Summerhouse land, p.39
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       Summerhouse Land, p.39

           Roderick Gordon

  ‘All I know is that my headaches went at the same time that my tumors did, and you weren’t any the worse for it, were you?’ the man in the jacket said. ‘You don’t want to end up like my father, not at any cost – and there is no cost to this.’

  ‘He just referred to Theodor,’ old Sam put in quickly.

  ‘No, I suppose not,’ Mr White replied after a pause.

  There was the sound of someone calling but it was very distant.

  ‘Mum!’ Sam realized. ‘That’s her voice, isn’t it?’

  Hearing Mrs White, the two men glanced at each other. They hurriedly left the room, pulling the door to so that the room was again returned to semi-darkness.

  ‘How did you get that film? And what on earth was Dad doing to me?’ Sam demanded.

  Older Sam turned the camera off and then held it up. ‘I set it to record and hid it out of sight on a shelf in the nursery. I’ve been back and forth through the cliffs so many times to make sure I don’t burn up, there were ample opportunities to plant it during the gray-outs. It became a bit of an obsession with me, and time after time I came up empty-handed. I’ve got hours of footage of us as a sleeping baby, if you’re interested.’

  Older Sam smiled fleetingly but the sadness in his eyes told a different story. ‘Then, finally, I hit the jackpot. I caught that moment and, a few weeks later, a second one,’ he said. ‘What first put me onto Dad was a batch of medical files locked away in his desk that I stumbled across during another gray-out. He never told us he started to develop growths similar to ours when he was younger, did he? And that they inexplicably went after we were born?’

  ‘No,’ Sam replied. ‘No, he didn’t.’

  ‘The symptoms were much less serious than ours.’ Older Sam swung his chair round to Curtis. ‘I can’t claim all the credit for figuring this out; the future version of you helped me to put it together. So go on – tell me what you make of it?’

  ‘Well …’ Curtis began, knitting his fingers together as he thought. ‘Well, it’s evidently a trait inherited down the male line, and it would appear that the father can decant his energy to his infant son, who can then do likewise once the conditions are right,’ he said. ‘And based on the evidence of that film, the energy can be transferred at a cellular level and, one might presume, ultimately a permanent genetic switch is induced in the donor. A cure, if you will.’ Curtis was looking from one Sam to the other as he spoke. ‘And either you inherited an incredibly malignant form of the condition or, more likely, there was just too much pent-up energy by the time it was your turn to be the receptacle.’

  ‘Pass the parcel,’ Morgan chipped in, his voice a low rumble.

  ‘Precisely – couldn’t have put it better myself,’ older Sam said, making a quarter turn in his chair to Sam. ‘But when the music stopped, the parcel in our lap was too hot to handle … and set off the explosive growth in our bones. So each time Dad told us our illness was his fault and got all teared-up because he said he was to blame, it actually was his blimming fault.’

  Sam tried to say, ‘No,’ but there was scarcely any sound to the word.

  ‘Oh, but yes,’ older Sam contradicted him. ‘You see, in order not to go the way of poor Ted, our grandfather had discovered – probably by happenstance when he handled his new-born son – that he could siphon off his energy to him.’

  ‘He must have noticed his symptoms were improving, with no ill effects to the infant,’ Curtis speculated, ‘so he kept at it until he didn’t exhibit the bioluminescence anymore.’

  ‘Quite so,’ older Sam agreed. ‘Having witnessed his father’s decline, Gramps would have been petrified he was heading down the same bumpy road. You remember how bad Ted looked?’ the boy asked Sam.

  ‘Bad,’ Sam repeated mechanically. ‘Yes. The painting in the library,’ he murmured, picturing the distorted face with the specially made spectacles.

  ‘So, naturally, Gramps showed Dad the ropes … how to do the same to us,’ older Sam went on. ‘But what neither of them could have possibly known was that the accumulation was just too potent after two generation’s worth of hand-me-down energy. You and I couldn’t contain it any longer, and the damage began long before we reached Dad’s age. And, of course, that also meant we didn’t have an infant son to stitch up with it.’

  ‘But Dad would never have done that to me,’ Sam said. Although he’d seen the proof with his own eyes and there was little doubt that some sort of energy exchange had taken place, he didn’t want to believe it. ‘My dad wouldn’t,’ Sam added, in not much more than a whisper. But maybe he had had a sneaking suspicion all the time, because his father revealed too much through his emotion, through his serial displays of regret, of guilt. Perhaps the signs had always been there but Sam hadn’t picked up on them, because he would never have dreamed such a thing was possible.

  Not in a thousand years.

  But then again, as he regarded his future self sitting there, he had dreamed of it in a thousand years.

  ‘I felt the same, I felt betrayed,’ older Sam said, ‘though in his defense Dad had no idea it would make our lives the misery it did. That it might eventually kill us.’

  Sam sat numbly in his chair, eyes fixed on the shadowed floor, not speaking. Something that was so important to him – his love for his father – would never be quite the same again. The things he held sacred were being taken away from him, piece-by-piece. He felt as if he’d been cast adrift in the sea and desperately had to find something to cling to, to stop himself from going under.

  He found it in the reason he’d been compelled to come to Curtis’s house in the first place. ‘Where is Damaris?’ he demanded, shouting at his older self. ‘Tell me!’

  ‘Who exactly is Damaris?’ Curtis put in.

  ‘Yes, who is she?’ Morgan echoed gruffly.

  ‘I’m just coming to that,’ older Sam said.

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Making a sound somewhere between a yawn and the word ‘Yes’, older Sam rose to his feet. ‘Let me explain what I’m doing here first.’

  Don’t bother. Why don’t you just go home? Sam moaned inwardly.

  Older Sam had been on his way over to Morgan, but hesitated in mid-step to give his younger self a sharp glance.

  Does he know everything I’m thinking as I think it? Sam asked himself, but his future self had continued to Morgan’s side where he stood regarding Curtis in his chair.

  ‘People in the valley have a deep mistrust of you, don’t they?’ he said. ‘Which is why you’ve shut yourself away in this house.’

  ‘Due to their superstition and rank ignorance,’ Curtis defended himself.

  ‘No, they’re right not to trust you. You portray yourself as some kind of saint – the great provider – claiming that you’re making life better for everyone, while you’re only making it worse. And many years from now you overstep the mark. You want to control everything. The valley becomes a bleak, embittered place.’

  Older Sam turned to Morgan. ‘And in those years, Morgan isn’t the walking corpse you see here now. He mellows … he emerges as the voice of reason against the future Curtis’s excesses … and people rally round him.’

  Older Sam was addressing Curtis again. ‘But you don’t like this one bit. You become vindictive and paranoid. Of course, you can’t risk any intervention back in the world in 1943 because that would mean the Gondola wouldn’t have exploded and the valley would never have been created. So it has to be later, before Morgan’s influence grows – and you picked this time, obviously.’

  ‘It didn’t explode, it imploded,’ Curtis muttered under his breath.

  ‘When you figure out how to access the valley’s past, you send me back to nobble Morgan so he can’t threaten your tyranny,’ older Sam went on, shaking his head in disapproval. ‘And here I am.’

  Sam was staring furiously at his future self. ‘So you’re here to meddle with things. And if that’s true and your Curtis sent you back, what are you playing at? Why’ve you switche
d sides to Morgan?’ he asked, tiring of all this when there was only one question he wanted an answer to.

  Older Sam returned Sam’s gaze. ‘Because I don’t agree with the future Curtis. He treats you and me like everyone else, just another pawn in his grand plan. So, no, I’m not going to do what he wants. Instead, I’m throwing the game open to Morgan. Either he can extract his pound of flesh from Curtis because he wants payback for all those years of being buried, or … or, with my help, he can find a way to work with him, and the valley will be a better place for it.’

  ‘So now you’re playing God,’ Curtis said.

  Sam had had enough of all this. ‘Okay, okay, but tell me what’s happened to Damaris.’

  For the first time, older Sam seemed less sure of himself. He returned to the chair in front of the screens and sat down heavily. ‘I couldn’t bear to come back to this time and see you and her together. Because of what she does to us in the future, it would have been too painful. I had to do something.’

  ‘What did she do to you? And what did you do to her?’ Sam asked, seized with foreboding.

  Older Sam ran a hand over his smooth scalp. ‘Why do you think I look like this? Did you not ask yourself why I’m wearing one of Morgan’s cassocks?’ He paused for a beat. ‘I went back to her time. I went back to 1646 and made an adjustment.’

  ‘You did what!’ Sam shouted, blanching.

  By the lake Hopkins is bent over his King James, moving a finger along the line of scripture as he reads. He’s composing himself for what comes next.

  All has been quiet from farther around the bank where his men have roped the witch to a tree, waiting for her to regain consciousness. The instruments of assize have been laid out in preparation. He grins to himself. It’s all going swimmingly. He lives for days like these.

  Hearing a sound, he looks up from his Bible. Hopkins has no idea how he’s been able to approach unobserved, but a boy is standing there, in a black cassock, his hooded head bowed respectfully.

  ‘Witchfinder General, sir,’ the boy says, lifting the hood from his head. ‘My name is Brother Skywalker.’

  Hopkins sees that he has some sort of plain band around his shaved cranium and that his face is covered with growths – in fact the growths are so large and the band so tight that it appears to be cutting into the flesh in places. He notices that there’s a crust of dried blood between it and the skin. This is something he hasn’t seen before, but he assumes it’s one of those mortification practices that several of the more extreme religious orders observe.

  The growths themselves don’t shock him at all and he doesn’t shy from looking at them. In his travels through the countryside he’s encountered many who suffer from disfigurement.

  ‘I apologize for disturbing you, sir, while you’re working, but I have been sent by Parliament with an urgent message,’ the boy says.

  This can’t fail to insure Hopkins’ interest. ‘Parliament? They sent you?’ He immediately rises to his feet.

  The boy nods solemnly. ‘They are only too aware of the vital service you perform in the name of our Lord, and applaud you for it.’

  Official recognition from those on high. Hopkins would like to jump with joy at this piece of news, but that wouldn’t be appropriate. ‘You speak like a scholar, but you are also a man of the cloth?’

  ‘Yes, I am precisely that. A scholar in the diocese of Westminster.’

  ‘In London?’ Hopkins asks quickly.

  ‘Yes, I’m from London. And I have walked the whole way here because it’s vital that I talk to you.’

  Seeing that the boy doesn’t appear to have any sort of escort with him, Hopkins says, ‘These are treacherous times to be alone on the road.’ With the civil war raging he always travels with at least one man to watch out for him. ‘So, Brother …’ he begins, but is unable to remember the boy’s name.

  ‘Skywalker,’ the boy helps him.

  ‘Ah, yes, Brother Skywalker, you have traveled far to see me, but what is it that you want to talk about?’

  ‘First I have gifts from Parliament and my church in recognition of the duties you have been performing.’ He delves into the Adidas holdall slung over his shoulder and produces a hessian bundle tied with string, which he hands to Hopkins. Hopkins removes the string and unwraps the hessian to find that inside there’s the finest Bible he’s ever laid eyes on.

  ‘It is so small, and the binding so handsome,’ he says as he examines the green book, admiring the spine and the cover. He opens it. ‘And the words so clear,’ he adds, peering closely at the print. Then he looks inside the front cover. ‘Library,’ he reads out loud.

  ‘Yes, it is the very best from our library,’ the boy says, glad that more than three and half centuries into the future he’d had the foresight to nick one of the editions without the illustrations from his school in Hampstead. Puritans were never too hot on adornment or pictures in their Bibles.

  ‘And I also have this for you, sir,’ the boy says, passing Hopkins a small blue box.

  ‘Mappin and Webb,’ Hopkins reads on the lid. ‘I have not heard of this merchant before.’ He opens it eagerly with his filthy fingers. Inside, wrapped in tissue, is a heavy silver crucifix on a chain that Mrs White wore briefly during her Madonna phase in the eighties. Hopkins holds it to the light and then, putting it between his teeth, bites on it, before examining it again. ‘It is solid silver?’

  ‘Yes, and it is for you to do what you will with it, sir,’ the boy says, trying to make the way he’s speaking sound as archaic as he possibly can. ‘Sell it to support your good works, if you so choose.’

  ‘I am grateful for your kind words and your gifts, Brother Skywalker,’ Hopkins replies, hastily stuffing the crucifix in a pocket. This is one prize that he has absolutely no intention of sharing with his men. ‘Now, you had a message for me?’

  ‘Can I first see the accused? We had an outbreak of witchery in London and one of them spoke of a young girl from this very town who was dispatching her familiar to other covens across the land. She is, by all accounts, a very powerful source of evil. Her name was told to us as Damaris.’

  Hopkins puffs with delight. ‘No! I knew it in my bones!’

  ‘Knew what?’ the boy says, raising an eyebrow theatrically.

  ‘We have her, Brother. We have the girl here right at this moment.’

  ‘And she has blond hair and a slight frame, and shuns the company of God-fearing people?’

  ‘That is her. That is her,’ Hopkins says, amazed that he has actually managed to apprehend a real witch this time and one, apparently, with form.

  The boy nods gravely. ‘May I see her please?’

  ‘Certainly you may, Brother Skywalker. Be so good as to accompany me,’ Hopkins replies, already striding along the bank.

  All of a sudden a piercing scream comes from up ahead. More screams follow interspersed with desperate guttural cries that sound more bestial than anything else.

  ‘I did not tell them to start on her,’ Hopkins says to the boy as they both begin to run toward the source of the screaming. Hopkins can only think that his men must be cutting off one of the witch’s limbs or putting her eyes out.

  The lieutenant is looking very pleased with himself as he steps aside to allow Hopkins to see the girl, then he notices the boy in a cassock, and frowns. ‘Who might this be?’ he asks.

  Damaris is fully conscious, her back stripped bare, and her arms pulled tight around the circumference of the trunk.

  ‘What have you done?’ Hopkins demands, glaring at his lieutenant. ‘You were to summon me when she was awake.’

  The lieutenant shifts awkwardly from foot to foot. ‘Well … there wasn’t a squeak from the she-witch when we branded ’er. Not a squeak. Just a few tears,’ he says. ‘Most unnatural it was, too.’

  ‘Then what made her wail so?’ Hopkins asks. ‘And why is her head more blooded than when I left?’ he demands, with a gesture at the dark crimson in Damaris’s matted blond hair.

nbsp; ‘Did that to ’erself, she did,’ the lieutenant replies. ‘She cannot abide the touch of another person.’

  The boy has stepped closer to Damaris. He glances at the crosses burned into her arms and then his gaze lingers on her face. She does not see him, her eyes tightly shut.

  ‘Who is that?’ the lieutenant asks again, as the other men gather around to gawk at this strange looking individual.

  ‘That is Brother Skywalker from the diocese of Westminster in London. He is an envoy from Parliament, sent specially to me,’ Hopkins announces self-importantly, his hand cupped around the valuable cross in his pocket. ‘And see the Brother’s face … see how loathsome he finds her,’ Hopkins tells his lieutenant as he observes the boy’s expression. ‘Like us, he has experience of witches.’

  The boy suddenly turns to Hopkins and his men. ‘You must gag her. The coven we ran to earth in London had the devil in their mouths. They could control men with their singing.’

  The lieutenant immediately remembers something he learned on his first visit to the town when he was making his investigations, and shakes his head. ‘That is true. She ’as done that before. I ’eard it from a swine’erd she bewitched. ’E woke up at dawn in the forest, with no mem’ry of the night ’cept for some sort of pagan dance.’ The lieutenant waves urgently to one of the men to do what the boy has advised. ‘Bind ’er trap!’

  Damaris screams and pulls against her bindings as she is gagged. ‘It is as bad as I suspected,’ the boy says in an ominous voice to Hopkins. ‘Her appearance was described in detail by several of the witches we put to death, and I have little doubt she is the one. This sorceress is a very powerful acolyte of the devil.’ Shaking his head, he looks at Hopkins. ‘You and your men need to take great care. There is danger here.’

  The boy opens his Adidas holdall and slips out the Black Sabbath album he helped himself to from Mr White’s collection of old heavy metal LPs in his study. Hopkins’ eyes nearly pop out of his head as he sees the naked male and female figures cavorting on a bed with a skull above them, its demonic hands with claws at the fingertips. ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,’ Hopkins reads out loud, then spots that 666 is written under the skull. ‘What sort of vile sorcery is this?’

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