DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. mobile 07982 032974
text and images throughout copyright
It was a warm, windy day. Leaves had begun to sprout on the trees in the street outside, and there was a feeling of spring, now that the winter had left its marks behind. A new time, another year, that all welcomed. Pavements and streets were shining brightly in the morning sun. People passing by, greeting each other warmly, as if they had come from a desolate climate into a new world. Annie could hear birds singing again, as they returned from the warmer seas and shores abroad. Work was going on again, and the air was full of promise for another summer. It was hard to think what dark things had ever existed, thought Annie, as she gazed out of the window onto the streets below.
‘Annie, look at this!’ cried her mother. She was holding out what looked like an old photograph. Annie groaned and went over to take it from her mother’s outstretched hand. She was helping her mother to clear out the old spare room, that was full of old boxes and various parts of old furniture, and ancient items, that no-one had ever remembered. It was a dusty and tedious job, but her mother had seemed determined to start spring-cleaning straight away. Annie looked down at the photograph, sighing inwardly. Then she looked harder. There was something about it that jolted her. It seemed very ordinary, just another old photograph. But there was something about it that stirred something stronger, almost as if, it was an…appeal.
‘Can I hold on to this, Mum?’ she said casually. ‘If you want to’. shrugged her Mum. ‘It’s only an old photograph. I don’t know why it’s here. Come and give me a hand with these other things, can you?’ But Annie noticed her Mum’s sharp, wary, grey eyes on her. She put the photograph aside, and carried on helping to clear out all the old boxes and other things in the room. I’d better ask Simon about this, she decided, thinking of him rather spitefully, still lying in his warm bed.
After lunch, when her mother still seemed quite agitated, Annie stared at the old black and white photograph. It was a family group. There was the father standing protectively beside his wife, with a small moustache, close-cropped hair, and in a dark single-fronted suit, with a waistcoat showing between the lapels of his jacket. There sat his wife alongside him, in a white crinoline dress, her hair pinned up, and holding his hand almost anxiously. Next to the father, stood two boys, both looking defiantly at the camera, totally unsmilingly. They were both dressed in formal suits, with no lapels, with high white collars. One was about twelve years old, Annie guessed, and the other was taller, about fourteen.
Next to the mother, were two young girls. The taller, who stood next to her seated mother, was of the same age, with dark hair pinned behind her head, and dressed in a white-ribboned dress. The younger, about twelve, wore her hair loosely, so that ringlets of it fell down each side of her face. She, too, was dressed in the same kind of costume. It was her face that disturbed Annie. It was round, obviously slightly mischievous, but solemn. It was as if Annie had seen her face somewhere before, as if she had met her at some time. It was the eyes in the photograph that troubled her. They were focussed on the person who was taking the photograph, outside the picture. Their eyes looked….frightened….worried…as they stared at the camera, and the unknown photographer. Behind them was a sitting-room: a brick fire-place, with a mirror above it, in a gilt frame, various small tables with potted plants, and a picture or two. The figures stood on a patterned carpet, with a light stippled wallpaper behind, that gave no indication of its original colour.
An ordinary photograph of what, Annie thought, was an Edwardian middle-class family, probably about, what, 1910? Nothing else. It was worn at the edges, and gave off that musty old smell that photographs had. Otherwise, it was in good condition, neither torn, or creased. She turned the photograph over. Nothing was written on the back that she could see. It was just a family from history, but was there something else? Their eyes? The anxiety, the fear, that she saw there. And who was the photographer? Was he known to them? Why should that look, that she saw, even in an old photograph, be there at all? Surely they must have had their photographs taken before – at the wedding, at births. Why did the children have the same look? Nothing to indicate who they were . Why should the photograph have suddenly appeared?
‘What’s that? said Simon sleepily, as he wandered into the kitchen, looking less than half-awake, and tousled. ‘Great! Is this breakfast?’ ‘It’s lunch!’ replied his mother curtly, ‘And afterwards you can come and help us clean out the rest of the old room upstairs’. Simon groaned, and turned his attention to food. ‘I’m going to carry on’. said his mother sharply. ‘Join me when you’re quite ready’. Simon made a face at her as she went out of the door, and sighed. ‘So, what’s with this photo?’ Annie slid it across to him. ‘I think it’s a photograph of a family that is doomed’.
‘Doomed! Doomed! Oh, woe betide us! Doomed! You haven’t been reading Withering Heights again have you?’
‘Wuthering Heights, you moron. Here, stick this in your gob, and look at it’. She pushed a large piece of bread into his mouth. ‘Then tell me what you think, when you’ve had enough’. Simon chomped his way through the capacious hunk and looked at the photograph. At length, he pronounced ‘It’s a family’.
‘Well done. You might even be able to join the human race one day.
Simon stared again at the photograph. ‘Well, its not of our family. We’ve got lots of old photos, but none like this’.
‘So what other pearls of wisdom are you going to bestow on me?’
‘Where did it come from?’
‘Mum found it upstairs.’
Simon turned it over. ‘There’s something written, right up in the left-hand corner, but I can’t see what it is. It’s really small’. Annie snatched the photograph away. There was something, very faintly written, that she hadn’t noticed before. She dashed out without a word, then returned, with her dad’s magnifying glass in her hand. ‘Let’s try this’. She scanned the back of the photograph carefully, while Simon continued his long journey through the food on the table. ‘Stop stuffing your ugly face, and look at this’. Simon dutifully picked up the magnifying glass, and looked.
The writing was hardly visible, but Simon could just make out some words. ‘It says….’ he began importantly, then stopped. Annie cuffed him hard around the head. ‘Ouch! It says…..I’m not sure of this, mind you…..it says…..”captured April 2nd, 1910’.
‘There you are! I knew it!’
‘If you knew, why did I have to read it?’
Because I want a second opinion, stupid!’
Simon snorted in irritation. ‘There’s something else’. He peered more closely. ‘Right! It’s……A.W. then some sort of mark. Looks like (!)!’
‘That’s really strange’. mused Annie. ‘Why does it say “captured”?’
‘Because early photographers often used to say that they had “captured” a picture, because they had to take such a long time for the exposure, and the image to appear. Painters often said it as well. I got all that from school, in my art history lessons’. said Simon, rather smugly.
‘Well, I never. You do take your only brain cell out for a walk sometimes. But who’s A.W.? Surely he must be the photographer?
Well, I heard someone on telly saying that ‘ when you use black and white, you see the colour of their souls’.
Annie stared at him. ‘ I think that’s exactly what happened. She turned the photograph over. ‘Look at it again, carefully. Isn’t there something that can explain why they’re all looking so frightened and worried?’ They both looked at the photograph again, going over every detail. The fear and apprehension in the eyes of the people in the photograph was so clear that even Simon admitted it. But the details of the photograph revealed nothing. Only an ordinary Edwardian sitting-room, as far as they could understand. An ordinary photograph taken at home for the family album. Nothing else. Why were the sitters so frightened? Of the photographer? Who was this A.W.?
‘Simon’, she had decided. ‘What’s the best way to find out something about a family who lived over a hundred years ago, about whom we know nothing, not even their names, nor where they lived, or what they did?’
Simon thought for a few moments. ‘Let’s try the internet’. he suggested. Annie looked at him. ‘Sometimes you are the most stupid, obtuse, moronic person I have ever had the misfortune to be related to. But every now and then, you manage to redeem yourself. That is actually a good idea. You’ll find something out, won’t you?’
Simon glared at her. ‘In the absence of any kind of evidence, and working purely on complete fabrication, I would say that the chances are – zilch’.
Annie decided to turn into her wheedling mode, because she knew that this was how to get round her brother.
‘Oh, Simon, please! You know you’re always so clever with these things. You’re so wonderful! Do try! Just for me, your little sister, who can’t do these funny bits with the keyboard, and all that. Oh, please, Simon, please!’
But Simon knew that if he didn’t do what Annie wanted, she would make his life a misery for the next few weeks. Annie knew that she would forever hate herself for being such a wet little wilting weed. So it was decided.
‘Oh, all right’. he said grudgingly.
Behind this, of coursem was deep love and respect for each other as brother and sister. They had been through too much together not to be otherwise. But, as the reader might observe, they still played on each other’s weaknesses, to their mutual advantage: Annie’s refusal to let things go, until they were resolved to the bitter end, and Simon’s own innate curiosity, which led him into all sorts of difficult situations. So they retired to the blank face of the computer. Simon entered into the wide world of the internet, while Annie crept away, somewhat bored, and made a pot of tea. He didn’t even notice when Annie put a mug next to him.
Two hours later, Annie was still sitting in the kitchen, looking at the photograph, when Simon charged in. ‘I’ve found out !’ Annie knew better than to suddenly leap at him, so she suppressed her excitement. ‘Well then, good sir, would you like to divulge this – information to myself, personally?’ Her voice hardened. ‘Or would you like me to drag it out of you with nails and red-hot pincers?’
‘Be quiet! Do you want to know or not?’
They glared at each other for a moment. But Simon was too impatient to carry on an argument further. ‘I found this strange little website, which had details of families of all kinds who, as they put it, “suffered grave misfortunes”. Our family was one of them’, pointing with his finger at the photograph.
‘The family was called the Ellisons. I couldn’t find out what their original maiden names were. The mother was called Amy, and the father was Jonathan. The older brother was Humphrey, and the younger one was Albert. The sisters were called Elaine, the older one, and the youngest was Rosamund’. The children were the same ages as we thought. Rosamund, the youngest, was ten years old, when this picture was taken, in 1910’.
Simon paused. Annie was looking down at the photograph. ‘Rosamund’, she murmured.
‘After that, it was all tragedy. Annie, are you sure you want me to go on?’
Annie looked up. ‘Yes, yes, I do. But I can guess what might be coming’. She shivered. ‘Don’t spare me the details. I want to know everything that you found out. Everything!’
Simon was startled by her voice. He went on, hurriedly.
‘The father, Jonathan, went bankrupt in a couple of years. The family had to sell their house and move into a much smaller place, somewhere in London. It didn’t say where they had lived before, but whoever put this together thinks they may have lived here, in Brighton, or somewhere in the south of England’.
Annie nodded, and Simon went on, reading from the notes he had written.
The father, Jonathan, took his own life in 1914, it doesn’t say how, just before the outbreak of the First World War. He left his family penniless. His wife managed to earn a living and keep her children, by working in a munitions factory, though this badly undermined her health. Meanwhile, her eldest son, Humphrey, volunteered as a soldier and went off to fight. He was killed, in Belgium, in 1915. The youngest son joined the navy, and was also killed by a shell during the battle of Jutland, in 1915. The elder daughter, Elaine, worked with her mother in the munitions factory, then became a prostitute. She died in childbirth at the Royal Mount hospital in 1918. The child also died with her’.
Simon stopped again. ‘Annie, do you really want to go on with this?’
‘Yes’. whispered Annie. ‘I want to know what happened to the mother and child’.
Simon was silent, but, after another look from Annie, he went on. ‘The mother, already ill, died of the great influenza epidemic that raged across Europe from 1918 to 1919. The youngest daughter, Rosamund was taken into care by an orphanage. Shortly, afterwards she disappeared on a day trip to the seaside, and was never seen again. That’s about all’.
‘Did this website say anything about what she looked like? Rosamund, I mean’.
Simon shook his head. ‘No. But it did give the address of a woman, a grand-daughter, those grandmother knew the Ellisons. It’s in Eastbourne’. The address is here. 43, Pembroke Grove. Time to hit the telephone directory’.
But the telephone directory didn’t help. ‘The number’s unlisted’, Simon groaned dismally. ‘We’ll have to write to her’.
‘Let’s do it now’.
Simon wrote the letter. It was indeed a good one, though Annie hated to admit it, especially since Simon indulged in his usual fibs. It read.
“Dear Mrs Andrews,
We are both pupils in Brighton, doing a history project on families in Brighton. We found your name on the internet, and would like to ask you if we could come and see you, at your convenience. We are researching a family called the Ellisons, whom we have a photograph of, taken in about, 1910. We gather that your grandmother might have known them. Please let us know if you are able to help us. Many thanks in anticipation.
Annie and Simon Wheeler.”
‘There, that should do it!’
‘Perhaps’. said Annie doubtfully, feeling rather jealous of Simon.
Several days passed by, until it was the weekend again. They had cleared the upstairs room, but had found no more photographs. But on Friday morning, a small letter came with the post. It was addressed to “Annie and Simon Wheeler’. Annie pulled it open in excitement.
“Dear Simon and Annie,
Do come to see me tomorrow, (Saturday) at about 11.00. I have found two letters that my grandmother wrote, that might be of use to you. I look forward to seeing you’.
(Mrs) Evelyn Grimshaw.”
‘We’ve got a lead’. Simon grinned. ‘This is really more like proper detective work, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, replied Annie slowly, ‘and I hope that it might be useful We’ve got a long way to go yet’. Anyway, I thought you preferred a bit of swashbuckling’.
‘No. When you’ve seen some swash, you’ve seen them all. Anyway, I’ve got to think ahead to my memoirs’.
‘Simon, you’re not old enough to have memoirs!’
‘Aha, just you wait until I’m sixteen’.
Annie could only manage a groan of despair.
Next morning, they brightly informed their mother that they were off to Eastbourne, to find out more about the photograph. ‘It’s for a school project, Mum’, Simon said sweetly. His mother looked out of the window. ‘I see two pink pigs flying past the window’. She looked at them, her face reflecting what? Sadness and anger/ Then she sighed. ‘Here, You’d better have your pocket – money. And here’s money for your fare to Eastbourne. Don’t say I’m not good to you’.
They set off down to the railway station.
‘What do you think is wrong with Mum?’ asked Simon, rather perceptively.
‘I don’t know’. replied Annie, feeling rather puzzled herself. ‘It’s as if she was worried about something. She has been for some time. I don’t know why. It almost seems as if she wants to warn us’. They fell silent during the rest of the journey.
They found the house, quite easily, a small neat terraced house, set back with a small front garden that was laid out with early spring bluebells, hyacinths and crocuses. They rang the bell that chimed inside, and after a few moments, the little white door opened, and they saw a pale woman, with grey hair drawn back in a bun, and wearing a tweed dress. ‘Oh, do come in!’ she said, brightly. They entered directly into a small cosy living-room, warmed by a large gas fire with a small brick surround. ‘Do sit down!’ I’ll make some tea! I’m afraid it’s only ordinary! I expect you need some after your journey!’ She bustled out into the tiny kitchen beyond, and then reappeared, with a tray of cups and saucers, and a large pot of tea,
‘You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not used to visitors!’ She
spoke in a slightly breathless voice, as if it was a special occasion.
Annie liked her immediately. She was genteel and unpretentious, and
she clearly wanted to make them welcome. She sat down on one of the
armchairs that seemed to fill the little room, and poured the tea.
Simon went into his
‘Oh, yes, please!’ cried Annie eagerly. She found herself looking not at an old lady, long past her rime, but a young girl in a white bonnet and dress, smiling nervously at the camera, her hands by her sides. She had a rather snub nose, but her face was cheerful. ‘She’s lovely’. said Annie nervously. ‘Oh, yes, and by the way, I nearly forgot!’ Mrs Grimshaw cried. ‘It was the youngest of the Ellisons that took that picture of her! Isn’t that surprising! But here, this is what I’ve got for you’. She handed over two letters to Annie, in small blue envelopes, that were already opened. ‘I kept a lot of my grandmother’s old letters. She was a neighbour of the Ellisons. She lived just up the road from them, here in Eastbourne. But all those houses are gone now’, Seeing Annie’s disappointed face, she said kindly. ‘They were all demolished, you see, after the last war. There’s nothing there now except new houses. But have a look! I’ve made a mark next to the paragraphs where she mentions the Ellisons. She and the youngest were great friends, as you can tell’.
The first was dated October 10th, 1918. Annie looked through it, missing out all the girlish gossip, until she reached a paragraph that Mrs Grimshaw had marked with a pencilled asterisk.
“I had my photograph taken today! It was very strange! Rosie came running out to see me, and said do you want your photograph taken? I said, oh yes, I haven’t had one done before so she said stand still just as you are and I’ll do it. She pointed this box at me and she clicked it and then she said its all done now. I said is that it and she said yes and I’ll go and get it developed so you can see yourself. And do you know, she came running out to me a few days later and gave me this little picture of myself! I was so pleased and she looked so happy as well because it must be awful for her, with all her family dying and her Ma really ill and the other one having got herself knocked up and everything. But she said it was all right and she was pleased to have done it as a record and she said I’ve made another one for myself so as I can remember you. That was so nice of her!”
The rest of the letter went onto other things. Annie was making notes, writing down what it said, while Simon continued to talk and giggle with Mrs Grimshaw. The other letter was dated September 12th, 1919.
“ It’s so sad,but they’ve gone and taken Rosie away! What with her ma dying of the flu and the other one also dead and gone, she’s the only one left! They came and took her in this big van yesterday, this nurse and this big man from the orphanage. She didn’t look happy, but I saw her and waved, and she saw me and she waved too and gave me a big smile. I feel ever so bad for her, with all her family gone like that. What a fall they had!. I shall really miss her, she was always so happy and smiling and gay, with her red hair floating about and her nice bright face. I hope she’ll be all right’.
The letter then, as with the other, went on to other matters.
‘Are you all right, dear?’ asked Mrs Grimshaw’s voice, anxiously.
Annie jerked up with a start. ‘Oh, yes, yes, Mrs Grimshaw! I’m ever so sorry! I was just getting a bit carried away with your grandmother’s letters. Thank you for letting us see them’.
‘Not at all! I’m glad they were of help to you. I think my grandmother really liked the Ellisons. I know she was certainly big friends with the youngest girt, the one she refers to. I don’t think she knew the others very well. But I suppose that’s all that I know, really. Mind you I have to go and do a bit of shopping now…’
They took the hint immediately.
‘Of course, Mrs Grimshaw. We’ll let you get on. Thank you so much for your time and trouble. We really appreciate it’. Simon said, charmingly.
Not at all! Do come again if you need to. All the best for your project’. replied Mrs Grimshaw, with a beam of pleasure.
You creep, Simon, thought Annie, as they said their goodbyes.
‘So, do you think that was useful then?’ asked Simon.
‘Oh, yes. You were rather good with her. But then you’re quite good at chatting up older women aren’t you? Like Ragimund, for instance’. The instant Annie said it, she felt horrified. Simon stared at her coldly, then turned round and walked rapidly towards the station. Annie stared after him, cursing herself. What a stupid thing to say, especially now! She ran after him, and caught his arm, which he shook off roughly.
‘Simon!’ she cried, desperately. ‘Please! I didn’t mean it! I’m sorry! Really sorry! It was stupid of me to say that! Please!’
Simon stopped and glared at her, but Annie decided to try to press home her advantage. ‘I’m sorry. I just feel a bit upset about the young girl, Rosamund’. Which was true. Annie did feel very sad and worried about that little girl of long ago. ‘Let’s get on the train and perhaps we can decide what next to do’. She tried to fix Simon with what she hoped was an expression of genuine sincerity. You’re as bad as he is, she thought. ‘All right, then’, muttered Simon grudgingly. ‘You know I can’t do it without you, Simon’. she said coaxingly. A big mistake. Simon wasn’t taken in by that. At least they sat next to each other on the train.
breathed deeply, and decided to take the initiative. ‘Look,
Simon, we..’ she emphasised the”we”. thinking
what she should do next. ‘What should we do next?’ Clever,
move, Annie, thought Annie. Simon thought for a while, then said, ‘First
we need to have another, really close look at that photograph, together
with the notes that you made, to see if we can find out anything more,
to find a hippo….”
They were now friendly again. ‘But, since you seemed to have raised the subject’, Simon said, ‘did this Rosamund just disappear, or did she start up another life elsewhere? It seems that she’s the only one that we don’t know anything about. What happened to her? She seemed the only one left who had any life. What happened to her? This case is just one big question-mark’.
Annie nodded, her mind full of something just out of reach.
‘I can’t believe that she would have stayed in that orphanage. They were probably awful places then, just concerned with turning them out to be servant girls. I think she must have been too good and educated for that. Perhaps she went away with someone? I suppose we might never know’.
‘Back to the photograph, then’.
That evening, try as they might, they couldn’t find out any more from the photograph. Simon threw it back on the table in disgust. ‘This is hopeless! We haven’t got anything except ideas!’ His glance suddenly strayed to the other end of the room, at Annie’s dressing table, where he always claimed Annie always made desperate bids to try to make herself look presentable. Then he looked again at the photograph. ‘There’s a mirror over the fireplace!’ he exclaimed.
‘So, there’s a possibility that the photographer might just be reflected in that mirror! This calls for the computer!’
Annie was excited, despite herself. ‘Come on, We’ll try it’. Up they went to Simon’s grandly titled workstation, where Simon quickly scanned the photo and put into Photoshop. ‘Now then, First blow it up’.
‘Oh’. A pause. ‘I knew that’.
The mirror appeared on Simon’s screen. ‘There’s nothing there. It’s all too dark’. complained Annie, gloomily.
‘Wait until I start putting filters and focus on it’. said Simon, intent on pressing tabs on his keyboard. Then, to Annie’s amazed eyes, the mirror sharpened and lightened, until there was an image of a figure, crouched over what appeared to be a large wooden camera. Even now, Annie could see that the figure wore a bright checked suit. His right hand was somewhere behind the camera, but his left hand was poised upright, the fingers clenched together in a fist.
‘It’s a mirror image’. whispered Simon. ‘It would be the other way round normally, but since this is a reflection, this is what you see. I’ll try to focus on the head’.
Now there was a close-up of the camera, and the head behind it. Simon focussed it, put another filter on, and sharpened the image. He gasped, and so did Annie.
There, poised behind the bulky camera, was a red-haired red-bearded man, or so they guessed. At least, it seemed the same colour as the youngest girls. But what was truly repelling was a glimpse of part of his face, his teeth and lips drawn back in an expression of….glee, or triumph? His visible eye also gleamed in delight, and his hand was still held high, but now, as could be clearly seen, his fingers were clenched in a moment of delight. It was an image of something strange and evil, almost as if he had succeeded in capturing the lives and souls of those in front of his unblinking camera. His leg was raised, almost as if he was just about to burst into a caper.
‘It’s Doctor Wrist!’ they both cried out together.
They stared at the grinning figure in horror and fascination.
‘No wonder everybody in the photograph looks frightened!’ whispered Simon. Annie picked up the photograph and looked at it, shifting her glance from photo to screen.
‘It must have been awful’. muttered Annie. ‘As if they knew that something terrible had just happened. It looks like they know it, just at that moment!’
‘But is it Dr Wrist, or just someone who looks like him? This is 1910. He can’t be that old, surely?’
‘It might be one of his forebears. A grandfather, perhaps? What was the name? A.W.? What does that stand for?
‘Whatever it is, the coincidence is just too great. Why did Mum just happen to find it on that particular day? At that particular time? Look, the photograph is dated “April, second 1910”. “Captured”. That was the day when you and Mum were cleaning out that old room upstairs. Exactly one hundred years ago!’
They stared at each other. ‘There has to be a connection’. said Simon.
‘It was from that time that everything started going wrong for the whole family. Almost as if.. as if, he was creating it. And he was enjoying it, too. Ruining a whole family’s life, just for the sheer pleasure of it!’ cried Annie, vehemently.
‘Hold on. We don’t know that. It might have been just coincidence, again’.
‘Simon’. Annie looked at him steadily. ‘Do you really believe that?’
Simon looked again at the image on the screen, and then again at the photograph that lay in front of Annie. ‘No’. he said finally. ‘But I do think we must go and talk to the four fingers. They might have records about Doctor Wrist, or about his background. All the evidence we have at the moment are images and descriptions, that we’re trying to read a lot into, and not much else. It’s all …’ he struggled for the right word,….circumstantial’.
For once, Annie agreed with him. ‘But even so, we need to present all this to the four fingers tomorrow. If I’m right about this, rather if we’re right, then we’ve got a serious situation’. She shivered. ‘I don’t like it. I just hope I’m wrong. But I’ve got a really bad feeling about this. So have you’.
Simon shrugged. ‘Yes, and ….I just remembered! Tomorrow’s meeting is a monthly one. That means everybody will be there, including all the seagulls. Oh, no’.
‘It’s better that they are, I think. They might know something that we don’t. Can you do a photocopy of that…image? We’ll need to bring along the photo too’.
“OK. Time for bed after that’.
Annie couldn’t sleep. Image after image kept flooding into her mind. The sad, bedraggled end of a happy family. The two sons, standing tall and straight. The mother, anxiously clasping her husband’s hand. The two young girls. One dying in pain and shame, the other vanished. The hideous figure of the photographer behind his camera, “capturing” his prey. An image from the darkness of time, caught at the very moment of their downfall. Caught in black and white, mutely telling the world what was going to happen. An ill-fated family, who had simply lived, and died, long ago, with only an unknown fear of what would happen. Finally she slept.
‘You look really rough’. remarked Simon, next morning, when she came down for breakfast.
‘Shut up. Have we got everything for the meeting?’
‘All here’. He patted his small rucksack. ‘OK. Bye, Mum!’ he cried. She didn’t reply, but she came to the front door in her dressing-gown, and suddenly gave Annie a sharp hug. Simon stepped back quickly. The front door was open, and he didn’t want any embarrassment, in case any of his friends just might happen to be walking by. They walked along the pavement towards the bus-stop, and looked around. Their mother was still standing in the doorway. She waved to them. They waved back, and then the bus arrived. Annie suddenly felt very uncomfortable about that wave. It reminded her of the vanished girl.
‘What was that all about?’ asked Simon, on the bus.
‘I don’t know, She’s not usually so affectionate. Anyway’, she went on crossly, Why shouldn’t she give me a hug? Even you do. Very rarely’. she added hastily, seeing Simon’s face.
‘That’s different. You’re only a sister. Ouch!’ as Annie smacked him viciously on the arm. ‘I just thought that you might like a treat every now and again. Ouch!’ he cried so loudly that the other passengers on the bus looked around. ‘All right’. he added in a lower voice. ‘Truce?’
‘Armed truce. And save it for the seagulls. They’ll be in good form’.
Because of the cold weather the meeting was, , not on the beach this time, but in the headquarters of the Brotherhood of the Four Fingers, down the slightly sinister cobbled alley that led quietly away from one of the smaller streets in Brighton, close to the Lanes. This was the secret society, of which they were members, dedicated to the idea of mystery and detection. The Brotherhood was led by four elderly gentlemen, whose real names neither Simon or Annie knew, Instead, they called themselves after the fingers on the hand ( but not the thumb, for unknown reasons).They pushed open the outer gate, and through the overgrown garden and entered the large front door. Upstairs, they could already hear a commotion and raucous singing. ‘The birds have arrived’. muttered Simon despondently.
‘Ugh! I always feel a bit nervous when I go up these stairs, when I remember how that wardrobe nearly fell on us!’
‘Pushed by you know whom’. added Simon, darkly.
walked into the tall doorway that led into the council chamber. The
noise was deafening. The air was filled with flying white forms that
flapped and collided with each other. More birds filled the seats
and window-sills. The smell of bird droppings was everywhere.
The noise of screaming and squawking simply overwhelmed everything,
deadening hearing and sight throughout the room. They fought their
way through to the front seats of the rows of benches, next to Indira,
Pei-ying, and Pat, who, understandingly, but rather strangely, was
sheltering underneath the canopy of his huge blue and white striped
umbrella. Indira and Pei-Ying yelled greetings and Pat shouted to them: ‘Top
of the morning, fellas! Is it always like this?’ Annie peered
around to see who else was there. It was like trying to look through
a whirling white snow-storm, but she finally saw the four fingers,
in their grey robes, already bespattered with white streaks, desperately
trying to both read and protect their handwritten notes from the deluge
The seagulls had finally seen them. They circled round, with cries and squawks. ‘The terrible twins!’ they screamed. ‘The terrible twins! The terrible twins! The terrible twins!’ Annie looked desperately around. At last, she saw Adrian, ,perched nonchalantly on the end of the long wooden table at which the four fingers sat. She caught his eye, and then she drew her hand significantly across her throat. Adrian nodded. He understood. Immediately, he gave a piercing sound that impossible to describe. It was halfway between a ‘GARK’, and a scream, but so loud that all the humans had to cover their ears. However, it had the desired effect. The birds immediately fell silent, and settled down on the windowsills, the furniture, and the seats not already occupied. Apart from a few suppressed squawks and giggles, there was a desperately needed silence.
‘Right!’ snapped Adrian, ‘Settle down boys! Settle down! Now! We’ve got business ‘ere! And,’ he added ominously, ‘Cut the crap! If you want the bog, then go outside! Right, Mr Chairman, we’re all ears’. A muffled titter ran through the throngs of the seagulls packed into the room. ‘Thank you, Adrian. Order, order!’ snapped Index Finger. ‘I hereby declare this meeting open’. A great cheer and a flapping of wings ensued. When it had died down, he turned to Middle Finger, who was still trying to wipe off the seagull droppings from his robe. He sighed. ‘I will now give the Chairman’s report. Where are my papers?’ He began to shuffle them impatiently on the table. The seagulls groaned in unison.
Simon gave Annie a prod with his elbow. ‘Look who’s
joined us’. Annie looked at the figure sitting next to him. ‘Mariko!’ she
cried in delight. Mariko, leaning on Simon’s shoulder, put her
hand out to Annie. They clasped hands together in pleasure. Mariko
and her Japanese friends had been so brave in the past, and Annie felt
particularly close to her. It was so right that she should be here
as well. Pat leant over to her on the other side. ‘It’s
just as well that we’ve got foot-warmers here’. he whispered. ‘OI,
that’s me! Get your feet off!’ Annie looked down. ‘Hallo,
Sniffer. Good to see you here’. Sniffer merely grunted.
‘Chairman’s Report. Nothing to report’. His voice
was drowned in a great chorus of ‘Shame! Shame! Why not! Useless!
Useless! Useless!. The seagulls were even more unruly than usual.
Just behind Annie, she heard a small seagull say, ‘where’s our money, dad? You told me we were going to have a big feast’. Yeah, But that tight-fisted old man has nicked it all!’ But you told me, dad! You told me! Where’s our feast?’ Some of the other seagulls picked this up. ‘Yeah, where’s our feast?’ totally forgetting that the seagulls had never contributed any money in the first place. Quickly the cry was taken up by every bird in the room. ‘Where’s our feast? Feast! Feast! Feast! Feast! Feast! Feast!’ It quickly became a threatening roar. Third Finger looked appealingly across to Annie.
‘Any other business?’ he cried despairingly.
‘YES, THERE IS!’
The seagulls all stopped and looked around at Annie who had risen from her seat, and now stood upright, holding the notes they had gathered in her right hand. There was thankfully, silence, at last. The small seagull squeaked plaintively behind her. ‘Dad, when’s the feast?’
‘My brother and I have got something to tell you, and you’re not going to like it. That is, if you can be bothered to listen!’
Some of the seagulls began to squawk angrily, but Adrian glared at them hard, and they subsided again.
‘Please continue, Annie’. the chairman said gravely.
‘ My brother and I have been working on a strange case. A family was destroyed over one hundred years ago. It was destroyed, we believe by someone that you all will know and recognise. Simon/’
Simon got up. ‘Focus the talisman on the photograph, Annie.’ She looked at him in surprise. ‘Trust me’. he said quietly. She walked to the long table where the Four Fingers were sitting and laid the pictures down that they had brought with them. Then she pointed the talisman, on her right hand to the photograph of the Ellisons. Light shone from the talisman onto the image, and another beam of light projected upwards, onto the white wall of the room. There were the Ellisons, caught in a perfect life-sized image.
‘Dad, are we going to have a feast, after the pictures?’
Simon took over. ‘That is the photograph we found, quite by accident. But we found it exactly one hundred years after it was taken, on the same day, in fact. That is too much of a coincidence.’.
Annie resumed. ‘Look at the mirror on the wall. This is what we found when we enlarged it’. She turned the talisman onto the image Simon had made. There was an indrawn gasp and a shudder, from the humans. The seagulls looked stunned. Annie took a deep breath. ‘Both Simon and I think that that is Doctor Wrist’s grandfather, caught capturing and destroying a perfectly decent family for his own pleasure’.
There was still silence.
‘Of course, we have no proof of this at all’. Simon went on. ‘This is pure instinct and reasoning on our part. Nor do we know, whether he had a son, who might have been father to the current Doctor Wrist’.
‘Wait a moment’. said Little Finger, urgently. You said the “current” Doctor Wrist. Why?’
Simon and Annie looked at each other. ‘We haven’t really discussed it, but we believe that Doctor Wrist is still around. He’s still here, to do whatever evil he can’.
The silence hung heavy in the room.
‘Just what is it that brings you to that conclusion?’ asked Little Finger, quietly.
‘Very little,’ said Annie, frankly, ‘But why did the photograph turn up in the way it did, containing such a clue? And at that time? But we still don’t know whether there was a father involved. We don’t know anything about him’.
‘I do’. said a deep, rather husky voice. Sniffer got up and ambled his way down to the front. ‘I’m an old soldier’. There were a few sniggers from the seagulls, quickly silenced as Adrian turned his beady eyes on them. ‘I’m an old soldier, a foreign legionary, and I got to know an awful lot of stories. There’s one in particular I remember, and it was only now, listening to the two here’, indicating with his head towards Simon and Annie, ‘that I thought might fit in with what they think’. He paused.
‘There was always a story going around – it was in the Second World War, where this colonel, I think they were in Italy, as the story goes, who sent his men straight into an ambush, quite deliberately. He told his men to move forward, and told them that there was no enemy there, and that they could capture all the ground by daybreak. Anyway, they walked straight into machine-guns, lots of ‘em. Twenty-seven of them got killed, and only five got back. Two of them were so badly wounded that they died the next day. The three left’ all said that he was grinning, like, as he ordered them to advance, and some others afterwards said he was laughing his head off about it when he knew’.
‘What happened next?’ asked Annie, dreading the answer.
‘Well, there were a lot of despatches about it, why it had happened, and so on. But apparently he disappeared. Deserted. Never heard of again. They just posted him as missing. But the real reason was that the brass hats didn’t want any scandal. And there’s one really important thing. For some other reason, he was always referred to as…’ he paused again, ‘Colonel W.’
‘Did anyone ever find out what happened to this Colonel W.?’ asked Little Finger.
‘There were rumours. Lots of them. The one that I heard most was that he’d got himself to South America. Another one I heard was that he got married over there and gave her mischief. And another, was that he had a son over there. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But it all ties in with what’s been said. They may be rumours, but this one has stuck around too long. If soldiers I knew, were still saying that, long after, then there’s got to be a bit of truth in it. It’s something like that, that soldiers don’t forget. Anyone who does that to his men has got to be seriously evil. Everyone who heard that story said it’.
‘What happened to the men that survived?’ asked Annie. ‘They’re all dead’. muttered Sniffer. ‘They didn’t last long after the war. They all died a few years later. What’s left is a story, and perhaps a memory’. Sniffer looked down at the floor. ‘Make of it what you will’.
There were mutterings amongst the seagulls. Pat whistled between his
teeth. Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko looked troubled. The four fingers
looked down at their hands.
‘Adrian, did you actually see what happened to Doctor Wrist, when you dumped him in the sea, the last time?’ asked Annie.
‘Look, I ain’t no murderer! We dumped ‘im in the sea – really big splash ‘e made, about quarter of a mile from that buoy! Then we headed home. Didn’t we, boys?’ Some of the other seagulls chorused assent.
‘But did you actually see him drown? Did you see him disappear?’ Simon persisted.
Adrian shuffled his webbed feet uncertainly. ‘Well, no, not really. We just dropped ‘im and then scarpered off home’.
‘So you don’t know whether he survived or not?’
Adrian shuffled his feet again and was silent.
Little Finger rose to his feet again. ‘This has been a most extraordinary meeting. He waited for a response, but none came. ‘He sighed heavily. ‘There is no real evidence, and no actual proof, that Doctor Wrist is still alive and still active. But my instincts, and those of others’, looking around, ‘are that he might well be still a very serious danger. We must be vigilant! I’m sure that we are all grateful, or not, as the case may be, to Simon and Annie, for drawing this grave matter to our attention. From now on, we must look carefully for anything strange, anything that is not normal, even the slightest thing. Keep watching, and keep looking. We have no other defence at present. Thank you all for your, somewhat robust, attendance,’ looking hard at the assembled seagulls. ‘I declare this meeting closed’.
The meeting broke up noisily, most of the seagulls flying back out of the windows.
‘It’s warmer now. Why don’t we go and have some lunch in the usual place?’ said Pat behind her. They all trooped down to their table, and had a large meal of pizza, partly due to Adrian’s presence who kept stealing the pizza crusts when they weren’t looking. The four fingers joined them a few minutes later, but remained preoccupied, talking briefly amongst themselves. It was just as well. Annie didn’t feel like talking either. Simon was talking happily to Indira and Pei-Ying. Mariko had gone, leaving Annie with her mobile number scribbled on a piece of paper, and a gentle squeeze of her arm. The four fingers had left too, with hurried apologies. Adrian had also left, with muttered promises under his breath that he would definitely ‘see to’ Doctor Wrist, next time, you can be dead right about that.
Annie became aware that Pat was still sitting on the other side of the table. ‘This is what not you were expecting, was it, Annie?’ he said in a quiet voice. Annie stared at him. ‘What do you mean?’ she asked abruptly.
‘I mean that your case of the photograph, and whatever happened to the people in it, can never be really resolved. There’s no hard proof, and no solid evidence for anything. But I feel that there are two important things to have come out of it’.
‘In what way?’ Annie asked again. ‘I can’t see very much that has come out of it at all. Its based on coincidence and instinct. There’s no real result’.
‘But isn’t that part also of what detective work is all about? said Pat urgently. ‘Not always having the right answers? Not every case is like those of Hercule Poirot, where everybody gets rounded up in a room, and their individual motives analysed, and then the real culprit is confronted, and forced to confess. No, life is much sloppier and messier than that. No loose ends all tied up neatly around a solution, like a parcel. No, it’s more a continuous process of change and shifts, where what is obvious one day, is just as complex and baffling as before, on the next.’
‘There was a note of bitterness in Pat’s voice, that Annie recognised.
‘Why wasn’t Sister Teresa at the meeting? Do you know? After all, you seem to know her better than anyone else’.
Pat suddenly became evasive. ‘Oh, she was very busy with her old people, so she couldn’t come’. After a moment he went on, more cheerfully, though Annie felt it was slightly forced, ‘You and Simon must go round and see her soon. She’ll be very pleased. She thinks a lot of you both’.
Annie nodded. ‘We will. How did you and she get to know each other?’
Pat became evasive again. ‘Ah, well, Sister Teresa and I go back a long way’. He stopped, rather too quickly.
‘What were the two important things that have come out of this, investigation?’
Pat brightened again. ‘Ah, the first is, that because of the mysterious photograph, you have now alerted everybody to a real and potential danger that might be coming. None of us can afford to be complacent. I think everybody in that meeting realised that the fight is far from over yet. Your case has been really invaluable in that. Personally, I thought you shook them all up a bit! No bad thing, if it keeps us all aware. Put it this way, you and Simon have certainly not wasted our time’.
‘Thanks’. said Annie. ‘And what was the second?’
Pat thought for a moment. ‘Closure’. he said finally.
‘Closure? What does that mean?’
‘It mean being able to accept that the past is the past, whatever has happened, and that it is time to put it behind you, and move onto into the future, wiser, and older, but still yourself. At least, that’s my definition’.
‘Closure’. Annie repeated to herself. ‘You mean that, by trying to find out what happened to that family so long ago, Simon and I have been able to “move on”, and start thinking about the future?
Pat nodded. ‘Something like that. Put in that way, that family perhaps gave you a gift. By finding out their fate, whether it was planned or accidental, lets you think about your own future, and what you want to do. Personally, I think it’s a legacy to you, that this Doctor Wrist probably hasn’t even realised. I think you’re well on the way to finding your own closure, and coming to terms with what has happened’.
They both looked out over the sea. ‘The past can’t be changed. But the way we come to see it still has the power to change us’. He was talking half to himself.
‘Have you achieved closure, Pat?’ asked Annie gently.
Pat smiled rather crookedly at her. ‘Not really. I’m still one of life’s loose ends’. He got up suddenly. “I must go. Hey, there, Sniffer! Do you want to come and join me for a Guiness at my favourite local pub?’
Sniffer raised his head from where he was lying. ‘My dear sir’, he spoke. ‘I feel that that is an excellent offer that no old soldier could possibly refuse. See you all soon’.
Pat shook hands with Annie and walked up the steps to the promenade, Sniffer shambling along behind him. Indira and Pei-Ying followed, waving to Annie as they left. Simon came to join Annie at the table. They were the only ones left. ‘What were you and Pat talking about?’ asked Simon curiously.
‘Tell you later’.
Annie, shall we go up on the pier? I think I need a shot of mindless noise’.
Annie shook her head. ‘Not just yet, Simon. Let’s go on the groyne first’.
They walked up the steps to the promenade, and then down again onto the groyne, both silent in their own thoughts, stopping at last just past the giant doughnut sculpture. Simon glanced up at it. ‘Battle damage’. he remarked, noticing the great gaps here and there in the sculpture. ‘Everybody else thinks it’s erosion’. They looked out from the wall of the groyne along the beach, filling up with people, spilling out from the sea walk behind. Some shops were already open, and doing quite a good trade. The watery sun had broken through, giving a hint of the bright summer to follow. The sound of the carousel on the beach, opened for the first time this year, sounded tinnily across the promenade, it’s over-cheerful sound masking their own thoughts.
‘It’s really hard to think that we fought a great battle here’. Simon quietly said.
They stared across the beach. Gusts of laughter and conversation drifted up to them. The sound of the carousel continued.
‘Simon, I need to tell you something’. Annie pushed back her dark hair that the light breeze had blown across her face. ‘I know what happened to the little girl who vanished.’.
Simon remained silent.
‘She left. With others. She lived, by our standards, a long and happy life. And then she died. In a good way’.
Simon said nothing for a few moments. Then he said, very quietly, so that Annie could barely hear him, ‘I’m glad’.
He reached down and picked up his bag. ‘I’m going to the pier’.
You go ahead, Simon. I’ll come in a moment. Don’t worry, I’ll find you’.
Simon walked back down the groyne. Annie looked after him for a moment, and then bent down to her own bag, and pulled out the photograph of the Ellison family.
She studied it for a while, looking at the image of the small daughter, red-haired and freckled. She thought of Mrs Grimshaw’s grandmother, as a young girl, being photographed by the same laughing red-haired, freckle-faced daughter, behind her little box camera. She looked down at a particular small spot on the beach, and saw herself, in the smoke and aftermath of the battle, kneeling beside a small, bloodied body, her hand reaching out to close the soft eyelids on a freckled face, the red hair spread out on the pebbles.
Slowly and mechanically, she tore the photograph in two, then into fours and tore again, until the photograph was no more than small scraps. She let them trickle slowly between her fingers to fall into the lapping water below, and watched them as they rose and fell on the tide of the sea.
‘Goodbye, Rosamund’. she said under her breath.
She picked up her bag, and walked down the groyne towards the pier, without looking back.
Frank Jackson. (21/01/10)
Frank Jackson (28/12/09)