul.

Archaeology has never unearthed the remains of any of the fallen Akul, but it has discovered the site of a battle with only one army, south of Novgorod. It is thought that the bodies of the giants were taken to Moscow as proof of victory, or burnt to prevent their existence passing from rumour into historical fact rather than legend. It is possible that the wizard, Guyrovic, took at least one of the giants as part of his price.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Talking to Samuel.

The story begins with the Akul Giants, because who knows how the story really started? Were the Akul created? Were they bred? Were they called forth from another plane, or another time? Were they sent?

They walked like men, but stood up to thirty foot tall, covered in thick white fur; their faces were almost human. The legend of the Yeti was born of these creatures, and it’s possible one or more migrated to the Himalayas, but when they appeared in the world, in the Eleventh Century, they were in the Ural Mountains, marauding down in packs of a dozen, two dozen, eating anything they could find that was warm blooded.

They would eat people. To the Akul, a child was as much food as a goat or cattle, but few people were eaten, as they were trickier to catch. More people starved as their livestock was devoured and they were forced to flee across country.

If it had only been local devastation then the world may not have acted, but the uprooting of the families beneath the Urals led to a migration of the Tatars towards Europe and The Middle East, and then the flight of all who they met in their turn. Wars were started between Turkey and its neighbours, between Romania and Bulgaria, as the unrest spread. Meanwhile the Akul Giants were moving closer to Moscow in their search for meat. An army was raised, marched, and was crushed. The only good that came from the defeat of their thousands was the stalling of the giants, who no longer had to look for fresh food.

In those times, it was rare for a magician to bother with events outside of his own research. Borders could shift, empires could crumble, and the magician would not open his door. Women practitioners were usually more involved with humanity, but it was the intensity of a single purpose in men that in time made them so powerful. And so an offer was made of land, gold and slaves, combined with threats of torture and promises of discretion, to a wizard of reputation called Guyrovic. He refused to engage the giants himself of course – he refused to leave his tower, or even be distracted by the matter during a thunder storm – but he did supply each of the interested nations with a weapon.

The commanders – the kings or their generals – of those seven nations gathered at Guyrovic’s tower expecting lances or swords of great power, such as in legends, but what the magician gave them was the Tassamec Chests.

Like travelling cases, but made of metals, they were so called after a style of leather trunk that folded out into different compartments – meaning officers would never need to unpack on manoeuvres. These Tassamec Chests unfolded into a suit of armour, with swords, spears and flails all integral to the design; crystals were embedded in the palms of the gauntlets, and they would glow to provide light, or more intensely to start fires; the visor heightened the warriors’ senses twelve fold, and his strength, speed and agility were all enhanced beyond that of twenty men; the armour itself was practically impervious to damage.

One warrior from each nation was to be selected to wear the Tassamec Armour. And that is were the problems began.

The initial elation soon gave way to doubts and paranoia. The representative of the Tsar claimed Russia should have two of the chests, since they had lost most, and were the greater nation. None would leave the foot of Guyrovic’s tower, fearful that they would turn their back on some treachery. But far more troubling a question was this: if you were a king, what one man could you trust with so much power that he could conquer an entire nation, and you would be at his mercy? Could you trust your commanders? They are proven warriors, but also men of ambition. Could you trust your own son? He will rule after your death, but what if he became impatient? Could you trust a hero from the ranks of your army? Who could vouch for his breeding or his conduct? Could you trust your own bodyguard? Could you trust anyone but yourself?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Samuel is resting. He is in the land of Lucozade and chicken soup, with his guardian Angela watching over him. He’s coherent now, but not saying much, because his face is so bruised it hurts to speak. I asked Angela if he’s said what happened.
“He’s been beaten up.” She said.
“Did you work that out all by yourself Sherlock?” I said. “Who by? Where’s he been? Could they have followed him here?”

Samuel looks as though he walked home using his head instead of a foot. I don’t think he just went into the wrong pub either: the crucifix stuck in his arm was nasty, like it was personal.

Angela has stitched the deeper cuts, put plasters on the rest, put his arm in a sling, and slapped balm on the bruises. She wanted to take him to Northern General, but he won’t be seen by doctors. It turns out his eyes aren’t the only parts he’s had modified. His lungs were altered to let him breathe in demonic environments, so he can’t afford to be x-rayed. They’ll want to cut open his chest and document him for journals.

I want to tell him all about the photo and Miranda. I want to ask him when he knew my father. But instead I helped Norman make his vat of comforting soup and waited. And now I’m sleepless – back in my bedroom again, listening to random noises below and imagining what could have done so much damage to a man who kills demons.

“I’ve had worse.” Samuel said, when Angela let me see him briefly. “Of course, I used to heal in seconds. This pain is somewhat… wearisome.”

There are crystals set up around the sofa, as well as the effective medicines that Angela has used. She still has faith in them, but they’re just stones that catch the light now. She must know that.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Angela, as she does now, came in without knocking and then opened the curtains and windows. She does this despite me still being in bed on the sofa. She makes me get dressed under the duvet, and says the smell of boys makes her sick, so she fumes the place up with coffee before she eats breakfast. It’s not clear if she hopes to change me, or if she only wants to claim a chair in the room.

I had started to go through the bag of papers from Miranda’s, sorting them into useful and junk, but broke off to ask her-

“What did you get up to last night?”
“Norman and I… It doesn’t matter.”
“Huh.” I said, not interested really.
“It isn’t what you’re implying. We performed a ritual.”
“Like magic?”
“No. Not like magic. A ritual meditation.”
“Like hippies.”
“No, not like hippies. It was a ritual of acceptance, for Norman.”
“Acceptance of what?”
“Well, you remember he had a wife?” Said Angela. “And how she died?”
“Huh.” I said. I’d hoped it was more interesting.

I understand being upset, and wishing things weren’t the way they are, but the world is the world, more now than ever. There’s a difference between being upset and denying what’s happened. After all, we all die somehow don't we.

Norman provided lunch, as though suspended in a bubble of cleaner air. His smile was calm and to himself, and before each mouthful he considered the food on the ed of his fork like a special gift of providence.

In the afternoon I moved the TV from the attic and put it back in my own room. Irrespective of Samuel’s dislike of TV, things need to go back where they belong. All of these accommodations make it feel like a permanent arrangement.

An hour ago, Samuel came home. He fell through the front door into Norman’s arms – he was cut and bleeding. He’s bruised black, with his face swollen and his red eyes shining like deep wounds. Angela is tending to him now. A silver crucifix was embedded in the flesh of his arm. I thought that meant the church had done it, but Angela tells me the crucifix is his. He can’t talk yet.

There is no acceptance, not in truth. There is only a recognition that things are different. There is only that.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Even if they were acting normally, I couldn’t tell Angela or Norman about what I’ve done. They’re sat on the floor in Angela’s room, with candles and – well it’s not panpipes, it’s more like chanting, but if someone chipped in with a panpipe or two he wouldn’t be shouted down. It’s times like this I wish I played guitar. I feel like I just found the punchline to a great joke. I hope those two aren’t up to anything weird though.

Fuzz came back with some grippy gloves, and ordered me to eat the cubes of jelly that he’d left while he made out with his girlfriend.

“Because it’s exciting,” he said – about the jelly. “You get too excited, you’re gonna wanna go. Jelly keeps you all bound up tight, so there’s less risk of DNA. Less risk of getting caught. Or caught short.”

At Miranda’s he sent Pamela across the road to smoke a fag and hold her thumb over her redial button. Around the back, Fuzz stuck a brick through the kitchen window and then we hid in the dark for twenty minutes, crouching behind the shrubs and glad of the jelly. The nosy neighbour stayed by her TV.

When he figured it was safe, Fuzz went through the window, looked around, opened the back door. He told me to turn my torch off, shut the curtains, turn the lights on. Because nothing looks more dodgy than torchlight indoors.

I found a bureau, stuffed full of all kinds of loose flying junk, but some of it was Miranda’s gallery contacts, which I piled into a plastic bag.

“What’s she nicked?” Fuzz asked me yesterday.
“A picture.”

He was staring at me now, and asked what I was up to.
“I want more than just my picture back.” I said.
“Yeah, but, you’re like the worst burglar ever. You just bagged a take away menu there.”

We split up after that. I went through the house, looking at everything, finding nothing fantastic. In the attic was Miranda’s version of dad's study – strictly small scale. She’s got star charts, and a telescope, and there are glass slides, with a microscope. She has her own journals, in her own cipher, only two of them though. There were mouldy cups left, and a sleeping bag, from late night observatory sessions. There was not much very wonderful. I wanted to find the tree root she stole, but I expect it was binned soon after she hit me with it. She had no potions or blank books, unless they’ve gone with her.

Down in the bedroom I found Fuzz looking at jewellery. He said he didn’t know what to do with it.
“I ought to take it really,” he said. “Get a reward for the risk. But that’s not what I’m doing this for. That’s not really who I am really, now.”
“So leave it.”

“But then, what’s she gonna think?” He said, nodding to where he imagined Pamela was.
“I tell you what.” I said. “I’m going out the back. You join me in a minute, and I’ll never ask… whether or not.”

On the walk home, we went our separate ways, every car that went past I thought was going to pull up beside me, and when it didn’t I felt like I’d won the contest, and I wish I hadn’t. On my own road I had an urge to boast to everyone I saw, and an urge to run away. I’ve spent the last hour dancing.


Fuzz has gone to get me some gloves. He looked a little disgusted that I didn’t think of that myself. His gold hoops girlfriend is still here. She’s talking to me about the X Factor fix, as if that’s music. As if it’s anything. I’m pretending that I’m typing something important in the hope that she’ll shut up.

I’d leave the room if I could trust her not to steal anything

Expert advice.

It was a good day again, but a match day, so it was easy to convince Fuzz to get the hell out of Hillsborough, and we took the bus up to Crookes. The way the roads at the top of the hill fall away to an open sky, it’s like cliff top roads at the seaside. With the gulls in the park, it’s as if the coast is calling me.

After an hour or two we walked home, circuitously, and I pointed out Miranda’s house to Fuzz. I didn’t tell him everything, just an abbreviation of the truth: she came back to the house after the funeral and I think she stole something. I told Fuzz that she’s gone away and I want to break in. He nodded, thought about it, said okay. He went back after dark to check it out. If he gets arrested again he’s in serious trouble, so it’s not a small favour he’s doing me.

I’d told Fuzz about the nosey neighbour, so he took a look at her too. He wants to do the break in tomorrow, when Coronation Street’s on. She looks the type to let her house burn down if there’s a bust up in The Rovers, Fuzz says. I thought it would be best done later, like in the early hours, but he reckons any noise or people wandering where they shouldn’t be, is more suspicious after eight at night. He doesn’t want the car either, since the footpaths down from Crookes are nice and twisty.

The only problem he anticipates is fobbing off Pamela – his girl. She has a thing about spending Sundays with him. In truth she’s a throw back to his chav days, before he joined me, Pele and the Johns. She keeps him grounded, he says. Unfortunately that’s true in more ways than one. I ought to introduce her to Angela – let them blow each other’s minds while we’re out burgling.

Still no sign of Samuel. He’s not missing as such, but it’s hard not to worry when a demon hunter with blood red eyes strolls off with his sword and doesn’t come home. For all I know this might be normal for him. I’ve written down the things I want to ask him, in case it’s a long wait.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Waiting games.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent hanging around Miranda’s. It hasn’t been cold, but the wind up on the side of the hill has been extreme. On the walk up and down it’s been strange to see the gradual creep of decorations for Christmas. I don’t know what to do about that. Norman has no interest, and Angela’s preference for demons means she’s never had time for the birth of Christ. Samuel hasn’t been around to ask. The subject sneaks into my friends’ conversations. I have cards that I doubt I’ll put up.

There were seagulls in Hillsborough park yesterday. A flock of them kept swooping down on everyone, putting the pigeons to shame. I wonder if they were blown in by the wind. There’s been no sign of movement in the gallery.

I took some gardening stuff with me up to Miranda’s, after a suggestion from Norman, which he later told me was a joke. I don’t know how convinced the suspicious neighbour was, but I had a reason to be there if anyone asked, and the borders in her back garden are looking much tidier.

Today the house was pretty quiet. Angela stormed out after breakfast, muttering about the man being insufferable. Norman, of course, retreated upstairs, leaving me on my own, except for the telly. Still no sign of Samuel. In Samuel’s room, most of his things are still there. It’s like he’s only gone to the shop.

It occurred to me that the artists in Miranda’s gallery might have new contact details for her, if she’s changed her phone. She’d want to keep in touch with people who can make her money. If I can get in touch with the artists, I doubt they’d know she doesn’t want to be found by me. But the only way to find them is to break in to the gallery, and I want to see inside her house first.

I ended up re-reading the letter from R.K. since the rain hasn’t stopped all day. I’ve been wondering about the Sixties – what he did then, and if you knew him yet. Is this photo of a man with schemes?

It’s likely Miranda came back, after Samuel had changed the locks, in order to steal something more significant, but her key no longer worked. What I can’t understand is what she was hoping for, or what value she put on dead objects. It was Samuel’s theory – always full of theories and proverbs – that the theft was based on restored values, but that was before we knew it was personal.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I waited at the foot of the stairs until I heard Norman descend from his attic, then I snuck up and in.

He’s made a little home for himself up there, with my old TV in central position, the camp bed, a kettle and coffee corner, one of my mother’s jigsaws half completed, and the new clothes Angela sourced for him folded neatly into a pile. I don’t know what it is between him and Angela – they seem to disagree about everything from the time of day up. I think it’s since she blew up his car.

Moved to one side are all the boxes of not quite junk but not quite wanted. All my mother’s clothes and jewellery are up there, and there’s a box that catalogues my education. As well as school books, there are the pages I used to learn by heart, of Russian or Italian. My father used to make me recite these passages out loud, without any understanding of their meaning. I used to complain that it was pointless if it made no sense, but I now see that he was training me, preparing my memory to cope with spells. I wonder what else he did with that motive.

He’s kept very little of his own things. Bizarrely there’s a fur coat, too big to have been my mother’s, but I can’t imagine him getting all pimped up. Mostly he’s kept the things that tie him to my mother. I found my baby photos.

There’s a photo, in a silver frame, of him, my mother and Miranda. It’s black and white, and going by the cars behind them and their clothes, it was taken in the Fifties. My father looks no older than he did the day before he died. Miranda looks the same as she does today. He has his arms around both of them, as they smile awkwardly at the photographer. All this time she let me believe she had no idea about magic.

Norman came back up to the attic, wearing nothing but a towel. We looked at each other for a minute, blushing alternately like traffic lights. I decided to leave him his space. It was Angela who confirmed the photo’s likely age.

I walked straight to Miranda’s house, halfway up the hill to Crookes. There was no answer. Her mobile number said it was switched off. Her landline was engaged. I walked back down, across the park to her gallery, still clasping the silver frame, so that the pattern cut into my hand. I needed to hold it next to her to prove; only her hair has changed in fifty years. I had asked her, I had practically asked her, if she knew about my father’s study, and all the time, when I’d come home from school to find her, or I thought she was pretending to collect something – she was collecting something. She was sharing in my father’s magic. She was going into my father’s study, coveting what she saw there. It was her in the house that night, and she knocked me down.

The gallery was closed, with a mosaic of junk mail inside the door. The shops either side didn’t know where she’d gone. The artworks were still in place, as if she would open again. The people in the shop next door said it had been closed for two weeks. She had a couple of women who worked for her too; I wonder what happened to them.

Back at the house, her house, I tried to see inside, but could see nothing unusual, except for absence. I don’t remember if she had a car last time. In the kitchen there were dirty dishes left to wash up. One of her neighbours came out to look at me funny. I thought about asking her if she knew about Miranda – and if she knew how long she’d been living there, but I left before she could call the police.

Norman and Angela were in one of their gritted teeth conversations. I got close enough to gather it was about God before I interrupted.
“You’re certain this is from the Fifties?”
“I can’t be certain,” said Angela. “I mean you can get those mock up pictures can’t you.”
“You think it’s that?”
“No, I think it was taken in the Fifties. And the photo looks really old, and it’s faded. You know, your dad looked exactly like that when he summoned Tomlin, except for the hair. And he wasn’t smiling then.”
“Where’s Samuel at?” I asked, handing Norman the photo.
“Definitely Fifties,” he said. “Maybe early Sixties.” The two of them waited between them so they could go back to quibbling.
“Where’s Samuel?”
“He’s gone again,” said Angela. “Not taken his car though. So he can’t have gone far. Why?”
“Told me my father helped him to avoid the war. Now I’m wondering which war.”

I remember now, that after the funeral, Miranda was stood looking at the study door, not as though she’d never seen it, but as though she couldn’t believe it was visible. She would have had a key, cut in the days when she was my father’s girlfriend. I don’t know if she sent someone or if she hit me herself. I don’t know what she’s capable of.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More post.

Another letter arrived today, this time for me. It was from the school, asking if I was going to go back in the New Year. The way they phrased it, made it sound like I didn’t have a choice.

I don’t think I will go back. I heard Angela talking to Norman, and it sounded pretty heavy. I see him there, just desperate for answers.

At school I was taking A-level maths, albeit poorly. I could never get my head around forces, and how all the forces of the weight of objects pressing down have an equal force pressing up. It makes nice diagrams and equations, but it’s impossible to believe that the world is so well ordered. I can’t believe that it’s God’s world either. It’s all just word games and concealment until you realise you’re hungry again. It’s essentially pointless, except for the suspicion that if you stay alive long enough you’ll find out what the point is.

If I wasn’t here, who would get the study? And it’s possible the study contains the answers. No doubt that’s what my father thought, which brings me back to futility.

When I asked Samuel, without mentioning the enduring appeal of suicide, he said it was wrong to look for answers – it’s just important to enjoy the questions. To be honest I’d hoped for a little more from him than that. He was quoting someone else (possibly Jeremy Kyle, except he never watches TV), and I was pretending to talk about Norman, whose words of consolation from Angela had escalated into another row, so again I come back to word games and concealment.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Blundering in.

The study is not the only place where dad kept his life. I’ve been in his bedroom today, going through his clothes and his drawers full of junk. He has eight watches in their boxes, given to him as gifts. All his clothes are neatly folded, as though prepared for someone else entirely.

In the attic there are boxes of his belongings from before I was born, but when I went up there I found Norman crying. I stepped away in silence, which was cowardly I suppose. There’s nothing I can say to him where I can even pretend to know how he’s feeling.

In Angela’s room I could hear the radio on, so I went in and asked how long she was planning to stay:
“Norman’s staying here because he’s hiding. Samuel’s not staying, he’s just here to check dad’s study is secure. I don’t know why you’re still here now. Haven’t you got friends back down south? Didn’t you say you had a boyfriend down there?”

Angela half smiled through this and said if I wanted her to go then she would. She began to pack, but that isn’t what I meant for at all. I just assumed she would want to go at some point, especially since Christmas is only a couple of weeks away – I wanted to know what she had in mind. We then had one of those arguments of politeness, like when people insist on paying for a meal. In the end she said,
“I can’t go back there. If I don’t have Tomlin, I’m just another one of them – doing crystal healing and talking about their Indian spirit guides. I used to be the person they’d come to. I had something real.”

If magic has gone forever, I don’t know where she’ll go.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Back at home.

At the end of the eighteenth century, following Cook’s voyages to Australia, a magician called Mr. Pembroke tried to finance his own expedition to the Southern Hemisphere. The potions and spells of Europe were all designed around the manipulations made possible by European species of flora and fauna. New magics had already become possible with the discovery of the Americas, and now there was a land mass full of animals unlike anything else on Earth.

I asked Samuel if that meant magic was locked into living things, like codes. He explained that the source of magic is the Universe itself, and the ability to corrupt the universe lies within man’s imagination. So what is possible is only limited by what can be dreamt of, but the spells, objects, and ingredients allow that dream to be realised – they give it form. He liked my code analogy though – said it needed further thought.

It was Pembroke’s proposal that a zoological expedition bring back small samples of everything the new continent had to offer. He failed though, to make this appear in any way profitable to investors. Mr. Pembroke had never been one for selling his arts – he was not one of those wizards for hire, swapping cures for silver or curses for gold. His unremitting interest was in the possibilities of magic, and he could not conceive of a compromise to his scheme.

He found a landowner, in Lancashire, who had a surplus of money and an unattractive daughter. Not that she was ugly. History does not record exactly the details of her face or physique, because it was her temper that men found so repugnant. The only men who could bear the constant onslaught of her scorn were turned out of the house by her father as scoundrels. If Mr. Pembroke could arrange for a suitable suitor, the he could have the funds for his expedition the day after the wedding. He met the girl in question, sized her up, and buckled her knees with a wink of his eye. He had sat in her presence for an hour, suffering sarcasm, put downs, insults, abuses and slander – after which he happily made her fall face first into a table, and pocketed the tooth that was knocked loose.

It occurred to me that the girl in question was possibly a bit tapped in the head, but at the time she was just dismissed as being wilful and headstrong. The marriage itself was needed to make life sweeter for her brother, but she herself was disinclined towards men. That’s disinclined towards men. The subtext of which was lost on Samuel, who sometimes talks like he’s been asleep for the last twenty years. I think I know more about the Seventies than he does.

With the tooth, Mr. Pembroke made a love potion, and all who took the merest drop fell in love with the girl at that instant. However, since all the gentlemen in the area kept three streets distance, it became necessary to dose a number of young men in the hopes they might coincidently meet her. This had the effect of creating a social circle of dreamy eyed men who spurned all other advances, but had no idea who it was they suddenly wanted to recite poetry at. Meanwhile, the father of the bride-to-be went on his annual round of bribes and political manoeuvres to reintroduce his daughter to society, whereupon the poor girl was smothered by an avalanche of soft words and simpers. The suitors, finding themselves enrivalled, worked on making themselves seem magnificent, while the object of their devotions shot them down with harsh words, home truths and outright offensive language. Mr. Pembroke stepped in again, with another charm for the young men whose ardour had not been dissolved, so that they became oblivious to her temper. This, of course, made her even more furious; and the more her temper grew, the more compliant her suitors became, so that at the peak of her wrath they were left with no will of their own. In the end, despite the infatuation Mr. Pembroke had put them under, they could no longer pursue her, or even leave their homes, for they had become convinced that the world could not abide them.

I imagined Pembroke like an old stage magician, with top hat, cloak and cane, perhaps dashing strikes of moustaches, but Samuel tells me he was inconspicuous, in the bewigged and coloured linen fashions of the day. He was not known to be a magician, just a chancer, trying to mix with the upper classes. Samuel also pointed out that I had my eras wildly wrong.

Before his potential investor lost all patience with him, Mr. Pembroke was forced to find a new suitor who could tolerate the girl’s passions long enough to marry her. He could think of no such man, so he was forced to invent one.

Using a mirror, much like the one in my father’s study, he summoned an old demon by the name of Lockhart, who had a reputation for bloodthirstiness but a soft spot for romance. One doesn’t command a demon of Lockhart’s heritage, but it did accept the challenge: making itself delicately beautiful, cryptic, sensitive, bashful and forlorn, Lockhart finally got the girl.

The marriage lasted five days, which was long enough for Mr. Pembroke to set sail, and then the demon ate her.

Samuel tells me he told me that story for no particular reason.

I’ve spent the last three days on the floor of different friends’ bedrooms. I can’t talk to them about my father in the way I can to you or the houseguests, but that’s a good thing. With them I can pretend he was just my dad - and I don’t have to think about letters which blame him for the destruction of magic, and I don’t have to think about whether that’s bad or not. In my friends’ homes he died of natural causes.

Pele, last night, said that he never really knew his dad either. He just assumed he knew him because he was there, and he told jokes, and he drove him to school. But when he left, Pele found all this stuff in the attic about the army. He didn’t even know his dad was ever in the army, but it made sense. He was the only person in the world who insisted on calling him Peter.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Replying to mail.

Yesterday I found a letter sent to my father, opened. It had been read and put back, but no one is owning up to it. I suspect Norman wouldn’t have done it, but I don’t know about the other two. For their own reasons they have too much curiosity.

I couldn’t prove that it definitely was Samuel or not, so I called a house meeting to lay down general rules for the house. It felt like a sit-com.

For those that are staying, or rather, for the duration of their stay, they need to start providing some food, start respecting privacy – especially since the living room is now my bedroom, leave the TV remote alone, stop using the phone all the time, and give me some money for bills, and maybe rent if this keeps going.

I said to Norman afterwards that most of it didn’t apply to him – I’m relying on him to keep track of the bills for me. He didn’t say much in reply.

We ate lunch in silence, and I tried to get out of the house for the evening. Mr. Cobb said Cobber was out with Jo again. Fuzz was with his girlfriend. Top and Pele went to answerphone. I even tried to call Miranda, since she’d said to call round any time – but her line was engaged.

Eventually I tracked down Top, but Mrs Toper was enforcing the laws of school-night. We hung around for a few hours and then she kicked me out. It was too miserable to stay outside, so I snuck back into the house and hid in the study overnight.

This morning, no one had much to say still. I’d crept out at dawn and walked in the rain until I was wet through, but no one said anything.

It’s possible they all read the letter while I was out, so I had no choice now but to read it myself. It was not what I expected.

Everything is lost. You have brought upon us the death of magic. That you dared to disregard all others bears out our judgement on you, and now others will doubtless share our efforts for reprisal.
In truth, we had not considered you to be so powerful nor so rash, but we did not doubt your ambition and arrogance. You claimed command over that which you did not create, and in your disdain you have destroyed us.
That we did not deal with you forty years ago, when your appetites were diverted by your witch, we must now regret. We realise the root of the ambition which consumes you, but your actions are unforgivable.
This will not go unpunished.


I had planned to trick Samuel into revealing he knew the contents of the letter, but all such scheming was put aside. Only Samuel knows enough to explain what the letter means. It sounds as though they (and who are they?) blame my father for what has happened. On this, at least, Samuel is sure that they are wrong – he had no motive, and would have taken precautions to prevent any harm to himself.

The letter refers back to when my father was a teenager, and I suppose the witch it refers to must be my mother, but Samuel doesn’t know about those times. Nor does he know who R.K. might be, or who they speak for. Nor does he know what reprisals they might take.

The world of magic, he told me, has always been full of rivalry, secrecy and viciousness.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Fight night.

On a Saturday nights Mankind, as a concerted collective, is expected to be frivolous. The television channels, with the exception of Channel 4, understand this. The local pubs start to fill up with gold and perfume about seven o’clock. And my friends have organised a night out without me. I expect they thought I wouldn’t appreciate it. I’m not supposed to like laughing for a while yet.

In the afternoon I came out of the study and heard an argument somewhere in the house. Samuel had gone off in his battered Volvo, to follow up on a rumour he’s heard about.

I ignored the strained voices for half an hour, but Angela’s voice in particular became an invasive backing vocal, and Norman’s voice a rhythmless bass. Outside the living room door, I could listen to Norman’s nay-saying without being seen. I don’t know how they began, but now Norman was arguing that-
“You can’t ignore the law. It’s above people.”
“That’s like saying it’s better than people.”
“People break laws.
“And laws break people.” Said Angela.
“That’s just trite. People break the law, because it’s an ideal. It’s stronger than us. It’s what we aspire to be, it doesn’t tie us up like all what you’re talking about.”
“That’s – aspiration is – God! What a limited idea of ambition you’ve got for yourself. Aspiration is your dreams, it should be limitless. The law is our aspiration for others, if anything – to stop them messing up our lives, but we’re our own personal laws – we know ourselves what’s right and wrong.”
“So it’s no law for you, and all laws for the others. Typical.”
“Who of? White girls with dreadlocks?”
“Crusty hippies like you, who don’t pay taxes, but are happy to use the doctors and everything else we pay for. You think the system’s a cash machine, you’ve got to work out how to swindle it, but conveniently forget that before there was a system there wasn’t anything, and people like you used to starve.”
“Who’s people like me?” Asked Angela.
“Who treat the country like a rich man’s game that's not for you, instead of getting on with it.”
“Well now you’re talking about something else entirely, when really you don’t know a thing about me or what I’ve done. We were talking about the law.”
“And people like you think they’re for other people.”
“I don’t think the law is there to protect you from yourself.”
“But if you live in a country then you live by their law.” Said Norman.
“You’re not a child, obeying school rules. The law in any country exists by consent – it’s a social contract – and like any contract it’s open to negotiation, yeah? You can opt out of certain clauses if they don’t apply to you.”
“Opt out? Opt out of a social contract, because it’s open to negotiations? That’s what nine years of Tony Blair gets you – even the hippies talk in corporate spin.”

It was at this point that Angela’s powers of obscenity eclipsed her powers of reason. I went back into the kitchen and tried to drown them out.

When I saw Norman later he told me, out of nothing, that he liked being in the house. He never liked being amongst strangers, always wondering what they thought of him. In public he would always feel like he’d looked at people badly. If a mixed race couple walked past he’d feel like he’d given them a funny look, as if he disapproved.
"And I don't." He assured me.

I don’t know why he doesn’t think he’s amongst strangers here.

After tea I returned to the study. I’ve come to consider the journals as a mirror to what I myself am doing now – they chart my father’s labours to understand the powers he could wield. The books are like an echo.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Samuel's eyes.

After another day, and another four pads of post-it notes, I emerged from the study like a pit pony: hairy and on all fours. Angela has noticed the beard like growth of the last week, and thankfully didn’t notice me trip on the step up out of the study. It was Samuel who drew attention to the gradual decline of the study floor, meaning that the far wall, and the mirror, is a metre lower than it should be.

Samuel was in the kitchen when I emerged, unwilling to wait for Norman and doing something ridiculous with six eggs. This was the first time I’d seen him without his vast, stained, leather coat, underneath which he wears a harness to hold a broadsword and a brass telescope. I don’t know how surprising it should be that a man with blood red eyes carries a sword and telescope, but after a day spent cataloguing magic books, I must admit I was only as intrigued as I would be if he was wearing odd socks.

I pointed the items out to him. He said it was a funny thing-
“They used to occupy the same space, so I could choose between them. Made it easier to carry, legally. But come Halloween they fell off into two separate entities, look,” he showed me the cracked lens of the telescope, “popped out into the laws of physics. Of course I was busy with the pain of my eyes reverting to normality at the time.”

“Why are your eyes red?”
“I’m a greyman.”
“And grey men have red eyes?”
“It means that I’m a demon hunter.”

I looked around me and up at the ceiling. Angela was still in her room, or preferably out.
“Hence the sword.” I said.
“Hence the sword. Not that there are any demons now. Just lots of angry demonologists.”

I thought about this for a while, and asked Samuel how he got to know my father.
“He helped me out, a while ago.”
“I thought he might have changed your eyes.”
“No. That came later. I’d joined the army, rather foolishly, because I needed proper weapons training. Your father helped me to avoid going to war. I had more important battles to fight.”

I thought at first he meant Iraq, but Samuel looks about forty plus so, counting back, it must have been the Falklands. Dad must have been thirtyish, but he was already a figure of respect and reputation.

It was only later that I realised I still don’t know why Samuel’s eyes are red.