Read the previous chapter, Chapter 1, here first.
Chapter 2 of Delirium, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Blake Daniel smiled as he walked across Great Russell Street into the courtyard of the British Museum. He put his phone in his pocket and pulled his thin gloves back on, covering the scars on his hands. It pleased him to send Jamie jolly pictures each day and, although she only ever responded with a smiley in return, he knew that at some point she would emerge from her grief. He wanted to be there when she did. Jamie had become a talisman against his own oblivion, and the nights when he craved the tequila bottle were becoming ever more rare. She was worth waiting for.
Blake looked up at the facade of the British Museum, the tall Ionic columns stretching to the Greek-style pediment, a fitting entrance to the myriad wonders within. The glass roof to the Great Court was now fully repaired from the Neo-Viking attack last month, and the public were streaming in again. The day he stopped loving this place was the day he ought to retire, Blake thought.
He bounded up the steps into the tourist throng, eyes wide and clutching maps as they wondered where to start their day's adventure. Blake loved to try and guess where people came from. Those who journeyed here to stay in multicultural London had intermingled into one great family that managed to rub along together most of the time. Sporadic fights broke out, of course, for a family must hate as well as love, as in all the best Shakespeare plays. But that made life more interesting. Blake's own features were mixed, just as his cultural heritage was. He had the tight curly hair of his Nigerian mother, which he kept at a military number-one cut, and blue eyes of the northern ocean from his Swedish father. With his darker skin tone and boy-band features, he could walk with confidence in any part of London.
Swiping his pass by the door, Blake walked downstairs to the offices of the museum, where researchers worked on artifacts for the exhibits above. There was a sense of excitement here, overlaid with the calm of academia, as the minutiae of past civilizations were dissected. Blake was one of a number of researchers, but his work was supplemented by his peculiar sensitivities. It was called clairvoyance by some, or psychometry, although Blake preferred extrasensory perception, and for him, it manifested as a series of visions gleaned from an object. Their intensity was dictated by the emotions that had attached themselves to the artifact over time, so the more personal the item, the more clearly he could read it. He habitually wore thin gloves to cover his skin so as not to be overwhelmed by the visions from daily life, those gloves serving the dual purpose of hiding disfiguring scars from a childhood of abuse.
Walking through the office towards his own workspace, Blake's eyes fixed on the object that lay upon a white cloth on his desk. He had been assigned the fourteenth-century Nubian cross of Timotheus, and he couldn't get a reading on it at all. Perhaps it was a good thing – perhaps he had been relying on the visions too much, before trying to back up his claims with proper research. But his vivid writing certainly brought in the grants, as it captured the imagination of donors with his description of characters who might have been involved in the object's history. They weren't to know how much of it was truth discovered through emotional perception.
Blake sat down in front of the cross, studying the clover-leaf ends, triple hoops of iron in a simple, functional design. Maybe the passage of time had somehow cleansed the cross of its resonance, or perhaps the priests had worn gloves as part of devotional garments. Nubia had been converted to Christianity in the sixth century and had a rich cultural heritage, although the area was now split between Egypt and Sudan, both Muslim countries. This cross could give an insight into an area of Africa that had once been dominated by Christianity, with powerful empires that many would not believe of the fractious continent these days.
“How's your paper going?”
The voice startled Blake and he turned to see Margaret, his boss, standing behind him. She held a small package in a white padded bag.
“I'd like a draft by the end of next week.”
Her face was pinched, but that wasn't unusual. Blake knew he skated near the edge with her, and his frequent absences due to hangover recovery had been noted. Tequila and a string of empty one-night stands had made him almost a part-time employee, but in the last few months he had been a lot more reliable. Perhaps Margaret was softening towards him.
“Of course,” he said. “I'm still working on researching Timotheus from the Coptic scrolls. I found a new translation yesterday so I'll use that as part of the paper.”
Margaret nodded, and held out the package.
“This came for you. But you really shouldn't have personal items delivered to the museum.” She frowned. “You know what a nightmare security is with all the random objects we're sent.”
Blake took the parcel. “Sorry, I didn't order anything, so I don't know why …”
His voice trailed off as he recognized his mother's sloping handwriting on the front.
“I'll leave you to it then,” Margaret said after waiting a beat too long, clearly interested in what was inside.
Blake laid the package down on his desk. Why would his mother post anything? They hadn't spoken in years, and although he sent cards now and then, telling her he was OK, he hadn't mentioned his address or where he worked. Of course, Google meant that everyone was discoverable online these days: his academic papers had been in some journals and his photo was on the museum website. Blake wanted to rip off the paper to find out what was inside, but some part of him held back. Whatever this was, it drew him to a part of his life he had left behind long ago.
One of the meeting rooms was empty, so Blake took the package and walked inside, shutting the blinds and closing the door. He took his gloves off and looked at his hands, the ivory scars on his caramel skin like an abstract painting. Scars his father had inflicted in an attempt to beat the Devil from his son, believing the visions to be diabolical possession and Blake's hands a portal to Hell. But the bloody whippings had only curbed the visions until the scars began to heal, and then they returned, a curse that no amount of pain could stop.
It had been fifteen years since he had walked out on the abuse, turning away from his father and the religious community that he ruled with an iron rod, like the Old Testament prophets he had preached of in his sermons. But his mother … Blake blinked away the tears that threatened as guilt rose inside. He had to leave her, for there had been no other way. His father would rather have killed him than let the Devil take his son, or at least cut off his hands to stop the visions. And, as much as his mother loved him, she had been a devoted wife and servant, believing that it was God's will Blake be delivered from the curse by His prophet. Perhaps there was a trace of her here.
Laying his hands on the parcel, Blake closed his eyes to let the visions come. He was clean, no tequila for days, so his sensitivity was acute. He felt a rising anxiety, like a high-pitched note that hurt his ears, but under that lay a deep acceptance, a sense of peace in a faith he had no connection to. He saw a front door, the same one he had walked out years ago, and a woman's hand, older now, clutching the envelope. He wanted to see her face, wanted more than this brief glimpse into her world. Then he saw a drip, a series of medical machines, and heard a rasping gasp. He knew that voice. Blake pulled his hand away, heart pounding in his chest.
He ripped open the package and looked inside. A white cloth was wrapped around an object and there was a note, just one page. He pulled it out.
My son. There's too much to say and no time left anymore. I'm sorry. Your father has had a series of strokes. Please come. We love you.
Blake read the note again, unsure what he was supposed to feel. He wanted more from her, more than just these few lines after so long. Why do children read so much into the words of parents? he thought. Why expect so much, when they are just people, damaged and desperate, just as we are? Blake shook his head – the years apart should have given him more perspective.
The old man was dying, that much was certain. Maybe he was dead already, but the thought didn't leave Blake feeling any lighter. On the day he had walked out, Blake had sworn to dance on the old man's grave, wanting to stamp his boots onto the earth as if it had been the prophet's face. But over time, those feelings had hardened into a tight ball of anger that he kept locked up and buried within. The tequila helped soften it, helped him to breathe, but it was a bitch of a mistress that brought as much pain as it did relief.
He needed to know – which meant he had to look more closely. Blake pulled on one of his gloves, not quite ready to experience visions from whatever was in the package. He reached in and took out an object wrapped in a white handkerchief. Blake remembered how his father had always worn one, ironed perfectly into a pocket square for his suits. A man should dress for his station, he would say, the Lord demands us to be our best. An English affectation, Blake thought with a short smile. Perhaps it said more about his father's immigrant sensibilities than anything the Lord demanded.
The handkerchief was wrapped like a parcel. Blake slowly pulled the edges away to reveal his father's watch, a vintage Patek Philippe, the gold of its face tarnished and the leather strap worn, but still a beautiful piece. Blake's chest tightened and he concentrated on breathing, as a flash of memory took him back. He knelt at the altar while the Elders prayed aloud in tongues, his father's right hand slamming down the cane. Blake's eyes fixed on this watch on his father's left wrist, knowing the time it took to reach the bloody end of his penance and weeping while the seconds ticked away. He felt an echo of pain in his hands and he rubbed them, clenching his fists together as if holding hands with his past self might steel him to the memory.
The watch had been his grandfather's, and his father only took it off at night. For this to leave his wrist for any longer meant that he was seriously ill. Had he asked for it to be sent? Did his father want to see him? Or would it just be a final agony to know that Blake was still an outcast from his family, still considered to be of the Devil. Old age would not lessen the man's fundamental beliefs, but only make them more extreme. The strokes themselves would be seen as an attack from Satan, the tribulations of Job perhaps, and Blake imagined the church praying for their leader, interceding with God for His divine intervention. The reality was that his father was an old man.
Blake exhaled slowly, trying to calm his heart rate. The anxiety that gripped him even at the thought of his father seemed ridiculous now, yet still it held him fast. He wanted to touch the watch and feel something of what his father experienced, but he was also afraid of what he might see. When he was young, he had seen visions from his parents' things – he couldn't help it living in their house. But the glimmers of lust and violence from his father and the shuttered, rigid calm from his mother had frightened him. That's when Blake had first taken to wearing gloves, when his hands weren't bandaged from the beatings.
He took his glove off again and set a five-minute alarm on his smartphone. Sometimes the visions were too much, and he could be lost in overwhelming sights and sounds that left him on the brink of collapse. Sometimes Blake wondered if he should see a psychiatrist about his experiences, but he pushed away the fleeting doubts about his own sanity. These days, his reading helped to solve crimes. He remembered reading the ivory Anatomical Venus figurine with Jamie present and how she had pulled his hand away from the object, helping him out of the trance. But she wasn't here right now, and Blake wanted to see into his father's life. He needed to know whether he should go home and face his childhood fears.
Placing his hands over the watch, Blake gently laid them down, his fingertips connecting with the cool metal on the edges of the face and the smooth glass that covered it. Despite the scars, his sensitivity had only increased with age and experience. Blake let the visions come in a rush, breathing slowly as they swirled about him, glimpses of life flashing by. He sifted through the stream of impressions that assaulted his mind.
He went into the most recent remembrance, the raw emotion of a man crippled by multiple strokes, an awareness of mortality and fear of dying overlaid with too much pride to acknowledge the truth of the end. Blake looked out at the bedroom in his old house, but it was no longer the room he remembered.
The walls sprouted with black growths like nodes of cancer in a smoker's lung, spotted with dull green mold. In places, trickles of liquid ran down, pooling on the bare floorboards in patches of tainted burgundy, like diseased blood. Above the fireplace, one of the lumps moved and Blake realized it was a living creature. The hairs rose on the back of his neck as he perceived a bony spine and tail with skin like tar, the thing's face jagged and its eyes bright with lust for death. It shifted, its gaze lighting on the bed. Blake felt its stare invade his body, examining every cell for a sign of the inevitable end. He heard a moan and knew his father had made the sound: it was all he could utter. But there was no exorcism, no prayers he could invoke to cleanse the room of this filth. Hooded lids closed again as the dark creature waited. Blake sensed that it wouldn't be long now before it would feed.
He tried to see past the creatures and the corruption of the room. Was this some kind of hallucination, a manifestation of his father's worst fears, brought on by the stroke? Or could it be that he was seeing past the physical world into the spiritual realm? If that was true, then the God his father had served for a lifetime had forsaken him, for the room was filled with terror and the promise of Hell.
Blake pulled back, filtering the memories that were attached to the watch. He perceived an overwhelming sense of fear that overlaid everything, a panic barely held back by the violence of his father's fervent prayer and brimstone preaching. It was something he had never expected, for Magnus Olofsson had been the definition of strength, a watchtower the needy had run to for leadership and shelter. That fortitude had been the basis of respect in their community, where perspectives and lifestyles were held over from days long past. When Blake had walked out, he had changed his name as a final separation. Daniel Blake Olofsson had become Blake Daniel, and disappeared to a new life.
In the vision, he saw his mother's face, her eyes closed in prayer, and he felt his father's guilt as he looked at her. The emotion was so strong that Blake pulled away from the sensation quickly. He couldn't stand to know what his father was guilty of, not right now. But he held back from leaving the trance completely.
He had to go there, he realized. He had to return to the place he had run from years ago, and so Blake parted the veils of memory. He saw his own face as a young boy, kneeling by the altar in the church, tears running down as men surrounded him. He felt the righteous rage inside his father, but that anger wasn't directed at Blake, his son, it was at the Devil for taking him. Blake felt an echo of his father's thoughts as blood dripped onto the altar, He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
The alarm pierced Blake's thoughts and he anchored his mind on it, pulling his hands away as he returned to the room under the British Museum again. Why was the verse from the book of Numbers in his father's mind as he labored with the cane? What sin had his father committed that God would punish his child for atonement?