Written by Chris (alcoholandaphorism)
A week and a half has passed, a week and a half Sanjiv has been stuck in hospital. A week and a half since the incident with Gwil and the photos .The desk by his side is stacked with left “Get Well Soon” cards and flowers. A box of traditional sweets that Jagjit’s wife brought in beside them. A mix of nuts, coconut cream and honey that make Sanjiv’s teeth ache just to look at them. She looked tired when she dropped them off, more tired than usual. She was just one of the long line of people who had dropped by to see how Sanjiv’s health was progressing. For his part Sanjiv had used the time to try and piece together what had happened in his missing time, images of stumbling around the train line, acting but not of any intent, but just wandering in a nigh vegetative state.
It is deep in these thoughts that late afternoon, a week and a half on, that Sanjiv becomes aware of a figure standing at the entrance looking in. A figure that he now realises has been there for quite some time. A man, Sanjiv’s father. A balding man, shorter than Sanjiv, his beard neatly trimmed and his clothing speaking of a cultured man, a man of earned worldly knowledge. His brown corduroy clothes speak of a man different to the one who wears them. Sanjiv knows his Father, knows he has no real education to speak of, knows he is a man who gets by by the exploitation of others and when that fails, on dumb luck. The Father who was never the man he wanted to be so pushed all those expectations down onto Sanjiv. Nothing Sanjiv ever did was good enough to match those expectations, those pressures he put upon him,
Realising he has been spotted his Father matches Sanjiv’s eyes and smiles nervously. Tension rises in Sanjiv’ stomach matched with an odd relief to see the man that raised him, settling the conflicting emotions Sanjiv gives a weak smile and a wave of greeting which his Father takes as a sign to enter. He steps in, wilted, out of season daffodils in hand and a stack of rolled up magazines.
“Son” he greets in Hindi “How are you?”
Sanjiv pauses “You came. It is good to see you. I’m not doing too bad. I’ve been better but the worst is behind me”
His Father looks away, a slight sting of shame at the surprise in Sanjiv’s words’ “You came”. To cover his embarrassment he proffers a brown paper bag with peaches in as a peace offering “Have the doctors said what it is yet?”
Sanjiv shrugs “Everything seems to be working. The doctors are running tests, but I’ve had no answers yet”
His Father pauses, something he wants to say, but he hesitates too long and falls back to a safer subject “Do you know when you will be back at work?”
“Not yet, whenever I get out of here I presume, I’ve been trying to get some exercise in the courtyard, keep from getting too stiff. I should be ready when they let me out”
His Father pauses again before asking “Have you heard from your Mother?”
“Not recently no”
“That damn woman. Gives up on her son. Gives up on her marriage. Gives up on us all as soon as we got into this country” He pauses “I’m sorry son, I will have to go now, but I will be in London another couple of nights. If you get out before that…”
Sanjiv just nods. Awkward to the point of sympathy pain his Father gets up to leave, just before the door Sanjiv speaks again “You take care. I’ll be in touch”
“Take care of yourself as well” His Father says with a slight, bumbling smile and with that he is gone leaving Sanjiv alone with desiccated peaches, wilted daffodils and a pile of scrunched up magazines.
That is only the most recent event in this passage of days. Over a week before, Gwil stood outside Goodge street station, waiting for the young woman with whom he is tasked to recruit to the faith. It doesn’t take long for him to spy Lisa, waiting by the cookie shop, a young black girl casually attired in jeans and a loose halter top. From the outside you would not guess that she is any more special than any other seventeen year old girl from East London. Gwil knows differently, the faith has plans for this one.
Lisa tries to keep a nonchalant air as Gwil approaches, but a small sense of cheer leaks out “Oh hey Gwil. You all right? Where we heading?”
“Same place as last time, Japanese joint near here” Gwil answers, keeping his mind off the events that happened last time he was there.
“You’re not going to make me eat that sushi stuff are you. I’m not into raw fish”
Gwil shrugs “Hey, your life, whatever you’re happy with”
They pass pleasantries and small talk as they make their way downstairs. Gwil keeping to a simple bowl of rice and a miso soup, well aware his funds don’t stretch too far. Pointing with his chopsticks he asks “So, you mentioned getting back into education. What’s going on with that?”
“Oh yeah, talked to this group. Allowing exam resits for people who’ve had bad family events and stuff. Not sure about it, but Uncle suggested it and Dad looks up to him. That reminds me, Uncle is pissed off at you. Something about those e-mails you sent him from that bloke’s house”
Gwil pauses, that nervous itch at the back of his neck rising “The shit? What e-mails. I didn’t send anything. Hell I wouldn’t know how to send e-mails”
“Whatever” Lisa says, waving it away with carefully honed disinterest “Anyway, this academy, it needs an entrance examination. Got the offer due to “emotional disturbances”. I dunno, maybe, ya know?”
Gwil knows the academy, it is one that the chief druid has contacts with, and it is unlikely to be a coincidence “Heck. Sounds like a good idea to me, finally get something go right for you”
“Yeah, maybe “Lisa chews her lip ”I’m worried about my brother though.”
“What would you like to do, if you got in” Gwil asks, changing the subject
“I dunno, get a job. Maybe travel. Not sure what I would like do. Dad thinks I should become a physician but I’d rather be an actor”
“Huh” Gwil says “I never had to worry about all that, there was always a place set out for me. A way to go. Never had people dragging me different ways. Can’t imagine what it would be like” The lies swim easily from Gwils mouth, his disagreements with the people of the faith submerged below dedication to the faith itself, and his duty to recruit this young woman. “Listen, if you’re unsure I could get you in touch with some of the people of mine, the people who taught me. Maybe they could help you with questions”
“Yeah, well, I gotta go. Listen, we can’t talk for a while. My uncle doesn’t like me spending time with you. Dad’s cool but Uncle doesn’t trust you
“Understood. No worries. Always people telling you what to do ain’t it? I understand. Listen, if you want, give me a call, even if we can’t meet up I can get you in touch with the teachers. They can give you some unbiased advice. No pulling one way or another, you’re your own person”
Lisa pauses and lays five quid down on the table. Gwil is about to wave and say he’ll pick this one up, then he remembers his finances and nods thanks. With Lisa gone he mutters to himself “Guess I’ll have to talk to bloody uncle then”
That was then, this is now. A few days after Sanjiv’s discussion with his father. Doctors around him, asking question after question about his collapse
“Sanjiv,do you remember talking when we first came into the hospital? When I asked you if you had any blackouts?“
“Yeah” Sanjiv replies “Well, now you mention it. I’d forgotten it until now”
“Well” the doctor continues “It is interesting, the test results have come and we have noticed there is a lesion, that is a shadow in your anterior left side of the brain. We followed up with a blood test as usually this would be indicative of encephalitis which would explain the missing time. However the blood work is unusual. We would normally use antibiotics as a precursor to surgery, but it seems to be responding to antibiotics alone. So we suggest a period of treatment and would expect to see positive results within the next couple of days”
“So when you say a period of treatment..” Sanjiv asks, letting the question trail off.
“Just antibiotics and with your permission I would like to spend more time on blood work
“Sure.” Sanjiv says “That is actually quite reassuring”
“Well we should have you back on your feet in no time” The Doctor says “One last thing, have you had another visit from the police officer Ryan Winters?”
Sanjiv’s answer freezes in his throat for a moment. He has yet to have a single visit from Officer Winters. “No, I have not heard anything, Must be a busy time at the office” He manages to say.
The doctor nods and smiles with a promise of vague reassurance. With the doctors gone time passes oddly, could be minutes, could be hours. It is dark outside and the ward lights are down. Was it dark before? Sanjiv wonders, looking around from his bed.
A man is watching him, sat in the shadows on a nearby bed. The man is mostly nondescript, somewhere between twenties and thirties with short mousy blond hair and a crumpled ill fitting suit. In his hands the man holds a brown manilla envelope that he
appears to be rummaging through. The man looks up and speaks
“Ah Mr Mangat I presume” he says, pulling out a police ID and holding it out “I am detective chief inspector Grey. I apologise for the interruption but I need to ask some questions about WPC Winters. How long have you known the WPC?”
There’s that odd feeling at the back of Sanjiv’s mind again. The incongruous moments. WPC is a bit of an archaic term, generally police just refer to PC now regardless of gender. “Just a few years in a professional capacity” Sanjiv says
“I see, and how long have you known Dave Chigwell?”
“Professionally a few years again, we met at work and I’ve kept in touch since his departure from the department”
Grey nods “So, how would you describe Mr Chigwell’s character”
Sanjiv pauses again, The name Mr Grey coming back to mind, the name of the man Dave Chigwell kept communicating with. His voice dry he answers “Quirky”
“Quirky?” Mr Grey asks
“He had many theories, conspiracy theories. Recently he’s been having trouble after being let go from his job”
“Would you say Mr Chigwell is prone to irrational and illogical behaviour?”
Sanjiv thinks then answers carefully “Illogical yes, but he is harmless to anyone but himself”
“What would you say you know about Edutech? Does that name sound familiar to you at all?”
“Just from the papers. There been some speculation about the correctness of their contracts”
Mr Grey notes this down “What about yourself Sannjiv? Do you think you would benefit from the Samaritan program. Have you ever seen the cogs. Have you ever seen the machines?”
Trying to keep the pretence of ignorance up Sanjiv replies”Well I work with mechanical machines. Assess the risks involved with them if that’s what you mean”
“I see. What about the photographs Sanjiv. When we gave them to you, when you saw them. Gwil’s reaction. Do you think it was genuine? Do you think he would make a good candidate?” Grey fixes Sanjiv with a stare, white noise rising around them.
Dizzy, Sanjiv swallows twice “I’m sorry, I need some water” he croaks, moving up, slowly heading towards the water cooler. The sound rises, reaching crescendo just as his fingers touch the pedestal. The sound of industrial machinery, of approaching trains. Water splashes across the back of his hands and his body gives way below him.
Sanjiv’s eyes open. The ceiling of the hospital above him, his back upon the bed in the cold of the night. Alone. Everything is back how it was. As quickly as he can he moves to the water cooler again, gulping down on the water, splashing it across his face to clear his mind of what has just happened.
Sanjiv’s doesn’t sleep much that night, walking the empty hospital corridors. Ruminating on what has just happened. On who is this Mr Grey?
A week before that happened, a few days after the incident with the photographs. Gwil sits in his shoebox of a room, head in his hands. He saw the photos, of Officer Winters and Sanjiv beating a man to death, but what can he do? It would be a police officer’s word against his, and he knows how that goes. Every time. Best to stay out of it and just keep his head down.
It is time now anyway, time for cleansing, the renewal of the faith. The root, the place of cleansing is deep in Brixton and Gwil has a lot of time to think on the way over. To watch the tube lines, to walk above ground through this part of the city, still marked by scars from the riots of the eighties There’s a mix of the old and the new, the affluent mid nineties renovation layered over the graffiti that shows up everywhere. Built up chain stores just around the corner from street markets. The large Afro Caribbean communities shows its presence amongst the Victorian housing. The further Gwil walks from the centre the more run down and ramshackle the buildings get, bought to let and run as nigh death traps for those who cannot afford to rent better.
It is here that the faith has made its impromptu home. Down a line of terraced streets there is a single building. A building picked for its close proximity to expansive park land. The whole street has a reputation for macabre urban legends, of strange light seen at night. Some may be signs of the rituals of the faith, other mere tall tales. Any which way the street is guarded surreptitiously by the faith. Anyone living near by have been vetted, shell offices set up nearby too draw attention away from the single, most important building The home of the root. Buzzing on the front of what appears to be a bereavement charity Gwil is quickly huddled in, and down the stairs to the depths of the basement,
The room is dark, tree roots breaking through from the ceiling as if they have broken through the foundations themselves. Earth littering the floor. The crowd circled round turn their eyes as Gwil walks amongst them. He can hear the mutterings as always “Wretched thing” “Bastard Sin Eater”. He ignores them, stepping through their words to approach the relic of the faith. The root, a fossilised root from the days of Druidic faith. There is something primal here, and Gwil kneels before it. The feeling of the holy touch of nature washing away the curses and insults that are cast upon him. When he raises his eye once more he sees the High Druid above him, Steve Mathews, garbed in ritual attire etched with twin golden moons, speaking through a mask of polished bone shaped to the features of a deer. As the High Druid voice echoes across the bone he dips his fingers down into a golden chalice, bringing them up slick red with blood.
“Now, you come before the tree of the root of the grave. Do you come clothed in darkness, or in the light”
Lowering his head Gwil answers “I come clothed in nothing that I am not willing to shed lest it become a barrier before my faith”
“You have been separated a long time. Gone too long. Clothed in their land, their garb, their wealth. Now you come back to reaffirm yourself in the light of the darkest sun, in the tomb below the world. You come to strip bare of these things. To eat of the earth and to cast off the sins of the world above. Drink this blood and eat of the soil. Then you will cleanse the poison within you”
Taking the golden chalice Gwil raises it to his lips, pouring the red liquids down his throat, gulp after gulp, gagging, but swallowing still, not stopping until the last drop. Heavy and queasy he plunges his hand into the soil, placing a handful on his outstretched tongue and taking it into his mouth. Crawling, sick to the stomach, across the ground he approaches the root as the High druid urges him on “Go, go forth to the root and empty yourself”
Images snap into sight with each painful crawl, hand over hand towards the root. Images seemingly snatched from another reality. A young woman, hair knitted and slick with gore, clawing across the ground, screaming in a tongue not understood. Screaming as hands grab her and drag her to the woods. Another painful crawled step towards the root and another image rises for Gwil. A man, hair wild and skin painted blue, dragging back a deer’s head, exposing its neck and plunging a stone dagger through its arteries, blood gushing to the ground. Another image, later or earlier Gwil cannot tell. A man in brown robes, crucifix upon his neck, his skinny body trembling in terror, piss running down his limbs a masked woman takes a golden sickle and opens him up from throat to belly.
Gwil’s stomach is heaving, pressing his head down to the ground before the root. Another vision, deep within the woods. Looking down upon skin that is not skin. That is bark layered in torn flesh, blood and dirt. His mouth lined with snakes teeth that shine beneath the full moon. He stands taller, much taller than before surrounded by men, women and children, small figures around him, debasing themselves before him, bathed in gore over their bodies. Gifts offered up, to enrich the soil. He feels bile rising up and showering out, spilling over the soil, maggots writhing within the soiled liquid evacuation. In the darkness beyond the circle a howling rises in the night. The howling of those that walk as men, of those that hunt him. Terror rises and..
The image breaks, Gwil vomits over and over again onto the ground before him. Terror running though him, infected from the vision. As his stomach empties and he heaves dry a single unknown word gasps from his lips “Uratha”.
On his hands and knees the ground in front of Gwil is stained black with dried blood soaked vomit. Maggots crawling from within, flies buzzing over what was shortly ago inside him. Gwil’s entire body shakes as he tries to make sense of the visions.
The high druid crouches, dipping his fingers to the spilled mess, picking up a single maggot from it and looking at it incredulous. Shock and outrage is audible even through his mask as he says “It can’t be”. Fear evident he steps back away through the circle watching.
Shivering in the centre, aware of all eyes upon him Gwil squeezes his eyes closed and holds his head down in debased piety, wondering what the hell just happened.
Present day once more, days after the incident with Mr Grey. Sanjiv, as he waits for his discharge from the hospital, spend his time meditating, trying to centre body and mind, imagining his shrine to Ganesh back in his apartment. The results come back, he is fine, completely fine, an interesting medical case but nothing more. Still marked by mild paranoia Sanjiv accepts his discharge from the hospital gratefully and steps once more into the wider world.
Before too long he is back on the night shift on the London underground. Finding reassurance in familiarity he keeps to his old route, heading between stations overground, stopping for a short moment to visit Jagjit at his stand, grabbing a few bottles of water for the long night ahead.
Smiling Jagjit greets him in Hindi “Hello Sanjiv, I heard you were not well. Did the flowers and sweets from my wife reach you ok?”
“They did thank you, I’m doing much better now. The stay was mostly a precaution”
“Well Sanjiv, we are hoping to drop by the station later, maybe we could bring some evening meal for you and say hello”
“That is very kind of you” Sanjiv says before continuing his journey to the next station. Again he is greeting with open arms by his colleagues. Milosh embracing him openly, a small moustache that he is experimenting with growing making him look incredibly seedy. “So, What is the story between you and Gwil. He seemed really pissed at you man”
“I think Gwil seems to be annoyed with everyone, but really there seems to be some confusion over who did what. My memory is a bit hazy, his memory is a bit hazy. You know how it is” Sanjiv explains
“Well whatever it is he has been spending a lot of time in my bar, and well, the girls like him there, but I think the two of you should still make up”
“Ok, I will get to the bar myself some time I promise”
“Always later, how about you come the end of this week?”
“I guess I could make that”
“Excellent. You know, that prick, the boyfriend of the girl Gwil has a crush on, he was there, with some police woman. Ah Gwil eternally moons over that girl, it is love I tell you. Well, see you later my friend”
Moving on through the corridors of the underground Sanjiv nearly bumps into Trisha who is bumbling through with a stack of papers loaded up in her arms. Smiling she tries to find somewhere to place the papers down, but ends up having to settle for sifting them to the side, held up by one arm “Ahh Sanjiv my sweet, how are you luv?” she asks.
“I’m good, slightly confused more than anything but good.”
“I know you’re busy, but I wondered, we have a HR meeting that I would like to have you sit in on. Some cases I need you look at, I know its probably a clash of interests as you know him but would you like to drop by? Please? I’ve got a meeting for the next four hours but if you could make it after that it would be great”.
Nodding assent Sanjiv moves on, finally reaching his office and desk. Loading up outlook he sees a full inbox awaiting him. Full of maintenance reports, inspection bookings and pictures of cats doing ridiculous things. With a sigh Sanjiv clicks the first, it’s going to be a long day.
Similarly the weeks have been passing for Gwil, weeks using what little money he has to wreck his memory with cheap rakia at Belgrade bar. It’s a cheap single story structure with boarded up windows hiding the sleazy strip joint and drinking establishment inside. The characters there are a rough sort, probably organised crime to Gwil’s mind, but no one gives Gwil grief. Anyone who comes in with Milosh is gold to them. Apart from one incident where Milosh kept Gwil from drunkenly confronting Lucy’s boyfriend who had turned up outside with PC Ryan Winters the time passed into uneventful oblivion.
Now though was the time to do something. Nate, Lisa’s uncle, has issues with Gwil over some alleged images he e-mailed, and he needs to be on Nate’s good side if he is going to get time with Lisa to recruit her. Which means sorting this out. From what Gwil can tell he is mainly to be found at Alexander Palace Ice Rink, or at the UCL. It being a school night Gwil is guessing UCL, but as he treks the campus it seems no one knows where he is. It’s nearly one at night by the time he gets his first hint of where to go amongst the neo classical architecture and statues that make up the site in contrast to the austere campus buildings.
Gwil’s managed to bluff his way past most of security by mentioning Nate’s name, but having reached what he presumes is the right foyer he finds his way blocked by heftier and more determined looking campus security.
“I’m looking for Nate” Gwil offers
“UCL is closed” comes the grunted reply.
“Listen. Just let Nate know someone’s is here for him. I’m a friend of a relative and I’ve walked all the way here tonight. Just ring through to the office would you?”
They stare at him for a long time, weighing up the chance that he is someone they can get away with giving a kicking to against the chance he may actually have pull with someone here. Finally one picks up the phone. Moments later they look back at him, disappointment in their eyes. “You can go through now”
“See, told ya I was meant to be here”
Gwil walks on into the empty facility, a dull amber glow over the sterile walls. The place should be full of people, is designed to be full of people, empty it just seems hollow. Light glints out through Nate’s door. Hammering twice on the door, Gwil doesn’t wait for an answer, pushing it open and stepping in.
Nate is sat in front of a set of whiteboards that are covered in equations. At six foot four and broad shouldered he near comes up to Gwil’s height even sat down. Nate’s eyes are bloodshot, his brown skin yellowed in the light and his loose cropped hair and goatee still mostly well kept, but showing signs of recent wear. Sweat patches and an air of exhaustion more signs of his current frustrated mood.
“Yes” Nate says with a tired voice How can I help”
“”Hey, I’m Gwil, heard you got some photos sent to you by e-mail. Just wanted to drop by in person and explain that I hadn’t sent them, I have no idea who the hell did.”
Nate looks at him, distrusting “Listen, Gwil, when first got this e-mail I just thought you were taking the piss. Then I noticed something about them. It makes no sense, but it’s there. It’s talking about the relative effects of mass on a multidimensional wave form. This shouldn’t be happening here but it does. Where did you get this?”
“Listen, I don’t know why you think I sent this, I don’t even have a bloody e-mail address”
“Listen Gwil, I understand that you spend time with my niece, but I don’t have time to be jerked around, this is some heavy shit here. I don’t know what you are doing, but these physics just don’t make sense. It posits what could be infinite energy transfer through different elements in different space time co-ordinates. It takes string theory, rolls it up and kicks it in the balls. It shouldn’t make sense but it does and I don’t know why it does. Where did you get this? I got it in a damn e-mail from you”
“Why the hell would I send this? How would I benefit” Gwil growls
“So you are saying, this picture didn’t come from you. This picture here with your face in the damn mirror holding the camera”.
Staring at the photo Nate holds up Gwil sees himself, reflected, a mirror on the wall of Dave’s apartment. A wall covered with the equations Nate now looks at. Something inside Gwil pulls tight, he barely keeps from babbling out in confusion but he pushes it back down.
“I have no idea what that is,some bastard must have faked it. You can do that I think. Take photos and shove them together”
Nate shakes his head “I would have thought that if only it didn’t make sense. This suggest that energy can be transferred from one universe to another, it suggests some type of variable waveform that can be held until it stabilises and transfers from one dimension to another. It suggests that these are capable of change over time and that…you say you know nothing about this?
“Nothing whatsoever” Gwil answers
“Then you can’t help me. Get out, and get away from my niece”
“Nice. “Gwil grumbles as he stands “I wish I had sent you that piece of shit e-mail. I came here to try and help and all I get is grief. I hope that equation fucks you up you little shit”
Something snaps in Nate, his eyes rage. Gwil notices it a moment before Nate moves, throwing a wild hay-maker punch at Gwil. Dropping under the punch Gwil slams his arms around Nate’s arm and neck, trying to hold him still. “The fuck!”
Suddenly Gwil is upside-down, air rushing past him. Next thing he knows he is going head first through a classroom desk, Nate’s weight pinning him there, fist raised and ready to pound Gwil to oblivion.
“Wait. I give. I fucking give” Gwil shouts “Let me go…please!”
Nate pauses, the anger still behind his eyes, then he tosses Gwil from the desk “You ever come near my family or me again and I will fuck you up. Stay away from my niece. Now fuck off!”
Winded and bruised Gwil staggers away, wondering how the hell he will recover this little mess.
Meanwhile, Trisha waits for Sanjiv to arrive down in the underground offices. Stacks of files and paperwork spread on the table in front of her. As Sanjiv enters he notices Dave sitting by one side. Cautiously Sanjiv greets them “Hi Trisha, hi Dave, how’s it going?” .
“Alright there mate. Hows it going yourself” Dave speaks with his usual broad accent and Sanjiv relaxes. It seems this time it really is Dave.
“I take it you made it back from Romford in one piece then?” Sanjiv asks
“Romford?” Trish says, confused
“Romford? Bit of a shit hole” Dave says “Not been to Romford in a while”
Sanjiv pauses, uncertain as Dave continues “How you feeling mate? Hear you have been away a couple of weeks”
“Yeah, been away about a week” Sanjiv says, his voice distracted “Been a bit under the weather”
Trisha steps in “The reason we brought you in Sanjiv is that there has been problems with faulty signals on the route Dave is responsible for. We were wondering if you could have a look into them?”
Taking a sip of water Sanjiv tries to keep his breaths controlled. They think Dave is still working here. Dave is still working here. No one remembers Romford. Dave shouldn’t be here. His breaths come faster and faster, hyperventilating. His legs weak. Dave stares at him face blank.
The floor comes rushing up and darkness with it. The last thing Sanjiv hears is Trisha shouting “We need an ambulance!”
Then there is nothing.