It took me a long time to recover from the lightning strike. I spent a year in hospital, drifting back and forth between worlds, deciding if I should live or die. My Grandparents were now my only family; they had me moved to the local hospital so they could visit every day. It was their love that persuaded me to stay.
Dolly and Noel were old, in years and inclination. Dolly was forty eight when my mother was born after fourteen childless years of marriage. Joy’s sudden arrival must have been as shocking and unexpected as the bolt of lightning that ultimately took her away. Joy was so beloved; her parents had spoiled, indulged and adored all her days. It must have broken their hearts when she ran away; they never saw her alive again.
My Grandparents were kind and loving people but their ways were those of another age. Twin souls; both born in India in nineteen twelve, into a lost-world of servants and Empire, elephant-Polo and tea on the lawn; both were brought up by ayahs, having lost their fathers in the Great War; both did miserable stints in English boarding schools; both returned home to India as soon as they possibly could. They were understandably wary at first, of the long-haired boy their daughter had spawned from who-knew-what source. I was a boy called ‘Angel’. I was short-sighted and bookish, with a strong disinclination for sports and physical pursuits and a fondness for sitting in dark corners talking to ‘imaginary friends’. I’m sure the Grandparents thought I was ‘touched’, irreparably damaged when the lightning struck.
I occasionally had what Gramma called ‘turns’ – presumably a seizure of some kind, though it might simply have been how the doctors described what happened when I was ‘away’ in My World. I don’t remember these seizures, I don’t have them anymore. I do remember telling about the things I saw, the ghosts and shades and all the rest. That was a mistake. For a while the doctors advised I be sent away for tests and ‘special treatment’ but the Grandparents were having none of that; they were stiff-lipped people who ‘got on with it’ and didn’t complain and expected the same of me, and I wanted them to love me, so I learned to lie and guard my secrets.
I never did grow to like the company of other children; I had friends in other dimensions. When I wanted peace and quiet I slipped sideways, to my green and golden World. I learned not to talk about the things I saw, to keep My World a secret, and never to leave when I knew I might be seen. The doctors were pleased, they thought I was better.
The Grandparents knew better, they knew that things were still not right. At the first sign of sickness, I was sent to bed with a mustard plaster on my narrow chest, swaddled in flannel like a Biblical baby and Doctor Hamilton sent for, because there was the constant expectation that I might die. I knew I wouldn’t, my many deaths had given me a sense of security. It seemed to me then, that dying was a choice, something offered, an either/or; the idea of it coming unexpectedly – of being hit by a car or struck down by disease – seemed ridiculous. Now I know that the lightning left me with a weak and fretful heart and a dose of influenza could see me off. I’m careful of my health now, but back then these dangers seemed remote and sudden death impossible.
It had been decided that I was too fragile for school,and that was fine by me. I didn’t want to go to school. I was a quiet child, never rebellious; I didn’t need to be punished or reined in with rules, and so did pretty much as I pleased. Dolly and Noel thought that, with all my ‘problems’, I’d never amount to much, and might not even live into adulthood; I was all that was left of their precious, lost daughter, and – remembering their own miserable years spent in wintry, Spartan country schools – were content for me simply to be happy. So I stayed at home to be tutored by my grandfather, and so began the best years of my life. I was much loved but never stifled, never coddled; there was an austere, old-fashioned distance to Dolly and Noel’s affection that suited me well. I adored the soft, warm security of this labyrinthine villa, haunted by benign and gentle ghosts, where the three of us lived a life of near-Monastic order and routine.
Breakfast was taken in the morning room at eight o’clock. At nine, Gramma and Grampa retired to the conservatory to read the newspapers and Grampa would give me my question for the day:
*Are you the same boy who went to bed last night, and if not, why not?
*Was the war with Hitler a bad thing, a good thing or an indifferent thing?
*Is the universe infinite?
*What is the meaning of ‘thou shalt not kill’?
It didn’t matter to Grampa that I was only eight years old, there were no right or wrong answers; Noel believed that education had nothing to do with the spoon-feeding of facts and everything to do with getting a child to think. Maths and classics were the only subjects he felt qualified to teach me, everything else he expected me to find for myself, in our library.
The library had once been three rooms that had been broken open and merged together as well as the supporting masonry would allow. The resulting space was eccentric and surprising with unforeseen nooks and unexpected corners and all brightly lit by a pair of tall bay windows. Books lined every wall, spilling out into dangerously rocking piles on floors and tables. I spent every weekday morning alone in there, working on my answer to Grampa’s daily question. We’d discuss my findings until lunch, which was taken in the morning room at one-thirty sharp. Grampa would then retire to his room – which was not Gramma’s room – for a nap, and my time was my own until tea at four.
Some boys would have spent this wealth of free time doing athletically muddy things with other boys, Williamesque pastimes with balls and trees, but fears for my health meant I was allowed to stay indoors if I wanted. So on long summer days, when the sun shone hotly through the dust-motes, or on lamp-lit winter afternoons with frost ferns on the windows and a fire in the grate, I lay on my belly on the rug in the library and read. Stories, of course: Dickens and Austen, Tolstoy, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Douglas Adams, Daphne du Maurier – but not only fiction, I was interested in everything. I loved Geography, spending hours pouring over Grampa’s musty old Atlas full of maps of distant lands with mythic names like Tanganyika and The Gold Coast and a third of the map, once red, now faded to an ironic pink. I loved History too and Grampa infected me with his love of the classics; Homer and Herodotus, black sails and golden apples and battles for long-gone empires.
When I wasn’t reading, I loved to watch the ghosts: Libraries are full of ghosts, books being the most haunted things of all. Many of the books in this library are old; some of them are very old. Imagine all the fingers that have held them, the eyes that have read them, the hands that wrote them, all the lands they’ve travelled through, the things they’ve seen and the people they’ve known and so precious. For centuries, all books were valuable and rare, the ability to read, an uncommon skill and knowledge so hard come by, and this library, just one of millions. Books tell the story of Us; the myths and legends that wrap around us and bind us all together; such treasured possessions that even the dead cannot bear to give them up.
Mary was the first ghost I saw there, a middle-aged woman in a blue gabardine and one of those transparent rain-hoods no one wears anymore, tied under her chin. She was browsing my Gramma’s romances and so vibrant and substantial, at first, I thought she was alive, one of Gramma’s many friends; but Gramma was puzzling over her jigsaw, Grampa reading in his chair in the big bay window, both of them ignoring this intruder in our home. Then the woman, Mary, brushed past me, and I felt that sudden breath of cold, the smell of scorched air like an iron left on, a charge of static like the crackle of nylon sheets that made my arms goose-bump and prickle, and I knew then, that she was dead.
Gramma couldn’t see Mary, but she felt her presence, rubbing her arms with the sudden chill, reaching behind her to pull on her cardigan, glancing up, looking for the presence instinct told her was there, but only I could see.
I was fascinated. Nervously, I followed her to the other side of the bookcase, away from Gramma’s eyes. I wanted the ghost to speak to me, afraid that she would, wondering if she could even see me, and focussing so hard that unconsciously, I started to read her. I wasn’t skilled at these things back then, my abilities were raw, I didn’t know what was happening when my head suddenly filled with a jagged, jerky collage of pictures and voices.
Like Gramma, Mary loved tawdry romances; there were lots of them and she seemed to know every one. Reaching up to touch a slim pink spine on the shelf with longing and love she said, ‘Susan owes it all to her older sister, but the sister uses her, gets her involved in a robbery from her office. The boss comes back unexpectedly and catches her. If she doesn’t want to go to prison, she has to do just what he says.’ She flashed me a sly, spiteful look. ‘A boy your age, you wouldn’t know about things that men do. They only want one thing.’
‘Do they?’ I whispered. ‘What’s that, then?’
‘You don’t want to know,’ she said.
‘Yes I do,’ I said.
She shook her head. ‘Of course, he ends up falling in love with her. The sister’s furious, she wanted him for herself, you see, but it was all her fault, her fault.’ She stroked the spine again and turned to me with a smile. ‘It must be wonderful, mustn’t it, to fall in love?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said as she stood there smiling tightly – not a real smile, a face she’d pasted on when she went out into the world, once upon a time, when she was alive.
‘Is that why you’re still here?’ I asked quietly, feeling the shockwaves my words sent rippling through her. She started to move away from me, physically and metaphysically, fading as I watched, till I could see right through her, to the pink and blue spines of the books on the shelves at her back.
‘This is my favourite,’ she said, pointing to another, her voice echoing a little with distance, now. ‘It’s the American Civil War. Bella Sinclair falls in love with the Yankee soldier who’s come to burn down her family’s beautiful mansion. It’s like Gone with the Wind without all the dreary history and politics…’
‘Can I help you?’ I whispered, interrupting her, determined to make her hear me. ‘You need to move on. It’s not right, being stuck here like this. Tell me what to do, how can I help?’
But she’d disappeared, taken fright, become invisible, though I knew she was still there, I could feel her, and kept asking her to come back – Till I realised Gramma was standing there, watching me ‘talking to myself’. She blamed it on a fever and I was sent to bed for the rest of the day, had my supper brought up on a tray and had to miss Doctor Who.
The more I looked for ghosts, the more of them I saw, rippling through time, layer upon layer, like the pages of a book, like filo pastry. Most seemed to move in a world of their own – the afterlife is complicated and those who die and don’t move on can get stuck in a bubble dimension, an off-shoot of the wider universe. Many don’t know that time has moved on and see the world through antique eyes. Such ghosts don’t see each other, they don’t see us and some don’t even know they’re dead. Ghosts like these carry their world with them like turtles, announcing their arrival with a sudden alien scent, like lavender or cigarettes, soap and bacon sandwiches.
Even as a boy, I knew something had gone wrong when the spirits of the dead chose to stay amongst the living. I wanted to understand and extended my studies to the public library where I found a tiny paranormal section. It was mostly pop nonsense – aliens, gurus and tales of the unexpected – but there were some useful books that I read avidly, and came to realise that many ghosts want to leave but can’t. I began to wonder if I could help them; if helping lost souls to pass over was what I was meant to do.
Michael was the first I tried to help. He’d thrown himself from the top of the multi-storey car park. He was a real mess, with a wrecked and bloodied face; aggressive and belligerent, distressed and weeping by turns, he haunted my Grampa’s collection of old newspapers. He had a fascination for me; I’d often feel him at my back, watching me from behind the Kelly’s Directories.
‘I see you, you know,’ I said quietly, when I knew he was near, and knew I was alone, no Grandparents around to hear. He sent a panicked rush, a blast of cold anger at my words. He was the first ghost to successfully block me, so that when I tried to reach inside him, all I found was dense fog, an impenetrable, swirling, Victorian pea-souper.
It took many hours of searching, but eventually, I found his picture in an old local paper: Michael Betts, twenty seven, a heroin addict. He’d been in prison for three years and killed himself the day he got out, one bright spring morning in 1974.
‘What happened?’ I asked him, gently. ‘Couldn’t you cope with freedom? Or had you been planning it for a long time? Maybe I can help?’
He wouldn’t talk and he wouldn’t let me in; all I got when I tried was the nebulous cloud of nothing I came to call ‘The Cold’, a dark and terrifying space, the void at the heart of the existence, where nothing lives.
He suddenly screamed, ‘Go to HELL!’ – A sound like litter rustling in the gutter. It powered a sudden draft that flipped the pages of my Grampa’s book. He clamped his elbow down on it and lifted his bald head in irritation, eyes searching for an offending open window.
Michael never did give me an answer. I often saw him watching me silently, but he wouldn’t communicate then and he never has since.
So many ghosts in that library, and in all libraries. Most of them are innocent wanderers and recently deceased, but sometimes older souls appeared, like the Roman soldier who often wandered through, looking confused, like he’d taken a wrong turn and lost his legion. Some were so persistent, so familiar, they seemed like old friends, like King Offa; he’s haunted this house all its life, and the land on which it sits for centuries. He was buried nearby, in a church on an island in the river.
‘I think it was over there,’ he’d say in his Slartibartfast voice, waving vaguely at the windows. ‘Everything’s changed so much I hardly know where I am. I don’t suppose it matters really, only, I was wearing a ring and I’d like to see it again, it was rather lovely.’
I once asked him why he was still here, why he hadn’t moved on, and he said that he was waiting for them to find his body. They never would, of course, his tomb, the church and the island too, were swept away by a great flood many hundreds of years ago, his bones were long since scattered at the bottom of the North Sea. I suppose he must be talking Anglo Saxon, but that’s not what I hear. What do I hear? It’s hard to explain. It’s not at all like me talking, as I am, to you, more like an inner voice. I assume my brain is doing something interpretive, but not imaginative, don’t think that. I’m not ‘hearing voices’. I’m not mental.
I asked Grampa about Offa and he gave me a book, ‘The Kings of Anglo Saxon England’, where I found that he’d had his daughter’s betrothed kidnapped and beheaded so he could seize his kingdom, then sent the poor girl to a nunnery. Hard to imagine; he seems so harmless now, but he was a warlike and violent man in keeping with his times. Pious too, which is probably why he’s still here; like so many of his kind, he’s afraid of what awaits him on the other side. I offered to help him move on but he just looked me up and down me with those blue, watery, supercilious eyes. He looks down on me, I suppose; he was once a king, after all.
Another regular visitor was Dolly’s mother, Beatrice; an imperious Mem-Sahib in sapphires and pearls, with an enormous cottage-loaf of chestnut hair and a great flat nose like a lion. The Spanish Flu got her when Gramma Dolly was still a child, when Beatrice was younger than I am now. In death as in life, she was a daunting, queenly presence, the only one of all my ghostly visitors who frightened me. She’d sit in the armchair by the fire and watch me with a disapproving air. She never spoke, maybe she couldn’t? I’m not sure she was solid enough for tricks like that. She was what mediums call ‘a visitor’, she’d passed over successfully enough but couldn’t quite let go. Her body is in the British cemetery in Secunderabad, but maybe she followed her possessions here, our house is full of them. Maybe she just wanted to check up on her sickly great-grandson? I used to think it was because she’d succumbed to infection herself that she was concerned for my health, watching over me when I was ill, but maybe…
Maybe she was scared of what I was doing? Perhaps she knew I was dabbling in something too big for my childish powers to contain? Maybe she was trying to warn me in some way I never fathomed? Or maybe I did hear, but just didn’t listen; maybe I didn’t want to know.
My bedroom had once been my mother’s. It was full of her things: her books, games and jigsaws, various dolls and a sawdust-stuffed golden dog. A collection of bottles half-full of perfumes that had lost their scent still stood on the sturdy, ugly, mahogany dressing table, beside a set of silver-backed brushes and a comb – sacred to me for the single, fine gold hair trapped in its teeth; a room full of things that spoke of ghosts, but never hers, she never came.
A mirror stood on the dressing table, on a shadowed wall facing the window; a huge and beautiful thing of Venetian crystal, made in three pieces, with two hinged wings that you could angle around to see the back of your head. If you angled it just right, you could see reflection upon reflection, on and on into infinity. Late evening was the only time of day the sun reached into that stark, high-ceilinged room overlooking the mossy churchyard, but when it did, and the sun fell on the mirror just right, the dark shadows of my room would flood with light and rainbows shimmer on the cracked plaster ceiling.
Have you ever looked into a mirror and watched your face change? I used to like doing that, scaring myself when it was late, after dark, with the curtains drawn and the only light in the room, the orange shadows of streetlamps that slipped under the heavy velvet drapes.
I was doing that one night when I couldn’t sleep, bored and staring hard into the mirror, watching with thrilling horror as my reflection shifted and changed, my features travelling around my face, turning my familiar features into something by Modigliani, when I saw something move behind me. I glanced over my shoulder, thinking Gramma had come in to scold me for being out of bed. When I looked back at the mirror, I saw faces staring at me, blurred and indistinct, as if through frosted glass. I moved closer, fixing my eyes, not on myself, but focusing instead, behind the glass where a great crowd had gathered to watch me. Curious and eager, gently jostling; some had faces pressed to the glass, hands up to blinker the light like children at a Christmas shop-window, and all as astonished to see me as I was to see them.
I fell back in surprise, falling over the armchair behind me and barking my shins. When I looked up from the floor, the mirror was just an old mirror again and Gramma was standing over me. She put me back to bed, pulling the covers up around my ears, tucking me in tight as if to defy escape – but the next night, as soon as darkness fell, I got up and looked into the mirror again.
When I close my eyes, I can still see myself reflected there: a child from another time, another ghost in the room, with my neat, old-fashioned hair and flannel pyjamas, heavy woollen dressing gown wrapped tight against the ghostly chill that had already deepened since the night before.
To avoid accidents, I sat down this time, on the stool in front of the dressing table, staring into infinity ‘til I saw them again. We watched each other till I began to feel dizzy and had to lie down. After a few days of this, I began to hear them too; just a low hiss at first, like white noise, but found that if I concentrated through the interference, I could adjust my hearing; like turning the dial on an old-style radio, listening hard and fine-tuning my ears, ‘til I heard the gentle buzz of whispered conversations and the questions in the voices as they wondered about me. I tried to talk to them, but I couldn’t make them hear.
These nocturnal experiments always ended with me face-down on the bedroom carpet. I passed out so often, I learned to do it quietly, to anticipate the dark rush and sink softly to the rug like a Victorian maiden, so I wouldn’t disturb Gramma and be put to bed and kept there all the next day. I was a sickly child and prone to faints and so thought nothing of it – I know, now, that that was when my problems all began. I was fainting because my energies were being stolen.
I know what you’re thinking; a spooky mirror, how cliché is that, but many cultures have myths about mirrors or pools. The Ancient Britons and Mayans alike threw offerings into lakes and wells: toss a coin, make a wish, some ideas are as old as mankind, who can say where their origins lie? Mirrors were said to be the abode of spirits and soul stealers; some believed – still believe – they should be taken from a sick room because that’s when the body is weak and the soul most vulnerable. A broken mirror brings bad luck because mirrors were thought to be frontiers against the spirit world; break the mirror and you break the shield and set the spirits free to wander in our world. Fascinated by what was happening, I started to read about the power of mirrors. I learned about scrying, about the Persian Magi and Roman specularii. I read aboutthe Greek witches of Thessaly who taught Pythagoras to see the future by holding a mirror to the moon. I found Hathor’s instructions on how to use a mirror to open the Inner Eye and become one with all existence. I read so much, too much; I cherry-picked through ancient wisdoms and played with the universe in the most absurd and dangerous way. And the more I learned, the deeper I went, the more I saw, the more I could do.
Until, one day…
I was staring into the mirror, as I always did, but I felt immediately – something was different.
It began slowly. A sea change, a subtle shift in the energies. Then something gave, I felt it go – a rip, a rend, a tear in the fabric of existence, and power began pouring through, and then, a flash, a split-second, un-countably short and vast and infinite – For one, brief, colossal moment, I was taken out of time and I saw everything.
Impossible to describe what I felt/heard/smelled/touched/saw/tasted and dreamed, but it seemed to me as if I saw my whole life, and everything before and after and beyond, all at once, like the pages of a book or the frames of a film, each separate and entire in themselves, but each bleeding into its partner, joining hands to make a whole, but all at once, in all dimensions: a vast map of my universe, a lifetime in a single moment.
Which is a lot to take in, when you’re nine years old.
After that, there was no more mystery in my life. I couldn’t see the future, not exactly, but had some infallible sense of what would be, of slivered shards of future time, entangled energies of spirit and place, shimmer-shadows of what might or might not be. Like memories of forgotten dreams, the knowledge danced into my head, unbidden and indistinct; an infinity of futures – not ‘must be’s or ‘would be’s’, but ‘could be’s’. Each presented a different splinter of time and each dependent on the one that went before. I could see the domino effects, the cascade of change on potential futures.
The very next morning I told Grampa he should make his weekly flutter Wakefield Summer – the name flashing into my head from who knew where, thrilled to discover that Wakefield Summer was an actual horse, running that afternoon in the 2.50 from Chepstow. Grampa, amused at my certainty, put a fiver on to win, which Wakefield Summer did at thirty three to one. Grampa bought me a Knickerbocker glory at Wimpy’s to celebrate.
I never did it again. I knew I could if I’d wanted, but I didn’t want to arouse suspicion or draw attention to myself, I didn’t want to risk the gift.
I couldn’t see that far ahead, there were no bright visions; it was an organic experience: walking into a room and knowing I’d seen it all before, remembering what was about to happen. Knowledge truly is power; episodes in the narrative of a life, known in advance, can be subtly changed. I became the author of my own story, quietly, gently tweaking events to my constant advantage. An infinity of possibilities now shone for me like glow sticks in the dark. I could follow any one of them into a kaleidoscope of futures.
At first, I loved it! For a while, I felt like a superhero. I was still a child, like any other in most respects, with all the normal vanities and fantasies. It was exciting to know I’d changed the future, to know with absolute certainty that if I ran into the hall I would break a valued vase, and so didn’t run and didn’t break it and wasn’t confined to my room and denied cake and an evening’s telly. To know that by delaying cycling through the park by ten minutes I wouldn’t run into Peter Richardson and his gang of bullies. To know that the girl who passed me at the park gates would be found strangled in the bushes later that day. What was I to do about that? Warn the girl? Tell the police? Tell them what? I did tell, later, when the girl was found by a man walking his dog, when she was hours dead and it was all too late. I told Gramma that I’d seen her in the park with a ginger boy. She took me to the police and I gave a detailed description of the youth she’d met at the bandstand, a boy I’d only ever seen in my head. The police were pleased with me; a policewoman brought me lemon squash and a chocolate doughnut. Later that week Gramma proudly showed me the paper, the picture on the front page of the thin-faced, acne-ridden, red-haired teenager who’d been charged with the murder. Later, I was invited to a reception at the Mayor’s parlour with other children who’d been exceptionally brave or clever or suffered some tragedy. We all received medals. There was cake and fizzy squash. We were on the local news.
It didn’t help the girl, of course, or her grieving parents, her weeping sister. I helped catch a killer, but he was an angry, hot-tempered young idiot who’d left a plethora of clues at the scene of his crime; the police would have caught him anyway. I saw other murders after that, but how many crimes could I claim to have chanced upon? I’d have to admit that I was some kind of ‘psychic’. The media would get hold of the story. I would be made the centre of attention. Desperate strangers would beg me to find their missing loved ones, their lost dogs, the man who’d raped their daughter, the local paedophile. The Grandparents would look at me askance and think me strange and abnormal. My future would be tainted by labels. So the terrible crimes I foresaw went unreported. I told myself some futures could not be changed.
I became scared of the gift and wished it would go away. I tried, for a while, to ignore the things I knew, but it proved impossible. A thing once known can’t ever be unknown and I found myself plotting my path despite myself. I was so young; I’d never heard of Chaos. I didn’t know my meddling was damaging the universe.
Change is fractal, it ripples through our personal universe a million or more times a day, and at each point of change, our universe splits, branches into two or more different futures, mirror universes, each different from the other. Each new universe splits and branches in its turn, on and on, into infinity. New paths on new paths, change begets change and each new universe forms its own parallels. Do all potential outcomes eventually wrap round and become one? Are we all walking in our own bubble universe, each holding an infinity of futures? Universes to the power of… what? A finite number, to be sure, but so huge as to be practically infinite. And this just in our own universe; each one of us has one of those, and by ‘each one’ I mean every living thing on this planet – and then there are all the other planets, and how many of those are there?
David Bohm said reality was like a hologram, the tiniest part contains the whole and all reality could be extrapolated from any single part of that whole – a blade of grass, a grain of sand, a piece of fairy cake. The universe and all of what passes for reality, the whole of existence, could be predicted, recreated, from a single molecule, if we only knew how. It is theoretically feasible that every potential outcome of every possible existence will come to pass somewhere; that precognition is nothing more than the ability to see that which has the potential to occur. The future already exists in a near-infinite number of forms, lying over the present like a double – infinite – exposure. Reality is nothing more than a series of ‘nows’, but ‘now’, as we know, does not exist and if there is no now, how can there be a future?
Time passed. The mirror ceased to be a help and became a worry. It was always ‘on’. When I wasn’t looking into it, I felt it looking into me; full of eyes, watching me, judging me, finding me wanting.
It faced a tall bay window with a view of St. Swithun’s. The church had a power that I felt all the time, a buzz that vibrated my bones, an energy the mirror seemed to enhance; a force that terrified me. I never looked into the mirror in daylight. I stayed out of my room when the sun was up and always kept the curtains drawn.
But one day, impatient with me ‘living in a constant fug’, Gramma had been in and opened the curtains. Not knowing, I went upstairs to fetch a book from the nightstand; my eyes caught the mirror and the mirror caught me – a force that locked on to my eyes and wouldn’t let go, forcing me to stare into its depths. There were no faces, only the reflection of church through the window and whatever malign energies the church exuded, bounced between me and the mirror, gaining strength with each turn of the light, like a laser. I couldn’t escape, it had me pinned to a point in time and space, like a fly in a web, unable to move, unable to scream as something started siphoning the life from my body.
At first I was sure I was going to die, then certain that what was happening was something worse than death. Summoning everything inside me, I found the strength to drop my eyes down to the carpet, weakening its hold, then walked – like a broken puppet, with jerking, leaden steps – eight eternal steps to the window, and – fighting the gravity of fifty worlds to raise my arm I took the corner of the heavy velvet and fell, half- fainting to the floor, drawing the curtain as I went down, cutting off the light, shutting off the power.
When I woke, just moments later, the room was dark and quiet but still alive. A fierce power thrummed in the room and all of it was mine, drained from my body, but as useless and inaccessible to me as blood on the floor to a bleeding man.
I’d lost control. The door I opened had been flung wide open and I couldn’t shut it. I tried, more than once – it was like trying to close a window in a hurricane. Now so many spirits were pouring back and forth through the rent, sometimes the room seethed with them, an energy so oppressive, I couldn’t bear the weight of it.
I told Gramma I was having nightmares about Mum and she let me move to the attic and the old servant’s quarters; a bare, white room with a brass bed where the air was free of portents and light as dandelion-down.
I closed the shutters in the old room, pulled the curtains and turned the mirror to the wall – only a gesture, the mirror had no power, it was just a tool. The mirror was just a piece of silvered glass; the ‘enchantment’ was all in me.