Hell truly hath no fury as a sorceress scorned. Jack Furness learned a lesson; she cursed the man. One of the elect, she knew how the world works, all made from words. She knew she could change the world and Jack through words and letters: that was her sorcery. Jack knew too, the knowledge was too late to help. Lysa Mornyng took from Jack a vowel that formerly he would use as proxy for a name, a vowel that was also a word used to tell people how he felt. No more. The vowel she had taken meant that Jack no longer even spelled her name correctly. Lysa wanted to humble Jack. The love between them had been crushed, Jack had been untrue. All had been self, self, self. No more. The curse was made and cast to destroy Jack's ego. He could no more speak the vowel as word or thought unless Lysa should relent. Caught unawares, Jack's lost vowel changed how he could be, even down to thought processes. As Lysa had planned, removal of the vowel had taken so many words to express the present, and left Jack's focus on the past and future tenses. He dared not play scrabble. Jack was resolute, no surrender: he would not beg.
The job was theft, an artefact of huge value, the statue of the pagan god Los, evoked by the poet Blake, now owned by the feared gangster, Anton Dalloway. Securely stored at Dalloway's Earl's Court townhouse, the object was protected by defences both normal and supernatural. Lysa had made the wards and summoned guards potent, she was thus employed, and she wanted to thwart Jack, as he had thwarted her heart. Jack was ready. He had help. A wad of cash to Dalloway's feckless chef, drunk down the local, gave Jack all he needed, and the news that Lysa Mornyng had programmed the paranormal wards and alarms.
The courtyard dogs followed the raw steaks cast over the wall by Jack. He sneaked past, turned the skeleton key of angel bone through the lock. The hall was dark, the atmosphere close, Jack could smell decay. He focussed, knew the ward from old; the scent grew to a reek, acted on the nerves, he felt he should run; he knew the spell, he knew Lysa was probably the caster. The fear pervaded Jack, he countered the fear through focus: a photograph of a toy, a boy's pedal car from Xmas past, a gentle day, a wonderful day and the focus got Jack through.
Jack walked through a hall of many doors, too many doors. Unreal doors, he felt along the walls, hands touched the wall, felt the rough of real wood, compared to the spell-doors made of thoughts and untruths. He could tell, because he knew Lysa, how she worked, the spells she made, but could not overcome her curse. He opened the one real door and heard her laughter, soft tones: 'You'll love what's next.'
They fumbled and lurched at Jack, undead ghouls, full of fury and raw muscle, no thoughts. Blank canvasses that hated and fought. Jack was ready, he'd encountered these sorts before. He ducked as they grasped, then pushed the one at the other. The ghouls as ever, reached out and tussled whatever was there, fell to battle each other as they were closest. Jack took advantage and ran onwards, through to the next room. He stopped at the door. The wards were strong, but he had prepared.
Jack walked forward through the door and he also stayed on the spot. He'd unleashed a decoy, a doppelganger made of a cut of flesh, a drop of blood, a lungful of breath. Off the decoy went, the face of Jack, the body and breath of Jack.
Lysa's most potent guard lurked at the back of the room, fully concealed there, as black as shadows. The worst of dreams made corporeal. A face, masked. A top hat. Eyes deep. A blade, ready. Jack rushed, but would never forget the sounds. Jack's copy torn apart. As Jack snatched the statue from the platform, the hungry monster ate the decoy soul. Turned, the bad dream made flesh laughed, stared full on at Jack, the real Jack. The dream made real spoke: "We let you walk out free for now, the day shall come to take you, hear my vow." The dream would never forget, Jack knew. He was marked, a worse fate by far than Lysa's curse. Now he was wealthy from the haul, the statue's buyer's fee was generous.
Lisa Morning examines in detail the nightmare's leavings. In ritual, Lisa stirs the fragments of Jack, his breath, his blood, his flesh, used in his magic, the decoy which distracted the nightmare so Jack could take the statue. Insidious, Linda uses them to find him. She could use them for more. Her revenge is incomplete. She smiles as she thinks up a new nightmare just for him.
Double-cursed, Jack sought an end to the troubles, and for now sought sanctuary, and lay low down Oxford way, to regroup. Lysa's curse could be overcome, should she relent or should he meet the true love, to understand what Lysa had felt for Jack, what they had both lost.
Although mortal danger loomed as a cloud over Jack, the mundane could not be neglected, he had clothes to wash. Jack ended up at the laundrette on Cowley Road. Autumn cold, the door left open, leaflets around the grubby welcome mat. The room was dark and cold, the sky deep blue. There were only two other laundrette customers.
The closest was a man, lank greasy mop half covered the face, several torn Tesco bags held the clothes and sheets. Clothes cleaner than the man. The other was a woman, about 30 years old. Jack's type, but Jack knew he was trouble, matters were complex enough already and no need for female entanglements.
Jack fumbled for spare change for the washers but lacked the exact currency. Homespun tasks were not Jack's strength. There was a note on the change box: out of order. He needed change. The man's eyes were glazed, he was not all there, but he could operate the washers better than Jack. Embarrassed, Jack approached the woman. Even though she was only at the laundrette she wore elegant make up.
"Do you have change of a pound?" Jack asked. "The change box's broken and, well… no change." Smooth, that's Jack. She laughed. She reached down to her leather handbag and rummaged. Jack thought he knew her face, but could not place where from. Not love, he hoped. She produced a purse, and passed Jack the exact money.
"Here," she spoke.
"Thanks" he shrugged, "sorry." He wanted to say more, but there was so much he could not say. So many words, concepts even, lost. He paused, and stood before her, a fool. The rumble and swash of washers. Jack fed the money down the slot, jackpot: a tub of blue powder. Jack used the washer next to hers, eyes strayed to her once more. The washers rattled. Unperturbed, she read W B Yeats, collected. Her soaked coat was folded and umbrella propped up on the bench. The only jewellery she wore was a small ankh necklace. The words came out, Jack wasn't sure from where, he asked:
"Do you want to get out of here? Coffee?" She looked up from her book. Jack reddened; too forward.
She closed the book, gave Jack a pleasant look.
"I'm not sure I should accept a drink from the type of man who hits on strangers in laundrettes." She looked over at the washers as they rumbled and juddered. "Okay", she agreed, "but for being so forward, you're buying." She drew on her soggy coat, and they walked through the gloom, the glazed over man left alone.
The room is dimly lit and there is a pervasive sour incense. Wisps of green smoke curl around her as she lies in the circle, still raw and new, despite her apparent age. The men watch, Lisa's client, Antoine Dalloway and his cronies, as her eyes opened for the first time, once more. The nightmare in the mask whispers something to the criminal mastermind. The mastermind nods and grimaces, as close as he had come to a smile since the statue had been taken. But then, even his malice has limits and he thinks twice, but does not think better. Let the evil commence.
There were no coffee shops open, so they walked across the road to The Four Keys, a dark faded pub. A small crowd of smokers puffed away throughout the grubby alleyway between the pub and 'Lee's AbraKebabra Take Away'. They made small talk on the way, as would old comrades. They exchanged names, she was Sophy. Sophy was exhausted after her dull work day and doubted whether the pub, would serve coffee, or any beverage alcohol-free. Jack knew they would, the pub was a haunt, he read a book here when the house was just too lonely, when the walls crowded around close. Jack felt too comfortable with Sophy, felt he should not drag her down through the troubles he owned.
They sat down at a dark oak table, a number 3 bolted on the surface.
"So, Jack," she asked, and shrugged off the coat, draped the garment over her stool, "what do you do?"
"Sell old valuables", not a complete untruth. Jack couldn't very well say 'dealer of artefacts used for sorcery.'
"And you wash your clothes in a laundrette? You wouldn't catch Lovejoy doing that, or that orange cheap as chips man."
"My own washer's broken. Too busy to mend, travel around a lot, me."
Sophy cooled her coffee down, blew on the surface. Jack put the mug down on the table heavy, too nervous to play cool, he cared too much about what she thought to be cool. They kept eye contact. Jack couldn't read her; normally he could, easy.
"So what do you do?" Jack changed the subject.
Sophy put her coffee down, looked carefully at Jack. "I'd like to say I'm a writer, but it's the travel agent job that pays the bills."
"An author. You make notes on me?" Jack asked, then took another gulp of latte.
"Maybe I just want to see how this plot is going to develop." They talked, fenced back and forth for an hour. Jack caught a glance, the glass over the bar, a black-clad man top hat, brolly, a mask? Jack shuddered.
What spooked Jack was he saw a man reflected, but no caster. Danger.
Jack and Sophy walked back to the laundrette, and the words flowed, they were so comfortable for each other. Lysa had not, after all, taken the word love from Jack.
The laundrette was colder than ever, the stoned man there, he rocked and stared, and mumbled. The man's plastic bags lay empty on the floor, the clothes swooshed through the washers.
Sophy stopped and stood, shocked.
"What's wrong?" Jack asked.
"It's all gone," she mumbled, stared at the washers where her clothes had been. The doors were open. The doors, and the floor area around were oddly dry.
"Someone's nicked my clothes." Her shoulders slumped. "Who would even do that?"
Jack looked over at the man who mumbled over at the corner.
"Mate," Jack spoke, leaned down close, so close he could smell alcohol and sweat. "Someone's taken her stuff. You see anyone?" All of a sudden the man's eyes cleared and focussed on Jack.
"Jus' you and me here all night," he slurred. "And you've been talking to yourself, you're fucking crazy."
Jack looked back at Sophy, her slender form. The other man's eyes glazed, and he muttered a swear word.
Sophy stood, looked at the floor. "I'm sorry, I don't even know you. I'd better go."
"Don't worry about that now," Jack spoke. "Anyone would be upset. Call you a cab. We'll
report the theft to the laundrette, they've got CCTV."
Her doleful face hardened to resolve.
"I don't want to go back to an empty flat again. Come with me." She extended a hand. He knew how lonely felt.
Jack suspected a trap. Even so, he had to help a damsel.
"Okay," Jack took her warm hand. The greasy man lolled back and laughed. Sophy's face warmed, as they clasped hands together.
"Thanks", she, probed Jack's eyes.
Jack called a cab. Sophy drew close to Jack for comfort.
The man wearing the blank white mask and dark suit is the first sight the new she remembers, so the first emotion she knows is fear. He and the others gather around her, stand her up, blindfold her and turn her around until she is dizzy. They feed her with words and with new feelings and then she is alone, with memories and a life that do not quite feel true. Above all, she feels the need to not be alone, for she knows the masked man will come for her one day. But in the back of her mind too, there is a hate, and there is a part of her that is made from Jack's soul and a part of her that is made from Lysa's. She knows what she is for: hurt Jack Furness. Lead the nightmare to him. Let it finished what it started the day they met.
The cab took them past dealers, past burned out cars, burned out people, repossessed houses, and a street car-crowded, but deserted of people. They stopped out front of a grey stone house, two floors tall. She kept hold of Jack's hand.
"I'm in the upstairs flat," she reached for her keys. There was unopened post on the floor and leaflets for takeaways. The walls were faded yellow. The carpets were worn, brown, the flat felt unhomely. Not where Jack thought of a warm soul such as Sophy would be.
She showed Jack a well-stocked larder. She was a good host. "Thank you for coming," she spoke earnestly, let go of Jack's hand. "Can I fix you a drink?" Her eyes betrayed her, she needed Jack to stay. The offer was not just formal. Jack felt drawn to her. They drew together, two lost people who needed someone. Suddenly, she pulled away. Unreadable. A wall. Snap.
"What's wrong?" Jack asked. She backed away.
"I can't do this," she shook her head, held on to the doorway. "It's too real."
"Real? Of course, what do you mean?"
"No, you wouldn't. What we feel may be real, but I'm not." Completely earnest.
"What do you mean?"
"We're more alike than you think,"
Jack looked over at the doorway. "Better go?"
There was a knock at the door.
"Not like you might think." She looked down. "I was made for you. I was made to bring you here."
A second knock at the door.
"Who are you?" Jack asked.
"Better to ask what I am. You left a part of your soul behind when you stole the statue. Lisa Morning added in some of her own to use me against you. On the third knock the nightmare will break down the door. I know who you are and you won't have a chance. It met you once. It took part of your soul. It wants the rest." She hugged Jack, and they held each other for one moment. She drew away.
"I can't hold them for long. You need to run. The junkie in the laundrette was right. I'm not real. They knew I would be drawn to you, as part of me is part of you."
The last knock.
"We'll face the bad dream together."
"No. They made me too well. I love you," she pushed Jack through to the bathroom. "Climb out, I'll buy you time."
"He'll hurt you."
"I'll be released. It's not a question: go." Lysa, she was Lysa, the good parts of Lysa, the Lysa he had loved. The Lysa that had loved Jack. The woman went to get the door without looking back. Through the frosted glass Jack saw a glimpse: man in a black suit, umbrella. He accepted the sacrifice, but not gladly. And he was free, and it hurt more than he had imagined possible, his heart broke in that moment. As he climbed down cold stone he heard sounds that would stay forever, and the feeling he had lost something more than he could ever regain, even as he felt Lisa's curse lift, she had hurt him more than he had thought possible. "I… I..." he said, but there were no more words.