GH Monday: Day 02 Scene 05
Max Beaumont (m) & Wooster
As I cleaned my teeth, Wooster drank some water, making a mess of the kitchen floor. I mopped it up, bundled up and headed out again into the bright cold day. The undertaker’s ghost gave me a nod as I passed him by. It was too cold for tourists, he had little to do, but hand out his cards to the people bustling past him on errands, but most of them ignored him. I headed down into the warmth of the T station, Wooster at my heels. I hadn’t bothered with my SDA fluorescent vest, so when I identified myself to the transit worker by the ticket barrier, he looked at me sceptically.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in uniform?”
“Not ghost hunters,” I showed him my card, which identified me as a licenced hunter. “We’re not officially storm-fighters, more auxiliary staff.”
“All right, well, it’s this way.” He took me down to the lower platform, where the Alewife trains ran, fortunately quite quiet at this time of day when everyone was heading into Boston, not out of it. A scream split the air as we cleared the bottom stairs, causing a woman plump with winter clothing to leap from the bench she’d been sitting on with a startled cry.
“It’s all right, Ma’am,” a police officer was waiting on the platform for us. “It’s only a ghost.”
“This is the ghost hunter,” the transit worker introduced us and headed straight back up the stairs. I wondered if he was busy, or just not eager to linger in the area of a haunting. The plump woman was already bustling her way up there. Wooster sniffed the police officer’s boots curiously.
“Good,” he said to me. “About time someone showed up. The damn thing’s been scaring the bejesus out of everyone all morning.”
“It’s just a scream?” I asked.
“Yes. I’ve timed it, but I can’t work it out. Sometimes it’s five minutes between a scream, sometimes it’s…”
He was interrupted by another inhuman shriek, making him wince. “... sooner,” he finished.
“Nothing like trains coming or going that’s setting him off?”
“Anyone die down here last night?”
It would make my job so much easier if that was the case.
“Not since I’ve been on the Cambridge police.”
“How long’s that?”
“Coming up for ten years.”
“Damn,” I said. “I wonder what triggered it to arrive now?”
“Does it matter?”
“Makes it easier to exorcise, if I know what or who it is and why they’re haunting the place.”
“Exorcise. You know, get rid of it?”
“That mean you can’t get rid of it?”
“No, just means it’ll take longer.”
“Can I leave you to it? It’s a busy day.”
He left. Wooster busied himself by sniffing around the benches, looking for trash and other good smells. I spent some time recording the screams, trying to see if there was any rhythm to them, any information I could glean. Trains came and went. A handful of people disembarked. A scream startled them, causing them to hasten their steps. Others came onto the platform, waiting for the next train.
I tried a few different sung chants, but to no avail. It didn’t help that I didn’t know when the next scream was coming. The policeman was right, there was no discernible pattern to it. The scream came again and a man waiting on a bench behind me jumped a foot in the air, yelling “Fuck!”
Then he sat back down again, sheepishly looking around him with a self conscious grin. After the second time they heard the scream, the waiting commuters would ignore it, as though they encountered unearthly shrieks of pain and anger on a daily basis. Perhaps they did.
They ignored me too, which was one of the things I liked about New Englanders. No one asked me my business, wanted an explanation into the mechanics of exorcisms. Only tourists would show that kind of nosiness but there were none of them heading to Alewife.
The scream came again and I realised that there was a pattern to it, that it was people coming and going that was setting him off. A person pacing the platform, a train arriving and people getting off, someone coming down the stairs. An irregular movement, especially with people so sparse.
I opened up my backpack and took out my engraving kit. There was a time when I’d been precious about my engraving skills, only able to practice them in the right environment, in peace and quiet, with no one watching. The need for gainful employment had soon rid me of that preciousness. I ignored the curious, covert stares of the passengers waiting for the train and concentrated on engraving sigils onto pieces of creamy paper vellum that I kept as part of my kit. A train came and went, causing a few screams to occur. Then the platform was empty.
I charged the paper daiman with magic from a test tube and then placed the pieces in a Tu pattern around the area of tiled floor where I thought the scream was at its loudest. A woman came slowly down the stairs, holding onto the hand of a toddler who was so bundled up that he was as wide as he was tall. Predictably the scream came as they cleared the last step, but my spell was quick, immediately trapping the screamer in their circle. The woman stopped, motionless, not knowing whether to walk past us or not. The toddler gurgled with delight, pointing at us and murmuring something incomprehensible that may have been “ghostie”.
Wooster had given up on his search for interesting spells and lay on the floor a few feet away, watching me with bright brown eyes. The ghost hung in the air, a small slip of a girl, in her teens or early twenties, her arms raised above her head, her body dangling as though she hung on a cross. With a pixie haircut and a fragile face, you’d never have guessed such a jagged sound as the scream could come from her. At the sight of me, though, she screamed again. This time, the scream was focused, a vicious hatred that buffeted me, chilled me to the bone. I raised my hand and sang the exorcism chant. She fought me, but my chant was strong, reinforced by the holding spell of the daiman, so she couldn’t escape me. Magic crackled in the air, there was, briefly, the strong scent of rotting drains in summer, and then she was gone.
I ignored the woman and her toddler as I tidied my kit back into my backpack. She cautiously made her way along the platform, sat on a bench with her child. The pieces of vellum were badly scorched from the magic and I tramped them into ash beneath my feet, before making my way back up the stairs without acknowledging her curious stare.
I texted the Chief to tell him I’d finished the exorcism and he texted back - Cows left Common, need herding.
I headed back out into the cold daylight. The sky was a bright blue, the kind that was rare in England, but common enough here. I put my sunglasses on and headed up to the Common. There was no sign of the corpse of the homeless man who’d died there last night. His ghost was still there, though, sleeping peacefully on the bench he’d died on. No one else seemed to be paying him attention and I certainly wasn’t going to exorcism him unless told to. There are no rights for the dead, no one stands up for their need to be remembered and many ghosts are a nuisance, at best, or at worst, dangerous. But that didn’t mean I had to send all of them to oblivion, not without good cause.
There were more students, and some tourists, building snow sculptures on the Common. There seemed to be some competition for creativity, each shape an outlandish monstrosity, a troll, a ghoul, a vampire, a witch. No sign of cows, though, not even the ghostly kind. I set Wooster on their trail. Nose down, tail wagging eagerly, he led me north, up Massachusetts Avenue. I followed him at a trot. The lamp posts that lined the street had all turned into silver birch trees, their lights still shining feebly in the daylight amongst the branches. One of the petrol station’s signs had come loose in the storm, somehow managed to end up in a tree across the street, flashing its prices at the small cluster of people below looking up at it. It chirruped anxiously down at them, but there was no sign of any storm-fighters to coax it down. No doubt they had plenty of other magic to attend to first.
I found the cows cluttering up the Porter Square shopping centre, getting in the way of the cars. No one likes to park in the middle of a cow, even if it is only a phantom. Wooster and I herded them back onto Massachusetts Avenue, watched by a small audience of amused onlookers. Several had their phones out, recording us and I made sure that my scarf was secure across my mouth, hiding as much of my face as possible. Others aspire to going viral on YouTube, I can’t imagine a more unpleasant fate.
With Wooster’s help I got the cows back onto the Common where they belonged. A police car raced down Mass Ave, a couple of pale green-skinned, long-limbed ghouls snapping at its wheels. Someone would have to exorcise them, but unless they were Harvard University police, which was the only police station in my neighbourhood, that wasn’t going to be my problem, only the cows.
The Common was largely fenced in by wooden rails that ran between rough stone pillars, about three feet high. Each pillar was a daiman, carved with sigils designed to maintain the cows’ haunting (they were another tourist attraction) and keep them confined to the Common at the same time. It wasn’t my spell, of course, but another of Cambridge’s old, historical magics. By the time I was done, my head was fuzzy. After the magic I’d cast the previous night and the magic I’d done this morning, on four hours of sleep and with a gender change too, I was rapidly becoming exhausted, but I didn’t think Steve would want to hear any complaints from me. After all, weren’t the storm-fighters even more exhausted than me? Weren’t the other ghost hunters all going about their tasks in their own neighbourhoods?
© Essie Gilbey, 2014