WDS-Tuesday was Quite Odd
John Doe groaned and rolled over. His forehead felt like it had been ironed with an old fashioned iron and his temples still danced to some drunken throb of whatever office party he had vacated the evening before. To boot, his mouth felt like sun-dried sandpaper, and his nose felt blocked up with cotton wool. He moaned, feeling expansive pain shoot through his body.
It was with the greatest effort that he prized his gummy eyes open and blearily found himself staring at a vaulted ceiling, which, he realised quite quickly, was not his. To be honest, he had never lived in or owned a house that had had a ceiling like in a church; disbelieving his stupidity, he wondered whose house he was at and if the poor woman would ever forgive him. He was such a fool. He came to the decision that whatever he had been drinking had either been abundant or was rather illegal.
As his vision cleared, he gazed around to see where he was. The room he was lying in seemed to be made of bare wood planking turned grey with age and the wall on his left was lined from floor to ceiling with tall, bowed shelves full of brown bound books that would not have looked out of place in a museum. The splintery, spindly table beside him had burn marks all over it, almost as though someone had dribbled melted wax on the wood, making the varnish there blister. His bed was hung with dusty, pale blue drapes and the chair on the other side looked very uncomfortable to sit on with an ornate but fearsome knobble design forming the back of it. He rubbed his behind thankfully, looking from the dead, potted cycad over to the pile of rocks heaped randomly on the flowery blue carpet.
John scratched his head with his other hand, wondering with who he had ensconced with from the office as he couldn’t remember anyone telling him that they owned a converted medieval castle. To his relief, he was still fully dressed in his daggy brown blazer and trousers, but it was as he moved to wipe something smelly off his shoe that the memories struck him, a weak groan escaping his lips.
His already pounding head thudded more as he fell back and hit the headboard, squashing the back of his head as flashes of the night before began to take shape, coming in a cold trickle and then a black torrent. His brain pulsed like something possessed as Mr Smith hollered at him, red face puce coloured and blotchy. He saw the landlord of the Crown shouting at him, hands flailing that it was closing time and that he had to get out or be thrown out. The lifeless London streets, the voice that told him to hide and the old man roaring out swirled before his eyes like a horrible kaleidoscope. John shuddered as he heard the snap of the old man’s neck breaking and Mamilion’s freakishly shrill cackling, his grotesque face lantern bright in the darkness, crowing that he had killed ‘the King’. The last thing John remembered was his mad dash home. He had almost tripped over Mrs Burton’s flea-bitten cat, Sprinkles, as he ran to his front door. He remembered his flat being dark and cold and his strongest painkillers hard to find.
His head thudded, aching badly.
John rubbed his temples and sought to fish out anything he had missed. However, to his misfortune, there was nothing he could remember that explained how or why he was now in a room like a library and in the company of a very disagreeable chair. The place certainly felt like it had been modelled on some medieval castle, probably by some elderly eccentric person.
Or was it Mrs Burton’s revenge for him stepping on Sprinkles?
The thought was unbidden. The cat was moth-eaten like no other and for a moment, John wildly wondered how she could even tell him who had accidently clipped her poorly old feline, what with all the yobbos wandering about and the Mad, Puppy Chewing, Pet Rodent Munching, Biting Danny Davies’ Chickens’ Heads Off Fox of Green Street on the prowl every full moon.
Don’t be stupid.
He shook his head, confused. It was all very odd to him, just like the peculiar noises were that he could now hear straining their way through the door in the corner. If his suspicions were not mistaken, the elderly eccentric responsible for kidnapping him was hollering strange words-Latin, Greek?-that were rapidly followed by shrill squawking.
To John, it sounded like some parrot or other was being tortured. The bird was cut off abruptly with an irritated burst of swearing before more gibberish was spewed out at length and the poor bird crowed again, louder than ever, in a kind of itchy surprise that made John shake his head again. He stood, yawning, stretching and scratching himself luxuriously. Everything was very bizarre and now that he was up and standing in the sunlight, he saw that his suit bore several other suspicious stains besides the one on his shoe. He squinted and made his way to the door, still fighting to make a little sense of what was apparently the latest happening in a string of odd and miserable events being inflicted on him.
The door opened onto a dreary corridor with uncarpeted floorboards and green, rotting wallpaper that had a twisty-turning pattern on it. He promptly smacked into a cast-iron candle stand, the whiff of overdone loaves burning all around him. The candles stuck on it were unlit, making the fairly long passage rather dark. He made out more shelves stuffed with books in the bays on either side of the rickety looking staircase, which formed a bottleneck outside of his room.
A colossal bang made the house vibrate just then and John jumped and looked around. The stentorian noises appeared to be coming from the room on his right, which was separated from his by another shaky staircase. The door was open, the wood blasted smooth; for some reason, John thought of a Hollywood castle as he nervously slipped inside and found himself greeted by what was the weirdest sight that had ever graced his vision, for, perched on top of a pile of just three, but very large, tabletop sized grimoires was an octogenarian posing like Moses atop Mount Sinai.
However, it was the old man’s appearance that confounded John the most. He was wearing long, plain velvet robes that trailed to the dusty floor and were the most violent shade of violet that John had ever seen. His flyaway white beard pooled at his feet and his snowy hair was just on level with his ankles, a steepled, also violet, hat glittering with embroidered suns and moons perched on his head. A smoking vile of some acrid green elixir held in a clamp sloshed beside his waist at just the right height for him to dip his wand into, the gnarled stick resembling any normally found under a tree.
As John watched, the old man stuck it in and whisked it about before removing it and waving the stick at a white rooster hunched over and panting on the floor. A green bolt flew at it and the bird was lifted up, squawking as it shot several feet into the air, hovering and briefly enveloped in a sickly green aura, much like that in the phial, although it faded rapidly and the rooster plummeted back downwards. It landed with a dull thump and remained on the medieval glazed tiles, shivering, pitiful and silent in the dust, although John fancied that he had seen it throw the old man a reproachful glare. He was not sure though and thought that it might just have be his headache talking.
“Damn and dung!” The ancient wizard shouted, plenty loud enough in his reedy voice for dust to drift down from the exposed rafters, showering himself, John, the rooster and the lime green lizard slumped against the grimoires.
John froze, then shook his head, quite certain that he was not looking at the special effects for an upcoming movie. The lizard had thrown its scaly arms over its head and was rolling its large maroon eyes as the crazy old man fruitlessly tried to cast another spell. It was about twice the size of a Yorkshire terrier and as he watched, it flicked its long tail and slightly fluffed the quills that formed a green-yellow mop like hair on top of its head.
It also ignored him, as did the eccentric coot, who resumed muttering to himself whilst shaking the vial fervently, jabbing his wand into it and immersing the wood in the foul potion; withdrawing it, he waved and pointed it at the unlucky chicken.
Shouting an archaic verse, the rooster rose up again with another shocked screech, John watching, mystified.
“Why doesn’t anything ever work?” The old man bellowed, bringing another deluge of dust down on his head.
The lizard thing spotted John, who was gaping gormlessly at the old man. It hopped up onto its two large feet, complete with stubby claws, and without looking back, it waddled over, its green, scaly potbelly jiggling it walked.
John leapt out of his skin as the creature passed by him and wrapped its smooth tail around one ankle. He took half a step back, tugging against the knee-high lizard that began leading him back the way he had come, the creature’s tail feeling to like he had a small python clinging to his leg. He was reminded, with a wobble, of a girlfriend he had had in university who had a beloved pet called “Slinky”, a huge Burmese boa that had gotten a little too close for comfort one day. He was pretty certain that the lizard’s whippy appendage that was guiding him could crush his bones easily, so he hobbled after the bizarre thing, which, close to, resembled a dragon. He was led past his room and down the stairs, at the bottom of which he was pulled to the right, precariously wobbling into a drab parlour where he found himself pushed into a very overstuffed leather armchair beside a small but roaring log fire.
The little reptile, whatever he was, yawned and turned away. He pulled on a string to shut the door before John could utter a complaint, leaving him extremely confused and alone in a cosy room with a titanic headache and no obvious cure for it. He begun to feel very drowsy again and supposed that it was the fiery heat that was irritatingly prickly at the same time. The armchair’s squishy softness did little to help and nor did the lack of things to do, although there was a wall of books, but he just didn’t have to will to get up and trudge over to them.
He stared aimlessly into the flames instead, nodding off until a sudden, loud knock on the door made him jump out of his hot skin. His sore head left the chair’s dark red chair fabric as he looked around and spotted an apple shaped bottom pushing the door open. A youngish woman appeared, clutching a yellow plastic tray on which was tea and biscuits. John perked up considerably.
“You’re awake!” She cried brightly, then in a more anxious tone, “I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
She held up the tea-tray up as a peace offering, kicked the door shut behind her and shuffled into the room, her long, naturally black and straight hair swinging with every step. It was neatly trimmed at elbow-length. She had a button nose, dark grey-blue-green eyes and full lips painted with a wonderful matte purple-brown-red colour that John could not help but stare at, entranced, having been struck by the notion that the woman proffering aspirin at him was the most beautiful that he had ever seen. She bent down gracefully with a smile, placing the tray on the coffee table that stood between his chair and the chintz-covered one opposite that looked like a beanbag.
“I thought you might,” she told him rather cheerfully; “After all, Spike said he left you in here three hours ago.”
She held out a cup of milky tea, John noticing that she had lovely slender fingers.
“Jane Jones,” she said, then her face fell a little, "Well, Artemisia, but I prefer Jane."
And with that, her smile was immediately back and John had his own as he shook the cup of tea and shook her proffered hand. He made to get up as though he was the host, but Jane waved him to sit down, plonking herself on the overstuffed footstool with her back to the fire.
“Well, eat up,” Jane jerked her head at the tray, “Aspirin’s all we had left, m’fraid, as Albert’s scoffed all the paracetamol, see.”
John jerked out of his dreamy reverie with which he had been staring Jane. He looked at the tray that she had brought in; on it was a glass of water, the box of twenty-four pills that she had waved at him, a dozen custard creams and some flat, toasted things liberally smeared with damson jam.
“The teacakes were the only thing left too-doubtlessly Spike ate everything else.”
She shook her head in exasperation and John picked up one of the slightly over toasted teacakes. He bit into it hungrily, soaking up the names Albert and Spike as he did so.
“You know, you’re the first wizard to have cropped from Normies like that in nearly a hundred years. It’s odd.”
He looked at her, bemused and halfway to swallowing a couple of white tablets.
Jane nodded blithely.
“Normal people. Ones who can’t do magic. We call ‘em Normies.”
“Us, you silly thing!” Jane smiled and shook her head in disbelief, “Our kind. Witches, wizards, all the magical creatures-”
John put the uneaten half of his teacake down, utterly confused. It seemed that Jane was too, her teacup half raised and her brow furrowing for a moment before she gasped and nearly split her tea.
“Spike hasn’t told you! Oh!”
He watched as she laughed, completely carried away by the thought.
“A wizard,” she began, eyes shiny with tears, “is a Gifted person. Able to see orbs and auras and such. Most people can’t and we call them Normies. Others can sometimes see ‘em, but weakly because the blood’s too diluted in them. Those are Half Normies. I should think you’re pretty high content because if Spike’s right, you saw everything. What did your parents do?”
John did not grasp a single word of what she said. He knew that he should have felt at least a annoyed that she wanted to know something as personal as his family history so soon after meeting, but the information just tumbled out of his mouth.
“My father was a bank clerk and my mother was a stay-at-home wife.”
His answer seemed not to please Jane, who frowned again, looking thoughtful.
“Hmmm…odd. What about your grandparents?”
John had to think for a few moments.
“My father’s father was a postman, and my mother’s father worked in the bank as well. That’s how my father got his job, and met my mother.”
Jane looked like a dog chewing on a bone.
“Either of them have any, you know, odd habits? Hobbies?”
“My father’s father was into lapidary.”
“What about your grandmothers?”
“Mother’s mother was a voluntary nurse in the Great War.”
“And your dad’s?”
Jane stared at earnestly and though John wanted to give her something interesting, he was defeated by blandness. He shrugged.
“A stay-at-home-wife,” he raked through his memories, “My mother said she saw ghosts when she was a girl, and that her grandmother…”
“Her grandmother what?”
Jane was perched on the edge of her seat, leaning forwards rather hungrily.
“Well, her grandmother…I never met her-at least I don’t remember, anyway. Nobody ever spoke of her much. It was like…”
He frowned, putting down his cup of tea and clasping his hands together as though talking to a councillor.
“It was Grandmother Adamantine was an embarrassment or something-”
The name clearly struck a chord with Jane, who smiled in a congratulatory, surprised manner.
“I think we found where you get your blood from. There was a witch from Essex called Winifred Saunders and in the 1880s she had a daughter called Adamantine, also a witch and one of the last Pure Ones on record. Most likely she fell for a Normie-your mother’s grandfather. It’s been happening a lot in the past couple centuries and it leads to you happening.”
John was still rather confused, especially about what Jane was saying about his mysterious, skeleton-in-the-closet grandmother; half of a teacake was hanging out of his mouth as he listened, with growing bafflement to what the terribly pretty woman was saying.
“Breeding with Normies. It spreads the genes out, dilutes them over the years, then we getting people like you cropping up; Half Normies with latent powers. There are very few Pure Ones- magic folk without any Normie blood- left with all this marrying out, although to be honest, I’m just like you.”
“My great-grandparents were both magical but my grandmother married a Normie so my mother…well, she was an odd one. Some days she could read your mind, and the next she wouldn’t have been able to tell you that there was a ghost standing next to you. And my father-well, he was as insensitive to the supernatural and all things magical and mysterious as they come. A right proper Normie, he was.”
Jane sighed heavily and wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly sad.
“He disregarded my mother’s tealeaf reading once too often and they both died in a car-crash just before my sixth birthday. I wasn’t left alone though!”
She smiled to perk John’s spirits up and he realised that he had been staring at her, aghast.
“Great-great Uncle Dunstaffernage picked me up and took me in. He’s that loco loony upstairs-”
She jerked her head at the ceiling.
"That’s your great uncle?” John butted in, goggling.
“Great-great,” Jane corrected him gently, smiling and nodding benignly, “I know. It makes me glad to think that because so few can know about us so he can’t embarrass me much."
She sighed a little then, looked distant briefly and then leant over to tear a corner off of the last of the four toasted teacakes that she had brought him.
John’s mouthed worked but no sounds came out.
“So…if few can know about you…” he said, slightly hesitant, “how comes you brought me here? And told me things? Aren’t you worried that-?”
Jane smiled brilliantly, her expression one of amusement of the like normally given to a naughty pet or child.
“I can tell you these things,” she said, still smiling, ‘because you, John, are a wizard. Yes!” She giggled at his gormless expression, “a very latent one, admittedly, but one of us nonetheless, and if what Spike’s estimated is anything going to go by-”
“What did he say?” John asked, still having trouble believing her words.
“He, well…”Jane picked up her tea again and blew on it gently, “Late last night, Spike picked up a very serious disturbance in the Fabric between our world and the Hereafter where the demons live. We followed it to where you live-Parsley Road, and found King Mammon’s corpse lying in the gutter but then Fluffy-our dog-picked up your scent. We had to go to your house and pick you up-sorry for that, by the way.”
“Hmm? Oh, you mean for-? No, don’t-”
“It’s quite all right,” Jane told him flippantly, now looking a little sheepish, “I don’t mind apologising. I did help abduct you after all! But understand, we did have our reasons. I certainly wouldn’t be the first to put it past Prince Asmodeus for hunting you down-”
Jane added another lump of sugar to her tea and stirred it with a small, silver spoon as she looked at John, who stared back with a lost expression.
“Who’s this ‘Prince Asmodeus’ again?” He asked.
“Prince Asmodeus-well, King Asmodeus, now-he’s the son of King Mammon, the Demon King. He’s the one you saw getting murdered last night by Asmodeus’ minion. Remember that?”
She spoke kindly and John could not help but nod in agreement.
“He-this Mammon bloke-he called the guy ‘Mamilion’”.
Jane nodded her own head and sipped her tea.
“You know him?” John asked, surprised.
“I know of him,” she replied, “He’s not the pleasantest fellow, is he?”
Her tone was so mellow that John could not help spluttering and blurting out, “He killed someone!”
“I know,” Jane said, “We sent King Mammon’s body back to his kingdom this morning. His son was gracious enough to accept it, but I don’t think he’ll stay civil for long. That’s another reason we brought you here-Spike thinks you might be crucial in tipping the stakes.”
John eyes boggled.
“You know, the war we’ve been having?”
Jane rolled her sea-like eyes good naturedly at his puzzled look and elaborated in plain terms, “The classic battle between good and evil which has been raging for centuries. The Dark against the Light-not that either side is particularly winning at the moment…”
She sipped her tea pensively and nibbled on the corner of a custard crème before flashing John one of her characteristically optimistic smiles.
“But that’s a horrible topic, especially for someone as new to all of this as you. What’s important is that you can see demons and you saw those demons. As I said, most with the Gift who have the diluted blood can only feel their presence, although the lucky few might she a shade every now and then, but to be able to see a demon-that’s power.”
She tossed her curtain of black hair over her shoulder.
“I’m pretty sure that Spike will tell you more in the morning, if he’s willing to.”
“And what about your great-great uncle?”
John pointed at the ceiling.
“Oh, don’t worry about him. Uncle Dunstaffernage’s too busy trying to make Albert into some monster bird to actually teach anybody anything these days. He hardly ever leaves his room anymore-”
He looked at her hopefully.
“I don’t know the half of what goes on around here, surprisingly.”
And with that, Jane stood up to her full, average height, and smiled yet again.
“The bedroom you found yourself in is yours. Mind, it’s dustier than it looks and there are probably mothballs in the drawers, but it should fine for sleeping in. If you need me, I’m on the next floor, but be quiet, ‘cause Spike hates being woken up in the middle of the night. It gives him a right temper if you do.”
She picked up the tray and walked out of the room, the door clicking shut behind her. John was left with an ebbing headache and a mind awhirl with confusion. He didn’t even notice that, without asking, she knew his name.