“Er, now,” said Archcleric Pygram, wholly uncertain what he was going to say next. He scanned the pages of the Holy Book, searching for wisdom. While he knew its contents by heart and knew it contained an inexhaustible supply of wisdom, he could see none obviously related to the current situation. Most definitely none on the pages he had open.
He rested a palm over the verses, seeking comfort in the touch of the pages paper as well as obscuring their shortcomings on this occasion.
The spirit erased and re-wrote its plea on the air.
The letters guttered like candle flame.
“I – I cannot,” managed the Archcleric after watching the smoky script fade once again. The phantom hovered before him still. And now Pygram doubted the power of his sacred magnet to detain the spirit in place. Was it held here in front of him by the trappings of ritual or merely staying of its own will? “That is to say, it is not that simple.”
Something like a breeze blew the word away and a punctuation mark hung in its place. Alone.
“Why,” repeated Pygram, wracking his brains for a way to transform it into a statement. “Why, indeed. Why, life is sacred. And – and you, I discover, have thought and emotion, desires, pains. And my mission is to save lost souls. I – I should at the very least endeavour to understand you before I help you on your way.”
Archcleric Pygram was temporarily dazed by the bluntness of the retort. He stroked the edges of the Book’s pages, wondering still if there was some passage hidden somewhere within them to which he could turn. “Yes, well, I ought. Do – do you have a name?”
The spirit ghost-wrote:
Wispering, Pygram decided, was a good description of this manner of communicating. How deep was the well when a soul drew on itself for ink?
“Good. Well. Tomuel,” Pygram tested it aloud. “It is my pleasure to meet you. Perhaps you would explain to me why it is you wish to be exorcised.”
WHY DO YOU THINK?
WHY DID YOU COME HERE?
Archcleric Pygram swallowed, his throat dry as old parchment and as drained of wisdom as the pages of his Book. The candles on the mantel flickered as though they’d been hissed at by some coldly venomous serpent. The Archcleric stiffened, closing the Book and clasping it to his breast. “Why, Tomuel, I came here to assist you. To guide you to the far realms, to see you safely across to the shores of the heavens and into the radiant benevolence of the Lord Meloch, Guardian Of Paradise, King Among The Stars and – ”
“I – I beg your pardon.”
YOU CAME TO CLEAR THIS HOUSE OF A TROUBLESOME SPIRIT
“Yes, yes. That is – part of it. We of the church answer to our clients, it’s true. But – but we have a responsibility first and foremost to souls. Of the living and the – the – ” He couldn’t very well say undead. Such terms were bound up with unfortunate connotations, the sorts of creatures one had to stake or decapitate to see them to their eternal rest. “Undeparted,” he said finally. “And instead of a troublesome spirit, here in this house, I found a troubled spirit. That – well, that changes everything,” he asserted with a firmness of conviction that had eluded him up to that point.
“It is a question of willingness. Most spirits I have encountered are unwilling.” Desperately uncooperative, if truth be known, even combative in a great many instances. “But you. You, Tomuel, are willing. Far far too willing.” The Archcleric clutched at a thought that seemed to have been there. lingering before his eyes for some time. Like a cranefly, the phantom beat of its wings at the very fringes of audibility, the occasional blur of motion at the periphery of his vision. Bothersome and so he’d tried to shut it out. But eventually enough of a nuisance that it flew into sharp focus. “You harbour no desires to be ushered into Paradise.”
“No, no,” Archcleric Pygram countered. He’d detected the shrug in those words and more besides. Feeling too much like a prosecution lawyer, he pressed on because he sensed he was on the trail of the truth. “Your eagerness to be banished from this house is just that. It is nothing to do with where you wish to be. But everything with where you wish not to be. I – I have seen it before,” he concluded quietly. And then appended, even quieter: “In the eyes of a young girl. Too young.”
Archcleric Pygram’s emotions hung in the air, it seemed, not as visible as the ghost and yet much much harder to ignore. The spirit appeared to ripple, trembling as it were, perhaps in mirror of Pygram’s heart. Was it mocking him? Or sensing the deeper story? Could it see the overflowing river rushing as Pygram could see it, as vivid and enraged in memory as it had been that night?
I AM THE OPPOSITE
THIS IS NO LIFE
AND I HAVE LIVED TOO LONG
THAT IS WHY
I TRIED TO DROWN MYSELF IN THE BATH
I TRIED TO HURL MYSELF FROM THE TOWER
I TRIED TO THROW MYSELF ON THE FIRE
The wispering grew faint as though the spirit had exhausted itself. But rather than its quill running dry, Pygram pictured its hand growing weak as it tried to set down its feelings.
The Archcleric hung his head. He patted the Book. “It is as I feared. To despair of existence – of any kind of existence – is no reason to end it. We must find strength and courage within ourselves and overcome adversity. We must make our peace in this life and not seek release in another.” He shook his head. Gravely. “I cannot be a part of it. I cannot help you.”
Archcleric Pygram bent to recover his effects, began to pack them away in his bags.
He aimed his gaze everywhere but at the word in the air.
Although wherever he looked it persisted to bother him somehow. Like the cranefly.
No, he realised with leaden heart. Far far worse than the cranefly.
More like the eyes of a young girl.
Two months ago I wrote a very strongly worded letter concerning the shoddy service I received at the hands of one of your young Archclerics, a fellow name of Pygram. The chap was here all of five minutes before declaring he was unable to clear my house of the damnable ghost, pardon my language again, then rode back off into the rain. Extraordinary behaviour, especially for an Archcleric. Mind, I did remark he was young for an Arch at the time, but there was no excuse for that level of rudeness or indeed for leaving me so abruptly in possession of a haunted property.
You were gracious enough, Archdeacon, to reimburse me my fee and relieve young Pygram of his Arch.
It is, therefore, with a modest quantity of egg on my face and the taste of humble pie on my tongue that I write to you now and state that I may have written in haste. The fact is, things have been uneventful in the supernatural department since your chap’s visit. Not a squeak or a bump, bathtimes to myself, all round peace and quiet.
So in short, I feel I owe you apology, your grace. I enclose the full value of my fee plus a little extra for the collection plate. And perhaps you might see to reinstating young Pygram.
Yours gratefully and not a little shame-faced
Hovering without wings. Watching without eyes.
All the pomp and ceremony was a bit much. It didn’t seem that long ago that he’d attended Pygram’s demotion ritual and now here he was as the young man was sworn in again as a full Archcleric of Meloch. Bravo, well done. Tomuel clapped without hands. And made no sound. Stirred only enough air to gutter the first row of candles on the altar.
The Archdeacon and all the gathered clerics, priests and acolytes and whatever glanced around, shrugging it off as a perfectly ordinary breeze through their hallowed temple. Archcleric-To-Be Pygram was the only one to pay it no heed, smiling nervously as he waited for the Archdeacon to proceed with the ceremony.
And why would Pygram bother to look? He was the only one here who knew the cause.
Two months, he had been with Pygram now. And these two ceremonies – demotion and promotion – made for the longest, most tedious occasions in both those months. The rest of the days and nights were fun. Time positively flew by.
The way Tomuel saw it, he was Pygram’s responsibility now. So he owed it to the (Arch)cleric to remain by his side, waking or sleeping – or waking when he wanted to be sleeping. Haunting was a brand of revenge that kept on giving.
Of course, Pygram could end it any time he wished. With an exorcism.
Funny thing though.
He’d found his raison d’etre. His mission in afterlife.
Now he never wanted it to end.
Note: The Tortenschloss Chronicles will be taking a short break, but will return at some point in December with a Christmas(ish) story! See you then!