DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. mobile 07982 032974
text and images throughout copyright
A Journey to Purgatory
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery., and more recently, Cosmo, a young boy who has died, but has agreed to help them. Together they fight a war against their arch-enemy, Doctor Wrist, and his associates. Simon and Annie now have a task, that takes them out of their own world, to find out more, and to fulfil a promise to Morag.
‘It’s about time we heard from Cosmo again’.
They were walking slowly along Gardner Street in Brighton, part of the North Laines area, so named from its origins in the small runnels of land that had existed long before, in older times, to plough, cultivate and grow food. Now, it was a busy small street, full of small shops, with displays of clothes hanging on racks outside, and the metal tables and chairs of small cafes, crowded and busy, despite the slight chill of a sunny late October morning. Because of the number of people passing, some talking loudly into their mobile phones, they failed to notice the small dark man, in jeans and windcheater, who followed them, sliding sinuously and quietly, through the throngs behind.
They turned to look into a shop window, where dark velvet dresses had caught their eye. Annie sighed mischievously at her brother.
‘Don’t you think I’d look good in that?’ she whispered in what was her best seductive manner. It was lost on Simon, who was looking up at a pair of old trainers suspended on a telephone wire across the street.
‘Look at that!’ Reminds me of when the Brotherhood used to pass messages to us! They always used to throw them at us, and I was always the one that got hit on the back of the head with it! Why me?’
‘It’s because they thought I was too ladylike to receive messages in that manner’. Annie said in her prim voice.
‘More like they knew I was the most intelligent. Yuk! Smelly old trainers, with notes inside! At least they use phones and email, now they’ve realised they’re in the twentieth-first century’.
Annie sighed. She still had not noticed the little dark man, who had, without their knowing, snapped them in profile on a small camera-mobile, whilst looking in the window. He spoke urgently into his phone this time, as he saw them wandering towards Bond street, that continued towards North Street and the Laines beyond.
On East Street, that led down towards the seafront, they paused and gazed with fascination at the rows and rows of old sewing-machines that were displayed on racks inside the plate-glass windows of a big, post-holocaust, industrially chic clothing store. They couldn’t see inside, so neither saw another small dark man, who quickly photographed them again, between the clothes-racks, this time in full face. He turned away quickly and spoke rapidly into the phone.
‘I’ve got them. No problems. We’ll get them back to you, straight away…yes….same place. Fine’. He strolled out of the shop with a small smile on his face.
A week later, a small package, wrapped in brown paper, was thrust by the postman into the letterbox. Annie picked it up, sleepy and yawning. She looked down at the address: “Simon and Annie Wheeler, blah, blah, blah”. Time for breakfast. She was beginning to pull it open, when Simon appeared, tired, disgruntled and tousle-haired, in his dressing-gown.
‘What’s that?’ he asked, as he poured himself a mug of tea. Annie was staring at the contents of the envelope. There were two nametags, both bearing their photographs, in profile and front. Underneath, were their full names. There were two others that bore the image of the strange figure, with large head and stick-like limbs, that the skeleton, at the dance of death, had left. Below, was strange writing, virtually undecipherable. All four tags had a loop of string attached to them.
‘How did he get these? Not even my best side too!’ she added venomously. Simon chose not to answer, but pointed to a small note that had fallen out of the envelope under the labels. Anne picked it up and read the scrawl, in green biro, while Simon began to make toast. She furrowed her brow, until Simon came back to the table with their breakfast.
They looked at it together.
“Visit of a lifetime! Sunny Purgatory in all its glory! Your visas and identifications enclosed. Will contact you shortly. Keep watching the skies, screen, I mean. That sister of yours does scrub up well! Tasty bird.
Your very own winged messenger, Cosmo”
‘Very enticing. At least he’s got a sense of humour. Don’t glare like that, Annie. Your face will get stuck’.
‘Rotten little swine! He makes me sound like a roast chicken! Wait till I get my hands on him’.
‘At least, wait until after he’s taken us there and back, before you dismember him’.
It was the middle of the night. Annie was asleep, after vowing vengeance upon the unfortunate Cosmo, when she was awakened by a terrible presence! She opened her eyes and screamed softly. Her brother stood in shorts and a crumpled T-shirt, shaking her shoulder.
‘Wassamater?’ she groaned.
‘Cosmo. He’s on the computer now! Come on, quickly, before we lose him!’
Annie groped her way into her dressing-gown, and fumbled her way into Simon’s bedroom. She saw a brightly flickering screen that, as she entered, suddenly crackled into a fuzzy image of a head and shoulders. She focussed, rather blearily on it.
‘Cosmo, you snotty little toe-rag!’ she snarled.
The voice hissed, and became clearer.
“…..haven’t been called that a while! Reminds me of when I was alive’. Listen….’ Buzzzz, crackle, crackle, hissss…..meet at….crackle…Fishing Museum…..Hisssss, whistle, crackle…seven, tomorrow morning….Hissss….Day trip. See you, signing off from Limbo’. Click. The screen returned to its normal grey colour.
‘That’s only six hours away!
‘We’d better get some more sleep then. I wonder what the time difference is between here and Limbo?’
‘I don’t know and I don’t care!
‘Annie, that’s the difference between ignorance and apathy’.
‘Go to bed, Simon!’
Annie was still ill-tempered, as they stood shivering, beside the dark, looming hulks of the fishing boats on the beach, outside the Fishing Museum.
‘Why here?’ she complained. ‘Around all these rotten old wrecks!’
Simon looked offended. ‘These were once part of the pride of the Brighton fishing industry! They’re lovely old boats!’
‘Smelly old things!’ Annie kicked one of them for good measure. She was not in a good mood.
‘Oi! Over here!’
There was Cosmo, his usual skinny self, in his old leather jacket held together with what looked like paper-clips, his tight tartan trousers, and laced up army boots. His hair stood up in tufts even more in the cold morning air. Earrings and nose-stud glinted in the misty, early morning light.
‘Hallo, Cosmo. You know, I’ve never understood the punks’ pre-occupation with stationery’.
‘Never mind. Are you going to conduct us to our accommodation for the journey?’
‘Right, over here’.
He led the way around one of the larger fishing-boats, forever marooned on the pebbly beach.
‘There you are!’ he said proudly.
They gazed at it in silence.
‘It’s a little rowing-boat’. Simon said, flatly. Annie was still lost for words.
‘Good little one, too! My favourite. Always the best for visitors like you’.
They were looking at a small wooden boat, about eight feet long, with wooden planks laid across for seats. There was no sign of a rudder, mast or sail, but there were semi-circular metal hoops fastened into brackets on each side, that seemed to form a framework for the soggy mass of green tarpaulin gathered at the rear end.
‘I don’t suppose it has a name?’ asked Annie faintly.
‘Course it does. Daisy’.
‘Yeah. Nice name. I like it’.
‘You mean’, Simon slowly said, ‘that we’re going to brave the tempestuous buffeting and thunderous roar of the great ether, to boldly cross the restless ocean of time, in a little boat called Daisy?’
‘Yeah’. replied Cosmo, cheerfully. ‘All aboard now. Annie, you sit at the front, in the bows. That’s the pointy bit at the end. Simon, you sit in front of her, both of you facing me, I’ll be in the stern’.
They stared in hopeless resignation at each other, then awkwardly began to climb in, followed by Cosmo, who sat on the broad seat at the rear. He began to haul the tarpaulin over the iron hoops. ‘Give me a hand, will you? Just tie those ropes on the edges to the cleats each side’.
‘Cleats?’ said Annie, plaintively
‘Those metal hooks on the sides. Annie, can you fasten that last one on the pointy end?’
They were now encased inside the tarpaulin envelope, that smelt of tar and oil. It was dark, but they could still see each other. Cosmo fiddled with something under his seat. ‘Just checking the automatic pilot. Right, we’re off!’
Daisy, that had been lying slightly to one side, suddenly jerked upright. Then there was a swaying motion, and then a sense of moving forwards. Annie gulped and gripped the seat with both hands, shifting uncomfortably on its hard surface. Daisy began to forge ahead, rising and falling gently, as if breasting waves.
Annie leant forward and muttered in Simon’s ear. ‘I wonder what the tourist class is like’.
Simon ignored her. ‘Cosmo, how long is this journey going to take?’
‘Dunno. Not long. Difficult to measure the swirling mists of time’.
‘Cosmo, what’s your surname? I mean, your last name?’
He looked embarrassed, and turned away. ‘You’ll laugh’.
‘No, we won’t’.
‘Yes you will’.
‘No, we won’t’.
Cosmo coughed and looked away.
Simon was looking excited.
‘Hermes was the messenger of the gods! He was called Mercury by the Romans! The god of travellers, crossing borders and boundaries! That’s a really good name for you , Cosmo!. Mind you, he was always said to be a bit devious, a thief at the gate so to speak’.
They both stared coldly at Cosmo, who flinched.
I’m not devious!’ he complained, indignantly.
‘You’d better not be’, said Annie menacingly. ‘How did you get those photographs of us?’
‘Easy. I got a couple of mates who owe me a favour or two to follow you, and snap you when you weren’t looking. Bet you didn’t even notice. That’s as far as me being devious goes’.
‘I suppose so’, muttered Annie grudgingly. ‘AAARRGH!’
She was thrown hard against the side of the boat, and then back again! All three held onto tightly to whatever they could, as the boat rocked violently from side to side, and reared wildly up and down, as if hitting giant waves. Then it settled back into its gentle rocking rhythm.
‘Owww’. complained Annie, rubbing her sore hips. ‘What was that, punishment for calling you devious?’
‘No, just a bit of turbulence’.
‘So are we at sea or in the air?’
‘Bit of both, I think. Don’t look. We need to stay in Daisy until we get there. Won’t be long now. At least you two talk. My mates, the psychopomps, don’t get much joy out of their passengers’.
‘Its an old word. It means them what escort the dead to wherever they’re going. Boring as anything. You don’t get much conversation out of someone who’s just died. At least, you’re live ones, on a day trip. And you’re interesting. Tell us, how did you get to know Old Nic?’
They found themselves telling him about their encounter with Nicolas Flamel and his wife on their previous holiday in Malta and how he had offered to help them, and why they were now sitting in a little boat called Daisy, on a journey to Purgatory.
Cosmo was fascinated. He had never known much of what they were saying to him, and he was particularly impressed by how familiar they had become with both Flamel and his wife, Peregond.
‘Blimey, I never got to know him that well! Mind you, I owe him. He’s the one that put me together after I croaked it, and got me this job. “Cosmo, my lad, he said, I want you to be my messenger and my courier, whatever that means, because you deserve better. So I ended up in Limbo. But he gave me interesting jobs to do, like taking messages back and forth for him, between worlds. He said he liked my name too. Maybe that’s why he sort of adopted me. He said it fitted his intentions. So I became a sort of secret agent, crossing borders, like I am with you’.
Putting aside her suspicions, Annie had begun to like Cosmo again. Despite his unprepossessing appearance, he seemed to have a gentle and warm character, and to be quite conscientious. He clearly had affection and loyalty to Nicolas Flamel. That’s no bad thing at all, she thought. Simon seemed to like him too. I hope he really will be an ally with us.
They were all suddenly thrown back into their seats with a large thump, as Daisy stopped dead, and then leant slowly to one side. They had arrived.
‘Where are we now?’ Simon asked anxiously.
They could hear some guttural shouting outside. It seemed to come from far away.
‘This is what they call the “aerial tollhouse”. You’ll see why later. To get into Purgatory, you have to be processed first. Sort of interrogation. Why you’re here, who are you, where have you come from, all that sort of crap. They like their forms to be filled in properly here. Don’t worry’, Cosmo added reassuringly, ‘leave all the talking to me. Just paperwork, never mind what they say’.
He was already undoing the tarpaulin, and pulling it back from the stern. They clambered out and looked around them in amazement.
‘Here comes the reception committee!’ said Cosmo loudly, his voice echoing around the enormous damp space. The figure, coming towards them, was very large and pear-shaped, seeming to waddle rather than march. In the dim lights of the naked light-bulbs, hanging from the ceiling, they could see its large head, pig-like, with two long pointed horns, extending upwards and outwards from the upper part of its shiny bald dome, and a huge snout, with cavernous nostrils in the middle of its face. The slit-like mouth, two small tusks protruding each side opened, in a wide grin, showing large, widely spaced yellow teeth.
‘Cosmo, you little sod!’ it said in a bellowing, hoarse voice. ‘Who’ve you brought this time?’
‘Yo, Brutus! How are you, you fat old pig?’ replied Cosmo, pleasantly.
‘Never better. Captain wants to see your visitors. Humans, I see’. he grunted disdainfully, looking Simon and Annie up and down.
‘Not Zeno, is it?’
‘The very same. And the same as ever. Follow me. You know the rules’.
Cosmo nodded at them, and they followed Brutus, through the door, and then down a seemingly endless maze of narrow corridors, cement-grey on all sides. These, were occasionally lit, too, by the same bare light-bulbs, some of which worked, emitting a dim yellow glare, or not at all. They looked at Brutus’s heavy bulk ahead of them, illuminated by the light from above. He was wearing a uniform of dirty khaki, that enclosed, with some effort, his massive shape. On his head, perched incongruously between his ears, was what looked like a peaked uniform cap. Then he turned into a brightly lit corridor. There was another guard, dressed in the same way, but smaller, and not as shapeless, as Brutus. He stood, or rather slouched, beside a heavy metal door, recessed into the damp grimy blocks of the wall.
His face, not quite as pig-like as Brutus, and somewhat narrower, showed surprise.
‘Cosmo! Wondered when you’d show up again!’
‘Hi, Cassius, how’s tricks? Still guarding the brute?’
‘Things don’t change around here, Cosmo. You know that. He’s expecting you’. He banged loudly on the door. They heard a sharp grunt from inside. Cassius pushed the door open. ‘In you go’. he said, his voice sounding bored. They entered.
The room was small and square, its walls, this time, painted a rather sickly olive green. There were no pictures or even documents pinned or stuck on them. Before them, was a dilapidated wooden desk. In front of it, were two crumbling yellow chairs, that looked as if they could barely stand up of their own accord. On the desk were various piles of papers, which, judging by their dry edges, and forlorn look, had been there for a long time. Behind the desk sat another individual in uniform, an officer, it seemed, by the epaulettes on his shoulders, though the effect was spoilt by the fact that one of them had lost a button and flapped as he moved.
The officer, who they assumed to be Captain Zeno, glared at them through his narrow, downwardly-slanted black eyes. He seemed shorter and thinner than the others they had seen. His face, crowned by large horns, slid down into a narrow triangle, in which his large snout seemed even larger. His khaki uniform was buttoned up tightly to the neck. His dark little mouth was turned down in a perpetual snarl, heightened by the small tusks that protruded from each side of his thin lips. He looked as demonic as they expected. Captain Zeno stood up suddenly, then seemed to realise that he was rather shorter than either Simon or Annie, and sat down again abruptly.
He leant across the desk, accidentally scattering some of the top layers of paper. He took no notice. He jabbed a thick, hairy finger at them.
‘You are spies!’ he screamed, in a rather high-pitched voice.
‘No, we’re not’. said Annie calmly, and sat down on one of the complaining chairs. Simon did the same.
‘Who told you to sit down! Don’t answer back! I’m asking the questions here! You are spies!’
‘That’s a statement, not a question. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up’. replied Simon evenly and sat down, his arms folded. This seemed to disconcert Captain Zeno. He began to shuffle the papers around on his desk, grunting under his breath. Then he looked up, the small slits of his eyes gleaming.
‘I see, from your papers, that you have come to ask questions. What questions! Answer me!’
‘None of your business’. answered Annie, folding her arms and staring at Zeno hard. In the corner, Cosmo suppressed a snigger.
‘Withholding information! Withholding information!!. I’ll have you in the torments of hell for this! I’ll send you down to the boiling pits of fire, skewered by demons with forks and spears! I’ll make sure they roast you alive! Torn from limb to limb. Rip out your eyes, slice off your ears! Make you scream for mercy, over and over again! I’ll…!’
‘Captain’. Cosmo stood beside them. ‘You have failed to notice that they are alive, not dead. If you look at their identification tags, that should make the matter clear. They also bear visas macabres. If you would be so kind as to stamp the appropriate papers, we’ll be on our way’.
Captain Zeno stared at the tags they wore around their necks for a few seconds. Then, without a word, he pulled out a rubber ink stamp from behind the remaining pile of papers, and began to pound furiously at the documents on the desk. He looked suddenly deflated, his angular face drawn down even further. Cosmo picked up the papers, folded them, and stuffed them into the inside of his leather jacket. The captain got up suddenly, and walked to the nearest wall, his thick hairy hands clasped behind his back. Then he began to thump his domed forehead against the wall, rhythmically and mechanically.
‘Get out’. he muttered. ‘Get out, get out, get out, get out, get out….’
‘Have a pleasant day, Captain’. Cosmo murmured
They closed the door behind them. Brutus and Cassius stood outside, furtively smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. They quickly dropped them and stubbed them out on the concrete floor with their large brown boots.
‘Everything all right, Cosmo?’ asked Brutus, nervously.
‘The usual. He’s a bit upset, though’.
All five stood and listened outside the door. They could hear screams, and the crashing and breaking of furniture inside.
‘Oh, no. Another tantrum’. said Cassius, gloomily.
‘Is he always like that?’ asked Annie, innocently, though inwardly she felt alarmed. ‘He won’t hurt himself, will he?’
‘No more than usual’. snorted Brutus. ‘But its always the same. We have to clean up afterwards. Where are you going now, Cosmo?’
Cosmo glanced at Simon and Annie. ‘Over to the viewing platform first, I think. They need to look at what they’re going into’.
‘Are these pair up to it?’ asked Brutus, looking at them suspiciously.
‘Oh, yeah. They’re Brotherhood, and bleeding good warriors’.
‘Fair enough’. said Brutus. ‘Follow me’. He began to lead them along another set of dirty grey corridors, his heavy wooden billy-stick banging against his leg. These passages were different. Along each side were flaking black iron doors, with sliding flaps set into the upper part. As they passed each one, Annie and Simon could hear stifled whimpers and groans, that seemed to come from behind their grim shapes. Cosmo caught their eye.
‘Prisoners. Ones’ they’re not sure of. They hold them here, until they know where they’re coming from’.
Annie and Simon tramped along behind the huge figure of Brutus, their hearts heavy, dreading what they might see. Cosmo slouched behind, his hands in his pockets. He wished that Old Nic had given him something better than this. But he had said, this is what they came for. Let them see for themselves. They want some answers. Do it, winged messenger, and trust them. They will not let you, or me down. Have faith and confidence. But Cosmo still felt worried about their reaction.
They came out at last, through double wooden doors, into a huge room. Simon and Annie blinked. It was painted white, with scattered blue rugs on the parquetted wooden floor. Paintings of strangely soft pastoral scenes were mounted along each wall. Two large crystal chandeliers hung from the high ceiling, frescoed with images of nymphs and fauns, forever chasing each other through a green and blue landscape. Large, comfortable sofas and armchairs stood in groups, upholstered in black leather. Small tables, heaped with magazines, were scattered around. On one side, was a small bar, clad in pine, with bottles and drinks on the counter. In the far corners stood large potted green ferns. There was no-one else there. At the other end, long, light-blue curtains screened off the wall, except for a pair of glazed French windows, that admitted a sickly grey light from outside.
Cosmo walked across the room, his metal heels clicking on the floor. They followed him. Brutus had turned and gone. Cosmo turned a handle and threw the French windows open. ‘Welcome to Purgatory’. he muttered, ironically. They walked outside, onto a wide, railed balcony, and looked down.
They saw, beneath them, an enormous rotting, ruined city, stretching to the dim horizon and far beyond. The jagged teeth and stumps of broken spires and towers stood as if in a broken mouth. Empty facades of shattered buildings gaped sightlessly at each other. Drunken houses, sides torn apart, leant against each other. Mounds of rubble, in which the odd red spot of brick glistened, lay amidst the shattered wrecks of what once were apartments and dwellings. Along the few remaining streets, not blocked and pock-marked by craters and dismembered wreckage of rusty struts and masonry, there crawled huge painfully wounded earthworms that, to Annie’s shocked gaze, became bedraggled processions of people, humans, inching forward, step by forlorn step towards some unknown destination.
Annie looked up. All she could see was a great bowl of greyness, that shed whatever light it had upon the scene below. There was no sun. An occasional glimmer of colour dotted the slow-moving worm of humanity, but everything else was coloured in shadowed black, and a uniform grey, against which the hulks of the torn buildings stood, grief-stricken, silhouetted against the ominous opaqueness. A sudden streak of light flashed across the sky. It arced into the desolate landscape below. There was a sudden soft orange glow, and then it subsided. There was no sound at all, just an eerie silence.
‘It kind of chokes you, doesn’t it?’ said Cosmo, softly. ‘I always feel like that whenever I see it’.
‘It’s terrible, Cosmo!’
‘I didn’t say it was a tourist paradise, did I! Anyway, we’d better get some transport. I’ll take you to a guy I know that’s got tabs on everything. He’s got files, the lot. He can tell you whatever you need to know’.
They followed Cosmo into a dismal little lift, barely big enough to hold the three of them. It smelt of piss. Neither of them looked at each other. Annie was gulping hard every now and again, weighed down by the horror she had just seen. Simon stared at the floor, trying to breathe slowly as he struggled to come to terms with the vastness of that misery they had just witnessed. Cosmo stared at the creaking blank doors of the lift, wishing he could have prepared them better for this ordeal. The lift grunted to a halt, with a deep shudder. The doors opened.
The atmosphere was dull and greasy, the very air itself acrid and stifling, bathed in that perpetual grey twilight, that now seemed to symbolise this ruined and devastated world. The lift had opened at the base of a tall muddy-coloured tower, uncannily similar to the semi-derelict tower blocks that remained as ugly reminders of a lost and depraved new world. They found themselves looking down an indescribably filthy street, paved with slimy brown cobbles. What looked like a tram track ran along it, clearly disused, the old iron lines red with rust. On each side of this so-called street, stood dank, dirty hovels, the tallest of which only stood two stories high.
‘We’ll need to get some transport. Oi!’ Cosmo shouted and gestured impatiently. There was a trundling sound, and a strange sight came slowly towards them. It was a rough cart with two wooden wheels that wobbled dangerously as it moved over the uneven cobbled street. Harnessed to it was a strange creature that at first looked something like a horse. It had a horse’s body and shuffled laboriously. But it had the head of a sorrowful eagle, with small arms, claws and talons at its shoulders. Two large feathered wings were folded across its back. It stopped next to them, it’s head drooping towards the ground. Annie noticed, with a surge of pity, its ribs sticking out and the eyes of the animal, not bright and sharp like an eagle, but dull and leaden. It looked exhausted.
‘That’s a hippogriff. Cross between a griffin and a horse. They use them to ferry people about’.
They clambered aboard. There were no seats. ‘Where?’ the driver grunted. He was a demon, fat, pear-shaped, in a dirty khaki uniform unbuttoned across his protruding belly.
‘Gossip market. And step on it!’ Cosmo ordered. The driver grunted again, and flicked his sharp whip, emitting a sharp stench of unwashed body. They jerked forward, and began to trundle down the street.
‘You tell that pig that if he hits that poor animal again, I’ll rip his head off, and use it as a pumpkin for Halloween! Annie snapped, through gritted teeth. Cosmo turned and stared at her irritably, and then thought better of it.
‘Oi, you fat slob! Less of the corporal punishment! You’re carrying diplomats here! Make a good impression, got it?’
The driver grunted again and shrugged, but he put the whip down. Simon was staring in shock at the scenes each side of him. The very atmosphere smelt of shit, urine and rotting vegetables. Cardboard panels, stencilled with grimy slogans, and rusting corrugated sheets had been nailed over the wrecked facades of what were once houses, to provide shelter. Dotted about were telegraph poles, listing sideways under festoons of wire. Rags and patched clothes hung from plastic clothes-hangers outside the doorways to dark and musty interiors.
But it was the people that caught his attention. Adults, children, sat and huddled around what they had claimed as their territory, such as it was. Three little girls, thin, barefoot, clad only in ragged frocks, scrabbled listlessly in the mud and dirt on the cracked pavement. Their parents, sitting on old orange crates, watched them with dark, sad eyes. Further along, an old woman crouched on what looked like an old footstool, its upholstery faded and threadbare. They splashed on through oily yellow pools of water. A group of ragged young women, haggard and tired, stood waiting to fill plastic yellow buckets from what looked to be a standpipe further along the street. They looked up as they passed, and then dropped their heads again, patiently awaiting their turn. Their eyes were dead.
He looked across at Annie, holding onto the side of the cart as it lurched and reeled across the broken stones. Her face was white and thin-lipped. He decided to address Cosmo instead.
‘How do these people, I mean these dead people, survive here? I mean, there’s nothing here but a wasteland!’
Cosmo shrugged, and then sighed. ‘They scavenge. There’s big rubbish tips every now and again, where they go and pick up what they can. All the crap that other worlds dump here, left over from wars and demolition. They pick what they can, depending how long they’ve been here for. Then there are food wagons that come every now and again, and the occasional soup kitchen. They get by, just about. They can’t die again, can they?’ His voice was bitter. Simon looked at him sharply. Cosmo, he realised, was just as moved by the wretched place as he and Annie were. He began to warm much more to this little punk boy.
‘Cosmo! We’re going to plough right into them!’ Annie cried. They both looked ahead. Across the intersection ahead, an endless shuffling procession edged forward. The driver just grunted and shook the reins impatiently. The hippogriff continued forwards, it’s head still bent downwards. Then the queue parted, the ones behind stopping, as the others ahead moved slowly ahead, leaving a narrow gap.
The cart passed through, barely missing the people each side with it’s large wheels. Annie looked into their faces. Sad, miserable, without hope. Humans, individuals. Black, white, brown. Some well-dressed, some half-naked, men, women, young children holding hands with their parents. He and there an expensive shell-suit or anorak flashed, with an intermittent glimpse of white trainers, though some were barefoot. The high wail of babies filed the rancid air, held tightly in ragged cloths against their mothers’ bodies. A whole world of human life, rich or poor, shuffling endlessly on. She looked back. The procession of misery had joined up, and they were crawling again down past misshapen shanties and hovels, where the same people crouched outside, looking at them with their dull, dead eyes.
They ploughed on through endless streets of the same despair. There was an occasional crump in the distance, as something yellow and bright crashed into the ruins far away. That seemed to be the only colour in this drab monochrome world. Then the hippogriff turned to the left, the wheels clattering painfully across the hard ruts of the well-worn street. Annie noticed a cardboard sign, with large letters scrawled on it. It simply read ‘MARKET’.
They passed under what appeared to be an old Roman triumphal arch, the sculptured reliefs on each side so worn and disfigured as to be almost unrecognisable. Then they stopped. The noise was deafening. It was the clamour and hubbub of human voices, shouting and yelling. Before them, as far as the eye could see, were rickety wooden tables, benches, even cloths, simply laid out on the muddy ground. Around them were crowded thousands of men, predominantly, though there were women, shouting and gesticulating angrily, even noisier than the male throng with which they were surrounded.
‘This is the gossip market!’ Cosmo shouted in Annie’s ear. ‘This is where they all trade secrets about the living!’ She noticed that all the stalls had no objects, or carpets, or anything to sell. Instead, they were covered with scrappy sheets of paper, parchments, scrolls, and even little handwritten notices. Screams and accusations rang through the air.
‘I’ll have him for this! He killed me! Fancied my wife, he did!’
‘Dirty bitch! I’ll get even with her!
‘T think he’s gone off with all my money! I hope he chokes on it!’
‘Stuck me with a knife! I want to come back and haunt him!’
‘How she could do that to me? Its insane!’
‘I want to rip their guts out!’
The cacophony of hatred went on and on, repeated over and over, as they moved along the narrow track-way between the gossip stalls. No-one paid them any attention, but they caught glimpses of angry, hate-filled faces, as they clattered along the panorama of human fury and vengeance. Then the hippogriff stopped, beside a small, neat desk, looking rather odd in the squalor that embedded it.
Behind the desk, covered in long wooden boxes, that contained rows of card files, was a small, rather slight man, dressed, unlike the others, gathered around his patch, in a neat grey suit, complete with matching waistcoat. His face was bland, distinguished only by a pair of small, dark-framed spectacles. His head was bald with a fringe of grey hair around its outskirts, that made him look like a priest with a tonsure, his small prim mouth pursed in disapproval. He was talking patiently with the crowd gathered around his little desk.
‘Yes, yes’. he was explaining,’ If I can get a message back for you, I will. Next, please’.
‘That’s him’. Cosmo said. ‘If you want the info on Wrist, that’s him. He keeps tabs on everybody’. They dismounted painfully from the cart. Cosmo and Simon walked across to the desk, and rudely, but with little choice, elbowed their way through to the front. Annie stayed behind, looking at the hippogriff. Its head was hanging down, tongue lolling between its teeth. It was desperately thirsty.
The neat little man looked up in surprise.
‘Cosmo! Well, I never! I haven’t seen you for ages! What can I do for you?’
‘Close up for ten minutes, first. My friends need some information from you. This here is Simon Wheeler, and this is his sister, Annie. This is Socrates. He knows everything. They’ve got visas macabres’. Annie had joined them. She nodded, and asked peremptorily, ‘Have you got any water?’
‘Yes’. Socrates looked bewildered. There’s a water-butt over there, and I believe I have a bowl under my desk here’. Annie nodded curtly, and found the bowl. She marched over to the old green water-butt. She turned the spigot, and what looked like reasonably clean water began to splash into the plastic bowl.
Socrates stared at her for a moment, then he turned back to Simon and Cosmo. Placing a triangular closed sign on his desk, he ushered them around to the back. ‘What do you wish to know?’ he enquired. ‘Anything you have about the Wrist family’. Simon suggested, as he looked apprehensively at Annie, walking purposefully back towards the cart.
Socrates was looking thunderstruck. Finally he gathered himself together. ‘The Wrist family? Oh, yes, I have some files. Do you wish to see them?’
‘Yes’. said Simon, firmly. ‘Can we take them with us?’
‘Absolutely not! Nothing is allowed to be taken out of Purgatory! But, you may take notes, if that is what you want’. He reached down into a large box beneath the desk, and reappeared with a large brown folder. Simon sat down and opened it, taking out a notebook and biro. As he began to read, he heard a sudden commotion in front of him. Annie, he thought. I’ll let her get on with it.
Annie placed the bowl in front of the hippogriff, that began to lick greedily at the water.
‘You! No feeding the animals!’ The driver swung down aggressively from the cart, where he had been dozing. Annie’s temper snapped. Without any hesitation, she slammed the demon driver against the side of the cart by his lapels, his feet scrabbling at the muddy ground. She glared into his pig-like eyes, ignoring the fetid breath from his wide nostrils. ‘I usually quite like pigs’, she whispered ferociously, ‘but not when they’re mixed with scumbags like you, and especially not when they ill-treat animals. You treat that creature properly, or I’ll come back and stuff that potato you call a head right up your filthy backside. Got it!’
A crowd had now gathered, eager to see a fight. There was a bellow from behind them.
‘Right! Disturbance! Everyone stay where you are!’
Two large demons pushed through, their sticks held ready in their beefy fists. ‘What’s going on here then?’
‘That’s your sister’. muttered Cosmo.
‘I know. She’s got a filthy temper’. Simon muttered back, as he went on copying notes.
‘I’ll sort it out’. said Cosmo. He got up and pushed through the crowd. ‘OK, mates! Nothing to worry about! Diplomatic immunity!’ He waved his cards in the air. The two demon police peered at them. One pulled out a pair of wire-framed spectacles that he perched precariously on his snout.
‘Fair enough. On your way, you lot!’ They swiped their sticks at the crowd, that hurriedly dispersed. Annie dumped the dazed driver on the ground, like an old sack, and went to stroke the hippogriff. ‘Ugh!’ she shuddered. Its feathers were crawling with lice and mites, that dropped off her hand as she wiped it hurriedly on her jeans. ‘And clean it up properly, when we get back!’ she snarled at the driver, slowly getting to his feet. She looked at the hippogriff, that raised its head and gave her an unmistakeable wink. She smiled at it, and then strode back to the desk.
Simon looked up. ‘Now you’ve finished raising hell in purgatory, Annie, Mr Socrates has given us a lot of information’.
‘Thank you, Mr Socrates, I’m sorry we weren’t properly introduced’.
‘Not at all. I am very glad to be of help, though I have no idea of why you want such information. Is there anything else I can do for you?’
‘No, thank you, Mr Socrates. You’ve been a great help’.
Mr Socrates smiled happily. ‘You’re very welcome’. he said.
Annie whispered urgently in Simon’s ear. Cosmo was looking pointedly at his watch.
‘Just one more thing, Mr Socrates. Do you know where we can find a faery woman? Her name is Moran Wren. We promised to see her if she’s here’.
To his surprise, Mr Socrates held up a finger. ‘That name is very familiar! Let me check my files’. He dived into his index boxes, rummaging through, and then held up a card triumphantly.
‘I thought I recognised the name! She is only two or three streets away from here! What a coincidence! She runs the soup-kitchens in this area! Your driver will know where’.
They left him, surrounded again by the angry complainants amidst which he was lost to sight. They jumped into the cart, and after a few words with Cosmo, they turned right and out from the market of gossip, and down a long rubble-strewn street. Then the cart entered into a wider space, that had been cleared of wreckage, but still surrounded by broken wooden beams and tottering walls. In front of it, facing the street, were long wooden tables, pushed together, and covered with paper, greasy and stained with rings from cups and bowls. Behind it were several people, clad indiscriminately in jeans and patched woollen sweaters, busy ladling out what seemed like thick soup, from large iron pots, to the huddling queue that stood waiting patiently. Further back, large cauldrons, stirred by other similar figures, one of whom wore a nun’s habit, simmered over small wood fires. The line of hungry people, some with small children, shuffled on.
‘This is where she’ll be’. Cosmo suggested. ‘I’ll wait with the driver. He looked at his watch again. ‘We haven’t got much time left’.
Simon and Annie jumped out and walked over to the soup kitchen. A tall figure caught their eye. Annie suddenly grasped Simon’s arm tightly. ‘There she is!’ she whispered. They moved closer. They kept their eyes fixed on the slim shape, busy ladling out a thick liquid from the pot in front of her, clothed, like all the rest, in a shapeless black sweater, and giving instructions to the others.
They stopped and looked at each other. Then Annie nodded. Simon stepped forward. ‘Moran Wren!’ he shouted. ‘Can we have a word with you?’
The tall figure stopped, stood motionless, the metal ladle poised over the pot, soup still dripping from it. Then it turned, said some words to the small girl beside her, and motioned them to the back of the tables, towards the cooking pots in the square behind. They followed her, breaking through the endless trail of humans, who stood aside without a murmur. They were led to a small group of plastic crates, on which they sat, uncomfortably. The woman stood in front of them, hands on hips.
‘Who are you?’ she said, sharply. They looked up at her and saw why they had recognised her. She was taller, and older, but they saw, in her aquiline nose, the wide mouth, the large searching eyes and the long black hair, tied carelessly back with string, the very image of the Morag they knew.
‘My name is Simon, and this is my sister, Annie. We come from the Brotherhood of the Hand’. Simon said nervously. Moran nodded slowly.
‘I have heard of you, even here. What brings you to this….’ she hesitated, and looked around sadly. ‘…abominable place?’
Annie looked up at her. ‘We were asked to try to find you, if you were here. Morag, your daughter, that is. She is like a…sister to us’.
Her mother sat down heavily, and looked down at her long slender hands, reddened and worn by work. Without looking up, she asked quietly, ‘How is she faring?’
Simon and Annie looked at each other. Then Annie spoke, in an anxious rush. ‘She’s well, and doing her job. But she is terribly unhappy! She cries a lot, in private, and she desperately tries to speak to you! She’s always trying to reach out to you. She loves you and misses you very badly! We’ve tried to help, but she can’t let you go. Is there anything we can do?’
Moran was silent, still looking down at her hands. Annie noticed, for some reason the fine, white parting of her still-dark hair on her bowed head.
They all looked up. It was the small, skinny girl that had been next to Moran at the table. Her rather dank, black hair hung down each side of a small, pinched face.
‘Can I put out the next soup container? Only, it’s just there’s even more people than usual’.
‘Of course, Venus. You’re in charge at the moment. Do it’.
The girl smiled shyly at them, and hurried off.
‘Venus?’ asked Simon, in surprise.
‘It is our nickname for her. She starved herself to death, through misery and neglect in your world. I try to give her some self-respect, as best I can. Even after death, she must have pride in herself’.
Neither of them had any answer to that. Then Simon asked gently, ‘Is there any message we can give to Morag? From you, I mean?’
‘No!’ the answer was vehement. ‘You will not communicate any message from me at all! Do you understand!’
They stared at her. Moran’s eyes were flinty-grey, that matched their surroundings.
‘Do you understand?’
‘No. I don’t’. cried Annie, bewildered. ‘Why not?’
‘I said no! Do you understand?’
‘No’. said Simon, flatly.
Moran sat back and folded her arms. She looked back at them, her eyes no longer grey but brown. ‘Because she is my daughter. She will not dwell in the past, in grief. I want her to live her life, on her own, without a burden that will hang over her. She must make her own path, free from anything that might hold her back. I am gone from her. I am dead. She has to realise that. I will not be a shadow behind my daughter, constantly following her footsteps in life! You may think I am a cruel mother, but I am a faery. I know what will be right for her, and I will not stand in her way. Her path and her destiny is hers, and hers alone. She has to realise that’.
‘Is there anything we can tell her?’ asked Simon, desperately.
‘Nothing. You have never seen me. You have never heard of me in this place. I do not exist any more. I ask you again, do you understand?’ She leant forwards, her hard grey eyes boring into them.
They both nodded, miserably.
Moran stood up. ‘I have to go and help Venus with the kitchen. Farewell’. She hesitated. ‘You are close to her, I know. Please look after her. She needs your help, as her brother and sister. I know she will always do the same for you. Go home now. I have work to do’.
She got up and walked towards the waiting queue at the tables.
‘Wait!’ shouted Simon after her. ‘Who killed you?’
Moran stopped, frozen, for a few seconds. Then she turned and slowly walked back to them.
‘His name was Doctor Wrist. He had a red beard and very bright eyes. When he shot me the second time, he laughed. He is the one you are seeking. Because of him, my daughter no longer has a mother’.
‘Perhaps you should know’. Annie said very quietly. ‘His daughter tried to kill me. I killed her instead’.
Moran’s face softened, and became sad. ‘My death does not excuse another. You must both be very careful. I am sure you had good reason. He and his family are a true nest of evil. But if, in destroying him, and them, be certain that you will not destroy yourselves’. She hesitated. ‘I thank you, for bringing me news of my daughter. She is blessed to have you both as a brother and sister. Your guide, I believe, is calling you. Go now’.
She turned again, and went back to her station at the table. Annie and Simon watched her silently, then, they too, walked back towards the waiting cart and the patient hippogriff.
‘About time, too!’ snapped Cosmo. ‘It’s nearly night-time, and when that falls, everything here stops!’ It was darker, the ghostly grey twilight seeping over the jagged outlines of the buildings. The hippogriff turned, and they went back along the way they had come, past the huddling masses, still moving slowly in long bedraggled lines. Here and there, a few small candles flickered, highlighting small groups of lined and tired faces. A child wailed somewhere in the greyness.
‘What are those patches of white over there?’ asked Simon pointing outwards.
‘Tents. They make them out of what they can get’. answered Cosmo briefly.
‘Why are they queueing?’
‘You queue for everything here. Food, passports, permits. It’s just the way it is’.
Eventually they got down outside the rusty steel doors of the lift.
‘Goodbye’. said Annie to the hippogriff, who rewarded her with another wink. The driver carefully avoided looking at her. The lift chugged laboriously upwards, and then opened. Brutus and Cassius were there, still puffing away at their badly rolled cigarettes.
‘Wondered where you’d got to’. grunted Brutus. ‘Left it a bit late’.
‘You haven’t got anything better to do anyway’. replied Cosmo cheerfully. ‘What’s happened with old Zeno, then?’
‘Got taken off in a straitjacket for a while, ‘til he calms down. They do say, you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps’. Brutus and Cassius both smirked. ‘You’ll be wanting your boat, then’.
They followed him back through the endless corridors until they came to the room where Daisy lay, looking tiny in that vast space. Without a word, they clambered in, though this time Annie sat next to Simon. The last thing they saw was Brutus’s leering face, peering at them as they drew the tarpaulin over.
‘See you again, then’. he sniggered.
‘I hope not’ Simon muttered, viciously.
Daisy rose up and they went on their way.
The journey passed in silence. The three had little to say. Then Simon became aware of Annie’s body beginning to convulse against him. He looked at Cosmo. Cosmo looked at him, and then stared pointedly at Annie. He looked too. Annie was crying bitterly, tears streaking her face, gulping in great sobs. He instinctively wrapped his arms around her tightly, she clinging back. Cosmo looked away, embarrassed. They held each other for comfort, wrapped in a dull leaden cloak of misery.
After a while, Cosmo spoke, rather awkwardly.
‘I don’t blame you. That place – Purgatory – I mean, it really gets you down. I know I blubbered a bit after my first visit. Just the kind of….hopelessness…know what I mean?’
Annie wiped her nose with her sleeve. ‘I’m sorry, Cosmo’. she whimpered. ‘I thought I could take it, but it was that misery, just never-ending! I just thought that perhaps, perhaps, there might be something better than that!’
‘Put it another way. Purgatory’s just another enormous refugee camp. You must know. We’ve created enough of them in our own world. It’s for people in transit, so to speak. Until they go on to somewhere else, wherever they’re headed to’.
‘Where’s “somewhere else”?’ Simon cut in.
‘Dunno. No idea. Not in my remit. I don’t think they know either. But that Moran, she chose to stay there, to help out, as they say. She could have gone somewhere else, but she didn’t. Wanted to stay with people she knew. Mind you, if her lass is anything like her mum, she must be a real stunner……NO!!!!’
They were all thrown backwards by an enormous crash. Daisy had hit something very hard. They were pushed up against the tarpaulin, as they felt themselves falling! Another hard crash, that sent shudders through their very bones, as the boat hit something else below them, and then tottered weakly from side to side.
‘Blimey almighty! That shouldn’t happen!’ yelled Cosmo, as he began to tug furiously at the ropes holding the tarpaulin in place. He pulled it open, All three yelped with horror. Below them was an angry brown sea, foaming and splashing. Around them was a green metallic jungle, or so it seemed. In the same moment, they recognised the shapes of huge dark girders, swathed in festoons of emerald-green seaweed. Daisy was perched precariously on a narrow iron surface, the sky above, the spluttering sea below.
‘Gordon Bennett! We’ve just crashed into the old West Pier!’ cried Cosmo in amazement. ‘How did we manage that?’ He rummaged hurriedly under the stern seat, pulling the tarpaulin back down with his other hand. They felt Daisy right herself, and rise into the air again. A few moments later, they heard the sharp crackle of shingle under the hull, and Daisy settle gently onto one side with a creak.
Cosmo let out a long breath. ‘We’re back’.
They undid the tarpaulin and pulled it back, then stepped out onto the beach, outside the Fishing Museum again. Simon looked incredulously at his watch. ‘It’s only ten past eight in the morning! We’ve only being away for a few minutes! I just can’t get used to these dimensional time-lags’.
Annie was looking at Cosmo, who was anxiously inspecting his boat.
‘Is she all right?’ she asked, quietly.
‘Seems to be. A few scratches and scrapes. Nothing else. But something, or somebody, must have interfered with the self-steering’.
‘Perhaps it was that pair – Brutus and Cassius’. Simon suggested.
‘No, they’re too thick. It must have been something from outside’.
‘Or somebody didn’t want us to get back’. Annie added, ominously.
Cosmo shrugged. ‘Maybe. Anyway, I’m sorry about that. Shouldn’t happen. Here’. He tugged out the folded documents that Captain Zeno had so angrily stamped. ‘You might want to keep these. Sort of a souvenir, you see. Just to remind you’.
‘Thanks’ Simon remarked wryly, as he stuffed them into his pocket. ‘I don’t think we want to look at them again for a long time’.
They stood around awkwardly, as if uncertain of how to say goodbye. Simon took the initiative, and extended his hand. ‘Thanks for everything, Cosmo’. he said. Cosmo shook his hand awkwardly. ‘No problem’. he replied. Annie leant forward and kissed his cheek. ‘Thank you, Cosmo. I hope Daisy will be all right’.
‘She’ll be fine. Give my regards to old Nic if you see him before I do. I’d better get Daisy back, while there’s no-one about. See you around’.
He turned back to the boat, and Simon and Annie began to walk back along the beach. After ten yards they turned around. There was no sign of Cosmo or Daisy. Annie shivered, and put her arms around herself for warmth. Her breath shivered in the cold morning air. Simon put his hand around her shoulders.
‘I’ve got an idea. Why not go and have a hot drink and some breakfast with our friend, Mrs Potter? She always opens early’. Annie nodded without looking up from the ground. Her face was still downcast. They walked slowly up onto the promenade. A light breeze fluttered at their sleeves.
‘Did you notice?’ Annie asked presently. ‘There was never any wind in Purgatory. The air just hung there, in a really oppressive way. It really weighed down on you’. They crossed the road and went down Middle Street, in the centre of Brighton. Halfway along was a brightly painted café, that proudly announced itself in a sign above the window – BOMB BLAST CAFÉ. Some time ago, it had been wrecked by a bomb explosion aimed at Simon and Annie. They had helped the manageress get the business started again, and now it was thriving happily.
Mrs Potter’s cheerful, plump face looked up from behind the counter.
‘Hello, strangers! You’re bright and early today! Coffee and warm croissants for you? Straight from the oven!’
‘Yes please, Mrs Potter. We’re a bit cold’.
‘Early morning walk, was it?’
Annie sat quietly, her hands cupped around the mug of hot coffee for warmth. She barely nibbled at her croissant. Her face was tired and miserable. She spoke, in a low voice.
‘Simon, I’m sorry about breaking down like that. In the boat, I mean. I just couldn’t stop myself. All the sadness, the pain of that terrible place! All those poor people with nothing left! No past, no future! It ‘s all so….senseless! So futile!’
Simon reached across the table and gently squeezed her shoulder. ‘I know what you’re feeling, Annie, because I feel it myself. This awful dead weight of sadness, that sits in your stomach. Even worse, is the frustration of never knowing who is actually in charge there! No-one seemed to know, or even care! They all just seemed to accept it as a fact of life, or rather death, I suppose. That’s what got to me more than anything. Not knowing who’s running that shambles!’
‘I think Moran was so courageous, to stay there to do some good. I don’t think I could ever do that. That’s another problem we’ll have to face, sooner or later’.
Simon knew what she meant. They were silent for a few minutes, until Simon got up and pulled out his mobile. ‘I’d better phone mum, and tell her where we are’. He walked outside, and began to talk into his mobile, then returned ‘That’s all right. Mum still sounded very sleepy. I told her we’ll be back at lunch-time’.
‘I’ve been thinking, Simon. I don’t want to contact the Brotherhood yet. Not for another few days. I just can’t face explanations or questions until I’ve had more time to think about things. I just don’t want to see them for a while’.
‘Fine by me. They can survive without us for the time being. Hey, I’ve got another idea, which might cheer us both up. I think we ought to walk back slowly, and treat ourselves to a dose of normal street life. It might snap us out of this’.
Annie smiled at him. ‘That’s a really good idea’. she said, sincerely.
It was half-past ten by the time they said their goodbyes and left the café. Brighton was waking up, in its usual leisurely way. As they began to walk into Duke Street and turned right into the old Laines, shop and café owners were busy putting out chairs and tables on the pavement, ready for lunch-time. Cheerful greetings echoed back and forth in the narrow angled streets and passageways of the old area. Jewellers, clothes shops, confectionary shops, pubs and even the antique gunsmiths, were preparing for another day of sales, pulling up shutters, and wedging doors open to attract the groups of passers-by that were already wandering the little streets. A warm morning sun glinted down into the narrow lanes, and the air smelt fresh with the tang of the early day.
As they crossed North Street, already busy with traffic, Annie began to recite all the names of the shops as they passed. As they slowly made their way down Bond Street, and further on into Gardner Street, she began to giggle.
‘It’s so funny! You wouldn’t be able to guess what they sell from their names alone! How about Scoop and Crumb, Fishbowl, Indian Summer, FatLeo, Fatface, DollyDagger, Fizzewigs, Zanzibar, Erotic Boutique, Posh Totty, Moda Soda, Juiced, the Jaba emporium, and further on down there’s Pen to Paper, Dave’s Comics, The Bonsai Shop, Vegetarian Shoes, Dirty Harry, and even three colour-coded ones, all next to each other! Bluedog, RedVeg and Purple Heart! Not to mention Ananda and Avatar! It’s like I’m looking at everything for the first time!’
It was true. They both had become excited by the bustle and noise generated by large numbers of people enjoying a sunny Saturday morning, the overheard snippets of conversation as they threaded their way through the jumble of tables and seated groups enjoying a morning coffee and late breakfasts, the occasional waft of music and thumping bass from a clothes shop, with the overall hum of traffic in the background. They drank in the aromas of coffee and freshly baked pastries, and the sweet smell of cookies and homemade fudge. They became children again, the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere of the open bazaar and market a fresh novelty.
Simon glanced at Annie. Her face was flushed and excited. His was too, probably. But he felt a stab of pleasure at seeing her look so happy. The grey, dull sadness had fallen from them like a discarded coat. Around them was noise, vibrancy and warmth. The messy, untidy vitality of Brighton on a mild autumn morning, such a contrast to what they had seen before, was intoxicating. Annie suddenly stopped and pointed. ‘How surrealist is that?’ she cried. Simon looked and saw several enormous hands and feet, carved from wood, but gigantic in scale. She went over and sat down on an outstretched hand. Simon burst out laughing.
He had just seen an image of Annie, enfolded in a giant’s fist. ‘I think I’d better call you Thumbelina from now on’. he grinned. Annie smiled, and then pointed again, to the other side of the road. ‘How about that?’
They peered, fascinated into the costume shop window. Two female manikins stood, engaged in a conversation, except that one was slim and pretty, with silver-blonde hair, and a blindfold over her eyes, printed with the word GAGA. The other, equally slim, boasted a carnivorous boar’s head, her right arm raised in a gesture of remonstrance.
‘Beauty and the Beast! I wonder what they’re saying to each other!’
Annie giggled and linked her arm into Simon’s. ‘Time for lunch’. They walked up the steep Ditchling Road, and up the steps to their front door. Then Annie stopped and turned around, her hand still on the handle.
‘You and I need to talk together, about what you discovered about the Wrist family. I want to know everything I can. So we can find out what we’re going to be up against’.
‘What else is still disturbing you, Annie?’
Her eyes widened in sadness.
‘What are we going to tell Morag?’
Frank Jackson (07/11/10) – Word Count - 10190
1. Daisy’s landing ground outside the Fishing Museum.
The derelict West Pier can be seen in the distance.
2. A view of Gardner Street, Brighton.
3. Human chairs in Sydney Street, Brighton
4.. Mannequins in the window.