A Twist in the tail

Touched by the Hand of Brendan

Written by
John Smith
Illustrated by Mark Buckingham

part of the title page to fab text story , 67kB JPG

little man.
what now?

As soon as he heard the siren Jerry knew they'd found him. It was an unearthy sound, a high ululating wail that set Jerry's teeth on edge, made the pins in his leg vibrate like tuning forks. He knew instantly what it meant.
He started round, searching the shelves and freezers for telltale static, and there it was, a blizzard of interference seething behind the meat counter. Jerry had seen dozens of Hive assassins before but he'd never got used to the way they manifested themselves in reality, unfolding themselves from thin air, He backed away slowly as the static began to take on a shape. He recognised it almost as once.
Judas, he thought. They've sent in the Moist Spinsters.
She had a horse's skull for a head, thin bony teeth outlined with lipstick, an eye-patch over one empty socket. Round her neck was a string of pearls, gleaming dully against a green print frock.
She wore lace gloves and each hand bristled with cut-throat razors. The smell of lilac wafted over him and Jerry felt suddenly sick.
The Spinster stepped out from behind the counter, head nodding brokenly, saliva unspooling from those thin bone-yellow teeth.
'You're not scared, are you, Jerry? There's really no need to be.' Her voice was like fingernails on a blackboard. 'Tell us where it is and we'll let you go.' She waved the razors, fluorescent light sharp on the blades. 'Tell us where the Shy Building is and we'll let you go in one piece.'
Behind him someone started screaming. One of the supermarket girls tried to run past and the Spinster lashed out, razors glinting. There was a wet tearing sound and the girl fell against a stack of breakfast cereal spattering the boxes with blood. The Spinster continued shuffling forwards, smiling that remorseless bony smile.
Jerry backed up against the freezer chest and started sidling up towards the doors. The only chance he had was if he could reach home in time to call on the Willowing, but home was a twenty minute bus ride away and the Spinster was just an aisle of muesli away. Even as he backed away Jerry could feel the air distorting, warping with stress as other Hive agents started breaking through. Two tiny pinpricks of light appeared in mid-air, and shapes began to form, wavering with haze.
The Spinster took another step forward. 'Kiss and tell, Jerry. The others are coming, and they won't be nearly as patient as I am.'
Jerry glanced desperately round, the hairs on his arms and face prickling with charge. There was a shopping trolley just feet away, loaded down with tins, and Jerry moved towards it. He gripped the handle, palms slick with sweat. The spinster dabbed at the corner of her mouth with a lace handkerchief, smearing the lipstick, and in that moment Jerry charged, bulldozing the trolley in front of him.
Behind him, up near the ceiling, the other Hive agents had come through. There was a shoal of fish there, like pieces of stained glass, twisting and coiling in on themselves as they tried to find their bearings. Jerry was at the meat counter now, and on his knees. He was breathing on the glass, frantically, panting like a dog. When a patch of it had misted over he started drawing on it, scribbled a symbol with one finger. It was the Mark of Malkhut, the sign that opened the doors between, that should have collapsed the glass into a waveform. But nothing was happening. For some reason nothing was happening.
Jerry glanced over his shoulder and saw the Shoal converging on him, a fusillade of coloured light flickering across the walls, the ceiling, the floor. The Spinster was picking herself up behind them, razor-hands squealing on the tiled floor. Jerry stared around, looking for something be could use to try and slow them down, but there was nothing.
Then he felt the glass of the counter give under his hand, the pane suddenly fluid, and in a second he was through.
Like a rabbit in a hat, he thought obscurely, as the glass closed behind him like water.


Tyranny had gone through the file three times and still wasn't sure why she'd accepted the job.
'Admit it,' she muttered to herself. 'You're broke. You're just doing it for the cash.'
That was true, of course, but there was more to it than that. In the past, when she'd really needed money, she'd held up a bank or kidnapped some distinguishing wealthy business magnate, ransomed for a disgustingly huge amount. Not this time, though. There was something different about this job, but she was damned if she knew what it was.

Sighing, she plugged the data:spire into her insert-collar sod went through the file one last time.
She'd been contracted to find and retrieve an obscure religious relic from one of the Earth parallels. According to her employers it was called the Arran'o-K'Thaol, the Mandylion of the Ninth Spasm, although on the Earth-world it went under the less colourful name of the Shroud of Brendan. Somehow it had wound up in the possession of a man called Mason Gorrister, a writer-cum-black magician who lived in an extraordinary house on the edge of conceptual reality. The house had almost as many names as the Shroud (the Shy Building, Pyridine's Sorrow, the Box of Souls) and was supposedly sentient, but its real talent was that it could reorient itself in space.

So far, so good.

The real problems started, though, when it came to tracking Gorrister down. He'd gone to ground eleven-years ago, after an occult scandal involving papal corruption and a haunted sheepskin jacket, and nobody had seen him since. The house, not surprisingly, had vanished with him. The only lead they had was a man called Jerry Lavish, a retired Harley Street surgeon who'd spent years in search of the Shy Building. Find Lavish, the reasoning went, and you'd be one step nearer to finding the Shroud.

According to thc data:spire, though, they weren't the only ones who were looking for the Shroud. A dozen rival factions had spent years on its trail from the Gnostic Fathers and the Blue Oyster Cult, to the Queerling Lords and the Royal Path of the Sun. But by far the most powerful and corrupt of the sects was the Order of the Soft Hive, with its legion of baroque agents and religious heretics. Over the centuries they had bought or stolen countless articles of power and had now turned their attention to the Shroud.

As the data flow came to an end Tyranny faded back into reality. She was sunk into the somaform of the womb:ship, lulled by the rhythmic heat of its engines, by its gentle amniotic light. Closing her eyes she sent out a lazy thought, then curled up into a foetal ball. the ship zeroed in on Jerry's body aura and entered shiftspace.

the bedsit of

The darkness shut off abruptly and Jerry fell back into existence. He tumbled from the wardrobe mirror with an odd wrenching sensation, as if he'd missed a step in the dark. It took him a few seconds to adjust, but eventually the room came swimming back into focus.

He'd lived here almoat a month now, holed away from the Hive. The room was small, sparsely furnished, thick with dust and the smell of Calor gas. Every inch of wall apace was covered with crossword puzzles, the squares filled with Enochian words, written back-to-front. Aluminium foil was taped over the windows and ceiling, scrawled with crayoned Kabbalistic symbols, and stubby candles burned on the floor. The carpet was puddled with wax, solidified around cutlery and clothes and battered paperbacks, trapping them like fossils. It was an elaborate precaution but the only one Jerry knew that was guaranteed to keep the Hive agents out.

Night was the time they usually launched their attacks, trying to catch him off-guard. At the beginning he'd sat awake until dawn, drinking coffee and watching late-night TV. In the end, that was how they found him. He'd became obsessed with one of the dancers on The Hit Man and Her, the beautiful dark-haired Jason. He would video the sequences with him in and sit up through the night, hypnotised, watching his intricate muscular movements; the somersaults, the clenched law and the sheen of sweat. There was power in those moves, meaning, and he knew that if only he could divine it he would learn great truths. Then the headaches had started, and the noises in the walls - like something turning turning in its sleep - and slowly Jerry realised that Jason was one of them. He'd bought in an infra-red lamp and trained it on the screen, then went through the video frame by frame. And sure enough, there it was.

They were trying to get him through the TV. That was obvious. They'd found his one weakness and were trying to exploit it, twisting his love. Jason turned from dark-haired adonis to atrocity. Jason turned traitor, Jerry was heart-broken. He'd moved out then, left the suburbs for a caravan on the east coast of Scotland. And for a while he was happy. It was quiet and isolated and there was no TV within twenty miles.

Jerry picked himself up from the floor and went into the kitchen to make himself some coffee. But when he reached into the fridge the milk had gone sour. As he emptied it down the sink he was sure that one of the gluts of curd moved. He bent down, poking through the watery fluid with a fork. A voice drifted up from the plug-hole.
'We're down here, Jerry,' it whispered. 'Down here in the dark. Waiting just for you.
Jerry jerked back with a muffled scream. His heart was thumping away in his chest, choking him. He reached over and spun on the taps but the water wouldn't go down, something was blocking the drain. Slowly the sink started to fill up. A bubble of blood exploded from the plug-hole, turning the water red. The sickly smell of geraniums filled the room.
'Oh God,' Jerry said, backing away.
He knew. Knew what it was, what was happening. This time they weren't taking any chances. They'd sent the Liquid Swimmers after him.
Jerry dashed out of the kitchen and slammed the door closed, then wedged a chair under the handle. He glanced round the bedsit, searching for something else he could use to barricade the door. The smell of geraniums was cloying, overpowering, like fingers at the back of his throat, and Jerry started to retch. On the other side of the door there was a sudden explosion of noise, a deafening tattoo like the hammer-blows of giant fists. It grew louder, vibrating through the walls and floor. Under the blows Jerry could hear the splintering of wood. He dashed towards the window, breathing in great whooping breaths, and started tearing away the aluminium foil.
The sound stopped suddenly. There was silence.
Jerry turned towards the door, panting, blood pounding in his temples like some up-tempo drumbeat. From inside the kitchen there was a faint trickling sound, huge in the shocked silence. Jerry watched in horror as blood began spilling out from under the door.

A hand dropped on his shoulder, and this time Jerry did scream. He spun round to face a figure framed in front of the window, a tall lithe woman (it looked like a woman ) with green skin snd a tail. She looked half-human, half-lizard, totally unlike any Hive agent he'd ever seen before, and for some reason he was reminded of a painting he'd seen at medical school, Ernst's Fireside Angel.
The woman smiled to show of row of white neatly pointed teeth.
'Hi. I'm Tyranny,' she said. 'Need a hand?' Jerry fainted dead away.

getting of
know you...

inoculated green troops with red smiles unborn dogs in light-sensitive sunglasses snapping polaroids in a broken mirror maze and i'm shaving over hot coals i'm screaming in the smell

of smoke

charred plastic

burning rubber


Jerry's head was seething with a gibberish, a jittery stream of nonsense, images stuttering past like falling cards. When he found he had a mouth (and even more strangely, lungs) he took a deep shuddering breath. Slowly the thoughts started to tumble into place, his mind clipping words and sense together like part of a jigsaw. It was a peculiar sensation.

Jerry regained consciousness convinced the house was on fire. The smell of burning seemed to hem him in on all sides and Jerry was wracked by a sudden fit of coughing.

'Here. Drink this.'

A lithe green hand passed him a glass of water and Jerry gulped it down gratefully.

'You fell any better?'

Jerry looked up. The voice belonged to the woman he'd seen just a few seconds (minutes? hours?) ago. Hair like poured cream, skin the colour of apple peel. She was smiling, evidently amused by Jerry's puzzlement.
'Who.. are you?' he croaked. Then, realising the house had been under attack minutes ago, he stared frantically around him. The room looked as if it had been hit by a hurricane - books strewn across the floor, holes smoking in the plasterboard walls but there was no sign of the Hive agents.
'It's all right,' the woman said. She was cradling a stubby mortar-like gun in her arms and patted it reassuringly. 'I got 'em all.'
She nodded towards a stain on the ceiling, a sticky mess of bitumen and feathers. 'What the hell were those things, anyway?'

Jerry massaged his ankle. 'Liquid Swimmers. Hive assassins. I thought I'd fortified the whole place, but I only forgot the bloody plumbing system, didn't I? Judas. What kind of an idiot misses something like that?'

The woman shrugged casually. 'We all have off-days.'


Jerry struggled to get to his feet and the woman bent to help him, brushing the ash off his jacket.
'Listen, let me introduce myself properly,' she said, and stuck out a hand. 'Tyranny Rex. Conceptual artist, soldier for hire, and all-round freelance dog's body.'
Jerry shook it cautiously. 'Jerry Lavish. I was surgeon in another life, but I traded it all in for this. Can you believe that? I suppose I'm what you'd call an investigative writer.'
'Yeah. I was looking at some of your books while you were out. Great British Tearooms. Butcher's Shops of England and Wales.And this...' she picked up a scorched hardback from the coffee table nearby. 'A Conspiracy of Hours: Governmental Manipulation and Ambient Dream Warfare.'
Jerry looked at the book, then at Tyranny.
Kind of a change of direction, isn't it?' she said.
'That's right. That's absolutely right.' Jerry nodded emphatically. 'It was my, uh, my agent's suggestion, actually. There's only so much you can do in a-'
'Look, Jerry, let's cut the bull, all right? I just saved you from a very sticky end, so it's pretty obvious I'm not here to hurt you. Now why don't we clear the air? Get a few things out into the open?'
What do you want to talk about?' Jerry asked.
'The Shy Building. Mason Gorrister.' Tyranny leaned forward till her face was inches away from Jerry's. 'The Shroud of Brendan.'
Jerry sat on the edge of an armchair and let out a long shaky breath. He felt tired, exhausted, but relieved, somehow, as if he'd exorcised something inside him.
'Thank God,' he said. 'I've wanted to talk to someone about this for so long. You don't know how long.'
Tyranny moved over to the table and poured another glass of water. She handed it to Jerry.
'Fire away,' she said.

and answers

Jerry told her everything he knew.
It was an hour later and they were sat downstairs on an old double-decker bus, the leather seats worn and cracked, the windows like watered-down milk. Tyranny had activated the hologlobe in her belt, making her look like just another passenger, and Jerry was wearing his favourite ruffled shirt and blue velvet jacket. They were on their way to see Rallim Kram and Jerry had promised to explain everything before they got there.

There can be no answer
to his desolate calling,
it is echoed in the wilderness,
for I cannot answer.
Though the grass will shoot
from the land
I am not grass, I cannot come
to his calling.
The waters rise for him,
I am not water to come
to his calling.
I am not shoots of grass
in a dead land.

'It's a variation on an Ancient Mesopotamian poem, Jerry said. 'Twelfth century BC, I found it when I was researching a book on suburban archetypes. It was the first hint of the truth behind the fiction.'

Tyranny raised a questioning eyebrow.
A dream, Jerry said 'An infectious dream, spread by Gorrister Undermining the fabric of reality itself
He told her about the confusion that surrounded the Shy Building, the stories and rumours. Some said it was built by the infernal architect Mulciber, shortly after the war in Heaven. Others said it was based on blueprints drawn by Robert Fludd, the seventeenth century Rosicrucian alchemist. Still others insisted it was the dream house of the debauched Victorian magician, Mr Pyridine. Jerry had found accounts of the building in every culture, every mythology. They varied widely but all of them agreed on one thing: like the Lalsyrintli of Knossos, it was inhabited by a monster. That monster was Gorrister. And there were as many rumours about him as there were about the house. Some said he was an angel (or a devil) who had grown bored with Heaven (or Hell) and returned incarnate to Earth. Others that he was the reembodiment of the house's original builder, But all were agreed on the house's power, and that it was filled with marvels.
Tyranny grunted. 'Yeah. And I'm after one of 'em.' Jerry smiled sympathetically. He needed the Shroud, too, but for altogether more personal reasons. Without it. he told her, he'd never get home home again.
'I'm not on Earth any more,' he said. 'Not the Earth I was born on, anyway.'
Tyranny looked at him blankly. 'I don't follow, You mean because this is a parallel world.'
'I wish it was as simple as that.' Jerry turned to look through the window. 'This is Planet R1O1. It's not a real parallel earth at all, it's just a shadow, a world out of phase. Somehow Gorrister's dream must have weakened the boundary between realities...'
'So how did you get here?'
Jerry looked up 'Corduroy,' he said 'It's an insidious fabric. Wear too much of it you reach a kind of critical mass, a breaking point. And you just.. fall out of the world.
Tyranny asked him what he about the Soft Hive. Jerry told her that somehow he'd realised he near to finding the Shroud and had been after him for the last eight months. He didn't know what the Hive was, or where they came from, or why they wanted the Shroud but their agents were everywhere. So far he'd encountered only a handful of them, but it was enough to make him realise just how powerful the Hive was.

There were the Stillborn Masseurs and the Humdrummers; the Hollow Priests and Shock-headed Peter; the Sly Widows; Armitage the haunted hostess trolley (with a selection of vegetables possessed by thirty-nine different personalities); Lady Fading Light; the Moist Spinsters and the Leather Tailors and the Screaming Bruise; the Love Usherettes and the Miming Lounge.

Jerry was about to go on, to list even more absurdities, but Tyranny stopped him mid-sentence.

'What is it?' he whispered.

Jerry listened. Upstairs he could hear the conductor moving, a heavy stomping sound as if dragging a misshapen foot. He was about to say something, tell her she was getting paranoid, and that was when he noticed it: the sudden dream-like smell of geraniums. He turned round at a sound behind him. Dolls' heads were spilling down the stairs from the upstairs deck, dozens of them rolling off the platform and scattering into the road. The air was filled with a chorus of plaintive cries: 'Mamma! Mamma!'
It was the Hive. Deep in his stomach, he knew it. They'd tracked him down again. Jerry watched as the conductor limped slowly down the stairs. He came into view feel first. Except that he didn't have feet, he had blades, steel twin blades jutting from each trouser leg, skewering the stairs with each step.
A voice boomed from the shadows: 'Any more fares! Any more fares, please!' Faint Mutley-like sniggering drivelled after it.
Jerry exchanged looks with Tyranny.

'Well,' he said. 'Are you going to pay or am I?'

is like

Jerry was halfway down the street when the bus exploded, showering the pavement with glass and burning rubber, but he didn't stop running. He snatched a glance at Tyranny behind him, loping along like a wolf, amazed by the way she could run and fight at the same time. She was like a crazy woman, ripping the Humdrummers apart with her bare hands; blasting the Elvis Machines out of the air the moment they materialised. For a few minutes it looked like they were really in with a chance. Then Shock-headed Peter had appeared on the scene, exploding through the front of a derelict cinema like a Catherine wheel. Jerry caught a glimpse of it through the flying glass, a giant red-suited figure surrounded by a halo of oily black light; a bunch of chrysanthemums in one hand.

'Don't look at it!' Jerry screamed, hoping Tyranny could hear him above the screams and explosions. In his mind a children's nursery rhyeme went round and round, rattling like words of conjuration:

Anything to me is sweeter
Than to see Shock-headed Peter.

Jerry kept on running and didn't look back. Those who had, though, were everywhere, innocent passersby turned to stone, transforming the street to a gallery of second-hand statues. As he ran Jerry could hear the Elvis Machines closing in behind him, feel their vibrations through the soles of his feet. The air thrummed with their warped subsonic drawl, like a 45 played at half speed, like the sound of mass weeping. Behind him Tyranny went on firing.
'Down here,' he shouted, and veered off the pavement. Just before the post office there was a narrow alleyway that lead off into darkness, and that was where Jerry went. Halfway down he came to a sudden stop. Tyranny ran straight into him.

'What the helt are you doing' she said. 'They're right behind us.'
Jerry was fumbling in his jacket, searching his inside pockets. 'It's here somewhere,' he muttered.
Tyranny dropped to her haunches beside him and continued firing, filling the alleyway with flashes of hard blue light. In such a confined space the sound of the blasts was deafening.
'Got it,' Jerry said. He pulled out a small glass ampule with straw-coloured liquid inside. Tyranny shot him a glance.
'It's a stink bomb,' Jerry said, by way of explanation, and threw it at the floor. As the rotten egg smell wafted up Jerry took a tube of blue lipstick from another pocket and started drawing on the wall, colouring in the lines of mortar between the brickwork. He looked up along the alley and saw dozens of wasted skeletal figures rushing towards them, gibbering insanely, waving feather dusters. He went back to the wall and lipsticked in the last few inches. Then he leaned close to the wall, his mouth less than an inch away, and whispered: 'Avon calling.'
The effect was instantaneous. A sheet of incandescence shimmered up from the brickwork, blindingly bright, like sunlight on water. He reached out instinctively as the light wrapped itself round them and wiped them out piece by piece...


There was a familiar wrenching sensation, like the pit-of-the-stomach lurch of a rollercoaster, and for what seemed like the umpteenth time today Jerry found himself somewhere else.
As his vision returned he saw that he was in a large high-ceilinged room, with white walls and a beige carpet. It was sparsely decorated - a 'mirror'; bad landscape paintings', a collection of bow-ties pinned on card; A bay windows looked onto a drad surburban street filled with late winter light. The room was freezing. There was an electric fire against one wall, imitation coals throwing tip a flickering orange glow, but it didn't do anything to blunt the cold. It reminded Jerry of his butcher's shop travels; the hours spent in meat lockers with swinging carcasses. A thin sheen of ice covered everything, turning the mirror into a cataract, skinning the carpet and furniture with frost. In a far corner a TV seethed with static.
Tyranny turned towards Jerry, the snub-gun still cradled in her arms, smoke twisting up from the scorched muzzle.

'This Kram guy...' she started.

'Rallim Kram. Shaman of the Surreal.'

'Who exactly is he?'

Jerry swivelling on his heel and moved over to one of the paintings on the wall. 'He's the last piece in the jigsaw, he said. 'According to the ancient texts he's some kind of oracle - a seer Or a prophet. One source says he was Gorrister's shadow that had somehow taken on a life of its own, a pale imitation of Gorrister himself. There are so many conflicting accounts it's hard to be sure exactly what's what,'

Tyranny looked at him sceptically. 'If he's such a man of mystery, how did you know where to find him?'

'I collected the coupons from twelve packets of streaky bacon. Sent them to a mailing house in Surbiton. It was a repository, you see. Part of Amoresh, the place of ultimate knowledge. The library of Alexandria was just a local branch of Amoresh itself,'

'And you've spent months looking for this guy?'

'Years,' Jerry said. 'He was the missing link, you see. Six years of research, scouring the museums of Europe, and his name came up again and again. It wat getting, in touch with him that was the real problem.'

Tyranny sat on the edge or an armchair, brushing away thin layer of ice, 'Go on,' she said.

'Everyone who knew about the Shy Building, about the Shroud... they'd gone into hiding years ago. They knew others would come after them, and now they're finally here. Now it's a race between me and the SoftHive.'

Tyranny shrugged matter-of-factly and turned towards the window. The TV was gone. In its place there was a rocking horse, painting with swirls of he fairground colour. There was a small thin man sat on it. His face was pinched unhealthily white, dotted with freckles, and he wore a turban and sunglasses. He broke into a smile.

'Greetings, wayfarers. How may I be of help to you?' He had a thick Glaswegian accent but his voice It was soft, almost effeminate.

'Ahhh.' Rallim moved off the rocking horse and perched on the edge of the sideboard with a small bird-like hop. He pressed steepled fingers to his lips. 'Of course. You must be Mr Lavish. I have, heard great things said of you.'

Jerry looked pleadingly at Tyranny, but she just shrugged

'You're after the shy building, aren't you?'

Tyranny shouldered past Jerry. 'You know where it is?'

Rallim pointed at the warehouse on the opposite side of the street. 'It's behind that one over there,' he said simply.

'Can you.. can you get us in there?' Jerry whispered.

'I can open the doorway, yes, but I cannot accompany you. I only exist for three hours each day and my allotted time is almost up.'

Tyranny nodded towards the window. 'So what do we do?'

Jerry glanced nervously towards Rallim, expecting some kind of barter; a pound of flesh in exchange for the secret. But the little man just smiled.

'You roll your rs,' he said. 'Alliteration. It is a harmonic key.'

Tyranny turned to Jerry. 'You follow any of this?'
But Rallim had bowed his head and was already muttering, a soft rhythmic chant. 'Rrrebellious rrred rrrabhits rrraring to rrrun rrround the rrracecourse...'
Rallim waved a hand, gesturing them to join in. Jerry exchanged glances with Tyranny and she shrugged. What the hell, Jerry thought. If it worked.

Feeling slightly stupid, he began stringing together words and sounds into a nonsense rhyme. Soon the three of them were chanting their own mantras, the noise gradually rising in pitch, filling the room with a high buzzing sound like the inside of a hive.

Just as Jerry was about to give up something started to happen. He felt it on his face first, a tension in the air, a point of stress, as if gravity had suddenly doubled. The sensation started to build, accompanied by a high sustained whine that seemed to he lodged somewhere inside his head.
Rallim's chant cut off in mid-flow. He reached down and opened one of the sideboard doors with a flourish. Jerry expected to see shelves lined with wine glasses and table mats, all the bric-a-brac of domesticity. But instead he was looking out into a long white corridor. It was as if the cupboard was a secret door, giving onto some huge hidden annexe.
'There.' Rallim smiled proudly. 'The Shy Building.'
This time Tyranny went in first.

into the

The house was huge, and Jerry was instantly reminded of a museum. Only a museum that had gone wrong, that had absorbed other buildings, other places. He'd turn a corner and be in a long tiled corridor, like part of the London underground. Another corner and he'd be in a Byzantine cathedral, a fairy tale forest, a bus depot, a school room with strange words chalked on the blackboard, a bakery full of scorched bread and wedding cakes. it was as if the architect had grown bored halfway through the blueprints and started changing things, turning the building into a funhouse, a crazy college of different time and cultures

There were rooms as aircraft hangers, empty except for Carry On Films flicking over distant walls. There were Victorian studies with mannequins sat by crackling fires, and public urinals with hanging flower baskets and crushed velvet drapes. There were rooms full of birdcages; sundials;broken mirrors; masks hung on wire; oranges arranged in neat geometrical patterns. One room was empty except for a pair crocodile-skin shoes and a handbag. Another had a fountain set into the floor, the water frozen into a parasol of ice. Another was filled with jars, foetuses in vinegar. The air was filled with the sound of pan-pipes, the music of Joujouka. And everywhere there were cats, stalking the corridors, clambering over piles of old newspapers or sprawled out on chaise longues.
To the right, down a tiny winding corridor, there was a noise. Jerry glanced towards Tyranny hut she'd already heard it, She lifted the snub-gun experimentally, then motioned Jerry to follow her.
Gradually the noise became recognisable. It was the hollow tic-tac of someone typing, a strangely ordinary sound in sorb an extraordinary place. They stopped at a white panelled door bearing a photograph of John Inman.
'Okay,' said Tyranny. 'And let's take it easy.'
She sidled slowly round the door. With an inexplicable feeling of deja vu, Jerry went in after her.

the most illustrious
forger of

It was like walking into a cathedral. That was Jerry's first impression of the place. The room was huge and dark, the ceiling so high it was lost in shadow, and thc air was filled with the faint scent of freshly-peeled oranges. It made Jerry's mouth water. The only source of light was a lamp on a desk near the far wall. There was a word processor beside it and sat in front of that, silhouetted by light, was a figure.

Jerry glanced round the room, Its furnishing were absurd but strangely eerie. He felt like he'd walked into the cellar of some fairy take castle, full of dead swans and bloody gingerbread, the place where all the wolves and half-eaten bodies and lost children ended up.
There was a small boy standing in an alcove, but when he looked closer Jerry saw it was a charity collection box, one of Doctor Barnardo's callipered waifs, a coin slot in the top of its head. It was wearing surgical gloves and a pair of novelty glasses, eyes dangling down on springs. On either side of the figure were shelves full of toys and puzzles and figurines, all the detritus of a lost childhood. But everything seemed tainted, somehow, blemished, as if puberty's dark radiation had caused strange mtations. Amongst the ornaments were dozen of music boxes, their lids up to reveal pirouetting Down's Syndrome ballet dancers; animals hones; pieces of rotten meat. They filled the room with a soft tinkling music, like rain, like chandeliers stirred by a breeze. On the walls were scrawled symbols, swastikas; posters of Vic Reeves and Aleister Crowley; Hue and Cry in full Nazi uniform, standing amongst gutted Puerto Ricans.
When Jerry looked up Tyranny was no longer beside him. She was standing by the figure in the chair, pressing the muzzle of the snub-gun up against his temple. Jerry wanted to say something, to warn her that this was no ordinary man, no three penny magician, but his mouth had dried up. He could only watch, speechless, as Tyranny swung the lamp round.
'Hello,' said Gorrister, grinning. 'Would anyone like a cup of tea?'

The instant he saw him Jerry felt as if he'd been kicked in the stomach. For a second Gorrister was Jason, the traitor, the hive agent, the occult dancer from The Hit Man and Her. Then the illusion vanished as he saw Gorrister as he really was, pale and thin, as if years of loneliness or contemplation had worn him to nothing. Only his eyes were alive, animated by something more than human.

'You were expecting us?' Jerry asked,
'I've been expecting you for the last six years.' Gorrister turned towards Tyranny and gave the gun a tour look. 'And you can take that thing away for a start. I simply refuse to be threatened in my own house.'
Disarmed, Tyranny lowered the snub-gun. Jerry saw that she'd obviously been expecting some kind of confrontation, maybe even looking forward to one. She seemed disappointed that the meeting should be such an anticlimax.
Jerry, though.. Jerry was entranced. He'd wanted to meet Gorcister for years, to step up to him and talk to him face to fsce, but now he was here he couldn't think of a thing to say. He suddenly felt like such a let-down.
Gorrister stood up stood from the desk, a plate of biscuits in one hand, and Tyranny tapped him with the gun. She wasn't taking any chances. But Gorrister just looked at her.

'You came for the Shroud, didn't you?' he said. 'Well it's this way...'

Tyranny took a cautious step back as Gorrister moved towards the curtains to reveal a small darking opening. Jerry crossed over to join Tyranny and looked through the doorway. Gorrister flicked on a light switch to reveal a narrow flight of stairs.
They went down in single-file first Gorrister, then Tyranny, then Jerry. It grew warmer with each step and Jerry noticed a faint animal smell in the air, rank, musky. When they the bottom it was sweltering, sweat prickled under Jerry's arms and fertile goaty smell was almost suffocating. There was a tiny clik and a light came on, hidden panels flooding the air with ultra-violet. They were in an underground vault, like a crypt or a catacomb, stone walls and floor, the roof low enough to touch. The walls were covered with chalked occult symbols and strips of vellum ribbon, decorations left over from some pagan Christmas. And there, at the end of the vault, set hack in a small alcove, was the Shroud of Brendan.
Although he'd never seen it before, never even see a photograph of it, Jerry recognised it instantly, It was a swathe of linen-like cloth, about four feet long, so white it looked almost luminous. And at its top was the image of Brendan Himself, 'round glasses, unruly hair, a mischevious grin, embossed in the fabric like a flaw in the material. The Shroud was nailed on a frame of what looked like driftwood, rotten and black. Jerry could feel the power pulsing out from it, like the ebb and flow of gravity. Jerry remembered an account in one of the ancient manuscripts, how it was linked to the moon, to the drag of the tide. Somewhere deep inside him there was a shiver of response, hormones sluicing through his system.
Gorrister glanced towards him and waved absently towards the Shroud. 'There. Take it. It's yours.'

Jerry stared at him with amazement.
'It's been nothing but trouble. To tell you the truth I've been meaning to get rid of it for some time now.'
Why? Jerry tried to ask, but no words came out.
'What the hell for?' Tyranny asked.
'Because of what it is. Just safeguarding it, the power it gives out...' Gorrister licked his lips. 'It takes its toll, It's a thing of beauty, of course, of boundless creative energy, but it has a darker side. If you really want the Shroud you must be careful of it. It'll alter your perception, not just of the world but of yourself, too. The Shroud will give you a new way of seeing things.'
Tyranny moved towards it but Gorrister reached out to stop her, laying one hand on her forearm.
'Not like that,' he said. 'Sorry, but there are procedures we have ta adhere to. Tradition. You understand. There was a pause, and Gorrister lowered his head. 'First you have to fight the Hesed.'
Jerry looked puzzled. He'd never heard of this before.

'One of the kabbalistic sefirab. It's the guardian of the Shroud. The Bearer of the likeness of Brendan.' Gorrister reached for a biscuit.

Tyranny turned back to Gorrister . 'So where exactly is this guardian?'
'Look more closely.' Gorrister pointed at the Shroud and a spotlight appeared, illuminating the tattoo-blue face; the driftwood frame. A ripple of movement flickered through it. 'It's wearing it, you see. You have to take the Shroud off its back.'
Jerry was about to speak when the driftwood suddenly moved, buckling outwards beneath the Shroud. It was as if the wall was flexing muscles, and suddenly Jerry saw it a giant back that wore the Shroud like some kind of T-shirt. There was a sickening splintering sound as part of the wall tore itself free, and Jerry took an involuntary step back as the Hesed turned towards him.


It was grotesque.

Jerry was reminded of pictures of the Minotaur he'd seen as child, but this was far more terrible. It was an anvil of a creature, all bulk, like something that had been left over from an iron foundry. It was hunchbacked, club-footed, its upper body bulging with four heavily muscled ribcages. Its head was like the leaves of a book, a wind ruffling invisibly through the pages; its arms long and ape-like, a rosette of thorns rising from each giant fist.

As it stumped forwards on massive hoofed feet Jerry was struck by the way its skin caught the light:one minute black, the next gun-metal grey. Queasy peristaltic movements shivered across its surface, like someone swallowing, like the bobbing of a larynx, and Jerry noticed the texture of its skin. It was ropey, maze-like, a sheet of knots that constantly tied and untied themselves, so that one moment the Hesed was formless, slab-like; the next a walking engine of complexity.
'Before it fights it'll ask you the ritual questions.' Gorrister spoke around a mouthful of shortbread. 'It's a duel, you see.
The Hesed turned its head towards them, pages of flesh flipping pinkly open, and when it spoke its voice had an almost musical quality to it, like breaking glass.

'Choose your weapon, it said.

Tyranny stepped forward unhesitatingly, 'Heinlichcr-9000,' she said, and brought the gun up firing.
Jerry and Gorrister stepped back as the snub stream poured into the creature, blasting away any flesh and bone like a jet of high-pressure water. The Hesed reeled off-balance, but recovered within seconds. Jerry watched in horrified fascination as a nest of hands rose up in the centre of its chest, scrabbling furiousiy, pushing up any new flesh as if it were clay.
Tyranny trained the fire into the Hesed's face as it loomed forwards. she tried to dodge but the creature was surprisingly agile. One anvil-sized fist came smashing down, catching on the side of the head. She dropped heavily to the floor, blood pooling out across the cracked tilework.
Gorrister piped up cheerfully: 'Does anyone mind if I have the last biscuit?'
Jerry watched as the Hesed pulled Tyranny to her feet by a fistful of hair, then knocked her back down again. It lifted her again and slammed her against the wall with a heavy thud. The fist rose and fell in a blur, hitting Tyranny again, and again, until her face was a wound. She slid soundlessly to the floor. Jerry rushed over to look at her. She was unconscious hut still alive, breathing in shallow ragged gasps, as if something inside had broken,

He stood up and turned on Gorrister. The Hesed bulked up beside him, skin coiling and uncoiling in the blue underwater lighi.

'What's wrong with you?' he shouted. 'We didn't want this. We didn't want to fight...'
Gorrister shrugged. 'It's beyond my control.'
The Hesed took a step towards Jerry. 'Choose your weapon.
Jerry stared round, searching for some way out. But the door they'd come in through had disappeared, swallowed up by brickwork, and there was nothing at all he could use. Even Tyranny's gun was useless, flattened by a sharp black hoof.

The Hesed took another step forward. 'Choose your weapon,' it growled, and this time there was an edge an its voice, inhuman but unmistakable.

Jerry looked up at the dark musculature,the razor-edge limbs, the skin twisted like coral. There was no way he could figth this creature. He needed a different approach.
'Choose your weapon!' The Hesed was barely one foot away now, pale pink saliva pouring from its paperback head. It was the last warning.
Jerry paused, praying he'd got it right. When he spoke voice was impossibly soft, less than a whisper. 'Mental arithmatic,' he said.
In the shadows of the other side of the room Gorrister made a murmur of approval and applauded softly. Beside him the cocked his head to one side, like a dog that had just heard a noise.

Jerry took a deep breath 'What's the square root of one thousand four hundred and sixteen?" he said.

The Hesed's body shook with impact and it took a faltering step back, as if if it had been shoved. Jerry felt the beginning of hope.

'What's three hundred and fifty-seven multiplied by twelve?'

The Hesed glanced towards Gorrister, as if searching for help, and took another halting step back, ita hooves striking sparks from the stone floor. Jerry moved forwards, pressing the attack home.
'What's eight thousand and twenty-six minus three thousand four hundred and ninety-nine?'
There was a clatter of noise as the Hesed fell to its knee, shattering the tiled floor. It bowed low to show the Shroud, the image of Brendan drawn tight over the obscenely muscled hack. Jerry let out a long wavering breath.
'Bravo,' Gorrister said, smiling. 'I couldn't have done better myself.'
Jerry said nothing. He stepped up to the Hesed and reverently removed the Shroud, taking out the nails that held it in place. It felt electric to the touch, shivers of current running through the weave, tingling the ends of his fingers.
Finally he looked up at Gorrister. 'Is it true, what the histories say? That the Shroud can heal the sick?'

Gorrister gestured expansively.'Heal the sick, raise the dead. Turn water to wine and lead into gold. Make you beautiful,rich,intelligent. Attractive to the opposite sex ... or the same. Whatever you want. it's there in your hands want.'
Jerry nodded slowly. He knelt by Tyranny and put the Shroud round her shoulder, whapping her in it like a shawl.
'What will you do now?' Gorrister asked.
'I don't know. What does a man do when he can do anything?'

'Ah well, the dilemma's yours now.' Gorrister said.
He glanced at his watch. 'Anyway, I must be off.'

Jerry looked up. 'Soon so? There was so much I wanted to talk about...'

Gorriater shrugged apologetically. 'Sorry. I've got the hoovering to do,' he said, and with a wave of the hand he disappeared. The buildling went with him. One second it was there, and suddenlyit wasn't. It just blinked out of existence.

The ultra-violet turned to gloomy daylight and Jerry found himself kneeling in front of a white Mercedes, Tyranny curled up beside him'. He looked round and saw they were in a multi-storey car park, concrete pillars rising up against a band of grey sky.

Tyranny muttered incoherently and turned under the shroud, sending a wave of prismatic colour flickering across her body.
'It's all right,' Jerry said softly. 'It's over.

A shadow fell over them. Jerry looked up to see an Elvis Machine peering over the edge of the carpark, giant steel-blue quiff gleaming in the evening light. There was a familiar prickling tension in the air as other Hives agents began to appear, folding themselves out of nowhere.

Jerry looked up with a smile, glancing over the sea of multi-coloured faces. He grabbed the Shoud with both hands, feeling its power surge through him.

'Right,' he said. 'Give it your best shot.'

It was like old times.

2000AD Sci-fi Specical 1991

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