Saving Carlton House
OK, after the recent spurt of debunkers, Selina Hyde did realise that the times were even more hostile towards mediums and parapsychologists than usual. But as she was led towards the vacated block in question, she knew it was one if her 'doh' days, when any real powers just had to be decently backed up by a few discreet tricks of the trade, if the well of psychic ink had temporarily run out. Today, she felt like snapping back at the men, with their combined attitude of sheepishness in their own fears and their contempt for all things to do with hocus pocus, mystics and crystal balls: 'No, I don't feel a bloody thing. What am I supposed to feel?'
Selina Hyde knew that her surname was not quite the most auspicious for one whose calling was supposed to involve Love, Light and gently moving distressed earthbound spirits on. She always clad her substantial form in carefully tasteful pastels and twinsets in order not to frighten off her clients, for whom the fear of Satanism and sorcery still remained very primitive fears. An ex-tenant of one of the earlier blocks to have been demolished during the first bout of block clearance from about 15 years ago, a large, plump fair and typically slatternly woman of indeterminate age - and here, Selina was not at all prejudiced mind, but......
Well anyway, the woman had spat venomously when Selina had asked her about this particular block, and why it was proving to be so difficult to pull down:
"Well, there was this weirdo. A witch used to live there....'
But this was not a house in the way that a more typical detached or semi might be. This was one of a series of earlier and failed attempts at town planning: an old-fashioned tower block of some 10 storeys high. Selina had cleansed individual flats inside such blocks in those cities that still maintained them for its unfortunate inhabitants, but a whole block....now, that might represent some challenge. She hoped that she had not agreed to take on too much, but the confidence shown in both her formidable personailty and her powers had flattered her.
She passed through the garishly white and red-striped barrier that isolated the condemned building from the land and the other buildings around it. It was, she had been told, it was structurally sound, but......
Selina peered more Closely at the building.
Its surface included glazed colour combinations of industrial square and rectangular greys, lilacs and chalky blues. Looming over the roof was some kind of fantastically-designed ventilator shaft, though she could not be sure, that resembled wings, adding still more height to the building. They also bore down on the roof of the building in a protective 'M.'
The rows of windows, which stared blandly and glassily back at her in the light of the afternoon sun were still intact, as, so she gathered, were most of the fittings inside on the upper floors. There had been repeated trouble there. That was what she had been sent to investigate - cleanse the house so the City employers could complete their work and strip the building down so that it could be removed at long last.
Her companions beckoned her through the now doorless main entrance. Selina held her nose with a handkerchief, as dust and sawdust filled the air, the floor littered with the detritus of inhabitants' former lives: books, newspapers, food cartons and old clothes, as well as- a little poignantly - an old teddy-bear, a ripped photograph album.
The two men escorting her hung behind her decorously. They did not know what she planned or needed to to do. It was up to her to lead.
'Take me to a room on one of the next floors,' she instructed them. It was necessary to use the urine-soaked stairs, as the lift was no longer in use.
Once she was able to install herself in a vacated room, she was able to set out her portable chair and her cassette equipment. After a moment, though, she decided that the latter was unnecessary. The denuded room in which she sat was still thick with the aura of the former tenants. The pink and cream wallpaper gave further testimony to the character of the people who had lived here. It surprised Selina yet again to sense that despite everything, the elderly couple had liked being here and had been almost overwhelmingly sad to leave.
Selina placed her hands on the walls of the flat. Her earlier dullness of receptivity had left her once she had dismissed the workmen, her inhibitions about what she often felt to be performing melted - she was picking up lots now.
As might be expected, the air of the whole building was thick with the cares of individuals who had not had a great deal to live on, psychometric echoing of rootless individuals who had been using the premises briefly before moving on.
The anarchy of the place! - that alone was grounds enough to have the whole placed razed once and for all, Selina thought, it should have been done in the first place, as the City employees had told her. The Regeneration had tried to make a clean sweep, but had not been quite been ruthless enough with St Helen's.
In fact, before the landmark companion blocks of St Helen's had been brought down, it seems that everyone had been permitted to do almost anything here - and had. And even after Carlton House and the other remaining flats had been refurbished, the air of disreputability had remained. And then there had been the rumours among newer and more 'respectable' tenants of a deeper, far more malevolent vibe, the sense of an an even more profound psychic unrest...
There had, naturally, been other more 'official' reasons why the remaining buildings had lost their reprieve and Selina Hyde's mission here in hastening their annihilation had not been announced to the public.
Aha! Selina thought she might have identified the source of the unquietness.
She did not need to go far to find the exact location where the boy had lain dying, feeling his lifeblood ooze through his punctured lung, so very afraid that he would not be found in time. The desperation he had felt at the lost chances he had of being able to communicate his last words to loved ones. The surprise turning to pain and terror on realising that what had started as a trivial argument, fuelled by drink and drugs, had got out of hand and that his erstwhile friend had actually dealt him a mortal blow.
'Yes, yes,' crooned Selina next to the spot, tears leaking down her face as she held fast in her mind the image of her holding the stricken boy, comforting him as his own mother would have done. There, there.
She would pass on the peculiarly idiosyncratic message to his mother and sisters, who too would be so very grateful at these snippets from the Beyond.
Once satisfied that the boy's spirit was at rest, she began the rituals of despatching his spirit to its next destination.
A voice called up 'You all right, miss?'
The exorcism must have taken an hour at least - Selina could see that the shadows around her were now much longer. As was always the case with such things, she was exhausted, drained and utterly hungry. She rummaged through her bag for the hefty fruit and nut bars she always brought with her on such occasions, splashed herself with water she and consciously cleared her mind. Bring yourself right into the present, the advice had always been in such matters. Should be ready to call it a day and get home soon, she reminded herself.
But the claims she had heard had insisted that it on the uppermost floors where the City employees had been most reluctant to work, and where the stories seemed to diverge more from what she knew of more typical hauntings.
Some low-grade poltergeist activity, yes. There had been reports of tools inexplicably going missing, of saws and drills malfunctioning, in some cases causing enough accidents alone to unnerve employees.
Others, however, had involved reports of quasi-hallucinations, where fittings removed had left bloodstains, inexplicable moans heard as frames, joinings, were cut through. There had been more than one claim of hallucinations, where employes had had the sensation of removing fittings from what had felt like human flesh. But most of all, it was the vibe. As someone had put it, there had been the sense that they were invading the sanctuary of a church, without any sense that this was anything to do with sanctity. Anything but, in fact....
Conscience dictated that she go further up. Just in case there was more than just this murder and some considerable resistance on the part of several inhabitants, she now knew, to having had to to vacate their homes - though some had been glad to see the back of it.
It was not until she had got to the top floors that her neck started prickling again in earnest and the tingling, crawling feeling she often felt in a troubled location started to make herself felt. As she had been told, here, all of the fittings were still intact. The corridors and lobbies were still emptily unprepossessing, but at any point, it now began to seem that a locked door might open and a tenant scurry out.
In the corners of her eye, she thought she could see dark shape flittering tantalisingly just out of sight - most likely a thought-form cat, she thought. On the part of an owner who had been attached to one.
As she approached the top floor, she knew there was absolutely no doubt about it - here was the real source of the trouble.
Now, the utilitarian angles of the corridors and stairs seemed to be overlaid, thick, with psychic detritus as though the stairs and railings themselves had the constituency of half-digested vomit. Now, the very air seemed filmy with it. As she turned into the corridor on the left, in touching the handle, she got the feeling that she had just handled something intimate and that she, as an unwelcome visitor, was invading a very private space.
Or perhaps not. Selina was not yet as afraid as she could have been. She got the sense that there was something here that was hugely needy, desperate to communicate with her, even whilst struggling with a revulsion to this act that Selina did not understand. But if she could establish a link, she thought that perhaps then she might be able to get whatever spirit who remained here to loosen their hold on this accursed eyesore and just let it all go......
She allowed herself to fall deeper into Trance, and sure enough, her Guides directed to to a door on the second left again. And as she approached that door, now she could see that light was emanating foam the spyhole......
The door yielded gently when when she turned it. The hall was in darkness, but she thought she could make out scores of canvasses, any number of highly elaborate and intricate paintings on end of something she could not yet make out. But the light was coming from the lounge, and these canvasses still belonged to normal day vision, not her 'inner-vision' eye.
A preternatural brightness was emanating from under the door and Selina's head pulsed, her ears whining with the power whatever strong emotional force was keeping the spirit here earthbound. Selina Hyde was used to dealing with ghosts, who in any case were often more like somnambulant in their level of awareness and actually quite childlike and stupid , but this....but one had to be firm. The bulldozers had to be allowed to get this over with.
She turned the handle to the front room.
A warm, stuffy, almost foetid smell began to assault her nose as she stepped in, and she saw that the window of the balcony was wide open, balmy summer air flowing in. She suspected that she knew what it was - the smell from the other tenement windows of hundreds of humans, all cooped together in their battery pens, of slums in the sky.
She peered out and it suddenly seemed to her that all around her were the ghostly remnants of the sister tower blocks that had been removed during the notorious Regeneration phase of the City's history.
Something made her turn round again and in her vision's eye, she then saw the furnishings of soft carpet, bookcases stocked from top to bottom with well-thumbed tomes and periodicals, whilst the window sills were stocked with every species of exotic plant. The tenant who had lived here had been surprisingly intelligent then, she surmised for a dweller of an area like this, she realised. In fact - possibly even some kind of a genius, judging from the almost unnatural precision of those strangely intricately-obsessive paintings and drawings that littered every single available space, she now saw.
Selina could see what they depicted now.
They showed the city skyline, particularly of the whole St Helen's estate of which these buildings had been a part, in loving and intimate detail - but as it had been before the Regeneration.
Something made her turn. An apparition in the form of an anorexic-thin scarecrow page-boy figure was standing in the entrance of the galley- kitchen to this living room, a small black-and-white cat nestled in her matchstick arms.
She reminded Selina of some kind of an outlandish harlequin, clad as she was, like the cat in her arms, in stark black and white. Her wispy flaxen hair was tied back in a fantastically-long plait that came down almost to her knees.
Selina did not doubt that despite the frail and boyish slenderness of the form, this was a woman, and from the set planes of her face, had to be in her mid-thirties at least.
She might have been attractive, had it not been for a consumptive pallor to the face, livid and sunken shadows under the glittering eyes that looked almost black in the gathering twilight - eyes that restlessly refused to meet hers.
Selina then both sensed and saw the huge well of tragedy that lay in those eyes and tried to empathise with this.
It was the mistake that put an end to her career as a seer.
All of a sudden, Selina found her own mind sucked into the inner hell that was consuming this spirit from within, like a malignant cancer. Primal terror, rage and desperation all vied equally for attention in this toxic brew. Insane, breathed Selina. Insane.
Selina found herself struggling with parameters for this strange young woman that were totally alien to her: this was not about the usual attachments that bound an unhappy spirit. Here was a complete absence of attachment to any of the usual gamut of emotions such as love, lust, hate, romantic attachment to other human beings, friendship. Here had been a frustrated and warped genius that had been fatally attached to the Promethean symmetry and high-rise vantage point of the buildings themselves. Here was the soul of someone who had been to tolerate the changes that had taken place when he towers had been picked off and reduced to rubble one by one. So much so, in fact that with a disastrous break with reality, her fragile soul had actually become fused with the St Helen's towers. No wonder the demolition team had seen blood when trying to strip away the fixings here ........
Yes, yes, I understand,' whimpered Selina, as her own sanity was swallowed further into the full vortex of the other's obsession and grief.
She now connected what that hostile inhabitant had said about the 'weirdo' who had lived in the flat.
But this ghost truly had been a witch too, possessing a strength, where allied with obsession, she had never recognised in herself.
Now, Selina could feel the jolts and shudders that revereberated through the walls and floors where she was standing, the sound of a pitiless metal beak pecking and tearing through concrete as the demolition cranes and bulldozers smashed columns and ceilings, which were now giving way like so much brittle spaghetti.
The room began to sway vertiginously, as Selina through herself whimpering into the corner of the room, curling into a foetal position, as at last the floor beneath her began to give and the first remnant of ceiling crushed her head and brains as the fell across the top half of her body.
As she collapsed still further into the catatonic withdrawal that lasted some time after this Selina knew that this tine, she had encountered something way too strong for her. She really had taken on too much with this job, as she had first suspected.
It had taken quite some time during and after her ‘rest cure’ to make those treating her realise that she really wasn't either a particularly catatonc nor a schizoid type, thank you very much. Selina, however, was to learn that one of the drawbacks of being a clairvoyant of any kind was that even belief in the paranormal, let alone practising it, already looked dubious from a psychiatric point of view.
Yet, there was one doctor who had been a little more open-minded. He had already treated a City employee for a hushed-form of post-traumatic disorder, it seems.
'The body found amongst the rubble.' he explained.
'It t could have been that of one of those crackpot trouble-makers during the Regeration - a most unfortunate case, and very sad. Not able to get out on time. Or a suicide. And actually, there had been the body of a cat found alongside those human remains.'
As Selina Hyde was fond of telling others when she moved from that whole region for good, she had moved on, and that was that. And she certainly had given up all her former parapsychological activities for good.
One small postscript to this comfortable piece of closure had, however, almost threatened to put a stop to this laudable process.
It had started with a glitch on her computer, which no amount of tinkering had Been able to resolve. Selina had hesitated in referring to the problem as a ghost in the machine.
Late one evening when she had been feeling particularly on edge....she had been had taken to a site which on this occasion only, had finally opened, to the page of a recent news article and photo.
She did hot need to spell out what the photo had depicted.
So, it was still standing, she breathed.
It had not been demolished, after all, though the City employers had visited her in hospital after she had been found had promised her that both bulldozers and crane would soon be making haste to the site, with or without its fittings removed.
But here it still was and on this very day too, standing in all its defiant dissonance along with the other remaining buildings against the backdrop of modern, tasteful and conservative new buildings.....that nightmarish inner-city House of Usher that had still failed to fall, all over again.
The terror she had hoped she had conquered since rose up in her throat again, and she fancied that the winged contraption on top of the building was winking ironically and sleekly at her.
The demolition walls had been painted over with every manner of garish graffiti, and now Selina could see that the first two or three floors had been given over to some new experiment in solar energy sustenance. Trees and exotic creepers were growing in and out of the lower windows. That just had to be the work of Troglodytes, Selina realised. Clearly, the activists who had tried to prevent the demolition of the Regeneration were getting to be more efficient in their methods of sabotage, in the face of a less effective economy.
Meanwhile, there was no doubt, from the sight of soft pastel lace curtains showing through the windows above, that the place was once more inhabited.
But by whom? Peering closer with her controls to one of the windows, Selina could now see that the windows were also barred, and that all three towers were now walled off from the city centre and the pleasant residential district that lay complacently beneath it.
Selina knew, even before reading the print that the buildings - now renamed 'Hotel Bellevue' had been converted into a hospital.
Now, squinting at her treacherous computer screen through her newly-acquired reading glasses, she almost thought she had briefly glimpsed the consumptive features of that troubled young woman she had glimpsed in that last terribly aborted exorcism, peering through the windows of her aerie from the entire top floor of the building like an apparition from Ghormenghast.
Selina almost smiled. It seemed that the spirit of the Building that had defeated and broken her so long ago instead of her rightly breaking it down along with the City authorities, had managed to find its own kind of asylum, as its topmost inhabitant sought to further escape the sting that Time inevitably brough. She could easily imagine that troubled spirit leant over her drawings like a fragile and demented spider, as she dreamt and designed still further castles and towers in the air in an intricacy of infinite regress.
She hoped that Carlton House was not also calling for her.