“The dead man was named Richard Trevithick,” Shelley said, reading from the City Watch report.
“What do we know about him?” Gordon was sitting opposite Shelley and Rose, with Polidori on one side and Felicia on the other. Felicia, who seemed thrilled at the prospect of being ‘out in the field’, had grasped Gordon’s hand upon entering the carriage and showed no sign of letting go. If she received any sensations or suggestions from holding the Captain’s hand, she did not divulge it to the other officers in the carriage.
“Born 1771 at Tregajorram, in the Republic of Kernow,” Shelley continued. “Moved to London in 1799. He was arrested after an explosion in Greenwich in 1803, that resulted in the deaths of four people; convicted of a number of illegal experiments going back to 1801 and sentenced to five years in prison.” Shelley looked up. “The other inmates called him the ‘Puffing Devil’”.
“He should have been deported,” muttered Polidori darkly. “I don’t like the sound of this.”
“Neither do I.” Gordon shook his head adamantly. “But we have to use all the resources we have, and that means detecting as well as fighting. We have to use our brains.”
“Maybe we should have brought Master Keats after all,” Rose said with an admirably straight face. “He has more than his fair share of those.”
The coach turned in to a residential section of Bermondsey – a single street lined on each side with gleaming stucco facades. Shelley looked out of the window at the City Patrol officers holding back onlookers with long stretches of rope, several more officers gathered outside a large terraced house that had lost all the glass in its windows, and was smeared with dark, soot-like stains. Faint wisps of smoke drifted out into the open. As the carriage came to a halt, dead leaves scuttled away from the wheels like frightened insects. Gordon’s boots hit the ground and he marched up to the open front door, the Watchmen standing aside for him.
Once inside the house, the smell hit them. Everything inside, the furniture, most of the carpet, had been burnt to a crisp. The smell was overpowering – an indefinable mix of smoke and blood and fear, like a charnel house. Dark stains arced across the walls and ceilings.
On the far side of the room lay the corpse, although Shelley did not recognize it for long moments. It was as black as charcoal, and as shriveled as a decayed wooden log. The only things remotely human were the teeth, exposed and gleaming like pearls in the skull now the flesh had burnt away. The hands were black, skeletal claws held up in front of the chest as the muscles had contracted.
“Looks like the Puffing Devil went up in smoke,” muttered Rose.
Polidori stood still and took in a series of quick, investigative sniffs. “Aha!” he declared. “Yes, yes, yes. I haven’t smelled that for a long time.”
“Smelled what, Polly?”
The Medical Examiner turned and fixed Gordon with eyes glittering with curiosity. “Greek Fire, that’s what. A mixture of liquid petroleum, sulfur, and quicklime. It was used by the Byzantine Empire in the Seventh Century as a weapon of war. They used to pump the substance from a container through narrow brass tubes and spray it at the enemy.”
Polidori advanced into the wreckage of the room, picking his way carefully through blackened piles of ash, gesticulating at the scorch marks on the walls. “The pattern of the burning here and here indicates that the source of the fire was a directed, concentrated stream of flammable liquid, just as a hose concentrates water into a narrow jet. Whoever was holding the weapon would have some kind of fuse to ignite the fluid as it shoots out, and – whoosh. Goodbye, poor Mr. Trevithick.”
“Hello, Satanic Mills,” whispered Gordon. “Thank you, Polly.”
He swung round to face the psychometrist. “Miss Brown, what can you tell us?”
“Well, I can see the reason why the perpetrator burned all of the unfortunate man’s possessions. He wished to give us nothing to work on, you see. Everything this man touched has been destroyed.”
“Perhaps there are some of his possessions somewhere else,” suggested Rose.
“Oh yes?” Gordon rounded upon him. “And in the whole of London, where do we look? Do you think any of this man’s acquaintances will want to talk to us? They’ll be as scared as little waifs at midnight.”
“There is nothing here that any psychometrist can do,” protested Felicia.
Gordon smiled so lasciviously that Shelley automatically turned away. “But you are not just any psychometrist, are you, Felicia?”
“Wait!” A shout from Polidori made all of them look up. “Captain, I think I’ve got something.”
The Medical Examiner was squatting next to the smoldering corpse, his long nose with glasses perched upon it almost touching the extended, off-white teeth. “God in heaven,” Shelley muttered, pulling out his muffler and holding it over and nose and mouth. Polidori was intent upon manipulating a long pair of tweezers, which he had extended down the dead man’s throat; and as Gordon came up behind him, he eased something out into plain view, something that gleamed with the luster of gold.
“Aha!” Polidori said triumphantly. “The victim swallowed something just before he was killed. It looks like he pulled off his own wedding ring and put it in his mouth.”
“He wanted to leave something for us to find,” Shelley said, moved by the knowledge of the man’s last, desperate moments.
“Felicia, quick,” Gordon snapped.
“Of course, we should really report this to the Watchmen, before we let …” Shelley’s voice trailed off as Gordon turned his haughty, reddening face towards him. “Nothing, sir,” Shelley added quickly.
“Oh, you were so scared.”
Shelley looked at Felicia worriedly as she convulsed, as soon as she held the wedding ring. Gordon and Shelley helped her to a chair, but she held on to the ring tightly, the words flowing.
“You were so scared, and so alone …you didn’t want to die alone, but you had sent your wife and daughter away …the giant! The giant at the door…the bronze man with fire in his hands …but he will never get into …never get into the room …the room . . .”
Felicia’s eyes snapped open, and with a violent movement, she flung the ring away from her, and it fell with a clink into the mantelpiece opposite. “The room!” she shouted. “He had a secret room, where he kept the devices he worked on!”
Gordon raised his eyebrows and looked at Shelley.
“There!” the psychometrist exclaimed, pointing out into the hallway. “The drawing room!”
The group of five hurried to the drawing room. It showed the same level of destruction as the front room, and once inside, Felica turned to face them. “Behind the tapestry is a door that leads down to a hidden basement. That is where Trevithick kept his tools and performed his experiments, out of the sight of any visiting parole officer.”
“Shelley.” Gordon pointed his chin at the burnt tapestry. “That’s your department.”
Obediently, Shelley crossed the room and gingerly pulled aside the remains of the tapestry. He spread his fingers wide and put his hands on the plaster of the wall.
He felt his shoulders tingle, as if he were being watched. The wall rippled, as if he were looking through distorting waves of heat, and then dissolved. He could see everything. He could see, just to his left, the brass and copper arrangement of lock, hinge and handle, and he could feel it, like his own hand was upon it.
He blinked, and the lock snapped open, and part of the wall swung inwards.
“Good work, m’boy!”
His legs and back feeling rather delicate, and a slight headache behind his eyes, Shelley descended into the gloom behind the others, feeling each step carefully with his boots as he went down. He heard the voice of Master Keats once more, the fascinating ideas of the quiet, frail scientist. “I call my theory that of the Chameleon Warrior, you see. If consciousness is just a ghost in the machine, then, Master Shelley, you could be present in any machine.”
Gordon, in the lead, had found and lit a Fulmer lamp hung on the wall, and the five looked around at the Luddite’s secret workshop. Across a rough stone floor stood a large table with a vice on one end. Tools of all manners and sizes were scattered across the table surface and hung on special hooks bolted to the wall.
The most striking object in the room was a huge wooden crate, as tall and broad as a man. It stood on end next to the table.
“Open that crate, Shelley.”
The young man blinked, confused. “It doesn’t have a mechanical lock.”
“I said open that crate, Shelley.”
He took a crowbar off one of the hooks on the wall and stood in front of the crate. He thrust it between one of the planks, and after some concerted pushing and levering, a section of wood snapped off and fell to the floor. Shelley leant forward and peered inside the crate.
A pair of dark eyes stared back at him.
“Aaaah!” he cried, jumping backwards. “There’s someone in there!”
They gathered around, each trying to look inside, until Gordon yelled furiously for order. Pressing his face to the crate, the Captain peered inside and grunted. “Shelley, you scream like a girl. It’s a dummy of some kind in there.”
Shelley and Rose soon had the front of the crate off, and the manikin stood revealed. It was the life-sized model of a man, dressed in what looked like Turkish robes, and a turban on its wooden head. The face was also painted to resemble that of an Oriental sorcerer, with black beard and slanted eyes.
“What is it?” Felicia asked.
“That, my dear, is the Turk,” Gordon answered. “Well, not the original, of course. It’s a very good copy.”
Shelley nodded, recognition dawning. He remembered the story of the German clock-maker who, perhaps thirty years ago, had built a clockwork chess-playing automaton. It was called the Turk and had been paraded as a novelty around half the Royal courts of Europe.
“What was Trevithick doing with this?” Felicia asked in awe.
“Looks like he had built a new model powered by steam,” said Rose, pointing to the machine parts in the bottom of the crate. “Maybe he had been commissioned to build this by someone on the Continent and he was just about to send it to the port.”
“And he was killed for this?”
“No,” said Shelley. “Those parts over here are different, they are parts of some kind of propulsion engine. I think Trevithick had something to do with the theft of the Remnant.”
“Right,” ordered Gordon. “We can’t let the City Patrol get hold of this. Put all of the tools in envelopes, seal them, and write a description on the front.”
Rose pointed into the crate. “What about the Turk?”
Gordon looked it up and down coolly. “Dismantle it. Put it in the utility chest in the coach.”
“What a colossal waste of money,” Shelley said, partly to himself. Rose heard and looked at him quizzically.
“I mean, they know it’s illegal, they know the penalties for dealing with proscribed technology,” Shelley went on. “Why do they do it?”
Rose shrugged. “It’s human nature. People are always trying to tinker about with things they don’t understand.”
He put his hands on both sides of the wooden head and pulled. It came cleanly off the metal peg that secured it, and Rose stepped back, the disembodied face of the Turk grinning into his.
“Oh, my,” said Rose, shivering. “That is one bad case of déjà vu.”
The setting of the Steampunk thriller “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” is an alternate Regency England where the historical timeline diverged in 1742. This created a decidedly different British Isles where the Industrial Revolution has branched off in a bizarre direction, and an alternative version of Doctor Frankenstein is conducting grotesque experiments. The setting is new, but the main characters are people most of us will recognize!
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was an English poet of the Romantic era. He is remembered largely for his lyrical works such as “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark” as well as the sonnet “Ozymandias”, but he also wrote a considerable volume of political poetry and prose expressing his anger at the disparity in the distribution of wealth between the classes and the ruthless tactics used by then Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson in dealing with political dissent. In particular, his narrative poem “Queen Mab” is often cited as inspiration to later working class political movements, such as Chartism and Owenism. He is also famous for being the husband of the author Mary Shelley, and he is associated with many famous figures of the Romantic era, including Lord Byron, John Keats, Thomas Love Peacock and William Godwin.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, Shelley joins the Royal Army at the age of 20, out of his idealistic beliefs, and also to spite his father; he is detected as having latent psychic powers, and is drafted into the Crown’s new counter-intelligence division, Red Branch.
Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; August 30, 1797 – February 1, 1851) was an early novelist who is most famous for her novel Frankenstein, considered to be the first real Science Fiction novel; it was the earliest popular novel whose Speculative Fiction elements were presented as the results of (implausible) human technology.
She was the daughter of the novelist William Godwin and feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. The latter was one of the earliest feminists, famous for her work The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which is one of the earliest significant modern works in favor of women’s rights.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley married the famous Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She was a very prolific author, writing biographies, poetry, articles, travel journals, and short stories in addition to the novels she is most well-known for.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, she is an aspiring writer and socialite who suffers from terrible nightmares that seem to predict the future. These latent psychic powers draw her to the attention of Red Branch … particularly the dreams where she sees a crazed scientist intent on creating life from re-animating the dead, in his laboratory …
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824), was a Romantic poet, womanizer, and revolutionary. He gave his name to the Byronic Hero trope, by writing about Byronic heroes and being one in real life.
His father, Army Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, of a junior line of moderately old gentry, married his mother, Catherine Gordon (heiress to the Scottish estate of Gight, in Aberdeenshire), in 1785. By the time George was born in 1788, “Mad Jack” had squandered most of Catherine’s money, and she took her son to Aberdeen to eke out an existence on the remaining crumbs and a small trust fund. When Byron’s great-uncle, the 5th Baron Byron, died childless, George, then 10 years old, inherited the title and the family seat at Newstead Abbey—which was a wreck that his mother preferred to rent out to junior gentry.
Byron grew up to be a hell-raiser, a womanizer, a political idealist, and an immensely talented poet. He had lovers all across Europe, and died while fighting in the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830).
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” he is Captain Gordon, a seasoned veteran of Red Branch and leads the squad that includes Percy Shelley as a new recruit. He becomes Shelley’s mentor, as they fight such grotesque enemies of the Crown as Boiler Calhoun and the Dandy Brethren.
The poet John Keats died of tuberculosis when he was only 25. Given what he accomplished in only that time, there is much speculation about what he could have done with a full literary career — for example, he was in progress on an epic poem, The Fall of Hyperion, which had the potential to become a classic on the level of Paradise Lost, but was left unfinished when he died. We’ll never know.
He is most famous for his series of odes, which remain very popular today. They include “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, and “Ode on Melancholy”. He also wrote many other poems, such as “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art”, “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and “The Eve of St. Agnes”. His poetry and letters advanced some revolutionary theories of literary composition, such as ‘negative capability’, and the concept of the ‘chameleon poet’, that still influence writers today.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, John Keats is head of Red Branch’s Research and Development Division, where he conducts experiments into the soldiers’ psychic and physical capabilities … and how they can be enhanced.
(Above:Dr. Andrew Crosse and his ‘acari’).
Who was the real-life inspiration behind Doctor Frankenstein? Many have been named as the scientists who first gave Mary Godwin the idea … such as Giovanni Aldini, protege of Luigi Galvani, the discoverer of ‘animal electricity’; James Lind MD, friend to the Shelley family; Johann Conrad Dippel, a rumored alchemist; Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein, who perhaps inspired the name of the protagonist; and most intriguing of all, Dr. Andrew Crosse, who claimed to have spontaneously created an insectoid form of life called ‘acari’ in his laboratory (to this day, exactly what he did, how he did it, and what the ‘acari’ really were remains unexplained).
These are some of the main characters in “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” … want to see them in action? Go HERE!
Welcome to London, 1814 – capital city of Nova Albion!
“The new Covent Garden megalith loomed over the rooftops as Mary’s horse and carriage clattered past. Claire was right – you could see it from New Oxford Street. The Godwin’s driver, Hendrick, turned and swung the carriage onto the wide arc of the new Charing Cross Avenue. Mary sighed. Lances of sunlight pierced the incandescent clouds to turn the monoliths, towers and church spires to the palest gold, and in the distance loomed the giant mausoleum that marked the city’s northernmost point – Londoners referred to it, with good reason, as ‘the Pyramid of Primrose Hill’.
The central part of the capital of Nova Albion was contained within a ring of new megaliths, made of blocks of sandstone fitted together and capped with lintels, known as the Sarsen Circle Line. Within this circle stood a horseshoe formation of five enormous standing trilithons, curving around from Marylebone, through Mayfair and St. James’s, over to Bloomsbury and Russell Square. This was the latest development in the renovation of the London metropolis, overseen by Prime Minister William Wordsworth in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office. They had ordered the sandstone taken from the same region that had fathered the original Stonehenge – the Prescelly Mountains, in south-west Wales – and had adhered to the scale of the original structure, to ensure that telluric power, light and warmth be provided to every London household. It had taken almost thirty years to plan and build, and was scheduled to be completed in another seven months.
Caught in a tangle of horse traffic, the carriage was forced to stop. Mary watched the sunset, the cables of the cargo transport system slicing across the translucent sky, crates suspended from metal sleeves and harnesses moving slowly from rooftop to rooftop overhead. She tilted her head back, watching a number of crates heading away from the Covent Garden pylon – laden, no doubt, with leftover flowers and fruit.”
This is the year 1814 – in a mysterious world very different from our recorded history. Humanity has turned away from the technological gifts offered by the Industrial Revolution, and instead embraced the archaic earth mysteries known to ancient civilizations. The British Isles is ruled by a council of Druids, policed by masked officers trained in psychic warfare, overseeing a land haunted by Gothic phantasms and legends from Celtic mythology …
“The next morning, at dawn, the men lined up on parade, forming three sides of a hollow square, in the middle of Stonehenge. On the fourth side waited Swann with the altar stone behind him. Beyond the inner circle, wooden scaffolding and coarse sackcloth sheets draped the new stones being moved in to replace those fallen and missing for centuries, each one hewn from the original mineral, the far Prescelley Mountains of southern Wales. The sackcloth stirred fitfully in a gentle wind, and the sun shone down from majestic clouds, down upon the cadets who stood to attention in full uniform.
The Red Branch uniform was akin to that of a hussar’s, with pelisse and light cavalry sabre. The navy blue color of their jackets and breeches was so dark it was almost black. Each man wore a Venetian-style half-mask; it had been decided, at the founding of Red Branch, that the identities of its members should be withheld from the public, as their work involved matters of national security. The hats were tricorn hats, an unfashionable and outdated item when compared to the bicorn hats and shakos the regular army wore – but as they were the preferred headgear of Sir David Dundas, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, they were not about to change any time soon. Black facings, white piping and black leather equipment were completed by casaques, capes that could be buttoned to form a coat – and the masked, billowing outline of each soldier had given rise to the nickname of the clothing as a ‘stealth uniform’.
Shelley stood at the left of the line and stared over men’s hats at the heel stones. They dominated the plain, the slabs rising like curtain walls, and Shelley wondered again what kind of people had decided to place the stones here. The air was cold, but not cold enough to make him shiver. He felt light-headed, the atmosphere of suspense making him strangely disconnected, as if his body was a loose fit for his mind.
Commanding Officer Swann stood, gazing straight ahead, his face as stony as the dolmens that surrounded them. Threading its way through the stones, two horses appeared, mounted cavalry bearing saddlebags in the shape of large wooden drums.
“Gentlemen,” Swann began, “Today, you stand in the presence of something we can only describe as ‘otherness’. We in the state of Nova Albion have not fully defined or explained this presence yet, but it is what brings life to the land; it inhabits the trees, the groves, the hills, and fills them with meaning. There is an alphabet in the forests, there is music in the hills, there is a subtle and powerful geometry in the network of standing stones. The path to enlightenment leads through landscapes where only the traveler who understands the forces of life may pass.”
How did the nation of Nova Albion arise? When did the timeline diverge from our own history? The answer lies with a real-life gentleman named William Stukeley.
William Stukeley (7 November 1687 – 3 March 1765), was an antiquarian, a scholar, and one of the pioneers of the modern science of archeology. What distinguished him from other historians of the age were his interests in mysticism, Freemasonry, Druidism, Celtic Mythology, and his travels around the country to personally take part in the digging and excavating of prehistoric sites of worship.
In “Moonlight, Murder and Machinery”, the timeline diverges in 1742, when Stukeley is conducting an excavation at the very center of Stonehenge. His team of early archeologists accidentally discover a new energy source – telluric energy, the energy of the standing stones themselves, turning the network of stone circles and ley lines across Europe into a national grid of power stations, ready to be tapped for light and heat.
This event – which comes to be known as ‘The Great Unearthing’ – also causes a political upheaval. Bonny Prince Charlie, armed with new weapons powered by tellurically-charged crystals, successfully leads the Jacobite uprising of 1745, resulting in the exile of George II and the House of Hanover. The victorious Charlie becomes King Charles III, and he appoints as Prime Minister none other than Francis Dashwood, leader of the Hellfire Club, who reshapes the laws of the land along ancient, Druidic lines. The mining of coal and the manufacture of steam technology is forbidden; all power is declared to be renewable, and provided by the Earth itself.
The Industrial Revolution, however, doesn’t stop. Inventors who tinker with steam technology are forced to go underground, conducting illegal and dangerous experiments, resulting in bizarre Steampunk devices that are often used by criminals or religious heretics for nefarious purposes.
COMING SOON: Our protagonists … Byron, Shelley, and Mary Godwin … and a Rogue’s Gallery of some of the antagonists threatening the security of Nova Albion … the steam-powered smuggler Boiler Calhoun, the ghostly highwayman Billy Barebones, and the dreaded Dandy Brethren!
“Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” … available in ebook here, and
in paperback here!
A bold reimagining of the Frankenstein story, set in a bizarre Steampunk Regency England!
It is the year 1814 in the nation of Nova Albion, an alternative British Isles powered by a bizarre combination of magic and technology, and policed by an elite armed force known as the Chosen Men. A baffling series of crimes leads Chosen Men Byron, Shelley and Keats to the beautiful and headstrong Mary Godwin, who is plagued with prophetic nightmares about a scientist intent on creating life from the bodies of the dead.
Shelley finds himself emotionally entangled with Mary as the investigation deepens, but this only draws them deeper into peril … what gruesome artifacts are being smuggled into the land through Cornwall? Who is the ghostly highwayman who haunts the countryside’s lonely turnpikes? Why is the elusive enemy able to anticipate the Chosen Men’s every move?
To save both himself and Mary, Shelley must face secrets and mysteries hidden within his own soul … secrets that could destroy the very nation he is fighting for …
“The book is obviously born out of a love of Gothic literature, with references peppered throughout (the names of the protagonists, for example, are “Mary” and “Shelley”), but it never feels like a parody. The world is so well-drawn, so intricately detailed, that it rises above its inspiration, feeling fresh, original and exciting. As genre-mashing tributes go, it’s certainly far superior to the likes of the cynical ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ and its depressing brethren.
I know there are a whole lot of Steampunk romance fans out there, searching for something you can really get your teeth into. You’d be doing yourselves a favour to grab a copy of this as soon as you can.”
– John McNee, author of “Prince of Nightmares” and “Grudge Punk”.
Kindle and Paperback versions here!
Excerpt from Jamie Carter’s biography of rock and TV legend Jason Zodiac.
Gerald Moore, who played the character Doctor Chess in the T-Service series, retired from acting in the late Seventies. According to the Fugue magazine files, he currently ran a record shop over in Wandsworth for collectors of rare vinyl. I parked the car near Putney Bridge tube station and walked the drab, windswept streets to a shop-front with faded album covers in a dusty, rain-stained window. A faded wooden sign above the door named the shop: Stillness and Motion.
The first thing that hit me when I entered was the smell of patchouli. The second was the reverential church-like air of the place, the rows and rows of vinyl records in their specially designed display cases, the glazed look on the faces of the two male punters who were shuffling through the racks as I came in. The sound of a sitar and tablas floated through the incense from the speakers mounted on the wall.
Gerald Moore stood behind the counter. I recognized him from the show straight away, despite the years of aging. His beard was now streaked with grey.
I looked behind him to the records decorating the wall, sealed in their protective plastic envelopes. Beggar’s Banquet by the Rolling Stones, Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter by The Incredible String Band.
“Original copies?” I asked.
“Yes, worth about $1,500, $500 and $400 respectively. You must be Mr. Carter.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Let’s go into the study.” He called a youth – “Roger!” – and told him to take care of the shop.
We went up a flight of dark, narrow stairs to a landing. Moore pushed open a door and swept his hands through a clattering bead curtain, and we both entered a room of warm, glowing primary colors, the glinting of light on brass, and more incense – sandalwood, this time.
From a shadowed alcove in the corner dark gnomish figures watched me enter the room. Bulbous, elephantine heads, curved tusks, each figure with far too many arms than should be natural.
“I see you like my little pets, Mr. Carter,” More said. “They were carved to my own specifications by an Indonesian friend of mine. That one is Ganesha in . . . shall we say . . . his less than fortuitous aspect.”
I glared at the dark wooden statuette he gestured to. It glared back.
“I can only offer you sherry,” Moore said.
I shrugged. “It’ll keep the chill out.”
He busied himself getting a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and two dainty glasses from a well-stocked cabinet across the room. He indicated a sofa with a gorgeous-looking throw draped over it, next to the bead curtain screening the door, but I was more interested with studying the walls, the framed prints of blue-skinned figures with multiple limbs, jewels in their foreheads, diamonds studding their noses.
In the corner stood a brand-new Apple Power Book, and above it on the wall hung a framed photograph of a Sadhu holy man, his body plastered in blue-gray mud, his hair twisted into long dreadlocks.
“The Festival of Diwali takes place this month on the banks of the river Ganges,” Moore said as he poured, “the most sacred time in the Hindu calendar. And this is also the time Ganesha has chosen to favor you, Mr. Carter.”
I turned around and gave him a smile I like to think of as my conspiratorial, I-know-your-secrets smiles. “Is it really?”
“Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, and among his many other duties, he is the protector of writers.”
I glanced back at the alcove. “Interesting.”
Moore took an album out of its sleeve and reverently placed it on the turntable. Shabid Parvez, The Art of the Sitar. The elegant drone of the Indian instruments rose out of the speakers as he sat down next to his desk, booting up his computer, and I sat down on the offered sofa. It was as soft and comfortable as it looked, and it had the redolent odor of years spent soaking up incense. I took a sip of sherry and put the glass down on the coffee table.
“How did you find me?” Moore asked.
Moore let out a surprised sound somewhere between a laugh and a cough. “I should have guessed it was him. Did you offer him money?”
“Yes, I did, but he’s not exactly desperate. There’s still a big cult following for The T-Service, and you know the sort of money that can be made in conventions and guest signings. Haven’t you thought of appearing?”
“Leonard Nimoy once memorably said, ‘I am not Spock’. So let me paraphrase that and say, I am not Doctor Chess. That’s all in the past, and now I simply sell records.”
“Yes, but years after that Nimoy said he regretted that statement, and the second volume of his autobiography was called I Am Spock. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
Moore shook his big, shaggy head. “Don’t butter me up, laddie, it’s not really me you’re after. It’s Jason.”
“Matt said you might know where he is.”
“I do and I don’t.”
He looked at me blankly, and I gave him another smile, my you-don’t really-mean-that smile.
“The thing about Jason,” Moore said, “is that he could be the sweetest, softest, most considerate man you’ve ever met, and the next day he could be a nasty piece of work. It’s no wonder the girls were obsessed with his hair and his clothes; he had this beautiful, narcissistic presence.”
“And that glamour was his magic?”
“No. Beneath the glamour was the real magic.” Moore paused, took a sip of his sherry. “The management always tried to keep us apart, and we found out why during the show’s second season. Jason was getting paid five pounds more than the rest of us.”
“I imagine that didn’t go down well with the rest of the cast,” I said.
“No. Especially not with Archie Baker, because he was one of the old school Billy Cotton light entertainment crowd. So the atmosphere got a bit fraught during rehearsals. Most days, we’d skip the discussions and get straight into arguments.”
Moore took a framed photo from his desk and passed it to me; a black and white picture of six smiling young men, beards, glasses, flowers draped around their necks.
“So in early 1968 John Lennon invited Jason to India to see the Maharishi. They’d been good friends for a while; Jason was impressed by John’s resentment of what he called the ‘pop machine’. And Jason made quite an impression on the Maharishi.”
“I thought it would be the other way around.”
“Not at all. The Maharishi said Jason had an aura about him; he was one of the children of the sun, and he had a special part to play in the future.”
“You didn’t go with them, did you?”
“No. I realized my mistake years afterwards. I went to India in the mid-Eighties,” he said, taking out a pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses and carefully putting them on. “I’d given up my acting career, and I’d had more than enough of Thatcher’s Britain. I took what my friends and family called the Hippy Route, and bought a plane ticket to New Delhi. I traveled the country, taking on manual jobs when the money ran out, and settled in Goa. I was there when the psychedelic trance movement started, and I saw Jason Zodiac perform a DJ set on the beach. A Full Moon party. The entire beach off their heads on mushrooms, acid or Ecstasy. It was . . . an experience impossible to put into words, Mr. Carter, I’m sorry.”
“Acid House kind of revived Jason’s musical career, didn’t it?”
Moore glared at me. “That’s like saying the Beatles concerts were ‘mildly interesting’. It was a transformational event, Mr. Carter. Nothing has been the same since.”
I fidgeted on the sofa, drained my sherry. “Why don’t you call me Jamie? Anyway, Matt said that you had this reunion in Goa, that you spent a few days together with Jason and his girlfriend Zena. That was news to me, because I thought Jason lost touch with his TV colleagues in the early Eighties, when he became almost a recluse. Could you, eh . . .”
Moore was shaking his head again and chuckling at me softly. “You want to be impressed, don’t you? You want to have your pop-culture post-modern scoop for the fanboys. Well, the thing is, Mr. Carter, as a verse in chapter four of the Bhagavad Gita says . . . Truly in this world, there is nothing so purifying as knowledge.”
I crossed my legs, said nothing, just waiting for him to either stop chuckling or refill my sherry glass.
“In Goa,” Moore resumed, “Jason told me what he was trying to do.”
“I don’t know . . .” Moore sighed and turned to his computer screen. “I don’t know where to start, or how to make you understand.”
“Maybe with this,” I said, taking out the email I’d printed out. “You mentioned the Paul Is Dead hoax, and I don’t see the connection.”
“Ah, yes!” Moore looked suddenly animated – even alarmed.
“You don’t seriously suggest that the current Paul McCartney is an imposter, that he’s really . . .er . . .”
“He’s really a man called William Campbell? No. What I wanted to tell you is that all the clues, the clues on the covers of Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road and Let It Be, are all a smoke screen to confuse people and to stop them discovering the real conspiracy.”
Okay, I thought, trying not to let my doubts show on my face.
“Have you ever heard of backmasking?” he said.
“Of course. Backmasking, or backwards masking, is putting something on the grooves of a vinyl record in reverse, so that you’ll hear the information properly only if you play the record backwards. The rumors say that if you play certain records backwards, you’ll hear secret messages. They said bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin put them on the grooves in their albums . . . or something like that.” The rumors also said that they were messages telling kids to worship Satan, because they were mostly spread by right-wing God-Squad parents, but I didn’t mention that.
“Listen to this.” Moore opened a file on his laptop and clicked ‘play’. A slurred, garbled voice began to hiss through the speakers, on a continuous loop. “I put the needle on the Beatles’ Revolution 9 track backwards and then digitally transferred it to the computer. Apparently John’s saying ‘Turn me on, dead man’. Most people believe he’s referring to Paul.”
I listened. I could just about hear what he meant, but to me, the sample sounded more like, something something dead men. Moore closed the file and opened another one – a longer sample of garbled speech.
“Time, turn back! Time, turn back! Turn back!”
“Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, even ELO,” Moore said, “they all put secret messages on their albums. Messages there for people who knew to look them.”
“But what’s the point? What do they mean?”
“I don’t know yet.” He paused, and then added: “But I know who put them there.”
I waited. “So . . . who put them there?”
His eyes flicked towards the photo above the computer. “Who do you think?”
I closed my eyes, just for a second. “You mean Jason? You mean he’s responsible for all the backmasked messages?”
“Why not? Jason knew them all – John Lennon, Syd Barrat, Jimmy Page, Jeff Lynn, and he was in and out of their recording studios whenever he felt like it. Nothing is outside his abilities, Mr. Carter!”
He took a slim plastic folder filled with photocopies of different magazine pages, and handed it to me. “That’s just a sample of the evidence I’ve compiled. There’s an image of Aleister Crowley on the Sergeant Pepper album cover – and Crowley had written, as long ago as 1913, that listening to reversed phonograph music is a form of occult training for the mind. Jimmy Page -”
“Just a minute,” I said, holding up my hand. “If that’s the case, did Jason put any backwards messages on his own band’s records?”
“Ah. Yes. Now you’re talking.” Moore grinned at me, his eyes getting all distant and glittery. He turned back to the keyboard, his fingers tapping away, opening audio files. “This is hidden in the grooves of the first Banana Sundial album, Angels and Interchange. Just isten to this …”
To find out more about one of rock music’s greatest mysteries, go here!
Venice, he had always thought, was a city of reflections. Facades, basilicas, domes and towers – all pondering their appearance in the waters into which they would one day sink. If you wish to know what is above, then look below.
He turned away from the view across the canal, tightening his collar against the February chill. His gloved hands reached up to adjust the white bautta mask beneath his tricorn hat, smoothed the silk hood and the full-length cloak he wore. He stepped onto the bridge to cross to his destination.
As he walked up the steps slick with vapours from the mist, his path was illuminated by the fireworks in the South, the great pyrotechnic display in Piazza San Marco that marked the 1937 Carnevale di Venezia. He wove his way carefully through the drunken revellers that swept past him up and down the bridge. Arlecchino, Zanni and Pulcinella waved to him with bottles of wine. Casanovas strutted with cloaks covered in vermillion stars and trimmed with fleur-de-lys. Women with the faces of foxes, cats and birds beneath elaborate feathered head-dresses screeched with laughter, clutching at his arm, offering him their mouths. He walked on.
He stepped off the bridge and noticed a figure advancing from the shadows to his right. Its face was a cruel, horned mask, a long curved beak in place of a nose and mouth: the face of the Dottor della Peste – the Plague Doctor. In ancient times, the physicians of Venice wore such a mask for protection, the beak stuffed with cotton wool and herbs to guard against pestilence.
The Plague Doctor stared at the other man silently from the two round, milky white eye-holes above the beak, a black cartwheel hat upon its head, one gloved hand upon a black and gold cane. He made a certain ritual gesture with the fingers of his left hand. The Plague Doctor nodded slowly in recognition, and then retreated into the fog.
His silent, masked figure drifted through the mist, past the mobs of revelers in similar disguise, nobles and commoners together in anonymous riot. From the Rio Terra Leonardo he turned down a side street into a labyrinth of ruinous alleyways, passing beneath pots hung from wrought iron balconies, past rude shuttered casements set in decaying brick. The revelers grew fewer and the sounds of hilarity grew faint. This was the older part of Venice – where the ancient, sombre domain of the shadows of history was seldom disturbed.
In time he came to a marble and terracotta arch flanked by two grotesquely carved heads; this was his destination –the Calle degli Spiriti. He passed under the arch into a tiny enclosed square, at its centre an ancient well with a pointed shield carved on its side. To his right was the residence he sought. He stepped forward and lifted the brass handle, striking firmly four times upon the rugged oak door.
The face of the man who opened it did not look like the typical Pantalone. He had keen eyes set in a round, bucolic face that regarded his visitor with a knowing smile. He wore the earth-coloured pants and cardigan of the artisan, badged with stains where nameless fluids had splashed against them.
“Sir Andrew Boyd,” declared Professor Danilov. “Do come inside.”
“Are you so sure I’m Sir Andrew, under this mask?”
Danilov smiled an unflattering, lop-sided smile. “I’ve been watching you since you arrived in Venice, Sir Andrew. I have sensed your approach. In fact, the only reason you are able to step over this threshold now is that I have invited you here, and have relaxed the . . . special . . . defenses around this house.”
“Yes, I was informed that you were rather on the cautious side.”
In the warmth of the parlour, Sir Andrew lifted off his mask and showed Danilov his face for the first time. With the Professor’s help, he peeled off his mantle and floor-length cloak, and stepped through into the front room.
The room glowed warmly with brown and buttery yellow hues, lit by the gently crackling logs in the fireplace. Oriental rugs lay on the darkwood floor, tall candles flickered on the tables in front of the curtained windows. Reflections of the smoky light played upon the glass bowls atop the shelves, the gold leaf gilding the fireplace, the burnished copper of the curiously shaped scientific instruments along the back wall.
“I have no servants here,” Danilov explained, crossing to the dresser and removing a decanter and glasses. “I cannot take any chances.”
“Your concern for security is legendary, Professor. As are the unusual nature of your ideas.”
“I prefer the word . . . innovative.” Danilov handed a glass of brandy to Sir Andrew, then stood to attention, and raised his glass. “Heil Hitler.”
Sir Andrew returned the salute. “Heil Hitler.”
The brandy went down like liquid fire laced with unknown herbs. Danilov smacked his lips and turned towards a shelf where a collection of records sat under a lace-edged cloth, to protect them from dust.
“You’re not going to treat me to Wagner, Herr Professor?”
“You needn’t worry about that. Under the circumstances, I thought Holst was more appropriate. The Planet Suite.” He held up the record sleeve and beamed his lop-sided smile again. “Saturn.”
“As you wish.”
Sir Andrew sat down on the overstuffed sofa while Danilov busied himself with applying the needle to the thick, heavy plastic. “But I was wondering,” he continued, “why you chose to live so close to the Jewish Ghetto, of all places.”
“As a continuous reminder. To remind me of the past. To remind me of the future we are working towards.” Danilov straightened, his eyes shining. “Did you know that it was the Venetians who gave the world the word ‘ghetto’? It comes from the Italian word for ‘casting’. The area was home to a foundry in olden times.”
“Foundry, is it?” Sir Andrew contemplated his empty glass. “Well, there shall certainly be some ‘hammering’ before the end of the decade, I can assure you of that. But that’s not what I came here to discuss, Herr Professor.”
“Yes, yes.” Danilov shuffled over to refill the seated man’s glass. “You British, always so stiff until you get the business out of the way, isn’t that so? Well, then.”
Danilov settled back upon an armchair opposite his guest, waving a hand to the serene and deliberate strings of ‘Saturn’. “You are aware, Sir Andrew, that the Fuhrer is deeply impressed with the theories of Aisner and his predecessors, Bender and Cyrus Teed.”
“The British Union of Fascists is certainly aware of Aisner’s crackpot theories, but doesn’t share them.”
“An inside-out planet,” Danilov mused. “Instead of living on the outside surface of a globe floating through space, we are living on the inside surface of a vast bubble in a universe of rock. The sun is a fiery stone, and the stars are ice crystals floating in a gaseous cloud. There is a black counter-sun, which explains the onset of night. Ingenious, is it not?”
“You or Aisner are both entitled to believe whatever you wish, but only when facts are lacking. What we are looking for, sir, is something that will help the British Fascists when we rise up and join our European brothers in arms.”
“I know. Rest assured, I do not share Aisner’s views. Far from it. What I have discovered is far more interesting.”
As the music grew to its rhythmic, martial peak, Danilov stood and smiled for a moment, his hand moving in gentle harmony with the ebb and flow to the strings. Draining the last of his brandy, he removed the needle from the hissing plastic and turned towards the staircase. “Well, shall we?”
THE FULL STORY WILL BE PUBLISHED IN “TALES FROM BEYOND TOMORROW” VOLUME TWO, RELEASED IN MARCH 2017. VOLUME ONE, WITH TEN SIZZLING SLICES OF ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, CAN BE FOUND HERE!
Halfway through the grounds of Kasaieki-mae Park, on her way home from school, Yuko Iwata stopped and stared to her left.
She saw a riotous sprawl of color on the ground around one of the garbage bins. That in itself didn’t bother her much; what made her pause was the weird look of the stuff. It was like the scuffed earth had acquired a coat of paint. Last semester there’d been some science homework about lightning striking sand on the beach and turning it into glass; it reminded her of that.
As Yuko approached the trash bins, the mess resolved itself in her vision. It consisted of card or paper, cut into dozens of small squares all roughly the same size, covering an area about one meter square. Yuko crouched down to examine it, her brow wrinkling in puzzlement.
It was a map.
To be more accurate, it had once been a map.
The squares represented Tokyo. There were green areas of parks, gray areas of built-up residences and businesses, bordered by the red and yellow veins of roads. Yuko could make out the kanji lettering of the Showa avenue, Hibiya Park, Ueno railway station, but nothing was where it should have been. Everything had been mixed up; the capital city had been cut into pieces and then rearranged in new, unexpected patterns.
Yuko got to her feet, swinging her satchel back onto her shoulder. Perhaps someone had put the map in the trash, and then someone else had come along and pulled it out. But why had they brought it to the park? Why had it been carefully cut into squares before being dumped?
She kept speculating on what could have happened all the way back to her house, an average wood-and-plaster two-story building set in the tiny streets around Kasai station. To her relief, her parents weren’t home. They hadn’t returned from work yet.
Yuko’s brother, Takenori, was upstairs, going through his collection of B’z and Mr. Children J-Pop CDs. She flopped down on his bed, sucking on a carton of choco-milk. Behind Takenori’s head, and above the textbook-filled desk, hung the scroll given to her mother by Yuko’s calligraphy teacher. Sleep four hours a night and pass, it declared in beautifully lettered kanji. Sleep five hours a night and fail.
“You know what that idiot cram school teacher did today?” Takenori fumed. “You know how he’s always telling us not to be so passive in class, and to pay attention more? Well, he told us last week there was a test for today, and a cover teacher came to supervise it. One of the questions was, ‘Does your regular teacher wear glasses?’. Some of us answered yes, and some answered no. Turned out the correct answer was, ‘I used to, but I switched to contact lenses.’ ”
Yuko and Takenori were both leaving school at the end of the year. It was expected that Takenori would enter a private high school in Aoyama at the end of this year. It was also expected that Yuko, a high school senior, would enter university. Their parents could only afford to send one of them to a cram school, and it had been decided a long time ago that it would be the son.
Takenori and his father weren’t on speaking terms at the moment. Last week, Takenori had returned worn out after attending regular school and cram school, and playing a match with the school basketball club. He’d fallen asleep in his room, and Papa had scolded him for not coming down for dinner at the correct time.
Yuko stared at her brother’s pre-occupied face. How different he’d looked last week, she thought. Eyes screwed up tight, tears pumping down bright red cheeks. He’d picked up a chair and beaten it three times, up and down, on the kitchen floor. And he’d screamed – not words, but just noise – raw, penetrating noise. Papa was still smarting over it. He kept muttering that Takenori “didn’t show enough respect these days”.
“Maybe you should try something to keep Komatsu-sensei happy,” Yuko volunteered. “A friend of mine told me that she had a teacher once who ate a lot of curry-rice. At the end of one test paper, she put down a really tasty recipe she knew for curry-rice. She got full marks.”
“It’ll take more than that to make Komatsu happy. He goes on about the environment a lot … maybe I should write in green ink?”
He turned to his shelf of TV games, pulled Man-Made Death 4 out of its hologram-studded cover, and slipped it into his PlayStation Deluxe. The sleek black console hummed faintly and winked one tiny red light on its control display.
“You know, Yuko, there’s something else I’m nervous about, right, it’s … well, I haven’t got a girlfriend right now. I know you don’t have much time, and your friends are older than me, but I was thinking …”
Here we go again, Yuko thought. “Well, Miyoko’s got a younger sister, about your age. She’s pretty cute. I’ll see what I can do.”
Sucking the carton of Choco-Milk dry, she watched her brother as he started to say something about the girls at school, and failed to finish the sentence, his mouth pursing itself and eyes narrowing as the pre-game graphics flickered into life on the screen.
“Do my homework soon,’ muttered Takenori, as if he were talking to himself. “Just want to see … if …”
The Saturday evening news was full of the murder.
After the family anime shows, while the Iwata family was having dinner sitting on the tatami in front of their giant plasma-TV screen, they found themselves confronted by scenes from their own neighborhood. Streets, houses, schools, and Kasaieki-mae Park in close-up and long-shot, the on-screen image shaking as if the cameraman’s hands were trembling. Subtitles marked the names and the locations of the buildings involved, and the breathless commentary of the reporter underscored it with dates and events. A community cross-examined; a life under the lens.
“She was only sixteen,” Yuko’s mother was saying, “and she came from a school only a couple of blocks from here! Her poor parents …”
“You’ll have to stop walking home through that park,” her father rumbled. “We’ve told you that before, Yuko. There could be all kinds of strange people in that park after school. There are violent kids hanging around, all kinds of unstable folk … ah, this country just isn’t safe any more.”
Yuko remembered that her mother had thrown away the first page of the morning newspaper after breakfast; she’d said that the details they’d printed were “too disturbing”. Excusing herself from the table, she went into the kitchen and quietly picked the front page out of the garbage.
Later, when her parents sent her upstairs to do her homework, she methodically flattened out the soiled page and read it …
The complete story and 14 others can be found here. Read them … if you dare!
I took the M5 Southbound past Bristol, to Junction 23 – and Glastonbury. I was due to meet Matt Mackenzie on top of the Tor at eleven o’clock, and it was best to get an early start as the roads are always shite. Why Glastonbury Tor? Well, Matt always did have a flair for the dramatic. That was his real name. Matt Mackenzie. The man who played Screaming Lord Smith, member of the T-Service.
As the cult TV buffs out there will remember, the BBC drama series The T-Service ran for three seasons between 1967 and 1969. It was a sci-fi horror comedy thriller about a super-team backed by the British Government, a group of eccentric characters saving the world from a different threat each week. It was pitched as the BBC’s answer to the colorful psychedelic spy shows that ITC were putting out, like The Avengers and The Prisoner, and a companion show to Doctor Who. The ‘T’ in the T-Service stood for Terror. The star of the show was Jason Zodiac, a flamboyant swinger with a command of occult magical arts and a knack for pulling dolly birds. The other regular characters all had their own back stories and super powers too: Screaming Lord Smith, Tangerine, Uncle Jack, Camera Obscura, token American liason the Someday Man, all led by the scientific genius Doctor Chess, and receiving their assignments from a shadowy government contact known only as The Minister.
Great names. They don’t make TV like that any more, eh?
One reason why The T-Service had gained such notoriety is that it had fallen victim to the BBC video-wiping purge in the early 1970s, and only a handful of episodes actually existed. The stories where The Beatles and Mick Jagger had appeared were still around, of course, but classic stories like The Unexpected Question, The Camelot Run, Death by Chocolate and Festival of the Damned were lost forever.
Or so we thought, until Matt Mackenzie contacted Fugue magazine, claiming to have unearthed an 8mm film copy of Festival of the Damned.
I got to the Tor just before eleven, parked the car, and trudged up the hill to the famous artificial mound, with its signature spiral path winding toward the beautiful stone tower on its crown. A cold February wind scythed across the fields, but I’d wrapped up warm in quilted jacket, scarf, sweater and gloves, so it wasn’t too bad.
When I got to the top of the hill Matt was standing by the stone tower waiting for me. I recognized him from his publicity shots; he’d put on weight and lost a bit more hair, but his face was still the craggy, lined, handsome face that had got him the part on the show. Screaming Lord Smith’s super-power was a jacket that emitted psychedelic blasts of colored light that confused, blinded or hypnotized the baddies. Which is pretty funny when you remember that the first T-Service series was filmed in black and white. Today, though, there was nothing psychedelic about him; he wore a long black wool coat that almost stretched down to his feet.
“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” I said. “Or can I call you Screaming Lord?”
He laughed. We shook hands. “Hello, Mr. Carter.”
“Call me Jamie.”
We stood on top of the Tor, buffeted by the wind but with the solid reassuring presence of the tower behind us, and we looked out across the rolling Wiltshire countryside. The stubby hedgerows, the scattered farm buildings, the roads carrying their ceaseless loads of traffic.
“I’d forgotten how far away the Tor is from the town,” Matt said.
“Yeah, it’s quite a way. Have you been back here since the filming?”
“I went to the Glastonbury Festival a couple of times in the Seventies. Saw Pink Floyd headlining one year and Thin Lizzy the next.”
“Me too. I saw Pink Floyd here,” I said, thinking there was not much I could remember about it. Most of it was the sheer paranoia of having my stash stolen or being arrested. Ah, youth.
Matt pointed across the fields. “We filmed Festival of the Damned down there. The director put down flat wooden supports for the cameras, because he wanted to recreate the effect of filming in studio. Several cameras filming the action at the same time, from different angles. Cameras and arc lights moving across the wooden planks on wheeled tripods. All the cameramen had headphones on so the director could speak to them.”
“That episode had quite a strong opening scene, I remember.”
“Yeah, that got quite a reaction. The first thing you saw was Agent Teapot being chased across those fields by the Morris Dancers from Hell.”
“All the spies from that department had tea-service code names. Agent Sugar, Agent Milk, all that stuff. Teapot sends off a message in Morse code before he’s murdered by the Fool with an exploding pig’s bladder on a stick.”
I remembered watching it with my own mum and dad on Saturday teatime when I was a kid. It was a scene pretty scary and graphic for the time, and most people agree it was an influence on the writers of the classic 1971 Doctor Who story The Daemons, where menacing Morris Dancers almost burned Jon Pertwee at the stake.
“I never looked at Morris Dancing the same way after that,” I said.
“Shame,” he said. “I was going to ask you to nip down there and join me for a dance.”
“I think I’d rather have a pint.”
We both laughed.
We carried on the interview at the King Arthur (Matt’s idea of a joke, considering all the legends surrounding this place), a nice comfortable pub on Benedict Street in Glastonbury town center. Matt opted for the ploughman’s lunch, but after being out in that wind, I needed something piping hot. I finally chose the steak and kidney pie in gravy with a non-alcoholic beer to wash it down.
“Here it is,” Matt said, taking a videocassette wrapped in a plastic Sainsbury’s bag out of his attaché case. “The long-lost episode.”
I took it from him and peered at it, all kinds of thoughts going through my head. Front covers of Fugue magazine. DVD releases. Behind-the-scenes specials.
It had been a long-standing mystery in TV circles why The T-Service had never had the classic status it deserved. The shows that existed had never been repeated on TV and never released on video or DVD, and were never shown abroad. One theory is that Mary Whitehouse, the head of the TV censorship group at the time, had angrily reacted to what she had called the ‘Satanist’ elements of the series. She had even claimed in an interview that Jason Zodiac had conducted a real Black Mass on-screen, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing that.
I talked it over with Matt, as well as the curious fact that all the cast of The T-Service had left the acting profession after the show was finally cancelled. The actor who played Uncle Jack died in the late Seventies and Someday Man passed away in the mid-Eighties. Yvonne Page, who played Tangerine, had set up a film company, and Matt McKenzie himself had gone into record production; in fact, not many people know he was the producer on The Blobs’ best-selling debut album, We Are The Blobs.
“But what you really want to know,” Matt said with a sly grin, “is where is Jason Zodiac.”
Now we were getting down to it.
In the T-Service series, Jason had basically played himself – a larger-than-life character with a mysterious past and dodgy reputation. I knew that he started off as a rock star, a lead singer with psychedelic rock band The Banana Sundial. The Jason Zodiac persona he adopted as the frontman of the band was the same character in the TV series – a bit like David Bowie assuming the mantle of Ziggy Stardust.
“There was never any argument that Jason was the star of the show,” Matt said, as he scooped up the last of the Branston pickle with a finger of Cheddar cheese. “He looked the part, and acted the part, both on stage and off. He knew everyone in ‘the scene’, as we used to call it. Jason told me once that after a heavy smoking session, he wandered around one morning looking for munchies, and he found himself on Primrose Hill. You know who he bumped into?”
I shook my head.
“Paul McCartney! He just met Paul completely by accident, and started up a conversation with him! They became good pals after that. Crazy, innit? Let me tell you something else. One day someone turned up on location and hung around when we were filming. At the lunch break he managed to wangle his way into the private area and sat down at the same table with me and Jason. Said he was a big fan of the Banana Sundial. Also said he owned a farm with a bit of land he wanted to turn over for public events, like open-air rock concerts, and he wondered if Jason was interested. His name was Michael Eavis.”
I stared back at him, my pint halfway to my lips. “The bloke who set up the Glastonbury Festival?”
“That’s right. The Banana Sundial were the first band to play the very first Glastonbury Festival – in September 1970.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, it was more of a pre-gig party, before Stackridge went on. The point is, Jason had the face, the luck, the charm. And he really believed in that stuff, you know.”
“Occult stuff. He wasn’t a Satanist, or a Wiccan, and he didn’t have anything to do with Crowley’s Thelema religion as far as I knew, but he believed magic was real. I think talking about it was the only time he stopped joking and got serious.”
LIKE TO KNOW MORE?
THE EBOOK CAN BE FOUND HERE
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IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION REGARDING THE POSSIBLE WHEREABOUTS OF JASON ZODIAC, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT HERE.
Barack Obama. Shinzo Abe. David Cameron. Angela Merkel. Francois Hollande. Matteo Renzi. Justin Trudeau. The Council and Commission Presidents of the EU and special delegations from Sri Lanka and Vietnam. All of them will be in Japan this week to attend the 42nd G7 Summit at the Shima Kanko Hotel on Kashiko Island, Ise-Shima, Mie Prefecture, Japan. Mie is located in the southwestern part of the Honshu mainland, bordered by the Kii Mountains and the jagged coastline of the Shima peninsula that stretches into the Pacific. It’s famous for the the female ama pearl-divers and the headquarters of cultured pearl pioneer Kokichi Mikimoto, as well as a variety of seafood and the highly valued Matsusaka beef.
Without a doubt, however, when Mie is mentioned, most Japanese will think of Ise Jingu. Ise Jingu is not a shrine; it’s a complex of shrines the size of a town, and one of the three most significant sacred sites in the whole of the country, with the others being Izumo Taisho in Shimane prefecture and Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Many, however, would name Ise Jingu as the true spiritual heart of the Shinto religion, and many of its six million visitors a year are pilgrims.
The Ise Jingu complex consists of 120 shrines centered around the Geku (Outer Shrine) and Naiku (Inner Shrine). The Geku welcomes visitors with its market stalls, cafes, and restaurants, and once past the gates the shrines are set in the extensive grounds of Ise-Shima National Park, filled with ancient-growth Cryptomeria trees and scattered ‘power spots’ – piles of stones where you can place your hand on them and feel the power of the Kami emanating from within. The Naiku and Geku are six kilometers apart, separated by the residential town of Ise, and crossing the Uji Bridge takes you into the Naiku compound itself.
Once visitors wash their hands and mouths in the Temizusha, as is standard Shinto practice, they are free to offer prayers to individual Kami at the wealth of smaller shrines, to wander around the Imibiyaden which houses a constantly burning sacred flame, and to purchase talismans and amulets at the Kaguraden, before taking the path that leads to Kotaijingu – the heart of Ise Jingu itself. They are not allowed to enter the shrine itself; the most they can see is the roof of the building above a tall wooden fence. Photographs are not permitted on this path, and visitors are not even allowed to walk in the middle of the path; they must keep to the sides.
Why so many restrictions? Because Kotaijingu is dedicated to Amaterasu-no-Mikoto, the Sun-Goddess, the mythological progenitor of the Japanese Imperial Family.
The Ise Grand Shrine was dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami. Calling it a shrine was a pathetic understatement; it was as big as a city, with over a hundred and twenty interconnected shrines, and two main buildings – the Naika and the Geku – nestling at the green heart of the complex.
Soon we arrived at the Geku, the outer shrine, dedicated to Toyouke-no-Omikami, the god of agriculture. We had another six ri to go before reaching the inner shrine.
We passed along the pilgrim’s road, through the old entertainment district of Furuichi. The samurai ahead were clearing the jugglers, acrobats and conjurers out of the way, shouting at the peasants to hide their faces in the dirt as their lords and masters rode by.
After ten minutes the carriages bucked as we rode over the Uji bridge, crossing the Isuzu river. We turned to the right and began to follow the riverbank, passing wide landscaped gardens on our left.
from “Voice of the Mirror”, Book 2 of the Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy.
Until the end of World War Two, it was a matter of national belief that the Emperor was a flesh-and-blood descendant of Amaterasu herself. The Nihon Shiki (Chronicles of Ancient Japan) states that Ise Jingu was established in the year 4 BCE, founded by the divine princess Yamatohime-no-Mikoto as a permanent site of worship for Amaterasu. The Naiku complex was erected in the 7th century by the Emperor Tenmu.
The chief priest or priestess of the Ise Shrines must also be a member of the Japanese royal family. Today, there are two priestesses: the emperor’s sister, Atsuko Ikeda, and his daughter Sayako Kuroda.
Kotaijingu is also the home of a sacred object known as the Yata no Kagami – one of Japan’s Three Sacred Treasures, handed down to Jimmu, the First Emperor, as symbols of the Imperial line’s divine origins. The three regalia are the Kusanagi no Tsurugi (sacred sword) kept at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, the Yasakani no Magatama (sacred jewel) kept in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and the Yata no Kagami (sacred mirror), kept at Ise Jingu. This is what official records state, although the general public are not allowed to see the objects, and no photographs of them exist. The last time they were taken from their respective homes was at the enthroning of the current Heisei Emperor in 1993, but no TV cameras were allowed to film them.
Another mystery surrounding Ise Jingu is the strange ritual known as Shikinen Sengu. Once every twenty years, the building of Kotaijingu is dismantled, and rebuilt with new materials (but keeping the original architectural design) a short distance away from the previous site. A festival celebrates the construction of a new shrine and to transfer the Yata no Kagami, and other enshrined artifacts, from the old building to the new one. Residents of the town of Ise participate in a parade to carry the wood along with stones. Each person carries two and places them in sacred spots around the shrine. Shikinen means “fixed year”, and Sengu means “Shrine construction”; the last time this ritual took place was in 2013, so you’ll have to wait until 2033 for the next one.
This ritual is by no means unique in Japan; other shrines undergo reconstruction when necessary, and Izumo Taisha undergoes a Shikinen Sengu, every 60 years instead of 20. The Ise Jingu ritual is the most well-known, however, and one that resonates on many levels. On one level, it’s a way to maintain traditional artisan practices, and make sure skills and knowledge are handed down from one generation to the next. On another level, it reflects the transient nature of reality itself, and reminds us that so much of the modern world around us is not physical, but pure information. Where exactly is the money in your bank account or the tracks on your Itunes? Can you see them or touch them? If the main building of Ise Jingu is rebuilt and moved every 20 years, then does it really exist in the physical world at all, or is it simply reminding us that the real spiritual essence of Shinto exists only in the hearts and minds of the people?
Considering the G-7 summit, some other questions come to mind. It’s been well-publicized that Obama will make a historic visit to Hiroshima, but will a visit to Ise Jingu be on the delegates’ agenda?
Earlier this month, government sources confirmed that Abe plans to show his fellow world leaders around the shrine. This has been greeted by protests from certain quarters.
“If it is presented as one aspect of Japanese culture, as a study tour if you will, then it will be hard to make it into an issue,” said Susumu Shimazono, a professor in the graduate school of religious studies at Sophia University, quoted by the Japan Times on May 19th. “But when you introduce a specific religion as Japanese culture you run the risk of making an issue of Article 20 of the Constitution, which states, ‘The state is prohibited from granting privileges or political authority to a religion . . . I think one should be mindful to ensure that this doesn’t become an issue over freedom of religion.”
It’s a matter of public record that Abe is a member of the Shinto Seji Renmei, or the political wing of the Association of Shinto Shrines, and he is known to visit Ise Jingu every year after the New Year holiday. An itinerary including the shrine complex would give him another opportunity to air his conservative views to an audience of world leaders.
Even the G7 leaders really do visit the sacred site, it’s a safe bet that not even the likes of President Obama will be allowed to enter the abode of Amaterasu, or to set eyes on the Yata no Kagami. Ise Jingu will remain … a shrine of secrets.
There now follows an excerpt from “Voice of the Mirror”, Book 2 of the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy. For more information on this epic YA Urban Fantasy series, see the menu above!
A few minutes later a samurai came riding down the track, shouting commands to the riders at the back. “Ten minutes to go! On your toes, dogs!”
Lord Naito’s smile creased and then disappeared. “This will be a busy morning, my children. The time is drawing near. Do you have any premonitions, my Star-Tellers? Honorable artist, have you recalled any more of your childhood memories?”
I looked across at Hokusai. His face was deathly pale. “I knew about my life, once,” he said. “Now, I do not. All I have is my art, my faith in Nichiren, and … the works that he painted.”
“He?” Naito gave a malicious laugh. “Come now, do not speak of Sharaku like that.”
“My Lord,” Hideaki interrupted. “What comes after you have invaded the shrine? Your clockwork army – how long can they hold off the flesh and blood soldiers of the Shogunate? What do you intend to do with the Yata no Kagami, after you have carried it back to your home prefecture?”
Naito laughed again – deep, and authoritative. “Very good, my young samurai. You have the spirit of inquiry. I admire such courage in a boy whose life will be tragically cut short.”
Ignoring Hideaki’s silent rage, Naito gestured out towards the approaching shrine. “I do not intend to remove the Yata no Kagami, you see. Also, I have no escape plan because I will not be leaving Ise Shrine, not in the sense that you understand it. As Star-Tellers and loyal servants of the Shogun, you are familiar with the tale of Amaterasu and the mirror?”
Tomoe and I nodded without comment.
“There are aspects of that legend which the priests do not discuss,” he said quietly. “They are kept secret from the nation. Even the Star-Academy itself does not teach it. But you, if your powers are correct … perhaps you will divine the truth of what I am hinting at?”
I concentrated, letting the new information flow into me. “When Amaterasu looked into the mirror, she saw her reflection within it.”
“After she returned to the heavens,” continued Tomoe in a dream-filled voice, “she left part of herself … in the mirror.”
I bowed my head. Of course. Now I understood.
“When the mirror reflected Amaterasu,” said Naito, “it captured a small part of the goddess. I shall use that power to open a gateway.”
“What do the clockwork warriors have to do with it?” Shunsuke asked.
“You are familiar with the legend of the Eight Million Kamisama?” Tanaka spoke now, his voice as cool and charming as a predatory ghost. “With their assembled drums and pipes, they brought the mirror to life, and called the Sun Goddess out to glory. It is my contention that the drumming was a key in the form of sound. Waves of sound.”
“Waves,” said Hokusai with a gasp.
“Lord Naito has shown me the truth,” said Tanaka, “and the truth is that the Kamisama are even more powerful than the legends say. The story of Amaterasu is a coded instruction of how to operate the Yata no Kagami. The mirror can be activated through sound. A high note will cause glass to shatter, but a bass vibration will cause it to vibrate in sympathy. I shall use bass vibrations to set up a harmonic key, to shake the energy loose. The clockwork warriors are the key that will unlock the mirror.”
“And you have eight million of them?” said Hideaki with a sneer.
“We have enough,” said Tanaka, “enough to deliver the power of the Sun Goddess into our hands.”
“Are you aware of what you are saying? That power will burn you to ash, you foolish man,” said Tomoe in little more than a whisper.
“Not so.” Tanaka turned to Lord Naito. There was admiration in his eyes, but something more; naked greed. “Lord Naito has shown me the truth; the light of Amaterasu is a source of power. Power to make crops grow in the wasteland, or smite our enemies’ castles with fire. Power to build a new empire, an empire ruled by Naito – not the spineless Tokugawa runts.”
Hideaki uttered a snarl.
I sat back, lost in thought. I closed my eyes …
I could not see the future.
I could not see anything.
After riding in tense silence for some time, there was a distant shimmer to the right and a low hint of buildings rose like a mirage in the early morning mist.
There was bustle in the carriages behind us. “We have arrived,” muttered Shunsuke.
I smiled tightly. Lord Naito and Tanaka opened the shutters as the procession reached the outer gates.
A guard approached. “What is the purpose of your visit?”
“We are here to deliver timber for rebuilding the Naiku.”
“Present your papers and your seal.”
“We need no papers and no seal. Lord Naito is here, in person.”
The guard stood frozen for a second and then dropped to the ground in hurried obeisance.
Tomoe touched the sleeve of my kimono. “Lord Naito’s strangeness is growing, Reiko,” she whispered.
I had seen the same thing. I leant close to Hokusai. “Stay close to us and be on your guard. There may be sword fighting.”
He nodded, not looking at me.
The carriages clicked slowly over the hill and came to rest. The doors opened and samurai came running out with military precision.
It was a magnificent site. In the center stood the huge squat shrine, the sun glinting off the polished wood of its walls. The Naiku was constructed of cypress wood. Built on pillars set directly into the ground, the shrine measured eleven meters by five, and included a raised floor, verandahs all the way around, and a staircase leading to a single central doorway. The roof ridge was supported by two central columns – stylized forms of old storehouse building techniques that predated Buddhist architecture.
The common folk were not allowed this sight. Only the nobility was allowed this far; wooden fences screened off the Naiku, and common pilgrims were only allowed a glimpse of the tiled roofs of the central buildings.
The door opened, and a priest appeared, short and slender and wearing a kind expression. Given his delicate appearance, one could not help wondering how he possessed sufficient vitality to intone Buddhist sutras day and night, year in, year out.
“Good morning. It is certainly refreshing outside.” His voice was calm and serene.
Lord Naito strode up to the threshold and bowed deeply. “O learned one, I hesitate to make such an insensitive request, but it has fallen on me to assess the security of the treasure you guard.”
The priest’s voice was still tranquil, but I could sense the shadows, the cold and the cruel darkness, rushing upon the shrine to overwhelm it.
“That is most unfortunate.”
The priest’s expression turned sorrowful, as if he had been told that someone had fallen ill and was in need of medicine. “The shrine does not permit anyone, even the Shogun himself, to enter the inner sanctum.”
“In that case, it saddens me to have you killed.”
Lord Naito gestured, and one of his samurai rushed forward and cut the priest down where he stood.
My companions and I stood frozen with shock. Lord Naito would stop at nothing; he would slaughter an unarmed Shinto priest, and he would smile did so. We were dealing with a creature who had divorced himself from humanity entirely.
Lord Naito called, “Mirror Squad One. Prepare to advance.” They began to pull the carriages with the clockwork warriors into the inner sanctum.
The door swung open.
Immediately, I was assaulted by a storm of sensations, a flooding of Ki energy constantly warped and pulled into new configurations by the object in front of me. This explained the strangeness in the invisible lines of the land we had ridden through.
The object itself resembled a large, polished glass sphere, and the fact that it hung in the air without visible support came as no surprise. Storm clouds of moving, shifting shapes and patterns, in colors I could not describe, moved across its surface, indicating that something dark and brooding lay within.
It was a sight that only the Kamisama were meant to see. I felt sick, and my limbs trembled, as if I stood on the edge of a bottomless pit.
“Behold,” Lord Naito said, his voice echoing eerily. “The Yata no Kagami.”
from “Dark Lanterns”, by Zoe Drake.
“The Japanese are finished!” Takashi Hino yelled, stepping on the gas to speed us down the Yamanashi highway. He took one hand off the steering wheel and shook a fist at the pylons, the rice fields, the lonely farmhouses rolling by. “The way the population’s declining, a hundred years from now there’ll just be a few thousand oyaji rice farmers stuck in some crumbling radioactive wasteland wondering what happened to their Rising Sun. And good riddance.”
I’d got used to Hino’s rants over the last two weeks, and in my vulnerable position in the passenger seat, resigned myself to making toadying comments, trying to ignore the horseracing results blaring out of the car radio, and concentrating on the task ahead of me.
Takashi Hino was one of the lieutenants of the Shibuya Sumiyoshi-kai, not an Oyabun, but a fairly big player in the west Tokyo Yakuza. He’d made his mark coordinating dating scams and fake weddings for Thai prostitutes in his native Toyama prefecture. He’d moved onto bigger things after coming to Tokyo, like running a handful of backstreet loan companies, but he often talked about the Thai and Chinese girls he’d ‘broken in’. Never forget where you’re from, he’d say. I’d been working for Hino for the last two weeks collecting money from Soapland massage parlors – but today, I was out with Hino alone for the first time, for my ‘initiation’.
Hino slipped another Seven Stars cigarette from the packet, and I hurriedly moved to light it for him. “There it is,” he said, gesturing to the left. “Mount Fuji.”
I peered at the misty pyramid shape of dark blue and brown against the skyline. “It doesn’t look that big when you get up close,” I said.
Bam! Sparks exploded as the knuckles of his left hand connected with my right cheek. I turned my head, stared at his reddening face. Hold it together, I thought. Keep calm…
“Well then look at it properly, you son of a bitch,” he shouted, “Show some respect! That’s the most important site in the whole of Japan, that’s our spirit, our pride. You see the snow on the top? But not much on the sides, there, huh, where it’s all rocky and black? I saw something on the TV that said there’s gonna be another eruption soon. The snow’s melting quicker because the volcano’s warming up and sometime in the future it’s going to blow. Man, I can’t wait to see that! Fuji blows its top, and a great cloud of volcanic ash fills the sky and just dumps its load on Tokyo. That’ll teach ‘em. The Roppongi Hills megamall is gonna look like another Pompeii. A hundred years from now some archeologists are gonna dig through the ash and find the plaster cast of some office lady with her body curled around her Louis Vuitton bag to try to protect it, and they’ll find the bones of a little Chihuahua inside the bag with one of those stupid pink ribbons around the dog’s neck, and they’ll think, who the fuck were these people?”
Hold it together, I thought. Keep calm…
“So what about you, boy?” he asked, after he’d got bored with ranting. “They told me you want into the gang full-time. What’s special about you, Naoto?”
My story. I looked ahead at the road, recalling the details that the real Naoto Iwasaki had unwillingly given to me.
“Well, you know … thrown out of junior high school for pulling a knife on a teacher. Mum died when I was little, Dad was a taxi driver who hit the bottle. One night Dad came back from work, whacked some cash on the table and said, ‘I’m too tired for this. Here’s half of my savings, pack your bags and just get out.’ After that I hung out in Shibuya, sleeping in manga cafes, until I hooked up with some of your scoutmen who told me the score.”
“Yeah, yeah. I heard it all before. There’s plenty where you come from. Well don’t worry kid, just do what you’re told and you could make a lot of cash. And speaking of cash, here it is … our stop. The sea of trees.”
I followed his gesture and looked ahead through the windscreen, to the thick rolling cloud of green coming up on the left. Aokigahara Jukai.
About fifteen hundred years ago, Mount Fuji erupted, and over time a forest grew over the lava and other unknown matter that had emerged from beneath the earth. Thirty square kilometers of ancient woodland, called the ‘sea of trees’, because from half way up Mount Fuji it really does look like an ocean. Dense, dark, and forbidding.
Also the most notorious suicide spot of the entire country.
“Every year around autumn time, the cops do a sweep of parts of the forest,” Hino explained. “They find at least a hundred bodies. I saw this show on TV that said not all the people who die here are suicides. Some of them are hikers who get lost.”
“Who’d actually want to go hiking in a place like this?”
“You got me, kid. Anyway, the show brought on one of these rent-a-scientists who said there was something weird about the magnetic field around here. GPS devices don’t work. Compass needles don’t work. This guy actually said,” the gangster laughed at the wrong moment and began to cough on his own cigarette smoke, “that some University did an aerial survey, and they couldn’t even figure out the size of the place. They said the forest was a few meters bigger than it was five years ago.”
I turned my head away and smiled. “That’s just crazy,” I said.
We pulled over on the side of the road. With the engine and the radio off, the interior was suddenly plunged into mournful silence. We got out of the car. The tang of wood smoke hung upon the chill December air, behind us lay squares of rice paddies and distant farms beneath the cold sunshine, and ahead stood a dark tangle of trees that cast everything into shadow.
“It’s half an hour drive to the nearest town,” Hino said. “Well, you can’t really call it a town. Not much bigger than a village, and half of the buildings are empty and falling down. That’s the countryside for you, kid. These bastards can’t wait to get out and move to Tokyo.”
We wore the uniforms of the local volunteer fire service, and had fake passes stamped with the Fujigoko Fire Department insignia. We also had color-coded plastic tapes to attach to the trees, not only to provide us with a cover story, but also so we could find our way back.
A gloomy screen of oak, elm, paulownia and chinkapin stood ahead of us. Hino hesitated a little, but then shrugged, pulled out another Seven Stars that I lit for him, and then pushed me forward. We walked under the canopy of leaves onto the public hiking path, and out of the light of day.
“Boss, there’s an old riddle that goes if a tree falls in the middle of a forest, and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound,” I said.
Hino blew out smoke and gave me an angry look. “So?”
“So I was thinking, if a salaryman kills himself in these woods and there’s nobody around to hear him, does he really make a sound?”
“Does anybody give a shit?”
We came to a rope stretched across the trees, with a sign that said NO PUBLIC ENTRANCE BEYOND THIS POINT – IT IS EASY TO GET LOST.
There was an even bigger sign above it that said:
YOUR LIFE IS A PRECIOUS GIFT FROM YOUR PARENTS.
IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING SUICIDE, PLEASE TURN BACK.
DON’T KEEP IT TO YOURSELF: TALK TO SOMEONE.
Hino flicked his cigarette butt at the sign and laughed. We looked around; in the vague landscape of grey, brown and green, we were the only human figures. We climbed over the rope and started trekking, attaching the tape firmly to the trees as we went.
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