THE SPIRIT PAINTER
After the scares at Porthern, where Mark almost lost his life fighting a snake essence, the group of friends had to take time to gather their senses as they remembered recent events.
“I thought I had lost you,” Annette said to her lover and companion Mark.
“When you went into the house, I felt a shiver. Which is why you may have heard my spirit call you.”
“Whatever it was, I am so grateful it happened as I had no idea the snake’s head was there. All those teeth gnashing away and devouring spirits.”
“It was so horrid. All those heads everywhere on its body and all the agony it thrived on, going back over the centuries.”
“Yes. That was its energy, a mix of greed, malice, envy, broken hearts and dreams.”
“But your heart has been broken more times than I wish to think and you have had dreams trashed. So why didn’t it devour you?”
“Probably because, with meditation and your love, I have learned to move on in the last few years.”
“You are certainly a lot calmer, than the Mark I first met. Then you were a bit aggressive and uptight,” Annette recalled.
Mark scratched his chin and said. “I am sorry. In those days I was still angry at the number of people who thought because Mark Johnson was a top photographer, he would do celebrity shoots to keep in the limelight. They totally missed what I am about.”
“Is that why you cut yourself off for a long time and only let Phil have the phone number?”
Phil said “It was a bind at first, having to block all those calls, when I knew he was more than capable of doing the jobs, but I respected his wishes, Annette.”
“I never got to know, how many did you turn away?” Mark asked.
“At the start it was about twenty a week. As time went on and people realised you weren’t doing celebs, it slowed until now it’s down to just three or four.”
“That’s the price I have to pay for being so good at what I do and why I need my space, so I can be my own person. Was there a time during that period, when you felt like saying you could not be my friend and agent and wanted to end things?”
“Never! Not for one minute, Mark; our friendship goes back too far.”
“Mark, do you remember when we first met?” Annette asked.
“Yes. I shall never forget the day you came into my life. It was the case of Parkland Grange. I had just got back from the trip to North Moor and was settling in to the house. Things were still in a mess up there, and I was not quite ready for work. I wanted time to get a few things in order.”
“I thought you had been in the house since the Morton case!”
“No. At that time he rented it for the summer. It was not until a year or two later that he moved in, Annette,” Phil said.
“Yes,” Mark added. “I had to get a feel for the house. To see if I felt happy and comfortable there before committing to it.”
“What drew you here?”Annette asked.
“Lots of things. The coast, the birds, the calmness of spirit I feel here, the lack of hustle and bustle and the feeling that I am at one with my spirit.”
“You never told me about North Moor,” Annette said as she looked, puzzled, towards Mark.
Phil looked worriedly at Mark as he said. “Of all the jobs he undertook, including Porthern, that was the one I was really worried about.”
“On that assignment, he had to tackle one of his biggest demons of all. I know how close he came to simply packing it in that time,” Phil commented.
“What demon is that?”
Before answering, Phil looked at Mark for approval, which he got with a barely perceptible nod. “Going underground is the main one. He is scared of getting caught in a flash flood even more than claustrophobia.
“You said demons?” Annette queried.
“He has a few fears. The other main one is heights,” Phil replied. “We’ve been through all kinds of mess and he has been there, camera at the ready to take them head on, for a great story. No matter what came his way. That day, I saw real terror in his eyes. He has faced awful things and been close to death. This was worse than anything!”
“When you are fighting a demon, you depend on knowledge and a belief in good over evil. How do you fight yourself, when you dig deep for the strength to go on and all you see is your own demons and fears there?” Mark commented.
“That must have been terrible for you.”
“ It was,” Mark said. “That was the only job I almost quit on, but I had to just get on with the job in hand.”
“Was it because you are Mark Johnson, well-known photographer and writer?”
“No, it was because I had to beat my own demons and go ahead. Being well known never caused me a problem.”
Phil laughed as he said, “Isn’t that the truth.”
The two men winked and laughed at their private joke.
Annette almost yelled at them, “Are you going to let me in on the joke?”
“That is a story for another day,” Mark said.
Phil continued. “After North Moor, Mark asked me not to contact him for any reason for about a month. He had to get his spirit back for the work. That job had taken him so close to the edge, he thought he would lose his nerve.”
“Did it take long to get it back?” Annette queried.
“It took me almost a month to get my passion back for the work.”
“And fighting your demon, did you win?”
“No, I don’t think I ever will!”
“Oh love, you know I am here for you.”
“I know and a man can’t ask for greater friends than you two. I can’t thank you enough.”
“After North Moor,” Phil continued, “Mark stayed off photojournalism for the month, content to photograph the cliffs and watch the birds. I knew it had to be his call when to return to work. I did go and see him during that time, and we chatted about all sorts of things. I could tell he was anxious to get back in but I could see he was still shaky. He would sit for hours, in a darkened room, trying all types of things to contain his terror. I’ve gone there and found him locked in mortal combat with himself, trying to beat his fears. Other times he has been so quiet, in deep thought, I thought he had lost the fight and died. I knew what interested his curiosity, what he wanted to do. I had lots of calls for his journalistic skills during the month he was out. Some were really good, but I knew he wasn’t quite ready.”
“When did you think I was ready to go back?” Mark asked.
“The day I went to see you and found you were on the cliff top. Standing with camera in hand, photographing the cove. I saw the old fire back in your eyes.”
“Why did you think Mark would be interested in the Parkland Grange case?” Annette enquired.
“Knowing Mark, as I do, I knew a good mystery would entice him back. That is just what we had: missing children, ghosts and strange sounds. Could have been made for him,” Phil said
“I saw you coming up the road that day and thought, “Oh no! Here is Mark Johnson, well known photographer. He is bound to scorn my work,” Annette said.
Mark replied “I never did, nor would I.”
“That is what intrigued me about you. Even though you were a photographer, you were open to other mediums, no pun. And can see their value.”
“Why shouldn’t I? I use films that detect images beyond human sight, so your spirit paintings are just as valid.”
“I know that now, but our first contact could have been so bad. I always hate saying I paint spirits. The best reaction I get is a case of ‘Oh yes!’ and the usual is a look of, the girl has escaped from the nut house. Yet, here was a well-known, and highly respected photojournalist taking me seriously. I was dumbfounded, to say the least!”
“Now you know me better, you can see I am open to other sources of information and beliefs,” Mark said.
“Yes, Mark Johnson, you turned out to be a real work of art in the nice way. So many beliefs fighting in your mind to gain credence and all the time in tune with a reality check of your own. Not for fame and glamour but for real shots!”
“I have always tried to keep an open mind,” Mark answered.
The men laughed again at a private joke. “If not a closed mouth,” said Phil.
“Ok boys, joke over!” Annette said in a huff. “What did get your attentions at Parkland Grange?”
Mark paused for a minute and then said, “The area had a mysterious history, before the Grange, going back a few hundred years. There had been sounds and disappearances talked of, sightings of strange things. Most people put it down to old folk lore. Many such tales are based in truth or at least spiritual beliefs. I know some can be explained away these days, but science can’t explain everything. There is always a grey area. Where does science end and beliefs begin?”
“Chicken and the egg or the big bang versus the evolution thing,” Phil remarked.
“In a simplistic way, yes, Phil. It doesn’t always come to what you can prove as much as to what to believe in. Which is why natural remedies are coming back.”
“I know you have always held the old ways were best, Mark,” Phil said.
“Natural remedies have worked for ages before all the big chemical firms started to fill us with Lord knows what. Most of the old style medicine was natural and came from the earth, therefore was good for us. That was why I didn’t scorn your paintings, as I know there are powers and forces beyond our control. Things that can’t just be explained away. I was interested in your paintings as a way of showing me what I felt at the sites.”
Annette smiled as she said, “The way you talked to me so softly, yet commanding was reassuring to hear. Even though we had never met before and might not again. At the time I knew I felt safe with you.”
Mark thought for a second or two before he spoke. “Not knowing what had happened, I went to the Grange with a totally open mind. I didn’t want be guided by anything, other than my own feelings and the spirits I saw and felt. The trouble with knowing too much beforehand is you tend to look for things, rather than let them find you. That way you can get misguided or blinded by the interpretation of others. All I knew as I entered the derelict building was that some children had gone missing many years ago and there were strange sightings and sounds that nobody could explain. Other than that I did not wish to know. As I walked around I could feel the weirdness in the atmosphere. There was an almost palpable odour of marshes and salt, yet we were many miles inland. I had no explanation for that then, nor now, as the nearest marshes were coastal. From the examination of the area, it was easy to see the old mine shafts, but the disappearances occurred nowhere near them. They were mainly indoors, with witnesses talking of a thin veil of white glowing around the children. I could not feel anything inside nor outside, so I went to find you.”
Annette continued the story “As you came out, I was painting, or rather I should say I’m a vessel for the spirits to show themselves to me. The scene was of a thin cloud much like fine silks softly glowing, floating in the breeze, only touching the squire’s children. The children had become enveloped by the cloud and were hidden from sight. Nobody knew what happened to them after that. At that point, I realised what was happening. The veil was acting like a mother’s shawl and shielding them from the wickedness in the house that was to arrive days later.
As Annette took a breath, Phil asked “What happened to cause this?”
After recovering her breath, Annette continued. “The arrival of a group of travelling actors was welcomed at first. They entertained everyone with wonderful tricks and the stories they told of places the family had never heard of before held everyone in awe, until one night the mistress of the house went to her room and found a silver necklace had been stolen although in a second-floor room, behind locked doors and locked windows. Nobody knew what had happened, but it was obviously the travellers. The only window open was a small window a child might get through but not a man. The family remembered that one of the group was a small man, said to be from the Andeman Islands.”
Mark took the story back again,“On hearing this, the rest fell into place. The islands had just had a revolt, and many sailors had died trying to land and rescue others. It was mainly used as a prison and the inmates were so badly treated by guards they were totally inhuman and had no feelings.
“The old squire used to be one of the main ship owners, and his ships were always sending men there even for small crimes. Many of these men lost all sense of feeling other than the desire for revenge, which fanned the hate and contempt for the squire. It was no surprise when the revolt occurred, and the squire’s long boat just got out in time to save them from the prisoners, many of whom joined together in the troupe.
“Over the years, the troupe tracked down the squire, plotting their revenge, until they came across his name on the shipping manifest again. By using money stolen while on the move, they had paid for information to locate the squire. Once they had found him, their plan was set in motion for true revenge.
“They had to attack him and the other men in the group. The fight was totally ruthless and did not end until all the squire’s men were dead. Most were so brutalised, they were unrecognisable. That’s why their spirits were calling out and why I could feel nothing inside.
“Everything happened away from the house. The shawl was protecting the children. They were so afraid the travellers would return, they blocked the incident out of their minds and never mentioned it again, as if by not mentioning it they were denying its existence. All they did was bury it deeper. The cries and noises are the battles fought, the lost souls trying to find homes. As for the lights I have no idea, other than lamps of the men chasing the travellers.” Mark sat down as he concluded his story.
Phil stood in awe, then said to Annette “What of the children, though?”
“All we can hope is they are in a far better place now,” Annette replied. “I think we shall have to have a chat about North Moor sometime, Mark, love. It is obviously worrying you a lot.”