Pearl Barley stumbled and squealed. She had the oddest sensation of being pulled back in two places: her head and her arm.
The Deacon moved alongside her. ‘Don’t cross over until you’re covered.’
‘Too bloody right, girl,’ said her hair which was tugging hard at her scalp, rather as if a strong gale had singled it out with a particularly strong gust.
The Deacon’s voice took on a disappointed tone. ‘Normally I would ask you to de-charm yourself before coming on a job but since your hair’s self preservation instincts have saved you from some rather nasty burns and itself from unsightly singeing I will save my comments for another occasion…’
‘I told you, you needed…’
‘…. but only if it stays quiet.’
The hair formed a tight bun and fell silent.
Pearl stared at the desolate sight in front of them. Behind them the moors spread away in all their autumn splendour. But a step the other way and there was nothing. Even the ground seemed to be remaining in place on sufferance. ‘What is it?’
‘There are several ‘its’ here. The first it is why you need to stay on the heather. There’s a Warl Line separating us from there. The next ‘it’ is the scene you can see, but most others can’t and that’s a Warl Field.’ He sighed. ‘It makes you wonder why we bother to pay our taxes.’
Pearl glanced at her boss. Now a fully qualified exorcist, albeit with lot to learn, the chance of a field trip after the routine of sorting out singing footwear and unresponsive doors had appealed to her. But the way the Deacon’s shoulders had slumped made her wonder. ‘Ok what’s a Warl Line.’
‘A bit of background. One reason why these places – moors, hills, mountains – aren’t built on and are the preserve of a light touch in terms of farming and man’s interventions is they contain a lot of magic. In cities that tends to be the rivers where the spirits congregate but out here they have a freer hand. But…’
‘People are greedy. They forget the underlying reasons. And if you take land from someone, or if you disturb them, they have to move. This part of the country has quite a large population of Warlocks and Wizpersons, most of which were once itinerant but have now largely settled in the rocks and fissures hereabouts. But if the South Grims – who live over there,’ he pointed behind where they stood, ‘are upset and want to move, the place they tend to head for is the current home of the North Grims,’ he waved at the scarred tundra ahead. ‘Hence a Warl Line. It’s a barrier that stops spirits crossing. Ordinary mortals aren’t affected – The Ordnance sees to that.’
‘But if they have a barrier anyway why is this a problem now?’
‘The free movement of spirits has worked fine since the Great Fracas led to a Spirit Settlement. Happy days. Everyone thought the Settlement would ensure peace and prosperity after a series of increasingly bitter conflicts. But the world shrinks and other spirit kingdoms joined the Settlement and a wider range of Afterlifes started moving around. Which is ok while there are enough Miasmatic proclivities for everyone. Warl Lines were reduced and the checks perfunctory. But times get hard when Mortals extend farms or build turbines. Proclivities shrink – trolls have fewer gates to guard, ogres lack rocks to push, faerie glades are ploughed, bog-sprites find their homes drained. Spirits get troubled, and that means they are suspicious of foreigners – Polish Phantasms and Bulgarian Banshees and Slovenia Spectres…. Eventually The Warlock in Chief gives in to local antipathies, puts up a solid Warl Line and we get this.’
‘What do we do?’
‘We talk. Which means we have to cross and that means wearing this.’
The Deacon held up a bright yellow Lycra tube.
‘You’re kidding, Sir? I’ll look like a banana.’
He held up a green version. ‘You can be a gherkin if you prefer?’
Fully covered, and with her hair trying and failing to hold the stretchy fabric from squashing it flat, Pearl shuffled forward. ‘If ordinary mortals can cross why do we…?’
‘Ms Barley, surely you must appreciate you are different to the ordinary? While a spirit will be… let’s say it won’t make them much of a party animal for a while… we in touch with the transient spaces will be affected, namely you’ll look like a badly cooked bonfire night marshmallow. Once across you can open the flap to aid breathing but if you feel in the slightest bit zesty, then close it smartish.’
Pearl did as she was told. Once across the divide she followed the Deacon as he trudged forward. ‘Sir, what’s the Ordnance? And what are Basmati proclivities?’
‘The Ordnace put in place some, hmmm, understandings that provided space for the spirit world to go about its business relatively undisturbed by mortals. It’s a commonly held misconception that the spirit world can damage our world, that of mortals – popular myths and horror stories have been useful at ensuring most people resist the urge to be inquisitive. And there have been times when they could easily scared the solids out of a man, when people were more used to believing in superstitions. But think about it. Physically while they rest here uneasily it is us who can bugger them about. Things really came to a head towards the end of the sixteenth century when a few clever souls with time on their hands started questioning things like the bible and applying scientific principles to the known world. That was never going to end well – holidays always cause trouble – and so a few principles were set out that governments of both the solid and Miasmatic world’s have to abide by. The leaders are briefed, then when they leave office they have the knowledge wiped but while in charge they are made to understand the consequences of failing to have regard to spirit needs. Ah, here we go…’
Pearl had been so engrossed she had failed to see an elderly man striking out across the scalded surface. To all intents he was just a hiker out on a brisk stroll. However looked at closely it was possible to discern a glow about him. And as they approached Pearl noted his skin seemed to have been stitched on in a rather haphazard fashion.
‘Made a bit of a mess this time, Pontius. Trying to stop the South Grims?’
‘Nope. They’re fine. Damn near brothers, after all. And no it’s not the Continentals. Even those American Amroobles are welcome. It’s that…’
He waved a hand at the horizon. Slowly the small hill blocking their view began to sink. Pearl glanced nervously at the Deacon, sure he’d want to stop it but he just watched. He may have registered her fidgeting as he said, ‘An illusion. The hill is still there as are the sheep on it, even if they will wonder why they feel a little nauseous later.’
Pontius dropped his arm. ‘See. Bloody oil rigs. Look at them’s Farking about.’
‘Fracking, do you mean?’ Pearl couldn’t resist interrupting.
‘I know what I mean. We’ve Warled this whole area, to stop ‘em poking about but it’s temporary. The heather boggles aren’t happy and as for the gorse gremloids… well, imagine if they can’t flower next year. No, this is your side, Deacon, so what are you going to do about it?’
The Deacon smiled. ‘Me? Nothing. You, on the other hand are going to throw a party, and invite all the Prettys and the Clumps.’
‘Are you mad, Deacon? You know what thems is like after a couple of Mardycups.’
‘I do indeed. As many as you can get together. Just make sure they start at the same time as they beginning drilling. Good to see you Pontius. Give my best to Nebulizer.’
To Pearl’s surprise they turned and headed back the way they had come. They didn’t speak until they had crossed the Warl Line. Out of his green tube the Deacon said, ‘The Pretty family are the indigenous trolls and the Clumps are the resident ogres. They love nothing better than an good jive. And if I’m not much mistaken the result will be some unexpected and unwelcome seismic activity. That should stop the fracking.’
‘That’s very ingenious, Sir. But you said earlier we mortals held the upper hand on Miasmatics. Surely Trolls and Ogres could give us a run for our money.’ ‘Yes well once maybe, but they’re not as efffective as you’d think and now there’s an even more effective deterrent.’
‘Verrucas.’ He frowned. ‘This is only a short term fix. We need to get back to London and go and see the current incumbent. Remind them of their responsibilities’
‘The Prime Minister?’
‘Good heavens no. Mother Thames. She controls Parliament – why do you think it’s built right next to the Thames with no public access from the river? She needs to exercise a bit more control over her dominion. Politics.’
’Surely she’ll want to help? I mean they’re all part of the spirit world.’
The Deacon sighed. ‘Every spirit is different. Mother Thames is the great niece a sea god. He doesn’t like sea turbines and he hates tidal barriers. So far as he’s concerned fracking is the business. That’s the trouble with metropolitan spirits, they tend to ignore their country cousins until the Warls go up and then who knows what might happen. Come on.’
Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt this week is