Wednesday, 8 May 2013

William Sewell

There was absolute silence for a moment; even the owls fell silent and the wind stilled.  Then there was the soft tread of a shod foot on grass, and a young man walked into the circle of light cast by the candle.  He had floppy dark hair that fell over one eye, but his other eye was glinting and mischievous even in the candle-light.  He was wearing a white shirt, unbuttoned at the neck, and a soft red jacket that might have been velvet and was definitely too thin for the chill night air.  He showed no sign of the cold, and it was only when he turned his head to look at both of them that Janet saw the bullet hole behind his ear.
“Who commands me?” asked the young man in a voice that was both quiet and chilling to listen to.  Janet shivered, feeling as though cold fingers were walking along her spine, and her legs and arms felt unnaturally heavy.  “I am William Sewell, and I am here.  But I ask, why am I here?”
The séantist pointed a dirty finger as Janet.  “She bids you come, she would question you,” he said, his voice still firm and resonant.  “She would hear a dead man’s answer.”
“And who are you, chick?”  The man had an Irish accent she realised, but it was mostly hidden under a learned pronunciation.
“I am Janet O’Steen,” she said, lifting her head and jutting her chin forward.  “I am–“
“Ireland’s foremost logodisciplinarian,” said William, and there was a hint of admiration in his voice.  He smiled, his teeth dazzlingly white.  “I have heard of you, of course.  I am flattered that you would ask to speak with me, though this is hardly the way I would have chosen to meet you.”
“You shot yourself,” said Janet.  “It’s not like you didn’t have a choice now.”
The séantist started coughing violently, doubling up as his did so, and Janet shot him an annoyed look that he missed.  William Sewell looked a tiny bit taken aback and brushed the hair away from his face.  When he did so it revealed that his other eye was missing, all that was left was the dark socket and skin patterned as though with sooty ivy.
“I rather believe I did not have a choice,” he said, and Janet cut him off with a snort.
“Of course you had a choice,” she said.  “You had a fiancée and a brother, for all he’d run off with the fairies, and you had a wee addiction to laudanum, which I found is nothing but wine and painkillers.  You could have put the drink down, picked the pen up, and written some more.  The reviews of your poetry were getting hysterical at that point, your public would have bought any old crap you’d written.  You could have sold your shopping list for all the taste and discernment they were showing!”
“I did used to write them in hexameter,” said William nodding.  “But the addiction was a real and terrible thin–“
“It was a painkiller addiction,” snapped Janet.  “Good lord, these days everybody and his mistress has had at least two by the time they’re thirty, and there’s clinics to sort you out and send you back into the real world with a certificate to say you’re a bona fide celebrity now.  You were already a celebrity, all you had to do was put the cup down and write!”
“There were no clinics in my day!”  William was shouting now, both hands on his hips, and his hair was being mussed by a wind that neither Janet nor the séantist could feel.  “I was desperate and I was exhausted!  I didn’t want to be there anymore!”
“So you ran away and left your poor fiancée to rot in that house on the high fell, until your brother came home and married her out of sympathy.”
“What is your question, woman?  Have you summoned me here simply to berate me for the choices I made in my life, a life that is now over by fifty years, I might add?”  Out of the corner of her eye Janet could see the séantist nodding, while holding his hands over his mouth.  She suspected that his earlier coughing fit might now have been just covering up laughter.  She put her own hands on her hips, and stared William Sewell directly in his eye-socket.  Something white, it might have been a maggot, moved inside it.
“Before you died,” she said, “ you wrote a last manuscript, a suite of poems that described your feelings and why you made those choices.  That manuscript was posted to your fiancée who showed them to your brother and to a couple of other people, mostly low-class men that she was sleeping with for money, and then she put it somewhere safe.  So safe that no-one’s found it since.  I want to know where that manuscript is now.”
“Why don’t you summon my fiancée and ask her?”  William stared back at Janet, determined not to lose the staring contest.
“She did,” said the séantist suddenly, his voice still deep and resonant.  “And your brother.  And then your father, to complain about your brother.”
“You’ve spoken to daddy?” William looked suddenly uncomfortable.  “What kind of woman are you?”
“Determined,” said Janet quickly, getting in before the séantist.  He looked slightly crestfallen.  “So where’s the manuscript?”
“Why was poor Clarissa sleeping with low-class men for money when she was married to my brother?” William looked as though he was only just hearing what Janet had said for the first time.
“He ran straight back off with the fairies,” said Janet.  “He only married her so that the family name wouldn’t be tainted by your killing yourself.”
“But what he was doing was–“
“Aye,” said Janet.  “But that was less shameful, at least in his eyes.  The manuscript, ghost.  Where is it?”
“If I tell you, it cannot be published like it is.  It must be edited first.”
“Of course!  I’m not releasing the unedited version, that wouldn’t make me any money.  I will edit them myself.  You were always sloppy with your metre anyway, and I wouldn’t want to be associated with anyone who tried to make brougham and croon rhyme.”
“You have a wicked tongue in you head, chick.”  William shook his own head.  “Well then, I shall tell you, and you shall promise never to summon me back from the dead again.”
“Fine,” said Janet.  “Hanging around graveyards in the middle of the night isn’t my cup of tea anyway.  Tell me.”

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