Read the previous chapter, Chapter 7, here first.
Chapter 8 of Delirium, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Blake blinked, desperate to believe the vision was wrong, but he could still see it. A creature was curled around his father's back, its spines embedded in the old skin, piercing through the thin gown, the visage lizard-like and darkly scaled. Its tongue darted out, licking at Magnus' cheek, tasting the sweat there. This thing would be the first to feed. Blake met his father's eyes, and comprehension darted between them. He knew then that this was the world his father had always perceived and that Blake had only glimpsed the edges of.
“Daniel, Daniel, stop!”
His mother's voice intruded into the trance and Precious pushed his shoulder, jerking Blake's hand away from the Bible.
“You know he hates your visions,” she said, almost in tears as she bent to brush damp hair from Magnus' brow. “How could you do it here with him?”
Blake put his glove back on, looking around the lilac room, his eyes lingering on the walls and then back at his father's form on the bed. He could no longer perceive the creatures, and there was no sense of anything evil here. Was it just a hallucination, an extension of his father's belief that there were demons in the world waiting to feed on dying souls? Or was there some kind of supernatural reality that he had glimpsed through the eyes of a man of faith. In nearly twenty years of visions, Blake had never seen this before.
He frowned, brow furrowed as he walked around the bed to stand behind his father. He reached down and patted the bed where the creature had been curled. Nothing. He held his hand in the space behind Magnus' neck, thinking perhaps he could feel something, like a patch of disturbed air. But it was more likely the breeze from the window, open to let fresh air into this room of sickness.
“I know it's a shock seeing him like this,” Precious said. “I'm so sorry I didn't send for you earlier.” She sighed. “I didn't think the years would pass so fast, and look at you now.” She held out a hand across Magnus' body and Blake took it, squeezing a little. The least he could do was comfort her for a moment, but he couldn't tell her of what he had seen in this room. He looked down and caught sight of a black mark on his father's back. Could this be evidence of the creature?
Blake pulled away the gown that was tied at the back of his father's neck. A moan of protest made him pull his hand away in remembrance of what the man would have done for such trespass in stronger days. He had never seen his father less than fully clothed.
“It's OK, Dad,” Blake said, knowing he needed to see what it was. “I just want to look at the mark.”
“It's a tattoo,” Precious said, her voice strangely dull. “He would never tell me what it meant, but he has had it since I met him. He would get angry if I asked about it.”
The symbol began at the very top of Magnus' spine, just below his neck, and as Blake parted the gown, he could see it spread over the main part of his father's back. The ink was faded but there was clearly a design of triple claws, overlaying each other in a knot. The thick lines were bisected with scars and welts in a rhythmic pattern, always the same diagonal down from each shoulder. It seemed his father had beaten himself as well as his son over the years, atoning for whatever sin this tattoo represented. A glimmer of understanding for the man flickered through Blake's mind. He pulled the edges of the gown up and tucked in the covers again, placing his hand on his father's hunched shoulder and tightening his fingers a little, the pressure as close to a gesture of love as he could manage. Blake's own scars were as deep as the ones on his father's back, and neither set would ever fully heal now. But there had to be something in his father's past that would explain the creatures that lurked here waiting to feed.
“How did you meet each other, Mum? You've never told me.”
Precious smiled, her eyes shining, and Blake envied the simple pleasure of that memory of young love, so far from his own drunken one-night stands. His thoughts flickered to Jamie: of what could possibly be if they could face their pain together.
“It was back in London,” Precious said. “I had just started college and my Pentecostal congregation in Brixton had a visiting preacher.” She reached down to stroke Magnus' hair as she spoke. “Your father was a magnificent servant of God and when he spoke, I felt his words go straight to my heart. He stayed in London and soon after, we started dating, with chaperones of course. I know there have been hard times, Daniel, but you were born of love and of God.”
Blake nodded. “And what about before that? Where did he live before London?”
“His family are from the very north of Sweden, almost on the border of the fjords of Norway. But he would never say any more than that, and we've never been to visit.” She paused, looking down at her husband. “I don't even know their names, and that's how he wanted it. He needed to forget the past, whatever it was, and I honored that. I expect you to as well.”
“But I need to know more,” Blake said. “It's important, Mum. I saw something … I can't explain, but I think Dad needs help.”
Magnus moaned again, his words unintelligible, but his tone made Precious pale and Blake recognized the man's hold over her. She exhaled.
“So be it. Come, I'll show you the chest.”
She picked up the Bible and walked to the door. With a last glance at his father's pale face, Blake followed Precious out the room and up the stairs towards his parents' bedroom. It had been out of bounds when he had lived here, a child's gate and later a beating keeping him away from their private space. But he had often sneaked in when they were out and he knew the huge window looked out into the forest, the bed facing the green expanse. How often had his father lain there and thought of the wilds of Sweden and the forests of his own youth?
“It's underneath the bed,” Precious said, a waver in her voice. “He would never let me touch it. Even to clean. The only time he ever beat me properly was when I tried to move it.” Her eyes darted to Blake's. “I know that's no comfort to you, but the nights after he beat you, he would cry in my arms. He was terribly afraid of something, Daniel. Something that he thought might come for you.”
Blake knelt down, pulled the covers up and looked under the bed. A small chest sat under the side his father had slept in, the dull wood sucking in the light and deepening the surrounding shadows. He reached under and pulled it out. A thick padlock held the chest closed and the metal was rusty, clearly not opened for many years.
“He kept the key in here,” Precious said, placing the Bible on top of the bed. “That's how much it means to him, for this book has been within arm's reach as long as I've known him. Even when we met it was already worn with use. I discovered the key once, years ago when we were first married …” Her hand went to her cheek, eyes glazing over at the memory. “But I learned quickly not to pry into his past.”
Blake's anger flared at her obvious remembrance of violence, but the past was done now, and all they had left was the broken man in the bed downstairs. Precious turned to the back of the Bible. A small envelope was taped to the inside of the cover, a handwritten verse on one side. Deuteronomy 28:48.
“‘In hunger and thirst,'” Precious recited from memory, “‘in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you …' I've pondered this many times over the years. Why link that particular verse to the key?”
She slipped the key from the envelope and handed it to Blake. He pushed it into the padlock and with a few wiggles, it finally twisted and the lock opened. He pulled it off the box and laid it down by the side as Precious knelt next to him, her breath shallow, expectant.
Blake lifted the lid, tugging a little to free the hinges. Inside was another layer of wrapping, this time a kind of oilcloth, like the type found on sailboats. It must have been cream colored once, but was now a dirty ivory. Blake tipped the chest a little and the object fell out into his gloved hand. He laid it on the floor and pulled apart the sailcloth, revealing a book bound in deep burgundy leather. A symbol was inscribed on the front, a circle in the center, bisected by four lines with prongs on either end. The lines were cross-hatched with other markings, the whole image giving the impression of a twisted snowflake.
“It's beautiful,” Precious said, reaching out a fingertip to touch the leather. “But why keep this hidden?”
Blake lifted the book from its covering and opened it.
“Galdrabók,” he read from the first page, flicking through the heavy book. “It looks like Swedish or some kind of Nordic language, and look at these diagrams and pictures.”
“Oh, Lord,” Precious whispered. “It's a book of some kind of magic, isn't it?”
Blake's fingers itched, wanting to take off his gloves and touch the book, read the chest, to see what his father was hiding in his past. But he couldn't do it with his mother there.
“I need to know more about it, Mum. Clearly it's important to Dad, but he can't tell us why. Go back down to him, and I'll check it out on the internet.”
“It shouldn't even be in the house.” Precious stood, her face furrowed with concern. “Leviticus 20, verse 6. ‘If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from amongst his people.' Goodness, what did your father do?”
She walked out the door, her footsteps heavy as she went back downstairs. Blake could hear her whispered prayers, interceding for Magnus with her Lord, and for a moment, he was envious of her certain faith. He turned the pages of the book carefully, and within its thin paper, he found a folded chart written in burgundy ink. Blake spread it open on the floor to find a genealogical history of the last few generations of the Olofsson family, written in Swedish. There were strange etchings next to some of the names, runes that marked out individuals in each generation. The symbol lay next to his own name, and that of his father and grandfather. Blake frowned. He needed to understand what this book was.
Laying it down, he took off his gloves and used his smartphone to access the internet, wanting to know more before he tried to tap into the visions. He found a reference quickly. The Galdrabók grimoire was a book of Icelandic spells with invocations to Christian saints, demons and the old Norse gods, as well as instructions for the use of herbs and other magical items. The text was a mixture of Latin, runic script, sacred images and Icelandic magic sigils, symbols of power. What was his father doing with such a text? The only way to find out was to see what visions the book could release to him. Taking a deep breath, Blake laid his bare hands on the leather.