Take a breath. Feel it bloom in your chest. Hold it until your lungs are screaming. When you breathe in again, you’ll taste the air like it’s the first time, sweet and desperate. Welcome back to Spirit Box Radio.
Hello, Faithful Listeners! Welcome back to the Spirit Box Radio Enlightenment Segment. As yet a work in progress, but aren’t we all?
I have something really interesting to share with you all, Faithful Listeners!
I decided it was probably a good idea to start to clear through some of the stuff in the desk in the studio. The drawers were absolutely rammed full of stuff. Most of it was rubbish – quite literally, actually. There were about two hundred receipts. There were a few small bones, bleached by the sun and dry under my finger tips. Each one had a tiny carving on it, a different number of lines. The miniature femur of some tiny monkey laid flat in my palm and I could almost feel the trembling warmth of the thing it once belonged to.
I found a small notebook crammed with hand-pressed flowers. The name in the front was written in blue biro; it said ‘Molly Marie Enfield’. So maybe it’s M’s, but I didn’t know her first name was Molly. I wonder if. Did I even know here at all?
Some of the flowers were loose, others fixed in place with sticky tape gone pale gold with age. Each one was annotated in the wobbly hands of the child who penned their name at the front; the common name of the flower, the latin name, and a note of when and where each one was picked. It’s really beautiful. I wish I knew who had made it.
Most exciting, though, Faithful Listeners, is this really old letter I found. I think Madame Marie wrote it. It’s in an unmarked envelope and it’s clearly really old. It looks like it was sealed at one time, and there’s a little line in black ink like she started to write a name or an address on the front but then stopped, for whatever reason. Inside the envelope is a letter.
I thought a really long time about whether or not to look at it. I hate to pry. I know Madame Marie liked her privacy. So I was just going to put it in a box with the bleached bones and the other bits and pieces I’m going to keep but then I thought, what if it’s just a blank piece of paper, or a letter about the bills, or something really bad and I’m putting in this box of memories that’s supposed to be nice and good and something to look at when I feel– when I… feel…
Anyway so I decided I should read it. And once I did I realised I needed to share it with all of you, faithful listeners. Here’s what it says.
I have thought long and hard about whether to write this letter. What it might constitute if I do. I work hard; I know I work hard. I am trying to follow your footsteps, grandma, but I will never be the witch you once were. The shop is dying around me, I can feel it. The friendly miasma of good energy you manifested here over your long, long years is lifting, and leaving behind dusty shelves and herbs that crumble to dust when I touch them. I’m at a loss. I’m aching. I don’t know what to do.
I can tell you almost anything you could want to know about the arcane. How it can manifest in good faith in the right conditions but under the wrong ones it infests, infects, corrupts, like mould between tiles. It blooms and spreads, without moral virtue or malice. It simply is, as it always was, and has, and always will. In this sense it’s like water. Necessary for life. Refreshing and beautiful and utterly divine. But you can still drown in it, and it can be used to torture, and over time, it will wear even the biggest rock down to sand.
I know there is arcane energy everywhere. I know it is a part of me and I am a part of it and I am part of an infinite spool of infinite threads, or an impossible weave of so many threads its impossible to understand the connections. I know I am a part of this world and its a part of me and there is a place for me in it, and that place is here, as I am. Present but functionally useless. Able to advise but never able to practice. Doomed to be inches away from the thing I want the most, within spitting distance, but bound implicitly to never get even slightly closer.
I want what you had, what I saw you had when you danced at the edge of the solstice fire, bare and beautiful in the orange glow in the depths of the moonless night. I want to feel the power move through me the way I saw it move through you. But it never comes.
And so I hope you will forgive me.
You taught me to listen and be still. You taught me to hear the creatures thrumming invisibly all around us, how to see things that are only very slightly there, how to let the arcane come far enough into the real to be glimpsed, even touched. So I know you will not understand what I have to do. But I have to save this place you loved so much because you are gone now and its all you have left
If I just sit here and know my place, my home – your home – it will die around me. I can feel it. I can feel it drawing the final shuddery breath that will make the rattle of death. And I can’t let it be. I cannot. I know I am supposed to. I know it’s what you’d have wanted me to do. And I know in bigger, cosmic ways you are not gone, and you are simply all around, like the arcane always is, returned to it, as you should be. But. I am not as great or good as you. I never was. And for all your lessons you could never teach me enough to make me your true successor and I think for all the love you poured on me you knew that, because you really could listen, and you must have seen who I really am and what I would do if it came to this. And you must have known that it would come to this. You always did know.
So I have to think you will forgive me for what I am going to do. Not because it’s right or I am entitled to your grace or anything like that but just because I have to believe that in some way you knew I would do this.
Otherwise why would you give me the Little Book of Big Magic at all? Couldn’t you see how it’s a guide to greatness?
Isn’t arcanism about give and take, anyway? Isn’t it about learning there is always a price for power? So you must have known I’d be willing to pay whatever charge to let me be worthy of your legacy, grandma. Or you wouldn’t have given me the book.
I am sorry, grandma. I love you.
The reason I had to share this with you, Faithful Listeners, is because of what it says about the Little Book of Big Magic. A guide to greatness? I always thought it was more of a funny little textbook, but of course, I didn’t realise until last week that so much of my copy was missing. And the funny thing is, I’m pretty this is the copy that Madame Marie must have been using, which according to this letter, means its the same copy she was given by her grandma.
Madame Marie never spoke to me about her grandma but it seems from this letter that she was some kind of powerful witch, and she owned a shop, and Madame Marie was supposed to take it over when she died but… she apparently wasn’t a very good witch?
Which is funny because. Well. Madame Marie is the most renowned Arcanist in the Northern Hemisphere, to such an extent that some people think she was a fake or a liar because she could make such powerful and accurate predictions.
Could she have had that much self-doubt?
But the thing is its talking about a price of some kind. A bargain. And, well, naturally, I suppose, that made me think about the Man in the Flat Cap, and the idea of some kind of Arcane bargain. And then I remembered the letter Madame Marie received some weeks ago from her friend Nagisa.
In that letter, Nagisa said that Madame Marie was nothing like they expected her to be. They also said her reputation was ‘rapidly growing’. Like she’d risen out of obscurity. Like maybe, I don’t know, at some point, Madame Marie was as useless as I was at Arcanism and then all of a sudden wasn’t and it was a bit of a shock.
I’ve heard other people say things like that. That Madame Marie came out of nowhere. She was a nobody and then all of a sudden she was a rising star and making a fortune. But. Whatever happened to that fortune I have no idea because we certainly don’t have it now. Madame Marie moved all of what she had in her bank account into mine shortly before she… before…
And it’s enough to live off for a few months but not much more. We own this house, but it’s crumbling and cold and there is damp rising in the walls. And I just. I don’t understand. If she made so much money, where did it go? And why did she stop making predictions if it was really so lucrative? I don’t know. It’s not really important, I suppose.
The main thing is that some things about Nagisa’s letter and this letter Madame Marie wrote for her deceased grandma, they– they line up in ways that are… strange. To say the least. And the funny thing is that. Well. I don’t know.
I’ve been avoiding this, but I don’t think I can afford to any longer. I think that.
I have decided that I will try, again, to look into the Crystal Ball. I just. I need to see what happens when I do. I know it went so badly last time but I have to know what happens if I try because… because. I don’t know. If this is me, if I can do… things. If Madame Marie was wrong or lying about…. Well. I don’t know what it means except that maybe I can find out what happened to her. And even if I can’t… Even if it doesn’t work and I really don’t have any power and all these things that keep happening around me are just accidents and coincidences – which of course they probably are because when have I ever been able to do anything? But. You know. If the crystal ball was what Madame Marie used to make her predictions and it was part of some kind of… deal? Maybe it can help me understand why. Why she. And. What happened to her.
And remember that the idea here is– that I’ll look at it and we’ll deal with what happens together, you see? That way, I know I’m. I’m at least trying to put these pieces together, if you understand me? Useless as I am I can at least try. I owe her that.
No, I can’t. I can’t do it.
SAM: Hello, Revel, darling. I’m sorry. Did I disturb you with my fussing? I know, I know. Come up, there’s a beautiful boy.
SAM: Look at you, your obsidian majesty. What a glorious beast you are. Goodness me. Let me – ah, the beans! Faithful listeners he has gifted me a brief squish of his beans. Yes, alright. Thank you, Revel. You magnanimous lord.
Okay. Right. Like ripping off a plaster.
[SAM CONTINUES, HIS VOICE DAZED]
Athelyna, in the kitchen. Her hair in a long plait.
Athelyna, who gathered flowers in the meadow and cast circles made of stones.
Athelyna, in the early morning, grey light pouring through the window, half fogged with steam.
[THE WIND FADES, REPLACED BY A STATIC HUM AND A DISTANT TICKING CLOCK]
Athelyna who watched the stars and the birds and plotted the future in their tides and currents.
Athelyna. She’s cold. She should have put on a shawl.
There is a knock at Athelyna’s back door.
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
She looks up from the pot of oatmeal she is tending on the stove, sees the shape of a man, almost obscured in the misted glass.
Lella, the eldest of Athelyna’s daughters, scrapes the legs of a chair as gets up from the table and Athelyna’s grip on the spoon tightens. She cannot see the face of the man outside. But she can feel his gaze.
‘Don’t,’ says Athelyna.
‘But he knocked the door,’ says Lella.
‘Lella. Sit back down, now,’ she says firmly. She glances over at her children, all four of them gathered around the table. ‘Take your sisters into the other room, ‘he says in a low voice.
‘But you said-’ Lella begins.
‘Now!’ Athelyna closes the partition door before opening the one to the back garden.
It’s shadowy outside. She can see the sun on the lawn.
The man wearing his hood, and a thick black coat with gloves.
‘This isn’t a good time.’ She tells him. He draws back his hood. His eyes, shifty, indistinct, like storm clouds. He takes the flat cap off his head and stoops in an imitation of a bow.
‘The children?’ he asks.
‘They’re fine.’ She answers.
The man in the flat cap nods. Athelyna glances over her shoulder.
‘Anything you require?’ he asks, cocking his head to one side as she shifts uncomfortably, her hand still on the door. He doesn’t try to step into the house, his feet remaining rooted to the ground in their heavy leather boots.
‘Nothing.’ She tells him, and then forces a smile.
He smiles back at her. She cannot look at him too long. It makes her shake. She grips the edge of door in order to stay upright.
‘Oh, Athelyna, I assure you my wellbeing is nothing you ought to bother yourself worrying over.’ He tells her smoothly. She looks at his face, with no more to offer him for a few moments than speechless blinks.
‘I don’t.’ She tells him.
He smirks, but draws up his hood again. ‘We’ll see.’ He tells her. She clears her throat. ‘Yes?’ He asks.
‘I was waiting for you, but you shouldn’t have come,’ she tells him. He tilts his head so his face is visible to her again, to show her one of his eyebrows is raised.
‘You needn’t wait. I always come when you seek me, whenever it is that you truly do.’
Athelyna raises her chin, unable to focus. She grips the edge of the door so tightly that her knuckles scream in pain, but she doesn’t let go. ‘Don’t hurt my children,’ she whispers.
‘Hurt them?’ says the man. He runs a weathered hand over his thinning hair. ‘Never.’
Athelyna thinks back to the day the man came the first time. All four of the girls, sweating with sickness. The stink of it oozed from the walls themselves. Athelyna could feel it in her own bones, too. They would all be dead by the end of the week. The whole village would be gone. In the night she heard the wailing of those passing, agonised, between the desperate breaths of her own dying children. Athelyna was too sick, too delirious to remember what the man said to her. Only that he took her hand and she remembered the cool relief of it against her fevered palm. She tried to tell him to go, that he had to leave or he would get sick too.
He told her that wasn’t so. He pulled her to her feet. He said he could save her children, if she would do just this one thing for him.
‘Anything’, she whispered, ‘anything to spare them’.
He took out a flask and told her to drink from it. The liquid inside was warm, slightly thick, oddly oily, and tasted like coins. Athelyna gagged.
‘Drink it all,’ the man urged. Athelyna drank, retching, coughing between gulps, until the flash was empty.
The man laughed.
The pieces of what came next were fragmented. Shards of memory spliced together like a poorly repaired plate. Pain, swirling colours, the sound of a raging storm. The cries of a new born infant. And then.
Quiet so deep Athelyna swore she had died.
And then, birdsong.
She sat up, her children rousing around her, rubbing their eyes. They walked through the village hand in hand. Every other resident was dead.
‘Mama?’ It’s Lella.
Athelyna turns back into the house.
‘Go back into the other room!’ Athelyna hisses. Lella pouts, but disappears behind the other door again. Athelyna turns back to the door step. It’s empty. Of course.
No, not entirely empty.
Athelyna stares at the petals of a rose. They catch on a breeze that is not there in the stiff chill of the morning. They rise and twist, and then, without even a puff of smoke, they are gone.
Athelyna stares at the petals of a rose
Athelyna, who drank what she was given.
Athelyna, who knew there was a price, but did not know what it would be.
Athelyna in the kitchen as the oatmeal burns.
[SAM GASPS AS THOUGH COMING UP FOR AIR]
SAM: Hello, hello, you. Hello, hello. Thank you.
SAM: [CHUCKLES] I know. It’s odd, isn’t it. At least, it is for me. Maybe not you, maybe odd, for… gah. It makes me feel so dizzy. It’s hard to describe the sensation, faithful listeners. It’s like becoming deeply, impossibly engrossed. The edge of a sticker raised on a bottle, begging to be picked at. A very good book, or, no, maybe not one that’s even very good, just so engrossing you have to finish it, even if only to prove to yourself that everything you assumed was right.
It’s like standing at the edge of something very high in the air, with all the urge to jump, and none of the sick depths in your stomach that makes you take a step back.
Things were – or at least they seemed – old. I don’t recognise anyone and the woman, Athelyna. It was as though I became her, saw what she saw, felt what she felt. When she remembered the sickness I shivered. When she recalled the walk through the village I felt the warm press of her daughters’ hands against my palms, fearful as they walked past the festering pits and corpses that lay in the street as though discarded.
It was vivid, it was interesting, but it wasn’t. I don’t know. It didn’t seem useful. Like, why do that? Why show the vivid recollection of some woman I don’t even know, who seemed to live centuries ago? I just don’t understand it.
I just wish– I wish things were easier.
Sometimes I feel like I— oh it’s so silly. I feel like I want to go home, but I’m here. I’m home. I keep expecting this feeling to go away but. It just doesn’t. It doesn’t shift or move or change it just stays there like this creature inside my chest, scratching at the inside of my ribs. I can’t shake it and I’m scared that— I’m scared that it’s a part of me forever, now.
I want to remember, but I can’t. It won’t come. And Anna isn’t speaking to me and I don’t understand why but I get this feeling that it’s because… That she thinks somehow it was me, or because of me, or that. I did this. It’s eating me like moths on a cardigan. I’m so full of holes. I don’t know, faithful listeners. I just want to go home.
I know it makes no sense, faithful listeners. I’m sorry. I’m trying. So many of you have questions and I want to answer them but I. I can’t. And I don’t think that helped did it? No. It didn’t.
Well, faithful listeners. Until next week. Remember to check in on the forums if you’re planning on communing with the Spirit Box services. And with that, I bid you a restful goodnight.
| Content Warnings |
– Background music of varying volumes
– Discussion of loss and death
– Ambient sound effects of varying volume
– Distant dog bargs
– Bird song
– Mentions of mass death
– Descriptions of an intense indeterminate illness, including descripts of the smell and sensation
– A main character dealing with the on-going process of grief
– Implications of murder or wrongful death
– Brief emotional distress
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