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Posts Tagged ‘Mythos’

Part One: The Fate of Nyctimus

The door creaked open, swollen slightly in its frame from the wet of the summer storm. The petrichor scent was still rising from the hot streets, strong enough that it even masked the copper-rust smell of the room.

“I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble for this, but I’m fresh out of ideas, and this whole affair made me think of you.”

He was a tall, lanky man, surprisingly graceful and topped with a shock of red hair that – other than its colour – wouldn’t have looked out of place on a negro. It was – somewhat haphazardly, pushed down beneath a rolled derby and otherwise, his appearance was impeccable.

“I’m flattered Detective Constable,” Gathercole smiled slightly and picked his way over the threshold like a ballerina en pointe, careful to disturb little.

“I’m off the clock old boy, call me Charlie,” said the detective, following in Gathercole’s wake.

Gathercole paused and covered his hand with the bright blue handkerchief from his breast pocket, quite the contrast to his pale cream jacket. So protected, he flipped on the electric light and revealed a shocking scene.

The rooms were of impeccable taste, a fascinating – but balanced – the contrast between the old and the new.

There were shelves, heavy with books and ornaments, some of which seemed like nothing but rubbish. There were fragments of broken pot, pieces of stone, a few old coins. These were presented just as proudly as the modern clock on the mantle, or the standing lamps in the shape of half-naked dancers, scandalous – but rendered slightly more tasteful by the angular form of their sculpting.

The furnishings, similarly, were tasteful and modern, sleek and angular. This sense of tension between the old and new, the tastefulness of the décor, the stylistic ornaments, the artefacts upon the shelves, it was all disrupted by just one interrupting element.

Everything had been splashed with blood. It was as though some geyser of gore had erupted in the centre of the room. Blood splatter reached as far as the ceiling, and despite the best efforts of the police thus far, there were still fragments of viscera dashed about the place with the liberal abandon of wedding confetti.

Gathercole picked his way across and around the room, taking everything in with cold and precise detachment. A magician’s flourish and his notebook and pen appeared, conjuring the chicken-scratch shorthand of his notations across the page.

Detective Constable Wentworth held back, letting Gathercole work, following him with his gaze as the man in white went over the room with methodical, mechanical precision.

Finally, Gathercole stepped back to the detective, and his pen paused against the page.

“The body has been removed, but it is clear that this was a particularly violent death. One that would put a frenzied butcher to shame. The room tells me surprisingly little about the victim, though I would guess that they were a man,” Gathercole glanced to the standing lamps. 

“A man who did not hurt for money,” He continued. “I note that the poker is missing from the fireplace and not to be found, suggesting that they grasped it to defend themselves and that it has been removed from the scene with the body.”

Gathercole moved past Wentworth to the door. “I can’t say I’m much of a fan of open-plan living, though of course, the upper floor is more private. A general-purpose room all but directly off the front door suggests certain things about their character, but I do hate to speculate. The windows are all fastened, and there is no sign of damage, at least down here. The front door, however, is a different matter. I see the wood has been snapped where the door has been forced. There are deep scrapes in the carpet and on the back of this kitchen chair. That suggests that it was barricading the door when it was forced.”

“Ah, that was us Gathercole. He had to force entry to get to the corpse.”

“I see,” Gathercole swiftly crossed out several lines of shorthand.

“In which case, I see no sign of forced ingress on this floor. Wait here.”

Gathercole carefully stepped across the bloodstained room and disappeared into the back rooms for a time, then – leaving his shoes behind – he made his way in stockinged feet up the stairs. It was some time before he returned, sitting on the stairs to re-tie his shoes before he continued.

“No forced windows upstairs, no signs of struggle there. Nor at the back door, though another chair is braced against the rear door. They certainly knew something was coming for them. No soot, so nothing got in down the chimney. What can you tell me about the victim?”

Wentworth fetched his own notebook from his pocket and thumbed through the pages. “Professor Noel Bradley, forty-four years of age, the presumed victim as this is his residence and he hasn’t been seen today. A professor of archaeology at Birkbeck College, University of London. This only happened last night, so we’re still phoning around and gathering statements.”

“What can you tell me about the state of the body?” Gathercole’s pen paused again.

“Well, since I know you’re not squeamish… the poor bugger was torn the shreds. Throat ripped out, guts torn open. There were bite marks all over him. Now, I’m something of an amateur naturalist, and to me, I don’t think this was any dog I’ve ever seen. Not at that size and with the shape of the jaw. If it were anything, it was a freakishly gigantic german shepherd, and personally, I’d put money on a wolf.”

“Not your typical murder weapon, d’you have any theories?” Gathercole screwed the cap back onto his pen, tucking it back into his pocket with his notebook.

“Those sorts of things are well above my rank old boy, but between you and me nobody has the slightest clue. So I called you.”

“I think you were right to,” Gathercole stepped past Wentworth and out onto the damp flagstones of the path. It was steamy and humid now outdoors, and he loosened his tie, blinking at the bright sun.

“If anyone asks, you didn’t hear anything from me. Honestly, though, it seems to me that it would take something unnatural to sneak a dog or dogs into a closed house like that anyway, let alone not to leave any paw prints or hair. It’s all yours.”

Crispin was waiting by the Bedford, smoking a cigarette and frowning slightly against the sun.

They climbed into the car and started it up, Crispin tossing his cigarette out of the window to concentrate on turning the wheel. “Something for us then?”

“I think so, though we’ll have to play it carefully. The police aren’t the most understanding of my experiments.”

“Except Charlie there. He seems quite open to your ideas. How do you know him anyway?”

Gathercole glanced across the car and smiled slightly. “Drag ball near White City, you wouldn’t think it for those sideburns, but he makes a halfway decent flapper in the right dress.”

Silently Crispin’s grip on the steering wheel tightened, and the car began to pick up speed.

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Part Four: Freedom Bound

Upon returning to the apartments, the first order of business was to prepare fall-back protection, no matter how inadequate it might prove. Gathercole had trained Crispin in the basics, and inscribing a protective circle was a matter of drafting skill and practice – not a mystical talent. Crispin drew the signs and symbols around Hodgson’s bed and applied the waters and the garlic oil in the way he had been instructed. While he did this, Gathercole set to, breaking apart the radios and the boxes of his devices and working at them in a feverish state of technological possession.

It took almost every moment of the day, a lot of coffee, a great many biscuits and some of Crispin’s special tincture to get the radio-pentacle fixed.

“Má huáng,” Crispin explained, as he so loved to do, though Hodgson was barely paying attention. “Friend of mine in the war was a recruiter for the Chinese Labour Corps, swore by the stuff. Keeps you awake, keeps you sharp, stimulates the senses. Saved my life at Cambrai…”

“Friend, hmm?” Gathercole looked up from the intricacies of his wiring and valves with an arched eyebrow. “Why are you making nice with the uxoricidal spectre bait?”

Crispin paused, mid anecdote. The pause drew on a fraction too long.

“It means wife-killer,” Gathercole broke the silence. “Though how you can forget with the poor woman’s corpse still down there in the floorboards I do not know.”

“Like you, I saw enough death in the war. It’s a familiar friend,” Crispin muttered, resentfully.

Crispin dropped into a sullen, pouting silence after that, grumpily handing over screwdrivers or pliers as Gathercole demanded.

In the end, though, the task was done. While the boxes and aerials of radio-pentacle were not as neat nor as tidy as they once had been, they held a charge and hummed reassuringly. The power to the house had been restored with a judicious re-wrapping of fuse wire. The restored power ran into a rack of squat-looking batteries which, in turn, powered the peculiar devices.

Gathercole sat back on his haunches, legs akimbo, either side of the boxes of exposed wiring, valves and crystals.

“The bloody thing should work again now and should be able to carry more of a charge. If we lose power, the batteries will hold everything together, and I’ve grounded the whole thing more. It’s as good as I can get it in the time we have.”

Crispin checked his pocket watch. “By the almanack, we have about half an hour left before sunset is fully upon us. Is that when the thing will manifest again?”

Gathercole nodded sagely and began to move the radio-pentacle into position, stepping carefully over the chalk pentagram and the symbols and signs that had been employed in the absence of power to secure Hodgson’s person against the spectre.

Hodgson, for his part, had not slept a wink – and without the aid of coffee or tincture. As the sun began to dim and the light through the cracks in the curtains turned a honeyed, smoky yellow his agitation became worse and worse, shaking in terror on the bed he had not left all day.

They checked and re-checked everything, took another dose of the tincture and settled in to wait, standing this time, alert to every creak and rattle of the house as the cooler air of the night set in. Crispin started at every sound, chewing the inside of his cheeks with tension. Hodgson had regressed to the state of a terrified child, huddled under his sheets and blankets, shaking like a bicycle on cobblestones and whimpering from his huddled ball. For his part, Gathercole stood firm, fixated upon his dials and needles, distracted from fretfulness by a screen of numbers, readings and calculation.

Slowly that same sense of pressure and weight filled the room, the sense of an oncoming storm, the air drew tight and oppressive, stuffy. Crispin reached out a hand and squeezed Gathercole’s shoulder, they shared a nod and as a pair swivelled their heads to watch the bed.

Slowly, imperceptibly at first the shadows lengthened, the light dimmed. Coloured bulbs had not been found in time, so they had replaced only a few fittings in the other rooms with the original bright bulbs. They began to flicker and to seem to dim and then virtually the only light remaining was that of the kerosene lamp. Flame, at least shielded flame, seemed resilient to this ab-natural power.

“The flame isn’t electromagnetic, d’you see?” Gathercole whispered to Crispin, who had taken his hand. Gathercole squeezed it, but then unwound his fingers to rend to his dials.

The shadows gathered about themselves in a manner painful to the eye. Not just an absence of light, but a sort of ‘anti-light’ that seemed to pull the very ability to see from one’s eyes. Gathercole swallowed and looked away.

“Crispin, tell me, in as much detail as you can manage, what is happening. I must tend to the radio-pentacle.”

“It’s darker, like smoke, gathering, perhaps more like a storm cloud. Right at the edge of the pentacle.”

Crispin carried on, raising his voice against the increasing hum of the machine and the stifling, leaden air of the room that robbed every sound of its treble.

“It seems more powerful than before, denser.”

“We need more power,” Gathercole twisted the loose, newly installed dials all the way up.

The aerials crackled and sparked, a sickly, violaceous aura surrounded them, flickering and waving like a flame and giving off the stink of ozone that had become all too familiar.

Crispin carried on, in uncharacteristically terse prose, concentrating on the task in hand – his words – much as Gathercole centred himself upon his technical wizardry as a way to displace the creeping horror of facing the ab-natural.

“THOMAS HODGSON! I AM MURDERED! AT YOUR HAND! YOU MUST PAY! YOU DASHED MY SKULL AND PACKED ME IN THE FLOOR THOMAS!” The spectres voice was deafening, shrill, unaffected by the leaden state of the air.

The shadows gathered into a ball of absolute blackness and smashed into the invisible boundary of the radio-pentacle. The violet aura became a crackling blue halo with each strike, and Gathercole feverishly worked his dials, tuning the frequencies against the resistance, finding the frequency of this ab-natural force, finding the settings – as much by art as science – that would most strongly interfere.

For all its hate and anger, this time the force was more methodical, probing in every direction in all three dimensions, but finding no weakness in Hodgson’s protections. Now though, even the chalk and garlic oil were heating up, making their eyes sore with the allium sting and drip tears down their faces. Gathercole dabbed, one-handed, with his blue silk handkerchief as he continued his work.

“It’s stopped,” hissed Crispin, squeezing Gathercole’s shoulder again.

Gathercole looked up, the creeps were stealing over his shoulders and up to his neck. There was the most peculiar feeling of being watched, though the black cloud of ab-natural darkness had no eyes or features.

There was a pulse, like the quake of an artillery shell. It wasn’t heard, but felt, in the thoracic cavity. It robbed them of breath like a punch to the gut, and in that same instant, every bulb shattered, and the aerials of the radio-pentacle glowed red and began to sag.

But they held.

“I think we’ll be alright,” Gathercole allowed himself a smile to Crispin, and at that moment the aphotic force turned on him.

Gathercole was lifted, almost out of his shoes, by force. In an instant frost rimed his suit, spiderwebbing its way across the pale fabric from every crease. He slammed against the wall, against the blood that was drooling from the cornices.

Crispin leapt to his defence, but the spectral form was as insubstantial as smoke, save where it wanted to be. The cold was bitter, though, turning the first joints of his fingers blue. He tried, numbly, to drag Gathercole down from the wall, but there was simply not the strength.

Gathercole clawed at his throat, collar-button flying, gasping, choking, wheezing out with all the volume he could muster, “Turn it off!”

Crispin froze, but then it dawned on him. He snapped the switch off, and the hum of electrical power instantly stopped.

Gathercole fell from the wall, a puppet with his strings cut, gulping for air like a landed trout.

The force moved like lightning, passing through the empty air that had been crackling with occulted electric energy just moments before. A pillow exploded, filling the air with smouldering feathers, the sheets tore. A screaming Hodgson was hoisted into the air and smashed into the ceiling in a shower of plaster.

Gathercole tried to speak, but over the emasculated shrieking of Hodgson, he couldn’t make himself heard. He crawled, past Crispin’s legs as his friend covered his ears with his hands and shrank away from the violent scene.

Suspended on nothing, Hodgson’s helpless body was slammed from wall to wall, leaving dents and impressions in the plaster and paint, splintering boards. His shrieking became more of a frothing wheeze, blood foaming at his mouth as his ribs gave way. With a terrific thud, he was driven down into the bed, so hard that the frame buckled and the mattress was bent and pushed down into it, clear to the floor.

Gathercole hauled himself up the table he had set his machines upon and slammed the switch.

Power surged back into the aerials of the radio-pentagram and Hodgson was dropped. The stygian force rammed against the barrier from the inside. It was unable to pass, though the antennae began to glow and sag once again. Every strike it made it weakened, dissolving, shrinking, losing its mass until finally, feebly, it seemed to fold back in upon itself and disappear.

It was like the moment a storm finally breaks. There was a palpable sense of relief and released tension. Tentatively Gathercole flicked the switch again, turning off the device.

Nothing happened.

Crispin helped him up the rest of the way and cupped his face, kissing his head again and again. For once, Gathercole relaxed into his attentions and threw his arms around him.

“You did it, William! You only bloody well did it. You’re a rum cove William, but by God, I love you for it.”

Hodgson groaned and gasped from the wreckage of the bed.

“What do we do about him?” Crispin’s tender hold of Gathercole’s face hardened in anger before he drew his hands away.

“He’s not going anywhere. We call the police from the first call box we see, tell them he engaged us to cover his behaviour and that we found out the truth. I doubt they’ll question too closely that we beat a wife-killer, but father can intercede if need be.”

“And the poor woman can be put to rest,” Crispin glanced back towards the kitchen.

“Along with her soul. This has given me a lot to think about. Let’s go home, Crispin. I am quite exhausted.”

The End

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Part Three: The Truth Will Out

The rest of the night passed with an air of tension between the men in the bedroom. Crispin couldn’t rest and would sit, brow furrowed for an hour at a time before springing up and pacing about the rooms at a furious pace. Gathercole would pore over his notes and tinker with his machines, offering sighs of frustration at each new failure to bring the aerials back to life. Hodgson, for his part, sulked, curled around himself in the very centre of his bed. Even though the radio-pentacle was defunct, he clung to the idea that it could protect him. It was as though he thought extending the slightest part of his body over the side of the bed would spell his doom.

It wasn’t until the sun rose that the sense of pressure and malevolence lifted – at least slightly. Crispin made fresh coffee. That and a bar of chocolate each had to compensate for the total lack of sleep. They were into their second cup of silent, brooding coffee before Hodgson dared show his face, slinking like a whipped cur into the messy kitchen and refusing both coffee and Cadbury’s on the grounds of an upset stomach.

Gathercole’s temperate nature had been stretched to its limit from the events of the night. His light features were oppressed by a stormy expression and he snapped, loud enough to make Hodgson start and knock a filthy saucer to the floor, breaking into shards.

Gathercole paid the crockery no mind.

“Mr Hodgson, you were not truthful with us. That manifestation was even more powerful than you had intimated and it was utterly fixated upon you, even to the risk of its own dissipation. You know this fiend, and it knows you. This is personal. If I am to save your life and bring an end to this apparition, I need the truth.”

Hodgson still seemed reticent, his lips tightened and lost colour, his tongue moved against his cheek as though considering his options, however few they might be. This went on more than a mere moment, far too long. His fingers twisting a golden ring around and around on his finger.

Crispin’s fist slammed down on the table, interrupting the wait and sending another saucer spilling to the ground to join its shattered brother. “For God’s sake, man! That horrific thing, that shadow, that fiend, will kill you and drag you down to hell! How can this even be a choice!”

Hodgson sprang back from his seat, spilling the chair, almost stumbling on a shard of crockery. Still wordless he pointed, mute, at the floor beneath the table.

Gathercole frowned a moment, but then a slow realisation stole across his face like an over-cautious thief.

“Of course,” he muttered. “I’m such an idiot, always fixated upon the supernatural, blind to the mundane. Here! Crispin! Help me!”

There’s was a shrieking grind as he shoved the breakfast table to the side, the rug gathered in a tangle and shifting with it, sending up a small cloud of grime and dust. Beneath the rug, there were bare boards, darkened and damp. Through the gaps in the planks, there issued a most frightful stench.

“God above,” Crispin thrust his sleeve over his mouth and nose at the reek. “It stinks like a trench.”

Gathercole rammed a filthy carving fork into the gap between the planks and levered, almost falling over when it lifted far more quickly than he had anticipated. The wood was damp, the nails were bent and had obviously already been pulled once before – recently.

“Fuck,” Crispin barked and darted to the already full sink, retching and vomiting into what little space remained.

Gathercole nodded, staring into space beneath the floor and nodded, very deliberately. “Yes, quite.” He drew his handkerchief from his top pocket and, folding it over itself, tied it in the manner of a bandit, its lavender scent guarding him some against the stench.

Hodgson – for his part – cowered in the corner of the dank kitchen, whimpering like a cornered fox.

Beneath the floor, there was the bloated, putrefying corpse of a woman. At least that was what Gathercole assumed, from the clothing and jewellery that was there arrayed. An attempt had been made to hide the very presence of a woman about the house. Every portrait, every piece of womanly attire, had also been stuffed beneath the floor. Perfume bottles had been emptied and deposited with the corpse in a doomed attempt to mask the stink.

“I should have known,” Gathercole muttered to himself as he leaned over the hole in the floor and investigated with his silver pen, poking at the liquefying flesh of the body. “A man of your age, your former station, it would beggar belief that you were a bachelor. The ring, of course, the size of the apartments, the feminine anger of the spectre that pursues you.”

“Have a care, she was a woman, a person. She deserves respect,” Crispin wiped at his mouth but could barely stand from his shock and horror. The same man who stood firm against the fury of the spirit brought low by a rotting corpse.

“The best respect that I know to show her is bringing this bounder to justice. An act that will also discharge our duty to the bounder in question by providing the spirit what it wants.” Gathercole stood up and edged around the hole, moving to where Hodgson was cowering.

With precise, cold anger, Gathercole struck him once, hard, across the face.

“How could you! A woman man! Your wife, presumably!” He gave the man another strike, sending him sprawling and blubbering across the floor.

“Doris, her name was Doris!” Hodgson babbled. “My wife! My God, I didn’t mean to. Married seven years and every day, from the first, complaint after complaint, pricking holes in my every triumph, crowing my every failure! I snapped once. I could not take another harsh word, and I snapped! The paperweight, my God, her head broke like an eggshell and…”

He was cut off, Gathercole had made a fist of his hand and applied it with liberal strength to the man’s mouth, sending him sprawling afresh.

“I will hear no excuse or justification from you, coward! What is a harsh word to you? Nothing! Gnat bites! Gallons of blood have been spilt for flag and country, against men just as devoted to ending their opponent, and you slaughter a helpless woman with a sharp tongue? You disgust me, sir. Where the devil is my pistol?” He cast about, but fortunately for Hodgson, the iron still lay on the floor in the bedroom.

Crispin laid hands upon Gathercole and wrestled him away, wrenching open the door, loaned strength by concern for his friend, and all but dragged him out by the ear into the road. “Pull yourself together, man!”

“He’s a damned murderer Crispin!” Gathercole hissed and spat the words, pacing back and forth in rapid agitation. “He deserves whatever fate that poor woman’s spectre has in mind for him!”

“No doubt,” Crispin offered, quietly. “But let him face the justice of man before he faces the justice of God, by God. You are no judge William, no jury, and certainly no executioner.”

Gathercole stopped short then, and for the briefest of moments that cold anger and fierce intellect gave way to the heart. “You’re right Crispin, you’re always right on these matters.”

“Should I get that in writing William?” Crispin smiled and shook his head slightly, then laying his hands upon Gathercole’s shoulders, placed a soft and lingering kiss against his lips.

Gathercole drew back at that. “Crispin, someone might see us, by God.”

Crispin smiled and gave a slight, cavalier laugh. “Ah, let them. Though perhaps you are right. We are a dishevelled pair after a night with ghosts and a morning with corpses.”

“There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. We will get no rest yet if we do wish to save this murderer’s skin.”

“You know it is the right thing,” Crispin affirmed quietly, drawing his hands back from Gathercole’s shoulders.

“That it is,” Gathercole’s face was contorted in fierce concentration. “We shall have to take the motor-car, visit H. Curry’s and a garage. We need replacement radio parts, and batteries – so we can be independent of the house’s power.”

“I’ll fetch the car,” Crispin turned away and touched his own lips with his fingers. Things were back upon their proper course.

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Part Two: Melancholia

Gathercole sat, or rather perched, on one of the kitchen chairs. He looked as though he would much prefer not be sitting there, but was doing it to be polite – however prim he looked. His friend, Crispin St. John, was not so intent on being polite, and stood back from the table, leaning against the wall.

He made a striking contrast to Gathercole. Where Gathercole’s hair was short and dirty-blonde, Brylcreemed back, Crispin’s was down to his collar and a dark chestnut brown. Where Gathercole wore another pale suit, with almost military precision and was fastidious, sitting on a handkerchief, Crispin wore a dark blue suit in a rumpled, casual state. Where Gathercole was clean lines and unadorned, Crispin wore a wilting green carnation and a bright red – if loose – tie. They made strange companions.

The reason for Gathercole’s primness was the execrable state of Hodgson’s apartments. Rusty stains adorned every wall and dripped down to every floor, where they crusted on the carpeting and boards. There was dust everywhere, and it seemed that every pot, pan, plate, knife and fork was dirty and fly-speckled. Even the light was dim and dusty, the electric lights as fly-speckled as the saucer Gathercole was using as an ashtray.

“I apologise for the state of the place. The housekeeper left even before the bank terminated my employment. I don’t know that I can even pay you, but if you can get this… fiend to stop dogging my every… b-bloody move I will find a way to pay you back.”

Gathercole stirred the ashes without raising his gaze to Hodgson. “Never mind all that, knowledge is its own reward. I must, however, know as much as possible about this creature that has destroyed your life. When did it start?”

Hodgson gathered himself, with some noticeable effort, fortifying himself with a nip from a small bottle of gin. “Perhaps a month ago now, I have had trouble keeping track of the days. Any calendar I hang upon the wall is torn to pieces, and I cannot keep a clock or watch wound here. Since I lost my employment it has been even harder, but I think, perhaps a month.”

“A cycle of the Moon, or near as damn it,” Gathercole left the end of his Dunhill smouldering on the saucer and began making quick, neat notes in a small black-leather notepad. “Have you encountered anything strange, a person, an object, an unsettling book or sound?”

“Crossed an angry gipsy perhaps?” Hodgson snort-laughed bitterly and hung his head, taking a couple of deep breaths. “No, nothing of the like.”

“Does the house have any sort of sordid history? Murders, occult activities, criminal enterprises, built upon a burial pit or anything of the like?”

Crispin lost interest and meandered away about the rooms, creating the occasional interruption as he rattled at the grate or opened the windows.

“Not so far as I am aware. I called in at the house agent who sold me the place and they had no records of anything that would explain it. He thought me quite, quite mad.” Hodgson’s head sank lower and lower.

“This manifestation, it is strongest here?” Gathercole’s eyes shifted from the immiserated Hodgson about the room, trying to ignore the filth and to get the measure of the place.

Hodgson looked up again at that. “Yes, but it follows me. It has spilt my drinks at several pubs, threatened me while I have been walking. I was almost shoved in front of a train at St Paul’s. Here though, I have been scratched, bruised, bitten. The house has become unbearably cold, or stiflingly stuffy. There have been the most beastly stinks. Banging on the pipes and walls at all hours of the day and night.”

“It’s quiet now,” Gathercole observed. “And, you’ll pardon my candour, but a stink would be hard to notice.”

Hodgson flushed with shame as Gathercole continued.

“I should like you to stay while I conduct my experiments, the phenomenon seems as linked to you as it is to this place. I shall need you to follow my instructions, however peculiar you may find them. Crispin and I will stay until the morning with you. Heaven help us, but these things seem empowered by night. I believe this creature must tie to an anniversary, and to this place. Some hidden history that has escaped record.”

Hodgson simply nodded and took another gulp of his gin.

Gathercole fetched his canvas kit bags from the car and set them down in the hall with exaggerated care. He then made his way about each and every room with ruthlessly methodical efficiency.

He closed and locked the door, pocketing the key, then applied a two-inch strip of Scotch tape across the keyhole and over to the frame.

He closed every window, sticking them in place with more tape and dusted the sill and jamb with fine talc before closing the curtains.

He circled each room, tapping the wall, the floor, the ceiling, seeking the peculiarities of thickness and thinness, learning the bones of the house beneath.

He took the temperature in each of the rooms and closed the grates in the fireplaces, sealing them up with rubber cement to prevent the possibility of any draft.

Last was the bedroom, which was in a sorry state, even for a bachelor. With Crispin’s reluctant aid, Gathercole dragged Hodgson’s bed into the middle of the room and then unpacked his second bag.

This was a most peculiar apparatus indeed. Five finely made wooden boxes, each trailing a rat’s nest of wiring, each attached to the sixth box with dials, valves and bulbs studded into its front. From the top of each box extended a diamond-shaped aerial, crossbars with a filigree of wiring. With each box precisely positioned, Gathercole plugged it into the bedroom’s power and warmed the valves, tuning each aerial with deft, sure hands.

That done, he circuited the house again, double and triple-checking everything he had done, adding more notes to his book. He scattered more talc on the ground, little worried about dirtying the sordid apartment any more. In each room, he replaced the light with a red bulb, such as those used by photographers. This done he finally retired to the bedroom with Hodgson and Crispin, bedrolls laid out for the two guests, Hodgson sitting uncomfortably, cross-legged on his unmade bed.

Gathercole sat, next to Crispin, on his bedroll. He peered at his instruments, arranging them with all the precision of a Grand Dame’s cutlery.

There was a scientific thermometer, of exceptional accuracy.

There were two cameras and a loaded flash tray.

There was a snuff-box of silver dust, a small bottle of holy water, a wooden cross, a pocket bible and an electric torch.

His old service revolver – loaded but not cocked – was close at hand.

Besides the electrical box of tricks, there were two clocks, one electric, one mechanical, ticking in sync, keeping precise time.

Crispin, by way of contrast, had spent all that time preparing a pair of coffee flasks and fetching his boiled sweets from the motor-car.

“What is all this?” Hodgson asked once they were all settled. None of them were going to sleep, and the silence and stuffiness of the house was unbearable to his nerves.

“He’ll talk your ear off about it,” Crispin offered, taking a sip of his coffee and heaving a long-suffering sigh.

Gathercole chuckled, pausing to re-check his instruments before he began to talk. “During the war, I met a man, a fine man, a fellow officer, a lieutenant in the artillery. He was a peculiar fellow, a sort of chaplain unofficially, to the men. He had some deuced strange ideas about death, spirits and the afterlife but spoke with such damned certitude that you couldn’t help but believe him.”

Gathercole ran his fingers over the butt of his Webley and his gaze unfocussed. “Thomas, he shared your name, was killed before he could satisfy my curiosity. Even so, the things I saw at Flanders made me a believer. I made it my purpose to track down his work after the war. He was a visionary, marrying the mysticism and balderdash of the past with electricity and the scientific method. I took his ideas and built on them, learning all I could, which lead me to this.”

Gathercole’s hand swept across the array of antennae. “The wireless pentacle, a step beyond anything old Thomas ever envisioned. He saw the relation between electromagnetism and the ab-natural, but never took the step beyond the material. These beings, such as your fiend, have no physical form under usual conditions, so why should one need a pattern or a wire? As we sit here, hundreds, thousands or electromagnetic waves are coursing through the air in a finely modulated pattern, creating a constant, vibrational, three-dimensional form of the pentagram. The modern and secular, married to the ancient and profane. Brilliant, though I say so myself…”

“Which you do,” Crispin smiled and popped another sweet into his mouth.

There was a sudden and subtle change in the hum of the electricity coursing through the room. Gathercole raised a finger to Crispin, demanding silence. Hodgson was already silent and stared into the shadows in evident agitation.

Gathercole played the dials of his radio-pentagram like a musician. He squinting at dials and needles, turned their arcane numbers and indications over and over in his mind. “Whatever you do Mister Hodgson, do not leave your bed. The radio-pentagram should keep you safe.”

“What about us?” Crispin observed, wryly.

“The fiend, whatever it is, appears to be focussed on Hodgson. We should be safe.”

“Should be.” Crispin reached across and plucked the cross from amongst Gathercole’s accoutrements.

“I thought you were an agnostic?” Gathercole glanced up from his dials for the briefest of moments, with a wry smile.

“I’m counting on the ghost being a believer.”

“It’s here!” Hodgson’s shaky voice cut through the banter.

The mercury in the thermometer was dropping, sweat began to bed on their skin in spite of the cold. The air got damp, dense, stifling, and beads of water formed on the stained and peeling wallpaper.

The stains and drizzles turned dark, but before any of them could be sure that it was blood – not water – the shadows closed in and thickened. The feeble red lights barely penetrated the gloom, and only their pale faces showed in the dark, picking up the light like the screen of the Astoria.

“It’s stronger, it’s more powerful!” Hodgson cried in terror.

“Stay on the bed! Within the aerials!” Gathercole scrambled to his feet. “I’ve never seen anything like this! The power of it! It shouldn’t be like this from everything I’ve studied, everything Hodgson has told us.”

A muttering sound built out the heavy shadows, rising in volume and intensity to a deafening scream of anger and outrage.

“THOMAS HODGSON! YOU BLOODY BASTARD! YOU WILL PAY FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE!” It was akin to a choir from hell, many voices as one and seeming to blast from every wall, floor and ceiling at ear-ringing volume.

The aerials began to glow and crackle, the electric blue light mingled with the dark red to turn the room an unnatural flickering purple. Gathercole threw himself back to the floor, twisting the dials to their maximum setting.

The howling darkness seemed to gather and throw itself at the bed. It rebounded from the barrier with a crackling flash, straining, again and again, determined, spending its power to smash at the protective ward. The sparks flew, the aerials crackled and sang. Crispin winced and clutched the cross with white knuckles in one hand, the other flying to his cheek where the electrical ember had burned him.

The shadow billowed like smoke, spiralling around the room in an ever-tightening spiral. With a sharp pop, each of the red bulbs exploded, one after the other. There was a louder snap and crackle and the power coursing through the aerials was abruptly cut. Burning Bakelite and melting vinyl mingled with ozone and every last spark of light was extinguished.

Hodgson screamed in the darkness, and the whole bed began to rattle. Without the barrier of the radio-pentagram, there was nothing left to stop it.

The electric torch flared with a sudden blinding light, revealing Hodgson’s form, suspended in the air and bound by shadows, choking, gasping out his pleas for aid. Crispin was paralysed by fear, pressed back into the wall in a panic.

There were few options left.

Stumbling over his words, Gathercole tried to steel his voice with confidence. The sibilant, long and rolling syllables of the Saaamaaa ritual came halting and slow. Horror shook him, his flesh crept, his voice haltering but somehow they still retained some power, half-remembered and slurred as they were. The dark force, weakened from its exertions, was driven back, dissipating like smoke with a last few hisses and curses before it finally melted away.

The oppressive pressure in the room receded, and Gathercole turned the torch on Hodgson, a sobbing mess of a man, twisted around the filthy sheets of his bed.

“You Sir, haven’t been entirely truthful.”

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seancebannermain

Part One: Madam Sokolev’s Seance

The room was cloaked in shadow, filling every corner with suggestions of motion and giving the room a sense of unearned intimacy. The candlelight flickered with the breath of the guests as they chatted in low, hushed tones or blew the smoke from their cigarettes into the light.

There was a rattle of beads, and with a grand sweep, that set the candles fluttering, Madam Sokolev entered. She was a giantess of a woman, square of jaw and broad of shoulder and hip with a pendulous bosom, buried beneath layers of shawls and beads. Her seat creaked as she set her bulk down into it and leaned into the slender circle of light. The yellow flame of the scented candles did nothing for her face, slathered as it was in thick make-up, nor did the scent of lily of the valley do much to mask the miasma of cheap sherry and cheaper tobacco that followed in her wake.

I vill need zilence,” intoned Madam Sokolev as she laid her hands, palms down, on the black tablecloth.

There was a slight, stifled laugh from the young man in the cream suit. He swallowed it down, shamed into silence by the glare of the other worthies around the table.

I do apologise, a slight cough,” he said, but there was a smug smile on his fresh face, and he used the excuse of stubbing out his Dunhill to look down and away.

Please to be joinink hands,” Madam Sokolev reached out her hands to the worthies beside her and one by one, a little uncomfortable, they all followed suit.

Sokolev began her intonations, her calls to the spirits. She projected an air of seriousness, but the man in the cream suit had to stifle another laugh. He also broke the circle for a moment and wiped his hand against the tablecloth. The man next to him was clammy, pale, trembling as he tried to hold the circle. Sokolev glared, and the man in the cream suit completed the circle once again, sweaty grip or not.

One by one, each person around the table got their moment in the spotlight with Sokolev. She channelled their lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and even their pets – to the extent of barking and yipping like a tiny dog. There were knocks and breezes. The candle-flame flickered in peculiar ways; it was all any of them could ask for – short of ectoplasm. Conspicuously, she passed over the man in the cream suit, eliciting another smirk, and settled her attention on the clammy man.

I am callink on the spirits, any who are here. Those who have passed and wish to speak vis Mr Hodgson.”

The clammy man looked up into the drifting smoke that swirled around the candle, his face a strange melange of hopeful and terrified at the same time.

Madam Sokolev started and twitched in her seat. The pretty young thing on her right squeaked in surprise. “Gosh, that smarts! Please!”

For the first time since the séance had started, Madam Sokolev’s voice changed convincingly. From the thick gipsy accent (in the sense that it was an accent that travelled far and wide, sometimes in a single sentence) to a gruff and brutish East End rumble.

YOU!” The whites of Sokolev’s eyes glared towards Hodgson, the clammy man who was swallowing over and over again. “THOMAS HODGSON! YOU BLOODY BASTARD! I SHOULD…”

The voice cut off, abruptly and Sokolev’s pupils returned to their customary position, leaving her looking dazed and confused. The man in the cream suit had stood, breaking the circle, and had uttered some strange phrase in some arcane tongue, all drawn out ‘ay’ sounds, rolled ‘ahs’ and sibilant hisses. It was like a line, drawn under the whole affair, shattering the atmosphere and mystique.

That is quite enough of that,” the man in the cream suit slid back his chair and stood, adjusting his cufflinks. “And quite enough of this, Madam Sokolev.”

He moved swiftly around the room and flicked the light switch, the electric light plinked on and filled the parlour with an unforgiving light that caused everyone in the room to wince and squint.

A fine show Madam Sokolev, a fine show indeed. However, it is no longer the nineteenth century, and I am not some mince-headed duffer like poor old Arthur.” He flicked aside the heavy drapes with a disdainful sneer across his face. “Holes in the panelling, so a compatriot can create unnatural breezes and whispers – barely audible – to unsettle us. The rest of the trickery is far less glamorous, but you all heard precisely what you wanted to hear, nothing that was real,” he sighed. “Barking? Really? Has the craft sunk so low? As for the knocking, the good Madam clicks her toes as you might crack your knuckles to create the sound. Now that is a skill, genuinely impressive.”

The worthies were in an uproar now, none more so than Madam Sokolev, who looked a damned sight less feminine in the electric glare. Harrumphing and grumbling, full of blind denials, hating being exposed for chumps – such was always the way – they made for the exit.

The man in the cream suit stopped Hodgson short with a hand on his arm. “Not you, what happened with you was something genuine, something real. That’s the real reason I come to these place, not to out frauds like Mickey here. To find people who might be genuinely haunted.” He nodded towards ‘Madam Sokolev, who clenched ‘her’ fists and stomped out with the swagger of a drill sergeant.

Poor fellow, any excuse to wear a dress. I feel for the chap.”

What?” Hodgson was a nervous wreck, slick with sweat, trembling, barely taking in anything that was going on around him.

Allow me to escort you out.”

The summer’s night air was pleasantly fresh after the stifling closeness of the parlour, and the man in the cream suit steered Hodgson down the road like a sober friend shepherding a drunk.

My name is Gathercole, William Gathercole. I am an investigator into the ab-human, the ab-natural and the strange. Amongst which are the things that you would call ghosts. I believe, building upon the work of my predecessors, that these are a natural phenomenon. We once thought lightning to be the work of Thor or Zeus. I think our understanding of these phenomena is also wrong-headed.”

Hodgson made some vague, affirmative noises and seemed to be slowly recovering, though he jumped at the chuntering passage of a motor car down the road.

I’m so sorry, already talking shop. To get, finally, to the point, I believe that you are genuinely haunted. I should very much like to help you and to test out my theories. What do you say?”

Hodgson stopped, unhooked his arm from Gathercole and leant against the wall of the chemists. “I only came here because I was desperate. It is a monstrous thing, a fiend that stalks me. It is pure hatred. I do not think you, or anyone, could stand against it, and it seems to be growing stronger.”

Stronger? Fascinating?” Gathercole stroked his chin as he considered. “Most ab-natural phenomena succumb to the inevitable march of entropy, like everything else. Unless… but no, it’s too early to be speculating. What is the nature of the manifestation?”

Hodgson rubbed his temples with one hand and fished out a hip flask, taking a nip to steady his nerve. “It began as a presence, a feeling. The hairs would stand up on my arms. I would get a creeping feeling at the back of my neck. I put it down to being spooked or nervous or that feeling we all sometimes get, of someone stepping on your grave.”

Gathercole lit a Dunhill and paced back and forth, staring down at his feet, turning on a sixpence to come back, his mind clearly racing.

But it didn’t stop there, right?”

No,” Hodgson took another sip from his flask. “Then I noticed things had been moved when I wasn’t looking. Food was mouldering faster than it should have. The house would be unnaturally cold, or still to the point where I could hardly breathe.”

That’s not the limit of it, is it? Such parlour tricks wouldn’t so shake you.”

I was sure I was going mad. It wouldn’t happen when anyone else was around. It was like it was tormenting me and me alone. There was blood, eventually, and while nobody saw the walls bleed, they saw the stains afterwards. They saw the bruises after the thing attacked me, but they never saw it.”

But you did.”

Hodgson glanced up, and for the first time, Gathercole really saw the black bags around his eyes, and how haggard and drawn he looked. “I did. I saw it. Dear God in heaven, I saw it. If this goes on much longer, it will kill me.”

Gathercole flicked his cigarette into the road, where is scattered and sparked, smouldering and glowing in the dark.

Give me your address. I must prepare, but I shall be there as soon as I can to put paid to your tormentor.”

Hodgson fumbled his calling card from his wallet, creasing it in his fingers in his clumsiness and handing it, shakily, to Gathercole. In that time a two-tone, burgundy and silver Bedford sedan pulled up, idling.

Crispin, my driver,” Gathercole offered as he spirited the card away into his jacket.

I’m not your bloody chauffeur,” offered Crispin – a slight, chestnut-haired man with a dark scowl – out of the window of the Bedford.

You just can’t get the staff these days,” Gathercole offered with a smile as he hauled open the rear door of the car. “I’ll see you soon.”

Hodgson was left shaking, at the side of the road as the car slid away into the night. Its lights reflected in his full, staring, terrified eyes.

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Inktober – Angular

angular

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[Brain scan of white matter fibers, brainstem and above. The fibers are color coded by direction: red = left-right, green = anterior-posterior, blue = ascending-descending (RGB=XYZ). The Human Connectome Project, a $40-million endeavor funded by the National Institutes of Health, aims to plot connections within the brain that enables the complex behaviors our brains perform so seamlessly.MANDATORY CREDIT: Courtesy of the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH / www.humanconnectomeproject.org] *** []

I have something of an on-again-off-again project to re-mystify and update Lovecraft to existential and peculiar horror, reinventing concepts from the books. This story was rejected from a couple of places, so you get it!

MI5: TOP SECRET, DoR/CISP EYES ONLY

From: [Redacted]

To: [Redacted]

Sir, an update on the Mundy situation.

Mr Mundy’s disappearance and the death of his old mentor now appear to be related. Investigations have been hampered by bad practice at the university and hostility towards police and government investigators from students. The reclusive nature of the Professor and Mundy’s absconding with his papers, along with widespread conspiracy theories and disinformation online have further hampered investigative efforts. Nonetheless we have recovered what we can from the internet and from hard drives and other sources to try and get to the bottom of matters.

We suspect cult activity but this is the kind of cult activity which may drive a new source of domestic terrorism. The investigation is still ongoing, but the team seeks direction from higher up on how they want us to proceed.

Pertinent information is attached.

[Redacted]

***

From: ReisenChew@[Redacted]

To: MundayNext@[Redacted]

Mr Mundy,

My name is Jane Riesen. I don’t know if you’ve heard of me but I interned for your great uncle, Professor Angel.

I’m sorry to bring you such bad news, especially in such as impersonal a manner as an email, but the professor died yesterday. He collapsed, suddenly on the street and died on the way to the hospital despite the best efforts of the ambulance men. Some sort of heart attack they tell me, though I’m not family and I’m sure they could tell you more.

I didn’t really know who else to contact about this as he seems to not have any family besides you. I enjoyed many of the books you sent him and noted that you inscribed them to him. A little poking around (please forgive me!) showed that you might be the only member of his family to have stayed in touch with him over the years.

I hope I haven’t overstepped the mark in tracking you down but there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who knew him or who cared about him, apart from me. I don’t want to clear his house of his effects until I know what’s what and whether you want anything as a memento or to preserve for the family.

I’ve attached a map so you can find the house. Here’s my number so you can let me know when you’re coming. [Redacted]

My sincere condolences on your loss, the professor was eccentric, but a good and brilliant man.

Jane Riesen

Assistant to Professor Angel

[Redacted]

***

From: MundayNext@[Redacted]

To: ReisenChew@[Redacted]

Miss Riesen,

I’ve been out of the country the last couple of weeks so please forgive the slowness of my reply. I am upset to hear about the death of my great uncle. We were quite close, despite his troubles with the rest of the family.

I will make arrangements as soon as possible to come and check the house and help you clear his things. Thank you for informing me and looking after his affairs until I can get there.

William Mundy

Author of The Grey Tide trilogy

Born on Munday

***

Mr Munday,

Enclosed are copies of your great uncle’s will and the details of his death. I have attached summarising cover letters in each case as they are quite technical documents. If there is anything further we can do to assist you, do please let us know. We endeavour to make the grieving period and the execution of the will as smooth as possible.

Sincerely,

Albert Cumming

Alexander & Courant

Solicitors

LAST WILL & TESTAMENT

THIS Last Will & Testament is made by me PROFESSOR GEORGE ANGEL of [Redacted]

I REVOKE all previous wills and codicils

I APPOINT as executors and trustees of my will ALBERT CUMMING of [Redacted] and JONATHAN COURANT of [Redacted] and should one or more of them fail to or be unable to act I APPOINT to fill any vacancy JANE RIESEN of [Redacted].

I GIVE ALL MONEY AND PROCEEDS OF MY ESTATE to JANE RIESEN of [Redacted] and ALL PAPERS AND EFFECTS DESIRED to WILLIAM MUNDAY of [Redacted] with any remaining material he does not desire to be sold or otherwise disposed of as he wishes, with resulting monies going to JANE RIESEN.

I GIVE the rest of my estate to my executors and trustees to hold on trust to pay my debts, taxes and testamentary expenses and pay the residue to JANE RIESEN of [Redacted] but if she fails to survive me by 28 days or if this gift or any part of it fails for any other reason, then I GIVE the residue of my estate or the part of it affected to WILLIAM MUNDAY of [Redacted].

I WISH my body to be LEFT FOR SCIENTIFIC OR MEDICAL RESEARCH.

***

Coroner’s Report

Decedent: ANGEL, GEORGE (PROFESSOR)

Date of Death: Monday 24th of February 2014

Cause of Death: Natural causes (Myocardial infarction)

Autopsy Performed by: WILLIS DEBORAH, MD

Summary:

Professor Angel reportedly collapsed on the street, while riding his bicycle and passers by immediately called an ambulance. Medics were unable to revive him at the scene and hospital staff had no better luck. Blood tests showed positive for botulinum toxin of types A, B, E and F though the source of the poisoning is hard to determine.

Professor Angel was of advanced age and had not been eating well. He appeared below weight with a generally poor state of health which explains his lack of resistance to the toxin.

While there are contusions, scrapes and bruises on the body these appear to have been sustained when he collapsed and are not a cause for additional concern.

***

From: MundayNext@[Redacted]

To: ReisenChew@[Redacted]

Hey Jane!

It was great to meet you the other day, despite the sad circumstances. Thank you for letting me in to the house. I’ve filled the skip with things I think are junk and set aside a few other odds and ends I don’t want but which may interest you, or at least may be able to be auctioned off for a worthwhile amount of money.

I must say, I’m shocked at the state of the place. The house is a real tip and looks like it has barely been maintained. My hat is off to you for being willing to work in such circumstances and I’m, frankly bewildered that he had the money to pay you but not to replace the broken window in the downstairs toilet.

As for his notes and other materials I am slowly sifting through them to see if there’s anything worth keeping, but he was clearly getting disorganised in his old age and only his draft manuscripts, next to his typewriter (!) seem to be in any sort of order at all, not that they make a great deal of sense to me either. You might be better qualified than I am to know what material would make a suitable legacy or donation to one of the university libraries.

Amongst his notes I found some interesting pieces of art. My uncle was never much for the visual arts and to have so many similar pieces in his possession seems more than a little out of character. They’re not really my ‘thing’ but they clearly meant something to him. Can you shed any light on what they are or where they came from?

I’ve had a copy of the key cut for myself in town, so you won’t need to be around to let me in any more. Still, give me a text if you are going to be about or if you want any help. I’ll be staying at a B&B in town until this is sorted out.

Cheers,

Bill

***

From: ReisenChew@[Redacted]

To: MundayNext@[Redacted]

Hi Bill,

Nice to meet you too, thank you for the lardy-cake and the tea. I’ll go through what you’ve left when I get a spare morning.

I don’t want you to think too badly of your uncle, he just wasn’t very practically minded and while I did what I could he mostly wanted me there to help with his notes and research rather than as a glorified housekeeper. It’s not like he went senile or anything, or turned into a hoarder, he was as intense and bright as ever as long as I knew him. Scarily so, right up to the end.

He didn’t have to pay me, but he did and thanks for letting me know about the will. He didn’t have a lot but it should keep me from building up too big of a debt, for which I will be forever grateful.

His recent project and manuscript he was being quite secretive about but I think his earlier work on ‘Ur language’ is worth keeping, even if it was never completed. The ideas behind it seem sound to me and it could help whoever studies these things after him to make faster progress. The notes are in the red cardboard files in the bottom drawer of the leftmost cabinet and should be in good order unless he was messing with them.

As to the art, that was somehow related to his recent work I think. Most of it comes from a student on the Fine Arts course, Tony Wilcox. Student admin should be able to put you in touch if you explain what it’s all about. He came by the house a couple of times to drop things off so if I see him around I’ll let him know you’re looking for him.

J

x

***

From: MundayNext@[Redacted]

To: ReisenChew@[Redacted]

Hey J, thanks for the quick reply.

I’ll definitely look into this artist. Maybe he can let me know what’s going on with all that and I can work out whether it’ll be worth anything in the future. 🙂

I found the ‘Ur language’ thing, but despite being a writer I can’t make head nor tail of it. I recognise the words but it all seems a bit technical to me. I’ll save it, but it would be nice to know what it’s about so I can brag at parties.

B

***

From: ReisenChew@[Redacted]

To: MundayNext@[Redacted]

Ur language was your uncle’s concept of an original human language, a sort of human ‘root code’ if you will.

You can think of it like this:

There are basic things that are instinctual about human communication. We know what a blush means or a smile, no matter what our culture or origin. We know a scream in pain means one thing and a laugh another. A hiss, a glare, all those sorts of things.

Sure there’s some local variations and nuances but your uncle believed there was some deeper communication possible at this sort of root level, that concepts other than ‘danger!’ could be expressed in this way, perhaps subconsciously as much as consciously.

He didn’t get very far with it, but the ideas always seemed sound to me.

Gotta run. Got a lecture to go to.

Good luck!

J

***

From the personal blog of William Munday, retrieved 23/03/2014

Fine Art and Fine Cake

The poor old duffer was not living well.

Clearing my great uncle’s place is a labour worthy of Hercules, only instead of shit filling a stable it’s papers, magazines and scrapbooks – and they’re absolutely everywhere.

I found a loose floorboard (by putting my foot through and nearly coming a cropper). When I went to fix it I found a couple of shoe boxes full of clippings and photocopies of articles about ‘Marian apparitions’ stuffed into the space beneath the board. Jane says he wasn’t a hoarder but when you find yellowing papers on instances of mass hysteria from the middle of last century, stuffed under under the floor, you have to wonder.

I needed a break from it all, so I headed into the town proper, the ‘dreaming spires’ and all that. I needed to talk to administration about finding this Wilcox guy who did a lot of the art.

How could I skip over this place without taking a moment?

Bicycles, students, old buildings and shitty parking. That pretty much sums Oxford up. It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer weight of history the place has. History and poshness and students braying like a herd of particularly privileged goats.

I grabbed a spot of late breakfast/early lunch at the Oxford Organic Deli, which isn’t that far from the famous Trinity College. Then I dropped by the administration and put in my request and pottered about doing some touristy type stuff until they called me and let me know Wilcox was willing to talk to me.

Wilcox is a bizarre guy. Almost your stereotypical artist, the kind of thing you expect to see as a stereotype in a sitcom. He had a house-share with some other students who weren’t that pleased to see me and didn’t seem too pleased to be sharing a space with him either. He’d taken over the shed as a work space, perhaps to escape from the rest of them, and that’s where I found him.

Raggedy looking guy. If I put him in one of my books people would write him off as trite and cliché. He had one of those straggly young-man beards, looked like he was on drugs (no, I’m not being judgemental, I remember what cannabis smells like) and all he seemed to care about was his art, at the expense of everything else. Even personal hygiene.

It was the same weird stuff I’d seen at my uncle’s place and it’s hard to describe. Unsettling shapes kind of like a Möbius strip or a Klein bottle but inadequately represented in two dimensions. It hurts your eyes when you look at it, trying to follow all the lines and curves and make sense of it. I can’t really describe it right, but clearly he’d taken some inspiration from mathematics and that’s not that unusual if you think about the golden ratio or a Fibonacci spiral.

You see the same kinds of things in language – rhyme and meter in poetry, the rule of three in public speaking and so on. You even see it in prose, the careful selection of the particular adjective that is weighted to convey the more precise meaning in interaction with its neighbours.

He wasn’t very forthcoming, not really, but it wasn’t just him who’d done the art, it was other students in his tutor group as well. That was a bit surprising because it was all the same kind of shape, the same kind of thought the art was seeking to express, just in different media and from different perspectives. I’d thought Wilcox had done all of it. I thought it was just variations on a theme.

That’s when it got weird, because of course it had to get weirder.

I went back to the admin and tried to get in touch with some of the other artists but, unlike Wilcox they didn’t seem willing to talk to me. Some of them had dropped out without leaving contact information, others I found nothing out about at all. I managed to talk to the parents of one of the students who lived locally, [Redacted] and while they seemed standoffish they told me she was at church that evening and with a bit of wheedling and an accurate sob-story about why I was asking, they told me which one.

It turned out to be one of those weird ‘spiritualist’ churches, the ones that claim to be mediums and to contact the dead. All that ‘Derek Acorah’ stuff I’ve never had any time for.

Frauds.

I dropped by anyway, thinking I’d wait for the service to end and then collar her about the art but standing outside that sad little building and listening to the weird chanting and speaking in tongues going on inside I bottled it and left.

There’s a story of some kind here. I can sense it. It seems weird that my great uncle should die and leave me this mess to investigate. I can’t shake the feeling there’s something big and important going on and I want to be part of it. Maybe it’s all in my head though and I just want a good story, the kind you just don’t normally get in the real world.

But I want it.

***

Extract from Neuroecology by Professor George Angel

The Selfish Meme

It is a sad truth that many people who see fundamental truths are not those who spend their lives studying it but those who take inspiration from elsewhere. It was a biologist, Richard Dawkins, who hit upon the idea of memes, self-replicating pieces of information, as being analogous to genes in biological organisms. Many areas of expertise are now so specialised and so deep that this kind of cross-discipline insight is becoming less and less common.

Dawkins is otherwise most famous for his work in understanding natural selection at the level of the gene. That is, that the individual organism does not necessarily matter in the grand scheme of things, only that the genes multiply and progress to the next generation. This concept reinforces ideas behind group selection, eusocial, self-sacrificing creatures and makes sense of a lot of seemingly self-destructive animal and human behaviour.

An animal though, is not a single gene and a person is not an individual meme, or idea.

Like genes, ideas thrive when they are replicated, whatever the effect on the person who holds them to good or to bad. Some memes are passed on because they’re useful. When you’re taught how to tie your shoelaces you are being ‘infected’ with a meme but it’s the kind of useful meme that improves your life and becomes part of your informational ecosystem, precisely because its useful.

Other memes might by harmless, wearing clothing a certain way or using a particular slang term, and these fall in and out of favour, novelty and ‘tribal’ identification being a big factor. Other memes can be downright dangerous, at least to the individual. The idea of ‘coolness’ for example may lead many a young lad to make a fool of himself or risk his life to impress others and gain social currency. It also might kill him, but even then the idea can and will spread because it’s high risk and high reward. The organism, the person, the greater collection of memes is irrelevant to the spread of that individual meme.

Few memes live in isolation however and just as an organism adapts to fit its ecological niche. So these memetic organisms, or memeplexes, made up of many connected memes can adapt and exist across many minds. Consider religion or political ideology as an example.

Let us take socialism as our case in point. It is a network of interconnected ideas about how to organise society. What is it that makes a good person? What is the state of human nature? These are all bound together in a single memetic ‘organism’. As a memeplex it is well adapted to the poor and underprivileged, to the young and revolutionary and to times that are economically and socially hard. When the situation fits it spreads and thrives, when the situation changes it withers and its rival philosophies do better. Just as in biology these memetic organisms survive, die and spread according to how well they fit their niche.

Can a meme be selfish? Not in the sense that a set of ideas can actually think (though that is an interesting idea, what is a human being after alll?) but yes, a meme can be selfish. A suicide bomber kills himself but dies to spread the idea and the example of his sheer devotion to his cause can convince others through the power of martyrdom.

Like the selfish genes, the selfish memes are all too common.

***

From the personal blog of William Munday, retrieved 23/03/2014

An Inspector Calls

Forgive the title. I couldn’t help myself.

I should really check into a proper hotel or something, but I haven’t had the advance on my next book yet and ‘unca George’ didn’t see fit to leave me any money when he had a pretty intern to give it to. I don’t blame him, I’m not really resentful, but sometimes it can’t help but grate a little. I’ve been here enough days now, untangling his mess, that people know where to find me and I’ve gotten to be on nodding terms with a few dog walkers and the guy at the corner shop.

I’ve been here long enough that a policeman knew to come looking for me here just after breakfast and take me for a little stroll in the park to ask me about uncle George.

I knew there had to be more to this. Since I got here I’ve had this paranoid feeling that something is going on, just outside my reach, just beyond my grasp and it seems like Detective Inspector Grass feels the same way.

He told me he’d worked with my uncle a few times over the last couple of years. It all started with a suicide cult, though I don’t remember anything from the news about it. Grass told me they’d had a bunch of complaints about travellers on a site not that far from here but when they went to knock on doors and move them on, they all already had – apart from one bus load. The people in that bus were almost all dead, weird writing all over the walls, foreigners fresh across the channel different to the other travellers or so the word was.

Nobody could make sense of the writing and the survivors had deliberately poisoned themselves with ergot – the kind of poison associated with outlandish tales of witches and devils in the past. The contortions had broken their backs or spasmed their hearts until the muscle tore. The couple that were still alive and able to speak, did not, would not.

Nobody knew what the writing or symbols were and give Uncle’s work on languages and cryptography (back in the day) they consulted with him about it, but even he couldn’t tell them much about it. It was meaningful, it had structure, but he couldn’t work out what it meant – and nobody really gave enough of a damn about a handful of dead, illegal immigrants anyway. Such is people’s indifference to suffering.

DI Grass seemed a bit intense and it all sounded a bit off the books. He was a bit too excited about everything and told me he’d been looking into this since the first incident and that there were others. That he’d talked to my uncle on and off about it and that these deaths were ‘hidden’ somehow. If he hadn’t had a badge I’d have written him off as one of those internet ‘truthers’ who’d drunk too much of the David Icke Kool-Aid. I suppose there’s no law that says such people can’t also succumb to such ideas.

Plus he seemed to agree with my suspicions that my uncle’s death might not have been as natural as it seemed. So I need him.

He’s going to stay in touch, but I’m not that sure how to take it.

I’m keeping this post locked down for now, friends only.

***

Extract from Neuroecology by Professor George Angel

The Integral Sea

If we think of the memes and memeplexes in terms of organisms. If we think of them like bacteria or animals and, therefore, our minds, our nervous systems, as the world in which they exist do we not have a useful analogy or metaphor for understanding ourselves? Every day ideas, thoughts, fashions, anything that can be thought of in informational terms fights to persist in our brains, to thrive and to spread.

I think of it as an ocean. A deep, dark ocean.

At the surface are our conscious thoughts, the ideas that we are aware of in the moment. Fleet, fast, adaptable but visible. They breach the surface like dolphins or fly in the sky above the waters. As I think these words and move to type them the ideas and concepts that make them up are called to the surface, flashing and dazzling like a shoal of silvery fish.

As I try to recall a memory, larger, slower creatures – whales perhaps – rise to the surface to take a breath and show themselves before sinking back down into the darkness beneath.

Deeper, perhaps, we find the subconscious desires and thoughts that influence us powerfully and subtly. The Freudian id, if you will, or the Jungian unconscious if you won’t. Even deeper still, perhaps, the truly unconscious, the autonomic nervous system, the beat of the heart, the swell of the lungs, the reflexes, the basics of life.

What niches have their analogues in the ecosystem of the mind? Are there plants, passive thoughts, immutable solidities of perception feeding on regular, but weak, use. The recognition of a colour perhaps, or a sound. Are there herbivores? Big, placid, slow moving ideas of certitude and solidity. Are there predators? Fast moving ideas that wipe out and kill others, feasting on their corpses and replacing them?

When one sees a previously rational man overcome with religious fervour, tossing aside the validity of reason and embracing madness it is not hard, I admit, to picture a writhing mass of sharks within his head, frenziedly eating up what little common sense he might have had.

How complex, how evolved can these ideas be? Is our consciousness the apex of the mental ecosystem and does it emerge from or coexist with these other memes? Might there not be other, greater noospheric organisms alongside us, unseen, beneath these metaphorical waves?

Do all ideas, all consciousness, share a common memetic ancestor and can we derive that fundamental root to all thought. The double-helix of the meme. Can ideas exist and express and communicate across multiple minds?

From the personal blog of William Munday, retrieved 23/03/2014

Curiouser and Curiouser

Will keep this private, it’s pretty much a ‘note to self’. Maybe I’ll let a few of you see it with permissions controls.

Been here too long and the landlady is really starting to get on my tits. She keeps going through my things when I leave for the day. I appreciate she has to tidy up but I’ve been stuck here over a week now trying to make sense of all this and she’s had a lot of my money. A bit of privacy wouldn’t hurt too much, surely?

I know she’s been going through uncle’s things that I’ve stored there for research. Sticking her nose in. She knows that I know and I’ve been getting strange, synchronised glares from her and her other guests every morning over my Crunchy Nut, as though it’s me that’s done something wrong. I hope I can wrap this up soon.

I miss London, the easy access to things to do. If you’re not a student there’s not a huge amount to do here and I have to go out every day while Mrs Nosey pokes around my stuff. I am so bored of spending the day in pubs, you have no idea.

It’s not like I’m that isolated, I have the internet, but I dread opening my mailbox or social media because every time I do there’s a dozen crazy messages from DI Grass about his bizarre conspiracy theories.

RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: WHAT’S THE CONNECTION???”

He keeps asking and there isn’t one, its coincidence plus paranoia. What do they call it? False pattern recognition? Apophenia I think. I can’t even be bothered to Google it.

Yet in spite of all this, I still feel this need to know what’s going on. I’ve got an appointment tomorrow that might shed some light.

Mr Wilcox, he of the scraggly beard and Klein bottle fixation, was committed. He got arrested trying to steal money and then babbled enough convincing nonsense at the arresting officers over a long enough period that he got sectioned. The police and his parents asked a few questions since I’d been poking around and they thought that was suspicious, but while they were talking to me I was talking to them and I found out something interesting.

Mr Wilcox had been getting payments through the university for some time related to his participation in some experiment or other. I chased it up with my good friends in admin, worked my charm (and a big packet of Ginger Nuts) and lo and behold I have an appointment with a Doctor Lang at [Redacted] Hospital tomorrow to talk about it. A very nervous sounding Doctor Lang at that.

From the personal blog of William Munday, retrieved 23/03/2014

I have a pretty horrible headache that won’t go away. Worse and better than a migraine at the same time and no amount of painkillers are making a dent. So I might as well sit here in the dark, squint at the blinding light of the netbook screen and get my thoughts down.

I met Doctor Lang at [Redacted] and like everyone else I’ve met on this ‘quest’ to get to the bottom of my uncle’s murder… do I mean murder? Yeah I guess I do. I’ve got no actual proof but that’s my feeling at the moment. Anyway, like everyone else I’ve met along the way Doctor Lang is weirdly obsessed.

Lang’s work is in brain imaging, but it’s not the kind of crude MRI scan stuff we’re used to, those static slices of brain and blobs that show where the blood flows when you think about carrots or whatever. No, this is real time, building on the work of someone called ‘Nieuwenhuijzen’ who uses MEG (Magnetoencephalography) to image brains in real time and even interpret those signals and image them. Nieuwenhuijzen managed to get their device to understand when someone was thinking about or looking at numbers and letters. Lang’s work is a quantum leap ahead of that.

I had to sign some sort of official secrets thing before Lang would even talk to me and even then he was a nervous old bird (specifically a vulture, like in Spiderman, eerily so). I’m not even supposed to be writing this down but what else can I do? It’s how I organise my thoughts. Maybe I’ll delete it afterwards.

Anyway, Lang uses his MEG and a bunch of computers, to genuinely, actually read minds. It uses my uncle’s ideas to interpret what it reads subjectively so it’s not exactly precise but you can literally see thoughts, even ones a subject isn’t consciously aware of.

Lang’s experiments are the connection.

They use my uncle’s theories and ideas about language, and thought to interpret the data. The art students were the test subjects for the machine – they needed the money – and so it all hangs together after a fashion.

It makes sense with the glaring exception of DI Grass’ worldwide murders. For them there’s no damn connection at all.

Lang showed me the visualisations he recorded from some of the students and I particularly asked to see Wilcox’s ones, since he seemed the most affected. The playback was swarming with a familiar image that made my skin crawl and ramped that feeling of paranoia up until I was shaking.

Wilcox’s recording was full of those weird Klein bottle images he’d been obsessing over, strange, twitching, endlessly complicated shapes like bundles of spaghetti passing through too many dimensions, swimming through his mind like so many grotesque jellyfish transforming through all their possible permutations.

Of course, I wanted to go into the machine.

Lang strapped me in, talked me through it, gave me a lecture on the preservation of helium and switched it on.

It’s a weird sensation, knowing your mind is being read. You don’t want to think of anything bad or wrong, which only means you do. Every bad break up, every illicit fantasy, everything you’ve ever done wrong, ever deepest, darkest secret. That was all I did really. I sat in the chair feeling guilty and trying to remember something similar I’d seen on the TV (Persinger’s God Helmet, after I looked it up, but it works in the other direction).

Then it was done and we took a look at what had been recorded.

Sure enough, there were our little Klein-bottle friends swimming around in my mind and as we watched they split and multiplied and my headache got worse and worse.

I made it back here, somehow and now I can’t sleep. I have this irrational fear that these things are still there, in my mind, twisting and turning, eating away at everything else. I see that pattern everywhere now, in my uncle’s papers. In the art. Even in Grass’ stupid crime scene photos he keeps sending me. Pale reflections of that Klein bottle thing but echoes nonetheless and once you know what to look for, it’s all there, or is it apophenia?

I should sleep, paranoia or not.

***

Extract from Neuroecology by Professor George Angel

The Noospheric Ocean

If the human mind is a sea in which ideas swim and compete then the collective human consciousness is an ocean. Ideas are not unique to an individual and are not isolated from each other. Ideas flow from one mind to another and can be gathered from a text, speech, music, an overheard conversation, a picture, a film anything you care to mention.

Like a Cichlid dropped by some passing bird into an empty African lake, a new idea can change, mutate and re-organise to meet its surroundings and might not also something greater be able to live across many seas, occupying this ocean of the mind?

When mankind spread across the Earth, communication was slow, limited to the speed of a man on horseback or the speed of the wind. Ideas could emerge and compete and find new niches.

A perfect case in point might be the American Revolution, where old, strong ideas of monarchy and tradition, removed by a great ocean, could not wield the power they once did and were outstripped by younger, more vital but ultimately vacuous concepts of liberty and freedom that have been dumbed down to the point of buzzwords.

Now with phones, the internet, the telegraph, the television, ideas spread from mind to mind almost as fast as they spread from neuron to neuron. The processing power of the combined human intellect is enormous and yet it does not seem to be working to our benefit. We are still the same, primitive, warring apes we ever were. Is it, perhaps not working to our benefit at all? Are we livestock to some meta-ego above the superego? Some supremely powerful memeplex that operates on the level of civilisations and cares no more for its environment than we do?

The more we talk to each other, the more information we record, process and communicate, the more likely this seems to me and if it hasn’t happened already, perhaps it will soon. Just as humanity emerged from the primordial physical soup, so too might something monstrous and alien emerge from our collective unconscious when the conditions are right.

I think I have glimpsed it.

From the personal blog of William Munday, retrieved 23/03/2014

I‘m making these posts and everythIng I’ve gathered publiC.

I went back to Doctor Lang’s lab today and went through all the recordings, as deep as the records would let me.

Those Klein-bottle things are present in every mind he ever scanned. They’re just dormant in some and active in others, like how a disease can hide away and Flare up again years later, like malaria or the spores of some bacteria.

Ideas can be like that too. hidden away in writing, stone tablets, cave art. Ancient ideas to whom we’re not even alive. To whom we’re a natural resource or a thing to live in and on, the same way we walk the ground, swim the water or fly through the air.

I doubt the idea even knows we exist, even knows we’re alive. I think, though, when we get a little too aware of it it reacts, or its immune system reacts at least. We would put out a fire, seal away toxic waste, clean water and that is what it did when it killed my uncle.

I know how insane that sounds, but there’s no doubt that ideas can kill. Religion kills every day. Hitler’s twisted ideas about eugenics and race killed millions. Millions more died because of the ideas of Mao and Stalin, ideas so powerful that reality was ignored.

Those are crude though, this idea is subtle enough to single out my uncle and have him killed. It’s smart enough to know who I am, what I have done. It’s smart enough to be aware of me.

The way the landlady watches me, the way the other guests watch me. If I could see inside their heads that twisted little thing would be writhing and multiplying, I just know it. I was followed to the lab by someone, some of the porters looked at me strangely and when I left I was followed again but I don’t know by who.

Of course, I could just be mad. Maybe I snapped under the pressure and the grief, under the strange ideas that frankly, I have never understood.

I knew this was big, but I never knew how big. How many more minds have to be infected before the idea truly awakens and then, when it awakes, will it be aware of us now? Will we still be us? Who or what will we be? Am I in charge of my own mind or am I the parasite, the bystander.

I’m part of something bigger now.

I need to tell people about it.

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