Elliot and Geeza are thrown together once more in this second part of the trilogy, rushing up and down the length of Africa in a race against time to stop a monstrous entity from rising up to destroy the World! As ancient as the Earth itself, it has remained dormant for millennia, but is now shaking itself free...
Together with a maverick scholar, an expert in archaic forms of writing, they discover that the fate of the World somehow revolves around the three Great Pyramids of Egypt which were actually built by… Scotsmen?
Culminating in a final confrontation at an open air rock concert in front of the three main pyramids, Elliot and Geeza must also avoid being over-run by hairy black caterpillars, steer clear of pumpkin-headed mobs, learn how to play Osiris’ Bagpipes and try to stop the authorities from opening a tiny door set deep within an air shaft of the Great Pyramid itself!
The Da Vinci Code meets Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, McRoots takes you on a wild and totally weird ride - can you hold on long enough to save the world?
Sounds good? Here's an extract, just to whet your appetite - almost 80 pages!!!
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
It has been around two years since I last picked up my pen, when there was all that trouble with Alan Humphries and the global economic crisis. Since then I have been ensconced up here in the Faroe Islands, and do not seem to have had a moments rest in all that time.
Initially it was frenetic beyond belief. I had made it my mission to get the seas filled with fish again, to strike while the iron was hot and it was all still fresh in everyone’s minds. I poured all my energies into establishing and then maintaining a substantial number of hatcheries and no-fish zones around the world. To help me achieve this (and I consider this to be perhaps my greatest triumph of all) I set up several new international conservation organizations with which I was able to nail down every country involved into committing on some long-term agreements on fishing exclusion zones, realistic and manageable fishing quotas and moratoriums taken out on several species which, unfortunately these days, have made it onto the highly endangered list.
Happily these measures have seen an unprecedented rise and restocking of marine populations around the globe in recent months. It’s been very quick. It was never going to be easy, repairing the damage done - not only by Humphries, but also the centuries of exploitation and neglect by the world at large - but it has all been worth it so far. Already the seas are well on the way to becoming rich with life once more.
The media attention was almost unbearable in those first months with and it was only thanks to my South African friend Ollie Donald that I made it through. As the World Champion rally driver he is well used to the twenty four hour close scrutiny and intense probing that celebrities have to endure. Having helped me suffer the national tour of the UK that was forced upon me immediately after the Humphries affair, he said he would be only too happy to accompany me as I was then dragged around the world for more of the same. Time and again he proved himself to be invaluable, showing me how to carry myself through the spotlight’s glare with the barest minimum of fuss, steering me through all the countless interviews like a Labrador leads his charge across the street.
Gradually - and inevitably - the pressure has waned and I am no longer constantly called upon to attend the Brits, Oscars, charity functions and celebrity dinners with the same regularity as I was to begin with. I only allowed myself to be dragged into events such as these to promote my environmental projects: “You’ve got to been seen in the light to talk in the mike” Ollie advised me.
Anyway, invitations to these grand occasions have thankfully become less and less frequent as the attention of the global media - something akin to a six year old’s - has been drawn away to focus upon something new and bright and colourful.
The last public soiree I was invited to was three months ago now and was attended by such other dignitaries as Floella Benjamin, some obscure semi-finalist of a Belgian TV phone-in pop star competition and someone from one of those ghastly soap operas that the general public seem to love. It was being thrown by APT, the Association of Paisley and Tartan, in recognition of a comprehensive catalogue recently compiled by one of its members, which listed every known example of these designs from across the globe - quite literally from Alaska to Zimbabwe.
Ahh, at last! I appear to be floundering in the murky depths of the ‘C-List’! It shouldn’t be long before I have drowned completely. Well lordy me, thank God for that!
And whilst I would emphatically deny any connection, I suppose I do have to accept that it has been in these last three more restful months that I have found myself growing restless and (dare I say it) a little bored. My projects are all up and running with a momentum of their own now, so I have not had an awful lot to do. Consequently, my mind has been wandering and I have thought about renewing my investigations into Scottish culture once more. There are, after all, some startling things to be found up here in our very own Faroe Islands National Museum.
This rather non-descript little building is located on the high street of the capital between the more popular of the two bakeries we have and perhaps the least attended building on the island - the tourist information centre. While it is chiefly used as the Town Hall, it has on permanent display several stone tablets with weird and ancient inscriptions chiselled into them, the sharply defined edges long since smoothed by the passage of time (and the constant battering of the ferocious winds for all the years they lay exposed). I’ve been told that these runes contain much ancient lore that has been long, long forgotten and it all sounds rather intriguing. Frustratingly though, I can’t find anything more substantial than hearsay and speculation, as there is nobody on the islands who can read them.
If there were to be even the merest smidgen of truth in just some of the wild and extravagant tales I have heard then it would force a reappraisal of the entire history of... well, of history itself - certainly of civilization as we know it! I won’t go into any specifics right at this moment, not until I can find a way of actually deciphering the runes, but it could well be as big as the discovery as time travel, which I helped to uncover not so long ago!
Then again it could all be nonsense, the rumours I have had whispered in my ear by the locals, Old Joe McSlow amongst them - and anything that gap-toothed vagabond has to say has to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt! The inscriptions may be simple inventories of winter stores from ancient days - that always seems to be the explanation historians and archaeologists come up with when they find something new that they can’t immediately identify. I suppose this rather more mundane theory is just as likely, more so in fact, but if truth be told I think I want to believe in some of the more colourful stories I have heard, as I feel myself looking to add a little spice to my life again.
But should I dare to dream for some excitement? I don’t know. If anybody had asked me a year, even six months ago whether I would like to inject a bit of pace back into my life I would have quietly declined before politely showing them the door, for in my mind I had already more than had my fill, what with the mad professor’s antics followed immediately by my world tour.
No, if you’d asked me then it was going to be a slow and cosy life from now on thank you very much!
But now, as I said, I’m bored and I have found myself drifting off down memory lane more and more often lately, wondering among other things what has become of my old friend Geeza… I had not seriously expected to ever see him again, to be honest. I had told myself I’d go and visit him sometime, but I didn’t really think I would - I hadn’t the faintest idea where to look for a start. The last time I had seen him we were releasing the fish given to me by the Japanese Government before he went back to Africa where he was going to, as he put it: “immerse himself totally in deep, deep love.”
“If you want me,” he said before he flew off to Kenya, “you’ll find me.” Well, that’s a fair enough thing to say if you are a shamanic detective called Geeza Vermies, but trying to find one man in a continent as vast as Africa would be harder than finding a sober Scotsman on a Friday night in Glasgow.
Well, perhaps not harder, but at least as difficult.
Imagine my surprise then when there was a sudden knocking on the door of my walled garden just as the sun was beginning to dip on today’s damp but sunny autumnal afternoon and when I went to answer the call it was none other than Mr Vermies himself!
A bigger change in any man I have never seen before and shall probably never witness again - at least I sincerely hope not. He stood there as lean as I remembered him, with his long hair blowing freely in the gusting wind. It was tinged with the odd fleck of silvery-grey here and there though, the first clue that all was not well. His body looked bronzed and healthy, but his listless posture betrayed him at a glance and one look into his eyes showed such a depth of loss, sorrow and tortured pain that it was all I could do to embrace the man as he broke into pieces there upon my doorstep.
* * *
THE CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
This is the first time I’ve been able to do anything other than simply exist since it all happened. How long has it been now? Not quite a month? Feels like a lifetime ago. A different me in a different life. Another time, another place; all gone. All irretrievably lost.
Lost. That’s how I feel. Empty. Desolate. Destroyed. I know I really should be getting a grip on things, but I can’t. I just can’t seem to grasp hold of anything any more.
I suppose I knew it was coming, even said it to myself day after day, but I never... believed it? Accepted it? I don’t know. I don’t know anything any more.
Since Malika left me I feel insubstantial; lost and alone. Having never had - or needed - anybody in my life before and now having lost the one person I have opened myself up to, I just feel... nothing. Nothing at all.
I am a drained husk, an empty shell. A shadow of the person I was. I have no love for anything in my life anymore. I’m just numb; I can’t feel anything - no warmth, no pleasure and no future.
But I’ve got to snap out of it! We both knew something was happening, that a presence was growing, but we were too caught up in ourselves to do anything about it! I think we were both scared of losing each other, to the point where one of us - and Malika was always the stronger - had to end it all.
I know vaguely what the presence was - is - and that I have to take action, but what? And how? How am I supposed to do anything when I feel like I’ve died a thousand deaths? I hope I’ve done the right thing in coming to see Elliot. The Gods know, I had to go somewhere…
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
There is something about seeing a grown man cry that is utterly, utterly desperate; it really pulls at the heart strings. And the way Geeza openly wept as his body convulsed and shook with shuddering sobs was very distressing indeed.
Children cry, which is fair enough - that’s what kids do. Also, members throughout the world of what used to be known as ‘the gentler sex’ have always had the ability to shed tears as required, which must be tremendously helpful for releasing all that emotional energy stored up from day to day. Men though, on the whole, traditionally at least, do not cry. Simple as that.
Or is it? It is true to say that Western society (or at least British culture, days of the Empire and all that) developed in a way in which it was always perfectly acceptable for a woman to cry, but not so for a man. While this sociological pressure has had a marked influence on the men of the species, it is not the whole story.
There have been occasions in my own life when I have really wanted to cry, but have found myself simply unable. This has happened to me both while I was alone and in company, so it cannot be said to just be a case of male pride. There have been several times throughout my adult life when I’ve found myself sat in complete solitude wanting desperately to cry, but have been physically unable to.
Strange isn’t it, why that should be the case? Crying is a massive release, like a pressure valve for the emotions. Women, it is generally agreed, are much more emotional creatures than men - few would doubt that. Some say they are more in touch with their emotions, others that they are governed by them, but however you want to dress it up (and to get back to my original point) the fact remains the same: generally speaking, men tend not to cry.
Of course, we started to get the so-called New Man some years ago, who blubbed like an eight year old at the drop of a hat, but we don’t see him so often these days - he went into hiding, I think, when it became apparent that he was looked on as a sad and sorry little drip by both male and female alike. No, again generalizing expansively, a man for whatever reason tends not to cry, except when he hits absolute rock bottom - and that’s precisely where my friend appeared to be.
Hurriedly bundling Geeza inside, I sat him down with a steaming mug of tea and lit the kindling in the grate, allowing this to burn for a bit before placing some decent-sized logs on the fire. I offered him the choice of something a little stronger - a nip of brandy perhaps, glass of port, or some of last year’s sloe gin, (a little sweet, but warming none the less). Or maybe he fancied something to eat? Each of these options he declined in a far off, distant voice. He seemed to be holding himself together with the last vestiges of his very life force, as if any other activity on his part would cause him to crumble and collapse.
We sat in silence for some time, listening to the crackling and spitting of the fire - some of the logs had not had a chance to dry out properly and the fire guard caught no end of flying sparks which would otherwise have added to the numerous neat black holes burned into my hearth rug. While extremely concerned for my friend, I didn’t want to speak simply to fill the silence with random words, so I held my counsel. At least, I thought, until I knew more of what had happened.
Geeza for his part seemed unable to talk. I did not get the impression that he was unwilling to, or that he was building up to anything. He just seemed incapable, sitting there with his hands clasped tightly around his cup as if it were an anchor, the only thing preventing him from floating away on the draft that blew in from under the kitchen door.
For over an hour we sat there and I watched the struggle he was having with himself just to keep it together. Every so often he would take in a massive gulp of air and his head would loll backwards, his eyes shutting tightly as he ground his teeth together with a horrible grating noise. Then with a sigh that came from somewhere around his ankles, his head would drop once again and tears would stream silently down his haggard face.
Eventually I stood and told him I would run him a hot bath. He looked up at me with almost vacant eyes, but I thought I saw in them the flicker of an unspoken thank you. I started the water running and wondered what on earth - or knowing Geeza probably not of this earth - could possibly have affected him in this way?
The words he had spoken at our last meeting rose unbidden to my mind as I wound my way back down the wooden staircase which groaned in complaint as it spiralled between floors: “Come and visit by all means Elliot, but if I ever leave Africa it will be because something has gone terribly wrong…”
I couldn’t help but shudder at that and the thoughts in my head were flying about uncontrollably, racing around as I attempted to figure out what might have happened. It was wrong I know, but so many speculations swam across my consciousness over the next couple of hours that I had Geeza placed mentally in all manner of hideous (and frankly absurd) predicaments, ranging from simple homesickness to a rabid cult of pigeon-worshipping head-hunters, all brothers, all left handed, and all called Simon.
Funny where your mind takes you sometimes isn’t it?
Having told him where his room was and that the water was running, I watched him uncurl himself slowly and stand up, placing the remains of his tea - by now stone cold - on the little side table near his chair. He left the room without a word, looking for all the world like a little, lost boy, spurned and alone.
* * *
BAXTER LAMB’S DIARY
At last it has arrived! My luncheon date with two of the leading exponents of the modern wave of Pyramidology, Messrs Spatchcock and Ravel.
Anthony Spatchcock is a freelance journalist who has authored several books about notable sites around the ancient world, viewing them with a totally fresh perspective and coming up with some very interesting theories. Each one of his books caught the public’s attention in its day and they all topped the bestseller lists for a time. I know him quite well, but he has become notoriously difficult to meet up with in recent years - such is the price of his fame.
Gilbert Ravel is an old friend of mine. A Belgian, he is a graduate from the Acadamie Historique du Koekelburg, a highly esteemed faculty just outside of Brussels. That is his only connection to Brussels though, he will tell you unfailingly. As a staunch Antwerpenaar, he is Vlaanderen through and through. “No, not like Hercule Poirot,” as I always used to tease him. He speaks Flemish first and foremost, although like most of his countrymen he speaks a good half-dozen languages fairly fluently.
This meeting has been scheduled for days now, since they both arrived in Egypt and I have been itching to get to it! I thought it would never come, but finally it’s here! Our appointment is for half past twelve at The Alexandria, where I wish to discuss my latest findings over the brunch buffet the hotel has become renowned for. That time is fast approaching, so I must wash, shave and make my way over there. I will continue this later this evening.
It was hot as I walked into the shade of the lobby, but the fierce glare of the Cairo sun was mercifully banished by the marble walls and I paused briefly to cool down under the fans which spun lazily overhead.
My eyes quickly adjusted to the change in light. I was a little early, but Gilbert Ravel was already at the bar with a chilled beer at his lips. Upon seeing me he bade me over with a wave of his spare hand.
“Baxter god-verdomme!” he greeted me. “How are you?” We have known each other for quite a number of years - ten, fifteen? By god, it must be twenty by now! Nineteen ninety one doesn’t seem that long ago, but it is. As I lowered myself onto a barstool he continued. “Interesting news you said. What is it? What have you learned?”
Ordering an iced tea I told him that I was not yet one hundred per cent sure, but...
“But?” he asked eagerly. “But what?”
“Just let’s wait for Anthony, eh? He should be here any minute. Shall we take a table?” He was on pins, old Gilbert. He always was when something with potential came up. And as far as potential goes this is a biggie - the Mother Lode!
It isn’t in my nature to say too much too quickly; not until I’m certain of my facts. The current climate in the world of Egyptology rewards caution. One loose word or statement can have you branded for life, something people have found to their cost, especially in recent years. Many have been the talented young men and women whose reputations’ have been ruined before they’ve had a proper chance to begin. Archaeology and especially Egyptology is a far more vicious world than one might think.
Anthony Spatchcock arrived not long after we were seated, along with his French wife of the last nine years, Juliette. She usually accompanies him on all his trips to ancient sites these days, camera in hand - she does all the photography for his books and magazine articles. We all said our helloes, collected a plate of food each and ate to the accompaniment of small talk for several minutes before we got down to the business at hand.
Spatchcock and Ravel have compiled a considerable body of work, both independently and in collaboration with each other. Between them they have produced some of the finest works of modern-day investigative archaeology. Their theories, along with those of several others regarding the pyramids, sphinx and other ancient sites around the world have been like a breath of fresh air, particularly in the fusty field of Egyptian history. They have blown a few of the cobwebs away from a field so beloved of the grey-bearded community that it has become bogged down with the boring mundanities of dynastic succession, what funereal items certain folk were buried with, and who sent whom to the grave. It is a crime to have made what should be so fascinating so very, very dull.
“It’s been quite a while since we collaborated on a project,” I said over my second glass of ice tea. Anthony and Gilbert have both contacted me in the past to draw upon my knowledge of ancient systems of writing.
“Six years isn’t it?” Spatchcock answered after a moment’s thought.
“We did that piece on Babylonian gardening techniques,” Ravel reminded me. “What was that, two years ago?”
“But for the three of us together, I think Anthony is right. Six years already? Good gracious! Where does the time go? Am I right in thinking you are both between projects at the moment?” A quick glance between them was enough to confirm this. “How would like something to really sink your teeth into?” I asked, knowing that new discoveries had all but dried up for them of late. “Gentlemen, Juliette, I have asked you to join me here for lunch as I think I may be able to put some work your way.”
“What have you found, you wily old dog?” Ravel asked, the tail of a shrimp still hanging out of his mouth.
I grinned back in return. “I have been presented with something which might just be the kind of revelatory breakthrough you’ve both been looking for.”
And it was true. It pays to be cautious, but this could be right up their street and it also pays to use every possible advantage available to you - these two carry an awful lot of unofficial clout around here and to have their backing, and perhaps cooperation, could prove very useful indeed.
The whole time we had been eating and chatting, Juliette had kept on picking up her camera and snapping away at all kinds of things - a neatly folded napkin, the drinks waiter’s elbow, anything. On several occasions she had stood up and walked over to a distant corner to take in a different angle or scene. This may have been a bit off-putting, even disconcerting to those who had never met her, but Gilbert and I were used to it by now. However Anthony appeared to be becoming less patient than he usually is. It was evident that he was biting his tongue, but for a long time he said nothing. Until Juliette leant right in for a close up, just as he was putting a fork full of coleslaw into his mouth. His cutlery clattered onto his plate and he sighed in exasperation. Turning, he looked at her.
“For God’s sake love! Can’t we just have some lunch without you taking bloody pictures all the time?”
I glanced over to Gilbert and caught his gaze, raising eyebrows as an embarrassed silence settled upon the table. Juliette glared at her husband for a drawn out moment and then placed the camera back in the bag at her feet.
“Bien. I won’t say another word,” she said, adding in her native tongue as she examined her salad intently: “All day!”
Oh dear. It was going to be a cold night for Anthony, whatever the heat outside! He picked up his fork once again, wiping the mustard dressing off the handle with his serviette. I later learned from Gilbert that things have been a little strained between the two of them of late - they always were if he hasn’t been working on something new for a while, his blog not being nearly enough to keep him occupied.
“So come on then,” Gilbert said with slightly too much enthusiasm, “what is this exciting news you have for us Baxter?”
“Well,” I replied, feeling that the time was now right to spill some of the beans. “Just this week I have had an extract of ancient writing come into my possession which I am inclined to believe pre-dates anything yet discovered.”
“Before Mesopotamia?” Anthony asked, a slightly sceptical note in his voice.
“Beyond even that of the Indus River valley!”
“Really?” said Gilbert, his eyes lighting up with boyish eagerness, “Where was it found? Who wrote it? How long ago?”
I held my hand up to stop his animated babble of questions. “Now I cannot be sure,” I said slowly in a measured voice, although in truth I shared his excitement. “I have only seen an extract after all, but I have requested a further meeting with my contact, the owner of what I am led to believe are several stone tablets filled with totally undeciphered writings. I hope to be able to make an appointment with him within the next few weeks in order to view the texts in their entirety.”
Anthony bombarded me at that point with a number of concise and poignant questions. “Where exactly are these texts located Baxter and just how old are you proposing them to be? I see it in your face that you have an idea. What language is it written in? How much have you seen?”
He was always the more unruffled of the two, every bit the professional. Though saying that he was equally as likeable as his Belgian friend. I answered him after taking the first few sips from my third tall glass of iced tea.
“The language is partially made up of some form of runic script, which bears similarities to the ancient Futhark, the ancient alphabet of Scandinavia. There are a good many differences though and I suspect - suspect mind you,” I emphasised the word with a waggle of my bread roll, “that it is considerably older.”
I sat back in my chair to let it sink in. However, stunning though the news undoubtedly is - writing older than the Mesopotamian or Indus valley cultures? Think of the implications this could have! - it failed to elicit an effect as dramatic as I had anticipated. Instead, Spatchcock sounded highly sceptical.
“So come on then - how old is it? Where is it from? I thought pretty much every archaeological site had been exhausted by now - at least every one I’ve been to has. This isn’t another set of ‘golden tablets’ is it?”
He was referring to the Book of Mormon here, the holy teachings of the Church of the Latter day Saints which Joseph Smith supposedly dug up in a field one day. Written in ‘reformed Egyptian’ on golden plates bound together with wire, they are said to have informed Smith of the basic tenets of this new ‘true’ church before mystifyingly disappearing again in the proverbial puff of smoke. Anthony had written a detailed study of this whole ‘miraculous’ story which has successfully alienated him from the fourth biggest branch of Christianity in the Americas. In fact the Mormon Church had been so infuriated by “Moroni and the Mormons - False Angels and the Morons,” that he is still regarded as a figure of hate inside the state of Utah.
“No, they’re not more Mormon tablets,” I smiled. “At least I don’t think so. There is no way of determining just how old it is, at least not yet, until I can study the entire stellae, but as to where it was found...”
“It must be somewhere pretty remote,” Anthony speculated. “In the horn of Equatorial Africa maybe or the pampas of Argentina.”
“Or in the Australian Outback, hidden in a sheltered cave deep in Arnhem Land or the Kimberleys,” Ravel chimed in.
“A little closer to home actually,” I told them. “Scotland.”
Silence descended around the table. Eyebrows were raised. Juliette stared at me open mouthed. “Scotland?” she said finally in that beautiful Lyonnais accent of hers.
“Scotland,” I repeated. “Well, the Faroe Islands actually, but they are a part of Scotland now I believe.”
It was Gilbert who spoke next, rather hesitantly. “God-verdomme sek, Baxter,” he interjected a few words of Flemish, gesturing to himself and Anthony. “This is all very well, but we are serious investigators of ancient civilizations. What can possibly make you think for one minute that either of us would have any interest in Scotland?”
“Ahh,” I began, not wishing to drop my bombshell from too great a height. “As I said, I cannot be certain, as I have only glanced at a rather crude, hand-drawn copy of but a tiny fragment of the texts. The originals have been chiselled expertly into several stone slabs and obviously cannot be moved from their present location. From what little I have seen though, I firmly believe that these antediluvian Scottish runes contain several pointed references to Africa!
“And that is not all,” I leant forwards in my chair and glanced at Juliette, nodding my head at her. “I told you the writings were littered with runic symbols; they do not make up the bulk of the text however. I have seen evidence even in this small fragment that the lion’s share of the carvings bear an unmistakable resemblance to the hieroglyphs of pre-dynastic Egypt!”
Spatchcock dropped his melon ball.
They were shocked and speechless, every one of them!
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
A few days have passed since my last entry - I really should start putting dates on them. I keep meaning to, but never seem to get around to it. Quite a lot has come out into the open now and whilst I’ve tried to empathise as best I can, the majority of what my friend has suffered has left me baffled. Good old Geeza - nothing in his life is ever normal!
He is a little more his old self again now at least. There is still the sorrow in his voice and the loss in his eyes, but he has rallied himself magnificently in such a short space of time. Like I said though, the intricacies of what has happened to him are utterly incomprehensible to me, try though I might to understand.
In the morning after he arrived, having bathed and slept (fitfully, but under covers at least - he has not slept indoors, he told me, for nearly a month), we went for a stroll, during which he began to talk.
“I went to live in Africa because I’d fallen in love,” he told me, standing atop the Western cliffs, staring out to sea as the waves of the Atlantic barrelled in towards us. He shook his head gently as the memories stirred inside him. “When we went to Kenya on the trail of that Professor she came to me and for the first time in my life I experienced that glorious, all-consuming sensation of total love. And she felt the same thing towards me.” Here he paused, lost in his own remembrances. Eventually he sighed and continued on again. “She felt the same thing too Elliot; it was beautiful. Incomparable.”
Malika was her name, the lady in question - although when I say lady, I mean person. Well, thing. Spirit. Entity. I’m not entirely sure what to call her to be honest. I remember it quite clearly: he made contact with a Denubari Spirit when we were staying in a marvellous little Nairobi hotel. She was an animal spirit of some sort, an elemental or something. Apparently they could meet up in some extra dimension and had fallen passionately in love with each other from the first. All a bit Star-Trekky for me, but it did happen - I was there.
Typical Geeza though isn’t it? Around three and a half billion women in the world, and he has to fall for a ghost!
“We set up a home together in Gun’dalé, a tiny little hamlet in central Kenya. It was nothing much, pretty rural; just a rondavel on the fringes of the village, just inside the thorn fence. I say we set up home, but of course there was only ever me physically there. I lived a largely subsistence life style - basic, but sweet, you know? I took up the duties of shaman or medicine man, the old fella responsible for the area having died almost a year previously.
“Each evening after business I pulled the curtain down on my door to signify ‘shop closed.’ Then I’d light the fire and fill my Pipe and go to meet Malika.” He did explain exactly how he was able to do this, some sort of drug-induced, higher state of consciousness or something - I’m afraid it went right over my head, the intricacies of it. “We enjoyed those timeless nights together with such passion - Elliot, you couldn’t believe…”
“I think you’re right there,” I mumbled and he laughed.
“That’s true. The intensity was beyond anything you could imagine in a physical reality.” He paused again for a long moment, as he had done through all of our discussions since his return. I guess these things need time to gather before they can come out. For some people it probably just gushes. Geeza took his time.
The wind whipped his hair all over the place. It was always strong up on the western cliffs; there was nothing to halt its progress between here and America. It blew so hard sometimes that we were both sent staggering by the sudden gusts - backwards, luckily, away from the cliff edge!
“This carried on for… I don’t even know how long. A long time. I got lost in the blissfulness of it all; lost track of hours, days, nights - even whole seasons. Time doesn’t mean a thing sometimes...”
Now that’s true! We all know the saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ - well I have a theory that this is truer than you might think. I say it doesn’t seem to fly, but it actually does! Time speeds up and by the same rationale it really does slow down in times of boredom.
Take railway stations for example: there is no way anyone can persuade me, while you’re stood there waiting for your train, that their clocks run the same as others only five yards outside! No way.
I tested it once. I placed a clock on a bench just outside the car park of Lincoln Station and synchronised it with my watch. I then went inside for five ‘station’ minutes and I’m sure to this day that the clocks would have read differently when I came out again - at least half an hour had passed, I was sure; it was interminable!
Unfortunately someone had stolen the clock when I went to look, so I never did find out, but anyway, back to Geeza.
“I was splitting myself completely in two,” he said, “living two entirely separate lives. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a problem with that-”
“Oh come on Geeza,” I couldn’t agree with him there. “Surely you could see that couldn’t be healthy. How did you manage it anyway?”
“It was fine,” he shrugged. “During the day I would attend to the needs of the men and women of the villages in my area and then at night I closed myself off to focus solely on Malika.” His spiritual bride, he called her.
“Oh, you got married did you?”
“No Elliot, we didn’t get married, but that’s how close it was between us. I didn’t want to say soul mate because it sounds too lame.”
Well I could thank him for that anyway. “How long did this go on for?” I asked him, still trying to fully grasp hold of the concepts of what he was trying to tell me.
Geeza breathed out long and loud, screwing his face up as he figured it out. “It was over a year…”
“A full year? Living like that?”
“It must have been. Just over; fourteen, fifteen months or so.”
Shall we say simply that Geeza claimed he had never been happier and was not particularly shy about what he told me. The ins and outs (if I can say that without being accused of coarse innuendo) I could quite easily have guessed for myself. Unlike the audience of a big-budget Hollywood film, I do not need to have everything graphically explained to me. They were in love and did what lovers do. After a time though it all began to waver.
“I don’t know. There was… Something just changed; we both started feeling… concerned about something quite intangible. We began to notice the world around us more and more.”
“That’s nothing out of the ordinary,” I told him. “The honeymoon was over Geeza. That happens to all couples.”
“No, it was more than that Elliot. Something different; something sinister. I wasn’t sure what at first - neither of us did, partly because it crept in gradually, but also because we were both just so completely wrapped up in each other, you know?” By the sound of it they probably wouldn’t have noticed anything smaller than a medium sized bomb being let off beneath them! “Slowly though, we both became aware, individually, of something disturbing creeping in and pervading the atmosphere around and between us.
“Although we were both becoming more and more aware of it, neither of us said anything.”
“You both thought it was ‘just you’?”
“Yeah. So stupid! When it eventually came out into the open, it turns out that we’d both been tying ourselves up in knots, thinking it was just us and both furiously ignoring it. We were both trying to work through it, hoping it was just a mood that would pass, given time.
“Elliot, I was mess man,” he sighed and I put my hand out to grasp him on his shoulder. We watched a lone bird swooping down from her perch as the cliff curved round to our left. Was it a Booby? Or a Puffin? I have absolutely no idea. “From being one hundred per cent sure of myself I became the complete opposite. I was a rudderless ship, out of control, getting tossed around back and forth with no direction whatsoever.” He pointed to a clump of flotsam, a tangle of seaweed beneath us. “I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. Up one minute, down the next, although… it was mostly down.
“Even in those good moments, as they became fewer and further between I could feel I was drowning.” Below us, as if on cue, the seaweed got hit by yet another wave and sunk beneath the surface. “I was in constant turmoil day after day, still working, but wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Then each night, my mind still racing and spinning, I’d meet Malika and still say nothing!”
“And you didn’t know then of course that she was doing exactly the same thing.”
He shook his hair sadly. “We were torturing ourselves, and for nothing!”
“It has been said that a lack of communication causes more problems in a relationship that anything else,” I told him. Actually in a recent survey this only came in third (second place was fighting over who had control of the TV remote and number one was arguing over who was going to drive), but I didn’t tell him that. Well, it was only a breakfast talk show and I don’t know how much credence you can put into these things.
“We were dying inside,” he continued, “and could feel the relationship becoming strained, but again neither of us dared say anything in case it was only in our head. Eventually though it became all too apparent that there was something else. We could feel it in the people and the landscape around us - something was seriously wrong.
“Now that I look back I can see we were both suffering such huge surges of emotion and were struggling so hard to deal with them that somehow we missed something. Something was going on, but instead of pinpointing and dealing with it, we just sat there stagnating, worrying that it was all just us. My mind was screaming at me to snap out of it, to wake up and take action, but… I just couldn’t bring myself to broach the subject with Malika, scared of what the inevitable changes would be.”
“You shouldn’t beat yourself up too much Geeza. I mean, these are difficult things to deal with. It’s all very human.”
“Yeah, but that’s just it - it wasn’t!”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
He sighed again, though not in exasperation; he knew he was trying to explain something fiendishly difficult to comprehend. “Throughout everything, all those months of pain and confusion, all that time I could feel a strange, disquieting feeling seeping in and around us like a clinging mist. We both could. Mysterious and enigmatic, intangible yet unstoppable. It had the kind of destructive power a river has as it flows along on its daily course. Nothing dramatic or immediately obvious, just quietly eroding the banks around it.
“It was affecting the birds and the animals, making them jumpy and jittery; it was making the people more irritable and short tempered and more open to catch any old illness that was flying around. And it had wormed its way between Malika and me, breaking down the bonds between us.”
He repeated again with genuine pain in his voice that had they spoken about it, had either of them acknowledged that something was amiss and drawn the other’s attention to it, maybe there could have been a different outcome.
“But you didn’t.”
He stared off into space for a few long minutes and all was quiet except for the crashing of the waves upon the rocks sixty feet below. He just sat there breathing gently, staring straight at the morning sun as it rose across the waters of the Atlantic. I wondered whether or not to tell him that he could go blind like that, but couldn’t bring myself to break into his thoughts.
Eventually he blinked and dropped his head disconsolately. He looked round at me and when he did I saw something extra in his eyes. He was coming back. “No, we didn’t. We were both too scared, too confused.” Sighing heavily again, he gazed out to sea once more. “Emotions Elliot. I’ve never really dealt with them before. They’re a whole lot more powerful than I imagined.”
“They are something we all have to cope with at some time in our lives. People say it’s character building. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
He laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s just what I’ve always preached. It’s just that in the past I’ve always been the one doing the talking, never the listening!”
Something had definitely clicked in my friend and he even managed a laugh when I started to counsel him another platitude I’d heard on a bad TV show. As we got up to walk further around the bay he finished off his tale ominously.
“Finally it was too much, the tension had grown unbearable and words and feelings came out, pretty much equally from Malika and myself. The full realisation hit us then that it was more than just us. There was something very seriously wrong in the world, something we should have seen, felt and acted upon much earlier.
“We detected an all too-obvious atmosphere, an evil presence that had by now pervaded into every single crack and crevice in the land around us. Just how far this influence had spread became quickly apparent as we cast our gaze further afield.
“Elliot, I don’t know what it is, but it’s something very big, very mean and very ugly. It’s already spread throughout the bulk of Africa and is pouring into Europe and the near East as we speak. Even up here I can feel it in the distance, getting closer and closer as the days roll on.”
And this I could agree with, to a point. After the euphoric build up towards the Millennium a decade or so ago, the mood of the world has shifted considerably. Where there was a positive, excited feeling of youthful impetus before the big three-0, things seem to have ground to a halt of late and the waters have become muddied and stagnant. Life that had appeared fresh like a clear, mountain stream has become more akin to a mangrove swamp or better still a polluted river estuary, clogged up and turgid.
But is this due to some ‘evil influence’? The climate of fear that has gripped the world since 9/11 was exacerbated further thanks to the activities of the mad professor Alan Humphries and the financial collapse of the world’s markets and that’s still with us, even two years on. People are much more guarded than they used to be and having enjoyed a brief few years of happiness and optimism after the cold war fever of the latter half of the twentieth century, what we have now is easily as bad.
If anything it is actually worse - at least back then the West were the good guys, Russians were the baddies (as were the evil Cubans!) and that was that. Everyone knew where they stood. Now though we’re all looking for the ‘enemy within,’ probably something akin to the atmosphere in Germany under the Nazi party. However abhorrent the thought, it is unfortunately true now that most people, whenever they go to get on a plane or stand around in a crowded market place, all look at ‘Arabs’ or people of a certain ethnic or Islamic make-up with an eye of suspicion. Irrational fears and hatreds have sprung up like strangling weeds from which, once they’ve taken hold, are incredibly difficult to pull free.
So yes, it undeniably exists, this certain something; an atmosphere of disquiet for sure, but a mysterious evil influence spreading out across the continents like an all-pervading, corrosive smog? I’m not sure I like that sound of that at all.
I mentioned that I had wanted excitement back in my life. Now though, with all Geeza’s talk of something big and mean and ugly - something nasty enough to frighten even him - well, now I am not so sure.
I do have news on a lighter note though too! A much happier note. Saying that though, this may very well have global implications too, only I hope these ones will be of an enlightening nature rather than a destructive one. Turning the world on its head is not a habit that I want to get used to, but seems to be one I am stuck with all the same!
A few weeks ago I copied down a small portion of the ancient inscriptions from the tablets at the Museum in McPresley and sent them to one of the world’s leading experts on ancient languages and systems of writing. Dr Baxter Lamb is an unusual character; undoubtedly brilliant, but somewhat unorthodox both in his methods and opinions. Being a bit of a maverick, often at odds with the mainstream, he is viewed in the scholastic community with a mixture of respect and derision.
To be honest, what with Geeza turning up and all I’ve been through with him in the last few days, my correspondence with Dr Lamb had completely slipped my mind. However, only this morning I got a letter from the celebrated linguist, the tone of which was one of excitement and eagerness to know more! I had asked if he was able, from this brief extract, to give me any ideas as to who wrote it, when it was written and what it might say?
His reply stated that he was currently unable to leave Cairo, where I had reached him, but was keen to arrange a meeting as soon as possible. So it looks as though I am off on my travels again. I leave for Egypt on Thursday week.
* * *
LETTER FROM DR BAXTER LAMB TO
LORD CRIPPLESBY OF FAROE
Mousif Al’Harah Apartments
66, Aisha El Taymouria St.
First of all I would like to offer you my heartfelt thanks for your letter of enquiry re: the extract of text from the Faronic stellae.
I can commend you for having been extremely responsible in drawing my attention to these hitherto neglected tablets of writing and it is my pleasure to inform you, from these glimpses you have shown me, that you have stumbled onto something truly monumental here. This could well prove to be the biggest archaeological find for centuries - it may not be stretching the limits of credulity to suggest that they might in fact be perhaps the biggest ever!
Although from this meagre extract I have not been able to glean very much with any degree of certainty, I would nevertheless beg permission to view the entire collection as soon as is practically possible. It would be an absolute privilege to be able to delve further into this potential treasure trove of secrets chiselled into your Faronic stone.
It would be totally remiss of me to speculate wildly to you here, but without too much fear of contradiction I can tell you a few of my preliminary suppositions based on what I’ve read, although once again I should point out that nothing can be seen as certain until I have had the chance to examine the tablets themselves:
1) The characters themselves seem to suggest a Northern origin, at least in portion; from somewhere upwards of around fifty degrees north of the equator would be my guess.
2) Though they bear an uncanny resemblance to several established forms of archaic languages, there is evidence to suggest that they might in fact pre-date these other known forms of writing, be it runic or otherwise, by at least five hundred years. This is a highly conservative estimate however and I suspect them to be much, much older.
3) There is evidence in the sample of your text of a level of geographical knowledge which, if proven correct, would far surpass the knowledge attributed to any peoples of this era as suggested by modern historians.
I am, unfortunately, bound by previous commitments and must therefore remain in Cairo for the next three weeks. If I could visit you after this or if you would like to come to me bringing, perhaps, a photographic collection of the texts, then I would look forward to any such meeting with great anticipation. If you would prefer to post them (it would presumably become too big a file to email) then you can happily use the address given above, but I would advise you choose one of the reputable international couriers rather than trust to the ordinary mail. Things get lost all too easily.
I do not know if you have approached anybody else with these stellae of yours - of course that is your prerogative. However, I would beg you to be cautious with whom you share them at this time. There are many unsavoury and unscrupulous characters amongst my peers I am sorry to say, so please steer clear of signing any exclusivity agreements or the like. I would also suggest keeping this out of the papers for now; at least until we can back up any statements with some solid proof. Those vultures in the press would love to make a laughing stock of you and your discovery if we cannot substantiate any claims we make.
I look forward to hearing how you wish to proceed with this, so until the next time may I thank you once again for bringing this wonderful find to my attention.
I hope to hear from you very soon
Dr B Lamb (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* * *
THE CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
Well, I have to say I feel as though a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I told Elliot the whole lot and I suppose that by doing so it has helped me accept the situation.
Somebody once said: “Change itself is not painful. It is resistance to change that causes unrest.” It smacks to me of Lao Tzu, but I can’t remember to be honest. I’m not sure. It’s something I’ve always held onto as a golden rule though and something I have often told other people.
But I never realised just how strong these goddamn emotions can be! Nothing is as simple as it seemed when I was detached and removed from things. Since Malika… Christ, I can hardly get a grip on making breakfast, let alone attuning myself to the rhythms of life!
Just to confuse everything that little bit more, I feel massively estranged from the cycles of this temperate climate. I’m fully African in terms of biorhythms, yet memories are there, itching away at the back of my mind like - well, I remember the last time I went to see my Grandma. She had the Knowledge and we were always instinctively close, the two of us.
It was late Summer - years ago this was - and we went for a walk in a nearby park. As a child I remember playing there, in particular around a solitary tree that stood on the edge of a cricket pitch. It had a cylindrical iron bracket surrounding it, painted green with the name of the guy it had been commemoratively planted for engraved on a bronze plaque. It was only a sapling at the time, though it towered above me. We used it as the wickets.
Anyway, now in my early twenties, I headed back towards this tree with my Gran and what I saw left me feeling light-headed and strangely stunned. The tree had grown well during the intervening years and her outer bark was now touching up against the metal bracket. The last time I’d seen it there was a good eight or ten inches between the two. The sheer passage of time just seemed to hit me in that moment and my Gran, picking up on my disorientation, took me over to a bench where we sat for a while, allowing distant memories long-forgotten to come flooding back to me in waves.
That is the feeling I’m getting now, back here in the Old World as I called it in Africa. Memories are coming back; time has moved on and is continuing to do so. I must move with it.
After all, it isn’t necessarily over between me and Malika - it’s just that the emphasis has changed. Who knows, after all this is sorted out, maybe we can dance together again... Mind you, this creeping evil has to be sorted out first and before I can even start to do that I have to figure out what the hell it is!
It’s terrestrial. Definitely comes from the Earth, but it is very, very old and feels pretty nasty. I don’t know if it’s African in origin, but that’s where it’s strongest, so even if I don’t know exactly what it is, if I can just figure out where it’s coming from I can go straight to its source and kick it into touch. I won’t be alone, because I’m sure the Allies I have made while I’ve been over there will lend a hand; they’ll not let me down.
And a big surprise - Elliot is coming too! He has just been asked to go to Egypt to meet some guy who has shown a bit of interest in the Faronic Codex - a load of undeciphered runes chiselled in stone found here in the Faroes about thirty years ago. He showed them to me down at the museum here and they do look a bit odd - it isn’t the common Futhark or any of the runic texts I’m aware of, plus it was all mixed up with little pictographs and… other things. I didn’t recognise the majority of the symbols, so maybe he has got something there.
If we were staying any longer I might be tempted to find a bit of local flora for Old Smokey that could get me in touch with someone who might know. But we’re off in the next few days and I can’t afford to get distracted. Whatever this thing is, it needs putting a stop to and if it is African, then I need to come at it from a similar point of view.
I have to admit I’m glad that Cripplesby is coming along. He’s a good friend and is someone, perhaps the only one, I can trust right now. Poor old Elliot! He didn’t have a clue what I was talking about as I was offloading onto him, but he tried to keep up as best he could.
I told him that by day I was the healer, doctor and shaman for the surrounding villages and then at dusk each evening I would take a mixture of the local Datura plant and the bark of the West African Yohimbe tree, for which I had a good trade source. By doing so, I was able to meet Malika in a particular state of consciousness where our love could be consummated, both spiritually and physically.
Oh God, how I remember that first year!
I think that is what has shaken me so much as well. The fact that I have lost that whole experience; that feeling of… completeness. Of One-ness - not only with myself, but with another soul. Completely and perfectly merged; egoless. I’ve lost it and I desperately want it back.
I long to feel that close to her again! And maybe I will, but it can’t be just yet. For now, I have lost a lot of ground with my own soul and I’ve got to catch this thing and catch it fast. I need to get strong and quickly. Let’s see how I feel once we’re back in Africa.
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
Cairo. My God, what can I say? The only other place I have been on the Dark Continent is Kenya and the two are as different as the Highlands are to Lincolnshire. It is only to be expected I suppose. They are thousands of miles apart after all. I don’t know why it is such a surprise to me, but it is.
I guess it’s because for some reason we tend to think of Africa as just that - Africa. Not as Egypt, Kenya, the Congo, Somalia, Mauritania, Ghana, Gabon - to name but a few. Strange why we should do that. After all, we never think of Europe as merely being ‘Europe’. We may say Europe in conversation, but we don’t ever consider it as a single entity, only as the individual countries. Is that just me, or just the British - island nation and all that? Don’t know… They may see things differently on the continent. I’ll ask the next German I meet if he feels any feelings of brotherhood with the Greeks - or the Italians, Spanish, Irish, Portuguese or any of the other propped-up economies they’re happily funding.
So yes, Egypt and Kenya - what a difference! I remember stepping off the plane in Kenya and being dwarfed by it all. The space! Even in the streets of Nairobi the massiveness of the land was always there.
Here in Cairo, oddly, exactly the opposite is the case. Egypt is a large country itself (compared to Britain at least and when held up against the Faroes it is absurdly large). The desert that stretches out beyond the confines of the irrigated slivers of land that flank the Nile is truly, truly enormous; so big that it has lost its sense of size. It is comparable to looking up into the night sky (which I must say is absolutely beautiful here! Delicately lit by a million silver sequins, it is dark, rich and unspoiled by clouds). It is so vast that it is incomprehensible to both the mind and the eye and because of that, the fact of it shrinks into insignificance and goes by unnoticed.
That’s the desert at least, or the country as a whole if you will. Cairo is a different story. You immediately feel cramped and squashed-up the minute you touch down. The place is, quite simply, manic. I expect you grow accustomed to it and indeed there are many expatriates residing here who are living testimony to this.
I don’t think it is one of those places you either love or hate instantly. My guess would be that most if not all of the people that come here are stunned and shell-shocked to begin with. There are those, I am sure, who will indeed fall in love with the place immediately, but I suspect that the vast majority have the stuffing knocked out of them in that initial onslaught and the place then begins to grow on them as they recover their breath.
There must be plenty who equally grow to hate the place, who just can’t stand the noise, the bustle and the smell. It is a massive explosion of colour, of culture, of people and sounds and is disorienting in the extreme.
We are in a hotel in Western Cairo, not far from the Giza necropolis. I had been tempted to go for the full five star treatment, being a peer and all that (it is only when I look at my passport that I remember), but I am glad we didn’t in the end, as this little ‘pension’ nestled down a narrow side street off the main road, is exquisitely beautiful, wonderfully comfortable and above all quiet.
Well, relatively quiet anyway.
I left a message at the apartments rented by Dr Lamb for him to contact us here and arrange a meeting whenever he was free. I must say that, despite my reservations, I am quite excited by the thought that I have brought to light something which may prove as revealing as this learned scholar thinks.
Although I’d drawn up a tentative list of names, he is the only one I’ve approached so far. It was never my intention to make any money out of this - why should I? I’m richer than most small countries so it had not occurred to me to throw it to the sharks as it were, letting whatever interested parties there are fight for the scraps. No, I only wrote to him and bearing in mind what he said I will keep it that way for now; at least until I’ve met him. He sounds sincere and above board, but you always get a better idea face to face.
I took him up on his idea of photographing the tablets too. I would not have even known what he was talking about when he mentioned digital photography had I not splashed out on a new computer recently. I have begun to dabble with computers more these days. Despite being a self-confessed technophobe, my environmental and oceanic replenishment schemes and charities meant I had to learn at least a smidgen about computers and my projects have grown so large now that I was forced to ‘upgrade.’
But is it me or is it impossible to buy just a computer nowadays? I ended up being talked into a bizarre package which included three CD rewriters, a printer, two scanners and more software than you could shake a stick at! I mean, two scanners? Who on earth needs two scanners? And a backlit keyboard? They must have seen me coming in that shop, really. I got several intellimouses - or is that intellimice? - a twenty seven inch screen, plus a comprehensive internet package which, I was told, was far better than the one I had (though I rarely use it, still being a bit of an imbecile around the Net). Included as a part of my Mini-Office Suite was something I thought I would never use: a digital camera.
Up until I received Dr Lamb’s letter, the camera had been still lying in its box, beside a similarly unwrapped set of headphones and attached mike (apparently should I wish to, I could adorn myself with this apparatus and simply by speaking into it have the words would appear on the screen without me needing to type a thing - which would be a bit of a shame, as that wireless keyboard they furnished me with is actually rather nice). I may dig the contraption out some day, but for now I had left it where it was as I pulled out the camera and read the so-called ‘basic’ operating instructions.
In only a few hours I had the thing set up and how very ingenious it is too. No films to be rushed off to the chemist, no flimsy and argumentative replacements to be added. Just a little memory card, slotted in at the bottom. Easy.
Incidentally, the only objects known to Man that are more awkward than a camera’s film are duvet covers and, worst of them all, cling film!! How the devil anyone is able to manipulate that infernal food wrap is beyond me. I was bested every time until I eventually gave up and turned to the infinitely superior tin foil. These days I use something even better: a simple brown paper bag. Why did we ever move away from the humble brown paper bag?
Anyway, over the course of the next few days, I photographed each tablet extensively, ensuring that all of the inscriptions were sharp, clear and easy to read. I set it on super fine quality and took dozens of close-ups along with broader, more general shots so I hope these will prove sufficient for the doctor, at least until we are both free to meet again in the Faroes where he can look at the real thing.
He will be tied up here in Egypt for perhaps another fortnight, he told me. As for us - myself and Geeza - well, of that I cannot say.
Geeza has become immediately more animated since landing back on African soil (although he has never been in Egypt either) and seems to be moving with a great deal of energy and purpose. Quite what that purpose is I am still not sure about, although he has tried to explain it to me on numerous occasions. Some evil force - not necessarily a person, although it may have manifested itself as a human being apparently - is here in Africa and its influence is spreading all over the globe, seeping into the psyche and sub-conscience of humanity itself.
Got it? No, neither have I. However, I know Geeza. I know his ways. I don’t understand them, but I have seen their effectiveness first hand, so if he is as sure about all this as he appears then I will do whatever I can to help him, even if this thing is supposed to be “powerful enough to destroy the world,” and is “as old, cunning and malignant as anything that has ever stalked the Earth,” as he says.
Yeah, of all the things I didn’t need to understand! He sunk that one home quite well.
All that being said though, that I know and trust his instincts and all that, I cannot help hoping I am wrong when I begin to have niggling doubts about him in the back of my mind, usually late at night before I drift off to sleep in an adjoining room. The man has just undergone a tremendous upheaval in his life - mentally, physically and emotionally. I only hope that this new found strength and energy of his is not just a facade. He seems to have recovered so quickly, I just - I don’t know. Maybe I am just tired.
* * *
THE CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
I’m still far from home, but it feels much better to be back in the heat, the Sun and the African air. I’ve not been in Egypt before. When I left Kenya I headed West and went up through Morocco and Spain after cutting through the Sahel via Mali. I needed to replenish my Yohimbe bark anyway and I wasn’t really sure where I was going. Probably unconsciously I knew where I’d end up, but in my mind I just had to get away. Away from everything that had been my life. Back to the past, to something stable. Something I could catch a hold of; to drop anchor and re-group.
Well now I’m back again and whatever the hell it is that’s clawing out like some pox-ridden shadow I’m going to boot it straight back where it came from! I feel so... so strong! So full again! I realise now just how weakened I had become, how much I had withered and died. I feel like a tomato plant, almost gone from thirst and then it rains again…
I can also put words to how I was feeling up in the Faroes. My mind was sluggish, my body on automatic pilot - basically, I was dead. I was beyond apathy. I had died and was waiting to be born again and when that happened I was more vulnerable than I have been since I was a little kid. Like a snake right after she’s shed her skin, soft and fragile.
Thinking about it, maybe that’s another reason why I went so far away. To make sure I was safe. Africa is a brutal place to those who can’t stand up for themselves.
Funny how something inside of you hangs on and takes over - and just as well really. I mean, I’m still not over the shock of it yet and can only hope that I don’t have a relapse, but as I said, for the moment I am feeling strong and powerful. I have a purpose, something to focus on and that is giving me a great deal of energy. What I must do is stay grounded.
I’ll have a pipe, just a herbal mix, to bring me down to Earth a bit, keep me rooted. Then I can have a bit of a think with a better head on.
It is late. Well, early. Dawn is showing signs of putting in an appearance. It just got darker and colder and that means the Sun’s not far away. I sucked Old Smokey dry and sat at the foot of my bed in silence. We’ve got rooms on the ground floor and I could feel the Mother’s heartbeat, even through the polished tiles. It felt good. The hotel is two streets away from the nearest main road so we are spared most of the bustle of the bazaars. The odd street sound still creeps through, but then it’s always going to here. Cairo is a city with the volume turned up full.
I drifted into a gentle trance, nothing too dynamic. I just wanted a little look about from the comfort and safety of the cocoon I had envisioned around myself. You never go as far when you put up shields like that, all that pure white light beaming all over the place, but it is a hell of a lot safer and I don’t need to be taking any unnecessary risks right now.
I tell you what though - there is something strange going on, above and beyond what is happening on the larger scale. Something… local.
Floating along on the smoke I could feel the insidious evil polluting the night air, but there was something else affecting it, blocking it somehow; some separate force. It felt as if right here it is getting distorted, fuzzy in a way, as if this second energy were stopping it from coming through or solidifying. Weird.
I could still feel the age of the evil, stretching back thousands of years, but this other force was like an undercurrent, not nearly as old, but ancient none the less. It was vibrating with a regular pulse-like pattern, slow, heavy and strong. Strong like a brick wall at two hundred miles an hour. Strong like gravity.
And it is keeping the evil back. All but. The malevolence is still here and all around, but it’s having to struggle. Very strange.
I’d love to investigate it further, but I still feel the problem needs to be dealt with at source. And the source is South from here. A long way South. It was clear to both myself and Malika when we first looked from our village that it was South, even from there. Personally, I have a hunch it is pretty much as far South as you can go on this continent.
South Africa is where this thing started. The energies of the two Oceans colliding, the strength and depth of the people and their emotions - it’s probably what apartheid was all about. This spirit had got a grip on the populace, got the original San Bushmen displaced by the Zulus and them in turn by the English and then the Dutch finally won out. The ridiculous policy of apartheid of the Afrikaners was probably an unconscious response to this nasty essence... There’s got to have been some reason for it - must be something in the air to have caused so much trouble in such a short span of time.
Yes, it’s South Africa alright. What and where exactly though - well, I’m not even going to try and figure it out until I’m down there. If this evil is intelligent, which I have to assume it is, then it’s bound to notice me if I start searching too hard. No, I’ll sneak in, all stealthy, stealthy and catch it unawares.
I wish I could make Elliot understand what’s going on. I don’t think he realises completely just how big and ugly this thing is.
* * *
BAXTER LAMB’S DIARY
An interesting and most informative lunch with Lord Cripplesby of Faroe - or Elliot as he insisted I call him. Interesting indeed, not to mention exciting!
A message was left with the concierge at my apartments suggesting that as it was my town as he put it, I should choose the rendezvous point. I saw no reason to diversify from the splendid Alexandria, so I sent a note around to his hotel with directions and the time I would reserve the table for.
Ravel and Spatchcock had reserved judgement on my as yet embryonic discovery and besides, they had just decided to collaborate on a book regarding possible Gnostic connections within the hamburger industry. Fair enough. By the time they have got that one out of their systems perhaps I will be able to give them enough material for them to fill a comprehensive tome or mini-series on the ‘lost’ Faronic Codex!
“Ahh! Lord Cripplesby I presume,” I greeted him as he approached my table, having been sent over by the maître d’. I recognised him from the internet - I’d Googled him by way of a little research.
He rather sheepishly pretended to doff his cap, or pith helmet, completing our little Egyptian version of Stanley meeting Livingstone on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. “Dr Lamb,” he replied shaking my hand cordially. “I’m very pleased to meet you at last.”
I bade him take a seat. Our table was positioned in a dark corner on this occasion - the dining hall was extremely packed and it had been the only one available when I made the booking. Most expats and tourists alike, having found a place where the food is consistently good tend to stick to it and the Alexandria was popular with both.
After brief introductions and idle chit-chat about the journey here, “so how long have you been coming to Egypt Dr Lamb?” and all that, Cripplesby reached into his small rucksack and brought out several large manila envelopes.
He placed them on the table before me and my palms were sweating with anticipation as I reached across to the first one. There were a half dozen of them in total. “This is the…” I left the question open; it was perfectly obvious what they were.
“Six CD’s worth of photos,” he informed me. “I hope it’s enough until you get the time to come up to the Faroes to see them in person.”
And my word it will! The chap has been unbelievably efficient, I can see now as I pour over the extensive collection of pictures on my computer screen. And trusting. Over lunch he handed the disks over to me plus one set of prints as a taster, without even a single question about media rights, exclusivity or anything like that.
As I examined the labelling on the CDs, each clearly and succinctly marked, I warned him that not everybody in the tangled world of archaeology warranted such trust. All he did was shrug and tell me to take my time over them; as long as I felt I needed. I am glad he came to me first, let me tell you! Professor Giddling and that emaciated buffoon Claude Tenoir would give their eye teeth for this! Ha!
“All together there are twelve stone tablets,” he told me as I slipped the envelopes with their discs into my briefcase and began to open the set of prints with trembling hands. “I only took twenty four photos,” he apologised as our entrees were served. “Each of the stones twice. I hope that’s ok. Obviously on the discs there is quite a lot more.”
“No, no, these are amazing!” I exclaimed; I couldn’t help myself. “Amazing,” I repeated, cramming a forkful of fresh cucumber into my mouth.
In the first one there were a few prototype hieroglyphs mixed in with the predominant Northern runes, as there had been in the extracts he had sent to me. As the second stone became the third though and the third gave way to the fourth, the runes gradually began to disappear, being used less and less until, part way through the fifth tablet, they died out completely and I didn’t see a trace of them after that. From that point on the codex seems to be comprised solely of the hieroglyphs more usually associated with the denizens of the Nile!
Here is a puzzle of the grandest order! What on earth are ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs doing carved onto slabs of rock in the Faroe Islands in the middle of the Norwegian Sea? Or is it the North Sea, up there - who cares? It is three thousand miles away for God’s sake! I’ll leave that up to the oceanographers.
Either these twelve stone tablets make up another Rosetta Stone, removed from Egypt centuries ago and yet to be deciphered, or else... what? The only other explanation I can come up with is that they were written independently of the hieroglyphs in Egypt. They are certainly older, as can be seen from the structuring of the sentences and the maturity of the symbols themselves.
It has long puzzled scholars (or should have done, although it is more often conveniently overlooked) how all of the hieroglyphics discovered in any of the sites scattered over the ancient Kingdom of Egypt have appeared as a very polished and highly advanced language. As a system of writing it was already complete. No one has ever been able to say how this script was developed, how long it took or what preceded it. Nobody knows the culture from which it grew.
However, like I said, this fact has by and large been swept under the carpet and forgotten about. Instead historians and archaeologists alike have chosen only to examine what they have actually found - what they can read directly. Ok, it’s true, there is a huge wealth of material to study, but far more interesting to me is where it all came from? How did it all evolve? A language so textured and structured does not simply appear over night!
And here, flickering now on my computer screen could be the answer! I am sure this must pre-date dynastic Egypt. But how can that be possible?
Could we have here a missing piece of the Egyptian enigma? I could not, and had no desire to conceal my surprise and delight at the Alexandria this afternoon.
“Could it not just be a bizarre coincidence?” Elliot had asked me. “Might they not just be very similar forms of writing?”
“That’s always possible,” I replied “though what you have to realise is that this is not so much a resemblance as an exact match. See here,” I pointed to a random symbol on one of the photographs. “This is the Ankh sign - exactly the same as can be found in tombs and on statues all over the sites of ancient Egypt. That owl there is read as an ‘M’. The legs here symbolise motion, going somewhere, or a journey.”
“Hang on,” he interrupted me. “How can that picture of an owl just mean the letter ‘M’ whereas those legs aren’t a simple letter, but an action, a verb?”
I sighed. Explaining the intricacies of hieroglyphic writing was not something I was keen to go into over lunch. However, swallowing a mouthful of couscous which had arrived in double-quick time (the kitchen was working flat out today), I proceeded to give him a précis of what it is all about. “Hieroglyphics, carvings, indeed any writing performed in times of antiquity, was not something which was entered into lightly.
“It isn’t like today where you can nip into any newsagents or 99p shop and buy a pad of paper and a packet of biros. You couldn’t just scribble things on the back of an envelope back then. Writing was an extremely time consuming affair and furthermore a very difficult and laborious task in which the Scribe could not afford to make even the slightest mistake. Indeed, in many cultures, from the ancient Egyptians to the Mayans or feudal Japan a scribe or somebody who could write was held in very high regard.
“Have you ever tried to write with a quill and ink? It is a mind-bogglingly lengthy process. When you next gaze upon the intricate pages of any medieval grimoire, spare a thought for the poor chap who could take several months on just a few pages. Some men devoted their entire adult life cloistered up away from the outside world merely to produce just one book! And that often just a copy!
“And writing with a quill is relatively simple compared to chiselling pictures out in stone using only primitive tools, with a Pharaoh, Chieftain or King breathing down your neck. With forms of writing such as these nothing even slightly superfluous was ever written. The language is often flowery and complex, but this is just a change in the style of the times and culture - it’s much the same as reading Dickens or Austin today. We might consider it as rather convoluted and over-elaborate for our tastes, but this is just the way they chose to express themselves.
“In their minds, be it Dickens or Seti II, every letter and every syllable was necessary. In the case of Egyptian writing, most letters and pictures will also not only have one meaning, but two, three and sometimes more than that. Most hieroglyphs therefore can be used either phonetically or symbolically. Or both at the same time. The job of the reader is to decide which should be the case for each one.”
“Oh. That sounds rather more complicated than it needs to be.”
“Not really. You have to bear in mind again the context of the times and cultures. Reading and writing was a privilege remember, reserved only for certain classes. In Europe it wasn’t until Gutenberg came along with his printing press in the fourteen-hundreds that the written word was made accessible to the general public.
“And these double-meanings weren’t just to save time and space either. They could spell out different meanings depending on how you read them. When the figures on the line are read one way they may tell you that, let’s say: ‘Nasir bought two gourds on the day proceeding the inundation of the Nile’. Read another way that same line can inform you that ‘Nasir was initiated into the Priesthood of Anubis, the jackal-headed God’. It works on many layers.”
“I see,” he said, unconvincingly.
“Take the Ankh sign again,” I referred once more to the cross with a loop on top, probably the most easily recognizable symbol of all Egyptian hieroglyphs. “Now symbolically or descriptively this sign can be read as a key. However, it can also represent the three consonants transliterated as -”
“Transliterated,” I repeated, hoping to close my lesson as quickly as possible. “Transliteration is what Egyptologists do as a stepping stone to fully translating the hieroglyphs into their own native language. First we transliterate a symbol into a sound and then into the word, letter or group of letters it represents.”
Cripplesby’s face took on a contemplative expression. He took a bite of a banana that had been resting on a side plate throughout and munched thoughtfully for a moment. I gave him time for all that to sink in, allowing myself to be drawn back to the photographs in the meantime. A few moments later and he spoke again.
“So actually these hieroglyphs could have any number of meanings. They are more like the cryptic crossword than the quick one.”
I told him that yes, you could say that and he seemed quite settled in his own mind, having come up with a comparison of his own. So we ate and chatted some more and he then bade me farewell and good luck. I told him I would get back in touch the minute I learned of anything significant.
However, having passed this evening away on my laptop back in my apartments, I find myself even more perplexed than before. How the runes fit in alongside the glyphs should not take long for me to figure out I hope. The runic languages of the North are comparatively easy to decipher when put next to the hieroglyphic writings of the Egyptians, or the Mexican cultures for example.
No, the thing that puzzles me most is what the texts actually appear to be saying. It makes very little sense, what I can read of it initially. That is to say it makes no sense at all from the standpoint of the ‘accepted’ account of the history of the world, as drawn up by generation after generation of my grey-bearded colleagues. From a different position, however, from a fresh, new alternative perspective... it’s astonishing! Alas though, I am not as young as I once was. My eyes are tired. It will all look clearer after a good night’s rest, I am sure.
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
I really wish that I could meet an honest car-salesman, just once in my life. Of course I never will because they’re rarer that phoenix eggs or rocking horse teeth, if they exist at all. Still, it doesn’t hurt to dream. One of the requirements to becoming a forecourt salesman, probably, is that you lie about your name on the job-application form!
You find me writing this entry in one of those Land Cruiser things. Built along the lines of a Range Rover, I suppose it is only a matter of personal preference which you like the best - and there are just so many of them these days. Even Porsche makes a jeep now you know? And Mini! How can you have a Mini Jeep? That’s a Tonka toy, surely…
“Salam alaikum,” the man greeted me in a heavily accented voice. “Good morning!” He was a German-born Egyptian citizen, from Hamburg originally, if any word of what he told me was true. Dressed in a lightweight cotton shirt and loose-fitting pants he asked how he could help me.
“I need a car,” I told him somewhat needlessly. “I’m going on a long tour so probably a four by four.”
“Natürlich sir, natürlich - here in Africa this is normally best. You had something in mind.”
It sounded like he told me that rather than asked me, but I know this is just how the German language comes across from my time there during the European leg of my world tour. And I must say loved it - Germany was one of the best parts of my whole trip. Dresden is absolutely beautiful! Ok, it was perhaps unfortunate that there was a neo-Nazi rally while I was there, reinforcing some rather ugly stereotypes, but as my host told me as we sat on the banks of the Elbe watching the green, water-cannon trucks speed over the bridge towards them: “There are idiots in every country.” True enough.
Also slightly embarrassing was some of the tourist memorabilia of the Frauenkirche, now beautifully restored after being blown to smithereens by Bomber Harris and his men in the war. Again my host laughed at my discomfort, continually asking me mischievously “It’s a beautiful building isn’t it? Now at least.” She even bought me a 3-D postcard, handing it to me as I left. When you held it at one angle it showed the church in all its architectural glory. When you tilted the card though, the image shifted to how it looked after the bombing raids of 1945.
I wonder if sell anything similar in Coventry.
“We have quite a selection for you sir,” Karl the salesman started to explain to me, ushering me into the air-conditioned showroom, but I tried to stop his well rehearsed patter before it started. I failed, but at least I tried.
“All I want,” I explained, “is something that isn’t going to break down.” And that was basically my only requirement. Admittedly I was looking at a category above and beyond what I would have been choosing from a couple of years ago - I still remember our trip from Nairobi to Mombasa and the knackered old Land Rover we had hired for the journey. Decrepit it may have been, but it got us there and that, essentially, is what I wanted. Granted all Karl’s vehicles were brand new so none of them should have any problems, but no doubt some are built sturdier than the others. What I wanted was the sturdiest. Something as reliable as the good old ‘Landie’ would fit the bill. Perhaps with air-conditioning this time, but other than that, I wasn’t overly concerned about any optional extras.
This, however, was simply not good enough for Karl. He tried to sell me everything under the sun, even though I had already told him up front that I would definitely be driving off his forecourt in one of his vehicles. As he prattled on I stood there thinking: stop trying to get a sale man, you’ve got one! Just give me something damn it, and let me drive away! I couldn’t get a word in edgeways though.
“This one,” he said, waving an expansive hand a big Toyota Forrester, “has a three CD multi-changer as well as a built in MP3 player and an attachment for an iPod.” Why I would need all three god only knows. “Three litre engine, alloy wheels, tinted windows, leather interior, automatic windows,” etc., etc., bla, bla, bloody bla!
I couldn’t just buy a car. I had to go through all the rigmarole of “this kind of cooling system and that type of chassis.”
“Central locking,” I explained to him “is completely unimportant to me. If it has it, fine. If not, equally fine. I... do... not... care.” However, this failed miserably to sink in, and instead he started to blather away on the subject of variable seat positions.
In the end, I went for the green one.
So, we are on our way to South Africa! And the reason we are driving all the way instead of just flying? Well, Geeza insisted that it was important, that’s all. “More haste less speed your Lordship,” he had said - yes, funny Geeza, ha ha. “We don’t want to rush into anything and make some stupid mistake. Besides, this’ll give you a feel for the place. Tap you in to Africa’s pulse.” Well, perhaps.
I can’t say that I mind all that much to be honest though because at least I get to see more of this fantastic continent this way! He did make one strange request though: he asked me if I would make a careful note of my feelings as we travelled south.
“My feelings? I’m not the one who’s just been through a break-up you know.”
“Yes, yes, but this is something different. You should really try to immerse yourself into the place Elliot. Don’t just be a visitor - really try and tune in.”
“Ok, I’ll try.”
“No, don’t do anything consciously. Just… be aware. Let your instincts guide you.”
“Instincts, right,” I repeated, shifting down several gears to negotiate a couple of goats on an especially crumbly bit of road.
“If you find yourself having any particular gut-feelings about something or begin to pick up any strange signals, feel any changes in atmosphere, that sort of thing - let me know, ok?”
I waited for him to continue, to elaborate a bit on what he meant, but he was not forthcoming. “Come on, you can’t just leave it at that,” I protested as I picked up speed again. “Can’t you give me a clue? You know, how many words, how many syllables? Film, book or play?” His face frowned slightly as he continued watching the road ahead and I may have heard a supressed tut, but other than that, nothing. I persisted. “At least give me a couple of pointers, so I know what I’m looking for.”
“I can’t do that,” he replied. “That that would defeat the object completely.” He went on to explain that if he told me anything it would affect my thought patterns and emotional vibrations on a subconscious level, thereby influencing what I picked up on.
He didn’t actually say thereby - I just put that in, as it looks better down on paper. Can you tell this is a long journey?
“Besides,” he continued, “if you go looking for something specific, you might just find it. Or worse still,” he turned to look into my eyes, “it might find you.”
Something in the way he said it made me go all cold and I shivered involuntarily. Reaching out to the dashboard, I flicked the air conditioning off for a while and, seeing the clock, pulled over to the side of the road - it was Geeza’s turn to drive. We switched seats after a bit of a stretch and a roadside pee and then he pulled away. I stared out of the window still feeling an uncomfortable chill. Ironically enough, him telling me what he had just done had altered my mood far more than if he had just told me what the hell I was supposed to be looking for in the first place!
Gazing out as the road rumbled on, I marvelled at the colours of the countryside we were passing through: the reds and browns of the rocks and earth, the greens of planted crops poking out from their irrigated fields and the bone white colour of the desiccated trees, stretching out their scrawny limbs in search of moisture. And all this beneath the unbroken blues of a broad, endless sky. Beautiful. Try as I might to distract myself though, it was no good. Geeza’s words had unsettled me and I just couldn’t shake it off.
As the feeling persisted and I became increasingly uneasy I switched on the radio to try and break the spell. It had a little display showing tiny, pixelated dolphins swimming about. Karl had especially recommended it.
“Burning bridges never made me cry,” sang Francis Rossi, the ever-youthful front man of the 60’s (70’s, 80’s, 90’s and Millennial) rock band Status Quo. And indeed that was one of the feelings suffusing our vehicle as we crossed the border from Sudan into the Ethiopian Highlands at a town called Kurmuck. We were well and truly in a different world now, where titles and luxury items such as designer labels and electronic gadgets become as unimportant as I had always believed them to be. Instead, the practicalities of survival took over: passports, visas and the haggling over what bribes you were willing to pay and which were unacceptable and worthy of a stand.
You can be as upright in your morals and as idealistic as you like, but this is Africa and things work differently over here, simple as that. So other than the tediousness of petty officials (who are unfortunately exactly the same the world over), food, water, keeping cool and staying warm were the only things that mattered - though not all at the same time, of course.
The picture is not as barren and desolate as perhaps I am painting. There have been any number of villages, towns and large cities along our route and Geeza has at least a smattering of quite a number of dialects, so we have not gone short of anything so far. Other than a decent place to sleep on a few occasions.
Perhaps I’m getting soft, which could be due to the special mattress I bought in Mallorca, now lying empty on my bed back in the Faroes. Apparently it is made from the same material used by NASA in the Space program and I remember when it arrived it inflated itself like a life-raft, or a growing fungus seen through time-lapse photography. I’m glad I was stood well out of the way or I may have been squished against the wall!
The blurb on the packaging said it was ‘a non-deformable product, with visco-elastic properties that causes it adapt to posture alignment.’ Yeah, ok, whatever - all I know is it is damned comfortable! It came with covers of merino wool and it is luxury personified. I bet those sheep sleep really well! It’s a wonder they ever wake up at all!
It certainly doesn’t seem to have affected Geeza adversely though, sleeping under the stars. In fact, he seems to be thriving on it and whereas my limbs and joints complain bitterly each morning as I rise to make coffee on the camp stove (or more usually drink the stuff Geeza has already made, being almost always up before me), his stay contentedly silent.
The song has just ended, to be replaced by ‘Whatever You Want’. We must have stumbled onto ‘Quo FM’ - thinking about it, Messrs Rossi and Parfitt are not, as I said: ever-youthful. In fact, when I go back in my mind, I can’t recall them ever looking youthful at any moment in their public lives! They have been a pair of old rockers since the first time I saw them. They’ve not aged at all - they have just always been old!
Anyway, here we are on the road again and heading for South Africa. Whatever it is that Geeza needs to do, (whatever he wants, whatever he likes) he assures me without the shadow of a doubt that South Africa is where it will be.
We are taking a route that brings us very near to Gun’dalé, Geeza’s village home of the last couple of years. He has not decided yet whether he needs to stop there, or whether to drive on by without looking in. That’ll be up to him of course, whether he can face his memories yet or not (or if he actually needs to be there for anything). From there, south-east of Nairobi somewhere along the Athi River apparently, we will be passing down through Tanzania before crossing into northern Zambia and driving to Lusaka along the Muchinga Mountains Highway. We then take as straight a route as possible through Zimbabwe, hopefully avoiding any trouble, before entering South Africa and driving the final five hundred miles to Durban where, I am pleased to say, we will be meeting Ollie Donald again! I telephoned him before we set off and as luck would have it he is currently in his Durban home and has kindly offered to put us up! He lives in a place by the splendid name of Amanzimtoti.
He is not racing at the moment. Having never really been interested in motor sports, being a bat and ball man myself, I don’t know whether rallying is a seasonal sport or whether he’s just taking a bit of a holiday or break of some kind. Whichever it is, he has put himself at our disposal for the duration of our stay.
This is fantastic news! I thoroughly enjoyed his company during the business with Humphries, but perhaps even more so afterwards, as he guided me round like a brother for several months through the minefields of media attention. We’ve been in regular contact ever since, but I have not seen him now for well over a year. I am really looking forward to it!
That is, if we ever make it that far. Africa is known to be a somewhat turbulent land, with civil unrest in some places, wars and tribal conflicts in others, often flaring up without warning. Or so I have been led to believe, in conversation with people we have met along the way, both locals talking about countries other than their own, or some of the non-Africans either just visiting or else living here. I also keep hearing disturbing reports on the BBC World Service about just about every country we’re going through. Sudan was bad enough, with the south of the country continuing their fight for an independent nation and frankly there have already been more than enough nervous moments for me, although my companion always managed to seem at ease. He smiles whenever I voice my concerns.
“Yes Elliot, there’s trouble here - of course there is. There’s trouble everywhere! I bet you can even get mugged on the Faroe Islands!”
“Well, yes, but only if you bump into Martin McAdam or maybe Rolf Teagle a little too soon after chucking out time. And they always apologise the next morning.”
“Anywhere you go in the world you can find trouble if you look for it. Sometimes it finds you, true, and that’s just unfortunate, but it can happen anywhere. Africa is… different. There are different values and attitudes to certain things, but people are still people and ninety-nine per cent of them are just like you and me; all they want is a safe, comfortable life.”
“So not like you then,” I half-joked.
“Maybe in some of those villages we’ve driven through they’ve looked at us, a couple of foreigners hurtling along, and worried that we’re a couple of mercenaries, here to stir up more trouble for them.”
“Mercenaries?” I spluttered. “What do you mean, ‘mercenaries’? With guns and things?”
He laughed and reminded me of the nine and twelve year olds we’d already seen hefting AK47s or Chinese pistols around like they were toys. “We’ll be fine, Elliot,” he said and then, mockingly, “I’ll look after you Lord Cripplesby.”
Git. He knows I trust him and trust his judgement, but I am only human and heading into political hot spots such as Zimbabwe or passing through southern Sudan does give me cause for concern.
He always lets me know when he thinks I’ve been going on too long by referring to me as My Lord, or Lord Cripplesby, or declares himself “always your humble servant, O Noble One.” He makes me laugh at myself, which I suppose is all fine and dandy, helping me to relax. I just wish I had his confidence, that’s all.
So I must try to take a page from Geeza’s book and just tell myself we’ll be fine and think on about our arrival in Amanzimtoti. I’ve found I am able to take my mind off our trouble-filled route by wondering if Doctor Lamb will have cracked a few codes in the Faronic Codex by the time we get there. Maybe he will already have sent some information on to me regarding those ever so mysterious tablets.
I was assured by Ollie that it would be fine to check my emails to see if Baxter had any updates for me. That way we wouldn’t have to rely on ‘snail mail’ which could take days otherwise and given the transitory nature of our journey would simply be too complicated to arrange. That’s all well and good of course, provided Ollie shows me how to use the Internet on his computer.
Like I said, I’m a total technophobe, a Luddite to all intents and purposes. I’ve dabbled on my own machine, but I’m not great and if his is different in any way… I am told it is child’s play, but kids are fast learners you know.
And what is all that about ‘snail mail,’ as Baxter called it? What a horrible term! Ok, it’s impractical for us at the moment, but I love getting post! Finding a letter on your doormat as you rise for your morning tea and toast can lift your spirits for the whole day! Snail mail indeed. I sometimes wonder whether handwriting is going the same way as all these hieroglyphs and runes and things. Perhaps in a hundred years time the only people able to read this journal will be learned professors of archaeology! What a depressing thought.
* * *
THE CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
Elliot Cripplesby. Who is this guy? What makes him tick? While he gives off this impression of being alarmingly simple and straightforward, naive even, there is something about him, something in there that’s as strong as an Ox. I’m sure of it. No one could have got through life being as liquid and malleable as that without having something at the core. He would never have made it past childhood.
“We’ve got to drive to South Africa,” I had said to him the evening after my meditations. I’d not seen him all day as he had gone to meet this doctor of his to give him all the photos of the Faronic Codex and talk things through.
“Oh, ok then,” he said.
And that was it! Obviously he was pre-occupied by whatever it was he’d learned at lunch, but I had expected a bit more than that!
“I mean drive, Elliot. To South Africa,” I repeated. We were sat in his room eating dinner in privacy, a couple of toasted sandwiches and a lot of fruit.
“Mmm, yes,” he replied, staring at the food he was holding as if it were the first time he had ever seen - really seen - anything before. If I didn’t know better I would have said he was on acid.
“It’s about five thousand miles Elliot.”
A moment’s pause before his reply: “We’ll need a car then, I should think.”
I carried on for a bit but then I just gave up. He would talk when he was ready I guessed. And sure enough, a few minutes later he did.
“I wonder why they’re called dates?” he asked, still intently examining the fruit in his hand. Where the hell had that come from? I didn’t answer him, just shrugged and he didn’t press the point. He didn’t say anything else for quite a while in fact, but eventually things seemed to sink in and he began asking questions and making little lists of things to do; what we’d need for the journey, supplies, visas, that sort of stuff.
I waited until I was sure he was back to his normal self and then I asked him what was on his mind. “You’ve not been on the Palm wine have you?”
He laughed. “No, no. It’s odd though. After talking with Doctor Lamb I feel that there is something nagging away at the back of my mind. I don’t know if it was anything specific that he said, but I came away feeling... well, just feeling something. I couldn’t say what it was exactly, but I somehow felt that a lot of things were about to become clear; that I was… on the verge of something. I felt, and still feel actually, rather inquisitive about the strangest of things.”
“Elliot!” I clapped him of the back, grinning like a demon. “You’re opening up mate! Don’t stop it! Just let the feelings flow. This is fantastic!”
His intuitive side was coming on strong and he was picking up on things - Great! I told him to let his mind unfurl along the journey and try and feel as much as he could, get into the vibe of Africa. I didn’t want to babble on too much - it is always a delicate time, when you first realise you are feeling things and becoming attuned with life. No one realises what it is at the time of course, just that something has shifted.
If you don’t let it carry on, or if you are disturbed or distracted too much then you lose the awareness. You’re still opening up - it takes something very traumatic to stop it completely once it has started - but you can become blocked off from the feelings. You become disoriented, disturbed even, because you can’t understand what’s going on, so it is always better to be conscious of it - to be aware at least that something is happening, whatever it is.
And credit to him, he has kept it alive throughout the journey so far. I cannot stop myself from grinning whenever he is tuned in and talking about it. He’s been quite anxious at times and has been questioning the safety of the route we’re taking. He has been going on about wars, landmines, tribal conflicts, all sorts of things. At some point or another along the way he has brought up the troubles in Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Western Sahara - pretty much everywhere really, whether we were going anywhere near them or not! He even wondered if we’d be safe from Sudanese pirates!
“The World Service said the Chinese had just sent another warship to the Arabian Sea Geeza.” That’s where most of the piracy takes place apparently, against the tankers coming through the Suez Canal. “Another warship!”
“Well, we’ll be ok then won’t we,” I replied. “I feel safer already.” It didn’t seem to matter to him that we were about three hundred miles away from the coast at this point and that a long way South from the Gulf.
What is happening, which he does not realise, is that he is picking up on the scent of the evil we are chasing. That Spirit is the reason behind all the tragedies that have been afflicting the peoples and the places of this continent down through the ages. It has got into their bones, into the rocks and soil. It has inflicted itself on the whole atmosphere of the land. Every lungful breathes it in.
I can sense it myself and it does not feel good. Whatever it is, a malevolent Nature Spirit or a particularly twisted ancient Ancestor or whatever, it is big and strong, but I am confident that it can be bested. So I just smile at Elliot and tell him not to worry.
I am throwing up protective shields around us - have been since we left the Faroes. Cripplesby doesn’t know it, but I am surrounding him in light, pure energy from that unquenchable source that floats around and about us.
Maybe that’s why he has begun to open up. The shield will filter out any negative vibrations, so he is not seeing through a veil anymore, or at least it is lifting. Ha, ha, that is just superb! You always feel good when you come across someone who is coming out, Spiritually. The energy is so strong in that initial burst that it affects everyone in the vicinity. Wow! It’s just brilliant.
I decided not to stop at the village. Home would have delayed us unnecessarily. We are in no particular rush, meaning we’re not working to any specific deadline, but we do have to get a move on and going back would have achieved nothing. I did feel a few pangs though, as the turn-offs went past one by one. Still, I’ll be back there soon enough I hope.
Taking it in turns to drive, we have made it into the Northern Province of South Africa. We’ve been doing four or five hour shifts, sometimes driving through the night, sometimes stopping and pitching tents. Similarly, we have not always eaten on the hoof and let me tell you, we have had some meals in places you would never believe.
Who would want to eat in some cramped and stuffy restaurant when you can eat out in the open with some of the scenery we have had? Staring out on an East African Sunset or gazing up at the Stars from the camp fire as you chew your food and feel these ancient lands living and breathing all around you is something that just can’t be beaten. Even Elliot stopped complaining about the insects after a few days. It’s just too beautiful man.
The plan is to get past Polokwane - meaning place of safety - which is the new name for Pietersburg and then set up camp somewhere quiet, before heading down to Durban in the morning. We should then be there, if it is a smooth day’s drive, by nightfall.
One thing I’ve noticed which has made it a little more difficult to keep the smile on my face at times is that, the further South we come, the heavier the atmosphere is getting. It has thickened. A deeper sense of foreboding is chipping away at my mind the further we roll along the road.
It’s to be expected I guess. The root of this damn thing is around here somewhere, so it is bound to be more prevalent and powerful the closer it is to home - like a river is lazy and turgid as it meanders over the plains and out to sea, but travel up to the headwaters and you’ll find them rampant and raging, tempestuous and full of energy, fresh and vital.
It is putting me on edge.
And something else - which I have to take as some sort of portent. There seems to be a plague of Biblical proportions going on around here - first came across it as we were driving through Matabeleland, Southern Zimbabwe. There are thousands upon thousands of big, fat, hairy caterpillars everywhere you look. Elliot even had to put on the windscreen wipers as we went through a copse of trees earlier this morning. I’m not sure if it is a good sign, or a bad one, but it does feel highly significant. We’ll just have to play it by ear I guess.
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
Having set yourself up, two men and a jeep so to speak, for a five thousand mile drive through some of the least developed countries in the world (by Western standards at least), you could be forgiven for not expecting everything to go smoothly. The roads have been be potholed or corrugated to such an extent that we could only cover about twenty miles in a day sometimes. More than once they were washed away completely (or littered with land-mines on one occasion! The horrendous left-overs from a previous conflict), which forced us to double back and find a somewhat more lengthy alternative.
And no matter what Geeza might say, I still feel it is a very unstable place.
“Elliot, the main problem’s in your head, man,” he cut me off on one of the many occasions I brought it up. “You think there’s a mob of twenty men with machetes around every bend, all waiting to rob us, murder us and then probably eat us up on a big barbeque. Come on - has that happened yet?”
“No,” I answered him sullenly.
“And do know how many bends we’ve been past so far?” Of course I didn’t. “Yes, there is violence,” he went on, “yes there are guns. Yes there were even land-mines on that one stretch, but just remind me - how did we find out about that?”
“Somebody flagged us down as we were turning down the road,” I mumbled, taking the point.
“About a dozen men, women and children chased after us yelling and screaming for us to stop.”
“Right, and have you found the people, the villagers and townsfolk, to be evil and angry, hostile and unwelcoming?
“No, not at all! They’ve been some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. We’ve been treated like Kings everywhere we’ve been.”
“Almost everywhere,” he corrected me. “Don’t romanticise it. The problem these days is that more and more we only think in extremes. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. You’re having troubles because you’re used to living in a society with soft edges. In the West we don’t see the cripples, the poverty, the mentally unstable, but they’re there just the same; just not lying in the middle of the high street, that’s all.”
I accepted that, but still argued that injury and illness were more commonplace here. He couldn’t deny that.
“That’s because we have a welfare system Elliot. The NHS may be broken, but at least it’s there. After the Second World War the British Government, having witnessed such indescribable suffering, took a remarkably responsible stance and set up the National Health Service in a genuine attempt to help everyone. The Welfare System was established to provide protection for all people, rich and poor, young and old from the hardships of Life.”
“Probably the best thing to have come out of the war,” I agreed.
“Right. And it could only have come out of a war.”
“It was only through seeing all that suffering, that death and destruction at close hand that such a sense of humanity was born. It would never have happened otherwise.
“Well, here they’ve got nothing. There are a few institutions struggling as best they can, a couple of aid agencies and volunteers, but without the will nothing gets done. In Gabon, or wherever, a kid can die from any number of diseases just because the families can’t afford the medicine.”
It was well documented a few years ago that the drug companies seemed far more interested in making money than actually saving anyone. All those South African doctors going to Thailand to buy cheap medicine and getting arrested for it - certain American and international institutions even called for sanctions to be put in place against Thailand for their not compliance with international patents and copyright laws.
A far cry from the unsung hero Dr Jonas Salk, making the formula for his polio vaccine free for all. When a reporter in 1955 asked him about the patent just after the vaccine had been officially approved and released he answered with a quizzical smile: “There is no patent. How can you patent the sun?” Meaning of course that he saw his vaccine as something everybody should have access to, whoever they were, and that monetary gain did not even enter it.
“The thing is Elliot, they’re not all that expensive,” Geeza continued. “The reality of it is that sometimes it can be as little as twenty pence! Twenty p for a packet of pills, to save a life! And all too often that’s still too much.
“So yeah, round here they have their sharp edges, but Life goes on. Yes there’s guns, gangs and hideous injustices, but it’s not just a case of simple lawlessness - it’s just a different kind of law. It’s African Law.”
He told me that if I just accepted that things work a little differently out here and then got on with it I’d be much happier. Although I have been trying to do this from the outset it’s a struggle and I have felt distinctly unsafe at times.
Especially in Harare. I was not exactly mad keen on going to Zimbabwe in the first place, despite my friend’s assurances, but each of the alternatives was such a massive detour that we didn’t really have much choice. Geeza continued to insist we would be fine so long as we didn’t dally and kept our heads down and I am very happy to say he was right. The people themselves - again - were friendly as anything; Geeza is right in this. I guess ‘the people’ always are, wherever you go in the world.
Everyday men and women just want to get on with their lives doing the best they can, actually more so in war-torn regions, or areas where they have seen long periods of unrest. It seems usually to be the case that, having been dragged into a conflict or situation by some stupid, egotistical President or politician, all folk want is for their lives to return to normal, to enjoy a sense of stability once again. Especially out in the rural areas; life is already difficult enough.
In fairness though, throughout the entire trip we only ran into difficulties once, at a make-shift road block where the usual small and discreet bribe to the soldier in charge was quite clearly not going to do the trick. Shouldering the ubiquitous Kalashnikov, the captain took the proffered money, folding it up and placing it in his top pocket, but was obviously hankering for more.
When we politely declined to give him any extra he got suddenly very angry, started shouting and gesticulating wildly, banging and slapping the bonnet of our car, then the roof and the frame around the driver’s door. His eyes were bloodshot from drink - he absolutely stunk of cheap liquor. His blood was boiling and when I saw him change the grip on his gun I felt as if my heart was doing a bungee jump: it sank to my feet and then ended up in my mouth, pounding like a herd of buffalo all the time.
This was it, I thought. We’re dead. He is going to shoot us and dump our bullet-ridden carcasses in the forest, never to be found, never to be heard of again. If I’d have been driving I might just have panicked; I’d have probably floored the accelerator and tried to get away and who knows what might have happened. Fortunately Geeza was behind the wheel and he was completely unruffled.
Moving his hand slowly so as not to test any fingers that might be itching on their triggers, Geeza reached inside his scruffy cloth bag and pulled out and stick, about eight inches long with all sorts of curiosities attached to it. It had patterned bands of beading, strips of hide, hair, feathers and a couple of claws and teeth dangling from it on rawhide cords. Wordlessly he held it up for the nearest soldiers to see. Their reaction was as swift as it was surprising.
The captain stopped his tirade in an instant and just stood there gawping for about five seconds (although that moment seemed to me to drag out for the whole of eternity). Wide eyed and babbling he then began gesticulated to his men who hurriedly dragged the road block aside, keeping well back and out of sight where they could. Muttering obsequious words of apology, he then tried to give Geeza his bribe back which my friend accepted after initial protestations that the captain could keep it. The drink-sozzled soldier then backed away from the car almost reverentially and nervously waved us through.
I left it a few miles before the questions poured out.
“Ok, so what the hell was that about? We nearly died back there!” That isn’t quite how it came out - my side of the dialogue was rather predictably interspersed with more than a few heartfelt expletives, but I’ve left them out. I’m guessing that anyone reading this can figure out what words went where. “How the hell did you get us out of that one? You didn’t even say a word! What is it you showed him, that stick-thing?”
Eyes still fixed on the road, both hands on the wheel he asked if I had ever heard of the Calumet. Well of course I hadn’t!
“The Calumet is another name for the Peace Pipe amongst the American Indians,” he began.
“Jesus Geeza! A straight answer would be nice for a change! What have American Indians got to do with this?” I could not for the life of me think of any connection, but he went on to explain.
“America in pre-Columbian times had over five hundred nations and these peoples, who we happily label en masse as Indians, spoke in nearly as many different languages. The same has happened with the Aborigines of Australia and also here with the ‘Africans’. We tend to think of them all as one people, whereas they are actually made up of hundreds of completely different cultures, mostly speaking vastly different languages.
“The Calumet, the Pipe, was a universal symbol of peace, accepted from tribes from the Canadian Arctic to Florida, Mexico and beyond; from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. Even if a person appeared who was completely alien and spoke in an unrecognizable tongue, by showing the Pipe, his or her peaceful intentions were made clear and more often than not they would be allowed to carry on along on their way.
“This,” he patted his bag, indicating the strange stick he had placed back inside, “acts in much the same way, but with a slight twist. Throughout the African continent this little chap,” he held the bag up on its cord briefly, “is recognized as the symbol of a Doctor. Of Magic. What you might call witchcraft still plays a large part in rural areas and people will either treat you with fear or respect - it all depends on their conscience. Our friend the captain obviously has a few guilty secrets.”
And with that he smiled his smile and we drove on without another word. Where was that now, Malawi? I can’t remember; some time ago though. I was just glad to be through, safe and sound.
Getting the final set of visas I’d prepared stamped in a little breeze block, sand-bagged shack, we made it across the border into South Africa without further incident and stopped for a night in a tiny town called Naboomspruit in the Northern Province. We took rooms over a run-down bar which was a crumbling, ramshackle place with faded Pepsi advertising signs being used as tables, but it was a roof at least.
For some reason as soon as we crossed the border I felt much happier, as if I was somehow safe at last. Bizarre as it seems, I think it was because we now had Durban and Amanzimtoti on the horizon, almost, and for me knowing Ollie was there, knowing just one person in the whole country for some reason made me feel much, much more relaxed. It was a phone number, a safety net if anything should happen.
Of course I had all the numbers of the High Commissions for all the regions we had come through, but for all the good any of them would have done I might as well have called the speaking clock - on every single occasion I did call one of them, for safety reports, visa confirmations or whatever, I found the offices were invariably closed or the staff were away playing tennis! Ollie may still have been a long way away, but he was there at least and that gave me a sense of security I hadn’t known since we set off from the Faroes.
Geeza on the other hand was exactly the opposite. He had seemed care free and relaxed throughout the thousands of potentially dangerous, but certainly unpredictable miles, which for me had been extremely nerve-wracking and fretful. Yet as soon as we changed seats having shown at passports at the border, it was as if we had not only swapped driving duties, but moods as well. Very strange. It could have been because for many people South Africa is not considered to be really Africa, in much the same way that England, Britain is not really Europe. Perhaps, as liberally-minded as I like to think myself to be, in my mind we had finally made it ‘back to civilisation’ again.
To Geeza however, this was where all the trouble was coming from and upon crossing the borders into South Africa we had entered the lion’s den…
Anyway, here we were. Do you find that the last leg of the journey seems to drag on and on, out of proportion to the rest of it? I do. We made it into Durban the following night, but god, what a day’s drive! It may have been the route or the heat, or the fact that I was driving, or it may have been that it really was a long way, but the road just seemed to go on and on and on.
Eventually though we made it and Ollie met us near the sea front in downtown Durban, which itself was nice and clean and reasonably quiet, although compared to what we had been experiencing on our way down here it was as bright and bewildering as Las Vegas would be to someone staggering in from a year alone in the Mojave Desert. He led us back to his place in Amanzimtoti, where we went to our rooms and straight to bed, foregoing all but the briefest of pleasantries. We had not driven that far in a day before, and I for one was bushwhacked. Ollie understood completely and assured us it was fine. We’d have all the time to talk tomorrow.
The next morning broke bright and blue and we both felt much better having enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Ollie’s house was beautiful, yet understated. Other than a fountain in the front garden, three tiers high with a selection of Classical men, women and cherubim adorning it, there was no hint of ostentatiousness to be found. It was big, yes, and obviously expensive, but was not vulgar, as some places are when the residents are not content with merely keeping up with the Jones’, but feel the need to constantly surpass them.
Ollie was exactly the same as the last time I’d seen him - he hadn’t changed a bit. He seemed fit, well and full of life. We chatted over breakfast with his delightful young wife of four years, and what a lucky man he is. They obviously adore each other and I apologised to them both (but to her in particular) for dragging him off around the world the way I did when I took him with me on my tour. I was not too happy with the thought that I had forced them to be apart for so long, but with the kind of openness usually reserved only for the closest of friends, they claimed that this has actually helped save their marriage. Before that they had been living in each other’s pockets and the tension had been mounting.
Every time Ollie raced, either she would go with him or he would fly home as often as possible and this constant living from suitcases had caused a tremendous amount of stress which had been beginning to boil over. Him clearing off for those couple of months worked wonders they both told me and so now their lifestyle is such that they sometimes don’t see each other for weeks, as he goes off racing. Not exactly perfect, some might say, but it works wonderfully for them.
Ollie explained that they weren’t treading on each others toes any more. “That was a mistake we made at first and for way too long. But this way there’s really no problem. This way everything stays fresh.”
What is that saying - ‘absence makes the heart grown fonder’. Looking at these two cuddling up to each other like a couple of honeymooners would certainly give credence to that.
“And anyway, the world’s a tiny place these days,” he went on. “What with the internet, phones and Skype there’s no reason you can’t be in contact any time you want to.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about Skype. Haven’t dabbled though.”
“You should mate. It’s great; it’s like being in the same room with someone, really.”
Geeza stood up after a good half hour more of this small talk and stretched like a cat. He asked if he could have a wander around the grounds, as he wanted to get out into the sun and start thinking about what to do next. I still do not really know why we’ve come down here. Geeza has explained as much as he can, that much I know - he isn’t holding anything back, but all he has said basically is that there’s this ‘thing’ looming over everybody. A ghost, or a spirit, or something. I don’t know.
I had a horrible feeling at one point as we were driving through the highlands of Ethiopia. “You don’t think it could be Professor Humphries back again?” He laughed, but it could have been him! “No one has ever heard what happened to him Geeza; it might be him back in the mix again, seeking revenge. Maybe he’s built himself another time machine or worse this time.” He assured me that wasn’t him, but I admit that I took some convincing. “Oh, you’re certain are you?” I said with perhaps a tinge of doubt in my voice. “One hundred per cent positive?”
“Elliot, I’ve already told you that I don’t know what it is we’re chasing. I haven’t even made a single, solitary guess, because it could be anything from an infinite number of places. But I know a few things it isn’t, and Humphries is one of them. It just feels different. As different as an apple is to the colour blue. As a cheese sandwich is to a telephone call. Humphries was a madman, but he was human. His ambitions, his schemes, they were all coming from a human standpoint. This thing is most definitely not.”
“You mean it’s an animal,” I asked him and seeing a negative response forming on his lips I added “or a plant?” He shook his head and was thoughtful for a few moments. He was struggling it was clear to see, not only in explaining it to me, but in understanding it himself.
“It’s... it’s like the energy of a rotting piece of fruit,” he said after a minute’s thought. “You know how an apple turns brown as the core starts to go off? This is like that. It is vast, it is very, very old and it belongs... I don’t know. It feels like it belongs here, but not in this way. Like a... like... I suppose it’s like having a big pot of stew and putting in too much salt. Way too much. You want salt in there, as one of the components of the meal, but you don’t want to actually be crunching the grains between your teeth. It’s like the Spirit of Decomposition, with the volume jacked up to the max.”
Hmmm. When he told me this a few things clicked somewhere in my brain, but that feeling of being on the verge of understanding has long since left me and right now I feel as clueless as I was when we started.
I remember, now that I am thinking about things, that immediately after leaving Cairo I was aware of some strange sensations. It was after Geeza had asked me to try and ‘feel’ the world around me and it did not last long. The further away from Cairo we got, the less focused the feelings became. It was a little like being in a hot bath and feeling a tiny trickle of cold water feeding in under the surface, gradually cooling the waters around it. Yes, that was it. After a few days though, not only had the feelings faded, but I had completely forgotten about them! Until now! How bizarre. I feel quite light headed now.
Let me take a few deep breaths and figure out what I was originally going to say. Ahh! Yes. Intriguing news from Dr Lamb.
So, Geeza got up wanting to wander through the gardens and Mrs Donald - Rachael, or Rache as she likes to be called - took him outside and escorted him around, showing off the flower beds and borders with obvious delight. You get the impression that she nurtures with such care and attention that she’s like a kind of green-fingered Florence Nightingale, the famous lamp having been replaced by a watering can.
Ollie and I sat for another cup of tea and a catch up and it was then that he told me that late last night just before he left the house to come and meet us, a message had come through to his e-mail address from my friend back in Egypt, the learned Baxter Lamb.
“Ahh, excellent! I was hoping there’d be something.”
“Yeah, but why didn’t you just give him your email Elliot? It’s no problem using mine, but… why?”
“Well, it’s on your computer isn’t it? He already has my email, but that’s way back in the Faroes.”
He nearly died laughing and explained it to me as he led me through into a small, white walled room where he kept his computer. It was lovely and cool in the mid morning sun, which was steadily gaining in strength as the day wore on. An open window looked out onto a beautiful arrangement of flowering orchids and all manner of neat little shrubs, shaped into a variety of graceful curves that were all very pleasing to the eye. And it was not just the sense of sight that was rewarded in this tiny study. The window was framed on one side by a blood red hibiscus and on the other by a thick profusion of delicate jasmine blooms, whose scents perfumed the room in a way that Haze or Glade could never hope to match.
Those chemical concoctions are supposed to freshen our air, but frankly I find them awful. More often than not they bear about as much resemblance to the scents they represent as a four-year-old’s drawing does to her actually family, house and garden - you know the ones, with all those stick-fingers pointing out at every angle and the awkward, lop-sided smiles. The pictures that all parents love and are thrilled at and stick on their fridge.
Geeza introduced me to incense sticks during our first association and to be honest I’m a bit of a junkie now. It might not be the same as fresh flowers, but it’s so much more natural than those chemical things.
Leaving the sense of smell though, the birdsong that caressed and trilled my ears filled my soul with joy and wonder at how this Eden had come to be, for Eden it surely was. In the book of the Christian faith it is said that God created a paradise in six days, and whilst Ollie admitted it had taken Rachael considerably longer, it was still no less an achievement. From the view though the small square window, it was simply stunning.
A desk and chair had been positioned by the window to maximise the pleasures of the garden beyond.
“I often come down here to tweet and blog,” Ollie told me as we saw her walking Geeza through the bushes and beds, “but so many times I just end up watching her instead.” I was glad later on when I learned what he meant, because at the time I found myself picturing him with a towel over his head making long series of onomatopoeic sounds and I couldn’t think of a suitable way to ask why. Tweeting and Blogs? This internet just gets more and more complicated if you ask me.
“She spends a lot of time out there,” he said in his thick Afrikaner accent, his voice full of love. “It’s really her place; her domain. I just sit here and get lost looking at her work. She is so beautiful man.”
I replied to him that I agreed and repeated that he was an extremely fortunate man. I suggested that one day they might like to come and visit me and Rachael could help me out with my own small plot of land.
Now it is true that in my stately home on the Faroes, the ‘small plot of land’ to which I refer is actually quite large. Whilst the house is smaller than many a modern day detached house, the gardens and grounds are fairly extensive. There are three large ‘parks’ which I have left to run wild as I am inclined to do, but then the grounds immediately around the house are made up of perhaps two acres of small, walled or sectioned-off plots. Twelve or so if I remember rightly (which I may well not).
“Oh she’d love it mate. Letting her cut loose on something like that, you wouldn’t see her for dust.”
“It can be a bit of an addiction,” I admitted to him. “I’m a keen gardener myself - well, I enjoy scrubbing around in the dirt anyway, digging here and planting there - but I have no idea about which plant likes which soil, or sun and shade and all that, so it’s all a bit haphazard. More importantly, I have no vision. All these gardens,” I waved a hand at the vista outside, “these Heavens on Earth do not happen by accident.”
“Hell no,” Ollie laughed. “Rachael spends days out there.” That much was plain to see; she was definitely someone with vision. Her garden stood testament to that.
He sat down and started his computer up, repeating that she would absolutely love it, as she always likes a new challenge. Super. We pencilled in the spring as a rough, hopeful date and agreed to talk more about it over lunch or at dinner tonight. And then he brought up Dr Lamb’s e-mail on screen. When I read what he had to say I nearly fell off my chair.
* * *
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