Those That Passed Before
‘I can’t go out in this batman shirt’
‘You’ll be fine, Abe’, sniggered Phil, ‘you never know, there could be a fancy dress party’
I hadn’t even intended to go out that night. The guys at the studio persuaded me that it would just be the one drink in a quiet little bar round the corner they knew of . It was noisy and packed with christmas parties. I got the first round in, thinking that I could make a quick toast, then an equally sneaky exit at the first opportunity. All my instincts were telling me I’d made a big mistake coming out with that rowdy lot and yet, why hadn’t I just made up an excuse. That would have been the sensible thing to do.
‘Just like to say thanks to you all for another amazing year and er, oh yes, don’t get bladdered tonight, because we’ve got a big day tomorrow’ to groans all round and clinking of glasses.
That’s when I saw it, over the other side of the bar. What was that glow? Surely not. I had to get nearer. Yes, there could be no doubt about it. I had never seen such a bright glow from someone before. but that glow was distinctive, and recognisable. Then I realised it was in fact a mixture of two glows and, yes, I was sure of it, as I drew closer, one of them was unmistakably Isssa’s. I knew it, even though it had been years since I had seen Issa, or her glow. Orange and brown like the ripples from a raindrop glistening in the setting sun. The significance of this moment was staggering. How many generations had Issa’s spirit been waiting for this moment? But whoever she was, this girl, was she aware that she even hosted a spirit at all. As I pushed my way closer, through the crowded bar, I could see who the glow emanated from. She looked lovely, slim, maybe late twenties, intelligent-looking and laughing with a group of friends, an office party maybe. As she laughed, the glow became even brighter. It never ceased to amaze me that most people can’t see the glow of special people. I was trying not to stare. I just had to talk to her somehow, without looking creepy. What on earth could I say to her? I felt an enormous responsibility and obligation to uphold my promise to Abu and Issa, but I might only get this one chance and it could go horribly wrong. Then I may never get another chance.
Right from the beginning, our rather bizarre first meeting, he seemed to just stand there, gawping at me, this guy, who seemed too embarrassed to blurt out an opening line. I was at a christmas office party in a cramped bar and I glimpsed him out of the corner of my eye. Surely he wasn’t staring at me. Oh God, what on earth was he wearing? Well he was certainly staring at someone and he looked absurdly out of place. I had a feeling this could get embarrassing.
One of the managers cracked a joke about something or other and we all burst out laughing. It wasn't that funny, but I suppose the two rounds of drinks helped. Julie, my best friend was nudging me and whispering,
‘That guy’s really staring at you. Who is he?’ jabbing her thumb in his direction.
‘No idea’. but as I looked up he was standing right next to me and seemed to be struggling to know what to say. ‘Um, can I help you at all?’ I asked rather stiffly. The whole situation was becoming a bit awkward and he was attracting attention from the rest of the group.After an uncomfortable pause, he stumbled out with, ‘Er look, I … I know you don’t know me or anything, but I, um, it’s really important that I talk to you. Er …. in private.’ Obviously not a well practiced line.
I could hear various derisory comments from the lads in the group who heard what he had said and Julie was trying to tug me away from him. It sounded like a really lame chat-up line in order to get me alone, but there was something about him that made me want to trust him, something vulnerable, or was it more than that? Yes, there was something else, something I just couldn’t work out that was urging me to find out more.
‘Look, I’m with friends now’, I finally uttered as quietly as was audible above the din, ‘so write down your number, then you can tell me what’s so important’. I didn’t mean it to sound sarcastic, but I knew how much teasing I’d have to take if I hadn’t been seen to put down or suppress this rather intense guy who was so intent on talking to me. He pulled out a business card which looked tiny in his huge hand.
‘Oh good, thank you so much’, he smiled for the first time, ‘please don’t forget. It’s really important’. His smile seemed to radiate from him across the whole room somehow. How could anyone do that with just a smile? It took me quite by surprise and by the time I’d read his name he had vanished into the crowd. Apart from his awkwardness he was actually rather handsome with chiseled features soft wavy hair and that ridiculous shirt scarcely hid his athletic body. There was an appealing naivety about him too.
Julie tried to grab the card, a bit envious, maybe, then read it out loud,
‘Oh, it’s Abe, eh?’ teased Julie, ‘are you going to call him?’
‘Probably looking for Robin’ one of the lads called out.
When I got home, I realised I was annoyed with myself for not being able to stop thinking about Abe and his glowing smile. Was he just a hammy chat-up merchant? What could possibly be so important? Well, I put off the temptation to call him until the next afternoon, not wanting to appear too eager, however intrigued I was.
Hmm … Abe Watson
Denham Recording Studios
Oh, Surely it had nothing to do with that song-writing contest I had entered all those years ago. My guess was that he was some kind of sales rep for that company, or did recording studios even use sales reps. There was no doubt about it, I was definitely intrigued. Nothing strange like that ever happened to me. I mean, yes of course I was looking forward to spending time off with the family and all, as usual, but this would be a bittersweet Christmas. The company had been struggling for a while, apparently and then we were all told that this would be our last week. So the previous night had been the last office party and next Friday would be my last day of employment. It certainly felt strange after all those years, getting to know the ropes, and the people, the boss’s likes and dislikes - all for nothing in the end. After the following Friday none of that would matter any more. We were all in the same boat, we had dedicated our working lives to that company for years. It made you reassess your priorities and your perspective on life.
Come to think of it, it must have been the Christmas party maybe seven years ago now when I met Bob, from the finance department. He seemed well lubricated even at the beginning. I wish I’d taken that as a warning. He was completely different when he was sober, even timid. After a few drinks he became boisterous. I blamed his mates, they seemed to cajole him to drink more, they knew they could make fun of him when he was drunk. I tried talking to Bob about it, but he became quite defensive, he felt that I was trying to run his life. We weren’t suited, I should have realised earlier. I prefer stronger guys who can take the lead, someone who feels a purpose and wants to achieve something. Bob just seemed to lead a hedonistic lifestyle. He couldn’t see that his so-called friends were laughing at him. Julie put it nicely when she asked me what I was doing with such a loser. We occasionally still spoke in passing when we’d bump into each other. I heard he’d got a new girlfriend - I hoped she was better suited to him than I was.
And what about the future? I guess I was one of the lucky ones, still living at home with my parents. Most of my colleagues had a mortgage, kids and whatever else. There were more unemployed secretaries than there were vacancies, we were told. A couple of my friends had applied to join the sister company in London, but I had never wanted to leave the South Manchester area. I guess I must be a homely girl.
Julie was a great friend to me from day one. She showed me the ropes, how to blend in when it was hitting the fan and how to get recognised when it was time to impress. I helped her out too, especially when we went out after work. Julie always liked to be the centre of attention. She could definitely look after herself in some ways and certainly enjoyed the attention she got from the guys. She’d always tease them right back and get the last word in. I worried about her because she could be so wild, especially after a couple of drinks, but I’ve always been really good at weighing people up and I’ve steered her away from a few sharks. She knows I’ll always look out for her. That’s what friends do. But poor Julie doesn’t know how she’s going to be able to pay the rent. She says she might have to move back to Bury with her mum and from what she tells me, they don’t get on well.
It felt like I had so much on my mind that day. It felt uncomfortable, not knowing what the future would bring. Everything had been stable and predictable for years, maybe too predictable, but soon everything was going to change, I knew it. Well, it was getting dark outside. I had let Abe wonder long enough if I was going to call him or not and besides, I was quite curious to find out what this was all about. My guess was that he was one of those spiritualist freaks who seemed to think he had known me in another life. If I hadn’t been so curious, I might have not bothered calling at all? Actually, thinking about it now, that was the start of all the mystery …. right from the first minute in fact.
‘Oh, is that Abe?.’ I began, ‘it’s Isla from last night. You wanted to talk to me about something important…?’ hoping he might get to the point this time
‘Oh great… Isla, yes of course it’s Isla. It had to be something like that. I was hoping it would be you. I’m so glad you called. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. Er, I mean who you are. I mean, well, I wasn’t even looking for you. It’s such a coincidence in one way, but I suppose not in another. Well ..’
‘What?’, finally getting a word in ‘Look, if it’s about that song-writing contest, I haven’t played a piano in the last 15 years. I doubt if I could even do a scale now.’
‘Oh, no it’s not about that at all …’
‘Well’ I was getting a little impatient ‘I don’t know who you are, so do you even know anything about me, other than my christian name, which I think I just told you? What’s my surname, then?’
‘Er, oh, I don’t actually know that, but I could have a guess at a few other things about you’
‘Go on then, amaze me with your guesses’. I was guessing that the conversation wasn’t going to continue for much longer.
‘Well I’m pretty certain that your mother, Grandmother, in fact all female ancestors on your mother’s side have, or used to have christian names similar to Issa and they were all first born girls in the family as far back as you can remember. Oh, and I’m also sure that you and all those ancestors have a heart of gold, but were, or still are very good judges of character. Er, how am I doing? Impressive, eh?’
‘Hmm… So you are some kind of stalking genealogist then?’ I tried to remember my great-grandmother’s first name.
‘Aha.. so you are impressed. Oh, one other thing … You’re not sure, but you think you have a guardian angel and your mum used to think she had one, but after you were born it seemed to abandon her’
‘Right, Abe’ getting weird again, ‘I want to know how you think you know so much about me and my family’
‘Okay, okay, but I’ll bet if you ask your mum … Anyway, can I ask you … do you believe in ghosts? Or how about some people having psychic potential?’
‘What? Oh don’t tell me you’ve got a crystal ball. I think I’ve heard enough …’
‘No, no,’ interrupted Abe quickly, afraid I was going to hang up on him,’I don’t believe in all that nonsense, but I’ll have you a bet, okay?’
‘Go on then’, I was already wondering why I agreed to that.
‘If I get this right you come to lunch with me at that pub tomorrow and then I’ll explain everything to you. Then you’ll understand what all this is about and maybe I’ll get to know you better as well’.
‘Hmm, sounds like you think you already do. Go on then, what’s the bet?’
‘When your mum is really happy can you see her sort of glow?’
How on earth did he know that?
At least Isla called me back. I thought I’d freaked her out last night with all that glowing stuff. Why, oh why couldn’t I think of anything else to talk about. And why couldn’t I think of anywhere else in the whole of Manchester to meet rather than that horrible, crowded, noisy pub. Good job I booked a table as there were office christmas parties going on again. I knew I must not ruin it this time. The conversation had to be all about her, or about anything else except what I had promised to explain to her. I just couldn’t do that … not yet. She seemed so perfect; everything about her. She must have thought I was a complete nut-case. I’m surprised she even agreed to meet me again. It was probably thanks to Issa’s influence - another subject I must avoid.
My god, how was I going to pull this off. I hadn’t been on any kind of date for more years that I could remember. I felt so out of practice. Bev had been my last girlfriend, I suppose. She had been a waitress at the hotel and the chefs used to pick on her over the hotplate. I guess she liked it when I stuck up for her one day. I was surprised when she knocked on my door in the staff accommodation to thank me. It kind of started from there, she’d come for walks with me and seemed to love to tell me about her life at uni and about all her likes and dislikes. I got the impression that she’d had a lot of boyfriends and was going through the motions, stage by stage, but our age difference was always going to be a problem. 3 years doesn’t sound a lot, but I was only 17 and I knew her friends were teasing her about her ‘toy boy’. I guess most love affairs only last a few weeks at that age. Since then my hobby, passion, call it what you would, has been my raison d’etre. Yes, there had been moments of regret, seeing others fall in love, settle down and start families. I’d never given that side of life too much thought, though, as though I was on a different route somehow. Anyway, I couldn’t remember any occasion when I’d actually asked a girl out or even asked to speak to a girl like that before. My nervousness shouldn’t really have surprised me. Goodness knows what she thought of my stammering and chuntering about psychic phenomena - hardly a good start.
I caught Isla’s eye as she came in. Such a sweet smile, even if she did look a little reticent. She said she was happy to stay there rather than go somewhere quieter, which, I suppose with hindsight did sound rather a devious suggestion. The menu was extremely limited and the food barely edible when it arrived, but I managed to steer the conversation towards her office, friends and job. It turned out that, as a secretary, she was facing redundancy after Christmas.
‘Oh, I might be able to help you out there, Isla’, thinking on my feet and playing for time, ‘Hmm, I wonder, have you done any book-keeping?’
‘No, just secretarial, I'm afraid’
‘Never mind, I'll just call Mary, she’s lovely’ Of course, I couldn’t actually tell her who Mary was yet. Yikes! The more I dug, the deeper down I sunk.
‘Mary, hi, it’s Abe. Hey I think I’ve found you the secretary you said you needed”such a shame you can’t wink down the phone, I thought.
‘Did I?’ asked Mary, puzzled.
‘Yes, she seems perfect, but she’s being made redundant soon, so I was wondering ….’
‘Yes, she’s an amazing, polite, charming, experienced secretary and seriously considering studying book-keeping”’I glanced up at Isla, who tried to look annoyed, but couldn’t because she was also grinning.
‘Oh, so she’s the girl you told me about this morning, right? How’s it going?’
‘All depends on you, Mary. No pressure! She’s here with me now if you want to chat with her ….’
So that was that. Of course, Isla would get the job. I probably should have told her that Mary was actually my music company secretary. She was going to find out soon enough anyway. Mary had been saying for years that I needed to find a kind-hearted girl to take care of me. She really cared about me, Mary, just like a mum. She knew that I really cared about her too, in fact her whole family. Mike, her husband had been with me from the start, first to renovate ‘The Grange’ and as the maintenance man for the first set of properties, then as things got bigger, the site manager, then operations manager. He was one of the most down to earth people I had ever known. He could be brutally honest, but magnanimous in praising good work too. You always knew where you stood with Mike. You just had to respect him and over the years, he had taught me so much ,not just about building, but also about how to treat people, gain respect, be firm but impartial , how to use peoples’ strengths and allow them to discover their weaknesses.
The rest of the lunch went better than I’d anticipated. I managed to apologise for not explaining my weird behaviour yet, as I didn’t want to freak her out again. In fact I told her that I hoped to get to know her really well. After walking her back to her office she agreed that we needed to eat some decent food next time. She asked if there were any other secretarial job interviews going for her friend, Julie, who I tried to remember from the night before.
‘I tell you what, bring Julie along too and I’ll cook for both of you’. It’s not what I had in mind. I really needed to talk to Isla alone, but perhaps getting to know her was more important at this stage. It occurred to me that Isla might get a strange feeling in The Grange because of Issa’s spirit within her. I needed to find a way to get her to trust me.
I was sure I could persuade Mike that he needed a secretary - his site office was a disaster. He could never seem to lay his hand on that vital piece of paper. He was great with people, not great with paperwork. No, it wasn’t Mike I was worried about, but Julie. It was going to take a strong girl to stand up to those laddish builders, the derisory wolf-whistles, not to mention Mike’s outbursts when he needed to get a point across.
Julie was grateful that I’d tried to get her an interview. I really hoped she could get a job nearby, otherwise my life was going to be quite dull. She could brighten up the most boring day and we knew each other so well after all those years. She was genuinely pleased for me too , not only for the interview, but because she knew I hadn’t been on a date in years. That’s why she felt a bit awkward about this set up. She wasn’t used to being the gooseberry. I must say, it took me by surprise when Abe asked me to bring Julie along. One minute I’d agreed to go on a date with him, then he wanted Julie to come along. Maybe I forced him to think quickly, maybe that was the reason. Well, we’d have to see how this panned out. At least I wouldn’t need to worry about what might happen at the end of the evening, seeing as it was originally going to be a dinner date.
Julie pounced that lunch break and nibbled her avocado bacon wrap.
‘What about all that weird stuff though, when’s he going to tell you what that was all about?’
‘That’s the only thing that’s worrying me, Julie. He seems sweet and it feels good that he wants to get to know me’ , knowing that she’d never let it go at that.
‘Yes, but you deserve a steady guy, not a weirdo, even if he is rather hot’
‘He just seemed nervous at first, that’s all’, realising that I couldn’t fool Julie.
‘Hmm, I’ll show him what to do if you like’ she grinned.
‘Hey, you keep your hands off him. He’s mine, this one’
I wasn’t expecting us to be picked up in a flashy new car. Very impressive and when we pulled into the driveway and I saw the house ..
‘Wow! Is that your home, Abe?’, Julie was gob-smacked and that was a rarity.
‘Yep, it’s home, work and play so I guess I spend most of my time here. Maybe too much time.’
It was huge. Huge gardens, high ceilings, enormous kitchen and dining area and goodness knows how many rooms. A fluffy dog bounded in and started licking me.
‘Not much of a guard dog, is he, eh?, he laughed ‘He seems to like you, though, Isla. Don’t you, Pooch?’
‘So, er, just you living here then?’ Julie beat me to it again. I thought about asking, but didn’t want to appear nosey.
‘Just me and Pooch here. But during the day there are lots of people about. There’s a recording studio in the converted barn, so with the office staff and so on, it can get quite crowded, especially around lunchtime. Kate comes in and cooks something ‘homey’ every day, then there’s a part time cleaner and an old retired gardener, called George: the wisest man I know. He used to work here years ago, he said. I keep trying to stop him working so hard. He just seems to appear at the crack of dawn, I suppose. I love old folk and the way they like routines. I just hope he doesn’t overdo it, you know what I mean?’
‘Maybe he needs an apprentice’ I couldn’t think what else to say .. still trying to take it all in.
‘Great idea, Isla. Why didn’t I think of that? I like you more every time I see you’, the honesty in his face made me blush. I had to turn away.
‘Any chance of a tour, then, chef?’ Julie tried to hide my embarrassment.
Abe said he trained to be a chef back in the day. The house was fabulous and the meal was amazing. He told us that he wasn’t much good at anything, but he’d muddled along using the only skill he had - being a good judge of character. Knowing who to listen to, who not to trust. He said he was lucky enough to be able to spot good, honest people and only wanted to be with those people, deliberately smiling at me. I could feel my cheeks reddening again and Julie smirking. He’d somehow built up, what I found out later was a huge property company, a recording company with two studios and goodness knows what else.
He said he hadn’t had time for any relationships for the last 10 years or so, and that casual sex had no appeal to him - just primitive. It had to mean something to him, to make love.
Abe told Julie to wear wellies for the interview, but that she seemed perfect, as long as she was up for a big challenge. He said it would take a special kind of girl to sort out and stand up to those men, but after meeting Julie he was more worried about them, than her.
He dropped Julie off first. She gave me a smile and a wink as she got out of the car. We were going to have a lot to talk about the next day.
After he dropped me off at home he gently pulled me towards him and gazed into my eyes. He kissed me so tenderly and his smile was so warm and genuine that I couldn’t help smiling too - from ear to ear. He told me he’d be away in Richmond in Virginia, opening another studio over the holidays. We promised to catch up in the new year and he wished me luck with the interview.
In many ways it had been a beautiful night. I felt like I really was glowing the next day. Julie wanted to know all the gossip and you could tell she was pleased for me, but maybe a bit jealous. She thought Abe was gorgeous, but only seemed to have eyes for me. It was usually the other way around. I knew she was right and it felt strange, good, but strange. I knew she was looking forward to handling all those builders if she got the job.
That night, though I realised that time for reflection is not always for the best, especially if you are a worrier. What was in that locked room that not even Pooch was allowed in? He still hadn’t explained about any of the previous weirdness. And why me? Why a stranger in a bar? Couldn’t he pick and choose? Surely someone like him would attract attention from girls, even if he hardly got out. Maybe in Virginia he would meet someone over the celebration parties. Oh, why was I worrying? I hardly knew him, and yet, there was something, something I couldn’t describe that made me want to get to know Abe. There was also something about the house, too. It was difficult to put a finger on it, but it almost felt like I’d lived there before. I didn’t recognise anything, it was just a strange feeling - like I felt at home there. It was almost as though it was my destiny. I just wished Abe wasn’t so mysterious, then I might not need to worry so much.
I was finding it difficult to work out my feelings for Abe. All through my childhood I had been blessed with having great friends, not loads, I was never one of the really popular girls, but close friends, friends you could say anything to and they just knew what you meant. It takes years to build up friendships like that, that was the mystery; I already felt like that with Abe. There was something about him that I just couldn’t put my finger on. It was as though I had known him for years. I already felt comfortable with him, trusted him. I really couldn’t explain it. If I hadn’t only just met him I’d take him to meet mum. She would tell me straight away. She was even better than me at weighing people up. I just know she would love Abe, don’t ask me why.
I suppose it was Abe’s little joke to not tell me that I would be his secretary. I would have appreciated a heads up about that, especially as I became really nervous about my first interview in years, not knowing what to expect. The address Mary gave me just didn’t register. I had to double check that I’d given the taxi driver the right address when he pulled up at Abe’s house.
‘Well that’s the address you gave me, love’
I had to agree that Mary was lovely, though. She was gushing, exuberant and one of those people who could simply smooth out any problem with a little joke and a hearty laugh. She thought the whole prank that Abe had set up was quite hilarious,
‘Well you’ve already met the boss then,’ she laughed. “He is completely besotted by you already, you know, wouldn’t stop talking about you. Have you cast a spell on him, or something? I’d better watch my step - he’ll be giving you preferential treatment’, she smiled.
‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry, Mary. I think he’s got a soft spot for you and your whole family by all accounts’ I said, wondering where I would be working.
‘He’s the most honest person I ever met, too honest probably, wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s always bought birthday and Christmas presents for the kids. They love spending time with their uncle Abe. In the summer we all come over here for a barbeque in the garden, Patch, the dog and all. Great fun for the kids. Ooh, you’ll have met Pooch. Patch is Pooch’s sister, you know’.
Mary would have gone on for hours about how her family all loved Abe, but I had to get back to the office. And that was it. That was the interview I’d been so nervous about.
‘Oh yes, well you’ve got my number.’ Mary called out as I put my coat on, ‘Let me know when you want to start. Take some time off after you finish your other job if you like. We’ll sort the wage out and all that - whatever you say, okay? I’m so glad Abe found you. He told me how lovely you were. I haven’t seen him smile like that for so long. I don’t know what you’ve done to him.” and she waved me off in the taxi. The job role hadn’t even come up and it seemed to have been presumed that I would simply take the job. Mary had talked about Abe the whole time and how much he liked me - but that was fine - I had a really good feeling about it.
The Richmond project wasn’t without technical hitches, but I really didn’t mind. Phil, my head recording studio mixer, went over with me to set it all up, do the interviewing, sort out the sound-proofing and so on. I always liked to be involved with the interviewing, I could spot a trouble-maker or an honest person. It was just something I could instinctively perceive.
Most of the applicants gave the sort of answers you’d expect to the standard questions, like; in ten years time they could see themselves running their own studio and keeping up with all the latest technology, but one guy, who was a bit older stood out from the rest. He said he wanted to have his own second-hand record shop in ten years time. It sounded absurd, unambitious, almost unrelated, and yet honest. It’s not something you would make up, something you said because it’s what the interview panel wanted to hear. Phil couldn’t understand why I wanted to take the older guy on, thought I was crazy, but trust had served me well over the years.
The first few days were manic, then Phil flew back to be with his family over Christmas, leaving me with my demons - time to reflect over my least favourite time of year. Was it just me who hated Christmas? As a kid I loved Chiristmas of course, and for those with families it would be great to spend time with each other. After my parents died it became a time of year that I dreaded. There were too many childhood memories. It surprised me how many hotel workers actually preferred working through christmas, simply because many were from broken marriages or broken homes and they didn’t want time to brood.
Mary invited me over every year, even though she knew I’d make up some excuse every time. Much as I loved Mary’s family, it was their family Christmas and I wasn’t family, not really. So I would always manage to be far away then bury myself in work and block out the rest of the World. It didn’t matter what I did, as long as I did something except brood. I’d set myself unattainable targets and unrealistic goals.
That Christmas in particular, now that I had found Isla, it would be even more difficult to stop my mind from drifting. I prided myself in being able to think around problems until I came up with solutions, but this one was foxing me. How could I tell Isla what I needed to without freaking her out. The problem was that anything I could tell her would just lead to more questions. I couldn’t seem to find a starting point. I sent her a message, congratulating her on the successful interview and she replied with laughing emojis. I knew it would be foolish to write to her about everything, without seeing her reaction. It would have to be face to face. It wasn’t just a case of passing information. I also wanted her to end up not thinking I was completely bonkers.
If I had guessed correctly, Isla had inherited her gift from her mother. I understood why her mother had never spoken to Isla about it, especially after what had happened to me when I was 6 years old. We were in the doctor’s waiting room and a man entered and sat next to me. I really didn’t like the looks of him. I seemed to sense that he was a bad person and also he kind of smelled bad. I looked at my father, pinching my nose and he nodded and signalled me to ‘shush’. Later, my father explained that I had inverited a sixth sense from him and as he had from his father. He told me that I would be able to see some good people ‘glow’ and some bad people ‘smell bad’ , maybe even be surrounded by a dark mist. He explained that other people wouldn’t be able to see or smell that, that I had a special ability. He told me to never tell anyone else about this ability, because they wouldn’t believe me. I wish I had listened. A while later I made my best friend promise to keep it a secret, but, well, he was only six and the boy he told must have told the class bully and very soon I was the butt of a lot of cruel jokes. I don’t think I ever forgave my friend, but I suppose it wasn’t his fault really.
For many years I tried to ignore the ‘glowing’ and ‘stinking’ that I could occasionally perceive. After all the teasing and name-calling I wished I was just ‘normal’.
My father had his demons too. They never seemed to get on, him and mum. She drank too much and they didn’t seem to talk much. It all came to a head when I was 10, when we went on a caravan holiday in the lake district. It just rained the whole time.
‘Well how about some water sports? You’d love to do some kayaking, wouldn’t you, Abe?’
‘It’s bloody raining’, said mum, ‘That’s what it does here. That’s why there are all these bloody lakes’.
‘Well that whiskey won’t help. You said you weren’t going to’.
‘’Sod all else to do around here’ complained mum, ‘I can’t even watch ’Corrie’’
At that point, I grabbed the umbrella and left them to it. All previous holidays had been spent at my Gran’s in Wales. They were okay, but there wasn’t much to do and Gran didn’t care for Dad much, thought he was rather odd. So this year had been dad’s idea.
‘Lots to do for Abe. We can go hill walking, sailing, kayaking, you name it’, he’d said. Mum had never wanted to live in Manchester, away from her welsh roots. They had met at Manchester University originally and dad was always reluctant to leave the area of his ancestors from as far back as anyone could remember.
‘I’m going for a walk,’ I said on my way out, ‘be back later’. I walked over to the water sports centre, watched a few people try to make the most of it whilst sitting in the cafe for an hour or so, then I noticed the smoke. Mum’s cigarette had set the bed clothes alight. They both inhaled smoke, presumably whilst trying to put it out and didn’t get out in time. I sometimes pondered that I might have died there too that day.
Living with grandad in Timperley after the funeral was, well, okay. It wasn’t far to school from there and the rules were made clear from the beginning. To be honest, although I missed my parents, I didn’t miss the bickering. I kept myself to myself there. Grandad had his routines and seemed to be either gardening, bowling or out at the pub most of the time. I had my own room and spent most of my free time in it. It wasn’t a good time in my life. I didn’t know who I was and I had little self respect. With no role models and no close friends it seemed a bleak and lonely existence, but it was my choice in a way. I didn’t try to make friends, in fact I shied away from everyone at that time. I kidded myself that I didn’t need anyone. Perhaps it was my defence from getting hurt. I had felt an outcast since the ridicule from being called a freak a few years earlier. Eventually I came to believe that I was different from everyone else, that if I tried to make friends, they would betray my trust and my gift would be exposed again.
That all changed when I turned twelve, I was old enough to go in the adult section of the library and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, it was a turning point in my life. I spotted a book by J. B. Rhine about parapsychology in the psychology section. It discussed experiments into paranormal activities. Some sections were fascinating, but it made me hungry for more and I soon found more books. In particular, there was a book by Robert Bruce called Mastering Astral Projection, where people with abilities had experimented ways to develop their particular skills, with Bruce’s guidance - skills which, eventually, I was eventually to find, I could develop beyond the teachings of Bruce. Suddenly my life seemed to have meaning, something to strive towards. I might appear to be just a boring, quiet kid at school and at grandad’s, but secretly I realised that I could do special things, things that almost no-one else could and it felt great.
The experiments in my bedroom had been amazing. It had to be at times when I would not be disturbed. At first, I had to practice relaxation techniques and clearing my mind of thoughts to find the required level of consciousness, allowing my spirit to leave my body. I was ecstatic the first time I managed out of body experiences or OBEs for short. I felt like I was floating above my body and was looking down at it.
I could see some other things in the room too, but many things were blurred and mists hid much of what I could normally see in my bedroom. It was similar to looking through a convex lens. You needed to be a certain distance away for it to come into focus. It felt strange looking down at myself, but when my buzzer sounded, it was time to focus on returning to my body. It had been an exhilarating experience.
Many people experience an OBE during a near-death experience and some claim to find it life-changing. A few even find they have new skills afterwards, or can even speak a new foreign language. Nothing like that happened to me, but having managed it once, I suppose you could say it changed my life. My experiments became more daring and before long I had tried out much of Bruce’s teachings.
At 16, school no longer interested me. Like most 16 year olds, I had no idea what career path I should follow, but I knew the ‘A’ level, then university route would open up no paths that I could see down and perhaps a waste of the next 5 years for me. I knew I had to get out of the rut, that I wasn’t like the rest of the flock. I had somehow always felt that my destiny was predestined. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure what my destiny was. I had grown more interested in developing my gift as far as I could, but I wasn’t sure why. That is what made me feel different from the others, it was the gift I had.
The trainee chef’s job came out of the blue. I needed some money, so a school friend recommended me to his boss at a local hotel. I started as a kitchen porter, washing pots and pans, then the head chef asked me if I fancied having a go at the cooking. That was it, no forethought, or career path consideration, I was taken on as a trainee chef. It was enjoyable in some ways, to be creative and to live in the hotel accommodation, but the split shifts and lack of privacy were soul-destroying. It felt good to have some money in my pocket and I soon learned that having 3 hours off in the afternoons between shifts wasn’t as useless as I had first thought. While the other staff watched children’s Television or played pool, I would walk to the library or out in the countryside. I seemed to continue to prefer my reclusive trait, turning down invitations to go here and there after work, until before long, the invitations dried up. I had become ‘the loner’ again, voluntary self-isolation One road in particular held a strange fascination for me on my walks, and there was an old derelict house along it that I felt drawn towards for some reason. There was a ‘For Sale’ sign outside which was rotting away. It must have been there for a long time. It looked like the roof was in a bad state of repair and as I climbed over the hedge, into the overgrown garden I could see that it had once been a grand old house with a barn, a pond and fountain. The weeds had covered the paths and ivy obscured windows here and there. It would be a huge job to restore the old place and I wondered if anyone would buy it. It was obvious that no-one had lived there for a long time, I don’t know why I was dreaming about living in that big old house. it was just a fanciful daydream. I certainly couldn’t afford to buy even a small house on a trainee chef’s wage, it would take me years to just save up for the deposit .
Then an idea occurred to me. If I could get into the house, I might be able to carry out my experiments in there. I had been carrying out techniques that Bruce recommended, but in his book, he stressed that no-one should attempt those experiments alone. The problem was, I didn’t want anyone else to know about what I was doing. Bitter experience had taught me to keep it quiet, even from my father. Scientists have, over the years, refused to accept the existence of psychic powers , saying that there was insufficient proof. Society in general considered anything paranormal or psychic unbelievable; ‘there’s no such thing as ghosts’, for example. Back through the ages, anyone who believed in that sort of thing was called ‘evil’, or even a witch. And so the stereotype continued, even though there was evidence aplenty in books like Bruce’s. I suppose only a few people are capable of seeing spirits and so for the majority, they find their existence hard to believe.
Then, of course I moved out into the hotel accommodation which was noisy and cramped. The experiments had to be put on hold, but if I could just get into that old house. Apart from the distant rumble of traffic it could be the ideal place.
Then, one day I had a good look around, beating away the bramble stalks with a stick and eventually found that one of the window frames was so rotten that it wouldn’t take much to break in. I realised that I was actually breaking the law too, but something drove me on, the same inner voice that seemed to always guide me from time to time. Once inside, I could see how much damage the rain had done through the leaky roof. Some of the upper floor had collapsed and ended up on the ground floor. Even the floor-boards in the lounge felt rotten and weeds grew up through them here and there. There was a heavy musty smell in the air and as I tried to clear away through, woodlice scuttled out of the rotting wood. It certainly had been a lovely old house, but had decayed into a sorry state through neglect. I wondered who actually owned it. Were they still alive? Abroad maybe?
A ray of sunlight caught a lavish fireplace in the main room. It must have been a focal point during the cold evenings. It seemed easy to imagine an air of happiness and joyous memories. I also sensed a feeling of antiquity, older than the house itself, as though many people had lived in that spot over hundreds of years, just one of those feelings I got now and then. There was a smaller room off to the right. The roof must have been sound above it, as the ceiling had not come down. As I entered it, I somehow knew that this room was important and that I was supposed to find it. There was literally nothing in it apart from dust. As I walked in my feet disturbed a layer of dust on the floor. A single window, which hadn’t been cleaned for years and had black mould around it’s frame, threw as shaft of light in, catching the disturbed dust in mid-air . The silence was captivating. When I shut the door, even the rumble of traffic couldn’t be heard. I realised at once that I had found where to continue my experiments. It was all just gut feelings. Logically I was actually trespassing on someone’s property in a derelict, musty old house and yet I had an overwhelming feeling of destiny that I struggled to substantiate in any rational way.
I understood Julie’s concern about Abe. That first evening in the bar, not to mention the phone call the next day, were both worrying. And yet, I have never completely discounted the possibility of psychic phenomena. Dad had always derided such things, so it wasn’t something that was ever discussed at home. What Abe said about me having a guardian angel or fairy godmother - it’s not the first time I have thought so. I can remember once at primary school one of the older girls asked if I wanted to play. Something, or someone made me say, ‘no’, even though I wanted to play. One of my classmates played with the big girls instead and they were so mean to her that she cried. It wasn’t such a big deal, but I remembered trying to work out afterwards why I had said ‘no’.
I can’t remember ever having any accidents as a kid. I always seemed to know when danger was near and something made me avoid those situations. It wasn’t until I went ro a local craft fair with mum that I really began to wonder about spirits and guardian angels. We spotted a clairvoyant’s tent; ‘Madame Zorba. Palms read, fortunes told for £1’. Mum said she’d do it if I would.. I know most of them are fakes, but it seemed like fun. Mum came out of the tent visibly shaken, saying, ‘She’s good, very good. Let me know what you think, Isla’.
It took quite a while for my eyes to adjust once the tent flap came down. There was only one candle on the table and the flickering cast wispy shadows on the walls of the tent. An old lady sat at the table beckoning me to join her. The candlelight highlighted the wrinkles on her face. She looked me over, searching deeply into my eyes for what seemed like a long time, still not speaking and then, without reading cards or my palm said,’ You have inherited your mother’s spirit and her gift, though you seem to ignore both’
‘Er, what do you mean, gift?’ trying to figure out how she even knew I was her daughter.
‘Ask your mother. She knows. Your gift is powerful, so powerful, if you choose to use it as your great grandmother did’.
‘But how do you know about my great grandmother?’ I gulped, still trying to tell myself that she was just guessing.
‘The spirit who shared your journey is kind and will always look after you, but she has sought another spirit for so very long. You must help her find him if you can, or she will leave you when you have a daughter, just as she left your mother when you were born.’
She pulled my hand towards her and began squeezing my fingers and palm with both her gnarled hands. Her hands were gnarled and thin, the rings and bangles scarcely hiding how withered they were and how her veins stood out above the sunken flesh. She did this for some time and I remembered thinking that this was a strange palm reading. I thought they were supposed to look at the lines in your hands. Then when she looked at me again I wondered if she was blind. Instead of looking into my eyes, she seemed to be looking slightly past my left ear, at what I didn’t know. Then she started speaking again, but as if in a trance.
‘The spirit who shared your journey has a message for you. She wants you to know that you must help her to find Abu when the time comes. It will be sometime, maybe soon, maybe not. She wants you to know that there will only be one chance.’
‘Er, how will I know when the time comes?’ Mum was right. This was intense.
‘Let your spirit guide you’ she said. Then she seemed to snap out of the trance and became quiet. I realised that my time was up with her. I tried to thank her as I left and heard her say once more, ‘Let your spirit guide you’.
Mum caught my expression as I came out, partly dazzled by the light. ‘Haha, told you,’ she laughed, ‘My you were in for a long time. Are you feeling ‘gifted’ now, Isla?’
‘Yes’, still rubbing my eyes, ‘she said I should ask you about that. What’s that all about?’
‘Oh, something that may have run in the family for generations. They say it drove my grandmother mad, but I didn’t think so. ‘She could just see things that no-one else could’
‘Er, isn’t that called going mad?’, I joked, ‘Does that mean I will start seeing things too, then?’
‘Oh I don’t think so, dear, but if I gave you a gift it was to be an angel, like me. Let’s have a go at the tombola’, and that was the last time it was spoken about. The clairvoyant’s message about my host spirit seeking another definitely spooked me for a while, but as the years passed I was content to let my spirits guide me.
Thirteen years had passed since that day and it wasn’t until I thought about the guesses that Abe made on the phone that day that I started to remember what the clairvoyant had told me. I would only get one chance, she said and let my spirits guide me. Well something seemed to be guiding me towards wanting to get to know Abe better, that much I knew.
Abe called me when he returned from America and wondered if I wanted to go for a meal, as long as it wasn’t at that bar.
‘Well we could double up with Julie and her new boyfriend, if you like’ I said, then suddenly realised I wouldn’t be able to ask him to explain everything with them around, ‘One of the builders asked her out tonight’
‘Wow, she didn’t waste much time. I didn’t even know she’d started with Mike yet’.
‘Oh yes, she interviewed Mike by the sound of it and started the next day. She loves it and the boys seem pretty happy too, I believe’
‘Ha! Good for Julie! I was thinking about you over christmas, Isla’.
‘Really? I’m still waiting for my christmas kiss. Hope you weren’t kissing Americans under the mistletoe.’
‘It was all work and no play. I don’t even know if they have mistletoe over there’.
It turned out to be a fun night. Sean, Julie’s date didn’t realise that Abe was Mike’s employer until the end of the night. He’d been warning Julie about Mike’s temper. Sean and Abe got on really well and had a laugh about it afterwards. Abe can be laddish when needed, but I could tell that wasn’t the real him, all that macho stuff. Julie seemed to be relishing the challenge of her new job, having given Mike a shopping list of stationery items she wanted during the interview, laptop, filing cabinet and all. I was so proud of her and so happy that we’d still be working for the same company, although not in the same office anymore.
Julie, without even saying it, wanted to know what I thought of Sean. I could tell that she liked him, but she wasn’t a good judge of character. I smiled at her, telling her that he wouldn’t be unkind to her. We knew each other so well - that’s all it took, just a smile and she understood straight away.
The boys had started talking about football. It turned out they both supported the same team. Abe had hardly spoken to me all night, but I wasn’t upset, even though he hadn’t seen me for ages. I knew we could talk later. It was strange how I seemed to know Abe already, felt I could trust him.
Julie and Sean eventually sidled off and we all agreed to do it again sometime.
Abe took me back to the Grange for a nightcap and a chat. We told each other about our uneventful christmases. Abe said he wanted to spend the next Christmas with me and I told him he’d have to get to know my parents first as I always spent christmas with them and for some reason he let me know that he was especially looking forward to meeting my mum. I felt the same homey feeling in the Grange and Pooch settled on the settee next to me, his head on my lap. Abe apologised for ignoring me earlier, saying that, over the holiday he’d been thinking about me a lot and hoping that we would really get to know each other. Some slow Nat King Cole was put on and Abe scooped me up and we started to dance. It felt delicious to be in his arms, gently swaying. He looked into my eyes and his smile was embarrassingly infectious again. He kissed me so gently and told me he was starting to fall in love with me. I felt quite light headed but it felt so beautiful. It was more than physical pleasure, it was something spiritual, fulfilling as though, my whole life had been leading up to that moment. Our kisses became more passionate and we slowly made love. It was so incredible. I must have been exhausted, and fallen asleep in his arms. The next morning I woke up in his bed. Abe was already doing him daily work out in the gym and he looked so pleased to see me when I found him. I hugged him again and took a shower while he finished off.
Mary asked what was different about me when she came in a little later. She didn’t need to ask - not much gets past Mary.
‘I just knew you two were made for each other’ she said, ‘ spotted it straight away. He’s been lonely for years, you know. Men just don’t know it, do they? Not till the right girl comes along. I’m so glad he found you, Isla. And you’re fitting in so well here at the Grange. It’s as though you were always meant to be here.’
Mary always knew how to make people feel comfortable and feel wanted.
I seemed to get on really well with Isla’s parents. Steve seemed to be analysing me, weighing me up at first , but by the end of the evening he was treating me like the son he maybe wished he’d had, though I must say I was sincerely impressed by his carpentry skills and his knowledge of finance matters. Having a deep understanding with Isabel, Isla’s mum was never going to be a problem. I had guessed correctly that Isla had inherited her psychic abilities, or potential abilities from her mother. I think Isabel seemed to notice that I ‘glowed’ too when she first saw me laugh. At some point, I realise, I will need to have a conversation with Isabel about it. They were good people, I knew they would be. I imagined that Steve could be a little belligerent at times, he seemed to believe what he believed emphatically. They both obviously adored Isla, it was easy to see and it showed in Isla, why she was so kind-hearted and level-headed.
I invited them around to the Grange that weekend. The weather forecast was unusually good for March and it was Pooch and Patch’s birthday party. Mary, Mike and the boys were there, of course and Julie and Sean showed up. Sean hadn’t seen the Grange before and Mike took pride in showing him around it all, especially the restoration of the fountain. Sean showed genuine admiration for Mike’s handiwork. I was proud to have had a part in renovating the Grange, through Mike’s direction. I knew nothing at all about building at first. Mike just used me as an extra pair of hands. It was plain that Mike was a master builder and I could tell that he actually relished the challenge of giving the old house it’s character back. Steve came along for the tour too, showing interest in the joinery and how the new roof was constructed. A football appeared and a little kick about with the two boys nearly ended up becoming a big match, which could have got serious if Patch and Pooch hadn’t joined in.That left the girls to chat, about what, I could only imagine. They were such different characters, Mary, the mumsy one, Julie, who loved to shock with her boldness and jokes and then there was Isabel and Isla, who were so alike. both full of temperance. Isla always knew the right thing to say, no matter what was going on around. She had an innate grasp for the mood of the conversation. It wasn’t just saying what others wanted to hear, it was more than that. She knew what others were feeling, that was it. Isabel loved the Grange. I could tell that she sensed the spirituality, as I had, right from the beginning.
It had been a great day, everyone seemed to get on well and get to know each other. They all loved Maria’s shepherd’s pie and the rhubarb crumble and custard went down a treat. Sean seemed to see Mike in a new light, realising that there was a lot more to his boss than met the eye. Steve was clearly impressed with the building work and I could see that he really wanted to ask me how I managed to pay for it all at such a young age.
I told him I’d tell him the whole story soon enough and he seemed happy with that. He had worked in finance before retiring and I knew he was astute in money matters.
After they had all gone I became quite reflective. The day’s events made me think back to the time I started to experiment in the Grange when it was still derelict. That first day I had brought a dustpan and brush to sweep away the dust, a blanket to lie on and my timer to help my spirit back to join my body.
To my surprise, it felt easier, more natural and somehow the right place to perform an OBE. This time, I achieved the required relaxation and trance faster than I had ever done before and as I left my body I could see everything so clearly, instead of the mists and the way most things had seemed to be out of focus, I was able to almost see through the walls and beyond into the woods. There also seemed to be billowing clouds above and to the right. The cloud above had a bright glow and a beam of dazzling light shone down through it, catching specks of dust that I had disturbed earlier. In the corner of the room I could see through the floor a dark hole had appeared and I thought I could hear a faint and horrifying screaming noise coming up through it, as if in the distance. The noise seemed to grow louder as I approached. I dared not approach too near. I was getting a really uncomfortable feeling about that hole. Then suddenly I saw what I can only describe as a wisp of smoke spiraling towards me. As it drew closer it began to take shape, not a physical, solid shape, but in my imagination it became a man, perhaps the spirit of a man. I could imagine, but not see his face and in my imagination he was trying to talk to me in a language I didn’t understand. I wasn’t afraid. In fact, he seemed familiar to me somehow and I innately knew that he meant me no harm. He beckoned me towards the billowing cloud that was to the right side of the room. I followed him to the edge of the cloud, but I couldn’t see into the cloud and became afraid.
Just then I heard the buzzer. 10 minutes had already passed. I waved goodbye to the friendly spirit and began to reenter my body. It had been a truly exhilarating experience and for once, it felt natural. I didn’t feel tired afterwards, as I used to before.
For once, I could hardly wait to return to the hotel accommodation. I knew what I had to do, check Bruce’s book and other books to find out what the clouds were, although I already had a fairly good idea. As I suspected, some people who had OBEs had reported the glowing cloud and brilliant beam of light and, although it couldn’t be proven, it was generally considered that this was some sort of gateway to heaven. Likewise, the dark hole in the floor could be a gateway to hell. I didn’t think I was quite ready to enter either just yet. I tried, but failed to find a reference in any of my books about the third cloud. I wasn’t sure what to do if the spirit beckoned me to it the next day. What if I couldn’t return? Looking back, until I discovered the Grange my dreary life had been going nowhere. I was in a job that didn’t feel right for me. I felt uninspired and unmotivated. But now that I had found an exciting new purpose, something to discover, I felt rejuvenated and always looked forward to the next day, or at least the next afternoon break.
When we got home I could sense there was going to be an inquisition. Mum gave me one of those knowing looks, she could tell that dad had a ‘bee in his bonnet’ about something.
‘What a marvelous day. Wasn’t it enjoyable, don’t you think so, Steve? Then before he could say a word, ‘And Mary was lovely, no wonder Isla loves working there. Much better than that stuffy office with those acidic office politics. Oh you’re so much better off with Mary, aren’t you Isla?’
‘Definitely, mum. You know exactly where you are with her and if I get something wrong she’ll laugh it off and say something like, ‘oh, I’ve done that a hundred times’
‘Oh’, continued mum before dad could get a word in, ‘and Abe seems such a nice guy. Good choice Isla! Met him at a christmas party you said? And he seems like he’s got a few bob as well’
‘Ah,’ Sreve finally got his chance, ‘that’s what I’d like to know; how did someone so young manage to come into so much money? That house must have cost a small fortune, not to mention these businesses he’s apparently got. He doesn’t sell drugs, does he? You know we care about you, Isla. Don’t go rushing into something before you know the facts, that’s all I’m saying’
‘Oh come on, Steve,’ mum gave him one of her scolding looks, ‘Abe told you he would explain everything, didn’t he? And he always keeps his word, doesn’t he, Isla?’
I looked at the floor silently. I never lied to mum, she would know if I did anyway.
‘Anyway, they’re in love, Mike. Isla has finally found her Mr Right, I can feel it’
‘Well I want it to be known that as far as I am concerned, the jury is definitely out. I hope I’m wrong, that’s for sure, but I think there’s more to young Abe than meets the eye’, Well dad had made his point, but as soon as he retired to his latest carpentry project, I knew what was coming next.
‘So what’s wrong, Isla?’
‘It’s probably nothing, mum’
‘Which means it’s definitely something and you think he’s perfect except for what’s bothering you, right?’
‘Oh mum, you know me so well, but he really loves me and he wants to care for me always. It’s just that he won’t tell me about some secrets that he has. He thinks I would think he was a weirdo’
‘What kind of secrets,? Is he cheating on you?’
‘Oh no, it’s nothing like that’
‘I wonder if we’ll all find out when he talks to your dad, then. I wouldn’t worry, Isla, honestly.’
‘Er, well, I hope you’re right, mum,’ I could sense that mum had an idea what the secrets might be, ‘but I’m sure he’s not a drug dealer’ and we both laughed.
Dad had always been the protective one. He still treated me as though I was his little girl and would be quite happy for me to live there until I was an old maid, I’m sure. I’d always felt more connected to mum, admired her outlook and calmness. She had always urged me to be more outgoing, join clubs, meet people, meet boys! I was almost 30 years old and starting to wonder if Mr Right was ever going to come along. Goodness knows, tagging along with Julie it was surprising that I hadn’t met someone, she certainly did. But Julie’s flamboyance always gained the attention. I guess I was just the wallflower. Besides, those sort of guys were too garish, loud and pushy for me. I wanted someone I could get to know, someone interesting, who would find me interesting. I wasn’t interested in a quick fling, that just scared me.
Yes, Abe was definitely my type, but his persistent failure to explain his weirdness was becoming an issue. What could be so difficult to explain? The longer he put it off, the more my imagination would fester and now he had my parents wondering too.
The next day I was impatient to finish work, so that I could walk over to the Grange to try again. Sure enough, the same scene appeared, followed by the friendly spirit. It felt like he was pleased to see me again, somehow. Feelings were easier to communicate with this spirit. I could hear foreign words in my mind, but I couldn’t understand them. He beckoned me to the cloud near the wall again. I tried to convey my fear to him. He seemed to understand and demonstrated going into then coming out of the cloud alone. He beckoned me again, urging me, as though it was so important to him. Something made me realise why this spirit seemed so familiar to me and why I was unafraid to follow him. He must be my guardian angel, the one I’d always suspected I had. When I was also a spirit, he became more visible to me.
As I followed him into the cloud all I could see through the swirling mists was his spirit ahead, unging me on. I felt as though it was the mists that were rushing past and that we were in the same position as when we entered it. Suddenly the mists cleared as if it were a passing cloud on a windy day. I looked around and saw a completely different setting. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but we appeared to be inside a mud hut and the only source of light was an open fire in the middle of the hut. A cauldron of liquid was bubbling, suspended above the fire by sticks bound together. Sitting by the fire was a couple dressed in animal furs. She was heavily pregnant and he was filling a bowl of food for her from the cauldron. I could sense the deep love between them. I’m not sure how. Then I noticed that they were both glowing and as they smiled to each other, their glows grew brighter and seemed to merge into each other. The spirit caught my attention. He seemed to be pointing at the man, then pointing at himself repeatedly. I realised what he meant. I copied his pointing - he was this man’s spirit. Now I was beginning to understand why the spirit had wanted me to visit this place, or this time.
I started to notice other things in the room, but they were not clearly visible. If I peered intently I could make out the blanket and timer that I had brought with me. It was as if they were translucent and intangible, maybe half there and half not. Just then I could hear the buzzer go off, as if in the distance. I looked over to the spirit. I had been so fascinated by what I had witnessed that I had forgotten all about my fear of not being able to return. I could sense the spirit perceive my anxiety. It felt as though he smiled reassuringly at me and led me back through the cloud.
Once back in my body, the full implications of what had just happened began to occur to me. I had gone beyond the teachings of Bruce, perhaps no-one had done that before in an OBE state. My spirit had travelled back in time, or so it seemed, how far back I could only imagine. Why was I hosting that man’s spirit and why had he beckoned me back to when he was alive? Was he a troubled spirit, who had to complete something? Was he asking for my help? Could my spirit end up only there through the cloud, or could it go elsewhere or into another time? How dangerous was this? Was that why there seemed to be no other report of this - because it was so dangerous. Maybe others had achieved it, but not managed to return to their bodies.
I had so many questions, but I knew one thing, I had become completely obsessed with OBE’s and I wanted to find out more, even if I died in the process.
Abe wanted to meet up with Julie and Sean again, but I told him that I wanted to talk to him alone. So much of our time together had been spent in the company of others. Even at work there always seemed to be someone else around. In many ways I couldn’t wish for more in a relationship. We loved each other, that was certain. Abe was always so considerate and seemed so concerned if I even feigned that he’d upset me. He wanted me to move in with him so that we could be together all the time. Part of me wanted to, but there was just one problem… his secrecy.
After everyone had finished for the day he would go into that secret room and lock the door behind him. Sometimes he was in there for hours. He became tense when I questioned him, promising to tell me everything one day, or making a joke about it. He would steer the conversation onto paranormal activities, probing to find out my feelings about it. My guess was that this all had something to do with what he said to me that first night in the bar and the phone call the next day. Maybe I shouldn’t have laughed at him, he might feel less worried to tell me what was going on. Of course, I worried that it was all in his head, that’s why I needed to find out soon, before our relationship moved onto the next stage. I needed to know what I was letting myself in for. He said he’d cook for me that evening.
‘So, you wanted to talk to me, Isla …?’
‘Oh I think you know what this is about, Abe’, sipping my wine, ‘You have been promising to tell me what’s going on since I met you. Not only that but you told dad that you’d tell him how you managed to buy this place too. That was three weeks ago’, surprising myself with how firm I could be.
‘Yes, yes. Sorry about that, Isla. Look I’ve got some things to show you and you can show them to your dad’. He picked some books from the bookshelf and, after some rummaging, a box with some newspaper cuttings. The newspaper cuttings had photos of Abe when he was much younger with the headlines ‘Teenager finds bronze age hoard’. There were pictures of all manner of ancient artefacts.
‘You see, that’s where the money came from originally. That’s how I managed to buy the house and a lot more besides’.
‘Wow, that was lucky. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?’
‘Er, well, there was a bit more to it than luck and I didn’t want to lie to you, Isla. That’s the trouble, the more I tell you, the more questions you’ll have and I’m worried that you won’t believe me.’
The books he picked were all about psychic phenomena, paranormal activities, sixth sense and people with special abilities. It was easy to see that they had been well read, some of them were quite dirty, the corners of some pages still folded over to mark various pages. ‘So why are you showing me these, Abe? It looks like you’ve studied them, but how do they fit into all this?
‘Well, take this one, for example, by Adi Chapman. He had an OBE through almost dying. When he recovered his head was so full of new information and new skills that he didn’t know where to start. He could suddenly draw the most imaginative art, speak foreign languages, ramble endlessly about the single entity and how everyone was connected in some ways. He could figure out scientific formulae and all sorts. The problem was, there was so much of it that when he told people, or tried to write it down, it came out as garbled gibberish, all mixed up. Someone had to show him how to focus on one thing at a time, then connect it, before he could write that book. Now that is amazing isn’t it?’
‘You do realise that, according to psychologists, many people who experience OBE’s become schizophrenic, don’t you?’ realising that that was my opportunity to bring up what I had been reading up on., what had been really bothering me.
‘No-one who has done self-induced OBEs had developed schizophrenia as far as I know. This isn’t easy, Isla. I know how skeptical you are about all this sort of thing. If you had a more open mind I would feel easier about it’.
‘Look Abe, none of this stuff has been proven. Scientists call it fantasy’
‘Just supposing some of it was real, would scientists want that to be common knowledge. Don’t you think the general public would be shocked if scientists admitted that. Can you imagine if those who had psychic abilities were in the news? What would happen? There would be an uproar, a witch hunt. People would feel threatened if they thought that their thoughts could be read, or that some people could move things or set fire to things with just their mind?
‘But that isn’t happening, is it Abe?’ I was getting concerned. This was way deeper than I had feared. He went on to talk more about out of body experiences, people suddenly speaking ancient languages, spirits and even the possibility of spiritual time travel. I knew I needed help with this and maybe Abe did too. I wasn’t sure where to turn so I made an appointment with Jaqueline Foster, a psychologist I found, who agreed to hear what I had to say and give advice.
‘Well, without meeting Abe I won’t be able to assess what’s going on, I’m afraid. Is there any way he could come and see me’.
‘Er, I could try and persuade him. He thinks it’s all real, you see, so he will be reluctant’.
‘There may be nothing wrong with Abe, but those with schizophrenia or psychosis rarely realise they have any mental illness at first. To them, their delusions are real’.
‘Are those conditions treatable,’ I was really getting scared now.
‘They are both chronic, so can never truly be cured, but most forms of schizophrenia can be treated with medication and counseling. Are you aware of any mental illness in his family’. I came away more worried than when I went in to see her, but to my surprise, Abe agreed to see Jackie. I think he knew that he felt he had to, to appease me. He could see the worry in my eyes. I just wanted Abe to get well. I didn’t want this to end our beautiful relationship.
Jackie felt it would be best if Abe came to see her alone, so I had to rely on Abe’s assessment of it, then a follow up phone call from Jackie and after the first session Abe told me that Jackie seemed very professional and he was impressed that she’d at least heard about Bruce’s work on out of body experiences. She at least acknowledged that OBE’s could be self-induced, but stressed that they could leave people with delusions of having extra powers, or of having experienced other-worldly phenomena afterwards. Abe said that unfortunately that was as far as her knowledge went and he said that he was thankful that she, at least, was aware of the official knowledge of OBEs. She seemed interested to hear about his experimentation, but he was unsurprised that she discounted it as delusional.
When Jackie called, she told me that she was concerned, but that Abe had agreed to attend further counseling sessions to assess his condition and that that would give her a chance to offer him alternative explanations for his experiences. He had however refused to consider medication to help his condition. He felt that he didn’t have a condition to medicate, but that he was prepared to continue her education into the world of OBEs, as he put it. She told me that she was happy to help, but felt that he only really agreed to continue with the counseling to appease me and without his willingness to cooperate, the counseling sessions may not be very productive. She asked if there was anyone else who could talk Abe around and asked me to talk to him again, or maybe ask mum to chat to him.
My problem was that no one else thought there could be a problem with Abe’s mental health, no-one except Julie. At least she had some idea that he could behave strangely, but discretion wasn’t one of Julie’s strong points, even if she could be very persuasive.
There would be just two more visits to the mud hut with my friendly spirit. The first one, judging by the size of the lady’s belly was a few weeks later. It looked like she would give birth soon. Once again we found them chatting by the fire. I couldn’t understand their conversation, but I heard him call her Issa and she called him Abu. It was so easy to perceive their deep love for each other, their glows blending together again as Abu caressed Issa’s belly, smiling into her eyes. I wondered if I would ever feel such love for someone, or was I witnessing a truly rare and powerful devotion. I wasn’t sure if they noticed our spirits. At one stage Abu pointed in our direction. Issa followed his finger and they both seemed to smile at us. A feeling of contentment seemed to fill the whole room and it seemed to radiate from Abu and Issa and their glowing love. After returning to my body I felt privileged to have witnessed such a scene.
My final visit was to be dramatically different. As Abu’s spirit guided me through the cloud a radically chilling scene presented itself. We were still inside the hut, but it was darker, only the embers of the fire glowed. Abu had also stopped glowing. In fact he seemed completely distraught and Issa was nowhere to be seen. Abu’s spirit seemed to sense my confusion and beckoned me towards the wall of the hut and to my surprise, as I followed him, I watched him pass right through and rather than collide with the wall, my spirit also passed through, as though there had been nothing there. Suddenly, we were out into the dazzling sunlight where a gruesome sight presented itself. Two men were finishing digging a grave and beside the grave was Issa’s dead body. I guessed that she must have died in childbirth. Her belly was still very swollen and there was much blood on her furs. There was some kind of priest uttering an incantation. He had a head-dress adorned with the horns of an animal and he wore a necklace of sorts. The grave diggers completed their work to his dronining tones.
Abu appeared from the hut carrying an earthenware pot. He solemnly took some trinkets from the pot and gave them to the priest. He then knelt down at Issa’s body and wept. He started sobbing uncontrollably, then let out a tortured cry as he stroked her hair. It was extremely moving. Abu had lost his Issa and all their hopes of raising a family together were suddenly over. He had nothing to live for. Issa had meant everything to him. Then suddenly the incantation was over and everyone’s gaze turned to Abu. The silence was only broken by the sound of a lady sobbing in the background. The gravediggers lifted Issa’s body into the grave, Abu, with tears in his eyes looked up to the sky and said something, then bowed his head and turned back to the grave, He knelt at the graveside, drew his dagger from it’s sheath and plunged it into his gut. He paused then tried to lower himself, half falling until he rested next to Issa’s body. The priest placed the pot into the grave, then began uttering again to a different tune and the gravediggers shovelled the earth back into the grave. They seemed to be burying him alive. I looked across at Abu’s spirit and was surprised to see another spirit close to him. I recognised the glow that emanated from the other spirit. It was Issa, there could be no mistake. The glow was dimmer, but distinctive. They were watching the ceremony with me and I could sense their utter despair. From having so much to live for together, their bodies had perished. They watched as large rocks were placed on the grave until they formed a small mound.
Then the spirits of Abu and Issa approached me and tried to communicate with me. I wished I could understand what they wanted of me. It was only much later that I could figure that out. Abu’s spirit led me morosely back through the cloud. In some way I felt that he had achieved his task, to show me what he had shown me. I felt overwhelmed by emotion at what I had seen. The deep sorrow, the privilege of witnessing something so personal and the realisation that, all along, this had been Abu’s purpose, to show me this event and to show me why he was such a troubled soul.
For so long his spirit had been trying to find a way to reunite with Issa. That much was clear to me. I wondered if Issa’s spirit had also been searching for Abu. But how could I possibly help? I felt indebted to Abu and sorry for his plight, but I was at a loss for what I should do next. I wondered if Abu would even help me again in the OBE experience, as I couldn’t imagine he would want to return to the hut again.
Despite everything that Abu’s spirit had shown me I was still confused. I still didn’t know how I could help. It’s not as if I could put out an advertisement for Issa’s spirit. Would the girl who was hosting the spirit even know? Was Abu’s spirit’s task
Now complete? Would I get any more clues? My next two visits to the Grange would answer all these questions and more.
Julie insisted we had a girl’s night out down the pub, just the two of us. I told her I was fine when she called at work, but she knows me well, too well. I tried to get her to talk about work, or Sean, anything to steer the conversation away from Abe. I congratulated her on staying with Sean for a whole 3 months - quite a record. He seemed to be infatuated by her and I told her to stop flirting with the other guys at work if she wanted to keep him. She just laughed it off, saying that it would keep him keen. I asked if Mike was happy with her and she laughed again, saying that he’d better be or she’d be having words with him. She didn’t seem to worry about anything. Well, that wasn’t quite true, I knew she was worried about me.
‘It’s Abe, isn’t it? Has he explained his weird behaviour yet?’
‘Oh everything’s fine Julie. Yes, well, he did kind of’
‘Do you honestly think you can fool me? Don’t you think I know when something’s bothering you? I care about you, Isla. What about that double wedding we were planning, eh?’
‘Oh, you two can have the church to yourselves Julie,’ it was meant to be a joke, but hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop the tears. ‘Look I shouldn’t talk about my stupid worries. You know I’m such a worrier.’
‘That’s why I’m your friend. You can tell me anything. You’ll feel better if you do.’
So I told Julie that Abe had been attending the cognitive behaviour therapy sessions with Jackie, but refusing the medication that was recommended. It was a lot to take in, but Julie at least understood that Abe had been pretending that the therapy was working, then carrying on with his secretive activities, deluding himself with his stories of spirits and out of body experiences.
‘Well I would confront him, Isla. He’s pretending the therapy is working because he loves you and he’s afraid you’ll leave him if he stops taking it.’
‘Oh, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You see, to everyone else he’s acting completely normally’.
‘Tell him to take the treatment, medication and all, or prove the stories are real, otherwise you’ll tell him to get lost’
‘Oh, I couldn’t do that, Julie. I love him so much. There’s just this one small problem, that’s all’
‘One small problem? He’s got schizophrenia and he’s refusing to be treated for it. I’d call that one big problem. I’ll find you a nice fella. There’s loads of them on the building site. You could take your pick.’
‘No thanks, Julie. Abe is the guy for me and, by the way, he may not have schizophrenia. He says he won’t take the treatment because there’s nothing to treat.’
‘Come on Isla, you just told me that Jackie said his case fits all the criteria; symptoms starting during his teenage years and the delusions becoming more complex over time. It all fits. Just because he can’t see it - isn’t that part of the condition?’
I know Julie tried to help, but I felt even more worried and isolated at the end of the night. Was that really what I had to do, confront Abe like that? Give him an ultimatum? Oh yes, Julie would do that in my position, but then she and I were completely different people. That’s probably why nothing around Julie usually lasted long. I had always avoided confrontation. I also worried that I shouldn’t have told Julie about Abe’s treatment. Schizophrenia has such a stigma about it, even though a surprising amount of people suffer with it. It’s still best to keep it quiet.
It was so easy to fall in love with Isla. She was everything I needed. We were just so right for each other. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy. When I looked back on the previous ten years, they had been empty and meaningless, although I thought I had been doing well at the time. It saddened me greatly to see how much she was worried about me. Jackie was a good person and she was following procedures that she had been taught, diligently and professionally. However, her training had indoctrinated her to such an extent that, to her, sympathise with me as she did, there wasn’t a shred of doubt that my story could possibly be real. It wasn’t her fault, no matter how much anyone could search, as far as I could tell, there was no written evidence to support any proof in the findings of my experiments. I couldn’t argue with her about that. She offered alternative explanations for everything I told her. I have no doubt that, with the antipsychotic drug treatment that I was supposed to be on, she would be able to convince me that I was suffering from delusions. Those drugs block the dopamine, allowing sufferers to stop hearing voices and seeing visions and once the medication was at the correct level, the hallucinations would stop and the sufferer would be able to recognise that he had been suffering from delusions. Unfortunately, what Jackie and Isla couldn’t accept without proof was that these ‘delusions’ if that’s what they were, couldn’t fully explain everything. I was sure of it. That’s why I wasn’t going to fully cooperate with the treatment.
The next time I visited the small room to do an OBE Abu’s spirit appeared again, guiding me into the cloud, but we didn’t end up in the hut this time. Abu paused as the cloud was dispersing and didn’t exit in the same position. This time it was through the side of the cloud.
As I passed through, the scene that presented itself was completely different. We were still in the small room of the Grange, but everything was new, the window was clean and without mould. There was an odd assortment of furniture; an armchair, a desk with four machines that had screens that were glowing, like TV sets, but much thinner and folded in the middle with a type-writer keyboard on one half. Of course I didn’t know then that they were laptops - they hadn’t been invented yet. There was also what looked like a mini electric organ. Everything seemed to be switched on. What surprised me most of all was the buzzer on the desk, similar to the one I used to ensure that my spirit would return to my body after the OBE. I was both amazed and puzzled. Was this some time in the past, or had we come out of the cloud into the future? Judging by the laptops it had to be the future. And what about the buzzer? Was this a glimpse into my future? I looked at one of the screens.. Would I continue to experiment in that room? Would I somehow manage to buy the Grange and have it renovated? How could I possibly afford to do that on a trainee chef’s wage? I looked at the screens. One of them seemed to be stuck on the BBC news, another on pop music charts, another on some kind of stock exchange page. Then I noticed the date in the top corner. My god, it was 10 years from now. We really had reappeared into the future.
That night I lay in bed, unable to sleep. I had so many questions. The thought that I might some day use those screens in that small room somehow was so exciting. What would the screens do?
Could my spirit ‘travel ‘to any point in the future? Was there a way to control it? Could Abu’s spirit help me to figure it all out? Was he helping me this way in order to find Issa’s spirit?
The next day I wanted to travel through the cloud again, but something told me that I shouldn’t . As I entered the building and clambered over the plants in the lounge that led to the small room I stopped. It was that feeling I sometimes got when I have to do something, or not do something involuntarily. What was this feeling? Was there some danger ahead? Was Abu’s spirit stopping me from going in the small room? If so, why? I looked around me and then it suddenly hit me, the significance of Abu and Issa’s funeral. All the times I had experimented with OBEs I hadn’t moved from where I started, not physically. In fact, the only time, in the Grange, that I had physically moved out of that small area, whether it was the mud hut, or the small room, had been through the wall of the hut to witness Abu’s death and the funeral. That meant that the grave must be right under my feet. The pot containing their possessions was buried with them. It could be still there, right beneath my feet. I wonder if what was in the pot was valuable, valuable enough to buy and renovate the Grange. I had to find out.
The next day I took a spade to the Grange. I tried to guess the exact spot, but the hut was a different shape from the small room. Thankfully the floorboards were rotten and moved aside easily. After an hour or so digging the spade hit a large stone, then another. It took some time to remove the stones, then, sure enough I found their bones, skulls and, behold, to my excitement, the pot full of their treasured belongings. There was a metal ring and a bracelet, some kind of necklace and some metal discs, or perhaps coins. I saw the blade ofAbu’s dagger and realised that even that could be valuable, even though the handle must have rotted away. It was a gruesome sight, but it also could create an opportunity. I didn’t know how to go about finding the value of the artefacts and decided to hide most of them and just take the ring and bracelet to a pawn shop that I would pass on the way back to work.
‘Well what have we got here,’ enquired the man behind the counter, ‘well, well, where on earth did you get these from. Of course I couldn’t tell him that I’d found them buried in the ground where I’d been trespassing.
‘I dug them up, I said , ‘There’s lots more. They were with some old skeletons’.
‘Listen son, I don’t really know what these are, but they look very old indeed. I wouldn’t know what they are worth, but I imagine the place you found them might be of archaeological interest. If it was on your parent’s land or a public place, like a beach, then you might profit from it, otherwise you won’t. Not only that, but if there are any human remains then there will need to be a proper public enquiry and all’.
‘Oh thanks for that, mister’, I really appreciate your honesty’. I’m sure he could have made a big profit from them if he’d wanted to.
‘I tell you what I’ll do, lad’, he said, ‘There’s an old retired businessman I know. Kindly old chap, he is. Ancient artefacts are his hobby. I bet he’d know what these are’
I left the ring and bracelet with the pawnbroker and the next morning I received a phone call from the old man.
‘Mr Hargreaves here. Are you the young man who found the bronze age jewellery?’
‘Bronze age,’ I exclaimed, ‘Wow! That must be really old then’
‘Haha, around 4000 years old, perhaps more,’ he said. ‘Now you need to show me where you found them, oh and I understand there is more. I hope you didn’t disturb the site too much. Ooh, this is rather exciting’.
‘I explained that the site was inside a derelict house that was for sale and we’d need to clamber over hedges and such like. He was too excited to mind about that. He met me along the Wythenshawe Road by the Grange and I showed him how to get in. He didn’t seem to mind that we shouldn’t be there at all, as though we were going on some sort of boyhood adventure.He was indeed a kindly old man and he obviously had a passion for antiquities.
When we reached the grave he clapped his hands together in glee.
‘Oh my word, remarkable, truly remarkable. Oh my boy, look what you have found. No doubt you used a metal detector, eh?
‘Er is it valuable’, I asked, seeing no point in disagreeing.
‘Goodness, yes’, he declared ‘ National importance, I dare say. Of course, you know it belongs to the owner of the house, don’t you? Unfortunately, you won’t see a penny of it, my boy, but think of the fame. You’ll be in the news I should think’.
‘How much do you suppose it is worth, though,’ I was hatching an idea.
‘Oh, at a guess, I’d say perhaps a million, maybe more. It’ll be someone’s lucky day when they get to hear about it, eh?’
‘’It’s just that I had an idea’. I began, ‘Just supposing we didn’t find it yet’.
‘Well, whatever do you mean, boy?’
‘’Well just supposing you bought this land for whatever the price is, then I buy it off you for double what you paid, in the form of an IOU, payable after the artefacts are sold. Then, after that, that’s when we find all this. What do you say?’
‘I say, what a devious plan. Clever lad, aren’t you’.
Jackie asked me to call in to see her. She said it would be better face to face.
I feared the worst straight away, that she was now sure about Abe’s schizophrenia and the full treatment would formally begin. I didn’t realise it could actually be worse than that.
When I entered her therapy room a man introduced himself as Graham. He was the senior psychologist and explained that Jackie had consulted him about Abe to ask for a second opinion. Graham said he had read Jackie’s notes and had sat in on Abe’s last session. He said he was concerned about the lack of progress and agreed with Jackie that, without the antipsychotic medication which Abe refused to take and because Abe was only feigning cooperation and progress, he had to agree with Jackie that there was no point in carrying on in the current way.
Jackie stressed that this was not Abe’s decision, although it was his actions that prompted the decision. In fact Abe almost pleaded to continue the therapy, presumably because he didn’t want me to be upset. They wanted me, or someone else to persuade Abe to take the medication before they were prepared to continue the therapy. In Abe’s case, one simply wouldn’t work without the other, they said.
Well, Abe was right about one thing, I was upset. Graham had explained that without any treatment the statistics were not good. The life expectancy of untreated sufferers was quite low, suicide being one of the most common reasons. Even the most caring partner would find it hard to help him face the downward spiral of the illness, especially if the sufferer was in denial of the condition.
What on earth was I going to do?
I have to face it; I’m going to have to tell Issa what’s going on and just risk it. If she freaks out, then, in a way, I would have lost nothing, because she wasn’t going to tolerate the secrecy any longer. The problem was, I couldn’t just tell her part of it, it wouldn’t work. That would have just created more questions. Also, I’d have to tell Isabel and Steve too. Better me telling them, than it coming from Isla, second hand. Isabel might believe it, but I was really worried about Steve, not to mention Isla. If someone was to tell me such an incredible story I’d probably have them carted away.
No, I’m going to have to show them. Wow! That is really going to freak them out. All of them. I’m just going to have to be brave. I don't want to lose Isla. That would just crush me, not to mention the debt I owe to Abu and Issa.
Finding Isla had been the most evasive task in a way. So much time had passed since finding the pot of artefacts, allowing me to buy the Grange. Soon I could do everything except find Issa for Abu, that was the final elusive piece of the jigsaw. I had almost begun to think I would never be able to complete Abu’s mission - until that night in the bar.
The artefacts turned out to be worth nearer to two million pounds. Buying The Grange off Mr Hargreaves left more than enough to renovate it. I even bought more terraced houses to rent out to keep an income. I had continued working at the hotel for a while, until I could find someone to do the renovation.
That’s when I met Mike. He answered my advertisement ‘ builder required to renovate a lovely old house’. He’d been the foreman of a site that had closed down. He didn’t seem to smile much, very plain spoken and looked at me as if he was wasting his time.
‘Not a chance’, was the first thing I remember him saying when he saw the Grange.
‘But can’t you see the potential, Mike’ Don’t you think it’s got character?’
‘How are you going to pay for it? You got any idea how much it’ll cost to sort this lot out.? The bloody roof’s missing’.
‘I’ve got money, Mike, look’ and showed him the newspaper cuttings’
‘Well you’re a lucky lad aren’t you’, he said glancing at the cuttings, ‘Well, I’ll have to think about it, do a survey, come up with some figures and find some help’.
‘I’d like to help’, I said.
‘What?’ He grabbed my hand and looked at the palm. ‘Nah’, he scowled, ‘you’ve never even worked outdoors before, have you, son? You’d be no use to me’.
‘I’m willing to learn, honestly. I’m working as a trainee chef at the moment and it’s just not me. I’d love to help with this, I really would. I don’t mind what jobs you put me on’.
So that was that, ‘I’m not calling you boss though, got it. You do what I tell yer’, he shouted after me as he left. I could tell he was a good man, even from that day, despite his gruff, heavy-handed exterior. It took nearly a year to restore the Grange to its former glory. I did all the dirty jobs, the lifting and made the tea. Mike was a skilled craftsman who knew his stuff. My skills were never going to impress him, but he seemed to respect the effort I put in. I could never be sure what Mike thought about me until I met Mary, his wife one day.
‘Ooh, so this is the young man you’ve been telling me about, Mike. Strong as an ox, you said, charming as they come and a heart of gold’ said Mary.
‘Grumph’ said Mike.
‘Pay no attention to him, Abe. He hates showing that he cares about anyone, and I should know,’ she laughed. ‘Just give him the same back, that’s my advice. Big softy, he is, deep down.’
The recording studio in the barn was an idea that I had been hatching as the building work continued. The recording studio and small room could be used from an early stage and I’d been using the small room to do OBEs most evenings. I had set up the desk tops as they were called back then. I knew that if they were left on all the time on certain pages, then when my spirit travelled forward a little in time I would be able to see things in the future, including the music charts. Through trial and error I managed to listen to music and return through the cloud and try to play it on the keyboard, then try to remember the lyrics. It was hard work at first, but as time went by, those songs did indeed get into the charts in real time. I gradually realised that I didn’t need to remember the whole song, because what would happen in the future would happen in the future. All I had to do was remember the basics, melody, chords, artist and song title, then after setting those things in motion, the future would look after itself.
By the time the Grange was completed I had staff working in the studio, professional musicians and recording studio mixers. From the basic melodies and so on that I magically kept managing to find, they produced the hit songs, concentrating, in the first place on new artists. The hits always ended up exactly as I’d heard them originally and I told no-one how it was done. The staff not only thought they had done the composing and mixing themselves, they actually had done it. All I needed to do was find the basics. It was highly productive, not to mention profitable.
I needed other staff from an early stage, including someone to look after everything, from meeting and greeting the artists, to making the arrangements, linking with the video companies and looking after the paperwork. Only Mary could have done all that and she made everything she did seem so easy. Everybody loved Mary, me most of all. And she seemed to look after everyone, from George the gardner, to the boys in the studio.
Soon after Mike completed the Grange I could see he had little to do with his time, other than be a maintenance man for the houses I was letting out. He advised me to invest in property, or better still, buy land and build some. He knew a lot of ‘good men out of work’ as he put it and that’s how the property business got started.
Yes, after I met Isla and saw Issa’s spirit I felt that all the previous successes and trials had led to that moment. I felt, from the beginning, that meeting Isla that night had been my destiny. To spend the rest of my life with Isla, letting our love grow and raising a family at the Grange was to be the goal for me, but if Isla gives up on me what would then become of Issa and Abu?
So this was it. Abe would finish work any minute. My mind was made up. I’d spent the last hour planning how I was going to threaten to end the whole thing if he didn’t finally tell me what was going on - a bluff he’d most likely sniff out straight away.
How could I possibly end it? The last six months have been so amazing. Whirlwind romance didn’t even begin to describe it, especially when the previous twenty nine years had been so devoid of any meaningful relationships.
Oh my god, he’s here now!
‘Hi Isla. You okay?’
‘Look, I’m sorry about the therapy. I tried, honestly, but they just wouldn’t listen’
‘Well they will continue if you take the medication. I met Jackie and Graham earlier’.
‘Oh, well apart from anything else, I don’t want to feel drowsy, dizzy or nauseous’
‘You know perfectly well that those side effects are uncommon. If you don’t take the medication and continue the therapy we …’
‘Isla, don’t even say that. I’ll do anything, anything except take those bloody pills’
‘Anything, eh? Okay, let me see what’s in that room and let me see what you’ve been up to in there. Every time I ask you something, you fob me off. It’s been six months now. This morning you called me Issa. Who the hell is Issa? Tell me right now, or I’m gone. I mean it.’
‘I knew this day was coming. I really don’t want to lose you Isla. I’ve been scared that if I tell you everything you’re going to freak out and call it a day. Perhaps I’m just a coward, but if I’m going to tell you everything, you simply won’t believe me’.
‘But you just said you would. Come on! What do you mean?’
‘I’ll have to show you some of it. That’s what I mean. It’s the only way. Maybe then you’ll believe me’.
‘What are you? Some kind of monster? Jekyll and Hyde, or something’ I must admit he was starting to get me worried.
‘Ha, no, not really. It’s nothing scary, just hard to believe. So, if you’re going to help me, okay?’
‘Here’s what you need to do. Arrange for me to be in your parents lounge completely undisturbed for 30 minutes. Any time of day or night is fine. Also, arrange for us to go round there one evening after that from 7pm and your parents must be there for at least 2 hours, both of them. The timing is important”.
‘What has it got to do with my parents?’
‘Well, one of us is going to have to convince them too, right? I’ve never done this before, Isla. Never told anyone, not even Mary’
My god, he really was expecting this, ‘Right I think I can make those arrangements, but what about me? I want to know now. Don’t keep delaying it.’
‘Come with me into the ‘secret room’, as you call it’.
‘Oh my God, I actually get to see what’s in the secret room. Oooh, at last’
I said it sarcastically, but I was actually looking forward to finally seeing what this was all about, rather than letting my imagination come to conclusions.
‘You might possibly meet Issa in there too’
‘What? So she is real, then. Is she there now?’
‘Calm down, Isla. Issa is your guardian angel, for want of a better word’
When Isla entered the ‘secret’ room you could see the disappointment in her face. I think she was expecting bubbling test tubes and lots of strange gadgets. Instead, it was just a tiny room with an armchair, a desk with four laptops, a musical keyboard, a strange-looking calendar/ diary and a clockwork timer.
‘Oh , that’s boring. What’s so secret about this?’
I couldn’t help laughing a little. ‘It’s not so much what’s in here, as what happens in here. Having said that, funnily enough, most people wouldn’t even see anything much happening in here. The reason I keep it locked is because it is important that nothing is disturbed and the laptops have to stay on all the time’.
‘You’re being mysterious again, Abe. Come on, you promised’
So I started from the beginning, about the doctor’s waiting room, being teased at school, then about trying to forget all about my abilities.
‘What do you mean? You experimented?’
‘Yes. I mean, I didn’t know what to expect, or even if I really did have the abilities that some of the people in the book had. But I wanted to try. According to one psychic expert, only around 1 in 35,000 people have significant potential for psychic abilities. I failed miserably at clairvoyance, pyrokinesis (spontaneous combustion) retrocognition and telepathy. I don’t even think anyone can read someone’s mind anyway.’
‘Thank goodness for that, or you’d know what I really think of you’, joked Isla. So what is this astral projection? So you go into space, or something?’
‘Quite the opposite in fact. Some authors call it ‘mental projection’, or ‘Out of Body Experience’ , OBE, for short, and if you can successfully do it, your spirit can actually come out of your body. And you can actually see your own body, but you can't move very far away from it.’
‘It sounds quite scary to me. Isn’t that something that people who come back from the dead say they have experienced’
‘Yes, that’s right, but under controlled conditions and using Bruce’s techniques I managed to do it safely. One thing Bruce insisted was that no-one should try it alone, but strangely, this will be the first time I do it with someone else around.’
‘What? So you’re going to do it now? But, how do you know you can get back in your body? What if you can’t?’ Isla looked genuinely worried. I had forgotten how weird this must all sound.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve done it so many times before. I’m going to do it twice alone, then, if you want to meet Issa, you might be able to do it with me the third time, okay?’
‘What? No way! I don’t want to die.’
‘Okay, okay, but all you're going to see otherwise is me going into a deep trance and maybe, if you’re lucky, my wispy, translucent spirit floating about. You see, this is all so unbelievable, that unless you actually perceive it yourself, I think you’ll find it too hard to believe.’
‘All the same, I’m quite happy being alive for now, thanks’
‘No problem, I’ll just have to convince you some other way. I can see you’re having trouble believing it already. Before I do it, though, I have a confession to make. Remember that first night in the bar? Well, to be completely honest, it wasn’t you that I was initially attracted to - it was your ‘glow’. It wasn’t just any glow, it was unmistakably Issa’s glow”.
‘Er, this is getting weird now”. Isla looked at me the way I’d dreaded she might… as though she thought I was completely deranged.
‘Look, I’m going to explain. This isn’t easy and I have to tell you all this in a specific order. Perhaps I just jumped too far ahead there. You see, when you’ve managed the astral projection you first of all see the body you have left. Most things around you look different, but some things look the same, like the computer screens. Well, as I grew more confident, I experimented more and more in the astral projection conditions. Through the mists there seemed to be a sort of gateway or entrance into another area, but I couldn’t see into the gateway because it was so dark and cloudy. One day I tentatively entered it, not knowing if I could ever return. As I said, I felt I had nothing much to live for anyway at that time. This was strictly against Bruce’s advice too, so I was in uncharted territory.”
‘So what happened? You obviously managed to return.’
‘Yes! I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had travelled back many generations without physically moving. There was a husband and wife, both wearing primitive fur clothing. It looked like they were living in some kind of mud hut. They were obviously very much in love and ’glowing’ to each other. Perception of emotions seems to be stronger in spirit form. I felt privileged to witness such powerful love. It was almost as if they were both one and depended on each other entirely. He called her ‘Issa’.
“Each time I entered the gateway I would end up in the mud hut with Abu and Issa and although I couldn’t communicate with them, they accepted that I was a kind spirit and greeted me. It wasn’t until my final visit that I could see why I should end up in that time zone each time. Issa had died in child-birth. I could see Issa’s spirit and her unmistakable ‘glow’ as she watched Abu try to come to terms with her death and the death of their child. He was completely distraught. He could also see Issa’s spirit and although I couldn’t understand what he was saying I knew he wanted to join her in the spirit world. He had nothing to live for. I watched him kill himself with a knife. It was quite horrible and as he died I watched his spirit leave his body and watched it try to join with Issa’s spirit. In one way it was gruesome, in another, quite beautiful.’
‘So did they manage to sort of join?’ was Isla starting to believe this. I really hoped so.
‘No, not really’. I stayed for a while watching them swirl around each other.
I knew I had to find the gateway back. I had never stayed out of my body this long before. But, just as I looked around for it, Abu’s spirit approached me and without any words I understood what he wanted me to do. Both his and Issa’s spirit wanted to find a way to get back together to renew their powerful love for each other.’
‘Sorry, but I’m still a bit confused,’ said Isla.
‘ I’m not surprised. It’s a lot to take in. Maybe this will make it a bit clearer. You see, the first time my spirit entered the mud hut through the gateway I recognised Abu. Not physically, but spiritually. I realised very quickly that Abu’s spirit was the guest spirit of my body and his spirit had been with me since I was a baby. On my final visit to the mud hut, after Abu killed himself and I saw his spirit, then I was sure. I knew definitely and I knew what I must strive to do for Abu’.
The look on Isla’s face said it all. She tried to put me at ease, telling me that her mum was rooting for me, but as much as I’d tried to prepare for this inevitable display of proof, explanation or would it be showdown, I knew, deep in my heart that unless one of them could actually experience it themselves, I had my work cut out. I couldn’t blame Isla for being skeptical. I would be too in her position. The psychologists were the professionals with experience of dealing with schizophrenics in denial. Their methods were tried and tested and they could present statistics and forecasts all backed up with years of global evidence. All I had was a story, a far-fetched one at that. There was absolutely no evidence of anyone being able to project their spirit through time during an OBE and Isla certainly didn’t look convinced by my demonstration. If I couldn’t convince them the next evening I would either have to accept that I was schizophrenic, participate fully in the treatment and forget about it all, or else, the alternative was even worse.
I hadn’t realised it at the time, but looking back at my life before I found Isla I was constantly doing something, or else busy planning the next hit record or housing project, anything, in fact that would stop me from realising the pointlessness of my existence, futility even, like a hamster in a treadmill. The rest of my life with Isla, that was my destiny, I was so sure. She gave my life meaning. To grow old together, raise our children, pass on our knowledge, wisdom and genes to a new generation. Perhaps that was the meaning of life, from the simplest life form upwards. I could never do that with anyone else. It could only be Isla.
And then of course there was my pledge to Abu and Issa. They were relying on me to reunite and renew their love in us. How many generations had they searched for each other? I had felt Abu’s anguish back in the hut. I was their only chance.
Well Abe was certainly right about something - there was a lot to take in. And I suppose he had tried to explain away some of the mysteries. I watched him go into a deep trance for about 30 seconds, then the timer went off and he kind of woke up. The second time he asked me to write something on a piece of paper, not let him see it and then I was to put it somewhere he couldn;t see it. He went into a trance again, woke up when the alarm went off and told me what I’d written. A neat trick! I don’t know how he did it; astral projection I suppose. I asked him about the laptops and why they were left on. He just replied that it would be better if he told me with my parents.
That made me feel like he was being patronising and to be honest, after all that guardian angel stuff I think I could have handled hearing about laptops. He could tell that I was worried and, yes, freaking out. That’s probably why he said that. I suppose. Perhaps he thought there had already been an information overload.
Well, I did some research on out of body experiences, or OBEs as they call them. The good news is that they do exist and around one in ten people will experience one in their lifetime. They can also be self-induced by some people who study and practice deep trance-like states. After reading a bit deeper, some psychologists said there is a link between some people who have experienced OBEs and schizophrenia and even psychosis.. It seemed that this could explain a lot. All the weirdness, delusions, the inability to separate fantasy from reality, secret friends and secret meetings. It all seemed to add up. My worst fears looked like they could be realised. This was more serious than I’d even dreaded. I became seriously worried that Abe was mentally ill, but unable to see it. Everything had been so good, almost perfect, apart from all the mystery, that is. Abe had already told me so many times that I was the one for him and how he would always take care of me, and how he was so glad he’d found me. The trouble was, would I be looking at the prospect of caring for someone with mental illness? I wasn’t sure I could handle that.
By the time I got round to see mum I was in a really bad state and there’s no point in trying to hide that from mum.
‘But he seems so normal and you two seem so in love’ Mum was probing.
‘There are things you don’t know yet, Mum, but I have a feeling you’re going to find out on Tuesday evening. My God, it’s going to be so embarrassing, especially with Dad there too. I mean, yes, everyone thinks he’s completely normal and in most ways he is, but there’s always been mystery with Abe, right from the beginning.”
‘Hey, wait until you find out what he’s got lined up for Tuesday before you pass judgement on poor Abe. I’m quite looking forward to it, to be honest,’ she smirked. ‘Anyway, you don’t exactly come from a ‘normal’ family yourself, you know?’
‘What do you mean, mum?’
‘Oh, there’s a lot you don’t know, but I think it’s time I told you. You see, our ancestors, going back as far as I know have all had visions, psychic powers, or other kinds of sixth sense. Your Great grandmother, Ida was locked away in a lunatic asylum and there are even stories of an ancestor long ago who was burnt at the stake for being a witch’
‘Wow! So how come you and I are normal, then?’ I was starting to wonder what ‘normal’ meant any more.
‘Oh, is that what you think, Isla? Be honest, now. I know you see my ‘halo’ when I’m showing love, or feeling happy?’
‘’Yes, I do, but …’
‘And don’t you realise that your glow is even brighter? Don’t you know what that means?’
‘Not really, Mum. This is all a bit weird to me. Why didn’t you say something before now?’
‘I’ve known your dad for thirty odd years and I didn’t dare tell him, either. Some things are best kept quiet, I think, especially after what happened to some of your ancestors.’
‘Well, can you answer me something …. Why did you call me Isla’
‘Oh, well your dad didn’t really like the name at first, he said it was too Scottish, but something made me turn really stubborn about the name Isla, I don’t really know why. It’s the same as when he wanted to move south with the new job. I really put my foot down about staying in the area, where all my ancestors have always lived for as long as memory serves. I think your dad was quite taken aback. Anyway, we’re still here, aren’t we?’
‘Oh mum, what am I going to do? Dad will ridicule him on Tuesday for sure.’
‘We’ll have to wait and see. You let me handle your dad. Anyway, he seems to have calmed down since he saw those newspaper cuttings. At least they explained the money part and you know what your dad’s like about money matters not adding up?’
Mary, Mike, and the whole family came round for a barbeque that Sunday. It was a beautiful, hot day in the garden. Patch and Pooch were splashing about in the pond together. The boys were playing, football, badminton and all sorts. When I say the boys, Abe was the biggest kid there. Mike ‘put his foot in it’ .. I suppose it was funny in a way.
‘I believe congratulations are in order, Isla’, he looked at me inquisitively.
‘Er, why’s that Mike?’ I tried not to smile.
Mary leapt to the rescue ‘Mike, why don’t you get me and Isla another glass of Sangria?’ Then after he had sloped off out of ear-shot, realising his mistake, Mary continued, ‘Men, honestly! So anyway, what’s wrong, Isla?’
‘Um, I’m fine, really Mary’
‘I wasn’t born yesterday, you know. Is everything okay with you and Abe? He’s still crazy about you, you know’.
‘Oh, we’re fine, you know?. It’s just that I’m a bit worried about him. Maybe I’m crazy to ask, but has he ever had any mental illness at all?’
‘God, no! He’s the most stable, level-headed person I know, wouldn’t you say, Mike?’ ,who had returned with drinks in his hands and his ‘tail between his legs’.
‘Who, Abe? Well, he’s rubbish at plastering’, began Mike, ‘But he can carry a full hod of bricks up a ladder.’
We all laughed and I hoped the subject would be promptly dropped. I was already regretting that I had even mentioned that to Mary. She may have been the only one with enough influence to persuade Abe, but he had told me that even Mary knew nothing about his secrets.
‘Mind you’, Mike continued, ‘the lads were all talking about Abe being a bit of a nutcase. I don’t know what that was all about. Seems to have his head screwed on fine, if you ask me’.
The reason Abe had told no-one but me was through experience of bitter childhood taunting. Had I betrayed his trust? Was his whole world going to come crashing down after Tuesday? Was dad going to tear him to shreds after mocking his delusions? Was I strong enough to stand by him to watch his empire crumble and his confidence dwindle?
‘So the stage is set for your big performance then, or is it to be a revelation, Abe?’ jibed Steve, ‘We’re all assembled at seven o’clock sharp, as instructed’
‘You know what, Steve, I have never been so nervous in my life. This could go very ‘pear-shaped’, but I promised Isla that I’d finally tell her what I’ve been so secretive about and I thought it would be better if you all heard it straight from the ‘horse’s mouth’.
‘It Sounds like we’re in for an interesting evening then’, said Steve.
‘Well, let me put it this way, Steve, I’m not worried that you’ll tell anyone else about this later because, no-one would believe it anyway’. I noticed Isla cringing out of the corner of my eye. I really hoped this was going to work. She had been unnervingly off hand with me since I showed her the OBEs. She didn’t want to talk about much except the weather recently. I was feeling the pressure. I knew this had to go well. As far as our relationship was concerned, this was literally ‘make or break’ time. It certainly had to go better than the last time in the ‘secret’ room.
So I began with the doctor’s waiting room story and how I was teased at school because my friend had told someone. Just as I was about to carry on, to my surprise, Isabel interjected,
‘I was only five when my mother told me about my ‘glow’. I remember being told off because I had told my friend that my mother had a halo, like an angel. She explained that no-one else could see it, not even my father. She said it was God’s special gift to kind-hearted people and only gifted people could see it. She told me that my halo was even brighter than hers because I was so kind-hearted, but other people couldn’t see it, so I should keep it a secret. A secret that I have kept until this day’
I don’t know who was more surprised by Isabel’s statement, Steve or me. I had hoped that Isabel would contribute, although it was asking a lot after all her years of secrecy, even from Steve.
‘Can I ask you something, Isabel’, I began, ‘Did you used to feel that you had a guardian angel?’
‘Oh, yes’, she said, ‘But it seemed to disappear’
‘Would that have been after Isla was born, by any chance’, I asked.
‘Yes, I suppose it would have been’, she looked a little bemused, but I noticed Isla’s expression change. Out of the corner of my eye’. So far, so good.
‘I’m feeling a bit left out here. Quite glowless.’ joked Steve. ‘Is there anything else I should know’
‘We’ve hardly started, Steve, but you should know that Isla’s glow was the first thing I noticed when I first met her’ I decided to delay the 'Issa’ part of the story because of Isla’s reaction last time. Everything had to be in the right order. Slowly, slowly … I went on to describe how I started to study and then experiment with psychic abilities. I produced out of a bag I had brought some of the books I’d studied and laid them on the table. I told them about how I experimented with out of body experiences and about the gateways that I discovered - about the gateway taking my spirit into past generations where I seemed to be directed always to the same time at first, where I always met the same people. I told them that I was going to come back to why these people were so significant later. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again and I could sense Isla’s relief.
I knew I had to tell them about the next stage of my experiments before it got near eight o’clock. This was going to be tricky. I could see Steve’s face. He was becoming skeptical. I dare not even look at Isla’s face. This was it, the critical stage.
‘While I was experimenting with the OBEs, I tried allowing my spirit to linger in the gateway in various ways before exiting it and found that it allowed me to exit in different time zones, some of them seemed to be in the future. I continued to experiment and found that if I placed a digital clock/calendar on the desk in a certain position before I went into the trance, then I could see it through the cloud whilst I was still in the gateway and then exit at a certain time and date after some practice’.
Well, now that I’d dropped the bombshell, I could see the cogs ‘whirring’ in their brains. From disbelief, to ‘what if it’s true?’ to ‘well if it is true that would be amazing’.
‘Wow! Is that the time? Right, time for the proof, then. I can see you are all wondering whether to believe all this. So I’ve got some games for you to play, Isabel and Steve. Oh, Steve, you tinker with the stock exchange, I understand. So the Nikkei index opens in around three minutes, right?’
‘Er, um, well taking British summertime into consideration, yes, that’s right’
‘So, bearing in mind how erratic the stock market has been recently, what are the chances I would be able to guess the opening Nikkei index, correct to two decimal points’
‘A million to one’ he said, quite emphatically.
I took some cards out of my bag, laid them all face down two in front of Steve and turned one over with the Nikkei opening index already written on it. “Okay, but before you check it I want you to write a fact down that Isla wouldn’t have been able to tell me. Anything you like, maybe the name of your first teacher, something like that. Don’t let me see it, though. Isabel, you do the same, maybe your childhood doll’s name, or anything that Isla couldn’t have told me.’
‘Also Steve I want you to choose any book from the bookcase, something obscure, but you don’t need to fetch it yet’.
‘Obscure, eh. Okay, um ...‘A Breviary of Chess’ by S. Tartakower. How’s that’
‘Great, now any number between one and a hundred, then any number between one and twenty, followed by any number between one and eight’
‘Oh, I get it; page number, line number and word number along that line, right’
‘What about me? Don’t I get to play’, chirped Isla, obviously feeling left out, seeing as she was the one I was trying to convince.
‘Oh, yes, bearing in mind what is in my ‘secret ‘room and to answer your question of why they are always left on, I want you to imagine what use it would be if my spirit was indeed able to travel forwards in time in that room’, let her imagine, I thought, let her figure it out, then she might believe.
‘Right Steve, Isabel? I guess you’ve written those down. Now for the moment of truth’.
Steve had already checked the opening Nikkei index on his phone.
‘Oh my God, it’s identical, he said. How on earth did you do that?’
I looked across at Isla, ‘Well’, began Isla, ‘Abe could have locked one of his laptops on the Nikkei website, then his spirit could have observed it at a future point in time whilst under OBE conditions, I guess’. she said. She looked across at me and I’m sure there was a smile of relief, relief that she was starting to believe that I might not be nuts. I smiled back at her and knew that it would be one of my beaming smiles. I felt so happy and I realised that we hadn’t smiled at each other like that for so long.
‘Oh, I see’, was Steve getting it now, or just playing along?, ‘then after returning to your body, you could still remember the opening index. That’s when you wrote on the card, right?’
‘Precisely, yes. Look I know it’s hard to believe, but just bear with me, all right?’ I turned over two more cards. One said ‘Miss Crowther’ and the other said ‘Issa’. Both Steve and Isabel were astonished, turning their cards over and looking at each other in amazement.
‘I don’t get it, how could you check my first teacher’s name out on a laptop, Abe?’ asked Steve.
‘He didn’t need to’, Isabel was starting to figure it out now, ‘He must have been doing OBE experimenting here last night’.
‘That’s right Isabel. I managed to project my spirit to eight o’clock this evening. It was right behind you, Steve.
‘What, your spirit? Well, I’ll be damned’ uttered Steve in disbelief, although I could see he was struggling to think of any other explanation.
‘Interesting that you chose the name Issa for your doll, Isabel?’ I said.
Well, dad’s jaw dropped when Abe told him that his spirit had been right behind him for the last half an hour, watching everything he was writing. When Abe turned over the last sheet, that’s what finally convinced dad that Abe was telling the truth. Abe had previously written down the book title, page number, line number and particular word from that book. It matched perfectly when dad got the book from the book case. The best conjurer in the World couldn’t have done that.
Then things really got interesting. Abe asked me if I had thought of any uses for his spirit being able to go back and forth in time in that secret room,
‘What about lottery numbers?’ I said.
‘Yes, I admit I did consider that. It would have been very easy. The only problem was my conscience. It would always have been a source of guilt that I’d effectively stolen someone else’s winnings. I don’t think it would have broken any laws, but it was a moral decision. No, the initial money came from finding the artefacts, That paid for the Grange, it’s renovation and also bought other properties that generated income from tenants. I put that money to good use, starting the recording business and giving the property business a big boost. Did you come up with anything else?’
‘Well, wouldn’t you be able to see and listen to music hits of the future?’ I was starting to see the whole picture now.
‘Exactly. At first I tried to copy the music perfectly, then find and convince the artist to sing it. That was hard work, bearing in mind that, as a spirit, I couldn’t even write anything. Everything had to be remembered when I re-entered my body. It was exhausting. Then my music skills weren’t really up to it, despite having software that writes music that it ‘heard’. Then it occurred to me that ‘what would be would be’. All I had to do was concentrate on new bands or artists, then after giving my recording team the basic melody, and lyrics the hit song would appear exactly as I had heard it. I realised that I actually didn’t need to try so hard. My recording team has long since stopped wondering how I manage to keep coming up with such big hits.They still think I have a vivid imagination to make up for my lack of expertise’.
‘What about the stock market? The price of gold and so on?’, Steve was starting to get excited about this.
‘Yes, I could do that easily, but I never have.. It would be so easy to just make a huge amount of money, but I want to use my gift for the better if I can. For example, in 2020 there will be a Worldwide flu pandemic, a new virus that will kill millions of people. There will be a global shortage of disposable face masks’.
‘So are you going to start making face masks, then,’ I asked, remembering the file in the office that I spotted about the medical supply manufacturer.
‘I have a factory in Bradford that has been producing about 5 million of them a year for the last four years’ said Abe, who seemed to be starting to relax now.
‘Must be some profit coming from that venture, then Abe?’ asked dad.
‘Oh, I think slow-burners are probably less suspicious than ‘quick buck’ projects like the stock market’, said Abe, ‘Like the property business. I found out that due to the recession caused by the pandemic, shared -ownership properties would soon be in great demand to allow first time buyers a foot-hold onto the property ladder. That’s why all the sites are primarily geared towards small flats and maisonettes, ideal for shared ownership.’
‘You’ll get rent from shared ownership properties, won’t you Abe,’ Steve was quick to seize the possibilities.
‘Oh yes, but it’s all ploughed back into new sites to avoid income tax,’ said Abe.
‘I’ve got social media down on my list’, I said. ‘Surely you could grab one of the many future innovations or social media platforms’
‘Yes, I thought about it, but as I looked into the future of social media, exciting, though it is, it is heading for difficult times. You see, the profit-oriented algorithms that these companies use start to make the sites obsessive to the users and render societies divisive and blinkered in their opinions about key issues. It will even lead to civil wars, loneliness and rising suicide rates, especially in young people who will become more and more socially isolated. It will be a good 20 years before international legislation regulates the social media platforms enough to make them socially harmless’
‘Wow!. This is a hell of a story, Abe’ , dad was really getting into this, especially the potential profit, I think ‘I bet you’re glad to get all this off your chest’.
‘You’re so right, Steve. I’ve been so worried about this. I’ve never dared tell anyone about this before. But that’s not all, I’m afraid. There are still a couple of things that I’ve been really worried about telling you all. I tried telling Isla the other night and I’m sure she thought I was round the twist. She might still think I am after this, but anyway, here I go’. I squeezed Abe’s hand and caught his worried look with my smile.
Abe went on to describe how on his first visits into the OBEs he ended up in the mud hut where his spirit found the primitive couple who shone so brightly and were so much in love.
Suddenly I noticed mum was sobbing. I had never seen her cry before, not ever. ‘Oh mum, whatever is it? Are you all right?’ I asked.
‘I think I might be able to finish this part of the story, Abe. You see, my grandmother, Ida, who I loved dearly used to tell me stories when I was a little girl. My favourite was the one about Abu and Issa who lived in a mud hut a long long time ago. They were so much in love that a warm glow surrounded them. Abu would go farming every day and Issa would make clothes for their baby, who they were looking forward to meeting when it was born. They would sit around the fire every night and tell each other stories of how they would share their love with the baby. They were going to be such a happy family. But then one day, Issa died in childbirth an Abu was so distraught and desperately wanted to find a way to reunite with Issa. A friendly spirit came and Abu asked him to help. The spirit promised to find a way to reunite the spirits of Abu and Issa in human hosts so that they could be together again. Granny Ida told me that story so many times and she told me that Issa’s spirit, who had been passed from her mother, had helped her so much. After Granny Ida had a daughter, my mother, Issa’s spirit had passed to her, and then to me and now to you, Isla. I know you can feel it’s true. They took Granny Ida away to a mental asylum when I was just a girl’. Mum’s face took on a childish expression, as though she was still that little girl who missed her granny. ‘It was such a sad time. I knew she wasn’t mad, she could just see more than anyone else’
‘The first moment I saw Abe, I saw his glow and I could tell he was hosting a spirit. It is Abu’s spirit, isn’t it, Abe? You are trying to reunite them as you promised, aren’t you?’
I didn’t even see Abe get off the settee. I suddenly realised he was hugging mum. There was such a release of emotion. I think we were all in tears. We all joined in the hug.
Mum sobbed so much, but it was just emotion, they were tears of joy. She hugged me. I knew that she must have wanted to tell me that story many years ago. I just knew it.
‘Well Abe, you promised us an interesting evening”’ said dad, ‘but didn’t you say there was something else you were worried about?’
‘Er, Yes,’ said Abe, who suddenly looked terrified when he caught my eye, ‘It’s just that, um, well, not just because I made a promise to Abu, of course, but because I really want to spend the rest of my life with….’
‘The answer’s “yes’, I interrupted.
‘But how did you know I was going to propose’, Abe looked delighted and flabbergasted at the same time.
‘You’re not the only one who can look into the future, you know’. I gave him a squeeze and smiled into his eyes.
The next day, as I sat in the sun on the garden bench, the gentle breeze rustling the leaves in the laburnum tree. I realised that I had a feeling of total contentment. All the worry about Abe’s mental health problems were gone and all the mystery that had held our relationship back was gone too. Now our love could grow unfettered by doubt. Maybe we could grow to love each other as much as Abu and Issa. I was thinking about how Abu’s and Issa’s spirits helped, but also influenced generations in both families to keep our names similar to theirs and persuade us to still live in the same area, so that they could meet up again some day. There was something wondrous about knowing that Abe and I were to be the ones to allow Abu and Issa to finally embody their long-lost love in us. Abe said he didn’t know how long their spirits would stay with us. Perhaps until we have children, or until we die. We’ll have to wait and see. Abe agreed that there was no need to use the secret room any more, as he could never be sure of being able to return his spirit into his body. He said it was about time he let others come up with the hit songs anyway.
‘Someone looks happy today’, I looked up. It was old George, the gardener.
‘Oh hello, George. It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it?. Oh how’s your young apprentice getting along?’
‘He’s a good lad. I’ll teach him as much as he wants to learn. If he thinks he already knows, then I’ll not teach him’, said George, never one to waste words.
‘He’s got a good teacher. I think he looks up to you, George’
‘Well I sometimes remember how the old gardener taught me years ago, just as I’m teaching this lad. That’s how it works, isn’t it? That’s how we remember those that passed before’.