The house was physically identical to all others in the street. It had the same wrought iron fencing which ran the length of the fenced off garden square outside. It had the same number of windows and the same ornate carvings below the guttering as all the others. The 13 houses in the row were in one of the nicer parts of London, a well off area which had been home to the cream of London’s socialites for centuries. They were old Georgian houses which had stood on the spot since the early 1800s reminiscent of ‘The Circus’ in Bath but made with white stone which had to be washed on a strict schedule to keep within the rules of the residence association. Each house was uniform and alike...all except #9.
Whilst the other homes now housed bankers with young families, wealthy students who were living out their university years in the swanky accommodation of their family pile. They had all of the mod cons, broadband wireless, and satellite dishes hidden strategically on their roofs away from pedestrian eyes. All except #9, inside this house, this peculiar house; tonight out of all the nights of the year it was 1808. That’s why I’m here.
I’m D.I. Alex Cannon. Son of a dock hand and a factory worker who was the classic ‘boy done good’. I grew up in Tower Hamlets in the 80s in one of the rougher tower blocks. Only a few of the kids from my class at school finished secondary school, fewer still ended up at college let alone at university. I worked my way up the force after uni as a plod on the beat to where I am now.
Right here in CID is where my career stalled...and by stalled I mean drove right into a wall. It started innocently with a case of child kidnapping which turned into a child murder. An occult based crime. I caught the three concerned and sent them down for 25 years a piece. That should have been an end to the whole affair and a nice little collar for me. Would’ve been had I not stuck by the truth the three had been a coven of witches who had controlled the elements, threw sodding lightning and fire at me the crazy cows.
One thing led to another as they often do in these situations and I’d been given the next odd case which turned up (self-styled vampire, really a bored teenager whose fetish went too far), then the next (a real live…or rather dead poltergeist who tossed someone from the third floor balcony) and so on. I’d been given every single case which could never be fully written up without the blokes in a paddy-wagon turning up to take you away.
Thing was I got interested. Who wouldn’t? I’d read Social Sciences at University to try and get a better understanding of the world and then the cases started coming and I discovered a whole other level beyond what my books and lecturers had told me. I threw myself into research whenever I could. Big dusty books and old handwritten manuscripts. This got me the reputation as the ‘X-Files’ department of the London Met.
So here I find myself in 1808 ear-wigging some posh Georgian gentry. I sidle up to them as closely as I can whilst keeping myself backed into a corner as best as I can, trying to stay under the radar.
“Arthur!” bellowed the portly man standing with his back to me as he raised his arm into the air. His other hand held a glass of the finest scotch, not his first by the scent of him and his slurring. His nose was a bright red which was surpassed only by his cheeks, which stood out even more by his long fluffy white mutton. He licked his lips from one side to the other like a frog as Arthur approached. He was Percival Anderson (1750-1832, old age).
“Percy,” greeted Arthur with a smile as he embraced the older gentleman. The two were dressed in their finest evening wear for the party Arthur and his wife Elsbeth Bartlett (1770- 1808, causes unknown) were throwing. Arthur Bartlett (1765-1808, unknown) was fifteen years the junior of Percival Anderson but they were equal partners in business. “You look well,” Arthur separated from Percival and turned to his daughter Amy (1790-1858, Spanish Flu). Amy matched her father’s portly appearance even down to the double chin which nestled snugly against her family pearls…she was the picture of health. Arthur bent double and kissed the young woman’s hand before turning back to Percy.
“I feel well too Arthur. That spot of business we did last year has kept me more than happy enough.” Percy patted his stomach heartily and chuckled. “I don’t suppose you’d be needing a few ships this year?” Percy smiled and raised an eyebrow.
“I’m out of that game now Percy,” Arthur rolled his eyes back as if he was looking at the back of his own greying head. It was a clear look of disbelief. “The Lords have decided that the slave trade is wrong and finable by £100 a head…there’s no more profit to be made.”
“I did hear of some ships who simply toss the blighters overboard if boarded by the Navy…perhaps,” Arthur shook his head and raised his hand in front of Percy.
“I am out of the business Percy…for now at least.” He smiled. “Time and tide change all things. This banning is just a political point against Napoleon and his renewed trade…I would never of course go against my land in favour of France.” The two men made a dry spit to the floor at the mention of France. Charming, wish we’d kept that little habit up.
“I’m still surprised old George let the law pass. He’s got plenty of clout and I know that he…”
“Ah!” remarked Arthur. “Now you mention it! Archbridge over there” (Marcus Archbridge 1760-1840, old age) Arthur pointed through the crowd of party goers all of whom were in their best finery to a tall skeleton like gentlemen. I let my eyes slide across them looking for the gentleman he’s pointing at without letting anyone know I’m listening in. “He tells me that he was at Balmoral as a guest not three months ago and his Majesty had hit upon another rough patch.” The two men regarded glances and nodded understanding. The king’s failing mental faculties were the worst kept secret in society.
“I beg you to forgive my impertinence,” spoke Amy politely until the men had turned their attention to her. “I do not suppose you would have information on where your last set of slaves went too? I have a hobby of knowing how many savages have had their lives improved thanks in part to Father.” I bite my tongue to keep from swearing, talk about self deluded crap. I can barely believe people bought this stuff back in the day.
Arthur and Percival looked at one another and laughed, “Such a cute hobby and so socially minded. I unfortunately do not, we did retain one young woman here…two if you count the boy, her younger brother. They have since left our service” Arthur spoke calmly and stilly.
Percival ‘hmm’d’ at the comment. It was most unusual for a slave to leave the employment of its master. Clearly, cleverly worded to protect Amy’s delicate ears and constitution.
“Excuse me,” said a young gentleman who had approached them from the other side of the conversation. I study his features closely. His hair was a dark and curly red and his face covered in freckles. He was an up and coming accountant who had been invited by Arthur’s son from the firm in which he had received from his wife’s father. His name was Michael Haroldson (1786-1858, heart attack).
The two men regarded him with a smile. “Perchance have either of you seen my fiancé?” the two men and Amy replied with curt shakes of the head. The man walked off. He picked his way through the thick crowd of London’s upper-class businessmen, their wives and children looking absolutely distraught. The ball was as ever a game of one-upmanship. A huge pissing contest. The men bragged and belittled others for money earned or lost and their wives for property or servants owned.
The Bartlett’s held the same ball every year in their London apartments in an attempt to compete with the 100 balls a year that they would attend. The parties purpose was firstly to keep the family in the social scene which helped Arthur Bartlett with many of his business deals and secondly for the family to show how well they were doing.
The house itself was a four storey affair which had been completed only seven years prior. Strong wooden oak beams lined the ceiling and were draped in streamers for the party while dense marble columns rested on the ornate flooring and held up the second floor balcony. A set of hardwood floors carpeted tastefully stretched up the centre of the foyer and to the upstairs which was attired similarly.
I move away from Bartlett and Anderson picking my way through the crowd catching snippets of conversation as I do so. It’s not long before I come face to face with Michael Haroldson myself, still searching for his Fiance .
“Excuse me sir,” spoke Michael. This startled me, so far I’d remained ignored by the majority of the party. A God’s send considering I believe Afro-Caribbeasn from the 21st century blended into these sorts of parties in 1808 like oil and water. It was suddenly like he saw me for the first time. He seemed as startled and gave me a good eyeballing. I assume my modern clothes were odd. I was dressed in the usual blazer jacket, shirt and tie combo. My hair is brown and had cropped closely at the back and sides. I’m thinning a bit on top leaving, a small bald patch in my fringe. I’m thinking of shaving it totally.
“I was wondering perhaps had seen my fiancé.” Michael reached inside his jacket and took out a small golden fob watch which he popped open to show an exquisite time piece, in the other half on the inside of the door rested a picture. The woman in the picture was thin and pale but quite pretty.
“Beautiful. I haven’t seen her though, sorry.”
Michael nods at me. He breathes heavily as he tries to calm himself.
“Why you in such a hurry to find her...may I ask, is there a problem?” I’m staring at him hard trying to discern if there’s something he knows about this little party.
“We were supposed to leave the party early,” Michael glanced at the face of his watch. “Odd its’ Swiss…it’s stopped” he shook the thought free from his mind. “We were supposed to leave to attend another gathering…I do fear we shall be late.” He paused and sniffed “I miss her too….like I haven’t seen her in years even though it’s only been a few minutes. Her face slips through my mind like mercury like an eternity has passed since I have seen her.”
“She must have left just in time,” I tell him. I don’t know why I’m being so stupidly honest. It’s nothing but gibberish to the poor bloke “I bet you were a step or two too late…I’m sorry. Your wife is in a better place.”
Michael wobbled backwards away from me and shoots me an unhappy look. If looks could kill I’d be right at home at this party. “My wife is not in a better place…she is without me and I am without her.” He seemed to take everything he could muster to walk away from me in search of his wife again.
I turn my body away from the room into a nearby corner to hide my activity and grab my mobile. No Signal. I check the timer I set on my phone, it’s counting down rapidly. I’ve got about 30 minutes left.
I’ve had met a few ghosts in my time and ghosts often have unfinished business or emotional ties which keep them trapped forever. It was bad news to slight them, or love them too much. These however aren’t ghosts...not exactly.
In 1808 the Bartlett family were all found dead following their party. The house had been put back on the market once the police investigation found nothing. Six dead at the end of the night and a whole set of party goers with no idea of what happened. The house had been bought again and again by families and individuals until at seemingly random intervals the residents of the house had vanished mysteriously (it had happened four times) it had remained empty since 1914.
The house had however attracted a following, amongst spiritualists and sceptics. They came to unravel the mystery of what had happened on that night, the vast majority left having spent an uneventful night in an old decaying house, some however never left. All that I ‘known’ for definite was that those who were at the party in 1808 seemed to replay the events again and again. Michael’s fiancé had escaped just in time.
Jim Shorthouse was one such investigator. He too had been a reluctant investigator of the bizarre. He had once been entertained at the party in 1947 and again in 1951, before leaving the second party he made sure to get as full a set of information he could on each and every partygoer. His investigating companion had not been so lucky on that second occasion and had stayed a few minutes later (past 11.34). She was not seen again it was this which gave me the time limit I had to investigate. It was through Shorthouse’s detailed report that I had found out about the party and altered my route home after work every day to make sure I got a good view of the house.
That had been 4 years ago. Tonight after finishing my paperwork up on the usual random muggings and spousal abuse and going to Tesco Metro for a microwave meal (defrosting nicely in the back of the car now) I came along to find the party in full swing. I’ve been soaking up the atmosphere ever since.
I began to pick my way through the crowd again. The different snatches of conversation which I caught did not interest me in the slightest Trade, business, society issues and that usual small talk. My lip twitched (an old injury caused by nerve damage, gives me a hell of a hard head because I’m not as sensitive in the face as your average bloke) as I caught a glimpse of someone who did stoke my interest. The young man he was staring at glanced over to him and smiled.
“S'cuse me mate?” said the young man as he approached me. Crowds turned to glance oddly at him as he passes. He could have been no older than 18. He had long black hair pushed behind his ears and topped with a Nike cap. His T-shirt displayed the classic Rolling Stones logo highlighting their 1982 European tour. “Do you know how I can get out of here?”
Shorthouse’s notes had said nothing about this bloke, I would have definitely remembered that.
“You tried walking out the door?” I asked simply. He nodded towards the foyer which had the large black front door in it. It’s how I’d entered the shin dig.
“I can’t open it,” he looked over at it longingly.
“What year is it?” I asked. I tried to make the question casual but failed miserably, it hung in the air like a fart in a sauna.
“I want to say 1984,” he sighed heavily “I get the feeling it’s not anymore though is it?” My face tells the whole story even though I don’t give him any of the information.
“No...I was on my way to visit one of the Uni lads. He was having a party. I thought this was it,” he said dejectedly like something had been knocked out of him. The guy stopped speaking and seemed to flicker like a flame or a picture on the TV with bad reception. The guy could obviously feel it as his mouth opened and his eyes closed and his hands moved to his chest and head. He flickered back into solidity but now with tears streaming down his face, his hands looked like they were dripping down to the floor as the bonds in his body dissolved. “I’m not real anymore…were not real are we?” he flickered and vanished for a few second. When he reappeared he was walking the other way towards the door. I lost him in the crowd.
I was shocked by the event the first time it happened that night. This had been the third a homeless girl from WWII who had come in trying to scrounge some food sat crying under the stairs in the main entrance and a doctor from 1969 had pleaded with me for help. I didn’t know if there was anything he could do but I was trying and figure it out.
“I beg your pardon” the woman who addressed I had a dark tanned skin tone which she had gotten from the summer in Brighton in the family holiday home. I turned his attention to her “Do I know you?”
She widened her stance and eyed her carefully. I was trying to put a name to her description, Shorthouse had been very thorough in tracking everyone at the party. I’ve read the dossier that many times I know everyone at the party and just have to identify them putting a face to the name. Her hair was trussed and curled down past her ears and onto her shoulders where rested the straps of the elegant frock she was wearing. She was in her mid-twenties and was the fiancé of Sebastian Bartlett (1782-1808, causes unkown). Sally Nightingale (1784-1808, cause still unknown).
“No I’m afraid you don’t.”
The woman paused and looked me up and down. It turned out 2015 CID uniform on a shoe string budget was not to her liking. Her nose wrinkled like I’d just trodden in something. “W-Well sir as I personally wrote out the invitations so if I do not know you.”
“Sorry Ma’am,” I nod my head as courteously as I can. It looked stupid, not an action I’m was used to performing, go on give it a try see how stupid you look. Something is telling me that this was not a ‘spirit’ I should get on the wrong side of. “I was just delivering a last crate of wine, got mixed up in another delivery. I was looking for the lav when I was here and got turned around.”
She kept her stare on me. Her face showing she had not completely bought what shit I’m shovelling despite my bafta worthy performance. “Sorry Ma’am I’ve never been to a party like this one, I was just wanting to see what it was like. I’ll be going now, I beg your pardon.” I try to put on my best grovel.
“See that you do and inform Mr Wallace that he shall receive a letter of complaint before the week is out and I will be telling all of my friends to take their business elsewhere,” She shook her head showing the disdain of a spoiled princess who was not getting her own way and watched me sharply as I forcedly picked my way through the party towards the kitchen door. I momentarily felt bad for costing Mr Wallace some business before it shuddered back into my mind that she would never write that letter.
I pushed open the swinging kitchen door. The kitchen is a large room but is packed tightly with benches, stoves, a large sink basin and a ton of staff all busily going about with their important business of the night bustling around making sure everything was perfect. Upstairs, Downstairs didn’t half sell this short. The trays of food and drink they prepared were then taken by other servants dressed more respectably as busboys and waiters. These servants were the children of the elder servants who through years of labour were not the most presentable lot to the upper crust guests even though chances are they had a number of similar servants in their own homes.
“Who are you?” I turned and looked down at the woman who was speaking to me. She was in her mid-sixties, a tiny woman, back bent crooked which made her the same height as several of the children who were busy with work in the kitchen. Her hair was scraggily and grey and stuck out from under a rag she tied her hair back with (No name or information gathered).
“I’m Alexander, I work for Mr Shorthouse…he’s a party guest.” I lie quickly when I need to. It comes from growing up with a Caribbean mother whose hands could slap you round the back of the head quicker than you can blink if she thinks you’ve been up to no good. I also know the ropes, it’s a truism in 2015 and I’m sure in 1808 that the workers know best what’s going on behind the scenes. If the Met comes around they zip up tighter than my Dad’s wallet so best pretend to be someone else.
She looked up at me as if scrutinizing my story. A vivid flashback of Mum finding a pack of cigs in my school bag flood my mind. “We’ve got brandy and bread in the coach house for you lot. Don’t be expecting anything else, I’ve got enough mouths to feed as is.” She waved me out of the way and waddled passed.
“Someone find the bloody flour! Lord help me if I don’t have anymore. We had a delivery last week and Marie moved it somewhere and I don’t have a clue where. She’s gone now so I can’t very well ask her can I?”
“Marie? Where’s she gone?” I did not think that Marie was anything connected to the strange events but opening a dialogue with a ‘hostile’ witness was the key to these subtle interrogations. I’d done it plenty of times with scrotes back home.
“Lovely girl!” espoused the woman. “One of your lot you know, fresh off a boat from Afrika and all but lovely girl. She had some trouble with English but lovely and sunny she was. Tell you what them kids never had a better nanny…or a friend in that little brother of hers. Louis. It was such a shame…” the woman screwed the bottom lip of her face up and she sniffed as she held something in. “Ah well what’s to be done about it…ah here it is!” she was made of tough stuff and stuffed the emotions burbling up inside her down deep.
I debated the correct etiquette on correcting her on some of her facts. I’m not from Africa, neither were my parents. They were Caribbean through and through. First generation immigrants to the UK in the mid 60’s and proud. Who knows though maybe back in 1808 my ancestors were all over Africa like flies on shit. The woman grinned as she pulled on the bag she held and dragged it out. “What happened to Marie?” I pressed.
The woman sighed. “She did something, I don’t know what. She did something to upset the master and mistress chucked her out on the streets. Came screaming through here with them hot on her heels and forced her out that very door.” She motioned to the large door in the far wall. “Lucky they didn’t do more. The little lad was with me and we saw it all, he was going to run to her but I held him back. Streets is no place for a black kiddy is it? Easy enough to hide him here for a few days.”
She stared off into the middle distance for a few seconds. “He was supposed to stay with me until she got herself sorted. It was only two days ago and he’s already run off somewhere...looking for his sister more ‘an likely.”
That got my attention. The hair on the back of my neck stood up for a second and my stomach flipped. I’d been stopped enough times growing up to know the pain of racial profiling but I couldn’t help but form a pigeon hole and then fill it with a pigeon. Early 1800s, two young African slaves who were treated badly and low and behold something like this happened “Vodun,” I mused to himself.
The woman looked at me with a pained expression. Despite the fact that this woman was the nicest person in the building I was trusting now that the time period would mean this next gamble would work. “If you have any love for Marie and Louis I need your help,” he paused wondering how this was going over “I am their brother, I need to find them. Do you have any idea where they could be?”
She looked at him with searching eyes.”You don’t sound much like them, sound cockney enough to me,” She was trying to get the measure of me. She was a shrewd one. She shook her head finally “I’ve got my own mouths to feed. If the Mistress found out then...” she breathed deeply “I don’t know anything anyway, they didn’t have any friends but each other and the littl’uns”
“Do you know nothing which could help? I need to find them.” I tried my most emotive tone of voice and expression to try and get the message across.
She looked around the kitchen as if looking for spies. Several of the kitchen staff were by now clearly paying attention to the conversation. She exhaled sharply and gave them ‘the eye’ until they turned away. She was the leader of the serving staff it was clear and none of them wanted to cross her.
“All Marie’s things are up in the attic. Two of the girls were told to take them up there and pack them away in tea chests the day she was thrown out. You might find something there...you get found it’s nothing to do with me,” she held up her hands and turned her head away to make the implication clear.
“Thank you,” I said as he turned to leave. I slipped back out of the kitchen and into the hallway. The party could be heard in the large dining room just down the hall. Some party goers moved between rooms just in the corridor ahead of me.
I move down the corridor trying to look inconspicuous as possible. Again not an easy prospect for me in my current situation. It seemed earlier people’s attention had just slid by me because I didn’t belong here, not yet, but since I’d started interacting they were paying me more mind. I had become a very noticeable black man at a swanky 1800s party.
There was an open door between me and them, I was in the service corridor whist they remained in the main part of the house but with servants coming and going with full trays of food and drink it was a wide open space through which I was clearly visible.
I turned round the banister and walked up the service stairs trying not to draw any attention to myself. They were basic wood which were well worn and far less extravagant than the ones for the true ‘residents’ of the house. They didn’t even spring for carpet the cheap bastards.
“Excuse me, where do you think you are going?” I recognised the voice as Sally Nightingale. Her shrill tone making it clear she was not happy with him.
I stop on the stairs and turn to see her. She stood in the doorway to the hall almost like she was scared to cross the boundary into that world for fear that she wouldn’t be allowed to leave. Sally Nightingale watched him with that same hard stare she had questioned him within the main party.
I raced through the possible excuses in my mind. Toilet? (in the back lane), errand? (why would they send me? I didn’t have a name to back it up...why didn’t I ask that woman’s name? Basic policing even in this bizarre situation). I had nothing. My hard learned police skills had failed me so I instinctively fell back on even deeper engrained behaviour. Leg it! I turned and ran up the stairs.
“Intruder!” she bellowed behind him. She began to shout again and again like a record stuck on repeat. I had reached the first floor and turned the corner before he heard another flurry of feet on the stairs below me. I was being followed.
I sprinted down the corridor. Modern police physical fitness standards, a healthy diet and my natural born athleticism (If I do say so myself) let me put some real distance between me and my followers.
The house was a bloody maze though. Corridors led to doors which only led to more corridors. There were random spurs which seemed to be a sensible way to go which only led to another room. I was lost quickly, I tried to map the inside of the building to the layout I had figured from its exterior.
I darted in and out of three bedrooms before I finally rounded a corner where I could see the main stairs, I could hear the footsteps of my pursuers rounding the corner behind me. The Bartlett men Arthur and Seb were however coming up the main stairs in front of me. Elsbeth Bartlett and Mrs Nightingale were coming behind them lifting their skirts clear of the floor as they gently cantered up the stairs.
A sharp turn and he was bounding up the main stairs two at a time well ahead of the Bartlett’s. “We’ve got him,” the two Bartlett men shout behind him looking to call my other pursuers off. There was definitely something they weren’t wanting others to see.
I glance over the banister as I reach the next landing and looked down at the gentlemen coming up quickly behind me. I continued on up the stairs. It was on the next level that the stairs came to an end. The wallpaper was less fine, the carpets worn. It was draughty and chilly straight away. This was a servant area, you could tell by the distinct lack of giving a crap about their comfort.
I continued to run. Four flights of stairs and a lot of sprinting was beginning to take its toll on me. When a side door opened and a slight well dressed butler stepped out I knew he had to go down. I used one last burst of speed and throw my bulky frame at him. My shoulder slammed hard into the Butler driving him backwards hard into the wall. “Sorry mate”.
There was a door at the end of the corridor. I was beginning to get a grasp on the shape of the house and this seemed like a logical place for a flight of stairs. I slammed into the door hard before twisting the handle. It burst open bringing me face first into the small flight of wooden steps. I cast a glance up to the rafters in the roof and knew I was in the right place.
The stairway led up to the attic. The space was filled with old furniture covered with sheets and blankets. Tea chests filled with straw housed the fragile belongings of the family which had been packed away for safe keeping.
The dusty furniture came clearly into view as I pushed himself up the last small flight. The wind had been well and truly knocked out of me by now. I couldn’t have blown up a balloon if I’d tried. The floor creaked as I stepped from the stairs onto the floorboards which covered the beams.
In the centre of the room sat two children Diana Bartlett (1800-1808, cause unknown) and Daniel Bartlett (1800-1808, cause unknown) the two both had long curly blonde hair and pale faces like that of china dolls. Their faces were marked with lines and symbols in blood which matched a large circle which was painted on the floor around the body of a small black boy who was covered in blood, his head was busted wide open. Neither of the children turned to look at me.
I crept forward cautiously, unsure of what to expect at this time but with images of every child in horror films flashing through my mind. Village of the Damned cropped up several times.
The aghast forms of the Bartlett men entered the room now having caught up due to my collisions. Mrs Bartlett and Sally Nightingale entered the room a few seconds behind him. They all came to a stop behind me, I held up my hand to tell them to stay back.
Their chase now long forgotten pushed from their memories by whatever the hell was going on in this Eldritch scene they had come across. I had seen this happen before, a turf war spilled over into a witch coven’s yearly affirmation to the goddess which I was investigating. They were reduced back to children and practically pissed themselves at the sight of the animal sacrifice.
“What are they doing?” gasped Mrs Bartlett, her skinny features and hooked nose reminding me of the wicked witch of the west. She stared at her children who rocked backwards and forwards speaking in tongues as they anointed the boy. “Come away from him!” she bellowed as she began to cross the room to her children.
“They’re trying to help him…save him,” I call out whilst reaching for her. I grab her arm and yank her back towards me. “Don’t touch them,” I had no doubt the kids needed to be stopped but letting her steam in wasn’t going to do much good I bet.
“Unhand me,” she spat at me as she twisted her arm. I could have held on, she didn’t have a lot of strength in her upper body and I’d pinned blokes three times her size to the floor when they lairely exited pubs all over London back in my uniform days.
“He’s dead, they can’t do anything!” yelled Marcus Nightingale. His voice was now high and shrill, worry and fear crept in around the edges.
“And whose fault is that then?” I ask turning with an accusing stare. “Who is the one who killed him? Mr Bartlett? Mrs Nightingale?”
The two men glanced at one another and then to their wives before straightening up, strengthened by their own resolve. “We were well within our rights after what we caught him doing and we will not be spoken too by one such as yourself in such a tone you filthy little…”
“THAT IS ENOUGH!” I yelled over them. I put on my best polis’ voice. I could use it to silence a room of football fuelled thugs or worse a canteen full of coppers. Four snobs even ones from 1808 deeply set in their ways were not much of a problem. “What the hell do you think he did to deserve this!” I pointed at the boy’s broken body. I’m no coroner but I reckon I can spot a blunt force trauma when needed.
“Now listen to me,” The elder Bartlett began to raise his voice.
“No you listen to me! I am a Bow Street Officer, specialist in Slave related law in line with the new act. Black Bill’s political power is strong,” I just let the bull roll off my tongue. Black Bill was a famous ex-slave boxer who by the end of his life was at the height of Georgian society. If I told the lie well I was sure I could sell a new branch of the Bow Street Runners.
Bartlett glanced first at his wife and then his future daughter in law. You could see in his eyes worry that this gentleman in their loft was a ‘thief taker’ “Please let the ladies leave the room…they do not have to hear…”
“They’re suspects for this child’s murder until further notice, they don’t leave my sight,” I pointed for them to move away from the door.
Bartlett snarled at me and began to speak. “We found him this morning…he was in the playroom with the children,” Arthur sneered “He laid his hands and his lips upon poor Diana! I lost my temper...I had my cane.” Mr Bartlett’s voice wavered. I suspected that not even the scum in front of me would have intended to kill a child.
The two women were aghast by this revelation and seemed as if they would vomit at any given second.
“She does not look distressed to me,” I shook my head. “The girl obviously is trying to help the boy. Did it ever cross your minds…” I stopped. I knew that these people would never believe their daughter may have wanted to be kissed and the boy could have been a friend of their children.
“His family were nothing but trouble. I caught that stupid cow teaching my children about the evils of slavery,” Mrs Bartlett practically screamed. “I caught the children talking in the gobbledygook she called a language! I will not have my children behaving like animals! His sister was no good and neither was he, had I known he had remained I would have found him and tossed him to the streets too!” screamed Mrs Bartlett.
“It would appear some of her home tongue was not all she taught them!” I missed off ‘stupid bitch’ but said it internally. She was a practitioner, probably a trainee witch in her native climes and had showed the three children in her charge some of the skills. It was a stupid thing to do.
“This magic was not meant for children” I cursed under his breath. No Magic was for children really, it was powerful and its waters were deep. In the majority of the cases involving it that I had come across the magic has come back around and bit someone in the arse.
“Will the children be okay?” This was the first Sally Nightingale had spoken since entering the room. She looked almost innocent as she asked the question. I did not forget so quickly her attitude to the thought of Louis kissing Diana.
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
“Please help them if you can,” Mrs Bartlett spoke now. The tone of a worried mother slipped into her voice. She wasn’t an evil person; just a bad one.
“How do you suppose he can do that Elsbeth?” snapped her husband.
“He’s one of them,” she said with a note of hope in her voice. “If they’ve done this with magic maybe he can do something about it.”
He looked from her back to the children. They were rocking backwards and forwards and chanting in unison. I have no clue what they were saying. It was clear that something had taken root in the children, even if Marie had been teaching them whatever language she spoke and some magic there was no chance they knew this much. Something had crawled inside of them and made its home, made its roots from which it now grew. It was not a good situation.
“Daniel? Diana?,” I called gently as I edged closer to the two. There was no response. ‘They’ continued with whatever ritual ‘they’ were conducting.
I edged closer slowly. It was like he was trying to sneak up on them even though they had already been making more than enough noise to draw their attention. My hand slowly reached out.
“You said not to touch them,” Mrs Bartlett said as I edged closer.
“I said for you not to touch them,” I corrected “I’m trained” ‘sort of’
My hand brushed against Daniel’s shoulder. The next thing I could remember was a shock running through my body and the feeling of hard wood slamming across my lower back. It frigging hurt. The yells of the others in the room filled my ears. They were terrified, no less than they deserved.
I opened my eyes getting a skewed vision of the room tilted to one side. My vision blurred for a second before I was able to roll onto my front and rub my eyes “I was trained for that,” I tried to comfort the four adults. My body disagreed as I tried to right myself. This was not going well at all.
My eyes fixed suddenly on Louis who was convulsing on the floor. My body twitched with what looked like black tendrils of smoke. I had done that experiment with frogs back in secondary school. The scent of a spicy smoke filled my nostrils.
“Louis,” I tried again with what hadn’t worked on Diana and Daniel “if that’s you in there I need you to stay dead. You were badly done to, you didn’t deserve any of this but whatever is happening is going to damn a lot of people for a long time. Some deserve it,” I motioned to the Bartlett’s, better them than me...not at all a nice attitude for a police man I know but y’know what sod them “and some probably don’t. I’m sure you’re not a bad kid if there’s any of you left in there just please stay dead.” It was not a usual request.
A low rumbling noise arose from the throat of Louis as he contorted in ways that people do not normally bend. It was only here I notice a change in the background noise, the screams of terror from the Bartlett’s had become something else. Twisted and pained. A look at them showed that they too were contorting, blood flowed from their orifices.
“Trapped,” the four said in unison. Louis continued to contort on the floor. My mobile continued to beep, the 5 minute alarm was going off now.
“Louis got trapped when he died?” I asked, a classic ghost.
Their heads shook from side to side. “Crossed over...brought back...not enough,” they spluttered black smoke as they spoke.
“Not enough? Magic? Not enough time?” my mind was racing. I was now keeping one eye on my watch. “I need more information if I’m going to help.”
“Life....not enough to break barrier,” said the four in unison.
The pieces slid into place. Magic believe it or not seemed to follow some of the laws of physics, one of the most important was the conservation of energy. All souls seemed to have equal energy, you can trade one life for another and reach an equilibrium but if Louis had crossed to another place it would take a lot to bring him back...it’s why these things never happen. Zombies, ghosts etc can occur but never a resurrection. The children however didn’t know this and tried to bring Louis back, the act had drained them dry instantly which stopped the spell....but it kept going. They were trapped in the magic. It took effect tonight killing the Bartlett’s and draining a little bit of life from everyone who is in the house at this time. That’s what was with the ghosts they were the faded life signatures that the spell had absorbed and trapped here.
I swore and burst into a run. I could feel the energy pulling on me as I streaked past it. I took the stairs three or four at a time in a pure gallop. My phone blaring the 3 minute warning alarm.
I ran along the corridor and down the flight of stairs. On the next landing there was a peppering of guests who had been drawn by the earlier scene, more by the noise from above. A murmur arose as I came sprinting through them.
One man grabbed at my arm. A second followed suit. To them I was some criminal who was chased upstairs, there had been a lot of screaming and now bleeding I was fleeing the place. You couldn’t really blame them. They were being good citizens really.
I punched them in the side of the head regardless.
This was life and death now if I had to knock them out to get out of here I don’t care. I don’t have time to struggle or be polite. I’ve set my clock carefully by Big Ben the same way Shorthouse had. The time was vitally important. In about a minute the party would fade and take anyone inside with it.
The gentlemen released me reluctantly and I ran again. I vaulted down the next set of stairs with a similar exuberance. Guests were packed in tightly here. I thought on my feet and dashed sideways through a door into one of the rooms. It was a bedroom.
I glanced around before dashing for the French doors. I swung them open and stepped out into the cold air of 2015. The music of the party died instantly. I vaulted over the railing of the balcony. I was outside now but he wasn’t going to take any chances on how far the effects would be. I hung for a second before releasing my grip and dropping the last storey. I hit with a thud, pain rippled up through my body.
I climbed up forcing himself with everything I had in me. I grabbed the garden railing and hauled myself over and to the floor in the main street. The phone blared now, time up.
I breathed heavily filling my lungs with the filthy London air. It felt so good. “Shit,” I swore to myself not sure if it was an emotional outburst or an evaluation of the case. That hadn’t exactly went as planned. I stood to his feet wracked with pain and threw a look over my shoulder. Now I had a better idea of what was going on I could start looking into this. I could still help even if it took years before I was able to act. The investigation had just begun.
The End…for now
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