Phillip A. Ellis
Tony Harrison, member for the Commonwealth seat of Christie, finished packing his briefcase with the necessary papers, mining industry journals, and documents, and he sat back, looking at the framed and faded photographs of colonial Stratford on his office walls. He had time to reflect, five minutes maybe without the intercom buzzing, before proceeding onwards to the River Avon Historical Society. Like the Stratford Shire Art Gallery, he had donated the bulk of the costs for relocating the Society's collection; yet, unlike the art gallery, it was hardly likely to
be renamed in his honour as a consequence. The tax dodge, however, was reason enough, despite the added attraction of seeming to be true to his supposed ideals.
It wasn't that he didn't like going to the society, he did. It often had useful information on the longtime families of the region, and it held a few interesting tidbits about his own. It was always important to see what was held and what was available to researchers. Especially about an old and important family such as his.
He was playing with his pen. He uncapped and recapped it as he sat there, thinking. Then, with a self-satisfied sigh, he got up, pocketed it, and he grabbed the briefcase, before sauntering out of his office. He smiled politically at the receptionist, saying, "I'll be away until after five. Have the rest of the afternoon off. I have to see the secretary of the historical society about something to do with the new building or something. It's all routine, but boring nonetheless. After all, one has to do what one can for society."
She nodded needlessly, saying nothing more than, "Thank you, Mr. Harrison."
He then proceeded down the hall, out the back door, and into the parking space where his satisfyingly new government car sat gleaming in the late winter sunlight. He whistled tunelessly as he got in, checked his seatbelt, and drove off, into the late afternoon traffic.
He turned on the news channel. There was, apparently, another strike at some mine, and at that he swore inaudibly. The traffic was moderate for a late winter afternoon verging towards dusk. He passed the Stratford Municipal Council Chambers, with its attendant library, and after a half dozen turns he came alongside the Avon, whose green depths glittered quietly as it flowed towards Portsmouth and the Pacific. He reached the old Historic Society that still sat in the old, heritage-listed courthouse that squatted beside the Avon. Parking under a fig tree, from which wasps buzzed indistinctly, Tony whistled something banal as he got out, locked the car, and walked to the front entrance.
Here, he was met by John Throvan, the sixty-something and as yet unbowed secretary of the Historical Society.
"Glad you could make it, Minister," John said. "I thought that you would want to see this."
He led the way into his cluttered and musty office. A small window competed, in the outer wall, with historic prints and a message board, upon which numerous documents and notes had been left to fade and curl. He shifted aside various documents, closing folders and books on his desk.
"Have a seat," he said. "Just shift those to the floor."
"What was it you wanted to see me about? Is there a problem with the new building?"
"Oh no," said John, "there's nothing like that. I wanted to show you a couple of things that turned up."
He turned around, found what he sought, and turned back with an ancient phonograph or something, from the turn of the previous century. He also opened a metal box that lay on the desk. This was dull, a slightly battered and nondescript thing. From it, he took a wax cylinder, marked with striations and grooves along its outer side. This he placed on the machine.
"I found this not long ago," John said, "and in it were two things. The first was a small notebook, containing a thin diary or journal. The other was this wax cylinder, which surprised me somewhat. I think I'll play that first, see what you think of it, before I proceed on to the diary."
He set the machine to run. A thin hissing and scratching noise emanated from the speaker, and then a voice, faded by time and little more than a whisper from the darkness of the past. It was a youthful, yet familiar, voice, familiar to Tony from an age ago, his dim, distant childhood, perhaps. He could barely make out words: the age and the recording's condition rendered the conversation almost unintelligible, and there was a formulaic, or antiphonal, quality to it, that set his nerves on edge. The other voice, punctuating the rendition, was indistinct, little more than a vague buzzing rasp. It wasn't mechanical, but something else.
The two sat there, listening to the record until it finished in silence.
"Familiar, no, Minister?"
Tony nodded faintly, diplomatically.
"You probably wouldn't remember him much, after all, you were only seven when he died; but I was a teenager and had heard him several times on the radio," John continued.
He packed away both the recording and the machine, before dipping into the box again.
"Then there's this," he said, passing the diary over to Tony.
Tony opened the diary almost at random, noting the faded writing that was almost indistinct with age at spots. At first, he could not read the archaic handwriting, but the copperplate soon resolved itself into a familiar legibility. Here and there he could make out certain passages, and he felt a frisson of something at what he glimpsed. What he could make out, disjointed as it was, caused him to retreat into his professional shell and look as intrigued, yet noncommittal, as possible. He had to remain as unconcerned as possible, for the diary spoke of secrets and mysteries unknown to most men.
John sat back, then finally spoke when Tony looked up at him. "I've read nowhere near half of it, but it looks intriguing."
"Is it real?"
"Perhaps, perhaps not. It's bizarre enough not to be and bizarre enough to be so. You know what some people are like in this town."
"What have you read?"
"As I said, not much. There's not been much to go by, but from the internal evidence, and from the recording that was with it, I'd say it looks as if your grandfather wrote it."
"When he was young, in his twenties. The dates are indistinct, where he's included them. As I said, I've not read much, but it looks intriguing."
"From what I can make out, your father struck a deal with a demon or something. Called Yogyth or something. In return for unspecified favours, and knowledge, he was to receive power and wealth. Parts of it mention mining, and it all makes some sort of sense."
Tony raised one eyebrow. "Really?" he said. "Are you saying he sold his soul to the Devil?"
"Sure -- it makes sense," replied John, leaning back in his seat. "After all, it was after he invested heavily in mining before the First World War that he entered politics. And he became Deputy Prime Minister in the late twenties through thirties. He also survived quite well and prospered during the great depression. As if he led a charmed life, as it were. He did better than most, yet lived his whole life up here, in this particular region, far from any real mine. And he prospered."
"But he didn't just prosper." Tony was frowning, leaning forward slightly. "He did get into trouble because of his role in that to-do about Menzies and the pig iron, remember? And that lead to his decision to quit office in '39, as he notes in his private diaries. Thereafter, he retired, and was content to let my father take over the family investments and business."
"But you must admit that it's remarkable. Three generations of Harrisons in office, in the same seat, in an unbroken record. That's 90 years! There's nowhere else like it."
"Well, that's more to my family's credit. I wouldn't say that someone who sold his soul to the devil would get the same results. After all, a fair number of the opposition have done likewise, and look at their track record!"
John smiled at that. "Well, he does note that he was supposed to keep quiet about it and not say a word. Even though it is written down in the diary. Plus, it looks like your grandfather's handwriting, from what I've seen. And that's something that makes it sound halfway convincing to me." He spread his hands, as if to say: that's as much as I can say; it's up to you now.
"Come on, John, my granddad was as much a Christian as you or me. He couldn't have insisted that I went to St. John's as a kid if he was a Satanist, now would he?"
He smiled affably, then John did as well, compelled. "Now," Tony continued, "what would you like me to do about it?"
"Well, you've access to documents, in the National library, from the time in question. Perhaps you could get them and the diary analysed and compared. It would be interesting . . . and informative . . . if it proved genuine. One must be careful with these things, no?"
Tony said nothing, but read a passage instead, thinking.
It read: They explain this as being of a different quality of material, rather than nature of substance, and that there is much to do with optics and refractive qualities, or some such, of their being. They ascribe much to their knowledge of chaos, which I have heard them worship.
"So much of this is a crude fantasy, John," he eventually said. "It's an absurd fantasy, and the sort of thing that Lovecraft or King would write. I'll do as you suggested: get it analysed by a handwriting expert. See what he says. In the meantime, can I keep hold of it? I want to read it further."
"Certainly, Minister." John closed the box. "Do you want the recording as well?"
"No, I won't need it. Keep it safe, and just put it somewhere quiet for the moment. I doubt we're hearing the voice of the Devil anyway. Let's keep it to ourselves for the moment. Anyway, I have to go. There's a few things I want to do at the office before I call it a day. I'll see myself out."
He placed the diary in his briefcase, closed and locked it. Then, both men stood, shook hands over the desk, and they walked back out to the front of the building, chatting inconsequentialities and promises to keep in close touch. Then Tony returned to his car, left the briefcase in the back seat, got in, and drove home.
After parking in the garage, and going upstairs to the lounge, where he fixed himself a neat scotch, he listened to his wife as she went through the day's activities. Then, asking that neither her nor their son disturb him, he went to his office.
He locked the door, then placed the briefcase on the desk beside his barely touched drink. He unlocked it, opened it, and withdrew the diary. This he weighed in one hand, frowning and inaudibly muttering to himself. Then he went to the secret wall safe, opened it, and deposited the diary, still unopened, in its recesses; he closed, relocked and turned his back on the safe.
He sat down at the desk, and he cradled the receiver of the work telephone against his left ear. The buzz of the dial tone scarcely reassured him, and he dialed an impossible number. There was a ring tone, then some clicks, and a voice spoke. Tony replied accordingly, then soon found himself speaking to his opposite number.
Only his voice could be heard, to a theoretical listener.
"Throvan found something, a diary. Seems a certain someone kept a record after all."
"It's safe, but it'll be at the office for you to collect tomorrow."
He nodded, murmured an almost inaudible "aha" a couple of times.
"It's detailed, and has sketches. I've not checked what he's said. There's enough, though."
"It's in my office. At home."
He took a thin mouthful of scotch, swallowed.
"No, only Throvan knows about it. But he's expendable, so it's safe for the moment."
He nodded, listened.
"OK. I'll see you then. We can decide what to do with Throvan's corpse then."
He hung up, and he looked out of the wide window into the gathering dusk. He sipped the last of his scotch, kneaded at muscles in his neck, and sat silently, eyes glittering, as he thought back on that afternoon and the buzzing voice of his opposite number, which wasn't mechanical, but something else.
Despite being inhuman, from afar and another world, they weren't too different from flesh and bone after all. And Tony Harrison, member for the Commonwealth seat of Christie, smiled. Presently, he would get up, go out for dinner and tell his wife that he would be working late, again, at the office the next evening.
Created: December 26, 2006