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Again, I’ve altered the text but hopefully not the meaning, to avoid people going looking, unbidden.

Do you know how far I have had to internalise racism?

Do you know that you behave around me in a way that makes me a ‘coconut’?

Do you know that I ‘act white’ to keep everyone comfortable?

Do you know that I put up with abuse from white people and BAME people because I ‘pass’ and ‘suck up’?

NB: ‘Coconut’ is like ‘Oreo’ in American slang, ‘white on the inside’, whatever that even means.

Do you know how far I have had to internalise racism?

No, because that’s your own internal thought process and I’m not telepathic. I’m also not sure I buy ‘internalising’ racism (or misogyny etc) as I think it denies people’s agency and self-understanding. I’ve never been too fond of the idea of ‘false consciousness’, whatever the context, despite its occasional utility and even rarer accuracy.

Assuming it’s mean in the same way that ‘internalised misogyny’ is mean, it doesn’t seem – from the outside – as though you have. You don’t seem to accept it, or have racist attitudes about yourself and you seem to resist them in others (and that’s not a new behaviour). You even, gratifyingly, in this set of questions, acknowledge racism in the BAME community.

Do you know that you behave around me in a way that makes me a ‘coconut’?

I don’t think I have that kind of power over you (or anyone else for that matter). You make yourself who and what you are. I treat you as I strive to do anyone else, as an individual human being.

Helen Pluckrose, academic involved in Sokal Squared, put this well recently:

I refuse to attach any social or moral significance to race and I think I largely succeed at doing that. I also oppose people who do attach any social or moral significance to race on ethical grounds.

I don’t treat you as ‘white’, because I don’t believe there to be such a thing as ‘whiteness’, nor ‘blackness’, nor ‘brownness’ nor any other similar thing. I dare say I have much more in common with you than I would with someone from a Wolverhampton council estate or a Sussex manor house, colour be damned.

Do you know that I ‘act white’ to keep everyone comfortable?

No, and I don’t think you could if you wanted to, as there is no ‘white’ way to act. There might be a ‘British’ way to act and there’s a ‘middle class’ way to act, but there’s no single ‘racial’ way to act. If you are trying to be a pantomime ‘white person’, please stop!

Do you know that I put up with abuse from white people and BAME people because I ‘pass’ and ‘suck up’?

The wording is a little confusing here, making it sound like both BAME and ‘white’ people are both giving you shit for ‘passing white’ and being a suck up. I can believe that, given the ‘absolute fucking state’ of middle-class ‘white’ activism these days, but it’s unclear whether that’s what you mean, or more conventional racism.

The racism you get from BAME people for not being BAME enough, that I believe 100% and it’s the aspect of all this I find absolutely the most wearying and disappointing about the whole thing. The hypocrisy of the racist anti-racists. I mean, you (hopefully) read my previous post about my friend from Guyana, that whole ‘colourism’ thing is dumb as heck.

I’m more interested in culture, because differences are fascinating. When I meet someone I like from a different culture I try to learn something about it. The food, a few words of the language, a few concepts unique to that culture, whether it’s pepperpot stew from Guyana or the concept of ‘sisu’ from Finland.

x

I’ve altered the wording a little so people can’t go looking for it, hopefully I’ve not foxed the meaning in so doing.

A lot of you are not racist, but realise racism exists. Some of you make posts in support of BAME problems, but you’ve never talked to me about them. Why is that? If you know I experience racism, why are you surprised when I talk about it? Can you understand what it’s like to experience something all the time but to have people act surprised?

Hopefully I am long-term enough friends with this person that they can see the honesty and earnestness in my reply. I’ve decided to do it as a blog, so as to be able to tackle it in a more long-form manner, less prone to misinterpretation and with enough space to make my points in a more complete manner.

Let me break this down into sections a bit, as there’s a lot of explanation and clarity and personal experience to put into this…

Not Racist, but Know Racism Exists?

I’m not even slightly racist, but a lot of people have that impression of me – somehow – and confusingly, that seems to be because I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss what race anyone is.

That used to be the goal, what people now derisively call ‘I don’t see colour’, but it has been a trial, and a lot of effort to get to a place of not giving two tugs of a dead dog’s cock what shade someone’s epidermis is.

I didn’t grow up in a city, I grew up rurally. Non-white faces are so rare out here that I can distinctly remember the first time I ever met an Indian (a Sikh, going door to door selling T-shirts after – I think – fleeing South Africa or Zimbabwe). That was a positive experience, he was a lovely guy who left a good impression.

My first experiences meeting people of other races have not been good.

My first experience meeting a black person was an horrendous bully who liked to pick on a disabled kid (who was also bloody awful the first time I met him, as it happens). My first experience meeting Asians was drug dealers selling to schoolchildren.

When I did begin to visit and stay in urban areas, my direct experience was not much better. A black man stripping an AK47 in the back of a car, drug dealers, gangs, racist abuse hurled at me for being white, racist abuse hurled at me for hanging out with blacks. Friends getting beaten up for being white in the wrong area. Romani aggressively going door to door or trying to push ‘lucky’ heather, drunk Poles and Russians starting fights.

I could go on.

Basically, it’s a fucking miracle that I’m not racist, but that’s in large part because, even fairly young, I recognised something else was going on and I saw much the same – almost identical – prejudice being directed at the poor kids. The poor kids also lashed out in much the same way, and in a similarly racist way to the BAME kids.

Huzzah for being a precociously socialist tween!

And that’s still where I’m coming from when I look at things going on.

I look at racism, which exists between all races, in all directions, and I see a lashing out because of deprivation. I can understand the rage of a black nationalist, and the rage of a white supremacist, but I believe both are misdirected and that class, not race, is far and away more important as a problem to tackle.

Solve the class/wealth issue and you solve most (not all) of the racism issues.

Of course, that may just be my old-school Socialist blinkers, but the statistics seem to confirm my suspicions.

Why do I not talk about it?

I don’t talk about these things much, save when it’s inescapable (like right now) because these discussions are destructive to friendships and many people take my second and third order thinking to be dismissive of their personal experiences and pain, rather than as an attempt to get to the root of the issue and find an actual solution.

Many of them also, knowingly or otherwise, express racist views themselves, which I find repugnant. ‘White privilege’ for example.

Others, as mentioned previously, take my personal choice to pay no attention whatsoever to race/gender/sexuality as being dismissive of their identity. Whereas it’s really me refusing to engage in identity politics, which I consider to be corrosive and divisive.

I’m also, constantly, like many other melanin-challenged people, told that it’s none of my business, to ‘shut up’, to ‘stay in my lane’ and not to ‘whitesplain’, or similar hostility. Even if I don’t WANT to shut up (after all, for social change they need to convince people like me, and a hell of a lot worse than me) this is all offputting and requires additional emotional energy.

Why get involved when you’re not wanted? When anything other than total and absolute agreement gets you thrown in with the handful of actual fascists?

I also don’t talk about it, because I don’t think it’s the real source of the problem. I see it, as I mentioned, as primarily a class/wealth issue and so long as we don’t tackle that (and in a race neutral way) this will all continue to fester.

Fixating on race, and terminology like ‘white privilege’ is regressive, not progressive.

Thought experiment.

Imagine a hugely deprived area, no jobs, little opportunity, poor access to education. Poor blacks, poor whites, poor hispanics, poor everyone. Then you parachute in a bunch of grants and money for BAME citizens in the area, but not the poor whites.

What sort of effect do you think that will have on that community? What sort of attitudes do you think will become prevalent in that poor white community? What sort of politics and prejudice might take root there and what kind of politicians and groups might capitalise on that?

What’s been happening? Why do we have Trump and Bojo? Why have the far right, despite still being relatively tiny, made such inroads?

Why are you surprised by racism?

I’m not, save that I almost never encounter it any more (at least from white people towards BAME people, not so much vice versa).

I used to, certainly. I recall kids (who, to be fair, didn’t know better at the time) singing racist songs in the playground.

There ain’t no black in the Union Jack, so send the bastards back.

Not so much any more.

I do encounter anti-white racism near constantly across social media and in meatspace. Largely uncommented, unpunished, without pushback. It’s not the only form of acceptable bigotry I encounter, but it is a big one.

This is another arena in which the far-right is making inroads. If racism’s not OK, it’s not OK. Full stop. It shouldn’t be any more acceptable, in even a more minor form, against white people than it should be against BAME, but some have even sought to redefine the meaning of racism to exclude their own bigotry.

That’s a breathtaking violation of principle.

Hypocrisy has always been something of a personal bugbear, and it’s intensely distressing to see people who should know better, indulging in racism.

That’s not progress.

Can you understand what it’s like to experience something constantly, but have people be surprised?

I’d, frankly, love to have people be surprised rather than hostile.

Try discussing men’s issues.

Try to bring up that 3/4 of the homeless are men, 40% of IPV victims, or the lack of male mental health specialists and provision, the lack of male primary teachers, the sentencing gap, the life expectancy gap, male genital mutilation…

Surprise would be a welcome alternative to dismissal, accusations of misogyny, inceldom and so on.

These are all much bigger issues in the UK, and even the US, than racism is. Same with class issues, but the left has forgotten its class-oriented roots, demonised the working class and nobody cares about men.

The men’s issues are in large part class issues as well (men are more likely to be impoverished), but nobody really talks about the class issues. Corbyn for all his old Labour pageantry seemed to end up captured by identity politics and wokescolding the working class and, well, look what (predictably) happened.

So yeah, I understand, but even when it comes to the men’s issues I care about (having been on the sharp end) I see those issues in broader, deeper terms of class and wealth.

I don’t think you can solve racism with more racism (or any other *ism with more of the same *ism), and so I choose to live my life with as little regard for these things as is humanly possible, and to try and find actual solutions.

This leads to no end of hatred and heartache, weirdly.

I think race issues are primarily class issues, and some societies tend to conflate the two. America particularly. I look at the way council estate hoodies are treated, and the way tower-block black youths are treated and stereotyped, and there’s virtually no difference.

It’s class.

I have a friend from Guyana, and from what she has related to me Guyanese society demonstrates this confusion and conflation even more than American society.

The way she tells it Guyanese society is extremely ‘colourist’, with lighter skin being associated with the middle and upper classes and darker skin being associated with the lower classes.

This is, of course, nonsense these days. It’s a holdover from colonial times and the settlement there of whites and south asians as well as west indians, but it shows how even without the presence of whites in any significant number, people end up conflating race and class.

Of course, she, as a Canadian ex-pat of mixed heritage causes enormous confusion both in Canada and in Guyana because she doesn’t ‘fit’ either set of preconceptions.

It’s class.

Playing the race game, playing the intersectional oppression olympics only serves to divide and conquer.

I’m not OK with that.

We lost our cat Charlie today. He was an amazing, irreplacable, cat.
I wrote a thing.


Tails high brothers, a warrior joins you in Cat-Halla.

Life-Saver

Litter-Runt

Named in dream and loved in flesh.

Mole Hunter.

Mouse Catcher.

He who made a house a home.

Vole-Killer.

Partridge-Bane.

Who slew a pigeon when but a kit.

Strong-Claw.

Snaggle-Tooth.

Who hid in a drawer and fit in my hand.

Wither-Paw.

Frame-Gouger

Who ran like the wind and climbed like ivy.

Coffee-Chin

Crooked-Nose

Who warmed our bed and watched us work.

White-Belly

Pink-Beaned.

Who saved my life and kept me sane.

Round-Belly

Wall-Walker

A hearth waits for you, warm and bright.

Where a Valkyrie will scratch your chin.

Where the bowls are full of fish.

Where milk doesn’t make you sick.

Where No-Tail and your Huntress wait for you.

Where you will wait for me.

Tail high to greet me.

When my time comes.

And our spirits join again.

My familiar, my Charlie cat.

I’m watching people reacting, badly, to the forced isolation they’re being put into.

I’m hearing them tell of the strain and mental health harm they feel is being done to them through it. I’m seeing the resentment they seem to be feeling towards being forced to rely on social media and other distanced communication.

It’s hard not to feel… well, I don’t know what I feel exactly, but it’s not pleasant.

This is my life you’re living.

I live it all the time.

So many of you seem to consider it almost unbearable.

I live out in the sticks, so I’m physically isolated and too much trouble for people to take the time to come see me. It’s also more trouble for me to get out and see people, especially combined with other things.

My anxiety and depression make me unreliable to get together with people in the best of circumstances, and not the best company when I can get together with people.

I try not to whinge and complain too much, it’s tiresome for everyone, but maybe people will be a bit more sympathetic without me having to now.

I’ve been trying to find things to do that help people who are isolated. I’ve been commissioning more work, trying to host RPG games online, shifting my schedule to make accessible, cheap, helpful things first. I’ve always been proud of the gaming and writing communities for the way they come together, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening so much this time around.

Maybe we’re too divided over everything now, and even a pandemic can’t bring us back together.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Smoke curled from the long ash of the Dunhill, twisting its way across the room like a fragment of grey silk until it met the draft from the cracked window, which finally shattered it. The cigarette sat, ignored, in Gathercole’s mouth as he hunched over the spilt guts of several radios. His hands moved from the Ersa soldering iron to the screwdriver, taking the radios apart and putting them back together time and again. Every now and again, he would stop, reference his scattered notes, and make the tiniest of additional adjustments.

Besides the valves, wires, copper spools and flexible solder, the table was littered with a bewildering array of minerals and chemicals, each in its own, little folded paper cup and labelled in Gathercole’s hurried scrawl. There was silicon, germanium, crystalline tin, iron pyrites, sulphur, red selenium, oxide of uranium and even a single, red-cast diamond. This last piece stuck in place with a gob of spirit-gum, just in case. Finally, there were a few little fragments of rock crystal, carefully marked ‘dig site’.

Gathercole finally remembered the cigarette and stubbed it out amongst its fallen brothers in his beaten-copper ashtray, and continued his work. One after another, he was testing the radios with different substances. Replacing one crystal with another, painstakingly tuning the radio and it’s power level, referencing his notebooks, making notes and taking it all apart again.

Crispin’s head appeared through the square entry to the attic, hair tousled, eyes bruised and watery, a childish pout upon his lips.

“William, chap, is there the slightest possibility you could cease all this infernal radio screeching. I have the most beastly hangover.”

Gathercole carefully set the Ersa to one side, ensuring the nib was not in contact with the table.

“I’m inspired, Crispin. I have to pursue this line of thought to its end, or I shan’t be able to rest.”

Crispin clambered up the ladder the rest of the way into the attic. “I shan’t be able to rest until you stop. What the bloody hell are you doing anyway?”

“Since you ask…”

Crispin groaned, too late in realising his mistake, and sat – in his pyjamas – on an old valise to endure the lecture.

“… I’m sure you’re aware that until recently radios used crystals as a rectifier.”

“I did not know that. Nor do I know what a rectifier is.”

“Well, for your sake we can consider it to be a sort of translator. Radio waves are translated by the rectifier, typically galena crystals, into a signal that can be resolved as sound. Valves and amplifiers have made them outdated, which means I picked up these old radios and their headsets rather cheaply.”

“Hurrah,” Crispin absently patted his pyjama pockets in a futile quest for a cigarette. “Lend me a Dunhill, would you?”

Gathercole obliged. “Well, there’s no reason why other semi-conducting crystals shouldn’t be used. We use galena for convenience. I hypothesise that certain types of crystal may be better suited to tuning into the energistic vibrations of the spirit plane and, thereby, translating them into sound.”

His lighter flicked and Crispin sat back, taking a long drag on the cigarette. “Hence all the shrieking, the very cries of the damned.”

“If only,” Gathercole sighed wistfully. “Alas, it only seems to be interference. No tones or voices, no signals from the beyond as yet. Despite amplifying the signal using the more modern technology and despite focussing on the signal range that seems to trouble the spirits the most when we use the radio pentacle.”

“Perhaps,” Crispin opined. “Perhaps the spirits don’t like that frequency, which is why they react so badly to it. In which case, they would hardly be transmitting at that frequency, right? We find middle C with C sharp above rather jarring and unpleasant, and so we don’t play it in our musical combinations. Unless one is deliberately perverse of course.”

Gathercole considered that for a moment. “You may well be right, in which case, I need to re-test all these samples.”

As Gathercole turned back to the radios and they began to shriek again, Crispin retreated back down the ladder. “I’m going to the bloody pub for a late breakfast and the hair of the dog, I intend to stay there until I’m sure you’ve wound up this infernal racket.”

Gathercole vaguely waved, not really paying attention.

Hours of hard work, breathing in the fumes from the soldering iron, fingers raw from the pricking ends and twisting coils of wire, Gathercole finally thought he heard something. Was it simply ringing from straining to hear anything? He was fixated upon even the slightest sound to the degree that his own heartbeat and the shifting joint of his jaw had already given him false alarms.

His hand moved, almost imperceptibly, on the dials. He clutched the headphones tighter to his head, closed his eyes and held his breath.

No, there was something, a voice, the faintest and most indistinct hint of a voice, buzzing and alien, but definitely forming syllables. Was it English or some other language? John Dee’s language of the angels, or something more esoteric? What would they speak in hell? English? German? Both?

He frowned furiously, eyes screwed tightly shut as he tinkered, gingerly amplifying the signal, turning up the power through his ersatz spiderweb of wiring.

…zzzilzzzeazzz…

Zil? Eaz? He was missing something, some crucial element. Could the spirits hear him? Past experience appeared to suggest that the abnatural world could perceive the natural one, without special equipment or capabilities. There was no harm in trying.

“Spirits! Can you hear me?” He called out, in a slightly faltering voice.

…zzzzonfirmedzzzz…

Confirmed! Clear as day.

“Do you have any messages for me?” Again he strained to listen, held his breath and closed his eyes so tight that patterns of phosphenes strobed across his vision.

…zzzdeathzzzzzundredzzz…

“Hundreds of deaths? Are you trying to warn me of something, ghost? Are you playing a trick on me? Who will die? How many?”

…zzzzzincesszzzz…

A princess? Perhaps Princess Elizabeth, barely more than a year old. Who or what could threaten royalty in such a way, let alone hundreds of deaths? Gathercole’s mind raced, scattershot, trying to imagine such a tragedy. Irish republicans perhaps, or some bomb-flinging anarchist. More likely, however, was the idea that the spirits were lying to him. Every witch-book and grimoire he had ever perused would suggest so, as would the very Bible itself.

There was a sudden creak, far louder than the radio signal, and Gathercole started, twisting his head towards the source. Crispin’s head, combed and neat this time, already smoking, stuck up through the attic’s hole.

“By Jove, are you still at it? Did you even have luncheon?”

Gathercole took off his headset. “No, I got lost in the work, but I am hungry now you mention it. I shall come down for some tea and something to eat in a moment. I want you to listen to this though, I think I’ve had a result.”

Gathercole proffered the headset and, with some reluctance, Crispin climbed the rest of the way in. He swayed – a little drunkenly – over to the table and put on the headset to listen.

Gathercole watched Crispin’s expression as he concentrated on the sound. At first, he simply looked annoyed. After a time there was a look of surprise, and then a more serious visage of concentration – eyes closed, holding the headset on with both hands.

Things continued in this vein for some time. Gathercole searched Crispin’s face for any sign, any recognition, any confirmation of what he had heard.

Crispin’s eyebrows shot up for a second time, but then – perplexingly – his mouth turned into a rather smug-looking smile. He listened still, for an agonisingly long moment and then slowly took the headphones off again.

“Do you hear it?” Gathercole was practically vibrating in anticipation, but Crispin wasn’t giving anything away.

“I need to show you something. Come downstairs. I’ll make you something to eat, you needn’t bother doing it yourself.”

Gathercole frowned but did as he was bidden, following Crispin down the creaky ladder and back into the more civilised parts of the house, away from the dust and electronic detritus, blinking into the light. Crispin led him, gently, into the kitchen and turned on the radio, busying himself at the stove with some bacon as Gathercole stood, at a loose end, beside the table.

“What are you showing me?” Gathercole frowned, twisting left and right and twisting his lips to one side of his face in consternation.

Crispin pressed his finger to his lips and then pointed to the radio, as bacon began to sizzle in the pan.

It was a news bulletin on the BBC, the usual dull goings-on in the world. Crispin was addicted to current affairs, forever burying his head in a newspaper or sat near the radio. He always had the worries of the world buzzing in his ear. Gathercole, for his part, found it far too distracting from his studies and experiments. He only showed interest in the worlds of science and the abnormal. The mundane progress of laws, or the threat of another war, that was unbearable.

Gathercole frowned as he listened, and then swore as it became clear.

“…Terrible news from Brazil. The liner the SS Principessa Mafalda, out of Italy, suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure and sank, with the loss of some three-hundred souls…”

“Ah. Bugger,” Gathercole growled, now the hazy words from the radio made sense. Not spirits from beyond, but the BBC signal breaking through his slapdash improvisations and reconstructions. “Not everything can be supernatural, I suppose, failures are still results, and useful ones.”

“I know your pride stings William, you’re still the only spiritualist I know who isn’t a liar and a fraud. Here,” he set the little plate down on the table. “Bacon sandwich, no crusts.”

“Let me just go and turn everything off. Any chance of a cup of coffee?”

“Every chance.”

Gathercole trudged up back up the stairs and wearily clambered up the ladder, drifting around the room as he half-heartedly tidied up and closed the window.

“It’s getting cold!” Came a shout from below.

Gathercole stopped by the radio which was still humming and crackling, emitting the occasional noise. He held the earphones up one last time and gave the dial a slow turn.

…gzzzlazzz…

Half a word, ‘glass’ perhaps, then hideous piping, distorted and alien through the tangled mess of his Frankenstein’s wireless. He switched it off with a slight chuckle.

“Doesn’t do to become too persuaded of one’s own genius,” he murmured to himself, and then realised that he really was hungry after all.

I’m having a major depressive episode.

A downswing anyway, and a couple of harsh events kicking me while I’m down.

Not suicidal, don’t worry. People know, people are looking out for me and checking in on me. I’m just having a hard time doing more than the bare minimum* and keeping up with my pre-existing commitments.

I might be even grumpier, shorter and more sarcastic than usual.

I’ll do what I can manage, but it’s a clench-your-teeth and ride it out sort of situation.

*The bear minimum is one bear, specifically a sun bear cub, as these are the smallest extant species of bear.

Gathercole awoke, slowly and stretched out his arm. The sheets and blanket always felt particularly heavy first thing in the morning, even without the eiderdown. The space next to him was empty and cool. How late had he overslept?

He’d stayed up rather late reading a manifestly disturbing article that been rejected from Scientific American. It purported to be written by one ‘Cecile Ambrose’ of Maine and discussed a reversal of Edison’s sketch of an idea that spirits might be able to influence delicate machines. It was the opinion of the writer that one could amplify spirits by a combination of human will and electromagnetism.

This ‘Cecile’ wrote with a very masculine voice, salacious and heavy with implication. While Edison barely groped at the possibilities Gathercole had uncovered, this ‘Cecile’ almost seemed to be a shadowy counterpart to his own studies. The article had left him disturbed and had given him a restless night, even though it was three in the morning by the time he finally joined a riotously snoring Crispin between the sheets.

He rubbed his face with both hands and slapped himself on the cheeks to rouse himself, summoning the energy to rise. After-images from his dreams still lingered, a big cat with blood on its muzzle, a mummified man, things that made little or no sense – as dreams seldom did. He threw on his blue-striped bathrobe and stumbled down the creaking stairwell to the kitchen.

Crispin was at the table in his wine-red pyjamas, his back to the stairs. He looked uncharacteristically tousled and hadn’t yet shaved. Gathercole couldn’t help but smile, seeing him in such a state.

“I do like it when you’re still here in the morning,” Gathercole smiled and stroked his hand across Crispin’s shoulders on his way to the electric oven.

He paused there, in front of the device. The toasting frames were sat atop the oven, smoking slightly. Crispin had been making him breakfast, so it seemed.

“You, ah, shouldn’t have,” Gathercole lifted one of the frames gingerly in a dishcloth. It was black on one side and completely pale on the other.

“Hmm?”

Gathercole’s attention slowly focussed. The blackened toast, the tea – no longer steaming in its cup. The darkened, congealed yolk of Crispin’s egg. He was just staring at the newspaper, barely responding.

“What’s the matter, Crispin?” Gathercole leaned forward and gently touched his hand. Crispin jumped.

“William, please, read this and tell me if I’ve gone mad.” His voice quavered as he tore out the page and handed it over.

Gathercole read it carefully, saying the words out loud.

“Obituaries… which one Crispin?”

“You’ll know.”

Gathercole’s lips moved slightly as he made his way down the list, before abruptly stopping. “Miss Ada Carter, lately of Birkbeck College, taken from this world on the 13th of July at the too-young age of twenty. A closed-casket funeral will be announced. Let her name be ever the household word that it always was.”

He paused a long breath, struggling to breathe and to maintain his composure.

“Ada’s dead.”

Crispin nodded.

“Our Ada, the girl from the university that we rescued.”

Crispin nodded again.

“But we rescued her!” Gathercole’s voice broke, and his legs began to shake. Crispin sprang from his seat, though he was as ashen-faced as Gathercole, gathering him in his arms and holding him tight.

“I know, William. We did our best.”

Gathercole wept, burying his face in his lover’s shoulder. “It’s not bloody fair. I should have known. I should have seen. I should have done more.”

“It’s alright, William, you did all you could. You couldn’t have known.”

Gathercole took a deep, steadying breath and stepped back a little, out of Crispin’s arms, though their hands lingered together. The tears stopped, and his brow furrowed as he fiercely thought.

“The thirteenth, of course, curse me for a fool. The Moon, Crispin. It’s the bloody Moon. We have to go back to the university. I know what we have to do.”

“Of course, William. We’ll make sure this never happens again, for Ada.”

“For Ada.”


“I can’t believe they wouldn’t let us in,” Gathercole smashed his hand against the dashboard of the car with a thump.

“Calm down William. How would you react if you’d had a bunch of ripe young minds and a professor killed, wouldn’t you be wary? Especially a man who, according to student prattle, had performed some sort of exorcism. An exorcism which, even if you believed in that sort of thing, didn’t work? Especially when he comes barging into the university demanding access to historical finds and uses the word – and I quote – cursed?” Crispin’s knuckles tightened on the steering wheel as he strained to keep his voice level.

“Well, when you put it like that…” Gathercole sighed and rubbed his temples with his fingertips.

“You’re the rational one, not me. You’re the brain, and I’m the heart. You’re the bile, and I’m the blood.”

“Lord spare me the dubious benefits of classical education. You can’t compare me to Plato or David, or even Diogenes? You have to compare me to pus? You call yourself a writer, an artist?”

“You know full well what I meant.”

Gathercole smiled and leant across the car to kiss Crispin on the cheek, smiling wider as he twitched away from his lips.

“Not in public. I know Crispin.”

“So what do we do?”

“If we wait for nightfall someone else might die who has handled the finds, but if we break in while the sun is up, we’re more likely to get caught.” Gathercole rubbed at his chin with his fingertips and considered.

“People are walking in and out all the time, it being a university and all. It’s not the getting in that’s the problem, it’s the being recognised and the police being called. Wouldn’t be the first time in a jail cell for me, but I’d rather it served a purpose.”

“Then we slip in the back, find the finds, we only need be there a moment, long enough to destroy the artefacts that are causing this. Then we can leave. Maybe nobody will see us, and we can deny the whole thing.”

Crispin turned his head and stared directly at Gathercole. “Bloody hell. That is not much of a plan.”

Gathercole levered open the door and swept out, leaning back in through the open door. “So, are you coming or not?”


Crispin trailed behind Gathercole, unsure and deeply uncomfortable, doing a terrible impression of someone trying to sneak.

“You have to promise me,” he hissed. “That we won’t be creeping around any more schools, at least any time soon.”

“I’m fairly sure it was this way.” Gathercole nodded to a confused looking student as they passed him in the hall.

“It has been a month Gathercole, surely they’ve packed them away somewhere by now, no?”

“You spent time in academia, surely you know better than that? Not to mention everyone who was really involved in this dig is dead. Remember?”

Crispin’s mouth turned down, and his brow furrowed. “You were joking and smiling. I thought you might be feeling a little better.”

“I’m not about to forget why we’re here.” Gathercole stopped and turned back to Crispin, looking him full in the eye. “We know there’s a life beyond death, of some sort. We’re privileged that way. It’s not her death, so much as its manner that upsets me. The pointlessness of it. The brutality of it. That, and I told her she was safe. These… spirits… made a liar of me.”

Crispin just mutely nodded, and as they rounded the corner of the next corridor, things began to look somewhat familiar.

“Here…” Gathercole twisted the handle. “Bugger, locked.”

“My turn then,” Crispin elbowed up the door and snapped the arm off his fountain pen, fiddling at the lock with the fragment of metal. “And to think, you disapprove of my scandalous ways. Where would we be now if I hadn’t kept breaking out of boarding school?”

“And into the other chaps trunks, to pilfer their tuck.”

“Guilty.”

The lock clicked, and they slipped through, Gathercole’s groping hand found the switch and the lights came up with dazzling brightness and a single ‘plink’ as the filament popped on one of the overhead lamps.

“Oh thank God,” Gathercole darted across the room to the crates and began to lever them open with his bare hands, rifling through the straw with a hasty lack of care. “They must be here somewhere.”

More warily, Crispin followed suit. Levering off the lids with another piece of wood. Together they sorted through the boxes one by one, picking up speed, setting the finds on the floor one after another, entirely out of order.

“Found them!” Gathercole scooped his hands under the straw and lifted out two heavy stones.

They were crudely wrought, angular and black, each the size of a pair of tennis balls, shot through with glittering veins of green and blue. Gathercole shivered as he stood, holding one in each hand. He lifted one arm and looked at his wrist, as the hairs twitched to attention.

“They’re cold. Very cold. I can feel the power in them.”

“So bloody well smash them, and let’s get out of here.”

Gathercole raised his arm over his head and stared at the floor, hesitating.

“WHIT THA HELL IS GAUN OAN HERE?”

They both startled. Gathercole dropped the wolf-head for a moment before awkwardly catching it.

“Sìol… it’s ye pair a scunners. Git th’ hell oot o’ ‘ere, afore ah call the polis!” The squat little man balled up his fists, his face turned scarlet from his cheeks to his bald pate, and he was a meaty fellow for a short professor.

Crispin interposed himself, sideways, between Gathercole and the angry scot. “Now, my dear fellow, there’s no need for an altercation here. We’re still trying to put an end to this.”

“Wi’ yer doolally nonsense aboot bogles’ n’ banshees’ n’ wolves? Awa’ an bile yer heid, ye bampot.” The short man tried to barrel past Crispin, a bundle of fury, tweed and pipesmoke.

Crispin laid his hand against the man’s shoulder and held him back. “Wee man, leave him to his work unless you want more deaths on your conscience. Mr Gathercole knows what he’s doing. It’s best to stay out of his way.”

“Ye gonnae stop me, ye wee streak a’ piss? Ah’ll be damned if some buggerer keeps me frae stopping ye.” The little man prodded Crispin repeatedly in the chest, forcing him two steps back.

“Fuck it.”

Crispin sucker-punched the Scotsman with a perfect and powerful right, sending the little man sprawling, hitting his head on the floor. “This buggerer,” he said, straightening his jacket. “Earned his stripe going toe-to-toe with the Bosch, trench raiding in Hohenzollern. Have a lie-down, you ghastly little man.”

He turned, wiping blood off his knuckles with his’ kerchief. “Smash the bloody thing William, before this turns into even more of a snarl.”

Gathercole shook his head. “I can’t, these things aren’t exactly evil, they’re old, and they’re something real, with genuine power. They’re a window into the past we’re just not ready for yet.”

Crispin paced back across the room to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Everyone who has handled them has been killed. If we don’t destroy them, this man will have a lot more than a bruised jaw, and you will die as well. Let me destroy them if you can’t. I couldn’t bear to see you die. It would shatter me to lose anyone else.”

Gathercole smiled, and the smile turned into a wide-eyed look of realisation. “What if we took them back? Where was it? Coldham? They’re all tagged with where, exactly, they were found?”

“It’s a hell of a drive.”

“Do you know the way?”

“There’s a map in the car, we’ll make do.”

Gathercole pointed towards the slumped Scotsman, who was snoring through his busted chops. “We need to bring him.”

Crispin sighed, and the pair of them stepped over to the unconscious man. Crispin wiped the blood from the man’s face, and Gathercole emptied his hip flask into his mouth and onto his tweed. “That should silence a few of the questions.”

Together they held him up, dragging his feet as they took him out of the university, the pair of malevolent wolf-heads safely ensconced in Gathercole’s bundled jacket.


The drive might have been pleasant if it were not for the sense of unease the wolf-heads created, or for the muffled cursing and writhing thumps of the bound and gagged Scotsman on the back seat. It was a balmy day and for all the drive was long, they made good time. The sky was finally starting to darken as the car bumped along the tractor trail that ran up to the Coldham field.

Finally, the back tyre fell deep into a rut, and with a scatter of gravel and sandy soil, the car ground to a halt.

“Well, we’re not getting any further without the help of a friendly horse or tractor.” Crispin had taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, but there was nothing for it but to carry the angry scots professor and the wolf-heads the rest of the way on foot.

Twilight barely darkened the sky before the full Moon climbed in the stead of the sun. Away from the lights of the towns and cities, the Moon outshone everything. There was but a scattering of stars and not a sign of that great band of the milky way. The reflected light drained everything of most, but not all, of its colour, giving the landscape a dream-like quality as the air became heavy and damp.

“Blow this,” Crispin grumbled. “I haven’t sweated like this since the bloody war. This Scots bastard isn’t helping any with all his grousing and struggling.”

Gathercole stopped and leaned down to the bald professor’s level. “Professor Sievwright, I have my service pistol with me, and I assure you I shall have no compunction whatsoever about shooting you and burying you in a shallow grave to be found by some future archaeologist. This is a matter of life and death and if we do not get to the Coldham site in time, you will die anyway. Whether you consider us insane for our ramblings about ghosts and spirits or not is immaterial, if you’re going to die anyway, I should rather shoot you now than have to witness you being torn apart by wolves. Am I clear?”

The gagged man stared, wild-eyed, furious, but then the sincerity of Gathercole’s voice took hold and mutely, he nodded, and began to walk under his own steam.

“You should have been the poet, old man, not me.” Crispin chuckled, keeping a steering arm on the professor’s elbow.

Feelan’s copse appeared out of the field, a sudden dip in the land, untouched by ploughshare, coppice or crop. The way it sat, from a distance it seemed like gorse or other bushes, low to the ground, but when you came upon it, it was a grove of ancient trees, appearing like they sprang from beneath the earth itself.

England had forests and woods in plentiful enough number, but this was different. Barely an inch of the whole Island of Britain was untouched by man. Forests were managed, wood was harvested, gamekeepers and farmers cleared the deadwood, cut down the diseased trees, opened the canopy.

Feelan’s copse was different.

While its constituents were the same – trees and stumps, logs and fallen branches, brambles everywhere. Here they were a tumble, a tangle, breaking down and fighting with each other in glorious profusion.

Here were the ragged ends of dog violets at the edges, the first blooms of deadly nightshade, dog roses fighting with the bramble for supremacy, tall foxgloves aloof and swaying in the slight breeze.

There, deeper in, the flowers gave way to ferns and moss. Thick sleeves of cushiony green tamarisk throttling the ivy which, in turn, strove to strangle the trees from below, while the mistletoe choked them from above.

As they stepped through the undergrowth, the damp and dusty smell of the wood and soil was occasionally cut through with the sharp sting of alium.

“You can see why this place was sacred,” Gathercole ran his hands across one mossy trunk. “Everything they could possibly have needed, all in one place, and a place that is so nearly beneath the earth. A gateway to the underworld.”

Then they found it, the spot where the archaeologists had dug. Months of summer regrowth couldn’t mask it all, their digging had left a visible scar upon the land. Bare earth, with the first few weeds beginning to sprout, here the butt of a discarded cigarette, there a glass bottle of stout or ginger beer.

Gathercole unwrapped his bundled jacket, and placed the wolf-heads reverently on the ground, hunkering down to examine the note in the little moonlight that still managed to find a way through the canopy.

“If I can just figure out their grid system, we can put these back.”

“And then this will all stop?” Crispin called across the clearing, his hand still on the professor’s elbow.

“One can hope.”

The stillness of the night was split asunder by a distant howl. A pair of voices, twined like a rope, ululating over and above one another. They seemed to grow louder with each and every passing moment.

“Ungag him!” Gathercole cried, snatching up the wolf heads once more.

Crispin obeyed, yanking the spit-soaked sock out of the Scotsman’s mouth.

He took a moment, spitting into the ferns, red-faced and angry, glowering as he raised his own voice. “Let me gae, ‘n’ a willnae report ye tae th’ polis.”

Gathercole paced closer to him and held up one of the wolf heads, right before the professor’s bloodshot eyes. “Professor, that howling you hear comes from the guardians of these stones. I believe you are the next target for their ire, being the next person in line who handled and defiled these stones. To stop them, we must put the stones back, in the right place. Here’s the tag, tell me where that is.”

“Ah wisnae here oan th’ howk. How wid ah ken where is gaes?” The man shrugged and pulled at his ties. “Let me gae, ye pair o’ fuckin’ sodomites!”

No matter how hard he struggled, those ropes weren’t budging.

The howling came closer, louder than their conversation. The wind seemed to pick up, rustling the leaves, and a thrashing went through the wood. The sound appeared to come from everywhere at once. Twigs snapping, logs splintering as the giant, invisible beasts charged through the trees.

“Guess. You know how this works. We don’t. I think you have about thirty seconds to get it right. Crispin will untie you, so you can at least run, provided that you tell us.”

“Fuck. Ah dinnae ken. Thar, aboot six feet back fae whaur ye were before. Twa big sidesteps tae mah left.”

Gathercole hurried, kneeling down in the dirt, scooping with his hands, grubbing in the soil hurriedly. Crispin let go of the professor and hurried over alongside him. Standing between him and the onrushing sound of the spirits.

“I bloody hope you’re right about this.”

For a moment, the professor looked like he was about to run, but the sounds were undeniable now. It was a roaring snarl, branches swaying as the things came to the edge of the clearing. Instead of fleeing, he waddled on his bound legs to stay close – but not too close – to Gathercole and Crispin.

The charging sounds came to a halt, and at the fringe of the clearing, the shadows seemed to gather, to twist and turn until a pair of giant, shadowy figures seemed to pace and loom, red eyes glooming in the twilight.

“Jesus, whit th’ hell ur they? Whit ur thay? This cannae be real?” The professor fell back into the dirt, scrambling and squirming backwards in the earth. “Halp!”

“NA HIONRÓIRÍ!”
“NA HIONRÓIRÍ!”

Chanted the shades as they prowled, clawing the air.

“Latin, they understood Latin, didn’t they?” Crispin balled his hands into fists, interposing himself between the red-eyed spectres and Gathercole, who was pushing the soft dirt back over the wolf heads.

“Amici, uh… obsecro ira. Omnis conposui capitibus…blast… vestris!” Gathercole raised his filthy hands. “Pax! Pax! Iniuriam nullam… in animo… havi… no… habemus!”

“Your Latin is bloody terrible,” Crispin whispered through gritted teeth. “Let’s hope they’re not like my old Classics Master or we’re going to have sore backsides and skinned knuckles.”

Gathercole slowly stood and tugged on Crispin’s arm, sliding his hand into his and squeezing. “Come on, let’s get out of the way.” Together they moved back, step by step as the shades flicker-stepped closer, twining around each other, flowing in shape between wolf and man until they reached the fresh-turned ground where they stopped, crouching, touching the earth.

“BALLAGH LEAT!”
“BALLAGH LEAT!”

A pair of smoke-like arms stabbed fingers, pointing out of the woods, along the trail.

Between them, Gathercole and Crispin gathered up the whimpering professor and picked their way out of the woods on rubbery legs to find the comfort of the car, light, humanity and a drink at the nearest pub.

They’d raise a glass to Ada, together.