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Project Paranormal

Author: Bisi

Season 2

Part 9

 

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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.

 

**

 

Gateway

 

 

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 moment.

 

 

 

January was 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 paranormal activity.

 

What was 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.

 

By the 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 abysmal.

 

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.

 

“Yes, that 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 back.

 

“Oh, and 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.

 

“They’re 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.”

 

That gave 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.”

 

Giles smiled 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.

 

 

 

The museum 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.

 

“You’re a 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 really.”

 

 

 

Diary of 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 address.

 

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.

 

Hartford 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.

 

His companion 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.

 

They continued 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.

 

 

 

Another tall 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.

 

The lights 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 of string.

 

Gail Johnston, 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.

 

“Miss, miss! 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 more day.

 

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 that?”

 

Giles was 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?”

 

The children 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.

 

“You people should give them back to the Egyptian people. I don’t think it’s right you got them here in your cupboard.”

 

Giles stepped in. “Some people think Egyptian grave goods are all cursed, you know. Even archaeologists tend to handle them cautiously.”

 

Straightening 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 prickling.

 

The session 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 spirit.”

 

“Well, that’s 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?”

 

Gail flicked through the pages before she handed it over. “It’s a book of poetry.”

 

“Ah, nothing 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__

Today my 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 shore.

 

The 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.

 

Seeing 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 chastisement.

 

It is 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 bedchamber.

 

 

 

 

 

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 colleague, Angel.”

 

They shook 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.”

 

Giles coughed. “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?”

 

Two girls popped up to talk to Cece, and Giles recognised ‘the naughty girl’ from downstairs before he and Gail struck out for the exit.

 

“Auntie Cece, 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.”

 

“Come on, Cece, you know there’s no food at home, you’ve been busy here all day,” Shenaya wheedled.

 

“What about getting changed?”

 

“I’ve got stuff at Dom’s. Will you take my book bag home though, it’s too heavy.”

 

“Oh, okay, just put it in my big bag over there. Why are you kids still here anyway?”

 

“They was 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.

 

“Hey, sister, who’s this?” He and Angel shook hands.

 

“Just a 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?”

 

Angel 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 chicken?”

 

“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.”

 

“Aren’t you coming back with me?”

 

“No, I 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 arm.

 

 

Cece scowled 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 his career.”

 

“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.”

 

“What?”

 

“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.”

 

“Um, that’s 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. Reconciliation.”

 

“Ireland? Which part?”

 

“Galway.”

 

“What a coincidence, I’ve just finished a residency there. Beautiful landscape, I bet you miss it – do you go back at all?”

 

They talked 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.

 

“Gosh, you 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.”

 

“Someone like me?”

 

“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 Galway?”

 

“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, that is.”

 

He was 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 car.

 

 

 

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.”

 

To Angel’s surprise she hauled him into the kitchen by the arm and shoved him into a chair. “Just sit tight, loverboy.”

 

“Pardon me? 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!”

 

He twitched 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.”

 

“What?” She 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 know?”

 

“I’ve never seen it before in my life.” She reached for it.

 

“No, really, 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 property.”

 

“That bloody kid, I could strangle her!”

 

“It’s 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?”

 

“I don’t 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 minute.”

 

She disappeared and came back with a large volume, ‘Traditional African Pattern Design’.

 

“Yeah, look 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.”

 

Slowly, she 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…”

 

Angel picked 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.”

 

“Don’t worry, 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.”

 

Cece pushed 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.”

 

Nearly tipping 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.

 

“I’m sorry, 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?”

 

“I wanted…to 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.”

 

Possession, 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 my head?”

 

“Okay, listen. 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 easier.”

 

“Hit me.”

 

“You were 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.”

 

Blink. “Oh. 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 person!”

 

He cast about for something to say. “It’s no consolation, but, we’ve all done things –“

 

“I haven’t done anything!”

 

“Sometimes, in relationships, you find yourself doing – both of you - things you wish you hadn’t.”

 

“What’s that got to do with me?”

 

“It’s creeping 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.

 

“You’ve beaten people?”

 

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.

 

“Bad things 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?”

 

Angel nodded 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 impossible.

 

“Well, can you check? Yes, I do mean go back in the vaults and have another look.

 

“Yes, okay, 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.

 

“Tell you later, okay? Bye.”

 

“What now?” asked Cece.

 

“Now we wait.”

 

 

 

Diary of Amelia Hartford, Clifton, June 12, 17___

This cannot 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 abandoned?

This cannot happen. This SHALL NOT happen.

 

Diary, June 23, 17__

My own 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.

With loving forgiveness

In Hope and expectation of our continued congress

Your Mistress

Amelia.

 

 

 

 

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 glass.

 

“Ouch!”

 

“Oh, gosh, have you cut yourself, Giles? Here, let me have a look.”

 

“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 –

 

He blinked.

 

“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 children.

 

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 it.

 

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 home.”

 

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 hall carpet.

 

 

 

“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 catalogued.

 

“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 myself, Angel.”

 

“Buffy, huh? I hope that’s not the chick you were on about earlier?”

 

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 magic.”

 

 

 

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.

 

**

 

 

 

NOTES

 

 “Grave Effigies, 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 veneer.

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.”

www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/6157/BaronSamedi.html

 

Baron La Croix is the mystical Baron responsible for the reclamation of souls. Specific to Haiti.

 

(Loa:  the pantheon.)

 

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’.

 



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