TRILBY AND THE
are two things the Ministry of Occultism prize
most highly in their agents. Firstly, the ability
to face off against the kinds of ungodly things
they have to deal with on a daily basis without
getting paralysed by disbelieving horror, and
secondly, discretion. The experiences of 7 years
in cat burglary made me extremely well-equipped
with the latter, and the experience of 5 days in
a Buckinghamshire manor house took care of the
former. Small wonder, then, that they were
borrowing me virtually every other weekend.
Ministry was an eternally short-staffed
operation. The government couldnt hire more
than a handful of specialists without making it
increasingly difficult to pretend that the MoO
didnt exist, and the senior staff had the
highest stress level and employee turnover of any
government ministry. They tended to rely on the
STP for most of their dirty work.
first stage of government exorcism is a subtle
preliminary probe to ensure genuine occult
activity, carried out by a junior investigator.
Ive never met any of these people in person
with the exception of one Andrew
AJ Jarvis, but that was before I took
this job, and there hadnt been a lot of
time to chat but Id read enough of
their field reports to know that they
werent people Id like to get trapped
in a conversation with at a dull party. When
occult activity is confirmed, thats where
Im brought in, or someone like me.
Experienced occult researchers to scout out the
situation, attempt reason if its
intelligent, exorcise or eliminate if it
this occasion Id been called in after
confirmed reports of unquiet spirits in the
remains of a burnt-down council estate in
Birmingham. The lower income neighbourhoods of
the city, obviously. The entire place had burnt
to the ground because it was the kind of place
where the kids have to get their entertainment
from setting fire to next doors cat. Twelve
dead, thirty-four injured. Crying shame.
Especially for me, since one of the victims had
decided to hang around.
decided to avoid the locals, aware that a
government-issue car and a neatly-pressed
three-piece suit would rub them up the wrong way.
I arrived at a carefully-chosen hour of darkness,
parked my car as far from the reach of hubcap
thieves and graffiti artists as I could be
bothered to walk, and made my way to the ruins.
was never more aware of my drastic career change
than at that point, as I snuck through the
charred remains of a pokey inner city slum. I,
who had once made a living separating the
overprivileged from their vulgar jewelled
trappings. Surrounded now by the sad remnants of
cheap mismatched furniture and inexpensive baby
cots, the comfort and security I usually felt in
darkness was marred by grim introspection.
felt a warmth emanating from my inside blazer
pocket, and dug out my issued nugget of Magenta,
the mystical purple-pink rock that heated up in
the presence of magic. It was beginning to glow
dully. I wasnt far away.
are hybrids. That is, a soul from a Scientific
Realm creature infused with magic leaking through
from the Ethereal Realm. Hybrids are everywhere.
Im led to understand that something like
twenty percent of all human beings alive today
have hybrid souls. Most of them never manifest
magic; it takes a hugely traumatic event to bring
out any sort of magical mutation like vampirism
or lycanthropy, especially in such a
magic-resistant atmosphere as the Scientific
held the Magenta out in front of me, using it as
a guide towards the magic-trailing ghost. It led
me up a creaking set of stairs to what I presumed
was a bedroom. A blackened network of springs was
all that remained of a mattress. I just about
recognised some posters representing Japanese
cartoon characters, and the melted shell of a
Magenta would have scalded me if it werent
for my glove. This was it. The ghost was tied to
this room. The next step was to provoke a
manifestation, which was always the difficult
far as I understand it, when you die, your three
aspects body, mind, and soul split
apart and drift off from each other. Ghosts occur
when a hybridised human soul dies but cant
let go of something. Your soul is little more
than your consciousness, but its also a
storage unit. It stores the memories that are
closest to you, the ones that shaped your
personality, the ones that make you... well, you.
Science has never been able to figure out the
exact details of how all this works, but I did
know from experience that some kind of emotional
trigger was the best way to provoke a lost soul.
the trouble with emotional triggers is that they
vary from person to person. Theres no ward
or magic circle that can do this personal
attachment is the only way.
always loved you, I said aloud. It was an
old trick, and only worked in about two out of
ten cases, but worth a try.
response. I puffed out my cheeks and glanced
around. From the evidence this was the bedroom of
a teenager. That made things a little easier, as
hormonal as they were.
sifted through the wreckage of shelves and
wardrobes, looking for something that might
indicate towards an interest or hobby. I found
spines from paperback books, with what looked
like exaggerated Japanese characters on them,
DVD cases? No
video game boxes.
and video games are for babies, I said,
filling my voice with scorn. God, people
who cant grow up past that stuff make me
sick. I slapped the melted flatscreen
monitor off the desk and shoved my foot into the
computer case. You should get a life and
read a real book, you fat prick.
spun around. The ghost was quite freshly-killed,
judging by the way he was still holding onto his
residual self-image. The blurry grey outline of a
short, dumpy young man hung sulkily in the corner
of the room. Despite myself, I was impressed. It
took a ghost with astonishing levels of control
to manifest so clearly, and to be actually heard
speaking in a clear, articulate voice
realised with weary certainty that the Ministry
were going to want this encounter documented.
your name? I asked.
came the reply. Who are you?
crouched to bring myself to his level. The
important thing was to keep the ghosts
scrappy remnants of consciousness focussed long
enough to make the necessary enquiries.
Dont give in to temptation to answer
questions; keep asking questions of your own,
keep them thinking. What are you doing
me alone, whimpered the high-pitched voice.
you really think I would hurt you?
was certainly one of the more coherent spirits
Id reasoned with. Most conversations with
ghosts rarely proceed beyond tortured wails. Even
one operating on the social level of a child was
a historic discovery. I tried the authoritarian
approach. Isnt there somewhere
youre supposed to be, now?
dont want to go.
you go when youre dead.
jaw dropped stupidly. How are you aware
that youre dead?
just guessed. I am, arent I?
the subject aware that they are dead is one of
the major and most difficult steps in an
exorcism. Once that has been achieved, a ghost
will either immediately pass on to other realms,
or become angry and hostile, which would mean
performing a banishment ritual. Established
procedure was now useless. I was in unknown
territory, uncomfortably aware that everything I
did from then on set a new precedent. Why
dont you want to pass on?
said the ghost, emotion sticking in its imaginary
throat. I cant go without telling her
I love her.
what fiction might have you believe, love is one
of the least common causes of a confused ghost
remaining tied to the land of the living. Number
one is workaholism. Who is Nariko?
girlfriend. In Japan. We used to talk on MSN
every night. Shes going to be
sighed in irritation. You and Nariko
cant have any kind of reasonable
relationship now. You have to let the poor girl
get over you. Hanging on is just unfair on
cursed myself for not bringing a camera, because
the ghosts face was manifesting clearly
enough to recognise a crestfallen look in its
features. I know youre probably
right. I keep telling myself that. But
theres so much Ive never had a chance
to do. I wasted my whole life. I never even
kissed a girl. Why are you checking your
reason, I said quickly, stuffing my hand in
OK if you want to leave. Im used to being
alone. Its spectral limbs drew up around
itself in a mid-air foetal position, and it
turned its back to me.
sigh escaped my lips before I could stop it. The
Ministry wouldnt let me hear the end of
this until the hybrid had passed on, safe from
prying civilian eyes. You really cant
stay. You dont belong here.
ghost looked back at me with something
approaching hope. Would you take me with
tied to this location. The only places you can go
are here or the afterlife.
just stay here then, it said, curling up
on, hang on, I blustered.
Theres one possibility. Was there any
particular possession you spent a particularly
large amount of time around?
was a thoughtful pause.
occupied the office across from mine at the STP
headquarters. She was a bespectacled woman in her
thirties, appearance-wise the sort of person you
can expect to see duplicated manyfold in
absolutely any office environment, organising
morning teas and putting cat figurines on her
monitor. She was also very, very psychic,
specialising in remote viewing, but that
wasnt important. Hi, Trilby,
she said, poking her head around my door.
You wanted to see m
what happened to
was leaning back in my office chair, thoughtfully
tapping a pencil against my desk. Its
not mine, I took it from a burnt-out building.
This is Greg.
shit. I mean, hello. Sorry, you caught me off
never seen a ghost with such a powerful
manifestation. You must be really potent."
grey cheeks became flushed with greyish-purple.
rolled my eyes. Claire was good with people. Of
course she was; she could read minds. I
need a favour, I said. Could you kiss
glanced between the two of us a few times.
Are you serious?
face reached maximum spectral reddening.
Its okay if you dont want
shut up, I interjected. He died
without knowing what a kiss is like so Im
of the opinion that getting someone to kiss him
might make him capable of leaving this plane of
looked him up and down, nonplussed. How am
I supposed to do that? Hes non-corporeal.
really dont want to put anyone
I hissed, silencing him. I had an idea.
Youre telepathic, right?
bit, yes, said Claire.
you transmit the idea, or the sensation, of being
kissed directly to his soul? Something from your
worth a try, she conceded. You want
me to do it right now?
tapped her chin, umming and erring like a person
called upon to tell a joke in a social gathering,
trying to call one to memory. Okay, got
one. Hold still, okay Greg?
research is kind of an oxymoron. Its futile
to try and approach magic with a scientific
mindset. Magic and science are incompatible; I
gather thats partly why our universe
separated into the two realms. The moment you try
to measure any magical event scientifically the
magic changes, or disappears, or refuses to work.
Any measuring device would have shown that there
was absolutely nothing happening between Claire
and Greg, not in physics, chemistry or biology.
And yet, an expression of slightly bewildered
tranquillity formed on his transparent face.
was that? I asked, as the two of them
separated, feeling like some kind of disgruntled
father interrupting a teenage make-out.
Feel any better?
I kind of feel even more depressed, said
threw up my hands. What did you give
some feelings of my first boyfriend
searched my memories. The one who
She snapped her fingers. You know what?
That was probably a mistake.
I can just go back to my house
dont you want to pass on to the next world,
Greg? asked Claire tenderly.
Its probably nice.
was becoming noticeably more relaxed around
Claire, which made sense, considering that
theyd been occupying each others
minds a second ago. Its scary,
yknow, given a choice between what
youre familiar with and something
and then theres
turned to me. Hes articulate for a
ghost, isnt he? Has Yarrow seen him?
was the Ministrys head researcher. I
avoided him because I found his breathless
enthusiasm embarrassing. Ive got a
couple of meetings, I said, making motions
towards the door. Can you stay here and
I have to -
obliged. I left.
STPs IT department had come through and
been able to extract Narikos MSN details
from Gregs half-destroyed hard drive. A few
phone calls later and I found myself that
afternoon in the IT departments office, the
receiver of their phone pressed coldly to my ear,
expressionlessly out-staring a poster of Judge
youre not actually Japanese, I
said Nariko, in a southern American drawl.
Reckon I can be anyone I want on the
internet, aint no law against that.
headache was blossoming nicely in the front of my
brain. I pinched the bridge of my nose. And
youre not female, either.
was just a game at first but then I found I was
really looking forward to our chats and I
couldnt think of a way to break it to him.
Im real sorry to hear that he died, I
didnt mean him no harm.
well, I wouldnt worry, Nariko.
I sighed. Its not your life that just
became five hundred times more complicated.
stopped on my way back at the coffee machine to
get myself a cup of the wretched brown
nothingness that called itself a cappuccino, then
took it with me into a broom cupboard and shut
the door. I found it easier to think in total
had no intention of breaking this to Greg. I
doubted that learning that his one true love was
a burly abattoir worker from Louisiana would give
him the satisfactory conclusion he needed for his
life that was what negotiating with ghosts
was all about, satisfactory conclusions
and would probably make him all the more
determined to hang around wallowing in self-pity.
I suspected that even had Nariko been a socially
awkward lingerie model that it wouldnt have
been enough to convince Greg to move on. He
struck me as the kind of person who relished
their own misery. Id known people like that
at school, pale, glum types with greasy dyed
fringes getting taped into bins by bigger boys
and secretly loving the attention. Becoming a
tortured lost soul was probably pretty high up in
their top ten ideal career plans.
what now? Following the Nariko thread was
fruitless. I very much doubted that Greg would
willingly step into a banishment circle. There
was a temptation to kick it upstairs, but I had
that troublesome reputation for decisiveness to
maintain. I tapped my index finger against the
coffee cup, thinking.
I returned to my office about an hour later,
Claire was still there. I recognised the
exhausted, emotionally troubled look of an
overexerted psychic. Greg was still hanging
tried kissing, cuddling, sex, moving in together,
and that one time I went tandem skydiving,
she said in a monotone. I dont think
this is the answer.
really sorry, muttered Greg, although he
seemed in a better mood. I guess its
going to have to be Nariko after all
tracking down Nariko may take some time, I
said. You understand that, as a paranormal
entity, national security mandates that you
cannot leave the STP facility?
think you mentioned that
been talking to my superiors and some of the
Ministry research team, I continued,
perching next to the ruined computer.
Theyre all in agreement that
youre a fascinating specimen.
not a dissected frog, Trilby, hes still a
human soul, said Claire.
But in the meantime, while we follow up on
Nariko, we were wondering if youd consider
doing your government a service.
What kind of service?
it consultancy. There are a lot of areas in the
field of paranormal research where having someone
position would be useful.
Youre the most potent manifestation in
history. You could teach us more about death and
magic than weve ever been able to
little ghostly ego was visible inflating.
Could I really?
a great career opportunity, said Claire
encouragingly. Actually, youre
probably not so bothered about that.
this is what I needed, said Greg mostly to
himself, excitement rising. To be useful,
to have a purpose, to be totally unique for the
first time in my li
got a special chamber set up for you, I
said, gathering the bits of computer in my arms.
Facilities for a non-corporeal resident.
he repeated, following me down the corridor.
Ive never been special before. I
I could really make a difference,
are special, pressed Claire, who was
kicked open the door to the prepared chamber and
gently set down the equipment just inside.
Ill let you get settled in, but
well have to talk more about the fine
Greg seemed a lot more alive. He looked me in the
eye, and I fanced I saw emotion welling.
nodded shallowly, as between equals.
drifted through the doorway, then stopped.
Hang on, this is a broom cupboa -
slammed the door behind him. As it closed, the
runes I had carved into the underside completed a
banishment circle I had spent the last hour
drawing on the floor. The door juddered beneath
my weight and light burst out from the gap
underneath as I yelled binding chants at the top
of my voice, almost drowned out by the roar of
ghostly wind. Finally, a magical cough, a final
explosion of pink light, and a release of pungent
smoke from under the door signalled Gregs
departure from this mortal coil.
was glaring at me. Youre a devious
bastard, arent you.
shrugged. Thats why they hired
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