Posts Tagged ‘Moon’

Part Two: A Failure of Imagination

“Good Lord, this is tiresome.” Gathercole closed the cover of yet another archaeological journal and placed it face down, reaching to the pile for another. “Are we sure this is everything?”

“Everything that’s been published.” Crispin was still in a state of dudgeon from the early morning, but he was dutifully ploughing his way through his own share of the journals.

Gathercole stifled a yawn. “We are looking for something meaningful, something singular, something that speaks to ritual or ab-natural forces. This Professor Bradley seems driven to paroxysms of near sensual joy by a few fragments of pot.”

“Why couldn’t he be interested in the Romans or the Greeks? What I wouldn’t give for a plate illustration of a saucy mosaic or a wall-painting of Apollo about now. Instead, it’s pieces of pot, animal bones and the occasional rusted lump that might, perhaps, in a certain light, be a cloak pin.”

“This is like finding hen’s teeth,” Gathercole harrumphed and turned back a page, having lost focus.

Crispin raised a finger. “All chicks have a special structure on their beak called an egg tooth, which they use to breatk their shell. So a hen’s tooth would be much easier to find than this.”

A white-haired librarian woman with thick glasses appeared around one of the stacks. “Would you mind keeping it down, gentlemen? Students are trying to learn.”

“I do apologise madam.” Gathercole inclined his head slightly.

“Oh, Professor Bradley’s work? Poor man. We’re all quite distraught to hear of his passing. One wonders who could do such a thing.” The woman tutted and shook her head.

“Or what…” Gathercole opined before Crispin gave him a sharp look. “I’m sorry, we’re assisting the police in the matter of his passing. Is this all his work? We’re hoping we might find some clue.”

“Oh, yes, this is everything. Everything that has been published at least. I pride myself on a complete catalogue, at least as it relates to the university and the record of work relating to it.”

“So there is unpublished work?” Gathercole leaned forward in the soft, yielding leather seat, which resisted his efforts.

“Yes, it can take a long time to make revisions and so forth to get published. There’s two or three papers he’s been working on, and everything relating to the Coldham dig site of course.” She couldn’t help herself, and she bent down to tidy the chaotic stacks of journals they had left strewn over the table.

“The Coldham dig site?” Gathercole was standing now, and Crispin reluctantly followed him up to his feet.

“Feelan’s Copse, find of a lifetime he said. Forever harping on about the amateur archaeologists of the past stamping around like elephants. This place was unspoilt, he said. They finished the dig not too long ago.”

“And his work on this site would be where?”

“Well, in his office.”

“Thank you, you’ve been most helpful!” Gathercole strode away on his long legs, leaving Crispin to offer the librarian his hurried apologies before he gave pursuit.

The Professor’s study wasn’t in a position of particularly good standing, tucked away in a warren of rooms and corridors, far from the light of the sun and thick with dust. There was nobody to stop them, and it wasn’t locked, but the state of the room left a great deal to be desired. The police had, clearly, already been here and while they had methodically swept the room for clues, they had not put everything back in the precise order that, presumably, the Professor had kept things in.

Gathercole began to methodically work his way through the papers and notes while Crispin half-heartedly leafed through bits and pieces and ran his fingertips across the folders on the shelves, not entirely sure what he was looking for. It took hours, and even Gathercole’s tenacious and analytical mind began to fray a little around the edges.

“Blast it, Crispin, there’s nothing here about Coldham or Feelan’s Copse other than this near illegible note begging the bursar for some funds. Another blasted dead end.”

“Hmm?” Crispin had fallen asleep a while go, in the battered arm chair that was the only other furniture in the room.

“You could have at least pretended to help for a little longer,” Gathercole snapped at him, reproachfully and got up. The study chair rolled back on its wheels into a stack of books and Gathercole yanked the door to the study open. He almost got a punch in the face, a pair of young men were standing there, one mid-knock upon the door, almost overbalancing as the door opened before him.

“Good Lord!” The first student gasped. “I’m so sorry!”

Gathercole gathered himself with a slight cough, straightening the lapels of his pale suit. “Quite alright young fellow, can I help you with anything?”

The first man looked a little crestfallen at the question, his friend, in a rather natty straw skimmer with a band in the university colours, burgundy and black, spoke up. “We are students of Professor Bradley, old boy. Were, rather, I should say. We’re trying to make do until we get a new Professor and we drew the short straw to look up the lesson plans and the last papers we handed in.”

“Who are you exactly?” The glum-looking, hatless student looked up.

“We’re consultants for the constabulary,” Crispin spoke up as Gathercole was lost for words for a moment. “We’re investigating his death, supplementing their work.”

“We may be able to help you with the papers and lesson plans, we’ve gone through this whole office. One moment.”

Gathercole ducked back into the office and tugged the papers from the shelf, holding them out to the students.

As the hatless young man was about to take them, Gathercole pulled them back, as though changing his mind. “Perhaps you could help us in return? It seems like a lot of the records are missing, particularly about the most recent dig?”

“Ah,” said the skimmer-wearer. “Well, that was only just finished, it’s all still in process. Laid out in one of the storerooms. It’s going to be a bit of a task to get everything in order without the Professor. He was a frightful stickler for doing things properly, the blighter, but a wise old head on matters scientific.”

“You can show me where these finds are?”

“Of course sir, happy to.”

Gathercole gave over the paperwork, and the two young fellows led them through the impenetrably labyrinthine corridors of the university.

Crispin trailed along beside, still thoroughly bored, though he’d seemed to have lightened up a little in the company of the student boys. “This is starting to take me back a bit Gathercole, pair of handsome of bucks like this, almost enough to make me miss it.”

“You’re incorrigible, Crispin.” Gathercole gave him an affectionate biff on the arm as they followed the students into the storeroom.

Electric lights brightened as they warmed up, a series of overhead metal lamps that gave the cement floor and brick walls an even more stark and unforgiving look than they would already have had. All over the floor were crates and boxes of finds, trinkets, broken cloak-ins, pieces of broken pottery, coins, carved stones with spirals upon their surfaces and more.

Gathercole began to move through the finds, mentally cataloguing them as he did, searching for the ineffable something that smacked of the ab-natural.

“The Professor recorded where everything was found in these notebooks, we’d begun double-checking everything. The low numbers are the outer finds, the high numbers are the inner finds. Letters indicate what manner of find it was, roughly most significant to least significant, ‘A’ through ‘Z’. Everything’s labelled too.” Said skimmer-boy.

“I say, William, this crate’s still closed. The label says one-‘A’,” Crispin called out. “I say, fellows, what’s in this one?”

“That’s the chap who was buried in the mound. Fragile skeletal remains, some grave goods. We hadn’t finished indexing them when what happened, happened.” The hatless lad was still rather dour and sad.

“Can we open it up?” Gathercole moved to the crate and rested his hand upon it.

“Na ye bloody-well kin nae open it up!” They all turned and the bellowing shout. It was a short, bald man in red-brown tweed, with a robust scots accent. He puffed on his pipe and growled around it, giving him the appearance of a rather red-faced steam locomotive. “Grey, Winston! Explain yersel, who oor thaese men, eh?”

Skimmer spoke up. “Sorry Professor Sievwright! They’re working with the police on Professor Bradley’s death. They asked to see the finds.”

“And did yae ask for their credentials?” Sievwright’s accent faded as his fury abated, though clearly, it took effort.

“No, sir.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Away wi’ ye, and as for you two gentlemen. Gae oot!” The accent came back as quickly as it had faded as his face reddened again.

“Sir, if we’re to solve this case we simply must…” Gathercole strove to be diplomatic, but they were all interrupted a second time.

This time it was a young woman, togs and boots, a flowy blouse, a tam on her head, she cut quite the modern figure. She was white as a sheet, though, and her voice was all a-quiver. “Professor, Winnie, Flusher, there’s been another death. It’s Willy. Like Bradders, at his boarding house. The police won’t let anyone see him!”

Gathercole and Crispin shared a glance, that settled it. There were more urgent things afoot than a box. The scots guard dog could wait.

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goth_santa_rules_by_aliencatxIt was a dark and stormy night.

Actually it wasn’t. A little windy perhaps, and it was dark, but it wasn’t stormy by any stretch of the imagination. The point is that opening a story is difficult and perhaps – if you see a horrible cliché – a slightly less horrible cliché won’t seem quite so bad.


Once upon a time.

See? Doesn’t seem so bad now does it?

Alright, let’s start again…

Once upon a time there was a girl called Moon. She was pretty, in a pale sort of way, but not very popular because she preferred the company of books to boys, liked black more than pink and wanted to grow up to build things rather than to sing songs or be on TV. She also couldn’t bring herself to bear, with good humour, the various bottom jokes that were made about her name.

The other kids didn’t understand her and that was just fine by her. Just so long as they left her alone.

Sadly for Moo, her parents were killed in a freak unicycle accident following the escape of a hippopotamus from the zoo. As a result, she was sent away from the art-filled flat in which she’d lived all her life to complete her maturation in the company of her aunt and uncle out in the country.

Her aunt and uncle couldn’t have been more different than her parents. Where her parents were wild and crazy hipster/artist/flakes her aunt and uncle were sociopathic business people. They had a big, big house in the country with a big, big garden and it was all a long, long way away from the city, the noise, the bustle, the libraries and museums that Moon so loved.

Her aunt and uncle had no children of their own and while love wasn’t something they really understood – not being related to money in any direct way – they were glad to have her. Moon’s adoption provided them with a child without any of that messy kissing, cuddling and pregnancy that neither of them were particularly keen on.

It wasn’t a house that was suited to children, or teenagers, or artists. It was the sort of house that looked like it had never been removed from the box. Not a flake of dust, not a smear, not a fingerprint existed anywhere in the extensive property and everything was ‘just so’. Moon’s little room, tucked out of the way where she couldn’t disturb anyone, was the only little island of chaos in the whole place. She would spend hours and hours there, listening to her iPod, reading her books and sketching. She would spend so long there that sometimes her aunt and uncle forgot she even existed.

It was with a sudden shock – one day – that Moon discovered it was Christmas Eve. The only reason she noticed was that the background on one of the webcomics she read every day from her laptop had turned into animated snow. Her aunt and uncle, she remembered from Halloween, weren’t that keen on holidays.

“Holidays make people lazy,” her uncle had explained over a frighteningly eighties nouvelle cuisine meal one evening. “You shouldn’t give people presents, they come to expect them rather than to work for things themselves. It encourages idleness. As does taking a day off. Ever.”

Moon wouldn’t have agreed. She’d always enjoyed making things and doing things for others. She would write dark little poems, make scary pictures out of macaroni and glitters and send carefully crafted playlists to friends by email. Missing Halloween was bad enough but missing Christmas would be intolerable.

Creeping out of her pants-strewn lair and venturing forth into the antiseptic corridors of the grand house she took perverse pleasure in the little bobbles of fluff her socks left on the factory-fresh carpet and went in search of her aunt and uncle.

She searched the lounge and the bedrooms, all four bathrooms, both studies, the ‘audio-visual room’, the gym, the swimming pool, the granny-annex (unoccupied), the parlour, the smoking room, the conservatory, the breakfast room, the dining room and the ‘entertaining room’ but there was no sign of them.

Eventually she noticed a blinking light on the answering machine in her aunt’s office and, curious, pressed it.

“Moon! We forgot you were there and left on a business trip for a week. Help yourself to food but make sure you keep the place tidy. We will see you when we get back.”

That was that then. Christmas in a big empty house with no way to get anywhere else, nothing to do, nobody to see and all the Christmas cheer of a cancer ward.

That settled it. Her aunt might get angry – more likely she’d just get confused – but Moon was going to have a Christmas and damn the consequences. Systematically she went around the house turning on every television, every radio, every computer until the whole house was ringing out with the clashing sounds of innumerable Christmas songs, a musical hydra, the ultimate mash up.

It wasn’t enough though. The house still felt like the interior of an autoclave. It needed decorations, holly, ivy, tinsel, pinecones. This was a problem though. Her aunt and uncle weren’t the type to have decorations and the tiny amount of glitter and craft materials she had in her girl-cave wouldn’t be enough to decorate the house properly.

There was one place in the house she had never been to – the attic. So far as she knew her aunt and uncle had never been up there either so there was a chance, however small, that some previous owner had left something interesting up there.

It took several jumps and a mildly sprained ankle before Moon admitted defeat and stood on a chair to reach the fold down ladder. That also made climbing the metal steps of the ladder a little painful and slow going. Finally, though, she reached the still, dusty air of the attic and switched on her phone, so she could get a little light.

In the LED glow of the phone the attic was revealed. A stuffy, slope-sided chamber thick with dust, lined with fibreglass and criss-crossed with planks just far enough apart to make you have to hop to avoid falling through the ceiling.

It was also full, gloriously full, of rubbish.
There were boxes and boxes of ‘things’, bags and bags of ‘stuff’. Old rolls of carpet and mouldering books, stacks of old comics – nibbled at the edges by mice. A poo-streaked Dennis the Menace leered at her from the side of the water tank and a pile of old telephones cast a shadow – strikingly reminiscent of Godzilla – against the sloping wall.

With a squee of delight – normally reserved for Youtube videos of kittens – Moon fell ravenously upon the attic’s mounds of junk. She tore through the mushroom-sprouting books, making a quick stack of all the ones she wanted to read and then sprang upon the comics. After that – sneezing from the dust and spores – she caught sight of a big, half-collapsed box marked ‘decorations’ and carefully hopped across the boards to rummage in it.

The moment she plunged her hands into the box – that seemed to be full of fairy lights, jurassic tinsel and faded plastic baubles – she realised something was wrong. This feeling was further compounded when a wrinkly, bearded face erupted from the decorations, scattering nativity figurines in all directions.

“Get off me you crazy girl!”

Moon fell back on her bottom and got a splinter in her left cheek – though she wouldn’t notice for a while. She was nonplussed at the presence of this strange old man in the attic, but somehow he seemed like he belonged here, just like the biscuit tins full of seashells and the old photographs of stern looking Victorians.

“Who are you?” Moon asked, grabbing a cross-beam to pull herself back up to her feet. In the phone light she was getting a better look at the strange old man.

His hair and beard were snow white and ratted into tangles. He wore an old woman’s hat, Edwardian she thought, and his shirt and trousers were crudely stitched together out of dolls clothes and pieces of carpet.

“I’m Tatt,” the old man said, pointing at himself with his thumb. “Who are you and what are you doing in my home?”

“I’m Moon and you’re living in our attic. Without permission I might add.” She didn’t mean to be huffy, but it’s not every day you find a strange man living above your bedroom and a little annoyance seemed to be justified.

“No, no, no. You’re living in my basement. Without permission I might add.” The old man sniffed and clambered out of the box, unfurling a string of fairy lights behind him that flickered into life and filled the attic with a dim, coloured glow.

“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” Moon was forced to admit, hands on hips as she watched the old man potter about.

“So what brings you up here, what are you stealing from me?”

Moon blinked, confused. How was it that she was the one being interrogated? “I was looking for Christmas decorations and how can I steal things nobody wants from a house my aunt and uncle own exactly?”

“Nobody wants?” The old man glared at her. “Things that nobody wants they throw away. Things they can’t stand to throw away but want to keep they put up here. Everything up here is so precious and valuable people want to save it, even if they never touch or look at it again.”

“Fine… all I wanted was the Christmas decorations.” Moon was half convinced she’d spent too long on the internet in one sitting and this was all a dream.

“Oh, is it Christmas?” The old man swapped his hat for the sleeve of a Roxy Music album on vinyl. A heavily made-up pair of breasts stared at Moon from the side of his head, their nipples following her around the room.

“Yes,” Moon nodded. “Though my aunt and uncle aren’t keen on it.”

GothGirl“Will there be television? Food? Presents?” He seemed a little too eager if anything, each question bringing him a step closer until his crooked teeth and lightning-flash nostril hairs were bare inches away from her.

“Yes. I suppose so. I don’t see why not,” Moon did her best to answer. She supposed she could cook something with whatever was in the pantry, though she was a terrible cook.

“Then you may use my decorations, in exchange for letting me join you.” Tatt swept a gracious bow and dumped the tangle of lights and tinsel in her arms.

So it was that Moon got Old Tatt for Christmas, bad food and awful television.

Just like everyone else.

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