There are nights that melt into the crenellations of the mind, oozing a woozy romance into the liquor of dreams, merging with the springs and fibres of the mattress as fatigue wrings every drop of vigour from a spent body.
I see fractures, I see lights in the periphery that could be God lighting a cigarette like a 70’s rock star.
He leans in and whispers like a coffee grinder two rooms away.
“Those faces in your mind that you don’t recognise are the people, peeled from their skin, travelling the hinterland of reality looking for the eager to see folks.
That’s you, baby.
They’re your crowd, man and they wanna watch you sleep so they can stir their endless dreams into yours with a silver spoon that’s as cold as the back of the moon.
Let go and fall – it’s what I did.”
When I opened my eyes, I was standing by a bed looking at a dreaming corpse and my crowd was all around me.
I got collected and here’s my story- hang on tight, folks.
“She’s got the looks that kill – that kill…” Motley Crue rained bullets into the truck from a Blaupunkt stereo as Jam punched the high beam on an offbeat.
The tight country road, flanked by startled grass tufts between jutting rocks, slithered through the hills with spindly branches breaking away to outposts of loneliness.
He had been hired to deliver a box and a letter to the estate of Campbell Roche, a squillionaire banker and artefacts dealer. A preoccupation with the hairpin bends and unexpected dips meant that he didn’t notice the box and the letter rise from the back seat as the pounding beat filled the stale air inside. They turned around a full three hundred and sixty degrees before gently coming to rest at the moment the radio presenter spoke.
“I swear I just…” Jam adjusted the greasy mirror just as two large black birds slammed hard into the passenger side window, bursting into a cloud of downy feathers and terse shrieks.
He swerved, hit the horn and swiftly regained his composure only to catch his startled reflection as darkness replaced a growling sunset.
Sitting on top of the box, the white envelope began to bleed from the letters in the name, dyeing the whole thing a deep red like a shark attack in summer waters.
Campbell Roche had become Capoc.
The radio began to drift through the stations until it landed on a deep, authoritarian voice that said.
“The Capoc or Ceiba Pentandra…”
It drifted some more.
“Pentagram most commonly used in witchcraft.”
Then complete silence before an almighty crash into a black metal track that made Jam hit the horn again.
The one lit road sign, a draw on his cigarette, found the voice of God again.
“Drive like Steve McQueen, baby – like he did in Bullitt. Drive it like you will break its heart after a wild affair. You have his eyes, baby. The eyes of a saviour, a killer, a mother and a dying star that switch between blinks. Brilliant morning star blinks…”
The authoritarian voice took over.
“The devil is a composite creature, you know? His features are a flip book, an airport sign, so to speak. They’re ever changing to suit the viewer. Sometimes he is a mouthful of caramel and other times, a mouthful of scorpion tails.”
The roads began to shift into the curled horns of a ram, shaggy verges became its thick pelt and its eyes – those infernal eyes. Turning a sharp bend, Jam sucked in a sharp breath as an oncoming truck blazed its high beam and blasted the air horn.
“The eyes again – I’m losing it!” Jam tasted the metal of adrenaline as the lights and sound filled his head with constellations of terrifying images.
“It’s coming straight for me!” Jam instinctively grabbed the handbrake and spun his vehicle away into the blackness, glaring eyes, glossy blood and shadowy figures exploding in his vision.
“Did you think I brought you all this way for nothing? You spun your ride like Serpico hit an oil slick.
I have to leave you.
I’m sorry, baby but I don’t belong in this neighbourhood. This is his patch and it ain’t my groove. If you make it out, I’ll be waiting with two glasses of whiskey. Later, alligator.”
Jam hit high beam and lit up the biggest gates he had ever seen. The sat nav was slurred but he could make out,
“Turn back now…turn back…unnamed road.”
Dark grey polished wrought iron gates held two rampant lions, one clutching a dagger and the other, a sickle. Both had snakes for manes and curling horns pointing to snarling faces.
Jam could feel the moisture pooling in his palms being pulled from his mouth.
“This is the place but it should be…
How did I get here so quickly?”
The engine cut out just as the dagger and sickle lowered and the gates swung open with the chirk of a crone’s laughter.
“Guess it’s on foot from here.” He muttered, grabbing the box and letter before reaching under his seat for a flashlight.
“Hell, these are freezing cold. I feel like the trucker in Salem’s Lot. I don’t spook easily but this gig has my nerves jangling like cutlery wind chimes.”
The flashlight picked out bent over trees, giant thorny rose bushes and waxy bulges that Jam thought that he recognised. His mind flashed with tiny fragments of memories. Travelling up a long drive in the back of his parent’s car. They were dark shadows in the front. The bright purple room and the loud voices repeating over and over strange words. The man in the mask – that face – that horrible face.
Jam froze at the sight of the mansion.
“This is the place…this is where I came all those times.”
He rolled up his left sleeve to reveal the unusual shaped scars and thick hair on the inside of the wrist.
“Whiskey with god – that’s some incentive. I just have to deliver this and I’m done being a parcel mule.”
This night was moonless, dank and felt like strangling hands around his throat. Jam gulped down a startled breath as every window filled with cameos of suppressed memories. The naked bodies smeared dark red, the sweet smoke filling the air, the bells to signal silence, the masked man towering over everyone. Fire raged in the ivy as murderous eyes and leering grins swept through the scenes, every cut in his arms leaking fresh blood and the chant becoming clearer and clearer.
“Clavem regni sinistris…clavem regni sinistris….”
Jam shone the torch at the letter and felt his head begin to whirl.
Capoc. That was the name on the wall of his dad’s study. It was underneath a black ram. It’s eyes were yellow and would look right into the centre of Jam’s soul.
“I’ve been waiting for this night since you were a little boy, Jam. I heard you reciting his invocation – clavem regni sinistris – the key to the left. My boy – and, by the way, you are MY boy – I have something for you waiting inside. Please, follow me to the Quam – that’s short for quam ejeceram locus, which translates as the Banished room.”
“So you are Campbell Roche – the man in the mask and now revealed as my father. It’s a little too close to Star Wars, don’t you think?
So what’s in the letter and the box?”
Jam followed Campbell into a vast hall lit beautifully by a chandelier that hung from a ceiling depicting the war in heaven. Everything was bone white and deep purple with gargoyle statues standing guard either side of a grand staircase.
“My son, we bear to the left, of course. Oh and hand me my package and letter. All will become clear in a short while. You know Jam is a nickname for you by your mother to cruelly taunt your father. She needed extra sugar besides his stale fruit.
It’s no coincidence that you are here on the darkest night. You are to be His light reignited and challenge the pious king and his court of fools.”
Campbell flung open two oak doors to reveal the room that visited Jam’s nightmares regularly.
“Many people have given their spark to become the new morning star. Tonight, you yourself will finish the combination in the flesh and open the vault of night to the realm of dead stars where he waits.”
Campbell tapped the box and Jam’s scarred left arm and smiled, a wide uncomfortable smile as though he were passing a house brick.
In the centre of the room, the familiar altar was draped in velvet cloth daubed with the same symbols Jam had seen in the windows. The lights flickered as a chill descended and darkness joined silence to bear down on his fragile grasp on reality.
“All hail the Banished luminary.”
Campbell’s voice was joined by a dozen or more in response as, one by one, small torches were lit by hooded figures, their naked bodies beneath painted in similar symbols.
Campbell opened the letter with a long dagger pulled from the box. Deep shadows twisted into grotesque shapes, dancing across the walls as the flames from the torches caught phantom draughts.
“The last sigil – symbol, Jam – drawn for you and must be by your own hand from your own free will.
Then the deed is done.
It will be a new dawn, my son. It will be free of the shackles of false morality and dogmatic ceremony. Imagine a world where the devils of the dark walk in a new light of truth. Make the cut symbol above the hair on your wrist and all shall rejoice.”
The shadows began to move faster and melt into leering faces. The walls and floor shook with a pounding rhythm and the ceiling fell away to the black ram he saw from inside of his van.
“I’m still travelling and this is a dream. I need to wake up.”
Jam could feel his heavy arm seize the knife from a frenzied Campbell and draw the blade close to his wrist. The tuft of hair became flames and inside of them, screaming in terror, were his parents burning in the house fire. Their charred faces mouthing something at the blackened windows.
Suddenly, Jam tasted whiskey and a jolt travelled from his dry throat to his shuddering hand.
“Capoc – the talisman!”
A stillness came over the whole scene and, over in the corner, God drew on his cigarette, pointing at Jam with a finger pistol. He slowly winked and pulled the trigger as the knife plunged deep into Campbell’s neck. The sound of his whistling throat and the clank of metal on marble was the last thing Jam heard.
He woke up in bed, surrounded by strangers and exchanged a breath for a place next to them when his open wrist stopped running.
I got to save the world, make new friends, drop the name Jam and hit the open road forever.
Here’s mud in your eye, God.