Carnacki the saiitii man.., p.2
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       Carnacki: The Saiitii Manifestation, p.2

           Roger Wood
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he ought to inquire but also sensed he would not like the answer. Instead he stuck to the current theme. “Fossils, eh?”

  “Yes. I think of myself as an enthusiast – certainly not an expert. Come to think of it, it was my fossils that led Tom to draw me into his circle.”

  Jessop and Arkright – Percy and Reggie – looked to Tom. Carnacki merely blinked and shifted the food in his mouth from one side to the other. Taylor filled the conversational gap. “Tom had this theory, years ago, that the dominant species at any time in the history of our world has been possessed of what might loosely be called a soul. A special additional life-force or anima which enabled them to dominate. After death that force dispersed into the ether, progressively moving further from the earthly plane into the astral. The most ancient entities – according to this theory – therefore cluster at the outermost edges. Only the most powerful – the unbelievably strong – can still cause ripples in this plane we inhabit. Well, you no doubt recall the case of the Monster in the Steeple?” Arkright clearly didn’t. For Jessop it rang only the faintest of bells. It mattered not at all. Taylor would have told them anyway. “Tom’s theory was, originally, that the essence of some ancient flying creature took up residence in the steeple of St Anselm’s when the original blew off in the Great Storm of 1703. It makes sense, really, when you think about it. In life it would have roosted at the top of some sort of prehistoric proto-tree. At the dawn of our enlightened era it roosted atop the tallest structure it could find, the broken spire of a parish church in Rutlandshire.”

  It sounded like preposterous gobbledegook to Jessop’s ear. But he hadn’t really followed the argument. His attention had been caught by something Taylor mentioned before digressing into mumbo-jumbo. “You say that was the reason Tom – Carnacki – approached you?”

  “Yes. Just as his reason for inviting Reggie here was his extraordinary family tree. That linked to a second theory regarding hauntings. Why do they tend to take place in ancient houses belonging to families of equally ancient lineage? Is there a connection to the bloodline, perhaps? The Arkright pedigree is said by the College of Heralds to be one of the oldest and most incestuous in the country.”

  “True,” said Arkright, modestly.

  Jessop posed the question that had interested him all along. “So why me?”

  “Your daughters, old man. The theory of the harlot and the virgin. Obviously there’s no shortage of whores in London, but virgins---“

  “Now look here!” Jessop spluttered. Arkright, always the smoother of troubled waters, intervened. “And Walter?” he enquired. “Poor old Dodgson?”

  “Oh, Walter was Tom’s lover before he became mine.”

  Jessop found himself fighting for breath. Blood surged into his brain. His cheeks empurpled. His eyes bulged from their sockets. He tore at his collar, yanked the napkin from its moorings and flung it onto the table. He rose to his feet, shoving back his chair with the backs of his knees. “I’m not staying here and listening to this – FILTH!” he roared. “I’ve a motor-cab coming at ten-thirty.” He tossed a guinea onto the tablecloth in front of Arkright. “Give the driver that for me, Arkright, will you? Or use the motor yourself, my treat.”

  “Do sit down, Percy. You don’t want to miss your coffee.”

  Jessop sat. Taylor held him captive without even raising his voice. Arkright, unbidden, brought the coffee pot and cups from the kitchen. Jessop watched him pour and serve. He didn’t even like coffee – considered it an uncouth American habit – but found himself murmuring his appreciation when Arkright placed a cup before him. To his left Carnacki emptied his cup in a single draught, then held it out for more.

  “Feel free to smoke, gentlemen,” Taylor said. “Don’t mind me.”

  No one chose to smoke. They didn’t dare. They were extremely mindful of Taylor though none of them knew why. Carnacki might have known something, but then he seemed to have lost the faculty of speech. No sooner had this thought occurred to Jessop, than Taylor answered. “You must make allowances for Tom, Percy. As you can see, the war took a terrible toll on him. So many souls wrenched from the full vigour of life. So much anger, so many clamouring voices. They would have swamped a lesser man entirely.”

  They watched Carnacki the whole time Taylor was speaking. He seemed oblivious to their gaze. He sat bolt upright in his chair, blinking from time to time, and occasionally sucking down coffee. He was staring at something – something in the direction of Taylor but not actually Taylor. Whatever he was watching warranted no reaction, no emotional response, just continued surveillance.

  Taylor clapped his hands together. “Well now, we must have a story. It wouldn’t be a gathering of we remaining four without a ghost-finding story. Candlelight, I think. Percy, would you do the honours? And Reggie – would you mind awfully rolling back the carpet?”

  Like slaves they obeyed. Jessop circled the table lighting candles in sconces that he found placed in odd corners. Meanwhile Arkright flapped back the edges of the cheap maroon carpet-square. That was all that was required, apparently. It was only when the two guests retook their seats that it became clear they were sitting within a five-pointed star whitewashed onto the floorboards. The table and chairs had been carefully placed so as to be wholly within the central pentagram. The candle-sconces which had struck Jessop as oddly arranged made perfect sense once the pentacle was revealed – one in each of the valleys between the points. It was the protective talisman of which Carnacki had often spoken. He had, indeed, patented an electrical version.

  Taylor chuckled. “Forgive the theatrics, friends. I hope you will find them amusing later.”

  The last word chimed with Jessop. “My cab---“ he exclaimed. Taylor waved the half-hearted protest aside. “Oh, we’ve bags of time yet. You wouldn’t want to leave without a story, would you, Percy?”

  “No.” It was true. At that moment Jessop could think of nothing more important than hearing a story. He looked sidelong at Carnacki, made gestures around his own mouth and throat. “But...” He did not wish to be indelicate. “Poor old Tom...”

  “It’s not a problem,” Taylor assured him. “Tom is not the teller of this tale, though he does feature prominently, towards the end.”

  “Good-o!” Arkright declared, and Jessop found himself wholeheartedly in accord. They settled back in their seats. Arkright surreptitiously undid the top button of his trousers for additional comfort.

  “Well, here we all are,” Taylor began.

  “Not quite all,” Arkright gently reminded him.

  “You mean Walter. Oh, Walter’s here – in a sense. He’s in my story, the central figure actually.”

  It began with shapes, I suppose. Optical illusions, so I thought. You know how it is, when you’ve been reading by candlelight. You close your eyes and the imprint of the light stays with you, seemingly on the inside of your eyelids. Not white or yellow, the colour of the light, but bright red and a garish purple. It only lasts a few seconds but ... you know what I mean. Anyway, of an evening, half a year ago, I began to glimpse such shapeless patches of colour in the evening shadows, here and in the front parlour. I thought nothing of it, naturally. I made a mental note to have my eyes tested. Then I began to notice smells – or rather, scents, for they were in no way unpleasant. Actually, I found them extremely pleasant because they reminded me of Walter. That tobacco he always smoked. His cologne... Again, I considered these things entirely natural. Of course his scents lingered here: he had lived here and been happy here.

  That said, I have to tell you that we parted badly, Walter and I. He insisted on leaving the Department and joining the ‘boys at the Front’. I couldn’t go with him, of course, not with my chest. Harsh words were spoken. Tears were shed. I am not ashamed to admit that I begged him to stay, on my knees, on this very carpet. To no avail, obviously.

  He didn’t write, which well nigh broke my heart. But I felt su
re he would return, because he had left all his moveables here. I had no idea he was dead. His mother, of course, was next of kin. And she had no idea I even existed. I only found out when--- Well, we’ll come to that.

  That was the extent of it, really, to begin with. The occasional optical anomaly, the rather more frequent olfactory. No bumps or squeaks in the night. Nothing ab-normal, as Carnacki used to call such things. Nothing for which a rational explanation was not immediately forthcoming. But then news of the Armistice came. And Walter didn’t. I saw men and boys in uniform everywhere around town, some of them horribly mutilated, and my concern quickly turned to panic. Suppose Walter was lying in similar condition in a hospital somewhere? Suppose he was unconscious or had lost his mind and couldn’t tell anyone who he was? How was I to find him? Well, that was obvious, wasn’t it, gentlemen, given our mutual interests?

  Oh, don’t look scandalised. I didn’t dash off to one of those cracked mediums with their spirit bells and flying tambourines. Why would I? I had an advantage no other amateur possessed. I had the official Carnacki papers, the only thing, bar the clothes he stood up in, that Walter brought with him when Carnacki drove him out of Cheyne Walk.

  It’s all there – the
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