Read the previous chapter, Chapter 5, here first.
Chapter 6 of Delirium, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Blake got off the bus at the end of the lane, shivering a little in his thin jacket. Once he'd finally made the decision to come, he had left London as fast as possible and he hadn't brought his thicker coat. It was too much of a temptation to stay at home and avoid the confrontation he had feared for much of his adult life, the memory of his father looming large. Every mile he had come closer to arriving, every stop the bus had made, he had wanted to run back to London. But the room he had seen his father in through the watch haunted his thoughts, and he had to see what was really happening.
The little village of Long Farnborough was on the edge of the New Forest National Park, a train ride and then a bus from London, far enough to make it hard to visit without a car. It might well have been the other side of the world for how much he had seen his parents over the years. Blake walked slowly up the lane, the heavy weight of the past making his steps cumbersome. The scars on his hands throbbed, with cold perhaps, or with the memory of pain inflicted here.
Blake breathed in deeply, becoming more aware of the woodland around him as the birch and oak trees canopied above. Living in the city for so long, he had almost forgotten the clean scent of the forest, the ambient noise of birdsong and the rustling of woodland animals. The New Forest was actually one of the oldest forests in England, dense with whispers of the past, an echo of times when people lived closer to the earth. The intrepid walker, leaving the footpaths, could come upon an ancient monument or a round barrow from the early Bronze Age. In the past, Blake had tried to read some of the stones and trees around the burial sites, his hands flat against the rough surfaces, but he couldn't pick up any trace of those who had walked here.
One last corner. Blake steeled himself as he rounded it and saw the house his father had built with his own hands, the home he had walked away from. The place was simple, as befitted a man of God, and Blake knew his father had never cared much for the physical world, preferring to fix his eyes on Heaven. The red kitchen curtains were open and suddenly Blake saw his mother's face, his heart leaping in recognition. Precious Olofsson had married young, star struck by the prophet's dominance, and her features were still youthful, her black skin smooth. The lines around her eyes were deeper now, and she was still beautiful. Blake saw her smile light her face as she saw him and he almost wept, for there was no recrimination in her eyes, only love and welcome. The prodigal son returns indeed, he thought, walking faster to the door as it opened, and there she was.
“Daniel,” she said, her voice soft and warm, like the bread she used to bake on a Saturday, when he would shape the dough into silly animals to make her laugh. Precious held her arms out and Blake walked into them, enfolding her.
“Oh, Mum,” he whispered, eyes closed, feeling the prick of tears. Blake dwarfed her now, and he could feel how thin she was, how brittle. How vulnerable. Yet she stroked his back, her strength calming him.
“It's OK,” she said, her breath warm on his neck. “I know why you've stayed away. But you're here now, and that's all that matters.” She pulled away from him, clutching his hands, stroking the gloves as if she caressed the scars underneath. Her eyes shone with tears. “He's worse, you need to see him. The Lord will take him when He's ready, I know that, but the going is difficult.”
Blake envied his mother's faith, an almost fatalistic view of the world. It meant she had believed his gift was God's will, but that his father's punishment was also meant to be. Perhaps it made life simpler to accept that, but Blake believed in being the author of one's own fate.
The sound of chanting came from the upstairs bedroom, rising to a crescendo and then a stream of voices praying in tongues. To some, it was the language of angels and to others, merely the expression of emotion through the vocalization of a meaningless dialect, a babble of incoherence made holy by belief.
“The Elders are with him,” Precious said, her eyes shadowing. Blake tightened his arm around her. He knew how little the cabal of male Elders thought of the women in their congregation. Patriarchy was certainly alive and well in this community, a breakaway fundamentalist sect. His heart thumped at the thought of seeing the men, remembering how they had beaten him and others, how he had seen their abuse, and, God forgive him, he had never reported it.
“They shouldn't be too much longer.” Precious sighed, shaking her head. “They've been interceding with God for nearly two hours. But if the Lord is calling your father, then who are we to try and keep him here? Heaven is a better place, and we must all long for the time when we will join our Savior.”
Blake ignored the sense that he should answer her unspoken question. He had lost his faith a long time ago, and could no longer remember whether it was his father he had worshipped, or God himself. There seemed no difference in his childhood memories of the prophet leading the church in prayer, his deep voice extolling sermons that would leave the congregation on their knees, gasping for forgiveness.
The prayers stopped and after a moment, the Elders emerged at the top of the stairs, their voices hushed, faces grim. Blake's apprehension diminished as he noticed how much they had all aged. They had paunches, their faces sagged, and as much as they touted the poverty of faith, there was evidence of too much good living in their soft bodies. Blake stood taller, looking up at them.
Elder Paul Lemington saw him first, falling silent as the rest of the group followed his gaze.
“Daniel,” Paul said as he walked down the stairs, eyes fixed on Blake. “It's been a long time.”
Blake nodded, meeting the Elder's eyes, his gaze unflinching. He had nothing to fear from this man anymore, and looking at him now, Blake wondered how he could ever have been afraid of him. At the bottom of the stairs, Paul held out his hand. Blake looked at it for a moment, wanting to turn away but sensing his mother's eagerness for reconciliation.
After a moment, he held out his gloved hand to shake it. Paul glanced down and his pallor whitened a little, confronted by the evidence of his own past sin. How much did these men remember of what they had done to him? Blake wondered. How much did they still inflict on others? Blake pushed the thoughts aside as the Elders filed past him out into the dusk. It was time to face the man he'd been running from for years.
“I'll put the kettle on,” Precious said. “And bring you up some tea.” She pushed Blake gently towards the stairs. “Go on up to him now. He's in the spare room so I can hear him more easily.”
The staircase loomed above him, like the ladder of Jacob ascending into Heaven, with his father enthroned at its height. Blake shook his head, remembering the shifting black creatures on the walls of the room above. There was no Heaven here, only his own memories to confront. He trod the first stair and strength rose within him, pushing him up the rest.
At the top, Blake turned into the bedroom, pushing the door open as the bleep of medical machines beat time with his father's heart. The walls were a faded lilac, the same as they had been when he had left years ago, and the room was dominated by a double bed. His father lay curled, eyes closed, one side of his body tightened and hunched, pulling everything towards his center. The covers were twisted around him and saliva dripped from his mouth onto the pillow. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead, evidence of a fever or perhaps the exertion of prayer.
Blake looked down at his father and felt a strange absence, as the pent-up anxiety left him. This wasn't the man he had left behind and feared beyond all else. Magnus Olofsson, the prophet of New Jerusalem Church, had now been reduced to this pitiful state. Sitting down next to the bed, Blake looked around the room. The vision he had seen of the black creatures on rotting walls came from this spot, he was sure of it, and yet, the room smelled of antiseptic and he could sense nothing wrong here. Perhaps the visions had been corrupted by his own emotional baggage, or perhaps the Elders had truly exorcised the room, cleansing it with their prayers.
“Unnng, unngh.” The noise came from Magnus and Blake looked down into his father's eyes, the brilliant blue undimmed by the destruction of his physical body. There was defiance there, an attempt at strength even from that prone position. Blake remembered the blaze in them, blood dripping from the strap on the day he had run.
“I'm here, Dad,” he said, his face taut, holding emotion in check. “I've come back.”
Blake felt an overwhelming desire to put his hand over the prophet's eyes, to stop the judging gaze that was fixed on him. It wouldn't take much to pick up one of the pillows and hold it over the man's face, smothering him, taking him to the arms of his God that much faster. It would be a blessing, for Magnus Olofsson's Nordic heritage was battle born, where a good death was to die fighting, with a sword in your hand, cursing the heathen.
Instead, Blake picked up the Bible by the bed, his gloved hands running over the leather-bound book, pages edged with gold. A bookmark lay within, marking the place his mother was reading from. It opened at Psalm 55, and Blake read aloud from the page.
“‘Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive; for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart …'”
Blake's voice trailed off and he looked at the walls again, trying to imagine the creatures squatting there, drawing ever closer to feed, when Magnus finally crossed over to their realm. He had seen the largest one uncurl just above the old fireplace in his vision, but now there was nothing there but a basket of dried flowers.
“I still see the visions, Dad,” Blake whispered. “You never managed to beat them out of me.”
“Nnnngg.” An utterance of protest. Blake looked down at his father again and saw something there. Was it regret, or was that what he wanted to see?
“When I touched your watch, I saw this room through your eyes, through your emotions. I saw something here, Dad … Dark creatures.”
Magnus was silent, but his eyes went to the exact spot on the wall where Blake had seen the beast curled, shifting as it waited for the end. His father's breath became ragged, as if fear compacted his chest even more than the stroke had. Blake reached for his hand, and squeezed it. He felt a return of pressure, only faint, but it was still there.
“I want to try and see them again,” Blake said. “I don't understand it, but I want to see what you do. Just put your hand on the Bible and I'll try to read you through it.”
Magnus moaned, his eyes frightened, as if allowing Blake to see his visions would invite Satan back in by the acknowledgement of his gift. But he was clearly desperate, because he shifted his hand a little towards the book in acquiescence. Blake lifted his father's hand onto the Bible and then took off his gloves. Magnus' eyes fell on the scars, the ivory lines a pattern of his abuse, but there was no regret there, no apology.
Blake touched the Bible and a veil fell over the room as he sifted the emotions on the book for a sense of his father's present state. The strands solidified and Blake watched the walls shimmer, shift and darken until the lilac was gone, covered only with creatures of shadow. There were more than he had seen when he had read the watch. Now they clustered on the floor as well, some slithering over each other, snake-like, leaving slick oily patches behind them. Blake lifted his feet as he felt a movement under the bed, taking a sharp breath in fright. He didn't dare bend to look, instead turning to his father.
Blake moaned, his hand almost lifting from the book in horror at what he saw.