Summary: Giles gets called to investigate
something at Bristol City Museum. Before long he and Angel are caught up in an adventure
with artists, schoolkids, ancient gods and a dark chapter of Bristol's past.
I am content
to wait. Here in this cabinet of glass and wood, among the little sticks and
fragments of past lives, the futile dust of impotence. For what am I but dust?
The gatherings of uncounted possibilities, the sweepings of unnumbered roads,
those taken, and those not taken. In me the tracks of what you did and what you
failed to do preserved, still, suspended, between the foot rising and its fall,
mine are the motes that drift to cover all potential paths.
I am the
proving to be a slack month, and Giles decided to take up his old friend Fred
Murray's offer to spend a couple of days with him in Bristol. They had first
met twenty years previously, on Council business, naturally - Fred was an
outside contractor specialising in (ostensibly) modern African literature and
(covertly) African myths and rituals and their connection to contemporary
inconvenient was that the Discovery was due to go in for a service on Fred's
convenient days. In the end, Giles elected not to postpone the visit, but to go
up by train on the Tuesday. As Angel was still a little stir-crazy - suffering
delayed necro-tempered glass withdrawal, as Buffy put it - Buffy and Angel
would pick up the car in Bath, where the dealership was, on Friday afternoon,
and since it would hopefully be dark enough, Buffy would make her way home and
Angel would drive on to Bristol in the Discovery to pick up Giles. There were
pros and cons for all of them with this arrangement: for Buffy, she'd have them
both out of her hair for an evening, plus her driving the Carrera would give
Angel something different to angst about; for Angel, he would for a change not
feel so totally confined to the limits of twilight, but then, Buffy would be
taking the Carrera on the motorway ON HER OWN - he hoped the gears would
survive it; and Giles hoped he himself would have a pleasant few days of rest
and relaxation, although he would be without the autonomy of his own means of
transport. Ah well. He supposed he could get used to using public transport
again. It was the greener alternative, after all.
Thursday, Giles and Fred had exhausted the subjects of past adventures (‘auld
lang syne'), present developments, and the lesser-known beauty spots of
Bristol, as well as the better known ones. They had been out to an art-house
film on two consecutive evenings, once to the trendy arts centre and once to
the even trendier new media and technology centre. They had had so many meals,
and at such ‘happening' places - for Bristol is a great networking hub for the
arts, and the film world, and the television industry, and the new technology
industry - that Giles began to twitch every time he heard the words
‘innovative' or ‘significant', or
‘cultural', or ‘impact', coming from an adjacent table. He was all
cultured out. The pubs Fred took him to seemed to be full of irritating young
people with extra-loud opinions on everything. And Bristol public transport was
On the Friday
morning, Fred, a conscientious host, had racked his brains for a way to
entertain his guest before his return home that evening, and had come up with
nothing. So the phone call was an absolute godsend.
sounds very intriguing. It's not quite my field though, 18thC folk
magic. As it happens I've got a guest staying at the moment, it might be just
up his street. Giles?" Fred put the phone down.
"I've just had
a call from Gail Johnston, curator of anthropology and ethnography at Bristol
City Museum. They've been clearing out the archives and she's come across what
she thinks is a little book of spells, in with a box of letters, late 18thC.
They can't quite place the symbols on the book - do you think you might like to
have a look at it? It's not a fee-paying thing, I'm afraid - Gail and I often
help each other out unofficially. But if you're interested I'll give her a call
they're preparing for some sort of function there tonight, ‘Homelands' or
something. It's a schools' project exploring the collections. You should have a
look round if you go, see if you find it interesting. We could attend the
function if that fits in with your man, what's he called? Angelo? The friend
who's picking you up.
making up display cases with the children, selecting objects from the
collection to represent an ideal ‘homeland'. I believe they have a guest artist
from the twin town in Benin Republic. It all ends with a banquet tonight:
international food and music and some kind of symbolic repatriation of the
objects. Could be a breath of fresh air - I'm sorry, old man, I hadn't realised
how stuffy I'd got.
"The lead artist
is an interesting person, Cece McLeod. She uses elements of West African ritual
in her work - that's her heritage - and it's fascinating for me, because of the
fusion with modern thought. She just got back from Galway, she was working with
Traveller communities doing stuff about creating an internal homeland -
‘transcendental homelessness' is a bit of a thing with her - don't raise your
eyebrow at me, old fellow - you having been away for so long and all, I thought
you might find it rings a bell."
Giles pause. The upshot was that calls were made, and it was arranged that
Angel would come directly to the museum as soon as it was dark enough to drive,
to check out if he, too, might want to attend the function (with the
interesting artist from Galway), or, if not, take Giles home directly.
Which is how
Giles found himself, on a crisp, bright January afternoon, sitting on the top
deck of the number 43 bus, with a promise from the driver to let him out at the
right stop. It was so sunny he was glad he'd remembered to bring sunglasses
with him. Changing them for his normal ones, he basked in the low light
slanting through the bus windows. At last he felt he could breathe.
The strain of
three days sociable communication with Fred - an estimable fellow - had taken
him by surprise. He must have got quite used to Angel's tormented brooding and
Buffy's uncompromising decisiveness, because the anticipation of getting back
to them was proving rather soothing. Meanwhile the casual fragments of conversation
he could hear were a welcome antidote to the high tone he'd been confined to
for the past three days.
"I said to ar
Ma, I ain't having that. He's not bringing that bloody dog round yer, mind."
"50 quid for
that bollocks? Get ee for a fiver up Eastville Market, my lover."
to himself. Just as well to be reminded of what they were supposed to be
protecting, saving the world in all its prosaic glory. Help the hopeless, as
Angel's old firm had had it. Or was it helpless? He'd found the phrase pretentious
when he'd first heard it, and a great deal too Californian, but it was growing
on him. How much more difficult for a being with over two hundred years worth
of cynicism and despair to counter? Goodness, was that another twinge of
sympathy for Angel? It seemed to be becoming a habit. And ‘helping the
helpless' might prove to be a useful mantra against the creeping
curmudgeon-ness he felt overtaking him at times, stealthy as old age.
building was an imposing Bath stone construction, squatting at the top of Park
Street in a great neoclassical/Edwardian Baroque heap - he would have known
where to get off without the driver's friendly reminder. Crossing the road he
walked under the portico and up the marble steps, through a huge pair of wooden
doors gleaming with brass furniture. He gave his details to reception and
waited for someone to come and get him.
He was in a
large airy hall rising up through the entire height of the building. Three
levels of entrances, stairways and galleries were visible from this central
area. Right at the top, just below the ceiling, was a stucco frieze with names
of famous painters, Gainsborough, Rembrandt, etc. A life-size replica of a
Gypsy Moth, with a very stiff, uncomfortable-looking mannequin dressed in
airman's goggles and flying jacket (but no sticky-out scarf, Giles noted) hung
at the same elevation from the centre of the ceiling. To his left, at the far
end of the gallery, there seemed to be some activity; a bustle of young people
in school uniform and someone with a loud engaging laugh - "No, Umani, you
can't bash the 3000 year-old vase to bits to represent the evils of colonialism
in your display. Silly boy."
Giles caught a
glimpse of an animated person with a bristle of greying locks before he turned,
aware that someone else beside him was trying to attract his attention.
"Mr. Giles?" A
young woman with a slightly punk air thrust out her hand for him to shake. "I'm
Bernie, Gail Johnston's assistant. If you'd like to come with me."
Her hair was bleached
and stuck straight up but she was otherwise normal, Giles noted, except for
that extraordinarily baggy hand-knitted jumper in rainbow colours.
little earlier than we expected, but if you don't mind waiting a little I'll
take you down to Gail now - we're just finishing up with one of the schools'
groups. We're in what we call the vault - well, it's more of a basement
Amelia Hartford, Princetown, January 17__
Not 18 months
ago, Hartford was engaged in acquiring a group of 8 Negroes, whose surly manner
and general defiance had almost made him regret the purchase of them, were it
not that their general hardiness and the vigour of their labour proves
compensation to some extent for the awkwardness of their control. My woman
Madeleine has told me, it is rumoured they were all taken together from their
native country, and serve each other under some oath, or vow, of brotherhood,
the bounds of which may not be easily broken, even under the vicissitudes of
their present condition; which if it were true would be good enough reason to
dispose of them away from one another. Now ever since Dr. B_ has confirmed to
us the expectation of that blessed event, the culmination of our vows - towards
which both our Duty and our Love incline with happy anticipation - though this
must precipitate my soon return to Bristol, leaving Hartford pining for my
presence, as I for his - my dearest Hartford has been expressly tender and
considerate of my wishes, and of all my concerns. He has enquired of me, did I
desire a page for my return to Society? And he has made available to me the
services of one of this company of Negroes, a young boy of perhaps 12 years of
age, in that by reason of his tender years he may not yet be so hardened in the
habits of that barbarous and unruly defiance practiced by his fellows, as to be
wholly incapable of receiving those impressions of duty and obedience proper
now to his station. Indeed, he appears a tender little creature, docile and
quick of apprehension; for of all of them the facility of speaking in English
appears in him already almost perfectly correct and expressive, and I hope he
may cut a fine figure when in his livery. I dare say I shall not be ashamed on
his account for any fault in his person, nor in the graciousness of his
I drew the
little boy towards me and bade him kneel at my feet. The hair of the Negroes is
coarse, like sheep's wool halfway to shearing, and not, in spite of his years,
in any way as soft as that of a lamb's. His midnight skin is smooth to the
touch as that of any child, though on his breast he bears a savage scar in the
shape of a peculiar fetish, which he could give no account of. I asked him if
he did not indeed wish to serve me? He cried and said he hoped he could learn
to please me, which would henceforth be all his study. And so he shall, I am
sure of it.
has mocked me for my womanish sentiment, as he calls it, towards the little
savage. He warns that I must find it in my heart equally to be as stern as I am
tender, for a slave, a dog and a woman will all be thoroughly spoilt, and
rendered useless, from lack of proper discipline. I shall not fail in my duty
towards this benighted child of Africa, to whom the Almighty surely must extend
some care, as He does towards all his creatures. I give thanks indeed to Him
who is above all things, for making me His instrument in rescuing this poor
lamb from the barbarous customs of his Race, which would otherwise have rendered
him lost, not only to the benefits of Civilisation in this life, but also to
the joys of life to come, towards which we all, with the most humble sentiments
of Gratitude and Hope, must still aspire.
As they made
their way to the basement archives, Giles reflected on the Alice-in-Wonderland
quality always attendant in walking down long, dimly lit corridors, where
fluorescent lighting has a tendency to flicker fitfully. Shallow, glass-fronted
cabinets lined the walls to either side of them. They passed by encased hordes
of wooden spears and shields, all labelled with cardboard and string, the
left-luggage of redundant societies. Some cabinets were stuffed with arrays of
hand-coiled, unglazed pottery, rough and red, but in beautiful organic shapes.
Most of the booty here was considered too ordinary, too workaday, to add
anything of value to the heroic narratives hinted at upstairs in the main
galleries. But what was this? Right on the intersection with another long
corridor winding its dim way across their path, a cabinet containing two huge
wooden effigies covered in straw and shells, upright and watchful. Giles felt a
tingle, and stepped closer to inspect. The feeling faded. ‘Grave Effigies,
Trobriand Islands, South Pacific' he read on the faded label. They had been
objects of power once, but now...there was a shabby air of pathos about them,
like abandoned dolls. Whatever their power once was, it had been curtailed.
was explaining that most of the ethnographic collection came from bequests, rather
than from purchase, mostly from ex-officials in the colonial service; and it
provided a rather eccentric map of former British interests. But, as she said,
it was current museum practice to question the assumptions the collection had
been built on, which still, in a sort of evolutionary dead end of outmoded
ideas, persisted in determining their display.
along the corridor, and Giles didn't notice how odd it was, in the cabinet
facing the one they had paused at, that a rough lump of unfired clay was in
amongst the pots. If he had squinted at it, he could almost have made out
indentations in its surface vaguely corresponding to eyes and a mouth.
set of doors birthed them into a room as big as the main hall upstairs, lined
from floor to ceiling with shelves, cabinets and drawers of various widths and
depths. Five or six rows of tall closed cupboards filled the centre of the
room; at one end of each was a metal filing cabinet holding, what? Index cards?
And not a computer in sight. Near the door was a long wooden table stretching
along to the far wall, where Giles could see a cardboard box, and some small
unidentifiable packages of various sizes wrapped in white tissue paper, resting
on the table beside it.
were much brighter in here, and there was a burst of busy, obstreperous
chatter. Just inside the door, ten or so young people surrounded a tall,
good-looking woman in her forties. She was holding, of all things, a large ball
accessorized appropriately enough with latex gloves, had a ruddy complexion,
free of makeup, and a fine fall of chestnut hair curling to her shoulders. She
wore a dark, slate-blue smock of rather a pre-Raphaelite persuasion, and riding
boots. Giles instantly approved. Obviously a fellow scholar.
But you ain't showing us all the African stuff, though. What about
Egypt, right, Pharaohs and that?" The speaker was a pretty girl with skin the
colour of set honey. She had kiss-curls gelled to the side of her face, the
rest of her hair disciplined into a stiff black plait. She wore a lot of shiny
jewellery, earrings and necklaces - school uniform had certainly changed since
his day, Giles thought. Beside him Gail and Bernie bristled silently in the
manner of educators everywhere who are trying not to broadcast a fervent wish
that a particular pupil had extended a record run of skiving by at least one
There was a
muted chorus of agreement. "Yeah, man, African heritage." "Never mind all
these spears and stuff." "That's our ancestors, man," "Ball of string? What is
amused, and then, with a slight shock, caught himself making the mental
adjustment that sees the separation of Pharaonic Egypt from the rest of the
continent as not only artificial but unreasonable. Then Bernie said, in the
most conciliatory tone imaginable, "Gail, I could show them some of the Coptic
collection and some of the jewellery?"
were unimpressed with the samples of Coptic linen fragments - "It looks like
someone sewed embroidery on a piece of old sack," but became entranced by the
drawers full of little bronze and stone votive figures, pins, brooches and a
tray of gold rings from Egypt's Dynastic Period. Poring over the drawers, ‘the naughty
girl', as Giles thought of her, provoked silent anguish from Bernie as she
brushed her fingers over ancient gold rings, shuffling them slightly in their
little indented slots. She herself wore enough tinny yellow stuff to clink
softly as she moved.
should give them back to the Egyptian people. I don't think it's right you got
them here in your cupboard."
in. "Some people think Egyptian grave goods are all cursed, you know. Even
archaeologists tend to handle them cautiously."
up, the girl shot him a look of pure poison, green eyes glittering through her
long curly lashes. He could have sworn he heard her muttering "Do I look
bothered though?" as she flounced over to the other side of the room, pausing
for a moment to lean against the wall by the table. Did she really say that?
There was something about this place that seemed to have all his senses
came to an end, and Gail was now free to pay attention to her visitor. As the
children were herded back upstairs by Bernie, Gail and Giles made their way
over to the table on which the box of memorabilia in question rested. Gail
explained they had found it in storage, and it didn't appear to be recorded in
the catalogue: the box had contained bundles of letters, and two books, one of
which seemed to be a diary. The other book, though, they couldn't quite place -
there was a symbol embossed on the cover which her department had been unable
to cross-reference with anything else on file. Gail had made a guess that the
object was a spell book; hence the call to Fred. The owner had been the wife of
a wealthy planter, and had spent some time in the Indies with her husband,
before returning to a long, happy, well-to-do life in Bristol.
Gail rooted out
a pair of latex gloves for Giles and began to unwrap one of the packages from
its tissue paper. "From the letters, she seems to have been quite an
independent, adventurous woman for her time," she said. "Quite the free
often the case, once you start delving into conventional strictures of
behaviour. Human relations are complicated, though we try so hard to order them
to our liking; dear me! You must forgive me for being so prosy, Mrs. Johnston.
Is that it then? May I see?"
through the pages before she handed it over. "It's a book of poetry."
very unusual here. Printed, I see - no marginalia, no plates - I could do some
research on the publisher, if you'd like?" He handed it back.
"Oh, no, thank
you, I can put Bernie on to that. Well, Mr. Giles, I feel rather as if I've
called you out under false pretences."
"Oh not at
all, it's been a pleasure, Mrs. Johnston. This really is the most fascinating
hoard you've got here...cabinets of curiosities...have you worked here long?"
Diary of Amelia
Hartford, Clifton, 17__
dear Hartford received news from Mr. T_, from his estates, that will put him
thoroughly out of pocket and out of temper - for the gang of slaves from which my
Ignacious was pluckt, to the eternal salvation of his soul and person, has
hanged themselves. Hartford is in a great temper, and says it is a scandal that
he cannot be protected from the loss entailed by such an occurrence by
Insurance, as our brave Captains are, that still ply sail unto wild Afric's
servants had got some rumours of it already, and I hear that one of the
desperate gang, being the most hardy and defiant, and in some position of
leadership amongst them, had received wounds from flogging from which he could
not recover, and eventually expired; and the servants relate a curious
circumstance pertaining to the incident, that when he had laid himself down on
the ground to receive the lashes, the others, six stalwart fellows ranging in
age from youth to hearty maturity, did the same likewise, requesting to be
allowed to share his punishment. Not long after, these six were found hanging
from the branches of a guasima tree. They had each one bound his breakfast in a
girdle around him; for the African believes that such as die there immediately
rise again to new life in their native land. Many female slaves, therefore,
will lay upon the corpse of the self-murdered the kerchief, or the head-gear,
which she most admires, in the belief that it will thus be conveyed to those
who are dear to her in the mother country, and will bear them a salutation from
her. Madeleine says, at the burial of these seven, their corpses were
discovered to be covered with hundreds of such tokens.
Ignacious, who must now be about 15 years of age, very sullen and quiet, I
asked him whether he was not extremely grateful to our Saviour, for rescuing
him from the Awful bonds of Ignorance and Superstition which may well otherwise
have been his lot; and seen him, with his fellows, sacrificed to barbarous
custom's Maw? He fell to weeping, and said that he had failed in his duty, and
that he wished he could have died for his Prince, and that he had betrayed him,
and could never now consider himself a Man, and further such a blasphemous and
offensive farrago of heathenish nonsense, of which I can scarcely bear the
memory. I told him he must first kneel and pray with me to be delivered of the
constraints of such grievous Error, as to imperil the very existence of his soul,
and to beg forgiveness of our merciful Lord for the monstrous Ingratitude he
had displayed. When he would not, I summoned John and Benedict to secure him,
and the whole household fell to prayers - except for my dear little Emma, whom
I desired Molly to keep to her room above, because I could not bear that she
should witness the dear Playmate and close attendant of her earliest days so
fallen - until at last he was calm, and begged my pardon, and took his
punishment manfully, and shook John's hand afterwards and thanked him, and told
him that he bore him no ill-will for persevering in his Duty, that had had the
effect of bringing him to his senses; and that he was very sorry for
distressing all of us, who have his own benefit and welfare so much to heart. For
he is become quite the favourite in the household, and I perceived several of
the maids were moved to tears in observing of his frenzy, and subsequent
fortunate that my Hartford is away from town just now, as such an exhibition
might well have driven him to stronger measures; for now I have my boy tucked
up in my own bed the better to attend his stripes till they are healed; where
Hartford would have had him sleep as per the usual on the floor of my
It was at
about 6 that evening when Angel pulled up in the Discovery, all fixed and
shiny. Giles had arranged a parking space for him just off the archway at the
Museum's front entrance. He made his way into the building, which was staying
open on account of the function later. Angel snagged a leaflet at reception and
followed directions to the new Hughes Gallery where the event was being held.
Glass-topped display cases were scattered about the room at waist height, and a
path of illuminated signage led between them, guiding the viewer from box to
box. Giles was there, talking to two women.
"Oh, there you
are. Angel, I'd like you to meet Gail Johnston, a curator here, and Cece
MacLeod, the artist in charge of this shindig. Mrs. Johnston, Miss MacLeod, my
hands. "My, is it cold outside, your hands are freezing!" Cece MacLeod twinkled
up at him, a jaunty little woman in ethnic prints; she wore a bright strip of
Kente holding her locks in place like an Alice-band. She had a firm handshake,
a habit of looking people straight in the eye and a determined set to her chin.
"Please call me Cece, and don't you have another name, Angel? Never mind, Mr.
Giles tells me you're interested in modern practice, I'll take you round the
show if you'd like."
"Oh, and, er, Angel? Gail and I are just going over the road to the pub -
there's some time to kill before the opening. We'll leave you to it. Give me a
ring if you want to stay for the event, otherwise I'll see you back here in
about an hour?"
popped up to talk to Cece, and Giles recognised ‘the naughty girl' from
downstairs before he and Gail struck out for the exit.
I'm going round Dominique's now, okay?"
Cece turned to
her niece with a stern expression. "You'd better be back in time for the
opening, Shenaya, I don't want to have to come and drag you out of Dominique's
house. I will, if you don't show up. And I won't be very happy."
The other girl
smiled at Cece shyly. "It's alright, miss, my mum's home, she wants to come
back to the show with us. She said Shenaya's welcome to come and have her tea
if it's okay with you."
Cece, you know there's no food at home, you've been busy here all day," Shenaya
"I've got stuff
at Dom's. Will you take my book bag home though, it's too heavy."
just put it in my big bag over there. Why are you kids still here anyway?"
showing us Egyptian stuff they keep in the basement, that lady over there, the
one who's leaving. Then the other lady took us round the mummies and stuff. See
you later, Cece."
Just at that
moment, Cece's face softened, and Angel could see she was looking at someone
over his shoulder. "Ajayi, is that you? Bye, kids; Angel, let me introduce you
to Ajayi, our guest artist from Benin." A tall man came forward and gave Cece a
hug. No wonder her eyes had brightened when they fell on him - he was slender,
handsome, very dark, with locks falling all the way down his back, and a
bristle of beard over high cheekbones. Slanting dark eyes danced in his face,
lively and quick.
who's this?" He and Angel shook hands.
tourist, more or less. I'm here to pick up a friend, and came across the show.
Cece's offered to show me round, it's fascinating, really."
"Well, she is
quite fascinating herself," he laughed at Cece and waggled his eyebrows at her,
making her giggle. Then he was suddenly serious. "I'm all set, Cece, just one
thing. For luck."
He took a
little bottle out of his pocket, a quarter size of whisky, and unscrewed the
top. He poured some at the threshold of the gallery, speaking softly to
himself. Then he looked up at both of them and smiled. "In order to open the
ways," he said, and proffered the bottle to Angel. "Want some?"
accepted, but Cece was cross. "God, as long as you don't let any of the
attendants catch you doing that. What next, are you going to sacrifice a
"Ah, come, you
know the importance of symbolism, isn't that what our work is about? In order
to open the ways, may Elegba grant us the right direction. She'll explain it to
you," he said to Angel, laughing. "I'll see you at home, Cece."
coming back with me?"
promised Amanda I'd look at her proposal. I'll be home soon, we'll come back
here together, right? Bye Angel, hope you enjoy the show. Will you be here
tonight?" He was already turning away to join a pretty blonde woman leaning
against one of the pillars some feet from the gallery. They walked away, arm in
after them, and sighed, addressing Angel. "He is so gifted. And he has so many
useless people," her eyes flashed, "running after him, I'm afraid he's really
going to squander his time here. His visa runs out in a few weeks - if only he
would let me help him, I could hook him up with people who could really advance
"But he has a
career in his own country, doesn't he?"
"Well yes, but
the big money's over here. There just hasn't been time to make the right
contacts - we've been so busy with the kids on this project. I could take him
around, introduce him to agents - we just need more time. Well, we could - no."
"No, it's a
silly idea. Marriage would give him right of abode...that's a bit drastic, right?
I'm so sorry, I'm supposed to be showing you the work! What am I like?" She
sighed, gustily. "I just wish sometimes these kids would appreciate what it is
we're trying to do for them, you know? But it's an uphill struggle, though
they've done some pretty good work this week; let me show you these over here..."
She took him
round the exhibition, explaining themes and ways of working; how this sort of
expressive task has benefits for kids across the whole curriculum, and how it's
healthy for the institution of the museum as well, to have a fresh perspective
on the interpretation of their collections. "Not that there's going to be an
overnight difference - there's still all the old hierarchies and
classifications, but I have a lot of time for Gail Johnston, she really is
trying hard. Change from the inside. Hey, she seems to be getting on alright
with your friend, doesn't she? She's a good person, you know? Poor boy, I don't
know why I'm boring you with this. You're American aren't you? America doesn't
have such a heavy weight from its Imperial past to get to grips with."
really arguable actually, and as a matter of fact I'm from Ireland originally,
so I do have an idea of what you're getting at here. Reclamation.
coincidence, I've just finished a residency there. Beautiful landscape, I bet
you miss it - do you go back at all?"
names and places and Angel fudged his lack of contemporary knowledge as best he
could. It was easier than might have been expected: Cece had a keen interest in
myth and legend and was quite happy to talk folklore and fairy stones rather
than politics and pubs. She drew his attention to unexpected comparisons
between Irish and African and Caribbean tales and superstitions.
know a lot of the old stuff, don't you, I suppose that's why Ajayi's little
trick didn't freak you out. I wouldn't have expected that in someone like you."
"Oh, you know,
young, and, so very good looking," she grinned at him, "and, you know, you've
got this ultra-cool thing happening. If you wore glasses and corduroy, or tweed
perhaps, and had an indifferent haircut, and smoked a pipe, I'd be less
surprised to be having this conversation with you. As it is, I keep feeling we
should be talking about high finance, or Global Telecommunications, or, or,
modelling," her eyes ticked him up and down, "or something."
She patted his
arm. " But I'm glad we're not, because then I'd have nothing to say."
He couldn't help
laughing. "It's a pleasure, really. But do you mind me asking, how do you
connect the sort of work you're doing here with working out in the landscape in
"All part of
the same thing, my dear. Maybe, if - do you have time? I've got a lot of my
Galway stuff at home. I've just got to pack up here, and it's only five minutes
away - I've got time to show you before I need to get back here. It's much
easier to explain if you're looking at it. Besides, some of it's for sale." She
stood a little straighter and looked him in the eye. "If you're interested,
interested - intrigued, even - so he sorted it out by phone with Giles, still
happily ensconced in the pub, and then they were on their way in Cece's little
The drive only
took five minutes, as she had said it would. They drew up at a terrace of big
late-Georgian houses - Angel would have guessed which one was Cece's from the
colourful trompe l'oeuil painted over
the bricked-up basement window - but the whole street had a pathetic air, its
originally spacious and elegant proportions decorated with rubbish, dog's mess
and super-strong thief-proof shuttering. A group of young men lounged about at
the end of the street, ostensibly doing nothing but look menacing. "Hey! Artist
lady!" one of them called across, "Is Ajayi around?"
"No, he's at
work," she called back, getting the door open, "And he doesn't want to talk to
you, you little bastard," she added under her breath. "Come on in, Angel. Sorry
about that." She clicked the hall light on to steer him through the clutter of
coats, shoes and paintings stacked up against the wall. "Ajayi! Ajayi!" she
called up the stairs. "Where is that bloody boy to? Never mind, I expect you'll
have to do now."
surprise she hauled him into the kitchen by the arm and shoved him into a
chair. "Just sit tight, loverboy."
Cece? What's going on?"
"Now you just
sit tight." She took the bag off her shoulder and rummaged in it. "I said I had
something you might like - wait, here it is."
She drew a
dark brown object from her bag - a book - and opened it, skimming her finger
over the page until she found what she was looking for. "Here. Just here. Don't
worry about anything. This is gonna be artistic, alright."
Her eyes were
glittering. Holding her page open with a finger, she placed her other hand on
Angel's chest, just below his heart, and started to intone:
"One in the
other, skin to skin,
Heart to heart
and soul to soul -" Her voice sounded weird, higher than usual, squeaky, even.
"Cece!" In his
alarm Angel sent the chair crashing backwards as he leapt up and seized her by
the wrist. "Cece! Give me that!"
the book out of her hand. It fell to the floor, tumbling over twice before it
rested, placid, innocent-looking, under the kitchen table. Angel picked it up,
hesitantly. "Sit down, Cece, please."
was breathless. They sat down, facing each other. "What just happened?"
Cece was trembling
and sweating, her eyes darting from side to side. Angel turned the sombre
little object over and over, smoothing his long fingers over the bumps and
cracks in its surface.
"Cece, I don't
want to alarm you, but that was just too weird. What is this thing, do you
seen it before in my life." She reached for it.
it's best if you don't touch it. Just look at it. You've no idea what it is?"
He placed the object flat on the table between them and rested his own hands
either side in case he needed to make a quick save. To all appearances, it was
a small, brown, leather-bound book, with some sort of emblem embossed on the
front. The leather was streaked in a few places.
"I thought I
had Shenaya's books in my bag? You were there, remember she asked me to take
them home for her?"
"And the kids
had come out of the vaults, is that right? So conceivably this could be museum
kid, I could strangle her!"
possible...well, you didn't exactly look yourself a few minutes ago. This thing,
whatever it is, parchment, skin...it could be having an effect on you. And
probably on Shenaya, too, to get her to pick it up. What were you feeling when
you opened it?"
know." Cece still looked shaken. "I don't know. I feel a bit dazed now though,
my ears are ringing. What do you think this is, this skin? Cow, or something
more exotic?" She bent her head to look closer. "That pattern, emblem,
what-you-call-it, on the front. I'm sure I've seen that before. Hang on a
disappeared and came back with a large volume, ‘Traditional African Pattern
here. It looks like a guy with a divided fish tail instead of legs. I thought
I'd seen it."
She laid the
big book flat to compare its picture with that on the object, very careful now
not to touch it. "That's the same, isn't it? Oh."
read, "Scarification pattern, Olokun cult. This symbol is thought to represent
the king, or Oba, as a marine creature, sacred to Olokun, the ocean. In former
times, an emblem of kingship only allowed to be worn by members of royal
families and those closely associated with them." She sat back, frowning.
"Scarification. That means..."
up the book, running his fingers over it thoughtfully. He sniffed it, and gave
an un-amused snort. "I should have realised it earlier. You guessed right,
Cece. This is human skin. This pattern here, pictogram, whatever, this was a
tattoo. From what you say, a sign of kingship, or at least, some sort of royal
connection. But there are more marks, look see, these long slashes? They're all
over the whole thing, running in one direction only. No, don't touch it."
I don't want to."
"I think..." he was
talking to himself now, more than to her, " I've got a pretty good idea what
these scars are. See, the pictogram is well defined, the integrity of the skin
is sound, no holes or weaknesses or anything. But these - well, they're ragged,
the skin seems to be eroded along some portion of the line. I think these are
the scars from a flogging, and the person died before he healed properly."
her chair backwards with a dragging sound and impelled herself as far away from
the table as her arms could reach. "What? You can't know that."
"Oh, I do.
I've seen this kind of scar before."
the chair over in her hurry, she stood, and stepped backwards till the kitchen
sink prevented her retreating further, where she stayed, wringing her hands.
Cece. I should have told you more about myself. I'm here in Bristol because my
colleague was asked to investigate an artefact at the museum, and unless I'm
mistaken, this is it. Which means something's gone very wrong at his end. Do
you remember, what were you intending to do when you touched me?"
make sure my boy would stay with me. Yes. I knew if I could only read it out at
the right time, in the right way, he'd be standing there in front of me and he
could never leave."
thought Angel? "Can you remember anything else about it?"
"Yes, I wasn't
- he was actually mine, I owned him. I mean really owned him. And he would be
in a costume, breeches and a waistcoat, shoes with buckles on them. He wore a
black wig, which I had specially made for him. He wore an earring. She - me -
oh my god. Oh my god. I don't want Ajayi like that. How did this stuff get in
If it makes no sense to you, just tell yourself this is my way of processing
unexplained phenomena, it could be metaphorical or something, if that's
briefly possessed by the entity that crafted this spell, contained in this
book, in order to call back the spirit of a loved one, into the first
convenient body, which happened to be mine."
That's alright then." Her mouth worked painfully, and then she burst out "I
don't think it's fair I should be lumped together with some crazy slave-owning
white bitch! I just want a little happiness! That doesn't make me a bad
He cast about
for something to say. "It's no consolation, but, we've all done things -"
relationships, you find yourself doing - both of you - things you wish you
"What's that got
to do with me?"
me out that I get this." He rolled his shoulders, glanced down at the book, and
rubbed one tense hand along the back of his neck. He didn't lift his eyes. She
gave him a very sharp look.
A quick glance
up. He didn't answer.
" - Anyone
ever do that to you?"
He looked at
the floor, mouth set in a thin line. There was something he needed to get
across to her.
"If your young
man stays here, it looks like there's trouble waiting for him at your front
door. Those guys? And he'll want to prove his independence. I was the same,
actually I was worse. Let him find his own way, Cece.
happen, with that sort of power. You're not the same as her, how could you be?
But it resonates, this spell is like a heat-seeking missile, it'll make
straight for the right target. You and Ajayi,
me and - " He remembered her face, urging him, beautiful and desperate,
demanding. I gave you eternal life. And he, confounded. You damned me.
"Not the same. Close enough. I'm sorry."
There was a
silence as they both stared sombrely at the floor. Then she flashed a little
bitter smile and sighed. "And you seemed like such a nice boy. Look, I know
this isn't your fault, but the whole thing's actually making me feel quite ill.
I don't want to be anywhere near that THING for any longer than I have to. Can
you get rid of it? Please? Get it out of my kitchen?"
and took out his cell phone. "Hello Giles? We have a situation. That book you were
asked to look at, I think it's here.
"Are you sure
of that? I'm looking at something right now and it's charged with magic.
"No, I don't
know how it got here, but Cece was at the museum half-an-hour ago so it's not
"Well, can you
check? Yes, I do mean go back in the vaults and have another look.
will do that." He looked at Cece and mouthed ‘Address?' She took an old
envelope off the worktop and pushed it across the table to him. "Giles? 16 Bannerman
Road. But I'll wait for your call. Don't worry, I've no intention of handling
it any more than I have to.
later, okay? Bye."
"Now we wait."
Diary of Amelia
Hartford, Clifton, June 12, 17___
be borne. What Treachery has he worked here, that Emma herself requests of her
father, that Ignacious be permitted to stay with her, to assist in her new
duties as Mistress of her husband's house? Oh False! Oh ingrateful, faithless,
Wicked slave! Can all not see thy treachery? Thou Worm. Thou Snake, that has so
stung me even in the tenderest quick of my bosom, dost thou with lecherous
spite now look upon my daughter? Thou Worm, whose canker has consumed alike the
flower of my youth, with the sweet savour of my ripening years, to turn from me
now in the hope of what advantage? And will you go with her and leave me here
happen. This SHALL NOT happen.
Diary, June 23, 17__
darling boy. Once again I have been the instrument of your salvation, and have
preserved your soul from those dread shores towards which it was otherwise
bound. Nor may the dark influence of your Native land attach to you, nor yet
that Judgement of which both you and I alike should fear the course. For
neither Man nor Time can harm you now, caught as you are in the safety of my
love. Wait for me.
In Hope and
expectation of our continued congress
Giles snapped his phone shut and looked at his companion.
"Gail, would you mind awfully - my colleague seems to think there's a problem
with the book."
Down in the vaults they stood at the long table while Gail
carefully, with her gloves on, unwrapped the tissue paper around the
book-shaped package they remembered putting away two hours ago. The last sheet
slid off, revealing:
‘Gargling with Jelly, poems by Brian Patten. Puffin Books.'
"What? Let me see that!" Giles grabbed it from her, protocol
forgotten, and flicked frantically through the pages. "But we both put it away!
Gail, look here." He pointed to the flyleaf.
‘Shenaya McLeod, 27 Corbett Street, St. Pauls, BABYLON!!!
Sporty thieves, keep your dutty hands off my book' was written in the flowery
loops of a young girl's handwriting.
"Oh, good grief! We both looked at this, assessed it, and
put it straight back. Listen, I'll give you an explanation later, but right now
I know where the artefact in question is. And yes, you were right, it is an
occult object. This really isn't that child's fault."
"I hardly think she's added hypnotism to the list of things
she's in trouble for. Giles, this is extraordinary,"
"Yes, yes, but if Angel is right and if we hurry, we can
pick it up and get you back here in time for the opening." He was in such a
fluster that as he turned to go out he banged straight into an overhanging
cupboard and knocked his glasses off. They fell to the floor with the tuneful
‘chunk' that meant they were surely broken. He stooped to pick up the pieces
and his grunt of exasperation turned into a yelp as he caught his finger on the
"Oh, gosh, have you cut yourself, Giles? Here, let me have a
"No, no time for that, it's just a little scrape, I'm hardly
bleeding at all, see? Thank goodness for my spares." He wrapped the broken
pieces in his handkerchief and shoved into his pocket, drawing out the
sunglasses that he'd had earlier. He put them on as he followed Gail into the
corridor. He shook his hand. It stung.
It was extraordinary how dizzy he felt. He hadn't had that
much to drink, surely? He put his hand out to steady himself on one of the
cabinets as he passed it, and to his surprise found himself sliding slowly down
the glass till he was staring face-to-face - how odd - at a rough lump of clay
at the base of the display, in among the rounded fertile pots. The fluorescent
lights buzzed and flickered dimly. A thin smear of red from his left hand
tracked upwards on the glass, out of the range of his vision. The dull tick of
the lights sounded slower and slower, like a heartbeat. Sparks of fire
glittered tiny in the remote depths of the thing's rough eye-sockets - teeth
glinted like fire in its mouth - so far away - infinite reflections echoing
through the glass - he could see himself mirrored there, grim and sinister in
his dark glasses, the little sparks glittering over his eyes as well -
"Giles!" Gail had noticed. "Are you alright?" She was
hurrying back in his direction. Giles pulled himself up.
"I dropped a piece of my glasses frame, Gail, it fell out of
my pocket." His tongue felt strange to him. Gail turned to hurry out. He took a
step behind her. One step.
And he felt that foot fall through infinite space, to rest
on the unknowable base of the universe. He struggled to lift the other foot,
rooted in real time still, held captive by the multiple tendrils of our
physical being. With effort, he wrenched it up, to make another step, heavy
with the weight of worlds.
Something seized him by the neck and mounted him. He felt
his skull expand in a white darkness. He felt terror as his ultimate
dissolution came to claim him. Ghede was here.
He strode past the woman, squeaking in her surprise. He left
her open-mouthed. He stood at the gates of the building and looked into the
night. He was hungry, hungry enough to devour the world, which must come to him
at last. He threw back his head and laughed. He drew back his lips and gnashed
his teeth at the world, taunting it. It was all his, and the people in it, his
The shadowy discs over his eyes glittered, reflecting all
the moving points of light the night could throw at him. This horse was strong,
and would take him to his quarry. For they were all his, all these shadows
scurrying meekly past him, as he surged forward. They wound along their petty
ways, whose ends lead all into his maw, to be consumed. Yepa! Them he would
wait for, all of them his children, he their journey, their ultimate path; he,
Ghede, Baron La Croix, dread aspect of Elegba; the road, the way, the junction,
Carrefour, the intersection, the choice to go home.
He strode between rivers of bright moving vehicles, ignoring
their sudden starts and stops and curses. Through rivers of weary pedestrians,
who parted before him, none caring to obstruct his path. "Do you think he's alright, that old man, laughing away at
himself like that? Maybe you should call someone." Past the groups of young men lounging -
all his children, these, and he would be back for them soon enough - he clicked
his teeth at them - "Crazy-ass white guy,
what's he on?" "I just feel sorry for the old boy, huh." Up the front steps to Cece's blue door.
"I'm coming to collect! Whoso is there, let them render up
my child to me! Beke, your plots are scattered!" He banged on
the door with his fists and laughed.
The racket seemed to echo way beyond their hearing. They
started up, alarmed. "You stay back, Cece, let me get this," said Angel.
He gathered himself at the door and peered through the spy
hole. Just Giles then, but Giles grinning like a loon and looking taller,
somehow, the night lights bouncing off his sunglasses in a most unsettling way.
It was only Giles knocking and yet Angel's head seemed hollow with the noise of
In the kitchen, Cece stared at the book lying on the table
before her. She heard the front door open.
"You. You poor dead thing, are you not tired yet? Come here,
I can fix that for you. Or don't you know you're one of mine as well? Oh, my
child, my most elusive child, you've cheated me long enough, I should have had
you long time, long-long time: come to DADDY."
There was a muffled protest, and a whumping sound. Cece felt
the hair raise up on the back of her head. Then, without thinking, she snatched
up the book and ran out into the hall.
She nearly tripped over Angel lying full length on his back,
scrabbling desperately backwards. The crazy old man had one foot over her
threshold. "Here!" she screamed. "It's here! Leave him alone, this is what you
want!" She flung the book at Giles. He caught it in mid-air, ripped it in two
and stuffed it in his mouth. There was an end to the laughter. A swallow later,
and the air shifted.
"I have recovered my child," he said. "I am the journey
Giles staggered. His body lost all tension. Then he fell to
his knees on the grimy step and spewed up disgusting chunks all over Cece's
"Is that strong enough for you, Mr. Giles? I'm putting the
coffee on. You sure you won't have anything, Angel?"
The clean-up hadn't been complicated, but my god, the smell
was awful. They sat around the kitchen table trying to calm their nerves. Giles
stared into his steaming mug of peppermint tea, wondering idly if his face was
that green. Unsurprisingly, he felt sick as a pig.
"I can only repeat how sorry I am, Miss McLeod. This was
very untoward! I can assure you I'm not in the habit of making such an
exhibition of myself."
"Oh really? ‘Cause from what I heard, you guys do this sort
of thing all the time. And, call me Cece."
"Well, yes, thank you, Cece. Please do call me Rupert. We do
investigate paranormal activity, but this was a little bit out of my league; I
think Fred could well have handled it better - he might have had a more
accurate idea of what we were facing. In fact, I need to tell him - he should
definitely get in touch with the museum about whatever was in that cabinet." He
explained to them about walking down the corridor and waking up to find himself
in a pool of sick on a strange doorstep. And, gloom and doom, how in the world
was he to mend fences with Gail? Let alone be in a position to advise her to
burn the letters, and everything associated with them. He would be quite
comfortable with never finding out any more about this whole gruesome affair.
He hoped Fred could handle it - at least the beastly things had never been
"Yes, well," said Cece. "Somebody really does need to make
sure they've not got images of Legba slap bang in the middle of a f - frigging
UNDERGROUND CROSSROADS, for heaven's sake. What's wrong with you people? Even I
know that. And you," turning to Angel, "You've not got much to say for
yourself, have you? But thank god you were here, otherwise me and Ajayi -" she
shuddered. "It doesn't bear thinking about."
Angel roused himself from staring at his hands. "You were
pretty good back there yourself." He gave her a lopsided smile. "And don't
worry about the trying-to-get-me-possessed-by-the-spirit-of-a-dead-slave thing,
it happens all the time."
Giles snorted. "Speak for yourself. But yes, Cece, we really
are indebted to you. Buffy would never forgive me if I tore you to pieces
"Buffy, huh? I hope that's not the chick you were on about
He shook his head no, embarrassed.
Cece misinterpreted the raised eyebrow Giles flashed in
Angel's direction, and felt moved to say: "Well you come to Auntie Cece if she
doesn't treat you right, I'll look after you. Positive stroking, favourite
meals, everything. What is your favourite meal, by the way?"
"...I'm not much for eating."
"Great big guy like you? You don't give much away, do you? I
do though. There's something I'd like you to have. I'll just go and get it;
don't worry, it's not your type of ju-ju. Well, insofar as art isn't quite
Driving them home in the dark, Giles kept glancing at Angel
from the corner of his eye. The vampire sat quietly, turning Cece's present
over and over in his lap; his enhanced vision would have no difficulty making
out the details of the thing, Giles reminded himself. It was a delicate wooden
box with old-fashioned pyrographic engravings, country scenes from Galway,
scorched on the outside; on the inside, through a brass peephole in one of the
faces, a gorgeous view of Galway Bay. It was a slide photograph, but the sea
seemed to ripple in the sun, and the branches of the trees to move, as the
light source inside the box flickered.
"There's a solar cell on the base, just leave it upside down
in the sun to charge up the bulb inside," she had said. She had been wrong
about one thing: catching sun in a box, surely, was Angel's kind of magic.
Trobriand Islands": Okay, so the description is accurate, but I
can't remember exactly where the figures are from - South Pacific somewhere.
Sorry if I'm making a mistake here.
"Large ball of string": there really is a
ball of handmade string in the ethnographic collection. Can't remember where
it's from - Central Africa?
"Hey, sister": Ajayi calls Cece ‘sister'
as a mark of respect, since she is quite a bit older than him.
"White darkness": This is a term
coined by Maya Deren, an American experimental filmmaker working in the 40's
and 50's, to describe the feeling of entering possession. Her book, "Divine
Horsemen", is a fascinating study of Vodoun in Haiti.
"This horse was strong": people undergoing trance possession are said to be the
god's horse, i.e. ridden by the god.
"Beke": Caribbean term for white person. Amelia.
Elegba (Eshu): Yoruba trickster god, god of fate,
choices, paths, guardian of the crossroads. The religion survived in the New
World in several slightly different traditions, disguised with a Catholic
As Elegba can signify infinite potential, he is often
represented as a more or less undifferentiated lump of clay.
Elegba is syncretised in Vodoun and Santeria to the devil,
but is conceived of as profoundly ambivalent rather than evil. Elegba is
invoked at the beginning of ritual practice, ‘in order to open the ways'.
Ghede, Guede: an aspect of Elegba
specifically connected to the world of the dead. Specific to Haiti, I think.
Baron La Croix: "one of the Guédés, related to and intertwined with Baron
Cimitère and Baron Samedi. He is a Guédé of the Americas, bridging the Guédés and
Legba. Both are guardians of the crossroads, the place where spirits cross over
into our world. If the intercessions desired are with the loa, then Legba is
saluted and asked to allow the loa to participate. If the intercessions are
with the dead, then Guédé is the intercessor."
Baron La Croix
is the mystical Baron responsible for the reclamation of souls. Specific to
Bristol traditions: a lot of Bristol's wealth was founded on the slave trade,
but until recently it has been very difficult to ferret out any information
about it - records, primary sources, that sort of thing. Notoriously, Colston,
one of the city's most eminent 18C benefactors, was a slaver. There's a Colston
Street, Colston Hall, Colston School, etc.
In Amelia's diary, the story of the death of the companions
is conflated from two stories, both of them primary sources quoted by the
anthropologist M.J. Herskovits in ‘The Myth of the Negro Past'.