My clients almost invariably think that it is difficult to reach the dead, assuming either that the veil is hard to penetrate or that finding a soul involves a search through a vast, empty void. They are wrong, very wrong; I see the dead about me all the time: I would love it if I could draw a curtain shut between them and me and achieve a period of respite from their attention. There are so many of them since the war, still so many seeking rest a decade on, all angry at being killed so young in the mud of Flanders and desperate to speak to the loved ones they left behind.
The problem isn’t contacting the dead, but locating the one I want amongst the clamouring hordes. Back before the war, it was relatively easy: Most of the dead gathered at places that held meaning for them, usually their homes or close to their families; and those that had left something undone or unsaid were easy to make contact with. But, now, they come to me, cluster about me, all demanding my attention, fighting one another to reach me, wanting me to pass on messages, some hoping I know some way back, or else the way to move on. Trying to find the one I want is almost impossible.
As a child, the ghosts had scared me, but I grew to accept them and, even, to enjoy my role as a go-between. But, now, their constant presence leaves me with a perpetual, low-grade headache and after a séance I feel drained and ill. I hate to perform them, now.
“I need to know my husband is at peace,” demands Mrs Franklin, a large and overbearing woman.
It’s a trite question that’s frequently asked. I’m not sure why people think their loves ones want to be dragged out of their eternal rest just to reassure them they’re comfortable. Did they enjoy being woken early when having a lie-in?
But, while it’s trite, it’s also a question I can answer without actually having to locate a ghost. I let my eyes roll back and give a low moan of the sort people seem to find sounds mystical, despite making me think of indigestion. After a suitable pause and a little shuddering, I ‘make contact.’
“He is at rest. He has found peace.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. Tell him, I love him.”
“Ask him if I should give Tommy money; he wants to buy a Bentley Speed Six,” she adds, conversationally.
I stay silent, pretending to communicate, while trying to ignore the half-missing face of a ghost pressing into mine and screaming for attention, then manage to say, “Your husband says ‘no’; Tommy needs to learn to look after himself, not rely on gifts.”
Mrs Franklin nods, satisfied. With so many of the dead pressing in upon me, I find it disconcerting to see the living superimposed upon them, somehow able to see both, despite the dead seeming every bit as solid.
I stumble out into the cool night air and my constant companions shuffle out after me, joining those kept waiting without.
“Please, go away, leave me alone!” I shout, finding their presence unbearable. If anyone is watching me, they must think I’m mad. But, then, I’m well known across London as an eccentric…
I hail a cab and ride back to my home in Knightsbridge. Even at speed, the dead keep pace, allowing me no respite.
I put a record on and slump into a leather chair and close my eyes. Jazz wails from the gramophone. I don’t like jazz, but it helps drown out the voices, the demands, the wails. With my eyes shut, I can’t see them, not that it ever made any sense to me: I don’t see them with my eyes, I’m sure. Still, I’m grateful for the quirk, glad for the peace, however imperfect.
My telephone rings. A luxury, but a necessary one in my line of work. Reluctantly, I stand and open my eyes and step past the persistent dead to answer it. A job, of course. I call down to the concierge and arrange for him to detain me a cab and, soon, I’m on my way.
“I want to speak to my grandfather,” says the old man with enormous mutton-chop whiskers that haven’t been in fashion for a long time.
My heart seems to sink towards my stomach.
“Yes, my grandfather. He was killed in the Crimea.”
The Crimea? That puts the death back, what, fifty, sixty, seventy years ago? A long time. He doesn’t appear to be hanging around and those that have been dead so long usually move deeper into the afterlife, down into its ocean-like depths. Always hard work, I dread going there now.
“I need to know he forgives me.”
I’m tempted to lie again, a simple ‘yes’ to give him the peace of mind he desires.
“He’ll know.” He probably does, but that doesn’t help me. Of course, I could lie, but what do I do if he wants details?
I consider refusing, but something about the man’s eyes persuades me. I wonder if there was a falling out or, perhaps, some youthful indiscretion. I can see the desperation to know he is forgiven.
I say, “I’ll do it.”
This time, the trappings of the séance are less-decoration to gull and misdirect a client, but a necessary step to help me detach my mind from my body and send it down into the darkness in search of a soul. For once, my performance matches with what people imagine about me. Of course, if they knew what I faced, they wouldn’t romanticise it, nor ask me to make the journey.
I sink down through the ocean of years, down into a blackness that must be like that which claimed the Titanic and Lusitania. I sink down, away from my client and his dining room, away from the candles and other accoutrements of my craft, away from the ranks of the restless dead.
I cannot sense the soul I seek, but I can sense it – the ‘it’ that makes me fear the afterlife. I can’t be certain, but I never sensed it before the war. It is formless and angry and, I believe, desires to devour everything; I think that is why it is so difficult to find the spirits of the dead down here.
My theory is that the Great War birthed this horror which lurks like leviathan here in the darkness beyond the grave. I suspect it was born of the rage of all those robbed of life: That would explain why it is filled with what I describe as anger.
The dead demand an absolution they can never have and their rage just grows and grows. One day, perhaps, it will devour all of them. Perhaps, it may even break free to devour us all or, perhaps, it will leak into our world in other ways, bringing death and disaster to rival the horrors that birthed it.
Then, I realise, it’s sensed me.
I begin to flow back up towards my body and I feel the searing force of its anger directed solely at me. Like an ant beneath a spyglass, I feel myself burning. It wants me. It hates me.
Can I escape it?
Around me, I suddenly sense the clustered dead, some reaching out, trying to help me, others screaming at me, unable to grasp anyone’s problems but their own.
It’s close behind me, hungry, angry.
I look around at the fractured faces of the dead, victims of the madness that seized the world, and realise, none can escape their fate.
It’s upon me and I surprise myself as I realise I hate it as much as it hates me.
Life – death – is so unjust.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), Snowpocalypse (Black Mirror Press), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Miskatonic Dreams (Alban Lake), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
DJ Tyrer’s website is at http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/
The Atlantean Publishing website is at http://atlanteanpublishing.blogspot.co.uk/