A Tiding – Part III
by Timothy J Jarvis
Part III of ‘A Tiding’. The first part can be found here.
Soundtrack: United Bible Studies, ‘Columba’s Song’
A conversation with the regulars – Colin – the Lord of the Devil’s Blood Drop – an antique silver locket – offerings – lurid stuff – ‘Fucking lunatic’ – tutelary daemons – a flabby face at the window
On finishing his drink, Mark went up to the bar to get another. As he waited while the landlady pulled it, the regulars engaged him in conversation, canvassing his opinion on a celebrity scandal that had recently provoked the censure of the tabloids. Their warmth towards him entirely dispelled his mood. Which is why, when Colin approached, a short while later, after Mark had returned to his alcove, waved vaguely at an empty chair and mumbled, ‘Mind if I join you?’, Mark did not rebuff him.
Colin was short, paunchy, jittery – turning his head with jerky movements to look about him all the while – and dressed in threadbare, rumpled, and dun-coloured garments; he looked a city sparrow who had somehow found its way inside the pub, but could not then find an egress, plump from feeding on scraps, but mangy and fraught. In his right hand, he clutched an orange plastic supermarket carrier bag.
The two men introduced themselves, then chatted generally, discussing the unseasonably bitter weather and the Saracen’s Head’s range of ales, but their conversation was awkward; Colin seemed distracted, and Mark had the impression he was building up to broaching a topic of some significance to him, that the grotesque little laps he took at his beer were to stoke his courage. Then, however, sighting a dartboard in the corner of the pub, he launched into a tedious monologue on the game, and Mark thought his intuition had been awry, and that, whatever the cause of Colin’s agitation, the man was merely a pub bore, that breed of lonely individual whose lives lack anything of interest, and who, desiring companionship, haunt pubs in the hope of snaring a stranger in the toils of politeness. Mark groaned inwardly, let Colin’s disquisition blur to a dull drone in his ears, and considered how he might extricate himself.
But Colin had been nerving himself up to raise a matter of great moment to him, after all: in the midst of his rambling, he said, without preamble, ‘I see you’re also collecting…’
Here he paused, winced, and kneaded his nape with his right hand. Then he took a sip of his beer and choked, sputtered; his chest heaved jerkily, his face turned red. Over Colin’s shoulder, Mark could see the antique clock on the mantelpiece over the pub’s hearth, and, uncomfortable, stared at it, watching the jerky gyring of the second hand, until the fit had passed. Colin hawked noisily and spat into a handkerchief taken from the breast pocket of his shirt. After peering at the clot of sputum a moment, he balled up the cloth and returned it to his pocket.
‘…collecting for the King of the City of Paste and Tin,’ he continued finally. ‘The Lord of the Devil’s Blood Drop.’
‘The Devil’s Blood Drop?’ Mark echoed after a moment’s pause.
At all times, he carried around with him an antique silver locket, a keepsake of Natalie. He had, without thinking, taken it from his pocket and was fiddling with it, pressing the catch to open it, then snapping it shut, again and again. Its chain lay whorled on the table-top.
Colin pointed at the locket, then at ‘Ferrule of the Preceptor’, which Mark had left splayed, to keep his place, on the table, before looking at Mark and raising his eyebrows.
Mark put the locket back in his trouser pocket.
Colin continued to stare at him. ‘You should be more careful. There are those who’d steal rather than make their own collection.’
‘Don’t worry, though. I’d never do that.’
Mark drummed his fingers on the table, irked. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘I came over because I noticed the book. The locket made it certain. But really I saw it as soon as I came into the pub. There’s a haunted look of desperate hope we all share, all of us who are gathering our offerings.’
Colin tugged each of his fingers till the knuckle cracked. Mark cringed.
‘How close are you to completing your collection?’ Colin asked.
Mark rubbed his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. ‘Oh Christ,’ he sighed.
Picking up his carrier bag, Colin thrust it at Mark. ‘You needn’t concern yourself about me, I swear it. Look, I’ve nearly finished mine.’
Mark took the bag and looked inside, glimpsing some lurid stuff before Colin snatched it away again.
‘See,’ he said.
‘No, I don’t see.’
Colin pinched his nose, looked quizzically at Mark, then, his finger at his lips, breathed in sharply.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘My mistake. I’ll be on my way.’
Pushing back his chair, he got up, and began to walk away from the table.
Mark tapped his temple. ‘Fucking lunatic,’ he muttered.
Colin heard, turned back. ‘What? You think I’m mad?’ he snapped.
The regulars at the bar looked over. Colin eyed them warily, then sat down again and went on, now in a low voice, ‘I’m not. What do you know of tutelary daemons?’
Colin looked intently at Mark. ‘Protective spirits. Ancient civilisations believed that certain places were watched over by beings charged with guarding them.’
‘Those spirits exist. London’s, or maybe only one of London’s, can be found in a garret bedsit in Kentish Town, in the guise of a sickly old man. Offerings made to him, of shiny things, can propitiate, and those he’s favourably inclined towards may experience a change of luck.’
Frowning, Mark leant back in his chair. As he did so, he happened to glance at the leaded window to his right, and saw there a jowly man, with a shock of red curls like a clown’s wig, his nose pressed against the glass. He was staring intently at Colin. Mark flinched, and Colin turned to look. On seeing the flabby face at the window he got to his feet, grabbed his carrier bag, and fled the pub.
The man at the leadlight turned away, moved out of sight.
To be continued…