“So Simon Danbury remained in your life for some time?” asked Nicholson.
“Yes, he never completely left.”
Nicholson shuddered. “It must have been terrible.”
Southsea chuckled. “Well, to look on the bright side it did have a couple of up’s among the down’s.”
“Did you know Simon Danbury nicked Susannah off another bloke? Yeah, Susannah was dating a man who lived near her place in London, his name was Sarjit and he was a doctor like her; they’d been together since medical school.”
“Did you ever meet him?”
“Yes, he was in one of my parents’ Bridge circles and he used to go there with Susannah some evenings; that’s how she and Simon Danbury met. I remember he was there when we visited Susannah’s house once; I think they were living together. I recall him being a very nice man; he used to laugh a lot, but his laugh was so different from Simon Danbury’s; it was genuine... human.”
“So Sanjit was with Susannah, but when she met Simon Danbury she preferred him?”
“Yes, she had to choose between the decent man and the mindless scumbag, so of course she chose the mindless scumbag... That reminds me, I want to include in the book what happened when I was sent to that horrible institute.”
Nicholson held up a finger. “One thing at a time, Glyn. We’ll come to that in a sec, but mustn’t get ahead of ourselves... What you’ve just told me about Sanjit and Susannah sounds like a down not an up.”
Southsea laughed as he remembered. “Oh no! It was an up alright. You see a couple of weeks before the wedding he turned up at our house.”
“What, looking for...?”
“Yes, he was gunning for Simon Danbury. Simon Danbury was at our house, as per usual, and Sanjit came there for him. My parents stood in the doorway and blocked him. But you should have seen the look on Simon Danbury’s face! He ran out into the conservatory and hid behind the door. It was the only time I’d ever seen any natural emotion cross his features: Fear!”
“They say even the Reps had a sense of self-preservation.”
“Or maybe it was just that Simon Danbury preferred violence when it was him against somebody smaller and weaker.” The two men exchanged gloating smiles. (Put this story into the main narrative? Ed)
Anyway we need to get onto the next topic: Your grandmother and the Hertfordshire Roswell.
“Ah yes! Nan... I don’t half miss her.” Glyn felt the characteristic pang of sadness come over him; he chased it away as quickly as he could. “She was the most important person in my life in those days, without a doubt. If it hadn’t been for her, God knows what would have become of me.”
“Old bastard!” hissed Glyn to himself as he walked along the school corridor to the main entrance. He felt irritation burning in his forehead as he replayed the conversation that had just ended in the office behind him. “It’s so unfair!”
Glyn’s grandmother was waiting for him as he came out of school; she waved from behind the wheel of her car. Glyn felt his face light up as he waved back; his stress and annoyance evaporated. “Hello, Glyn.” She beamed as he got into the car. “Good day at school?”
“About average, Nan.” replied Glyn, fastening his seatbelt.
“Oh dear. Sorry to hear that.” They both grinned winsomely at each other as she started the engine. “Ready for some lunch?”
“Yeah; it’s nice that I’ve got the whole afternoon off. A-Levels are easy compared to when I was in the Main School... Are you doing chips again?”
“Of course, seeing as you’ll be there... How’s Mark?”
“OK I think. I’m going to see him this evening.”
“Oh, so you’re not coming to Church with me?”
“No, sorry, Nan.”
There was a long pause. “I got a message from your granddad last week. It was through Paula Silvercloud; she’s an excellent clairvoyant medium.”
“What did he say?”
“He thinks I need to talk to your mum and dad more.”
“You do already, Nan.”
“Maybe not.” She looked pensive as she drove carefully though the plexus of twisting lanes and closes of eastern Belswill.
Beryl Southsea was sixty-nine years old and was a small and compact old woman with thick, strong, almost masculine arms. She declined Glyn’s offer to help her carry her shopping into the house. She kicked off her boots, put on her slippers and began cooking a meal. For his whole life Glyn’s favourite food had been his grandmother’s homemade chips. She cut them from fresh potatoes with a simple knife and skillfully sliced them into perfectly even oblong strips with a perfectly square cross-section. Then she steamed them in an ancient, stained colander and stir-fried them in ghee. She enjoyed Indian cuisine and sometimes added a pinch of curry spices to the mixture before draining and serving the chips. Glyn had never asked his grandmother the recipe or suggested she teach his mother how to make them; they were almost sacredly connected to the identity of his grandmother. “So what average things happened at school today, Glyn?” she asked.
“Mr. McKenyon said that my behaviour was ‘threatening’.”
“Really? I’d have thought threatening is the last thing you are!”
It had been a peculiar conversation. Glyn had just finished his English class and was heading for the exit when Mr. McKenyon, head of the Sixth Form, had called him into his office. “Sit down, Glyn.” he said with a bored sigh. Along with not having to wear uniform Sixth Formers at Belswill High were addressed by their first name and were called “students” instead of “pupils”. Also the chair in which he sat was an armchair in the comfort medium-range; far better than the rough and splintery wooden stools used for the educational electrocution of younger schoolchildren. Mr. McKenyon’s chair was exactly the same. He poured Glyn a glass of lemonade and they sat on opposite sides of the desk and made cheerful small-talk for a while, as if they were equals. Then Mr. McKenyon huffed deeply, indicating that it was time to focus. “Glyn, I’ve been hearing that there have been a few problems with you lately.”
“Why? My marks have been improving.”
“Er... this isn’t a problem with your schoolwork, it’s to do with your... your general attitude.” He scratched his beard nervously and tried to look sternly at Glyn while simultaneously trying to hide his embarrassment. “It’s about your ‘sandboy’ comments.”
Glyn looked down at his lap and said nothing.
“Why, Glyn? Why do you keep saying it?”
“Why not, Sir?”
“It makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable.”
“It doesn’t matter who; all that matters is that several members of staff and some of your fellow students have approached me on this matter.”
Mr. McKenyon had a high-pitched wheedling voice with an educated Scottish accent, and at that moment Glyn felt irritated by it. “I’ve done nothing wrong, Sir!” he blurted.
Mr. McKenyon softened. “I know you haven’t intentionally upset anyone, Glyn... But why do you do it? I mean, why do you keep calling everybody ‘sandboy’?”
“Well, you know the saying that says somebody is as ‘happy as a sandboy’?”
“I don’t know what a sandboy is or where the saying comes from, but I thought that by using it I could make the people around me happy, and make myself happy too... I don’t call people that all the time anyway, Sir; only now and again.”
“You use the word regularly. I’m told that when you greet people you say things like: ‘How are you today? Like a sandboy I hope.’ Or ‘Hello, Sandboy!’ And those people don’t like it. They find it... threatening.”
Glyn gasped. “Threatening!? Why? I told you I don’t know what the word means, but if it was in the dictionary it wouldn’t be under the section dealing with verbal abuse I’m sure.”
“Why are people complaining about me? What have I done wrong? What’s rude about uttering the word ‘sandboy’, Sir!?”
“Glyn... you must understand... it’s highly... erm... er... irregular to speak the way you do.”
There was a pause. “Mr. McKenyon, have you got a book of the school rules in this office?”
He signed. “Of course.”
“Then could you get it out and turn to the page that states that all students are forbidden from using the word ‘sandboy’?”
“Glyn... it’s not as simple as that.”
“It is as simple as that! Either it’s against the rules, in which case I’ll have to stop; or it’s not against the rules in which case why are we having this conversation?”
Mr. McKenyon leaned forward on his desk, put his hands to his forehead and groaned in frustration. “Glyn, for goodness sake! You’re seventeen years old now! In a few months you’re going to take your A-levels. You have to behave in an adult and mature manner that other people find acceptable... I mean, Mrs. Henman told me that you once shouted at her because she was about to swat a fly.”
“It’s a living creature, Sir. She had no right to kill it! Couldn’t she have just trapped it in a jar and thrown it out of the window?”
Mr. McKenyon’s face flushed and he shouted: “It was a bloody fly!” He broke off and leaned back, his eyes shut as he attempted to calm himself (syn- Ed). “I’m sorry, Glyn, I shouldn’t have sworn like that.”
Glyn and the teacher were silent for a while, then Glyn said: “You know, Mike Duggan?”
“Yes, he’s a boy in your Maths class.”
“He’s really nasty to people. He talks down to them, makes them feel small. He’s rude, he lies to people... have you had any complaints about him?”
“I can’t discuss other students with you, you know that.”
“You haven’t, have you?”
Mr. McKenyon didn’t reply.
“So let me get this straight: Mike Duggan’s lies, rudeness and nastiness are OK; nobody objects to him, nobody feels threatened by him? Yet, me, who is always polite always friendly, always nice to people... I’m the one people can’t abide? I’m the one they complain about?”
“Glyn, it’s not that people can’t abide you; everybody likes you really... it’s just that your actions aren’t... aren’t normal.”
“Well what is ‘normal’? And why does everyone have to be it?”
“Well... I... erm... You know.”
“No I don’t.”
Mr. McKenyon hardened and said in a lower voice: “I’m not going to debate this with you any further, Glyn. I’m telling you now: The sandboy remarks have got to stop. Is that understood?”
Glyn stood up. “Well, if you can find a rule in the book that directs students to refrain from using the word ‘sandboy’ during lessons, I’ll stop using it.... Good day, Sir!” And with that he walked out of Mr. McKenyon’s office and headed for the front entrance to meet his grandmother.
Beryl Southsea clapped him on the shoulder as she placed the plate of chips on Glyn’s lap. “Well done, Glyn!”
“You think I did the right thing, Nan?”
She chuckled. “Of course you did, Glyn! How dare that teacher try to dictate what words you use! What harm were you doing, for goodness sake!? And, you were wise to bring up the misdemeanours of the other boy. It will hopefully give him food for thought: Why are people not upset by aggressive and insulting people, but then they do get their knickers in a knot over somebody who’s a maverick and a free spirit?... I’m very proud of you, Glyn.”
They exchanged affectionate smiles. “Thanks, Nan.”
The landline rang and Beryl pressed the speaker button. “Hello?”
“Mum!” the sharp voice of Glyn’s father bit into the atmosphere of the room. “Have you seen Glyn?”
“Good afternoon, Arthur.” She gave Glyn a grimace. “He’s right here.”
“Hi, Dad.” called Glyn.
His father ignored him: “What’s he doing with you, Mum? He’s supposed to come home and do his homework.”
“I just made him some lunch, Arthur.”
“Why? Marianne’s cooking a big meal right now?”
“He had a tough morning at school so I made him some chips.”
Southsea paused. “Could you ask us before you do that in future please, Mum?”
“Why, Glyn’s not a child anymore?”
“He’s not an adult yet!... Could you ask him to come home please?”
“It’s too early for dinner.”
“Marianne wants some hot food inside him before he leaves to see Mark; and do remember that he has to catch a train to Bristol at four o’clock so don’t invite him to... that place you go to tonight.”
“Do you mean the Spiritualist Church?”
Arthur Southsea drew in his breath. “Yes.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve already told him he can’t come with me this time.”
“Good. Well have him home as soon as possible please, Mum.”
After she ended the call Beryl stood still for a few moments with her back to her grandson. She sighed pensively. “Your dad was so different from you when he was a child, you know, Glyn.
“What was he like, Nan?” Glyn anticipated being amused.
“Scared of his own shadow.” She tutted and shook her head. “If I clapped my hands while his back was turned he’d jump five feet in the air. He was very well-behaved, a model child, although you know what I think of all that now!” She snorted contemptuously. “He never played up ‘cos he was too frightened to. You know when he was about fifteen years old he stopped eating. It was strange, and it scared me and your granddad big time. He wasn’t worried about his weight, or any of the other stories you keep hearing about young girls who starve themselves; he just lost his appetite. Luckily it came back when he got older… Strange boy, your dad.” She shrugged and began clearing up the plates.
The train braked hard, waking Glyn up. He shook his head and pressed his nose to the window as they slowly drifted along the tracks towards the railway terminal. The doors of the train swished open and Glyn admired the Victorian grandeur of Temple Meads Station. He ran his ticket through the turnstile and headed out of the concourse into the street. As always he was very ambivalent about coming to visit Mark; on the one hand it was nice to get the chance to escape the stresses of his home and relax for a while, but on the other hand Mark had been acting strangely during Glyn’s last few visits. This was his second year at the University of Bristol and the last few months had changed him; not in terms of a pure transformation, but he’d just become more of an exaggeration or polarization of the personality that he used to be. Glyn didn’t recognize him for a moment and had to do a double-take; but no, it was Mark, standing just outside the station entrance. His hair had grown and fell almost to his shoulders, and he had grown a sparse and patchy beard. He wore small round sunglasses and denims with a white T-shirt peeking between the seams (Right word?-ed) of the jacket. He smiled as Glyn approached. “Hallo, Glynny.”
Mark’s car was a mid-range hatchback, neither smart nor dirty. The back seat was covered with the standard student shambles of folders and books dumped on top of a laptop computer. They got into the front seats and Mark drove out of the station carpark. Glyn told him excitedly about his recent skiing trip to Switzerland, but Mark didn’t reply; he just scowled and rolled his eyes. He seemed to be in a taciturn and sullen mood. Glyn felt awkward and tried to break the ice with humour. “You look like John Lennon.”
Mark shrugged and tittered. “Do you like it? It makes me feel more liberated, more of an individual.”
“I don’t think Dad would approve.”
“Fuck Dad! I don’t give a shit what he thinks!” he spat with a vehemence that shocked Glyn into silence.
After a short silence Glyn noticed that they were driving a different route to the one they normally followed between the station and Mark’s flat. “Where are we going, Mark?”
His elder brother glanced at him briefly then returned his attention to the road. “On a journey to open your eyes.”
Mark ignored all of Glyn’s questions as they drove along the main roads through Bristol. The sun was low, looming above the hills that surrounded the city and the ever-present seagulls scratched across the sky in spirals and whirls. Mark flicked his right indicator and turned off the main road. They entered a residential district of squat and box-like council houses with flat, undecorated facades of grey breezeblocks and shallow creosoted roofs. Mark slowed down as he negotiated the narrow, labyrinthine streets. The roads were made of crumbling concrete slabs and the car bumped regularly as its tyres ran over the tar-filled expansion gaps between the slabs. The pavements were cracked and tufts of grass and weeds poked through the gaps. Every few yards there were splashes of broken auto-glass and piles of dog excrement. The houses were surrounded by bare wire fences suspended between off-kilter gateposts, their tops curled over and ragged. Broken, cannibalized cars sat on piles of bricks in driveways and heaps of sand and gravel were piled up against walls. Toddlers played in sandy patches in gardens while paunchy men sat on deckchairs with beer cans on their laps. Women in jeans hung washing on lines and old women wheeled shopping trolleys down the alleyways that ran between the streets. They reached a small circus of roads with a row of small grocery shops in the middle surmounted by two-storey flats. A posse of mean-looking young boys in baggy trousers and baseball caps with angry faces stood or sat outside one of the shops with bicycles idling in their hands. They stared at Mark’s car with analytic and dispassionate hostility, as if sensing instantly that it came from outside their dominions. In a small rec children played on swings and roundabouts in the shadow of three storey maisonettes. Everywhere there was refuse: overflowing dustbins, broken glass, crisp packets, old newspapers, discarded children’s hats. They parked outside one of the maisonettes. It was a pebbledash pastel box with balconies taken up by satellite dishes. A cat basked in the evening sunshine on a ragged lawn, spotted with dandelions, outside it; and as Mark stopped the engine, the raucous distant melody of children’s voices came in through the car’s open windows. “Did you see?” he asked.
“This place!” Mark leaned forward on the steering wheel and shook his head. “This place, that you’ve never seen!”
“So? So what if I’ve never seen it? What’s so special about it?”
Mark chuckled scornfully. “You know nothing, Glyn. Nothing! For you, life is just your skiing holiday in Switzerland, Mum’s Women’s Institute meetings, the Bridge circles, Dad and his Masonic lodge, the tennis club…” his voice rose to an angry shout. “… the whole Belswill fucking, grand, leafy, socially-inbred, petit-bourgeois, fucking privilege fortress!” Mark thumped the wheel of his car with his fist. “The whole place is a dreamland, Glyn.” he hissed. “It’s a cotton-wool-wrapped sanatorium for people who suckle from the capitalist teat and want to pretend that they don’t; they want to kid themselves that shitholes like this don’t exist!” He waved his hand in a circle to indicate their surroundings.
“Mark, what do you mean? I don’t understand.”
“What I’m talking about is this place we’re in now! That’s why I brought you here, Glyn. You needed to see it for yourself. It’s on council estates like this that most of the proletariat lives.”
“The working class.” He sighed and looked hard at Glyn with more sadness than rancor. “Don’t you realize that for these people here your skiing holiday in fucking Switzerland and all that other fucking crap is another world!? It’s like life on Mars! For these people there’s only one holiday, only one circle, only one club, only one institute: survival. They get the minimum wage for the crappiest slave-labour job going and thank their lucky stars when they can afford the rent at the end of the month. They spend hours and hours going through every shop in town to find the cheapest groceries, all the reduced brands, all the two-for-the-price-of-one deals. They try to keep their kids out of the gangs, away from drugs, away from crime, in school and education; but they find it harder and harder to come up with a justifiable reason to convince them. The mother puts up with being groped by the boss because she fears unemployment more than rape. The father falls asleep every night knowing that he has to choose between spending time playing football with his son, being a proper dad to him, and working that little bit of overtime in the evening to give that same son food on his plate.” He looked at his younger brother and his eyes were dewy with anguish. “Can you imagine what that’s like, Glyn? Can you?”
“Well can you, Mark? You’re hardly working class yourself. You’re in university and Dad’s paying for you to have the life of Riley.”
“That not my fault!” he retorted indignantly. “At least I’m aware. At least I know what’s going on and I’m doing something positive to change things.”
“How are you doing something positive?”
“I’ve joined a political party.”
“Well, none of the regular ones of course; they’re all the same. The people who’ve lived for five generations in this crap-dump believed the false promises of all the social reformist politicians, and look where it’s got them! No, I’ve joined a really alternative party; I’m now a member of the Workers Revolutionary Socialist League.”
“Well, Mark.” Glyn shrugged. “If you think that’s the right thing to do then…”
“I know it’s the right thing to do!... Glyn, we’re having a meeting tonight. Will you come too?”
“Er… I’m not sure; I’ve never been to a political meeting before.”
“If you don’t want to, that’s fine.” Mark was speaking to him a gentler tone now. “You can just stay in my digs and watch TV if you’d rather.”
“No, that’s OK. I don’t mind tagging along.”
Glyn and Mark left for the meeting on foot at 7PM. As he had told his brother, this was Glyn’s first experience of a political meeting and he’d expected it to be held in some kind of official building where everybody sat around a table wearing suits, but when they arrived at their destination it turned out to be a terraced house full of shared student bedsits almost identical to Mark’s own. His brother greeted the residents with warm familiarity and introduced them briefly to Glyn. They were all fellow students, men and women a handful of years older than Glyn. The doorbell rang every few minutes as more and more people arrived. Cups of tea were passed round and then cans of beer; then they all gathered into the cramped lounge and stools from the kitchen were brought in to make room for all the meeting attendees. Glyn was unlucky and had to sit on the floor along with several of the others. The lounge’s wall was richly decorated with posters and a large flag on a pole in the corner that was blank red. The posters were political notices with headlines like “STOP THE CUTS” or “BRING BACK THE STUDENT GRANT” in bold block letters. Dotted in between the posters were a set of old black-and-white photos of men in dark suits sitting in heroic portrait poses. One Glyn recognized as Vladimir Lenin because he’d studied the Russian Revolution the year before in History at school. Another was of a middle aged man with a huge white beard and a similar-coloured mop of hair. The third man depicted was a thinner, younger man with a bookish appearance, neatly-trimmed semi-Mohican-esque hair and a goatee beard. A pair of small reading glasses were perched on his nose. Mark noticed him looking at it and tapped his shoulder. “That’s Trotsky.”
“Leon Trotsky. The most brilliant man who ever lived.” Mark shuddered with a frisson of emotion as he spoke these words. “The other guy with the beard is Marx…” he broke off as the meeting was brought to order.
“Welcome, Comrades.” said the chairman. “Welcome to this Bristol branch meeting of the WRSL. Seeing as we have a few new faces at this meeting I’ll give a brief introduction to the WRSL and what we stand for…” Glyn learned how the Workers Revolutionary Socialist League had been formed in 1989 after it split from the Progressive Socialist Workers Party and merged with Workers Action International. The chairman gave a run-down of the various campaigns that the League had been involved with, its successes and achievements. Glyn struggled to assimilate this completely new brand of information. He felt he was being watched and sized up by the others in the room; eyes turned his way, the chairman clarified some of the in-terminology for his benefit. Then a plump black woman began what they called a “lead-off” where she talked for twenty minutes or so about a pending bus drivers’ strike over the loss of their pension scheme. After she’d finished other members put their hands up and were called to speak by the chairman, in a similar manner to the way teachers did at school. After that the “paper organizer” gave a report on the sales of the organization’s journal, the Socialist Times. There were reports from the fundraiser, the student group organizer, the branch webmaster, the secretary and finally there was any-other-business. Several hours had passed, Glyn had understood little of what had been discussed; he was bored and drowsy, feeling his eyelids drooping. He was also slightly tipsy from the two cans of cheap lager he’d drunk and needed the toilet. After the formal meeting ended the students hung around for while longer drinking more beers and then finally the evening broke up and Glyn and Mark went back to Mark’s house. Mark attempted to start a conversation with Glyn about what he’d thought of the meeting, but Glyn was too exhausted and collapsed into a deep sleep on a camp-bed on the lounge floor.
When he awoke Mark and his housemates were all up and in the kitchen eating breakfast. Mark was quiet as he ate and Glyn got the impression that the students with whom Mark shared his house didn’t share his political views. He went upstairs to his room and came back down with a stack of newspapers which Glyn recognized as the party’s journal. He gestured for Glyn to follow him.
The drove to the city centre and met up with three of the people who’d been at the meeting the previous evening and began a “paper sale”. Glyn realized to his great embarrassment that this meant approaching people on the streets and trying to sell them copies of the newspaper. Mark tried to persuade him to join in, but he refused. Instead he loitered to one side as Mark stood in the middle of the pavement peddling his armful of papers to passers-by. “Copy of the Socialist Times?... Would you like a copy of the Socialist Times?... Can I interest you in a copy of the Socialist Times?” Mark’s comrades were positioned at strategic locations a hundred yards or so in both directions on both sides of the road. After half an hour or so they moved into a nearby pedestrian shopping street and began again. “Copy of the Socialist Times?… Copy of the Socialist Times?...” People passing by mostly ignored Mark, a few of them chuckled and shook their head as they walked on by. One elderly man yelled: “No thank you!... And fuck off! Commie bastard!” as he strode away.
“Fuck off yourself, fascist cunt!” Mark roared back at him. After a few more inaudible ripostes the old man was out of earshot.
Eventually Mark managed to sell two papers; both were to people who recognized him and he had long friendly conversations with them. At about two PM he got a mobile phone call from his comrades on the neighbouring plaza and they mutually agreed to call it a day. They went to a pub and had a few drinks, and Glyn sat quietly at the end of the table nursing a Coke while Mark and the other WRSL-members debated long and detailed conundra in the incomprehensible language of Marxist politics that Glyn alone was not fluent in.
That evening Mark and Glyn went to watch a film at the cinema and had a meal afterwards in a restaurant, but their conversation was forced and edgy. Mark seemed wistful and lonely; Glyn got the impression that he didn’t feel at home without his WRSL comrades. He had a copy of the Socialist Times with him and even in the middle of the movie and while sitting at the table in the restaurant he occasionally removed the rolled-up newspaper from the inside pocket of his jacket and flicked through it. He looked lost and emotionally destitute at having to endure just a single evening apart from his political activities.
The following afternoon it was time for Glyn to go home to Belswill and Mark drove him down to the station. “So, Glyn.” Mark said in a more cheerful tone than the one he’d employed for most of the evening before. “What do you think about what you’ve seen this weekend?”
“Dunno.” he muttered.
“’Dunno’? Surely you noticed what you were being propositioned with.”
Glyn was taken aback. “What are you talking about? I wasn’t propositioned with anything.”
Mark chuckled. “Glyn, you’re what’s commonly known as a ‘contact.’ We’ve been trying to recruit you to the party.”
“Well… I had no idea. You can’t have been doing a very good job.”
“What? Don’t you remember what we were talking to you about yesterday?”
“I’m afraid it went over my head a bit.”
Mark sighed. “We were trying to explain to you why you should join us in our struggle; the workers’ struggle for the Revolution! It’s the path to freedom for the whole world.”
“Mark, I don’t even grasp what all this is about. Why do you think that going to meetings where you all down six-packs of beer and hanging around on street corners selling papers is going to help free the world?”
“I showed you that council estate, Glyn!” Mark’s voice took on the exasperated tone of an adult trying to explain something very obvious to a small child. “That day, for the first time in your life, you saw the conditions the working classes have to live in and you must understand that this is the key to freeing the world. There is no reform, no new laws and no new Social Security benefits that can change a damn thing in the long term. The only solution is social and economic revolution! We emancipate those people! Capitalism has become the central problem of civilization; it’s the root cause of all the problems you hear about in this world. It’s got to go! The workers of the world have to rise up and seize the means of production for themselves!”
“And then what?”
“And then…” Mark’s voice cracked with feeling again. “And then, come that glorious day, the new era of Socialism can begin! Imagine it, Glyn! No more poverty! No more wars! No more environmental destruction! No more starvation!... No more shitty fucking council estates!... Instead: a world of freedom, happiness and plenty for everybody!” He paused and blushed. “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t be talking like this. We’re not supposed to think about what the world will be like under Socialism. It’s utopian; it might distract us from the mission of achieving it… But don’t you see, Glyn? This is why you must join the party! You have to!”
“I don’t have to if I don’t want to!” he replied.
“But you have to want to!” persisted his elder brother. “This is the future, it’s human destiny!”
“Come off it, Mark! I’m not completely ignorant; I passed History GCSE. Communism was tried out before during the Russian Revolution and it didn’t work, it fell apart just a couple of decades ago, just 70 years after it began.”
Mark rolled his eyes. “Not that old chestnut again! The Bolshevik Revolution degenerated into Stalinism because the revolutions in Germany and other places failed, leaving Russia isolated! A deformed workers’ state developed instead.”
“And you keep saying that you want to free the people who live on that council estate we went to; so how many of its residents have joined your party so far?... All your comrades you’ve shown me so far are middle class students like you.”
“Again you put your ignorance on display! We’re not a major Socialist party yet; we have yet to expand into recruiting a host. We’re still building our vanguard members, our educated cadre… So, come on, give me a good reason why you won’t join.”
Glyn paused, anticipating Mark’s reaction. “You know Simon Danbury.”
“Is it possible… that people like him really rule the world instead of the capitalists?”
“Simon Danbury? What on Earth are you talking about!?”
What am I talking about? Glyn asked himself. The words had jumped into his mouth without him even realizing it. “It’s just… you remember his wedding?”
“Well… it’s the way everything froze solid; that weird noise we heard. I can’t help feeling it had something to do with Simon Danbury.”
“Oh dear!” Mark rubbed his face with his hand. “I thought you’d got over that, Glyn! For fuck’s sake, the reason you heard strange noises and saw everything freeze solid was because you were all pissed out of your little juvenile heads on that bottle of wine I nicked for you! It’s just lucky we got to Creighton before he did a lemming-job off the stairwell!”
“No! I told you! We all saw the same thing!”
“You saw fuck all!” Mark cut loudly across him. “You gulped down a bottle of wine and it gave you the DT’s!”
“No, it was real! I swear!... Now, if we suppose Simon Danbury had some kind of… magical power, couldn’t he use it to rule the world?”
“’Magical power’!? repeated Mark, his voice high-pitched with incredulity.
“Nan thinks it’s possible.”
“Nan!?” Mark laughed. “You don’t believe Nan do you? Glyn, our grandmother is a superstitious loony!”
“She’s not!” retorted Glyn. “She’s very bright and she tells me a lot of things… And I’ve been having these weird dreams…”
“Are you still going with her to that damn mumbo-jumbo knock-once-for-yes-twice-for-no place?”
“If you mean the Spiritualist Church, then yes.”
Mark guffawed. “Well, that settles it then! You couldn’t join the party anyway, at least not at the moment. That kind of bullshit is completely incompatible with being a leader of Socialism.”
A few minutes later the car pulled up outside the station and Mark went round to the boot to retrieve Glyn’s luggage. “Here, Glyn.” His normal gentler tone had returned. “Think about what we’ve said, eh?... And read these.” He handed his younger brother a sheaf of pamphlets, leaflets and several larger books wrapped around with an elastic band; there was also some notepaper with a list of website URL’s written on it in his handwriting, which he’d obviously prepared earlier. “Just read them and let me know what you think.”
Glyn took them and he and his brother bade each other a reasonably warm farewell.
Glyn woke with a start and sat up. His heart was pounding. He switched on his bedside light and looked around his bedroom to reassure himself that he was wide awake and everything was normal. It was starting to get light outside and his alarm clock said five-fifty AM. He’d been having one of his weird dreams again. They were coming several times a month now. As always in his dreams there were few coherent details, just a powerful feeling of atmosphere, intense emotion and very vivid imagery. He felt dry, cracked soil beneath his feet. He was outdoors but there was no wind and although the air was chilled it was also somehow stale. And it was very dry; his lips were cracked and his tongue swollen. A ruddy sun, devoid of all heat, shone hazily down from a smog-covered sky. Around him were buildings that looked simultaneously strange yet familiar. The spectacle filled him with a nameless horror; and that was when he woke up.
He managed to catch a little more sleep before his alarm clock rang and he arose for a very regular school day. His last lesson ended at 3 PM and he went straight home for dinner and a bath, and then he headed off to his grandmother’s house. The service began at seven PM and Glyn and Beryl drove there to arrive about ten minutes early so they could talk to her friends a while first. Belswill Spiritualist Church was housed in a converted Scout hut on a small industrial close laid back from the main road. As they backed in the Church’s tiny carpark, the door to the building was open and they could hear the Hammond organ inside already playing the gentle melodies that greeted the congregation. In the vestibule they were offered glasses of water and Beryl chatted warmly with her friends. Unlike the way Mark had unwittingly excluded him during group conversations with his Socialist comrades two weeks earlier, Beryl made a point of bringing Glyn into the discussions and social circles of the Church. Another crucial difference was that Glyn understood what they were talking about. He’d been coming here with his grandmother for about a year and had made himself at home there as she did. The attendees of the Church were mostly older people and of the same proletariat that Mark’s political group claimed to speak for. The interior of the church was clean and finely decorated with flower vases and icons on the wall showing doves, rainbows, moons, and dolphins. There was a thick red carpet on the floor and the congregation sat on velvet-covered wooden benches. The air was delightedly scented and as Glyn and Beryl Southsea walked down the aisle to their seats he felt his spirits rise.
The Speaker had already taken her seat on the dais at the front; Speaker being a euphemistic and also, slightly paradoxically, a reverent term for the psychic medium who would be working during the service. The service was conducted by the much-loved patriarch of the church, an ancient man called Reg, who introduced the Speaker; they sung a hymn from a regular church hymnbook and then the Speaker stood up to begin her clairvoyance. Like most of the mediums who worked the Churches, this one was in late middle age and female; her name was Charlotte Cayce. She wore an imitation fur coat and her neatly-permed, grey hair was woven and plaited into ringlets that hung lethargically over the sides of her head; her throat and wrists were bedecked with intricate jewelry. “Dear friends.” She began in her squeaky and gossamer-soft voice. “I invite you all to close your eyes and sit quietly and think of those you love who are now in Spirit. Ask them to come to us and make contact with us. I offer myself as a bridge between the Earth Plain and the Eternal Paradise where are loved ones forever dwell…” She worked by letting her eyes roam across the audience until they rested on somebody and she would say: “I think I need to come to you, Sir/Madam,” and then she’d relate to the lucky recipient some information that the recipient would either confirm or deny. Glyn was sometimes picked out, but not tonight. The Speaker was usually given about an hour for clairvoyance which meant that on average a regular audience member could expect a message every three or four services. Glyn had had several which varied greatly in quality. He made the Speakers work hard and would tell them very bluntly if a message didn’t ring any bells. His grandmother nudged him gave him a look which he understood as: “She’s not that good is she?” He shrugged as if to say: “Give her a chance, she’s only just started.” After an hour of her semi-successfully trying to match an amateur cricketer, a World War Two Spitfire pilot and even somebody’s pet hamster, Charlotte Cayce sat down and another hymn was sung while a leather bag was passed round and the congregation put money into it. The revenue from the Churches was never very high and often only just covered the Speaker’s travelling expenses; it was in private sittings, as well as telephone and Internet clairvoyance that there were good earnings to be made for a gifted medium. However the Churches were a good way of making contact with potential new customers. At the end of the service Reg stood up to thank Charlotte Cayce and all the audience for coming along; and his wife and assistants went round the hall with a tray with cups of tea and biscuits for everybody. “What did you think of her, Nan?” asked Glyn.
Beryl raised her eyebrows as she munched her Jammie Dodger. “I’d say she’s a Skeptic’s dream! I hope they don’t invite her again.” A few people were queuing up down the aisle to meet Charlotte Cayce; conversations were brief and usually involved just a handshake and a few words. Beryl decided to join the queue while Glyn didn’t bother. He was daydreaming over his tea when his grandmother came back to her seat. There were only a few people left in the Church Hall now and Reg was looking at them as if to indicate he planned to lock up soon. Beryl had a curious expression on her face when she said: “Come on, Glyn. Let’s go.”
“Is everything alright, Nan?” asked Glyn as he drained his tea.
She just beckoned with her eyes, hurrying him along. Outside the evening had turned to night and stars shone brightly through broken cloud above Belswill. When they were in the car Beryl sat still for a moment staring down at the dashboard. “What’s up, Nan?” asked Glyn. “You don’t look too happy.”
“I’m OK, Glyn.” she said, scarcely above a whisper. “I was just wondering, have you got any more plans for tonight?”
She hesitated. “Would you like to come with me to a seance?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“I wasn’t certain it was right to ask you.” She sounded semi-apologetic. “You know what a seance is, don’t you?”
“Yeah, of course I do. It’s where the Speaker does her business in a small group around a table...”
“Not quite.” Beryl interrupted. “That’s an oversimplification. Do you remember a couple of months ago we had that Eileen McKenzie woman in the Church?”
“What, do you mean that lady who closed her eyes and started talking in that funny voice?”
Beryl chuckled. “That’s her. Personally I think she was putting it on, but it’s still an example of what we call ‘trance mediumship’; where the medium’s body is temporarily taken over by a spirit. The body then takes on the voice and even the appearance of a spirit. Occasionally a spirit manifests in the circle in visible, physical form.”
“You mean a ghost?”
She frowned at him; her eyes were hidden in the shadow of her brows and the wash of the streetlamps cast an unnatural carotene glow over her face. “For want of a better word, yes... This is what often goes on at seances. I’ve been to a couple of them and... there is some risk involved.”
“Oh.” Glyn kept his voice deadpan, but he suddenly felt quite thrilled.
“You see... every so often you get something... unexpected... and what happens next is unpredictable, and it’s not always pleasant. You see... not all spirits are friendly.”
His grandmother grimaced. “You sound surprised! And you will do having only gone to that place.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder to indicate the Church. She then added in a bitter tone: “It’s all sweetness and light to that lot!... Honestly, Glyn, if your whole experience of Spiritualism comes only from the Churches then you have no experience of Spiritualism! You deserve to learn the whole story... There she comes now!” Beryl pointed out of the windscreen. Charlotte Cayce and Reg came out of the Church and Reg locked the door behind them. Then they shook hands and each headed for their respective cars. Cayce looked at them sitting in Beryl’s car and waved knowingly. “We’ve got to follow her.” said Beryl.
“Don’t you know where this place is?”
“Not yet. It’s all a bit hush-hush. That’s normal practice... Look, Glyn, I’ve asked her and she says it’s OK to bring you along too, but if you prefer I’ll go out there now and tell her we need to go via your place and...”
“No no!” said Glyn. “That’s OK, Nan. I want to come too.”
Beryl gave a slightly guilty and pensive sigh. “Fine.”
It was by now almost ten PM and Belswill was a large town so there was still a lot of activity in the main street; people coming in and out of pubs, taxies zooming, takeaways splashing the street with the glow of their illuminated signs. Beryl Southsea kept her eyes fixed on Charlotte Cayce’s car ahead of them. Cayce drove calmly and carefully, seeming to be aware of the Southseas behind them, depending on her to reach their destination. They turned off the main street and headed down a smaller road leading to the northern limits of the town. Eventually they reached Bailey Avenue, a long, straight street that flanked a busy dual carriageway; the two throughfares were separated by a grassy verge with a single row of evenly-spaced trees; on the other side of the street was a row of detached houses, also evenly-spaced. Glyn’s father was always wishing the family could go and live on Bailey Avenue because the house-prices there were 12 percent higher than those in their own area. Brake-lights gleamed as Charlotte Cayce slowed down and Beryl imitated her. They pulled up outside a square, white house that was the most illuminated on the road. Its large curtain-covered picture windows glowed. Exterior lights were on and the driveway was crammed with three other cars. Cayce waited for them on the pavement as they parked up and decamped from the car. She and Beryl exchanged glanced but didn’t speak as they walked up the short driveway and Cayce ignored Glyn altogether. They crowded under the secluded porch and rang the low-pitched doorbell which boomed through the house like infrasound. The door opened quickly and a voice said: “Hello, Charlotte. Come in.”
The interior of the house was warm and smelled of lemon and incense; every wall was decorated by pictures and hangings. Glyn pressed his arms by his side and hunched his shoulders as he noticed the delicate and expensive-looking ornaments that covered every shelf and table, in case he knocked them off with his body. “Hello, Glyn.” He suddenly realized that he was being introduced to somebody. “I’m Dia.” The woman shaking his hand was tall and slender. She was wore a long, nondescript grey dress; it was rough and threadbare like Cinderella’s. She had long black, greasy hair that fell over the sides of her head, a bit like Charlotte’s grey perm did, and protruding teeth; her eyes were huge like an owl’s. Her handshake began normally, but then suddenly her hand stopped moving and gripped his tighter. Her eyes met his and they stared into his mind like laser beams. Glyn was overcome by a sudden pang of fright as Dia’s eyes held his; it felt as if she were hacking into his brain. Then she blinked and Glyn pulled away. She blushed slightly and wiped her hands on the thighs of her dress; then she pointed towards a door covered by a bead screen. “It’s in there.” she said. Beryl and Charlotte pulled aside the screen and entered, but as Glyn tried to follow them Dia grasped his arm urgently. He turned and looked at her. “What’s up?”
She leaned her head towards him; her breath smelled of garlic. She glanced around them to make sure they weren’t being overheard. “You can see it too, can’t you?”
She frowned curiously. “What dreams have you been having lately?”
“Well... lots of them.”
“I always know when somebody else can see it too.”
Glyn tried to reply, but fumbled over his words.
She smiled and her mien lightened. “It’s alright, nothing to worry about; but can I have a word with you afterwards?”
She gestured at the screen to invite him in. Glyn put his hands together as if praying or diving and rent the screen in the middle, pushing the beads to each side and he entered the room.
The room inside was dimly lit by velvet lamps, four of them in each corner. A deliciously overpowering scent filled the air. During its normal function it was clearly a lounge; it had settees, a TV set and a coffee table, but these had been pushed back out of the way to make space and in the centre of the room a circle of about a dozen chairs had been arranged. The three new arrivals took their place in three of the four remaining chairs and Dia took the last one. As he chose a chair beside her Beryl seized Glyn’s hand in a way that she hadn’t done since he was a small child and hissed urgently in his ear: “Keep very still and don’t make a sound!” For a while nobody spoke and only a few severe glances were passed around. Glyn didn’t know any of the other people sat on the circle of chairs, but he recognized a few of them by sight; most likely attendees of the Church he thought. On the carpeted floor in the centre of the circle was a cloth mat that was covered in a series of perplexing geometric shapes and symbols. Placed around the mat was a bowl containing a liquid that was steaming slightly as if hot; next to it a joss stick burned in a china holder, presumably the source of the smell. There was also a pack of cards neatly fanned out and a candle. Next to the candle lay a small hardback book. These objects looked as if they’d been arranged with precision and care. There were a few moment’s silence then Dia raised her hands in the air and sung at the top of her voice: “EEE-YAAA-OOO-oh whay-hey-oh!”
Glyn jumped as everybody else in the circle except for himself, his grandmother and Charlotte repeated it. Dia sang another phrase and her acolytes copied her again. This chanting continued for a number of minutes and then they stopped and there was silence yet again. Then Dia spoke in a formal tone. “Welcome, friends. Welcome to our moot. I hope tonight finds you well. And a special welcome to our guests Glyn and Beryl; and we’re especially honoured to be joined by the respected medium Charlotte Cayce.” She paused and let her gaze run around the circle stopping it directly ahead of her, slightly raised above their heads, her huge oval eyes glinted in the candlelight. “As always I must ask you to keep whatever comes to pass and whatever information you learn strictly confidential. The enemy is preparing another offensive; they may even be among us here today...”
The circle drew in its collective breath; carefully concealed glimpses were directed at the visitors although Dia maintained her gaze. Glyn shivered, wishing briefly that he’d agreed to his grandmother’s offer to drop him off at home.
“In order for the Light to prevail in the kingdom of the Darkness we ourselves must not turn to fear or ire. All people, once admitted to this circle, will be treated accordingly. Those who shamefully refer to themselves as ‘the Enlightened Ones’ can only be so when we adopt their ways of the Darkness and so give them a deeper shadow in which to cast their parody of the Light.”
Glyn caught his grandmother’s eye and gave her a look that said: “What’s she talking about?”
Beryl ignored him and swiftly turned back to faced Dia.
Dia stood up and walked over to the mat and the other objects. She stood for a moment and then in a single movement skillfully lowered herself into a lotus-like squatting position on the floor; her long skirt stretched between her knees like a tent. “At this point in the moot I will have to consult the cards in order to know the right course of action; should we proceed or not?” She gathered up the cards and shuffled them with great dexterity like an experienced gambler, then she fanned them in her hands and picked out ten cards. She put the rest of the deck to one side and fanned the ten she’d chosen with their faces down, carefully concealed in her lap. She studied them carefully mouthing a few words and then placed them one at a time on the floor. She laid five in a cross formation and four in a vertical line to one side of the cross; the remaining card she laid lengthwise on top of the middle card of the cross. Then, one by one, with sober reverence, she flipped the cards face up. Glyn then saw that these were not ordinary playing cards and he recognized the symbols of the Tarot. Dia stared at the cards intently for a couple of minutes then she looked up as if waking from sleep. “Yes.” she said in a simple, light tone. “We should proceed.” She cleared away all the cards and put them back in their original position, then she reached down and tenderly picked up the book. She flicked to a page without browsing, as if the book were very familiar to her, and read for a few minutes.
Glyn heard a strange noise to his left; he turned his head with utmost care, remembering his grandmother’s warning, and saw that Charlotte Cayce was giggling. She had her hand over her mouth in an attempt to suppress her laughter. In the silence of the circle her mirth was obstructively loud, although nobody else reacted to it.
Dia put down the book and picked up the bowl. It was a hemispherical shiny metal bowl and the liquid inside was still steaming slightly. She paused to look at it and then raised the bowl to her lips and drank. Glyn guessed from its size and the way Dia drank that there must have been about half a pint of fluid in it. She downed it in one and then leaned back, gagging slightly, as if the taste had not been pleasant. “Join hands.” she said thickly through her clenched throat. All the members of the circle held each other’s hands and Dia stood up and sat back onto her chair. Beryl took Glyn’s right hand and a stranger his left. The strange hand was cold, weak and clammy. “Whatever happens, do not break the circle.” Dia added.
For many minutes nothing happened, they all just sat there quietly, holding hands; Dia sat bolt upright on her chair, her eyes closed and her head bowed. Then she began to lean forwards, tipping very slowly like a melting snowman. Then the man to her right, who was holding her left hand, spoke out loudly. “Is there anybody there?”
“Is there anybody there?” he repeated looking at Dia.
Glyn got the feeling that he was her husband.
“Is there anybody there?”
Dia was by now bent completely over; her head hung down, her hair draped over her lap. She was shivering slightly, spasms ran over her back and shoulders, visible through her thin dress.
The man waited a little longer this time: “Is there anybody there?”
Everybody in the circle shifted in their seat in shock. The hands that gripped Glyn’s squeezed harder. The voice had come from Dia, but it had not been her own.
“Don’t break the circle!” commanded the man.
Dia recovered her posture and sat up straight; her eyes were open and she was breathing normally, but her face wore a very different expression to the ones Glyn had seen her wear so far. She looked transfixed and stared at the far wall of the room.
The man faltered and panted nervously as he spoke again: “Welcome, Spirit. Welcome to our circle. What is your name?”
“Aldred.” The voice was deep and masculine; it didn’t resemble Dia’s own voice in any way. It sounded like a film in which a voice soundtrack had been replaced by an entirely different one, yet it clearly came from her mouth.
“Hello, Aldred. Our intentions are peaceful and we bear you goodwill... Do you have anything you wish to tell us?”
“Your... your circle is mixed, there is much variety.” came the voice from Dia. “It may not be as you chose... or expected.”
The man exchanged alarmed looks with a couple of other people in the group. “Can you show yourself to us?”
“Yes... although this could endanger the health of my channel and also others in your circle.”
“We know. Go ahead and show yourself.” He then addressed all the other people in the room: “Remember, stay in your seats! Keep hold of each other’s hands! Don’t break the circle!”
Glyn felt his grandmother’s hand jerk; her skin had become hot and sweaty.
Dia’s body jerked as if she were retching and then suddenly she vomited. However, the moment after she did so Glyn realized that something wasn’t right. What came out of Dia’s mouth was a stream of thick, white viscous substance like cream, but it didn’t fall under the force of gravity; it floated in the air as if it had been poured into water.
Glyn yelped in shock before he could stop himself. “Steady, Glyn!” shouted Beryl. “Stay calm!” Glyn was not alone; exclamations of astonishment and fear came from other members of the group. The man to Dia’s right kept repeating: “Don’t break the circle!... Don’t break the circle!”
The unnatural substance that had issued from Dia’s mouth began to expand like a white balloon. Its surface was smooth and shiny like milk and it reflected the dim light of the room. It rippled slightly like thin silk. A wide strand of the main structure remained attached to Dia’s mouth like a comic strip speech bubble. Dia herself remained unconscious, sitting completely still with her lips apart. The expansion stopped when the mass was about three feet across and it began to change shape and consistency. It started elongating vertically and fluoresced eerily with an internal light-source. Glyn then saw that it was assuming the rough shape of a human torso and head. A face appeared on the front of the head that morphed rapidly; it started as a crude shape, but more and more detailed features appeared. The texture changed, colours burst out and within seconds Glyn was staring at the head of a man, as perfect as a waxwork. The rest of his body was forming too, but lagged behind in details and remained basic in figure. The face was of a middle-aged man with black hair and bronze skin, perhaps an Indian or Gypsy. He was swarthy and unshaven, but his eyes were bright and intelligent. Glyn’s chair was just a few feet away and he could see every hair on the man’s eyebrows and chin, and the lines in the skin of his forehead. His eyes were clear and alert and glinted with the light coming from both the room and from the phosphorescent glow of the strange matrix from which he’d emerged. Then he blinked his eyes and smiled.
The attendees of the seance had got over their initial shock; they were all stable in their seats, but were panting and gasping with occasional outbursts: “Oh God!” “Oh my God!” “Oh God, is this real!?”
The voice of the man to Dia’s right rose above the clamour: “Hello, Aldred. Thank you for showing yourself to us.”
“It’s good to be with you.” replied the man. This time the voice came from his own mouth instead of Dia’s. His lips moved normally as he spoke. Despite his eyes being open he didn’t seem to be able to see anybody in the room, at least he didn’t look at any of them. “I will try my best to make this as safe and easy as possible for my channel.” His speech was more coherent now; his accent was a neutral English one.
“Thank you, Aldred. She’s my wife and I’m concerned for her wellbeing.”
“What can I help you with today?”
“We want to ask: do you know anything about the plans of our enemy?”
“Your enemy is regrouping, it is changing its tactics. It knows it cannot remain hidden for much longer. The time is coming soon for an open encounter; they know this.”
“What are its new tactics?”
“There is... limited... information.” the face clouded over slightly, as if being partially submerged in a cloud of dry ice; but then a few seconds later it solidified again. “Their leadership is split. Some have made... provision for defeat.”
“What do you mean?”
“Without victory...they... will... ensure...” The temporary, partial fade-out happened again. It reminded Glyn of a radio losing its signal and needing to be tuned.
“What will they ensure, Aldred? What do you mean?”
“They will... ensure that you... share their defeat.”
The man paused, unsure of what to say.
“Your circle is mixed.” he said again. “There is much variety.”
“Explain please, Aldred.”
“There is one here with... great depth of soul... who can see... see the paths ahead.”
“Who? Which one of us?”
Aldred didn’t reply. His face went fuzzy again; this time it didn’t firm up afterwards. “The conduit is closing... There is one among you who is selfish, who will be used by the enemy to attack you...”
“LIAR!” The shriek of rage came from Glyn’s left; it was from Charlotte Cayce. “Dia, you’re a fraud!”
“Shut up!” yelled the man at her.
“FAKE!” Charlotte Cayce let go the hands next to her and stood up.
Cayce hurled herself forward at the apparition. There was a blinding flash of light and a deafening bang. Glyn felt as if he were punched simultaneously in every part of his body at once. The next thing he knew he was lying on the carpet with the upturned chair between his legs. His senses returned and he raised his head. The room was in pandemonium; the bright main ceiling lights had been switched on and loud voices surrounded him. Everybody was clustered around Dia and Charlotte Cayce who were both lying prostrate on the floor and not moving. The spectral visitation had vanished and there was nothing supernatural to be seen in the room. “Glyn, are you alright?” The face of his grandmother loomed over him.
“I think so, Nan.” he murmured.
“Can you stand up and walk? Graham has called the ambulance and we should clear the room before they arrive.”
With her help, Glyn clambered to his feet; his head swam and he rocked slightly as he took a few steps. The attendees of the moot who were not involved in caring for the two casualties were standing around outside the room. Somebody had opened the front door and a few of them were outside smoking or making phonecalls. “Come on, my boy; let’s give you some fresh air.” She led him out into the driveway and he sat down on the doorstep unitl his strength returned. The air was chill and refreshing. A light breeze has blown up. Glyn looked at his watch and saw that it was half past midnight. The people with whom they’d been holding hands in the circle a while before just stood around with cigarettes or mobile phones in their hands, speaking or keying SMS. Nobody spoke to them. On the neighbouring dual carriageway occasional cars and lorries swished past.
A few minutes later a siren sounded and the strobing flicker of blue lights illuminated the street. Glyn stood up as a pair of ambulances pulled up and the paramedic crews jumped out and strode up to the house. As they were ushered inside Beryl turned to her grandson. “Let’s go home, Glyn. We can’t do anything more to help here.”
They headed for the car, but just as soon as they’d exited the front gate and were on the pavement Beryl pulled up suddenly and stared up into the air.
“What’s up, Nan?”
“Look!” She pointed. Her eyes were wide and her face tight with alarm.
Glyn followed her finger, but saw nothing except for the night sky; stars and dark, scudding clouds. “I can’t see anything.”
“There! Look carefully.”
Glyn tried again. His eyes adjusted to the blackness of the sky in the glare of the lights from the house behind him. He then noticed that there was a small cloud; he moved a few yards to look at it from another angle to judge its size and distance by paralax. He realized immediately that it was not a normal cloud at all; its altitude was only about thirty or forty feet, not much higher than the house and this would make it very small, just a few feet across. It just hovered there, not moving in any direction, even though a brisk wind whipped past them. Also it didn’t look quite like a cloud; it was more like a patch of heat haze, not an object in itself, but more something that made other objects seen through it look different.
Beryl clasped his wrist urgently. “Come on, Glyn; let’s go.”
She started the car with some haste and skidded briefly as she tuned in the road and sped back towards the town centre faster than usual. When they’d reached the comforting sight of the shops again she eased off the accelerator.
“It’s funny you know.” said Glyn. “I've never told you before that I had doubts.”
“Doubts about what?”
“All this stuff. There were times when I wondered if any of it was real. If you hadn’t shown me this tonight I might have ended up a Skeptic!”
She gave a sardonic chortle. “There are Skeptics I know who’ve been to moots just like that one and still deny that it’s real.” The merriment left her tone. “Glyn, I’m so sorry! I should never have brought you. I placed you in very real danger...”
“Don’t be daft, Nan. I’m not a kid and I chose to come of my own free will... What happened anyway? Will Dia and Charlotte Cayce be alright?”
“I don’t know... That stupid cow, Cayce! She interfered with an ectoplasmic induction! Of all the people who should know better! She may have killed Dia, and herself; if only it could be just herself?... God forbid me I shouldn’t say that, but...” Beryl shook her head angrily. “Mediums have died when something goes wrong during these kinds of trances; it’s because the spirit is using the life energy of the medium to produce a physical apparition in this plain. That apparition is extremely delicate; even bright lights can damage it. That is why trance mediums insist on darkness while they operate; it’s not so they can hide rolls of crepe paper and papier-mache dolls! Without fully-functioning life energy you die; it’s that simple. Cayce might be on the other side right now. If she is I’ll tell you what: she’d better have the good sense not to come through at Church! I’ll tell her to go stuff herself and I don’t care if the Speaker’s Sylvia Browne!”
“So that thing was... a spirit?” He looked out of the car window as they drove past all the familiar and mundane sights of urban Belswill: the kebab van, a police car pulled up outside a nightclub, young men and women coming in and out of a fish-and-chip shop, a pizza box laid on top of a rubbish bin. Thinking back he could hardly believe what he’d witnessed, and it was less than an hour ago. He could understand how a dedicated Skeptic might fall into cognitive dissonance and willful denial of such an extreme experience.
“Yes. I know Aldred. He’s popped up at Church and a few other seances, but this is the first time I’ve seen him in ectoplasm; that’s what we call the physical matter generated by the spirit to allow themselves to appear.”
“Who is he?”
“A very helpful and benevolent soul who last incarnated on Earth four hundred years ago as an Indian sage in the court of a Mogul emperor. You remember learning at Church about reincarnation and how some people have more than one life?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t know whether to believe it.”
“Believe it! You and I may not always have been the people we are now. Before we were born we might have lived on Earth... or elsewhere, in very different lives.”
Glyn nodded slowly. After a pause he asked: “What was this ‘enemy’ they talked about?”
“I don’t know.” she replied quickly. “Our own personal lives are not the only thing in danger when we carry out these rituals; there’s another problem.”
“What’s that?” Glyn gave her a sideways glance, noticing how she changed the subject.
In order for a spirit to access our world it’s necessary to build what we call a spiritual conduit. This is like... how shall I explain it? Imagine the Earth Plain as an island in the sea and around it are other islands.”
“What like in space; other planets and stars?”
“No, no, no. Those other planets and stars are a part of the Earth Plain; the Earth Plain encompasses our whole universe. I’m talking about other plains beyond our universe. For a spirit to get from that universe to this one it’s like getting from one island to another. It has to build a bridge across the sea. That’s what Aldred did tonight. The medium and the other people in the circle at the moot helped him by creating a space where his bridge can make contact with our island. The problem is that whenever these rituals take place we have to make sure that once the spirit has completed its visit to the Earth Plain and departed we dismantle the bridge behind it, so sealing off the Earth Plain from the island that spirit came from.”
“Why do we need to do that?”
“Because if we don’t, the conduit remains open and that could be dangerous; it means that it can be used again after the ritual has been complete, without our knowledge or permission, by other spirits. And remember what I told you? Not all Spirits are the friendly, loving souls they waffle on about in the Church.”
“So there’s now a kind of open door...”
“Yes indeed! It’s like leaving the front door of your house open, and burglars could easily get in. What happened back there was that the ritual was interrupted by Charlotte Cayce before the conduit could be properly closed. This means that it’s still open now and that could make trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“That house could become haunted. Hauntings are often caused by artificial or naturally-occurring open conduits. Some young idiots who get into magick deliberately open conduits for the hell of it, a kind of spiritual vandalism, but they can do great harm.” Beryl chuckled dryly. “But then again, it could be even worse than that.”
Glyn felt a chill run down his spine. “That thing we saw hanging in the air over the house; has that got anything to do with it?”
“I think so.” she responded after a thoughtful pause. “That thing might well be the ectoplasmic terminal of the conduit; the physical manifestation of the bridge between the islands, generated by Aldred and Dia... with our help of course. A small part of all our life energy went into it. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit off-colour in the next few days, Glyn. It’s nothing to worry about; it’ll pass, but our life energy may have been mildly damaged by what Cayce did.”
“So what could come out of it?”
“Who knows? Any damn thing!” They had now reached Glyn’s home and Beryl pulled over outside his driveway and engaged the handbrake. She turned in her seat to face him. “It may be a good idea to stay away from Bailey Avenue for a while eh?”
The following morning as he was getting ready for school, Glyn received an email from his grandmother: Hi Glyn. Just been talking on the phone to Graham, Dia’s husband. Dia is fine now and is being sent home from hospital this morning. All she had was shock. Charlotte Cayce is dead. Doctors said she suffered a heart attack. Love. Nan. Glyn smiled wryly to himself as he read. “Your wish came true, Nan.” he said aloud.
Glyn walked to school slowly. He wasn’t feeling well; it was an unspecified malaise that was like the onset of flu. He felt drained of energy and vaguely dizzy. Sharp noises kept making him jump. There were a lot of helicopters flying overhead at that moment and their rattling drone made his head ache. He debated going home for a few minutes then decided to persevere; he only had one English lesson today, which was his favourite subject. He arrived at school and headed for the classroom. He immediately picked up a strange atmosphere as he walked into the room. The lesson was about to start and all the dozen or so students were sitting at their desks. Conversation hushed as he opened the door. His English teacher, Miss Skinner, gave him a very broad smile as he entered. “Good morning, Glyn.”
“Morning, Miss.” he replied. “Good morning, Sandboys.”
The students let fly with a collective gasp.
“Glyn.” Miss Skinner smiled even more broadly as she spoke and her tone was impeccably sweet. “Would you care to rephrase what you just said?”
Glyn glowered at her and shrugged. “No thanks, Miss.”
“I shall ask you again: Would you care to rephrase what you just said?”
“And I shall reply to you again: No, Miss, I would not.”
The students all blushed and looked nervously down at their desks.
A dark flush of anger blossomed behind Miss Skinner’s unassuming countenance. She took in a deep, tremulous breath and walked over to the classroom door. “Would you mind following me, Glyn?”
She led him directly down the school corridors towards Mr. McKenyon’s office and knocked.
“Come.” Miss Skinner opened the door and Glyn saw Mr. McKenyon sitting at his desk; two other Main School teachers whose names he didn’t know flanked him in armchairs on either side. Despite the fact that this was not a prearranged appointment, they looked as if they’d been expecting him. Miss Skinner left the room and closed the door behind her.
“Sit down, Glyn.” There was no lemonade this time. Glyn’s heart was pounding and his head spinning as he lowered himself gingerly into the room’s only free chair.
“I’ve received a complaint that you addressed somebody as ‘sandboy’ in class this morning.”
“How did you know, Sir; I’ve only just got to school?”
Mr. McKenyon raised a hand. “It doesn’t matter how I know. Did you, or did you not, address somebody as ‘sandboy’ on school premises this morning?”
Mr. McKenyon exchanged glances with the other two teachers. “Did you recall our conversation last week in which I specifically forbade you from doing that?”
“Yes, Sir. And you’ll recall, I’m sure, that I asked you for the reason why I must not address people using that word and you were unable to answer me.”
The teacher sighed and picked up a small book that was lying on his desk. “Glyn, the school rules have been amended since we last spoke; this is a copy of the new updated rule book.” He reached over the desk and handed it to Glyn. “Could you please turn to page twenty-six and read Section Ten, Clause Nine-C.”
Glyn flicked to the page and found the section Mr. McKenyon indicated: “Erratic behaviour: While it is understood that basic courtesy towards, and between, members of staff and students is the highest priority regarding School conduct, students must also be aware that in order to maintain a functional teaching and learning environment certain standards of behaviour beyond the scale of basic courtesy must be enforced. Therefore students will be expected to exhibit and communicate within the framework of what is generally accepted as modes of conventional social interaction. Behaviour that is deemed to be in breach of those conventions, even if it is completely benign, is prohibited.”
Glyn closed the book and looked up at him.
Mr. McKenyon’s face had dissolved into a barely concealed sneer of triumph; his cheeks glowed with hateful glee. “So... I’m going to ask you, once more and once more only: Please will you refrain from addressing other people as ‘sandboy’ whilst on school premises?”
Glyn opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out.
Outside the office window, the rumble of the helicopters was obtrusive in the splintering silence of the room.
“I’m waiting for your answer, Glyn.” The teacher said slowly in a tight, flat and menacing tone.
Glyn’s head churned. His hands felt numb as he held the rule book.
“The words you are trying find are: “Yes, Sir’.”
Glyn’s dizziness had become overwhelming. The three teachers must have sensed his uneasiness and malady. Normally a student taken ill would be removed to one side and given help, but in this case they did nothing.
“SAY IT!” bellowed Mr. McKenyon. Glyn had never heard the Head of the Sixth Form shout and the sound shocked him. He looked up and saw that the man’s face had almost turned purple with outrage. A narrow trickle of saliva dripped from his lips. He had never been this angry before, even when Matthew Brooks slashed the tyres on his car. Glyn’s ears rang, almost deafened by his voice.
At that moment, the sound of the school’s public address system interrupted: “ATTENTION EVERYBODY! THIS IS THE HEADMASTER SPEAKING. ALL PUPILS MUST PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR FORM CLASSROOMS IMMEDIATELY. I REPEAT: COULD ALL PUPILS RETURN TO YOUR FORM CLASSROOMS IMMEDIATELY. DO NOT RUN, DO NOT RUSH. WALK SENSIBLY AND QUICKLY.”
Mr. McKenyon leaned back in his chair and signed. He wiped his face with his hands. “Right, Glyn. We’ll continue this conversation later. Just think over what I’ve asked, alright?”
There was a mood of tension as Glyn walked towards his form room. Teachers were standing in the corridor herding the pupils along: “Come on!... Quickly now!... No running!... “Stop chatting, Bradley!” As he entered the room he was surprised to find that along with his form tutor, Mr. Kyle, there were several police officers in uniform. The other students in the class were subdued and nobody spoke. “Sit down everybody, fast as you can!” ordered Mr. Kyle. As soon as everybody was in their place he, usually, did not shut the door. The sound of activity in the corridors outside continued to impinge. “Listen carefully, Six-K! Hands up who doesn’t live in Belswill... who does not live in Belswill.” A few hands were raised. “Right please could you follow PC Langdon here, right away... Come on! Quick as you can!”
“What’s going on, Sir?” asked a boy from his desk on the front row.
“No questions right now, Briggs!... The rest of you, wait here and keep still.”
The policemen spoke quietly on their radios for a few minutes. Glyn couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but he picked up the word “evacuation”. “Is there a fire, Sir?” asked another boy, mirroring Glyn’s thoughts.
“I told you, no questions!” snapped the teacher.
A minute later one of the policemen conferred with Mr. Kyle. “Right, Class.” said the teacher. “I want you to walk quickly behind me two at a time. There’s no fire, but we’re going to treat this like a fire drill, OK? Leave your coats and bags here. Stay calm. Walk, don’t run.” The whole class stood up, followed Mr. Kyle out of the room and strode hastily along the corridors. They joined several other human chains on their journey out to the sports field at the back of the school. When they arrived they saw all the other classes lined up like soldiers on parade. The only voices were those of the teachers taking registers. More helicopters had joined the already swarming aircraft in the sky over their heads, and their engines and rotors were a contstant audio backdrop. Glyn looked over his shoulder and was amazed to see that there were a row of five or six coaches parked on the grass of the sports field; their muddy tyre tracks ran destructively over the cricket pitch. After his class’ register had been taken Mr. Kyle led them all over to one of the coaches and they were chivvied on board by him and the driver. To Glyn’s surprise the driver was a man wearing an army uniform: DPM camouflage utilities and a beret. The coaches were nothing like the ones normally used by the school for outings; they were all painted dark blue and had no livery except a circular emblem and the stenciled words: “MINISTRY OF DEFENCE”. Their numberplates were black and consisted of three sets of two numbers separated by a hyphen. Once the children were all in their seats Mr. Kyle stood up at the front. “Now, may I have your attention, please? There has been an accident in Belswill...”
He was instantly interrupted by the students: “What’s happened!?... Where did it happen?... What about my mum and dad?... My brother’s in St. Austwell's...”
“Be quiet!... There is no immediate danger to yourselves or your families, but for the sake of precaution the town is being evacuated. We are going to be driven to a place where we will be looked after and you will be reunited with your families...”
The boy sitting next to Glyn turned to him and said: “That’s got to be a bad accident. More than just a car crash on the motorway!”
Glyn nodded grimly.
The coaches drove in convoy down the M-One into London. The entire southbound carriageway had been closed to facilitate the evacuation of Belswill and the surrounding area. Every junction was sealed off by police roadblocks; blue flashing lights and rows of cones punctuated the grey tarmac of the motorway. In the opposite northbound carriageway the traffic flowed normally. The pupils living outside the area had been dropped off at home. Along with the coaches, ambulances, fire engines and other emergency vehicles also sped down the empty lanes. A few private cars travelled in long motorcades escorted by police vans.
When they reached the outskirts of the city the convoy of coaches turned off into the carpark of a large, modern indoor sports’ arena. There were numerous other vehicles sitting loosely in front of the entrance to the stadium, some were army lorries in their distinctive grey and green colours. There were many police cars too, dotted like snowdrops across the scene. Glyn and the other youths from the school were shunted off the vehicle like sheep and there was a confused few minutes while Mr. Kyle tried to keep them in one group. Loud adult voices shouted all around them, assailing Glyn's ears.
“GLYN!” Before he knew what was happening his mother appeared. She ran up and embraced him. “Thank God!”
The Belswill refugees were accommodated on long rows of simple camp-beds on the parquet floor of the arena. The room echoed with the sound of their voices. In the lobby of the sports hall a make-shift kitchen had been set up by the army and Royal Logistic Corpsmen handed out disposable cups of coffee and tea, along with sandwiches and buns. To begin with most of the residents of the hall sat in the spectators’ seats eating and drinking. Glyn’s family sat together over their simple meal. Glyn’s father was complaining and Daisy was crying. Marianne was trying to call Mark on her mobile phone but couldn’t get a signal. A few people had managed to snatch up laptops and portable TV’s in the midst of their exodus and the news spread fast. Glyn had managed to worm his way to a position where he could look over three or four shoulders to watch the TV news report. The newsreader spoke in a grave tenor as she related: “A helicopter laden with toxic chemicals has crashed into a residential area of the Hertfordshire town of Belswill. There are unconfirmed reports of a dozen or more casualties. All hospitals in the area have been put on full standby and all homes within a radius of three miles have been evacuated.” The screen showed the view from a news helicopter filming the wreckage of a large darkly-painted aircraft lying amidst the broken ruins of a house. Firemen and military personnel in chemical suits picked through the rubble.
“Here,” said a voice beside him. “Isn’t that Bailey Avenue?”
Glyn looked and saw that it was. In fact the white-walled structure of the house on top of which the helicopter had crashed was recognizable; it was Dia’s. This helicopter had come down onto a house in which he had sat just twelve hours earlier watching a real ghost appear in front of him.
The news report continued: “The sleepy commuter town of Belswill, nestling in the Hertfordshire gap north of London, is rarely in the focus of worldwide media attention, until today...
...there is no immediate danger of contamination...
...has reignited the debate about the safety of transporting toxic materials by air...
...the Civil Aviation Authority has so far declined to comment...”
The report then switched to an interview with an Opposition MP who was chairman of an all-party select committee of some kind or another dealing with this issue. “This is an incident we have predicted and warned about for years, and this is the result of our warning falling on deaf ears....”
Glyn made his way back to the row of seats where his family were sitting. As he approached them he saw that an argument was in progress. “Don’t lie, Daisy!” yelled his father.
“I’m not!” retorted his sister. “She did say that!”
“What’s up?” asked Glyn as he joined them.
Arthur Southsea rolled his eyes. “Oh, your sister has got it into her head that Belswill has been invaded by little green men from Mars!”
“That’s not true, Dad! I never said that!” shouted Glyn’s fourteen-year old sister. “Charmaine told me they weren’t green, they were grey!”
“What are you on about, Daise?” asked Glyn.
Arthur suddenly stood up and threw his hands in the air. “I’ve had enough of this nonsense! I’m off to get another round of teas. Marianne, come with me and give me hand would you?”
When they were alone, Daisy said: “I promise you, Glyn. Charmaine swore on her mum’s life, and she never lies!”
“She was walking along Bailey Avenue on her way to school and she saw it!... A flying saucer!”
“I’m straight up here!... She said that there was a flying saucer hanging in the air outside Graham and Dia Parkinson’s house! And their house was all smashed up! As if a lorry had hit it! The traffic on the dual carriageway was all backed up and people were leaving their cars and running scared. The police showed up and pushed Charmaine back up to Meetman Drive, but before she got there she managed to get a look at the aliens.”
“Yeah! Little grey spindly things with big black eyes! They were walking about on the pavement underneath the flying saucer! That’s what she said... then the police shoved her round the corner and told her to run home as fast as she could.”
“Here!” A new voice cut in. A woman they didn't know approached them. “I heard what you said and it’s true! A girl at my office, Judith; she saw them!”
“So did my brother!” came a third voice.
“I saw them myself with my own two eyes!" an old man butted in. "As I was driving that way. Ugly little things like human ants! Just like in the movies!...”
Before a minute had passed several dozen people had crowded round talking animatedly.
“Hold on!” said Glyn. “We’ve just seen a news story talking about a crashed helicopter...”
“They’re lying to us!”
“That footage must be done with a computer or something!”
As opinions were tossed around the group of witnesses Glyn suddenly remembered something of vital importance. “Where’s Nan?... Daisy! Where’s Nan!?”
“I’m right here, Glyn.” Beryl Southsea was climbing up the stepped aisle towards their seats carrying a polystyrene cup of tea.
Glyn stood up and ran forward to embrace her. “Nan!”
Beryl put down the cup and held him tight. She leaned towards his ear and whispered quietly. “It was even worse than I thought, Glyn.”