GH Tuesday: Day 03 Scene 12
Max Beaumont (male) & Wooster
The next day I woke stiff from the previous day’s exertions. Wooster was lying on top of me, a dead weight that made the thought of staying in bed in the warm nest of the duvet a tempting thought.
Instead, I pushed him aside and got up. I was still male, at least. My phone showed I had had a text from the Chief.
- Return to your normal routine. I will text you if there’s a situation I need you to deal with. Check your phone regularly.
I showered and shaved and dressed, by which time Wooster was at the door, whining softly under his breath, impatient to be out. It was another brisk day, the sun already bright, but the sidewalks slick with impacted snow and ice. Wooster did his business and I went through the motions of picking it up. The undertaker’s ghost handed me a card, with a bow. This time, it was an invitation to a funeral, for a Jody Richards, aged 56, of no fixed abode. The card was thick, creamy white with a black border, the black print embossed. No service, the words read. Burial at Shutter Island, on Thursday February 13th, at 3pm. Shutter Island was one of the larger islands in Boston Harbor. The former site of a hospital for the criminally insane, before it was shut down in 1973, it was also where Boston buried its paupers. No visitors were allowed and given that there wasn’t even to be a service for Jody, she would be buried alone, like rubbish in a landfill site. (But that was Spectacle Island, several islands away).
I bought my usual latte, with another for the homeless woman, who was doing her embroidery as usual, her silks bright against the snowbanks which were rapidly growing grey and black from the exhaust fumes of the passing traffic. We breathe that stuff into our lungs, you know.
Wooster ran after a squirrel in Harvard Yard, but the squirrel was too cunning for him. It ran up a tree and Wooster ran straight past him and then stopped, buried up to his tummy in snow, looking baffled at how that squirrel could just disappear. We returned home. As I stooped to take off my snow boots I realised that Wooster had compensated for the disappearing squirrel by triumphantly bringing home a crust of pizza. He looked up at me with melting brown eyes, clearly unable and unwilling to let go of something so delicious.
“Okay,” I told him. “But that’s your breakfast.”
He must have understood me, for he disappeared into the kitchen, onto his bed where he brought all his treasures and proceeded to devour the crust in a few short mouthfuls. I had porridge, as usual, eating it slowly while I read the papers. The Boston Globe was still talking of the blizzard, over the governor’s driving ban and whether or not it had been a violation of our civil rights, a step too far in the direction of tyranny and totalitarianism (in the absence of any real news, the Globe likes to substitute hysteria). The Cambridge Chronicle was still talking of the Dunkin Donuts robber and an altercation between a snow plough driver and a local resident that had led to the snow plough driver’s arrest. “Six children died in fire lit by parents” was the Times headline. The story went on to reassure the reader that the parents had another nine children who’d survived their attempt at framing a former girlfriend of the father for arson. So that was all right then.
I headed out again, already feeling like it was the end of the week, not the beginning. Wooster was at my heels, wearing his bright red coat against the cold. I was bundled up as best I could be, in thermal underwear, wool trousers tucked into calf-length snow boots and my winter parka. I headed out to the cemetery, the main task for the day. I needed to renew the daiman on the cemetery gates and ensure that there were no more ghosts there, raised by the storm. Only the road that wound through the centre of the cemetery had been cleared, the footpaths were still a foot deep in snow, but Wooster and I made our way as best we could, Wooster with his nose buried in the snow, like a mini snow plough, rooting out the ghosts. We only found a couple, in a far corner, amongst the older, less visited graves. They may well have not been raised by the storm anyway, given how out of the way they were. One was a woman, dressed in the dark, stiff and voluminous dress of the 19th century. She was standing over a grave, tearing a handkerchief to pieces in her small, agitated hands. Middle aged and plain, her expression was not of grief, but of fury. The other ghost was just a shadow, that Wooster happily chased across the snow, the shadow seeming to play with him, teasing him and leading him on. Wooster pounced on it and I heard childish laughter shrieking, before the shadow twisted out of his grip and hid behind a gravestone, playing peekaboo.
I left both the woman and the shadow alone. As ghost hunter, I have a certain amount of discretion as to whether or not I exorcise a ghost. Some ghost hunters exorcise every ghost they meet, but I’m more squeamish. It seems such a final step, almost like an execution, and who am I to banish someone’s last attempts to cling to the world, to be remembered, to matter? After all, many ghosts are invisible to cadjin and most mages aren’t particularly bothered by them, so unless they were causing harm or alarm or inconvenience, I was not compelled to send them back to oblivion. These two certainly, in such an unvisited part of the cemetery, were hardly likely to alarm the public. I left the woman to her fury, the shadow to its play.
I called Wooster to me and he reluctantly left the shadow, who called after him with a plaintive, incoherent cry. We toured the rest of the cemetery, finding no ghosts, not even that of the child who’d escaped me during Sunday’s storm. I’d expected to find her. Most ghosts would return to the site of their original hauntings once the storm had died down, but perhaps she’d been spontaneously exorcised by a magic strike in the storm. Or perhaps she’d found some new place to haunt, that suited her better. I couldn’t help worrying about her, though. It was me that had let her escape, after all. I felt responsible. At least the wolf was gone.
I returned my attention to the gates. The sigils that were scorched onto their metal railings had become indistinct from the blasting the magic storm had given them two days’ earlier. I used my chef’s blowtorch to heat my engraver’s stylus and used that to recreate each mark faithfully. I was running low on raw magic and so used a sung chant to gather more from the air around me, creating a tiny localised snow storm as I did so, so that I was covered in white by the end. Brushing off the snow, I charged up the gates’ sigils with the magic, using my stylus to guide the threads of green and gold along the grooves. By the time I was done, my fingers were stiff and hurting from working in the cold and my legs were cramped from standing still so long. But the gate was secure, the daiman fully active again. No ghosts could enter or leave the cemetery, as long as that daiman was working.
I realised I had a text from the Chief, asking me to call him. I duly did so, informing him that I’d finished at the cemetery, but not found the girl.
“Girl? What girl?”
“The ghost that got away from me in Sunday’s storm.”
“You still worried about that? Don’t be. She’s either gone or harmless, because I’ve had no reports from anywhere. Listen I need you to go to an address for me, they’re having some trouble. The name’s Campbell, I’ll text you the address. Go there now.”
“Right you are, Chief.”
I gathered up my tools, cooling my blowtorch in the snow before packing it away. I hoped the Chief was right about the girl. My phone pinged to inform me it had the address I was to go to. It was on Avon Hill, a wealthy middle class part of Cambridge, about a mile away. There was no easy way to get there by public transport, not from the cemetery and as I couldn’t drive, there was no option but to walk. Wooster at least, would be glad of the exercise. We headed across the road and trudged along the icy pavements, the traffic slushing past, car tyres spraying a mixture of snow and salt against the side of the road. Wooster would stop every now and then to delicately sniff a section of yellow snow, his left front paw lifted, for all the world like a wine connoisseur at a blind tasting, before running to catch me up, ears flapping in the breeze. As we waited at a traffic light to cross Huron Avenue, he pooped out the crust of pizza, a bemused expression on his face as he sniffed it afterwards. I left it there for the squirrels to find.
© Essie Gilbey, 2014