Pearl Barley stood by the lectern. Pearl was a recently qualified exorcist working for Spirits Release, the leading secular agency in the UK. It specialised in the management of an individual’s post-life inertia following a personalised expiration event (commonly known as haunting following death). She studied her fellow exorcists, noting the general ennui that appeared to have settled over her audience since she started speaking.
Every week, one of the team had to prepare a talk on a topic they cared about or found especially interesting. Pearl’s particular focus was on a subset of a group of tree sprites that were causing problems at Badger’s Trollope arboretum. Tree sprites, by their very nature, were not spirits reluctant to move on to their designated hereafter and so not part of the core business of the firm. According to Persiflage’s seminal work categorising the Order of the Fae, tree sprites sat within the class of Permanent Nuisance Spirits that also contained wood sprites and sea sprites as well as merpersons (merboys, mermaids, transmers, and the mercurious), trolls (sea, land, air and small grade gravel types) and leprechauns (Irish, Armenian and Serbo-Turkish).
Describing the life cycle of a tree sprite to her colleagues and managing to maintain even a semblance of audience engagement would have challenged anyone and Pearl was far from a natural. She thought the weirdness of the Badger’s Trollope case might have stirred some interest but apparently not.
‘The problem here is the existence of a small colony of the invasive Runcible Larches from Faketanistan..’
Pearl looked up, delighted someone had spoken. ‘Between Bhutan and Myanmar. The population are generally considered to have the most orange skin pigmentation of any known group, making Faketanistan an increasingly popular holiday destination for hair stylists from Basildon. That’s how the larches appeared here. They were thought to be the source of the skin colouration as the locals ingest a lot of the sap, having apparent medicinal properties. But that’s not the case. It turns out they just rub the red clay on new borns and it stains them for life. However the sap, while tasting to we humans like fermented halitosis, it is sugary sweet and an highly addictive psychotropic analgesic when ingested by all types of sprites. In this image you can see the sprites have created a trough to catch the sap before they have a ritualised communal Friday bath night. They can party a fair bit, as you can see.’
Pearl looked at her audience. The speaker was asleep. Oh well, she thought and she showed some more slides, full of images of what looked like foot high pieces of bark doing a conga.
A hand went up at the back making her jump. Primate O’Toole, the unfeasibly handsome Irish soothperson on secondment from Dublin said, ‘Looks harmless enough.’ He is so nice, thought Pearl. Typical of an outsider to make an effort.
A short man at the front seemed to start as he came to. He peered at the screen and shook his head. ‘Don’t you believe it. My Auntie Jessop became addicted to that stuff. It triggered her seasons.’ He bowed his head. ‘She’d be having a bath of sap and one minute she’d be in the depth of winter, the next full of spring. We had her committed to a Calendar Rehab Retreat in the Kalahari Desert. It’s run by Julian Monks. One time she leapt out into a snowstorm crying, ‘it may be winter outside, but it’s always August under my armpits. My poor uncle had to use a deodorant extinguisher to pacify her that time.’
Pearl gave him a moment to regain his composure but all he did was snore. Around the room several more heads drooped and even Primate began to check his phone. That was the trouble with giving a talk to a bunch of exorcists, she thought, every slot turned out to be the graveyard slot.
This piece was written for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt