Walking Old Scratch

Thursday, 27 May

Please excuse me for persevering with my account of the events that took place at Elmfield House last Friday, but a number of unusual incidents occurred that afternoon and the peculiar nature of the day continued long after I left Elmfield House...

There was an electric charge in the air which suggested that the heavy rain would soon intensify into a thunderstorm, so I sought refuge in a corner of the bus shelter and watched the wind blow the flimsy glazing of the shelter in and out like the sails of a ship. Only a few minutes had passed when, mercifully, I spotted the headlights of a bus approaching as though it had been waiting on cue around the corner. Flustered by the sudden appearance of the bus, I fished around in my bag for my travel pass as it pulled into the stop and hurried on with Leonard’s umbrella under my arm, my bag half open and my pass hanging from between my teeth. I stumbled down the aisle and collapsed heavily into a seat and took account of myself and my belongings. Thankfully my pride was not too irrevocably damaged by my inelegant arrival as the bus was empty, expect for a young man staring vacantly out of the window and wearing the most enormous headphones and two elderly ladies with armfuls of supermarket carrier bags balanced on their laps. 

Scraping the damp tendrils of hair from my face, I tied my hair back into a ponytail and struggled to fasten the strap on the wet umbrella. I was rummaging in my bag to find a tissue to dry my hands when the bus came to a halt once again, so I paid little attention to the passenger who boarded the bus at the next stop. In my peripheral vision I saw a tall figure in a long trench coat step onto the platform and I heard the clink of coins and the whirr of the ticket machine, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. However as he passed by and took his seat behind me I was instantly repelled by a thick acrid stench that filled the air. It was a horrible smell; a stomach-wrenching combination of the worst human odours like putrid sweat and the accumulation of filth but with strong chemical top notes much like the disinfectant smell in a hospital ward. Since the bus was empty the man’s decision to sit in the seat directly behind me raised my suspicions and I was overwhelmed by an unpleasant feeling, the exact cause of which is difficult to explain. He just didn’t feel right. I have experienced a similar feeling of uneasiness in the presence of a stranger once before and, as I have mentioned in previous posts, that encounter has left such a mark on me that I find it difficult to forget.

The bus pulled violently away from the stop and the driver hit the brakes when we met with the heavy traffic on the main road, causing me to pitch forward in my seat and a soft drinks can to roll the entire length of the aisle upstairs and rattle noisily between the seats. The roar of the bus engine settled as we joined the main flow of traffic and I listened intently to the man seated behind me. But no sound came from him. He was deathly silent. I turned to catch sight of him in the window but his reflection was distorted by white tributaries of rain that streaked down the glass. Dismissing my curiosity in the stranger, I pulled my bag further up onto my lap and continued fiddling with the umbrella strap, but no matter how deliberately I preoccupied myself I could sense the piercing stare of the man boring into me from behind and a tremendously suffocating feeling of self-consciousness was slowly beginning to creep over me.  

Around five or ten minutes into the journey I found myself distracted by the other passengers that had boarded the bus and I had almost succeeding in forgetting about the stranger, but as time progressed I became aware of an odd sensation, almost tangible enough to describe as heat, that seemed to radiate from behind me and make contact with the back of my neck. At first I thought that the man seated behind me was holding a cigarette lighter near to my neck, not close enough to burn the skin but close enough to gently heat it, but I could see from the reflection in the window beside me that there was nothing near my head. It was not an uncomfortable feeling, in fact the warmth was actually quite pleasant and, rather than being alarmed, I allowed myself to relax and ease back into my seat and soon afterwards I felt a discernible pressure growing against my neck like a warm hand massaging and delicately teasing the knots from my tight muscles. My whole body was being gradually drawn into a submissive state and I was surrendering to it willingly. I endured the pleasurable but unsettling experience for the entire bus journey, all the while praying that the man would stand up and leave the bus at each stop but at the same time slipping deeper and deeper into a passive, dream-like state and hoping that the journey would never end. 

Streetlights whipped past like bright beacons punctuating the darkness and illuminating houses at regular intervals and I fought desperately to maintain concentration and identify passing buildings so that my stop was not missed. Then, as my stop approached, I forcibly roused myself from my stupor and waited until the last possible second to hit the red stop button to alert the driver. I cursed as the bell chimed loudly throughout the bus, then grabbed my bag and umbrella and hurried clumsily out of my seat. As I held tightly onto the rail and waited for the bus to stop, I heard the commotion of someone moving and then the slow thud of heavy footsteps made their way down the centre of the aisle and came to a halt directly behind me. My heart began to pound as the bus turned sharply into the stop and I searched in the windows to catch a reflection of the man behind me, but all that I could see was a black figure silhouetted against the bright, fluorescent bus lighting. As the doors snapped open, I glanced to my side to thank the driver, taking care to ensure that we made eye contact.

Please remember my face.

If anything is to happen to me, then please remember my face.

I stepped out onto the wet pavement and took a firm grasp of the umbrella as it was whipped up by the fierce wind and headed through the dark alleyway into the main residential area. Above the sound of raindrops beating on the umbrella I could hear the counterpoint of heavy footsteps following behind at an unhurried and calm pace, yet maintaining a menacingly close distance so as to alert me to the presence of my pursuer. The heels of my shoes made a hollow sound on the pavement and no matter how delicately I placed each step the noise echoed around the surrounding houses like a loud signal overhead revealing my location. I picked up my pace and took a detour up the hill towards safer ground on the main street, but it seemed that no matter which direction I turned the footsteps followed behind and, in mockery of my increasingly desperate state, my progress slowed with each step that I took up the steep hill and my legs became heavier and heavier as though I was wading through a thick viscous liquid.

Fearing that the man would soon catch up with me, I took one hand from the umbrella and thrust it into my coat pocket to search for my keys. I located the long church key on my keyring and gripped it between my first and middle fingers to make a weapon in case I needed to defend myself. Surges of adrenalin flooded through me as my fight-or-flight impulses kicked into gear; could I actually bring myself to do this? I even considered which part of his body that I would lunge for first. But then, just as I was preparing for the worst, the rhythm of our footsteps was interrupted by a third sound. It was brighter, faster and closer to me than the footsteps of the man following behind. 


I took a sharp breath because I recognised this familiar sound within seconds of hearing it. There was no mistaking my identification of it, however it was much louder and faster than I was accustomed to and I had certainly not heard it in public before. It was the sharp, staccato clicking of Hooter’s long nails on Leonard’s kitchen floor. But how could this be possible? Had the dog followed me out of Elmfield House? Surely not. Leonard insists that Hooter never ventures beyond the garden gate... 

Whether the dog was following behind or not, the familiar sound was very reassuring and my pace slowed considerably upon hearing it. The footsteps of the man gradually died away as the lights from the main street came into view and they were replaced entirely by the rhythmic ‘clack-clack’ sound. And that too had faded away by the time that I reached the main street. Only then did I dare to glance over my shoulder, partly because I dreaded catching sight of the man and partly because I feared seeing Hooter. The sight of either would surely have terrified me.

The Backdoor of Hades

Wednesday, 26 May

Leonard said that although the suggestion that Jesus was empowered by the spirits of the dead might sound ridiculous to the modern reader, it would have been perfectly acceptable to a first century audience, particularly given the wealth of stories involving the magical employment of the souls of the violently killed and the untimely dead that were in circulation throughout the ancient world. “The ‘untimely’ dead?” I asked, “what difference does time make? Is there a ‘timely’ dead?”. Leonard was amused by my question and he explained that numerous civilisations throughout history have feared the souls of those who have met a violent or early demise. And the rationale behind this was fascinating…

He told me that the ancients believed that if a person’s soul was taken from the body too early or by violence then the soul would be bound to the earth where it would co-exist amongst the living and cause all kinds of mischievous and malicious harm. He said that stories concerning the earth-bound nature of these souls may have arisen from physical examinations of the corpses of individuals who had experienced a sudden death since modern medical studies reveal that the bodies of individuals who have died suddenly or suffered a violent death tend to behave abnormally after death; not only do these corpses decompose at a slower rate but it is not uncommon for the blood inside the body to reliquify. An observer who is not acquainted with this unusual post-mortem phenomenon might conclude that a dead body is still alive, since it would appear fresher than expected and it would bleed when cut. Leonard seemed to know an enormous amount about the behaviour of the body after death, which would have sounded very unnerving coming from anyone else! 

Leonard went on to explain that the second-century Christian writer Tertullian assigned these unfortunate souls to two categories: those who had died before the completion of their apportioned time on earth (which he called the ‘aoroi’) and those that had been killed by violence such as suicide or murder (which he called the ‘biaiothanatoi’). Since both the aoroi and biaiothanatoi were thought to be embittered by their premature and unnatural cause of death, they were believed to be particularly vengeful towards the living and this hostility towards the living made them particularly keen to lend their assistance to deviant and coercive magical activities such as curses and love charms. In fact these aoroi and biaiothanatoi spirits were considered to be so valuable that if one could not be found then one would be made and there are reports of magicians carrying out human sacrifice in order to create a restless and powerful spirit (this is probably the origin of the rumour that Simon Magus performed his miracles using the soul of a murdered boy that he created out of thin air and promptly sacrificed).

Leonard said that similar beliefs regarding the restless dead were alive and kicking, if you excuse the pun, in the New Testament era and to illustrate his point he drew my attention to the account of the Gerasene demoniac in chapter five of the Gospel of Mark. The author of Mark tells us that the Gerasene demoniac has been living amongst the tombs of the dead and therefore an early reader of the Gospels who was acquainted with the superstitious fears surrounding the restless dead would infer that his possessed state is attributable to the fact that he has been exposed to hostile earth-bound spirits that are forced to remain within the vicinity of their graves. Leonard also mentioned that the identification of the spirits in the passage as ‘Legion’ is particularly significant as soldiers and men killed in battle were deemed to be the most fearful of the restless dead since not only did they suffer a violent death but their bodies often remained unburied and unidentified on the battlefield and this disrespectful treatment of the corpse was thought to contribute to the spirit’s anger and restlessness.

I was a little puzzled by this digression into the world of the dead until Leonard explained that Jesus’ contemporaries would have been familiar with these popular beliefs regarding the violently and untimely killed and Herod may well be referring to these superstitions when he explicitly states, in Mark’s version of the story, that ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead’. Leonard said that the souls of the beheaded were considered to be particularly fearsome and vengeful and stories of headless demons were commonplace in the ancient world (particularly in Hellenistic Egypt), therefore it is highly likely that the circumstances of John’s death would have been particularly significant for the early reader of the Gospels who would have understood that John’s violent demise satisfied the requirements for the creation of a powerful biaiothanatos spirit that was ripe for exploitation by any competent magician - or by Jesus, as Herod suggests in this particular case.

Leonard’s lecture on the magical employment of the restless dead was very interesting I must admit, but amidst this talk of violent and premature death I couldn’t help but reflect on the death of my brother Daniel. I realise that there is never any certainty when it comes to matters of the afterlife, but Daniel died in violent circumstances and my family and friends undoubtedly believe that he died before his naturally appointed time. Consequently I cannot help but wonder whether Tertullian is to be believed and Daniel’s spirit is not at peace. It must be terrible to be trapped in between worlds. And what an equally terrible thought that is for us, the loved ones left behind. 

I was curious to hear more on the subject but the grandfather clock chimed the hour in the hallway at that point and I realised that I had lost track of time. The rain was still beating against the workroom window and I desperately wanted to continue our conversation, but it was getting dark outside and I knew that Alex would be furious if I returned home late once again. My questions could wait until our next sitting and I certainly had enough to think about for one day, so I made my apologies, gathered my bag together and stood to leave. Leonard accompanied me into the hallway – as he always does at the end of our sessions – and he handed me one of the many black umbrellas in the wooden hat stand by the door. I thanked him, said my goodbyes and stepped out of Elmfield House into the heavy downpour. It was dreadful weather, but I had not anticipated that the rain would be the least uncomfortable aspect of my journey home...

Tea and Manteia

Tuesday, 25 May

My extended stay at Elmfield House on Friday afternoon was very enjoyable indeed, mainly because I had a perfect excuse to fawn over Luke without attracting suspicion but also because Leonard has progressed to painting Luke’s portraits and I find the painting process to be tremendously entertaining. I sat behind Leonard and the large wooden easel that dominated the centre of the workroom, pretending to follow each brushstroke while all the time watching the colours swirl around inside the jar of water that he uses to clean his brush. At one point Luke developed a raspy cough that he blamed on the dusty old cravat that he was wearing for the portrait but Leonard believed that it was brought on by the strong paint fumes that were accumulating in the room and, although Luke insisted that he was fine, Leonard opened all the windows and then retreated into the kitchen to brew up a pot of cough remedy which, from what I can gather, consisted mostly of mullein, horehound and honey. He offered a mug of the steaming mixture to me and although it smelled sweet and appealing, I politely declined.

We resumed our positions around the easel and then after ten minutes or so of silence, Leonard enquired from out of nowhere: “so…any new thoughts on the wand?”. At first I was unsure to whom Leonard was speaking as he had his back to me, but since Luke was looking directly at Leonard and I knew that Luke would not be so rude to ignore him, I inferred that the question must be addressed to me. Besides I have learned to anticipate a theological-cum-magical lecture whenever the room falls quiet and on most occasions, unless I am feeling particularly tired, I am relieved when Leonard strikes up a discussion as it serves to fill the awkward silences, although I wonder whether he does this a) to genuinely test my opinions on his theories, b) to provide entertainment in order to prevent me from becoming bored or c) to simply amuse himself while he is working.

My apathetic response to Leonard’s question was the verbal equivalent of shrugging my shoulders like a sulky teenager. What else could I say? I had exhausted every conceivable theory that had come to mind during our last conversation on the matter and so I made an indifferent, hesitant noise that hung pitifully in the workroom air along with the paint fumes. Clearly impatient to reveal his own thoughts on the subject, Leonard jammed the end of his brush between his teeth and stepped back from the easel, then he reached over to a shelf and retrieved his bible. He handed the bible to me and instructed me to turn to chapter fourteen of the Gospel of Matthew and read the first two verses of the chapter aloud. Obligingly I located the passage and read:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.’  
The afternoon was rapidly turning into another bible study session and I was embarrassed that yet another theological debate was taking place in Luke’s presence. Although Luke knows that I am a student of theology and these discussions have an entirely academic basis, I do not want him to think that I am a religious fanatic who talks about nothing but Jesus and the New Testament all day long. And reading bible passages aloud during our sessions is doing very little to discourage this impression. 

Leonard asked me to explain, from my understanding of these two verses, how Herod believes that Jesus is able to perform miracles. I reread the passage to myself and answered tentatively “because John the Baptist has risen from the dead?”. He nodded in agreement and then asked me to explain how the deceased John the Baptist could be the source of Jesus’ ability to perform miracles. After feigning deep concentration for a short while, I shook my head and confessed that I had not considered the meaning of Herod’s words in this passage before, but the implication appears to be that Jesus somehow is John the Baptist. 

My reply sounded ridiculous but, before I could contemplate it any further, Leonard presented me with yet another puzzle. He said that in the Markan version of this story the claim that Jesus is to be identified as John the Baptist is made by the general public rather than Herod and, in another episode that occurs later in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples ‘who do men say I am?’ to which they respond with the names of John the Baptist, Elijah and ‘one of the prophets who has risen again’. In Mark’s version of events it is the general populace who identify Jesus as John the Baptist and by asking the question (and promptly demanding secrecy afterwards) we infer that Jesus himself was fully aware of these allegations. So, Leonard asked me, what could have led Jesus’ contemporaries to believe that he was John the Baptist or another popular deceased figure?

It seemed obvious to me that Herod and the people were thinking in terms of reincarnation - that John the Baptist had been reincarnated as Jesus – but Leonard dismissed this theory, pointing out that a) John and Jesus existed contemporaneously and they are distinctly separate characters in the Gospels, and b) Herod’s accusation is not that John has been reincarnated but that he is risen from the dead and he is actively empowering Jesus to perform miracles, to which I exclaimed “you mean, Jesus had taken John’s dead body out of his grave?!” causing Leonard and Luke to laugh at my shocked and repulsed expression. Leonard said that he seriously doubted that John’s stinking, rotting corpse was accompanying Jesus around Galilee and performing miracles on his behalf. On the contrary, he argued that Herod’s words do not concern the bodily resurrection of John but rather the resurrection of his spirit and therefore Herod’s claim is that the spirit of John the Baptist is empowering Jesus and granting him the ability to perform miracles. “Like spirit possession?” I interrupted, to which Leonard pulled a face and replied that the term ‘spirit-possession’ is a little misleading…

Leonard introduced the word ‘necromancy’ into our conversation at that point and he explained that the term typically refers to the physical resurrection or re-animation of a corpse using magical procedures, although it was also broadly applied to the magical manipulation of the spirits of the dead, particularly the practice of consulting the spirits of the dead regarding future events. He said that necromancy was widely practiced in antiquity and it features in the literature produced by many cultures throughout history, so it is no surprise that it even makes an appearance in the Synoptic Gospels. When I questioned Leonard about this statement he said that Jesus was an accomplished necromancer who performed both the physical resurrection of the dead and the magical manipulation of the spirits of the dead and when I considered the evidence presented by the Gospel authors then the claim made perfect sense: Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah during his transfiguration (which Leonard described as an invocation of the dead in order to consult with them concerning future events), Jesus raises a child from the dead on two occasions and in the account of the raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John we are presented with the resurrection of a corpse that had been dead for four days. 

I confessed that I had not considered the raising of Lazarus to be an act of necromancy before, to which Leonard pointed out that the artists who portrayed Jesus raising Lazarus with a wand in early Christian art clearly interpreted the passage in this way. Leonard said that if these popular artistic representations of Jesus performing the raising of Lazarus using magical methods are any indication that Jesus was suspected of practising necromancy in the centuries following his death then it is likely that he encountered similar accusations during his lifetime, which could account for the popular belief that Jesus could resurrect the souls of deceased individuals such as John the Baptist. Herod’s words could therefore be further evidence that Jesus’ contemporaries understood that Jesus was capable of manipulating the spirits of the dead through magical means and they believed that the source of his miracle-working powers did not originate from the divine or the demonic, but from the spirits of the dead.

More later, I must leave for a lecture now. I will write again tomorrow…..

Watching and Praying

Monday, 24 May

There was a sombre air in Elmfield House on Friday afternoon. It was raining fiercely outside and the combination of grey and overcast skies and the sound of heavy rain rattling against the window made the workroom feel remarkably dark and gloomy and contributed greatly to our apathetic mood. Poor lighting always makes Leonard irritable and his frustration at being prevented from working showed in his furrowed brow and exasperated mutterings. I had changed into and out of my sitting clothes three times and I finally resigned myself to lounging in the armchair and wrapping a tartan travel-rug tightly around my shoulders in order to keep warm while we waited patiently for a break in the clouds (Leonard requires me to wear a thin, summer top so that he can see the line and shape of the muscles and bones in my arms and back). Leonard plugged in a small electric fire to compensate for my light clothing and the infusion of warm air that crept into the room made us both feel very lethargic. Even Hooter fell fast asleep at my feet. 

Since neither one of us was in a particularly sociable mood and our motivation was at a seriously low ebb, we decided to work on some basic exploratory sketches rather than persevere in the vain hope that the weather might improve, so I moved to the comfy chair by the window and watched the rain beat against the glass while Leonard sat on a lower chair to my left with his sketchpad in hand, studying every tiny movement that I made (he must know every inch of my face by now). These informal exploratory drawings are for a set of armatures that Leonard is working on and, from what I can gather, he has been working on the bust peg for these armatures late at night. He would like to produce one or two terracotta portraits of me and ideally a bronze with an instrument; a violin perhaps, but his ideal musical prop would be a saxophone (fortunately I still have the alto saxophone that I learned to play at high school and I can’t wait to surprise Leonard with this revelation, he will be absolutely thrilled!). 

Leonard put a tape of TaizĂ© chants into the cassette player and we worked quietly for a while, just listening to the relaxing music. He is very fond of his collection of TaizĂ© chants and one of his favourites that he is inclined to rewind and play over and over again is a particularly soothing chant called ‘Bleibet hier und wachet mit mir’. Leonard lit a number of tealight lanterns in order to contend with the increasingly aphotic darkness that was quickly descending upon the room and the golden glow of the flickering flames combined with the gentle music generated a reverential and meditative atmosphere in the workroom. It felt like a secret place, a place of pilgrimage.

Unfortunately after half-an-hour or so the peaceful ambience in the workroom was shattered by wild barking from the neighbour’s dogs and shortly after came three loud knocks on the front door. Leonard threw his sketchpad onto the floor and stood out of his chair, grumbling to himself and complaining that Luke always knocks even though Leonard leaves the front door on the latch when he is due to arrive. He shuffled off into the hallway muttering “he knows that he’s perfectly welcome to let himself in…I shouldn’t have to repeat myself...”. I then heard Leonard greet his visitor and Luke’s deep voice echo through the hallway, so I decided to take the opportunity to leave before they entered the room and Leonard embroiled us both in conversation. 

Although I am finding it easier to converse with Luke now, recent events have made me a little nervous in his company and I feel that I owe the reader another confession. A few weeks ago I decided to test out another magic spell from The Omega Course. It was a love charm designed to attract the affections of the opposite sex and, although I am ashamed to admit it, the curious and love-struck romantic that will be forever imprisoned inside me could not resist testing whether the charm would have any effect. Luke was the test subject for this spell – quelle surprise! - and during our last few sessions I have noticed that he has been watching me intently, waiting until I catch his eye and holding my gaze a little longer than usual, to which I look away shyly and smile to myself in acknowledgement. He is testing my reactions to his blatant display and the attention is flattering and by no means unrequited, but there is something about Luke’s character that continues to unnerve me and I am always grateful for Leonard’s presence and mediation at our meetings.

I grabbed my coat and bag from the hook on the back of the workroom door and stepped out into the hallway to find Luke standing in a puddle of rainwater and looking like a drowned man rescued from a watery grave; his dark hair was plastered to his face, his tight jeans were soaked through and his leather jacket was emblazoned with thousands of beads of water that glistened like tiny diamonds. He was deep in conversation with Leonard and the two men looked extremely anxious so I felt terribly discourteous when I interrupted them and mumbled that I must be on my way home as it was getting dark outside. Luke apologised for disturbing us and he tried to convince me to stay with an uncharacteristic desperation in his voice, suggesting that I should wait until the heavy rain outside had abated, so, taking Luke’s drenched state and my very thin coat into account, I took his advice and made myself comfortable once again in the workroom and watched the two men work together for a while.