Lori reached out to touch the raven’s beak. Pressing it was rewarded by the sonorous tones of a bell inside the house. She knew that it was nothing more than a digital recording, but the group behind her did not, and they got quite a frisson of pleasure from the Edgar Allan Poe resonances of this somewhat over the top doorbell. A good way to start a special tour.
Arthur Enoch opened the door, applying little bit of downward pressure on the handle to ensure a loud creak from the hinges. He was dressed all in black and was quite hollow-eyed. Those hollow eyes he used to survey his visitors with a pinch of disdain.
‘Welcome,’ he said, and stood aside for them to enter.
Lori stepped through first, feeling as if she was passing through a cold waterfall. Since she had visited this house numerous times she was expecting this, and she turned to watch the group behind her. They all shivered a little but only two showed any greater reaction; Vince Smalls, a local chaos magician, and an older woman who had applied by post to come on the tour.
Vince gasped and shook himself, and the woman (Lori looked at her list, her name was Olivia Grange. The surname rang a faint bell in Lori’s mind) widened her eyes and glanced behind her. They had both been forced to leave something outside.
The door swung closed of its own accord behind the last one through. Just another bit of theatre arranged by Enoch.
‘Welcome,’ he said again, ‘to my grandfather’s house. Maxwell Enoch was definitely wickeder than Aleister Crowley, but he preferred to stay out of the newspapers.’
Arthur Enoch smiled, which had a chilling effect on all present. Lori wished he would not do it, but the sight of his very large white teeth (possibly dentures) and the twisted curve of his lips did add to the sinister atmosphere — which was what the special group had paid their large fee for.
The Enoch house was only open to visitors once or twice a year and Lori was the only guide allowed to select visitors for the privilege of the tour. Arthur Enoch had the last word on who would be allowed in from her list. She never knew what criteria he used to reject visitors. Some perfectly innocuous people applied year after year, only to be struck out by Arthur’s red pen. Why Vince Smalls had passed scrutiny, Lori could not imagine. Arthur made no secret of his contempt for Chaos Magic.
‘This is my home,’ said Arthur, ‘so I ask you to respect the rules set out in your letter of acceptance, and not to stray from the group. It would be hazardous for you to do so. Please recall that you have all signed the disclaimer and that any physical or psychic harm you suffer on these premises is your responsibility alone.’
The group nodded their heads in solemn agreement, except for Vince, who gave a short laugh. Arthur flashed him a sharp look, then smiled again, which wiped any amusement from Vince’s face. He replaced it with a tentative sneer. Old fashioned ritual magic was just a curiosity to him, he had told Lori. She looked forward to seeing how this clash of cultures would turn out, and hoped there would be no collateral damage.
Arthur led them about the ground floor of the house, which was set up as a kind of museum to his grandfather’s occult life, all the rooms kept just as they were when he was alive, down to the last book he was reading, left open and unfinished on a side table. Marginalia scribbled in green ink were visible on the open pages. Lori knew that it was a first edition of Yeats’ ‘Celtic Twilight’ and that Maxwell Enoch did not think much of it. He was a man given to despising the work of others.
Between them Arthur and Lori kept up a commentary on the rooms and the man himself. Arthur was, of course, the expert on the man, having lived in this house when Maxwell was still alive in the early 1960s, but he never gave much personal detail away. The visitors did not seem to notice, captivated as they were by the eccentric decor and the genuine relics of the master of ritual magic. There were two who were not so taken up by the experience. Vince Smalls curled his lip at the books in the library, at the stuffed chimera in the corner of the living room and at the regalia and robes in a glass display case in the hall. Olivia Grange merely looked at everything with mild interest. Lori noticed, though, how often Arthur looked at Olivia with a sharp suspicious glint in his eyes.
She noticed this too much, however, and failed to notice something else until it was too late.
They were standing before the door to the inner sanctum of Maxwell Enoch’s temple. Over the door a motto in Gothic script read ‘And The Night Shall Outlast The Day’. Arthur was describing the kind of ritual that took place behind the door — a place he refused to open up to visitors. Lori scanned the group for reactions and saw that Vince Smalls was no longer with them. She was both alarmed and furious. Arthur might never allow her to bring a group into his house again, and Vince — who knew what might happen to him?
Someone in the group asked what the meaning of the motto was and Arthur turned to look up at it. At that moment Vince appeared from a side room and joined the group, standing at the back as if he had always been there. He saw Lori glaring at him and flashed her a smile and a shrug.
‘I believe,’ Arthur was saying, ‘that it means that the time will come when the world of the imagination will rise up and conquer the dead hand of the purely rational.’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Olivia Grange.
‘Oh?’ said Arthur, ‘Do you think you have a better understanding?’
Olivia smiled at him but did not answer. Arthur narrowed his eyes.
‘Come this way, everyone. There’s coffee and cakes in the conservatory,’ he said.
He led everyone away, effectively ending the tour. Lori moved to follow the group, but Olivia laid a hand on her arm to stop her.
‘We should go with them,” Lori said.
‘Wait here with me.’ Olivia insisted, with a gentle smile.
Lori felt the protective sigil on the back of her neck begin to tingle, but she did as she was asked. A minute, a long minute, later, Arthur came back. He stared at Olivia and she smiled at him. Something clicked in Lori’s mind.
‘You aren’t related to Ruthin Grange are you?’ she asked Olivia. Maxwell Enoch and Ruthin Grange had been magical collaborators until an unexplained rift made them into implacable enemies.
‘She’s his granddaughter — are you not?’ said Arthur.
‘Yes and no,’ said Olivia, still smiling her by now infuriating smile.
‘I should go and see what the group is doing —‘ said Lori.
Arthur and Olivia each grasped one of her wrists.
‘Stay with us,’ said Arthur.
‘I should see what Vince is up to,’ said Lori, hoping to get away. She had begun to worry about sacrificial victims and the like.
‘There’s no need for concern. Smalls is the entertainment,’ said Arthur, and he smiled, and it was not benign.
Arthur and Olivia dropped their grip on Lori’s wrists and she thought that if she had any sense she ought to run for it — but curiosity made her stay.
Arthur took out a key and unlocked the inner sanctum’s door. Lori felt a little spike of excitement. No-one was ever allowed in there, but now they were all stepping through into a medium-sized pentagonal room. The floor was plain white with a small drain hole at its centre, which Lori wondered about and decided not to regard as sinister.
On each of the five walls were painted symbols. Some she recognised, others were entirely new to her, and she could make no meaning out of it at all.
Olivia looked around the room with grave interest.
‘This is where the exchange happened,’ she said, and nodded as if something was clear to her now.
‘What are you talking about?’ Arthur growled.
‘They didn’t tell you? No, I suppose Maxwell would keep it a secret.’
‘I should go,’ said Lori. Her sigil was starting to burn, never a good sign.
‘No, my dear,’ said Olivia, ‘so long as there is a witness, and a magically protected one, there will be no harm done here today. Will there, Arthur?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Not in this place, anyway.’
‘It was,’ said Olivia, ‘an exchange of powers and of blood, or DNA, I suppose we’d call it today.”
Arthur was still angry, but he kept quiet for now.
‘Maxwell and his wife Marie, and Ruthin and his wife Gwen met here to perform a ritual that was supposed to bind their magical abilities, which would have the effect of making them the most powerful practitioners of their day. Something went wrong, of course. Being men of their time, they had failed to account for the female elements of power. Part of the ritual involved each man having sex with the wife of the other. I am not au fait with the details of the ritual, but it was at this point it came undone.’
‘Ruthin betrayed Maxwell to gain his power,’ said Arthur.
‘No, Arthur, not at all. That was what Maxwell said to explain the rift, but what actually happened was that each man’s power was transferred to the other’s wife. Marie and Gwen were transformed, and also became pregnant.’
‘No,’ said Arthur.
‘Yes. Two sons were born, your father and mine. Neither was much good as a magician, though, in spite of the circumstances of their conception. Ruthin gave up occultism to write novels and Maxwell continued — but Marie was the actual force in the family. So you see Arthur, I am Maxwell’s grandchild and you are Ruthin’s, not I.’
‘I won’t let you claim my heritage,’ said Arthur, taking up a defensive stance.
‘I don’t want it. I came here to clear away the negative forces between our families. We should do it now, and free ourselves.’
She began to take off her clothes. Arthur was transfixed for a moment, then he too began to strip.
‘Oh no,’ said Lori,’ I should go.’
They were not listening. Off came Arthur’s trousers. Lori made for the door and tried to leave, but it would not open. The key was probably in Arthur’s trousers, but they were on the other side of the room and she was unable to bring herself to turn around and witness what was happening in between.
Instead, she spent the longest eight minutes of her life examining the carvings on the door, a twisted border that she had taken for vines, but now saw that it was a hundred or more entwined naked people. The sigil on the back of her neck burned painfully as if an electric current was passing through it and she was acting as some sort of conduit. It reached a crescendo of pain, and then it was over. After that there was a brief interlude of mumbled incantations, followed by the sound of two people getting dressed. Lori only relaxed a little when Arthur came to unlock the door.
‘My grandfather carved this door,’ he said, as if he were giving the tour still.
‘Ruthin?’ said Lori, not wanting to spare his feelings.
‘Er, no. The other one.’
Arthur pursed his lips and blushed. Olivia joined them, flushed, hair tangled, beaming a radiant smile. Lori tried her very best to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened and that she had not been used in a way that she did not want to examine too closely. The back of her neck was very sore and she wanted to get away from here as soon as possible. Striding ahead of Arthur and Olivia, she went straight to the conservatory to gather the group.
They were standing in a circle, looking down at someone writhing on the floor. Oh, it was Vince, of course. The others were very relieved to see her.
Vince appeared to be trying to fight something off — something quite invisible. He was making quiet noises filled with fear.
‘Arthur,’ Lori called.
Arthur came, and had a good laugh.
‘He went off by himself, didn’t he? I said it was dangerous.’
He leaned over the twisted form on the floor.
‘Give it to me,’ said Arthur.
Vince could hardly breathe, but he managed to indicate his left inside pocket. Arthur reached in and retrieved a small green talisman, slipping it into his own pocket before Lori could get a good look at it.
Whatever was attacking Vince lifted away and he slumped, breathing deeply. Lori helped him to his feet and started to walk him to the front door. Though he was shaky, he was as eager as she was to leave.
Lori counted her group out, anxious not to lose anyone. Olivia, though, was staying. She stood at the door holding hands with Arthur who looked both pleased and puzzled, like a man who had been taken up by a whirlwind and deposited on a strange shore.
Lori wished him luck, sure that he was going to need it.