In 1972, I was seventeen, just discovering girls, booze, and music. Good music, which in those days I considered to be Led Zep, Black Sabbath and Lynard Skynrd. Swanning about Brentwood with my Afghan cut-off and arguing with Mum and Dad every time Love Thy Neighbour was on the telly.
I bought the T Rex singles but I never called myself a Glam Rocker because it just seemed too poofy. Not for me the likes of The Sweet, or Chicory Tip, or Slade, thank you, because they were all over the radio like chickenpox.
But then there was Bowie. And Jason Zodiac. And Jerome Jerome Smith.
Jason Zodiac had left the BBC when The T-Service series came to an end, but in 1971, he drew up a deal with ITV – and he turned up on the kid’s TV show Magpie, saying he was planning a comeback. He starred in Children of the Revolution, the 1971 solo Jason Zodiac Christmas special, and in 1972 he went on tour with his new band – the Pale Angels – to promote their first and only studio album, Space Voodoo. Unlike his old band The Banana Sundial, he wasn’t the vocalist/guitarist, this time. He was the manager. The face of the band and the star of The Pale Angels was…Jerome Jerome Smith.
How can I describe J. J. Smith? A sequined footnote in history, a treasure lost down the back of the big fake-leather sofa of pop culture?
Even for the standards of the time, he looked weird. In press appearances, he always had the same pale face glittering with painted stars. He had no eyebrows, just finely sketched black lines filled in with red eye shadow. He tottered around with long, skinny legs on platform boots under huge bell-bottoms, a feather boa wrapped around his alabaster neck. Strangest of all, he had deformed hands; he seemed to be missing a few joints in his long, thin fingers, which made people at the time wonder if he’d ever picked up a guitar in his life before.
The copy-fax machine hummed and I stood up to collect the pages. Scanned copies of Melody Maker for 22nd January 1972.
The typeface was too small, the paper had stained brown with age, but it was still readable. This was the longest press interview J. J. Smith ever gave, at Jason Zodiac’s own studio in Notting Hill, with Jason standing behind him the whole time …
The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of Jamie Carter’s biography of Jason Zodiac.
I took the M5 Southbound, past Bristol, to Junction 23 – and Glastonbury. I was due to meet Screaming Lord Smith 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 Mackenzie always did have a flair for the dramatic. That was his real name, Matt. Matt Mackenzie. Member of the T-Service.
As the cult TV buffs out there will already remember, the TV drama series ‘The T-Service’ was a drama series that 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. This was the BBC’s answer to the colorful psychedelic spy shows that ITC were putting out, like The Avengers and The Prisoner. The ‘T’ in the T-Service stood for Terror. The star of the show was Jason Zodiac, a real 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 liaison the Someday Man, all led by the scientific genius Doctor Chess, 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 co-starred were still around, of course, but classic stories like ‘Rock and Roll Circus’, ‘Scavenger Hunt’, ‘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 around it and the beautiful stone tower on its crown. There was a cold February wind blowing, but I was 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 could recognize him from his publicity shots; he’s 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 on the show was a jacket he had designed himself that could emit psychedelic blasts of coloured light that could confuse, blind or hypnotize 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 had 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, the solid reassuring presence of the tower behind us, buffeted by the wind as 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 70s. 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 what I could remember was the sheer paranoia of having my stash stolen or being arrested because of it. Ah, youth.
Matt pointed away 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 about fifteen. It was a scene that was pretty scary and graphic for the time, and most people agree it was in influence on the writers of the classic 1971 Doctor Who story The Daemons, where menacing Morris Dancers almost burnt Jon Pertwee at the stake.
“I could never look at Morris Dancing again 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 centre. 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 had angrily reacted to what she had called the ‘Satanist’ elements of the show – it was pretty edgy stuff, even for the late 1960s. Mary Whitehouse had even claimed in an interview that Jason Zodiac had conducted a 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 had played Uncle Jack had died in the late 70s and Someday Man had passed away in the mid-80s. Matt Mackenzie 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 what happened to Jason Zodiac.”
Now we were getting down to it.
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The following is an excerpt from Chapter Two of Jamie Carter’s biography of rock legend, Jason Zodiac.
Gerald Moore, otherwise known as Doctor Chess, 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 shopfront 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 colours, 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 favour 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?”
“The late 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.
“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, but 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.”
Think of Tokyo in the Sixties and you’ll probably think of the 1964 Olympics, the Olympic Stadium near Yoyogi Park, the newly developed Shinkansen (bullet trains), the film version of You Only Live Twice, and … the Hotel Okura.
First opened on May 20th 1962, the Hotel Okura has been a fixed point of Tokyo society through the Oil Shock, the Bubble Economy, the turn-of-the-millennium celebrations, the Lost Decade, and the current Abe Administration. It has hosted Presidents and world leaders and held meetings that decided the fate of entire societies. It was mentioned in the opening chapters of Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice as the hotel where James Bond stayed when he arrived in Tokyo and met the hard-drinking Dikki Henderson. The iconic design of the main building, combining Modernism with aspects from Japan’s two-thousand-year history, has remained unchanged since 1962.
But now … that’s going to change.
At the end of August 2015, the Hotel Okura Main Building and South Wing will close and commence a program of rebuilding, which will result in a new 35-floor tower of steel and glass opening in 2019 – in time for the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.
Earlier this month, I went to the Hotel Okura with my camera to capture the atmosphere – before it vanishes forever.
This is the main building, as seen from Kamiyacho station.
The iconic South Wing lobby (actually on the hotel’s 5th floor) seen from within, and also from the Mezzanine, with the focal points being the hexagonal Okura Lanterns (inspired by glass beads discovered in burial mounds from the Kofun Period, AD 250-552) and the orchid-motif wallpaper.
The South Wing lobby reception area.
The poppy-leaf motif of the window blinds and the ‘bamboo’ paper screens. In the evening, the light from outside illuminates the delicate bamboo design that is invisible during the day.
The ceiling of the Banquet Hall Lobby, on the first floor.
The collage design of the Banquet Hall Lobby murals, on the first floor, inspired by the emblems found in Uesugi Shrine, Yamagata prefecture.
Also on the first floor is the Terrace Garden restaurant and a corridor of shops that looks as if they haven’t changed much since the Sixties. The oldest shop in this arcade is the Tani Suit Company, a gentleman’s outfitters. Suit you sir!
Take heart! When the hotel re-opens in 2019, it will save many of these design elements, and incorporate them into new meeting halls and banquet rooms. Although the management are ruled by financial concerns, they are not complete idiots.
Nevertheless, you have one month to see the real thing, so why not? Most of us believe that the past cannot be revisited … but the Hotel Okura will prove you wrong.
It was absurd. Like wax running down a mask covering the face of the sky.
Sean Radlett had been looking forward to this experience; Barcelona was one of the essential places for an architect to take a holiday, and his colleagues had often asked why he hadn’t been before. When he’d suggested Barcelona for a short post-New Year trip, his wife Alison had agreed, intrigued by the city’s history. “My anarchist roots are showing,” she said with that smile of hers. Their children Jenny and Michael had shown an interest too, once they’d seen photos of the more outrageous of Gaudi’s designs.
“But there’s nothing here at all,” Sean now muttered to Alison, once they passed through the entrance of the Nativity Façade into the interior of the Sagrada Familia. They stared around at the blank slabs of porphyry, scaffolding arranged like massive grids of tic-tac-toe, with items of currently unused construction equipment undisturbed beneath them.
“Well, I’d have thought they would have got around to putting a roof on,” she said with mild surprise. “Did you see that cement mixer back there? First thing you spot when you come in.”
“Don’t tell me that they’re trying to finish this thing off with concrete.”
Later on, he thought, he could ask Alison about all this, headaches permitting. He could ask her whether her blessed feng shui was in harmony with a dog’s dinner such as Sagrada Familia had turned out to be. We should have brought some of those spare Christmas lights over, the kids would be happy stringing those up between the scaffolds.
But for heaven’s sake – was this actually meant to be a cathedral? Were those humanoid figures carved out of the clay-coloured stone meant to be prophets? Why did they remind Sean so much of corpses being pulled out of mud?
And then there were the bloody stairs. Alison knew he suffered from fear of heights – after all, how many years had they been married? But it was Alison who wanted to go up in the elevator and have a look around, even though he pointed out that the elevator didn’t make return trips and the stairs were the only way down. The stairs; the blasted spiral passage that corkscrewed down into the earth. They looked so fascinating in pictures, with the dimensions coiling into themselves like the layers of a snail’s shell; but when you’re holding the camera over the drop and everyone can notice how much your hand is shaking, that’s different.
As they stood on the bridge between two spires, walking slowly from one dark maw of an entrance to another, little Michael was perhaps the most mature member of the group. Alison picked Jenny up, holding her near – dangerously near, in Sean’s opinion – the lip of the wall, to peer over the drab cityscape and slate-grey skies that surrounded them, suspended artificially between Earth and a rather dubious Heaven. Sean himself tried to nudge his family step by uncertain step towards the doorway at the end of the bridge, gently easing them past the mob of retired Japanese couples that chattered and guffawed amongst each other in the midst of the desolation. It had been Michael who spun his video camera around the spires nearby and the trees and the Gothic-looking buildings below them, delivering a steady commentary to his father on how the machine actually worked, with the fierce concentration of youth. Thank you Michael, Sean had thought. That’s it, you keep trying to keep my mind off things, like thinking of how high up where we are.
A gleam of silver in the sky to the west; a plane was on its way to Aeroport del Prat. Sean couldn’t stop himself shivering. A new year, a new vacation, he thought, but we can’t get away from the ghosts of last September. Even if we stay away from the TV and radio and the constant discussions of 9/11, there was always something to jog the memory and trigger the images of the twin towers collapsing.
After leaving the perplexing structure, slowly walking past the queue of expectant visitors outside the front entrance on the Casa Marina, Sean noted that the children didn’t seem to be disappointed. In fact, it seemed that they’d got more out of it than their parents had. Michael, whose job it was to film the holiday proceedings, was playing back scenes from the dark, vaulted interior in the camera’s viewfinder, while Jenny shuffled through the garish souvenirs she’d bought with her pocket money.
“Jenny, how much was that bookmark? Eleven euros must be over five pounds, dear . . .”
“But Leah said she wanted something with stained glass on it, Mummy.”
Alison looked back at Radlett and gave an exasperated sigh. Jenny, when she’d been scolded, had the sort of pout that made her look just like her mother, accentuated by the long, straight blond hair and the spectacles that made her look older than her eight years. A few years from now, and that hair might turn the same shade of auburn as her mother, as if with the changing seasons. The same dimples might also come through, tweaking her mouth into impish smiles.
As they stood now on the edge of the pavement, watching out for the traffic approaching from the wrong direction, Sean absently drew Michael closer to him and tousled his hair. Michael frowned and glared straight ahead at the small park on the other side of the road. He’s ten years old, Sean reminded himself, he’s growing out of touchy-feely parents. Around them, the January drizzle threatened to materialize as fully formed rain. The air smelt of petrol and the faint tinge of woodsmoke.
“So what are we going to do about Edwin? He’s still not turned up. Maybe he didn’t want to come here after all.”
“Let’s have a sit down on that bench under the trees, and I’ll call his hotel again.”
A call on Sean’s rented mobile, to the hotel where their friend was staying – a coach trip of Spanish OAPs had put paid to Edwin’s last-minute plans to join them in the same hotel – awarded them, after some confusion, a message from their Stateside friend. Edwin had come down with some kind of stomach bug, and he would join them later. Go to the Cafe Torino, opposite Sagrada Familia, and he would meet them there.
“But we don’t know how long we have to wait. Why Edwin has got this thing about mobiles, I really don’t know,” Alison commented. “Isn’t it somehow un-American not to have a cell phone these days?”
“Look, I tell you what, I’ll wait here for Edwin. You take the kids off to the next port of call, and we’ll all meet up later. At least you and I can contact each other.”
“Excuses, darling. You’d take watching paint dry over going shopping any day, wouldn’t you?”
“We could always go back in that cathedral, and watch concrete dry.”
Sean entered the Cafe Torino, and was shown to a seat by an unsmiling mustached waiter. The small, square table was covered with a cheap blue tablecloth, almost rubbing legs with the other small, square tables that filled the ungainly, L-shaped cafe. Around him, the other customers conducted conversations that bordered on shouting while busily dispatching huge chunks of grilled steak or chicken, pausing now again to do that habitual Catalonian thing of rubbing slices of raw tomato into their helpings of toasted, salted baguette.
Radlett sipped a cafe latte, pondering an order of smoked ham, and pulled the Sagrada Familia brochures out of his pocket to stop them from getting too creased. He stared at them as he gingerly rubbed his palms. He had scraped his hands raw coming down that staircase, trying to calm his nerves by feeling the contact with something solid. He had gripped what laughably passed for a railing, and pressed the other hand against the stone wall all the way down, in fact barely taking his hand away from the surface, keeping his arms out straight like he was playing aeroplanes or something. His palms tingled continually now; his arms ached at the elbow.
“It never ends,” said a voice at his shoulder, in an obviously Spanish accent.
Radlett turned his head to the left to see that, yes, the comment had been aimed at him.
“People always come to see the Cathedral. Sagrada Familia. How many people would come, I think, if the Cathedral were finished. But the construction never ends.”
The speaker was a swarthy, bearded man in his late thirties or early forties, clad in a dark fisherman’s sweater beginning to fray at the turtleneck collar. His hair and beard, unlike Radlett’s, refused to let any hint of grey peep through and betray his advancing years. He peered at Radlett with thoughtful blue eyes in a full, round face, framed by the beard, returning his gaze after a few seconds to the dish he was spooning his way through. It looked like profiteroles smothered in steaming chocolate sauce.
“Well, they do seem to be taking rather a long time . . .” Radlett replied diplomatically.
“Of course Gaudi,” the stranger said, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “was very Latin.”
“Sorry, I’m not quite with you.”
“He was typical Latin. A genius, they say, but he could never understand. Never understand that his wonderful creation couldn’t be finished. ”
“Well, now you say that…” Radlett thought of the model of the Cathedral’s original design on show in the Gaudi Museum, the towering edifices of mismatched, garish colours, its walls barnacled with bulging, multiform extrusions. “The task does seem a little bit difficult.”
“There is always the old danger, the Green Angel.” The stranger made a little circle with thumb and forefinger, and mimed sipping something bitter. “Absinthe, my friend.”
“Oh, surely . . . I thought Gaudi was a very religious person?”
“That is correct. But there are many different ways of expressing your belief. The brochures say that the Cathedral was Gaudi’s way of, eh, expressing his religion. But perhaps, in his last days, perhaps he realized that his true religion was simply architecture itself. You being an architect, you might see what I mean.”
“How did you know that I’m an architect?” Radlett blinked several times, feeling vaguely threatened. “Have we met before?”
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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.
Across the road, a man shouted in anger. A passing horse had splashed him with filthy-looking water as it trotted through a rutted puddle. Mary was struck by the strongest feeling of déjà vu. Had she seen that man before? Had he been in one of her dreams?
Her dreams. Her nightmares. Mary shook her head in silent chagrin. Her father thought that the nightmares were about Mr. Willoughby.
Mary knew – in fact, her father had often told her in no uncertain terms – that her unusual childhood had inclined her toward the phantasmagorical side of life. She was William Godwin’s only child; her mother had died a few days after giving birth to her. She had a half-sister and half-brother by way of her father’s second wife, Jane Clairmont. William Godwin could have ignored his daughter, consigning her to the care of servants, but he had valued Mary as all that remained of the beloved wife he had lost, and Mary’s intelligence had secured his affection.
Her childhood memories were bright, scattered fragments of experience, like shards of a stained glass window that had shattered but not fallen, that remained perpetually in the air, catching and reflecting the light of days long past and blinding her when she least expected it. There were the long walks in the Peak District, the high, multicolored cliffs, the waterfalls cascading into the lakes, slopes of forest pines and aspens, air like crystal, clouds, rainbows and flowers all sharing her joy. There were the paints her father had given her at the age of four, and the smell of paint and fresh canvas was even now, at seventeen, enough to send her into a state resembling a trance. There were her father’s books, the illustrated volumes of flowers, trees and standing stones he had shown her when she had toddled into his library at the age of five.
But one memory she did not have was the memory of her mother.
There were only paintings, and portraits, and the memories of her father sitting alone with his brandy in front of his fire, staring at those portraits, his eyes distant and damp. Memories of her father sending her to bed every time he had ‘special visitors’. These visitors were often foreigners: some spoke to her father with strong Gallic or Slavic accents, and once they even had a visitor from far Peking. Her father’s friends from the Army often attended these meetings. She knew, from the whispered gossip of Mrs. Hillman and the other servants, that the assembled visitors would turn down the drawing room lamps, and sit around the large circular card table, and hold hands. Once Mary had lain awake in her bedroom and listened to her father hold a conversation with a high, keening, female voice. It sounded as if her father was asking it questions, but in answer, the eerie voice gave a long melodic chant in no language that Mary could recognize.
These meetings became less and less frequent as Mary grew older. Her father seemed to have turned away from these pursuits and regained his joy in life; he smiled more, laughed more, and always encouraged Mary’s learning, even if he looked older, greyer, and more tired.
But then, two months ago, Mary’s nightmares had started.
Her father had helped her as much as he could. He encouraged her to keep a journal, to write her nightmares down, and to talk about them, so they could discuss them in a relaxed atmosphere and try to dispel the gloom and foreboding they threatened.
But even so …
Once past St. James’s Park and into Belgravia, Mary’s spirits rose. She would soon arrive at one of her father’s business ventures, the antiquarian bookstore Et In Arcadia Ego. Here she had enjoyed her childhood, among parchment, vellum and leather. The books had an uncountable number of stories to tell – not simply the stories contained within the pages, but the lives they had lived, changing owners time and again before reaching this shop.
The carriage stopped at Belgrave Square and the driver helped her down onto the muddy street. She looked around; even in Belgravia, a couple of ragged urchins stood watching her from a nearby doorway, and on impulse Mary gave the driver, Hendrick, two pennies to hand over to them. He grimaced, tipped his hat and crossed the street.
Mary entered the bookshop, and London seemed to fade behind her as she entered a world both familiar and strange at the same time. The dusty sunlight was filled with the woody, inky smell of gently yellowing books, and a distant clock ticked faintly somewhere in the hushed atmosphere.
“Mr. Chadwick,” called Mary. “Can I drag you away from your stocktaking? It’s me, Mary Godwin, and I would be very pleased to speak with you again.”
A side door behind a battered metal till opened, and Mr. Chadwick, who Mr. Godwin employed to run the shop, entered the room. He was over sixty now, grey of hair, slightly bent of shoulder, but always immaculately dressed and with a commanding gaze and cheerful grin that could persuade even the most reluctant customer to part with a shilling or two.
“Mary! Always a delight to see you. What can I do for you today?”
“You have probably guessed that I have finished all the books I purchased last week,” Mary said.
“I would be disappointed if you hadn’t,” he answered, his voice slightly tremulous with age. “What would you be looking for this time?”
Mary regarded the bookshop in silence for a moment, breathing in the inky, redolent air. “I am open to suggestions.”
“Can I interest you in my latest acquisitions?” Mr. Chadwick asked softly. “I have recently come into the possession of a secondhand copy of ‘The Curse of the Lonely Ones’, by Eliza Faust; and if you prefer something even more frightening, I could recommend a work by the brilliant but unfortunately insane Dominic Leeming, splendidly entitled ‘The Forms of the Formless’.”
Mary thought of what Mrs. Hillman and Claire would say, and she couldn’t resist a grin. “Is it really horrid?”
“It is so horrid,” Mr. Chadwick said, his voice descending to a dramatic stage whisper, “that even the dons of Perfectly Horrid Literature at Cambridge University are afraid to read it.”
Mary laughed out loud, and began to prowl the bookshop, letting her fingers brush against the bookshelves. Mr. Chadwick turned back into his little office and Mary heard the clatter of a tin lid upon a kettle; it was the custom to spend a leisurely afternoon in the bookshop, the two of them reading and chatting over tea and pound cake, with Mary helping with the customers who ventured in.
“How about a recent publication, Mr. Chadwick?” Mary put her hands behind her back and surveyed the shelf nearest the dusty window.
“The latest from Archbishop Blake has just come out,” he called. “It is at the front.”
Mary spotted the book as soon as he had mentioned it. ‘Through the Hill and Behind the Stars’, it proclaimed, the cover a hypnotic mixture of ethereal figures in creams, emeralds and violets. The illuminated books of William Blake, Archbishop of Canterbury, visionary churchman, engraver and poet, were eagerly awaited by most citizens in Nova Albion. They regularly topped the best-sellers list, and the esoteric sketches were the subjects of much discussion in the coffee houses. Mary took the volume gently down from the shelf, and began to browse through it, the fantastical, androgynous figures feeding her imagination like oxygen feeds a fire. She turned another page –
She froze. The image on the page – the bald, pale, somehow reptilian face, emerging from a huge cauldron full of steaming, bubbling liquid – she had seen it before. The greenish face with bulbous eyes, the brutish neck and the tongue protruding from between sharp teeth – she had seen it in her dreams.
She read the caption at the bottom of the page; the painting – titled ‘The Beast in the Crucible’ – had been inspired by a vivid nightmare, Blake had told the book’s editor. Her heart built up an unsteady, accelerating rhythm, and she suddenly had to fight for breath, feeling a vile taste seep into her mouth from her throat. I will faint, she thought, I will faint from the sheer terror –
“Is anything the matter?” Mr. Chadwick had returned, and was looking at her in concern.
“Could you excuse me for a moment,” Mary said hoarsely. She put the book back on the shelf, and walked unsteadily to the washroom at the back of the shop.
She splashed cold water from the jug next to the washbasin onto her face with trembling hands. She looked at herself in the mirror: her face had gone white, as white as one of the ghosts in Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels. Oh, what her family had said was true, she thought – she had filled her mind with poison …
“I am not feeling well,” she said to Mr. Chadwick when she left the washroom. “I am most terribly sorry, but I think I shall return home.”
“Why, of course, of course,” Mr. Chadwick said. “If there is anything you wish for, I shall have it sent on to you.”
“You are too kind, as always.” Mary stopped, her hand on the door, wondering if she ought to say something. “Mr. Chadwick – do you have many books on the subject of dreams?”
“Dreams.” The bookseller paused, looking at her shrewdly, his eyebrows knitted. “Well, there have been quite a few publication in recent years, trying to interpret dreams in terms of the wisdom of the ancients. I shall draw up a list.”
“But Mr. Chadwick …” Mary forced herself to smile, as if the matter was nothing to her, a mere trifle, just conversation for passing the time. “What is your opinion? Do you believe dreams can foretell the future?”
He relaxed, and nodded tolerantly; this was obviously not a subject unfamiliar to him. “I have heard many interesting accounts, but nobody can prove one way or the other, Miss Godwin, and I suspect it will remain so. You see, if we understood all the mysteries in this world – well, nobody would need any more books, would they?”
Reluctantly Mary climbed into the carriage, her head lowered in sad acknowledgement of the bookseller’s wisdom.
The sun sank slowly behind tattered clouds and, one by one, the stars emerged, as a diamond-scattered night fell upon London. Mary urged Hendrick to hurry home, and the carriage clattered northwards, through a city where Mary’s fevered visions lurked in the narrow, shadowed alleyways, watching her, mocking her, ready to swarm out into her waking life.
Interested? You can buy the ebook or the print version here!
Artwork by Deeno Kingston (whose site can be found here).
EXCERPT FROM TALES FROM BEYOND TOMORROW, Volume One.
Jimmy Diamond leaped onto his Vespa GX2000 scooter, kicked the antigrav engine into life, and rose into the skies above Hammersmith. He straightened his skinny tie, wiped the last remnants of egg and bacon from his chin, and pushed in the punch-card that gave him access to the DAIR (Driver and Aid Information and Routing) master computer. A light flashed above the slot, and the Vespa ascended, easing into the traffic of the main airlane.
He picked up speed and turned onto the Central airline that took him cruising over the Bayswater Road. Soon, through the clear morning air, he could see the aerocabs and buses zipping about high above the rooftops, around the Churchill Monument, the Monico Tower with its rooftop crane that reminded everyone of a huge propeller, and the municipal airship moored to the Post Office Tower. Jimmy’s parka fluttered in the breeze, and the muted sun glimmered though his Wayfarer sunglasses.
It was a great day to be a Mod.
He’d bought the Vespa earlier that year, and it was his most prized possession. Italian-made, a light but sturdy frame of pressed steel painted in red and white, the front shield curving up to the headlamp and handlebars. It could drive conventionally on the ground with the two wheels and newly purchased Dunlop tires at a top speed of 45mph, but airborne it could fly at 75 mph – the speed limit decided not by wind resistance, but the DAIR regulations hardwired into every metropolitan vehicle. The anti-grav generator was directly underneath the leather seat, and controlled by the tiny dashboard just under the handlebars. Jimmy’s pride and joy, customized by the dozen or so mirrors fastened to the handlebars and the Union Jack he hung from the back aerial when he flew down to Brighton on weekends.
The scooter dropped out of the fast lane into the transition zone as Jimmy neared Tottenham Court Road and his awaiting office. He flicked the butt of his Woodbine away, and took a big lungful of fresh air before he kicked the Vespa into parking mode. Below him, on the rooftop aeropad, the cars of the building’s occupants were neatly parked inside the painted white lines, and Jimmy lowered his Vespa skillfully into the space reserved for scooters.
As he was switching off the engine, the door to the main stairwell opened and a short figure rushed onto the roof, clad in a silver jumpsuit and goldfish-bowl helmet, pointing his toy ray-pistol right at Jimmy. “You’re a goddamn Commie!” the figure shouted. “Zap! Zap! Zap!”
Jimmy reeled back and clutched his heart. “Nyet! Nyet! Dosvedanya Vodka Sputnik!” he yelled in fake agony.
Right behind the boy was Mr. Gill, the building’s landlord, looking natty in his two-tone Nehru jacket and matching turban. He ushered his boy back down the stairs and smiled an apology.
“Now then Mr. Jimmy, if I could have a word about the office rent …”
Sure enough, every Monday, regular as clockwork. Jimmy had the bees-and-honey ready this time. He peeled a roll of notes out of his wallet and handed over a Lady Godiva. “I’ll have the rest by the end of the week, Mr. Gill, I promise.”
“Well, it would be nice if you didn’t have to leave everything until the last minute, isn’t it? I have overheads, Mr. Jimmy. I have a business and a family. Overheads.”
Finally getting away, Jimmy ran down the two flights of stairs and paused outside his office door to unlock it. He looked again at the sign stenciled on the vitrolite window;
Then he was inside.
This was Jimmy’s office, crammed in on the fifth floor between an insurance investigator and an employment agency. Two green filing cabinets on the back wall on either side of a wall-mounted TV screen (for the Satnews channels), two white metal cupboards on the left side, a second-hand desk of genuine wood facing the door, and his Elektra espresso maker next to the window and the Venetian blinds.
Plus the bottle of Jameson’s and the jazz mags in the bottom drawer.
He crossed the short space to the back wall, moved around his small second-hand desk, and opened the windows, letting the fusty weekend air out and the city summer smells in. He switched on the espresso maker and it started bubbling away to itself. He put two packets of Embassy Filters and a copy of the Daily Express on the desk, and stared out through the open window. It was that sort of July morning that made the aluminum parts of his coffee machine glow like they were alive.
He was just sipping the second espresso of the day when a shadow fell upon the window. A distinctly feminine shadow, followed by a knock.
Usually, Jimmy’s clients were old geezers in tweed jackets and balding hair pasted across their bony skulls with smelly Brylcreem, or frustrated housewives in frumpy John Lewis coats. Evidence of infidelity and serving divorce papers, that was Jimmy’s bread and butter. He kept telling himself that one day, he’d have some gorgeous bit of stuff come in with a handbag full of cash and a mysterious mission. Especially now, because he’d run out of active cases at the end of last week.
Today was his lucky day.
She wore an Op Art print linen dress from Tuffin and Foale, the sort of thing every dolly bird on the King’s Road was sporting this summer. A really sweet face with the latest Mary Quant sheen, fake lashes making her eyes look huge. Dark hair cut in a shiny Sasson bob. In a word: fraggin’ gorgeous.
Jimmy hurriedly took his Chelsea boots off the desk and stood up. “Do take a seat, Miss …?”
“Radcliffe. Georgina Radcliffe.” She stood in the middle of the office, gazing around nervously. “Are you Jimmy Diamond?” she said, in a tone of vague disappointment.
“That’s what it says on the door,” he said with a cocky grin. Easy on the jokes, he told himself. The married birds like to have a laugh to relax them but the younger ones – you have to fight to get them to take you seriously.
“I heard about you from my uncle, Victor. He said you helped him out in Blackpool last year.”
“Oh yeah, I remember him! Come in and make yourself comfortable.”
“You look a bit young to run a detective agency,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes like an Italian starlet. She might have looked Kensington, but her accent was pure Wembley. “How old are you? Twenty-one?”
“Yeah,” said Jimmy defensively, trying to keep his posh voice from slipping. “Well, no. I’m twenty, actually. A little bit older than you, by the looks of it. And it doesn’t matter how old I am because I’ve got the experience and I’ve got the brains, haven’t I? I’ve got it up ‘ere.”
And you’ve got it down there, he thought, looking at the nice pair of Eartha Kitts filling out the top of her minidress.
“Have you got references, or something?”
Jimmy pointed to the framed licensing certificates on the walls.
“Well, that’s all right, I suppose, but I don’t know anything about private eyes. What are your charges like?”
“Well, as they say – I’m not free, but I’m cheap! It sort of depends what I’m employed to do, innit? Listen, er, why don’t you sit down, Miss Radcliffe?”
“You can call me Georgie if you like.” She lowered herself into the second-hand Magistretti chair and fidgeted with her handbag. “Your name isn’t really Diamond, is it?”
“No.” Jimmy loosened his collar, and quickly changed the subject. “If I could haver some specifics, erm … Georgie?”
Jimmy nodded in sympathy. “Have you contacted the police?”
“Yes, and they said it’s too soon to do anything. They said I should …”
“Wait for twenty-four hours before filing a crime report, yeah, I know. That’s what they always say, but I can appreciate you don’t want to wait. Okay, it’s two pounds a day, plus expenses, and I’ll get to work on your case right away.”
“Well, that’s a bit steep, innit! You must be raking it in.”
“Oh no I ain’t, doll – er, Georgie,” Jimmy said, trying to get back on the right foot. “I got overheads, see? And this is how I make a living.”
“Are you the only person who works here?”
“Yeah. That’s me, all on me Jack Jones. I employ other people – experts, like – on what you might call a freelance basis.”
“Oh, freelance basis! You do sound la-de-da, don’t you? How much do you want up front?”
“Well …” Jimmy gave her the nicest smile he could manage. “Look, just tell me what it’s all about, yeah? We can work out the small print later.”
She tightened her grip on her handbag, hesitating, a catch in her throat. “My father didn’t come home last night,” she said.
Jimmy sat back and breathed out. He was most likely looking at marital infidelity. The poor girl’s dad had run off to Torquay with his secretary or some other bit on the side, so he was in for a week of taking dirty pictures on the pier. Well, at least the weather was nice.
“Tell me more,” Jimmy said, reaching over to switch on the reel-to-reel autorecorder.
Georgie turned the handbag over in her lap with her long-fingernailed hands and looked at him with a gleam in her eyes. “Mum passed away a few years ago, so it’s just the three of us, me, Dad and my younger sister Rita. Dad’s been a real brick, he takes care of us, and he’s so dedicated to his work. He wouldn’t just go off somewhere without telling us first.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a scientist. He’s doing research over at the Docklands Science Park.”
That made Jimmy sit up and take notice. The DSP was an exclusive place, full of Oxbridge boffins and public school throbbing skulls. Dr. Radcliffe was either a genius or loaded – probably both.
“You leave it to me,” Jimmy said, looking as businesslike as he could. “I’ll bring your father back to you, no problem.”
Georgie sniffed and fished a crumpled roll of one-pound notes from her handbag. “You’d better,” she said, “I took this out of our life savings.”
The Docklands Science Park was the latest product of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s “white-hot technological revolution”. It sat in what used to be the West India Docks over at Tower Hamlets, and was the place where university science departments and private corporations did research on stuff that gave Jimmy a headache when he tried to read about it in the papers. Flying in from the west on the Jubilee airlane, the DSP took shape as a huge transparent dome. Within lay a sprawling collection of smaller geodesic domes, concrete sculptures in wave-like organic forms, and plastic and steel Populuxe towers, all connected by covered walkways through ornamental gardens.
A forged aerocab punch-card could get Jimmy into most places; the real work was in avoiding getting thrown out. Once through the dome’s main gates, he followed the flashing neon maps along the almost-deserted avenues that showed him where Dr. Radcliffe’s office could be found. It was a self-contained high-tech lab, Georgie had said, that he shared with his research partner, Dr. Henry Primble.
Arriving at the fibersteel bubble reception area, outside the detached golf-ball shaped main lab, Jimmy got the uneasy pricking sensation that told him something was wrong.
Facing him was a standard servo-bot receptionist. It was about six feet tall and roughly humanoid, a steel column tapering down to metal blocks with tiny wheels underneath. The chest held a TV monitor with tuning knobs on either side – but the screen showed only static. Two flexi-tube arms with pincers on the ends hung loosely down by its sides. The cube-shaped head held a metalwork grille where a human mouth would have been, and two round, protruding camera lenses for eyes.
Jimmy coughed and stepped forward shyly. “Erm … Speedee Taxis? Someone made a booking.”
The robot didn’t speak, didn’t move, and he noticed there was no light showing in the twin camera eyes. It was totally switched off. Jimmy cautiously moved in for a closer look. He walked around the robot’s cylindrical body, and noticed something that made his skin crawl; the control unit attached to the robot’s back was almost melted into scrap. It looked like someone had given it a right going-over with a ray blaster.
All kinds of alarm bells started going off in Jimmy’s head.
He looked around and wondered what to do. The sky outside was grey, even though the weather computer had slated no rain showers for today. Par for the course. If the Soviets really did want to invade the UK, all they had to do was permanently switch the master computer to ‘rainy” and the British would grumble themselves to death.
Jimmy walked past the reception area and along the short corridor that led to the lab. On the walls were framed photographs of the usual science superstars – Turing, Rutherford, Grindell-Matthews, Brett, Travers, Watkins, Crick, Watson, and a bunch of other egg-heads Jimmy didn’t recognize.
He thought of Georgie, and decided to explore further. Girls needed to be impressed; good news or bad, the job had to be done properly. The corridor ended in a walk-up ramp, and as soon as Jimmy put his size nines on the first step, he realized something was badly wrong. The sliding security doors were half-open, and wisps of black smoke were curling through the air.
Bracing himself, he slid the doors fully outwards. He coughed as puffs of greasy vapor wafted past his face. Along with the smoke was a smell far worse than any burnt toast Jimmy ever had the misfortune to make. Holding his breath, he stepped into the lab. Somewhere inside, a radio was playing; The Coasters were doing their best with Poison Ivy, but there were more than the usual pops and crackles mixed in with it, like it was a really bad reception.
Jimmy waved the smoke away, peering into every corner of the lab. It was full of benches holding glass tubes and chrome pipes and squat metallic boxes, for uses that Jimmy could only guess at. The floor was decorated with a mosaic showing an atom with electrons whizzing around it. It was all dead scientific.
The back wall had something on it that looked slightly like mold and slightly like modern art – but it was clearly the source of the smoke hanging around the lab. As Jimmy got closer, the alarm bells rang in his head even louder as he realized the ‘thing’ was a huge burn mark scorched into the wall, and it was in the shape of a human. Specifically, a man with his arms raised.
Jimmy had a nasty feeling that he’d found Dr. Henry Primble. Or what was left of him.
He was just reaching for the office phone when the three blokes in suits burst through the door, holding Vickers-Armstrong ray pistols.
Like this? You can find the full novella here, this week for only $0.99!
Tales From Beyond Tomorrow is a lavishly illustrated anthology of alternative history short stories, novellas and comic strips.
The Kindle version can be found here.
The print version can be found here.
At the mid-point of 2015, and with the first draft of “Voice of the Jewel” finished and clocking in at just under 100,000 words, I thought it was time for a look at where we’re at.
The Sword, Mirror, Jewel series
A YA Urban Fantasy trilogy based on the legends of the Sanshu no Jingi – the Three Imperial Treasures of ancient Japanese mythology. An interdimensional portal has opened beneath Tokyo … the war between different races of Yokai, creatures from Japanese legends and folklore, is about to erupt onto the streets of the metropolis … and Reiko Bergman, Japanese-American teenager and history buff, is caught right in the middle.
Book 1: “Voice of the Sword” – here.
Book 2: “Voice of the Mirror” – here.
Book 3: “Voice of the Jewel” – forthcoming!
“The Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology” – an introduction to Reiko Bergman’s universe, and the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit Japan’s legends and folklore. Find it here.
The Futurist Manifesto series
A multiverse consisting of novels, novelettes, short stories, and comic strips where altered histories produced new and bizarre worlds!
Tales From Beyond Tomorrow, Volume One
Ten tales of fractured realities and parallel Earths!
Moonlight, Murder & Machinery
Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Jane Austen had written “Frankenstein” and set it in a Steampunk Regency England? Then wonder no more!
Other Authors from Excalibur Books
Author of spine-chilling adult-orientated horror stories and thrillers based on Japanese folktales, but set in 21st-century Tokyo.
Find “Dark Lanterns” here!
Find “Dead Hand Clapping” here!
“The Osorezan Memorial” – forthcoming!
Rock journalist and author of the biography of Jason Zodiac – one of the 20th-century’s most mysterious counter-culture gurus. Forthcoming!
They lifted him out of his opium dreams and carried him down into the smoke of Hell – which was, he eventually realized through his struggling and sweats of terror, a private compartment of the District line moving out of Limehouse beneath east London. The wood and glass doors were tightly closed, but the vapors of sulfur, coal fumes, oil lamps, and tobacco from the pipes of the second-class passengers seeped through and stained the air. He was held down by two muscular servants in frock coats and silk cravats, who kept him from escaping, but even so mopped his brow and kept him from yanking open the door and hurling himself onto the tracks outside to escape his misery. Through his delirium, he realized they were under instructions to keep him in one piece; in that case, they were obviously not the Turks.
By the time they had arrived at Hyde Park Corner Station, he had recovered some sense of gentlemanly decorum. They forced some vile-smelling salts under his nose that chased the last of the phantoms away, and he felt almost human.
They frog-marched him out of the gateway and across the street, to the coarse laughter of the flower-sellers and thimble-riggers behind their wooden stalls. “Our friend had quite a night of it,” one of his bodyguards said to everyone in general, tipping his hat. “Not too steady on his pins.”
The cold of the February afternoon prickled his skin and reinvigorated his senses. He blinked the tears out of his eyes, took in deep breaths of air laced with stink from the nearby Thames, feet plodding in mechanical fashion as he was half-carried by his burly companions. He realized where they were taking him. Tall iron gates loomed up ahead; the Crystal Palace.
He twisted around in their grip and tried to dig in his heels. “Tell me honestly, sirs,” he croaked in his rusty voice, “How much danger am I in?”
A broad, mustached face stared into his and winked. “Not much, Mr. Gregory.”
The Crystal Palace stood at the heart of the British Empire, a heart constructed of glass and iron and filled with air and light. The crowning glory of Victorian engineering, over three times the size of Westminster Abbey. Almost a million square feet constructed over the space of a few months, with nine hundred thousand square feet of glass hung supported by thousands of cast-iron girders and pillars. John Gregory and his attendants entered the Hyde Park South gateway, and walked at a steady pace through the colossal structure toward the giant elm tree in the center of the complex, a tree that stretched up towards a vaulted roof seventy feet high. A rattling and whirring above made him look up; in the daylight-filled rafters, a pair of mechanical sparrow-hawks glided, hunting for the sparrows, thrushes and pigeons that had infested the galleries.
Gregory’s bodyguards sat him down at a metalwork chair and circular table at an open-air café. At this time of the afternoon, it had only just opened, and there were only a few customers; he now realized how cleverly the meeting place had been chosen. It was private enough to have a confidential talk, but public enough to give Mr. Gregory a feeling of security.
Not a false sense of security, he hoped.
The bodyguards even gave him a comb, so Mr. Gregory could straighten his short, sandy hair and his straggling mustache. He now became fully aware of his appearance; his cravat had gone missing somewhere in the opium den, but his black frock coat and trousers did not seem to be too stained or dusty. He fastened his collar and volubly coughed, taking in more of his surroundings.
Walking through the cafe towards his table at a sedate pace, with an entourage of statuesque men and women following, was a figure he noted with resigned recognition. Of course. It had to be her.
She came closer, her eyes fixed upon Gregory. She wore a pale blue Battenberg city gown and touring hat, and carried a furled, carnation-colored parasol and matching lace fan. Her face was delicate, compact and fringed with immaculately coiffured, reddish-gold hair.
Lady Florence Padbury, the head of Imperial Counter-Intelligence, seated herself in genteel fashion at his table. “Mr. Gregory,” she said, “let’s try to behave like the ladies and gentlemen we are reputed to be.”
He breathed in deeply and attempted to match her confidence. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“First, there is something I wish you to see.” She waved a kid-gloved hand at the massive stone slab that dominated the cafe, fringed by ferns and palm leaves on either side.
“This is Mr. Garfield’s new memorial, that portrays the great automobile race of 1845. It fascinates me. You see the bas-relief of the Cugnot automobile’s steam turbine viewed from the front, and behind it, the mufflers and goggles of the driver and navigator. Carved in stone. Does it not seem dreadfully absurd, Mr. Gregory? Does it not seem a contradiction in terms?”
“I do wish you would get to the point,” Gregory said with a cough.
“A stone automobile, sir, that is my point. It is a logical contradiction. Marble is cold, brittle, silent, mineral. Automobiles are fast, noisy, warm, metallic.”
“The world is full of statues of the human form.”
“True, but we have had hundreds of years of becoming used to the convention of human sculpture. We do not find it queer to see a stone human figure and expect it to move and walk.”
Gregory indicated the swarthy fellows standing behind him. “Oh, I don’t know. Your bodyguards are doing a pretty good job.”
“And there’s always the tale of Don Giovanni, ma’am,” one of the bodyguards added with slight bow.
Lady Padbury tapped the spike of her parasol on the flagstones. “We need a new way of seeing, Mr. Gregory. A new way of expressing this world of metal, of steam, of speed, of power. When I was a child, I remember my tutor showing me the daguerreotypes taken by Mr. Danelek from his hot-air balloon. The farms and the factories, the forests and the aqueducts. It was like looking at a completely new world. Soon construction will be finished on the Blackpool Tower, and this new world view will be available to all.
“Unless the French beat you to it, with that replica they’re planning.”
Lady Padbury smiled.
A nervous waiter drew near and placed afternoon tea upon the filagreed ironwork of the table; scones, wafers, almond and vanilla slices, and crustless sandwiches cut into triangles. The waiter gave a nervous glance at the smiling men behind Gregory, bowed, and beat a hasty retreat.
“You should eat something, Mr. Gregory. You need to keep body and soul together.”
There was silence while Lady Padbury daintily poured tea into two china cups and applied marmalade and clotted cream to the scones.
“We have been very worried about you, Mr. Gregory,” she continued eventually. “ You could have let us know where you were … or simply that you were still alive.”
His stomach groaned and his nausea ebbed and flowed. He tried to restrain himself from cramming the tiny sandwiches into his mouth.
“I have a proposition for you,” she said softly.
“With respect, Lady Padbury, I am not interested in the slightest.”
“I assure you, Mr. Gregory, you will not be spending weeks being poked and prodded by physicians or engineers.” She raised a gloved hand. “There is someone I would like you to meet.”
At her gesture, a member of the entourage stepped forward. Gregory noted that the tall, wide-chested newcomer wore a black three-piece suit of a cut and material that he wasn’t familiar with, and held himself very straight. His skin was leathery and brown contrasted with the white and black of his tombstone shirt and cravat, as if he spent a great deal of time outdoors. He doffed his felt derby hat and bowed deeply, displaying his unfashionably long hair.
“May I present Mr. Alexander Lentz, of the Universalist Church of Massachusetts,” Lady Padbury announced.
“At your service,” Lentz said with a broad Colonial twang.
“Good Lord,” muttered Gregory.
Lentz picked up the remark at once, and with no trace of irony. “Yes, He is, is He not?”
Gregory snorted with mirthless laughter. “You are indeed a long way from home, sir.”
The Colonial seated himself next to Gregory, his smile intensifying. He seemed about five-and-thirty, perhaps the same age as Gregory himself; his features were finely-chiseled and handsome. “Mr. Lentz has a very interesting story to tell,” Lady Padbury said.
With a strange gleam in his eye, Lentz launched into his tale. “I belong to a small sub-group of the Universalist Church, based in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts,” Lentz began. His voice was deep and mellifluous, Gregory noted; at least it was easy on the ears. He just hoped that the frights of opium withdrawal would not return, and paint the man’s face with horns, huge bulging eyes, or similar phantasms.
Lentz produced a daguerreotype from his waistcoat pocket and laid it on the table. The image was of a middle-aged man dressed in severe clerical style, who in profile showed a thoughtful, and somehow kindly aspect.
“Our division of the church was led by a man named John Murray Spear. A great, benevolent, and principled man. He was a reformist; his views on slavery, suffrage and temperance were considerably ahead of their time. He even operated a branch of the Underground Railroad, helping renegade slaves escape to Canada.”
“You are using the past tense, sir.”
“Yes, you are guessing what I am about to say. But hear me out, sir. Seven years ago Mr. Spear received a visitation from the Holy Spirit that revealed his powers as a trance medium, and he converted to Spiritualism. He consulted with the Fox sisters and Daniel Dunglas Home, and founded the church that I am proud to be a member of. The spirits guided him – and us – to towns where he cured the sick with the laying on of hands. In trances, he spoke to the spirits of Swedenborg, Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and divulged to us messages of hope and salvation, from beyond the veil.”
Gregory sighed. “So where did it all go wrong, Mr. Lentz? Because if it had not, you would not be talking to me.””
Lentz took a sip of tea to moisten his throat.
“Spear was given a vision of a great machine. An invention like no other; a conception that, if realized, could transform the world in the way that the steam engine has.”
“In his trance, Spear was given the knowledge of how to broadcast electrical power by radio waves,” Lady Padbury interjected. “This is the information Mr. Lentz has brought to Her Majesty’s court.”
Gregory could not stop himself guffawing. “It’s fantasy. We’ve got a few water wheels up and down the country that can light arc lamps, but sending electrical currents through the ether? You insult my intelligence, sir.”
“Be patient, good sir. Last year, we moved the Church to the town of Randolph, in New York, where we began our experiments. Spear received the plans for the mechanism in his trances, and we purchased supplies, and began construction … and then the tragedy struck. A hysterical, misinformed mob broke into the church, smashed the machinery, and destroyed the plans.”
Lentz came to a halt, his countenance visibly upset.
“And Mr. Spear?” Gregory prompted.
A strange, distant look came into the Colonial’s eyes. “The father of our church was killed. Trampled by an ignorant, hate-filled crowd.”
Gregory stared. He noticed for the first time that beneath Lentz’s long hair, at the point where the top of his ear joined the hairline, there was a fine crosshatching of delicate white scars.
“Mr. Lentz was sent here as a delegation of the Church,” Lady Padbury added. “Naturally enough, they felt they had been shamefully treated by their own countrymen. They offered the secret of broadcast electricity to the Church of England, and the British Empire … and just think, Mr. Gregory! Think of the potential!”
Gregory leant forward, keeping his voice low. “I understand that you want to see your leader again, Mr. Lentz,” he said, “but this cannot be done.”
“Yes, it can.” Lentz seemed to recover his wits, and spoke in a blunt, matter-of-fact voice. “You just have to go far enough in to reach him.”
Mr. Gregory shook his head. “Not possible.”
“Lady Padbury gives me to believe that you were, at one point, the finest Spiritualist medium in the British Empire, and you have done this many times before.”
“Look at me. I’m a wash-out, a discarded rag. Do you really think I can do it again?”
Lady Padbury tapped the point of her parasol sharply upon the flagstones. “Her Majesty’s Government is not giving you a choice, Mr. Gregory.”
The Cugnot waited at the entrance to Hyde Park, hissing contentedly. It was the larger version, the variety that seated up to six within its chocolate-brown wood and brass carriage, the barrel-shaped high-intensity coal turbine at the front. Mr. Gregory had always thought it amusing that these automobiles were decorated by a brass horse’s head above the bonnet. An unnecessary, but somehow very British form of ornamentation.
The assassin was also waiting.
He looked like the typical bon vivant, with his satin-trimmed coat, highland trousers and silk puff tie. He sauntered towards the Cugnot as if he was simply out taking the air, and as the bodyguards scowled at him, he doffed his John Bull top hat in a friendly manner and raised his silver-headed cane.
Lady Padbury was even faster than the bodyguards. Before they could throw their bulk in front of her, she had snapped her parasol open and held it up before herself, Gregory and Lentz. Gregory heard the ziiippp! as the spring-fired poison dart sliced through the air and embedded itself in the parasol.
The bodyguards swarmed upon the assassin, wrestling him to the ground beneath a heap of worsted, wool and leather, while Gregory, Lentz and Lady Padbury were politely but firmly bundled into the carriage, three valets accompanying them. The engine hissed and spat, and the Cugnot pulled away from the curb at the breakneck speed of thirty miles per hour.
Inside the carriage, Lady Padbury fussed and smoothed her garments down. “Well, really. I must invest in new bodyguards.” She held up the remnant of the steel dart between her gloved fingers. “And a new parasol; this one’s got a hole in it.”
Mr. Gregory was looking out of the window, back at the struggling human knot on the pavement. “It’s no use, you know. He’ll have one of those cyanide pills that the Turks give all their agents.”
He turned away and sat back. He noticed that Lentz seemed curiously unconcerned at what had just happened. While talking about the father of his church, he had been moved to tears. But for his own personal safety …?
“The Lord hath a task for each or us, and it is vanity to speculate upon its nature,” Lentz said at length.
Gregory scowled. “Is it vanity to speculate whether the Lord will get my gentlemanly posterior out of this mess?”
Lady Padbury leaned forward, her violet eyes twinkling. “Her Majesty’s Government will, Mr. Gregory. Although your task may be arduous, and the secrecy of its nature means that none shall know of your achievement except the Lord, Mr. Lentz, and the agents of Queen Victoria, rest assured – that will be sufficient.”
Gregory could not resist smiling. “Very well,” he said, nodding assent.
His confidence was short-lived, however, as he saw through the windows the looming destination of the Cugnot.
“Waterloo Bridge Station?” Mr. Gregory cried. “What the blazes do you think you’re doing? Every station and locomotive in London is going to be crawling with enemy agents. It’s why I went to ground in Limehouse in the first place.”
“We are not entering the station,” Lady Padbury said smoothly, as the Cugnot puffed its way past the Victory Arch, “and we are not taking a train. Not a public train, at last.”
They turned a corner and made their way down a small, quiet road leading around the back of the main station. A gloom fell upon the carriage interior as they entered a vast, echoing shed ribbed with iron girders and walkways. On either side sleek black locomotives waited, their polished metal and brass glowing warmly in the gaslight. Huge ornamental clocks suspended from the rafters measured out departure times in regimented seconds.
The Cugnot pulled up outside one locomotive and halted, bubbling quietly to itself. Gregory dismounted with the others, his boot steps echoing in the vast interior, his breath frosting slightly in the chill. He glared at the copper-plated inscription upon the locomotive’s door.
“But this is …”
Lady Padbury was clearly enjoying this. “Yes, Mr. Gregory, this is the Necropolis Line. An express journey from Waterloo Necropolis Station to the metropolitan cemetery at Brookwood. The driver is one of my finest men, and our agents will collect you at Brookwood and escort you to the safe house. So, you see, there is nobody to witness your escape from London, Mr. Gregory. Nobody among the living, that is.”
At her gesture, he climbed aboard the train and entered the carriage. Inside, coffins were arranged in smart rows leading away into a hushed, murky darkness, the papered walls of the carriage lit softly by gas-burners.
In front of him, one coffin lay with its lid swung open.
“You cannot be serious.”
“What do you have to fear, Mr. Gregory? Surely, as a spiritualist, you are familiar with the dead?”
“I do not particularly wish to travel with them,” he muttered. “At least, not just yet.”
He looked down at the coffin, with its smooth walnut lid and red satin-lined interior. Lifting his legs, he climbed inside, and lay down. He stared up at the faces of Lady Padbury, Mr. Lentz, and the bodyguards, smiling in sympathy.
“Things could be worse,” said Lady Padbury. “We could have put you with the coffins in Second Class.”
The lid swung down, and Mr. Gregory lay flat, encased in darkness.
In the years before he died, Katsushika Hokusai is reported to have said: “If Heaven will grant me just five more years, then I will become a real painter.” This showed the acerbic wit of the man whose work has become the most recognizable example of “ukiyo-e” (Japanese woodcut paintings). The images of “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, “36 Views of Mount Fuji” and “South Wind, Clear Sky” have graced gallery walls, book covers, tee-shirts and coffee mugs around the world.
Readers of the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” series will know that I have a particular obsession with Hokusai, as he appears as a character in Book 2 of the trilogy, “Voice of the Mirror”. The novel offers fictional answers to some of the mysteries surrounding him – such as why he moved house 93 times during his life, and why he used so many false names to sign his work. I was particularly interested to learn this week that a new animated film has been made about the great man – focusing on his relationship with his daughter, O-Ei.
“Sarusuberi” (Miss Hokusai), a film from Production I.G., has been created by Keiichi Hara, director; Miho Maruo, scriptwriter; Yoshimi Itazu, chief animator, and background artist Hiroshi Ohno. It combines a hand-drawn 2-D look with 3-D techniques to bring Hokusai’s vision and ancient Edo (Tokyo) to life.
“I wanted to see the Edo of the Edo period,” Hara said in a May 21st interview with the Japan Times. “The sky was bigger than it is now, since there were no tall buildings. Also, the Sumida river is not so clean now, but at the time it was a very beautiful river … So people were closer to nature and had richer communications with those around them.”
The film also explores Hokusai’s paintings of the Yokai, mysterious supernatural creatures from the rich world of Japanese folklore and mythology. “People seriously believed in ghosts and goblins and that a giant catfish was the cause of earthquakes,” Hara says. “Belief in the existence of the uncanny and nonhuman was taken for granted.”
The film is an adaption of a manga written and drawn by Hinako Sugiura, and hints that many of Hokusai’s paintings from the latter part of his life may have been created by his daughter, who was an artist of equal ability, despite being considerably less well-known (Japan’s art world, like the whole of its society, was a man’s world).
The film is currently on general release in Japan, and readers might also be interested in “The Printmaker’s Daughter”, a 2010 novel by Katherine Govier.
There is also this wonderful short film from 2008 by Tony White, which animates Hokusai’s artwork to a narrated biography.
“Voice of the Mirror” can be found here.
“Voice of the Sword”, the first book in the series, can be found here.