Ever since he was a little boy, Dennis Pettifer had wanted to fly. The sky was beautiful. Magnificent. Marvellous. He remembered standing with his father at the edge of the field behind their home watching the swans take off, zooming and cartwheeling through the air as if unbound by Newton's laws of gravity. They had stunned and wowed him: the sheer power in the rippling tendons of the wings that, his father said, could break a man's arm clean off; the elongated necks that should have been clumsy but only served a better grace. His father kept doves in the dovecot at the back of the house, and they were at pure as the angels of heaven. Dennis would rest against the fence as the older man attached a message to the foot of a bird and sent it off into the air, knowing that one day the whole Pettifer estate, and the birds, would all be his. One day, he would find a way to join them. One day, he would fly.
He met Minerva Punnet at a party his parents gave. With her soft flaxen hair, baby blue eyes and elegant figure, she was birdlike as he danced with her in the hall. She chirped delightedly when he kissed her and rested her hands on his upper arms. Her parents approved the match, and Dennis couldn't stop smiling for a week. How could he, when everything he had ever wanted was set out beautifully in front of him? He had a beautiful fiancée, a doting family, promises of wealth and splendour that was unrivalled by his lack of sibling. But, still, he had not conquered the skies.
On a July day in 1914, when Dennis was eighteen, his father looked up from his morning paper with a grave face.
"It would seem we are at war with Germany," he said. "How terribly unfortunate."
And it would have been, were it not for the hordes of young men that Prime Minister Asquith demanded to fly the airplanes that would keep tabs on the enemy. Dennis signed up immediately. His father was proud of him for protecting his country, and there was a party to celebrate his leaving. Dennis tucked a white handkerchief into Minnie's dress and kissed her cheek and promised that as soon as he returned they would be married. She ran her finger through his sandy blonde hair and told him that she loved him.
And so it was that, with a full and loving heart and no trepidation at all, Dennis Pettifer found himself at war with the Kaiser.
The soaring was immense. It didn't matter that, at the moment, the glass cabin was hot and stuffy or that the pressure clogged up his ears, because the sea below him was breathtakingly beautiful. Dennis sighed at it, and checked his watch. It was just midday. Flying was everything he had ever dreamed it would be. When he had first taken off, and the swoop his stomach created rolled through his body, he knew he never wanted to be anywhere else but in the sky. Birds flew alongside his craft, cheeping merrily as he smiled at them. He was at peace here, lazy up in the blue untarnished eternity. He wanted to explore, but not to conquer. He was ready to conquer on Earth, though. In a few hours, he would be over Bosnia and ready to land.
His radio crackled, and with a small smile Dennis pressed the button.
"Come in, Charlie-boy."
"Good day, Dennis. The fleet is on your tail, out."
"Good, good. How's flying conditions, out?"
"Spiffing. No sight of the Hun at all. We'll see you when we land, out."
Dennis nodded, and pressed the button again, and instantly his comrade was cut off. The young man looked down at the rolling calmness of the sea and wondered at the stillness of it all. It was as if there wasn't a war on at all. The sky was silent; he was the only man for miles and miles around. He was, quite literally, in his element. Not that he couldn't wait for the whole blasted war to be over and done with – he wanted to be at home with Minnie, that much was obvious. Maybe he would buy himself a small aircraft when he got home. Or he could turn his hand to stunt-flying, as vulgar as that seemed. As long as it kept him in the skies.
A sudden noise made him start; a sort of put-put-put noise that quickly subsided. Dennis frowned, and turned his attention back on the blissfully clean skies, so unlike London…
But there it was again. Put-put-put-put-put. A wisp of something acrid tickled his nostrils, and he found himself coughing. Smoke. It was smoke. Dennis quickly twisted his neck to look behind him, and his heart contorted inside his chest. His left wing was on fire, billowing a trail of thick black smoke behind it. From the looks of it, the source of the fire was the loose wire that was sticking at an angle out of his now-failing engine.
Dennis grabbed at the panels in front of him as the cockpit quickly filled up with the smoke, and he covered his mouth with his handkerchief.
"Mayday, mayday," he called into the microphone that connected him to the other planes. "Come in, out. There is a failure in the engine, out. I may have to attempt an emergency landing…"
But it was too late. He could already feel himself losing height, and the smoke was beginning to clog up his lungs. He barely had time to register the yellow sand that had replaced the sea beneath him as the plane suddenly plummeted and Dennis and his craft went down. He was plummeting, flying but with no resistance underneath him. He was simply plunging, suspended in midair and in free-fall, and he was falling and the ground was getting closer…
And then nothing, as waves of darkness washed over him.
When Dennis came around, the first thing he felt was pain that seared through his body like he was being swiped at by knives and red-hot needles. He tried to open his eyes, but the fuzzy shape he could just make out above him vanished as his lids forced themselves shut again. There was noise, speech, like gentle chanting, but that too was suppressed by the roaring in his ears.
Then he felt something cool pass through his body. It was pleasantly numbing, and as the sensation ran through his fingertips and every bone and fibre in his body, the pain vanished as if parting before it. Dennis, although a believer, had never been devoutly religious, but here he was, ready to call this a miracle. He opened his eyes. Above him was the sky, as blue and solid as it had always seemed. Underneath, he could feel sand prickling against his skin.
Dennis jumped at the sudden clarity of the voice, and quickly sat up, marvelling at how freely his muscles could move despite the crash. A man was sitting a few feet away. He was young, maybe ten years older than Dennis. His face had been tanned brown by the heat of the desert, and wiry black hairs stuck out from underneath the white cloth that covered his head and neck. He was clad in a long white linen robe, with a pair of makeshift sandals the only thing protecting his feet from the hot sand. The man had kind eyes, and smiled gently at the young pilot.
"Who are you?" Dennis demanded, casting a wary eye at the man. A mystic, maybe?
"My name's Pete," the man said.
"Dennis Pettifer," Dennis said, and he held out his hand. "I am afraid I'm in need of your assistance. My plane came down and I…I don't even know how I'm alive."
"Ah, that," smiled Pete. "A simple healing charm; didn't even take five minutes to brew. You weren't that far gone, luckily. It saved your life, though."
Dennis frowned. "I'm sorry, I-"
"Your plane came down over there," said the stranger. He pointed to a spot behind Dennis. The young man turned to see a smoking wreck of twisted metal and gashed plates embedded in the sand, and his heart sank. Pete continued, regardless: "Right near my camp, luckily. Broken bones – easy. The smoke in your lungs was a little trickier, but it'll put you off tobacco for life."
Dennis whipped around again. "I'm afraid I don't understand," he said. "What do you mean – a healing charm? You speak in tongues, man."
Pete shrugged. "It's really very simple. Your plane was faulty. You took a nasty tumble. I saw the fall and made sure to cushion your landing somewhat so you didn't perish. It was amazing you didn't die instantly, really. I mean, you could have been dead dead, but you weren't, which was lucky because life spells are always a bit fiddly. I once met a man who claimed he'd brought a decomposing corpse back from the dead, but he'd been on the absinthe a bit, so who knows. But anyway, I dragged you back to my tent and whisked up a little potion and here we are."
Dennis felt the blood drain from his face.
"What are you?"
Pete smiled patiently. "I'm a Shaman."
Dennis furrowed his brows. "Shaman? What is Shaman?"
Pete laughed. "A shaman is a person with a deep connection to the spiritual world. We're more receptive to magic, and that sort of thing."
"Magic? That's preposterous. You're lying."
"Am I?" Pete shrugged. "You're alive, aren't you?"
"That may be as it is!" Dennis spluttered. "But in any case, I need to get home. Do you have a radio, or some communication device?"
Pete shook his head. "Sorry. I have no need for communication out here."
Dennis felt as if a large block has been dropped on his head, and not just because of the crash. He felt nauseous, dizzy and more than a little terrified of the obviously insane man who appeared to live alone in a canvas tent in the middle of the desert with no contact with the outside world. Aside from the lunatic stranger, he was in complete isolation.
"You look thirsty. Here," said Pete. He rummaged around in the small sack that was belted around his waist and pulled out a small stick. "Root of Keralamar. Chew it."
"I'd rather not, if it's all the same to you."
"You'll die out here if you don't drink something," Pete patiently murmured. "I'm not wasting my best healing charm for nothing."
Reluctantly, Dennis stared at the shrivelled root that he was being offered. Then he picked it up gingerly, and placed it up in his mouth, and sunk a tooth into it. Instantly, the root burst into a torrent of water that gushed down his grateful throat. Dennis choked at the instant hydration that soothed his body, and swallowed the stream down.
"My God!" he cried. "What the-"
"Magic. I told you so."
"S-sorcery!" Dennis coughed. "This is absolute madness!"
"I understand this is a lot of information to take in," said the Shaman in a comforting voice. "Would you like something to eat?"
"What, so you can poison me further with your witchcraft?" Dennis spat. "No thank you, sir."
Pete shrugged again, seemingly unaffected. "I've actually been making omelettes."
Dennis felt his cheeks begin to burn to furious red. "Oh. Well, in that case…
Dennis awoke, for the thirtieth night in a row, to desert flies buzzing around his head. He sighed and swatted at them and wished, for the thirtieth night in a row, that he was encased in cool cotton sheets instead, back at home. The linen robes that Pete and the temperature had coaxed him into were, admittedly, better than his sturdy but impractical pilot's uniform, but he still wasn't used to waking up to sand clinging to his body with sweat. Still, he knew it was useless to attempt a mindless trek to the nearest city without his guide.
Not that his host hadn't done everything in his power to make the young man comfortable, and for that Dennis was eternally grateful. He'd built up a sort of camaraderie in the last month with the Shaman. Pete had patiently listened whilst Dennis told him of his affinity with the sky, and in return had explained every aspect of his business. Dennis didn't think his head would ever stop swimming with the strangeness of his situation. Sometimes he thought that maybe the whole thing was a dream or an elaborate mirage, or even that he was in limbo. It seemed with every passing day that the world of magic was gradually being proved to him. He went out on treks across the desert with Pete to look for vegetation with certain properties, and learnt what each did when brewed a certain way. The one he was most grateful for, though, was the water-giving root that the Shaman seemed to have an endless supply of. Pete, for his part, tried to find ways of getting Dennis safely back to England, save a dangerous trek across the desert – the magical remedies apparently wouldn't help them survive such a long walk.
He was even allowed to help his companion out with potions sometimes. Recently, Pete had thought that he'd discovered a recipe for a fertility potion (apparently owl beaks improved potency – who knew?) and they were in the procedure of brewing up the complicated mix. Not that Dennis was excited by that, of course. It was still against all his beliefs. He just figured that if he helped the Shaman out that his chance of being delivered safely home was greater.
It was later on that night that the distant dream became a potential reality once more. The two of them were sitting around the fire, their faces illuminated by the rising glow of the flame as darkness plummeted around them. The moon stared blissfully down at them:
"When you are the Moon,
You get craters on your milky white face.
I saw a doctor, and he said I should try Clearasil…
I'm the Moon…"
"I have a favour to ask of you, Dennis," Pete said, his voice breaking the quiet. He sounded hesitant, unsure of his request. Dennis frowned.
Pete winced, as if he wasn't sure how best to string his words together. "You want to go home, don't you?"
Dennis frowned. "Yes. More than anything."
Pete pressed his lips together in thought. "I think I may have found a way…"
Dennis's lips fell apart. "Well then, speak! Tell me!"
"It's not as simple as that, Dennis…" Pete murmured. "Thing is, generally the best way for Shaman to travel is by carpet. Mine's too small to carry both of us, so naturally we'd have to conjure flight in another one."
"Well, you can do that!" Dennis cried, breathless with excitement. "We'll find a carpet, make it fly…you can do that…" His face fell at Pete's expression, "Can't you?"
"My insurance doesn't cover it."
Pete smiled. "The only way would be to find another Shaman and use his power, but look at where we are." He gestured to the wide expanse of space around them. "That's impossible."
Dennis shook his head. "So what do we do?"
Pete sighed, and frowned sympathetically. "You've got a great natural talent in you, Dennis. Trouble is, it's been quashed by an absence of nature. The only option I can think of is to awaken the magic in you, and then you can fly your own carpet. But it's an incredibly dangerous procedure – I'd be basically forcing the magic out of you. I'm barely even qualified."
Dennis was silent for a moment. Then he looked up, and narrowed his eyes. "Do it."
Pete's eyes widened. "Dennis, I-"
"I need to get home," the young man interrupted. "I need to go home to my house and my family and my fiancée, and I'll do whatever it takes."
"There are many implications, please think it through."
"I have thought it through!" Dennis yelled. The suddenness of the sound cracked the stillness of the night. "I've been thinking it through for a whole damned month! I don't care about anything else; I just want to go home!"
Pete sighed; looked the boy up and down. "Now?"
Pete shrugged. "Alright. Lie back."
Dennis barely needed prompting. Stiffly, he lay back on the sand, feeling his body imprint in the grains. Pete knelt beside him, and sighed deeply.
"This is a risky process, Dennis. I'm going to have to put you in a catatonic state."
Dennis shook his head. "That's not important."
"Alright. Close your eyes."
Dennis complied. The whispering chants of the Shaman, indistinguishable from any modern human language, filled and surrounded him like liquid music. It flowed through his mind and into his bloodstream. He felt some sharp pangs, like pins and needles, build up in his brain. Colours danced before his eyes. He gasped as his blood erupted into flame and boiled. Quickly, pain filled his entire head, and bashed against his skull as if it was trying to get out. His mouth opened as he tried to scream, but no sound came out. He was paralysed; he couldn't move his body. The pain throbbed as it rammed its way through his unsuspecting skeleton, slicing at his skin and smashing at his bones, eroding them away into dust. It spread through every vein right through to his fingertips and his toes, and it hurt, it hurt so much. His body couldn't even convulse or shake, it was so tense and rigid, and it only provided a cage for the pain. The pain was angry, hungry, and it wanted out. His organs squeezed and expanded slowly, his neck clenched, and he couldn't breathe. He was choking, he was drowning, he had been doused in petrol and set alight – whatever it was, he didn't care, but it hurt and it was killing him. He was dying, and all the while the pain in his head, scorching red-hot, pounding, and pain, pain, pain…And then darkness crashed down over him, and he felt nothing.
There was nothing for a very long time. Then Dennis felt something prickling against his neck, like a spark ignited by a match but without the head or the pain. Then more, and more, and he realised it was the sand. Light came bursting in through his closed eyelids, squirming under the gap to meet his pupils, and with a gasp he opened them. His vision focused. Pete was standing above him with a concerned expression on his face.
The sound slowly cleared, and the pilot shakily sat up. "D-Did it work?"
His mouth was like sandpaper. Pete passed him a root, and he gratefully accepted it.
"You've been out all night."
"Did it work?"
"Yes, Dennis, it did work. But…"
"But? But what?"
Pete sighed, and held up a mirror. Dennis frowned, and took it. It was an antique, framed in elaborate filigree gold. He held it up to his face, and the breath left his body as he softly gasped in disbelief. He ran a hand over his head, now devoid of the rich blonde hair that had once clung to it. His trembling fingers passed over his eyes, now almost completely white, and the strange green and red marks – burns – that ran in intricate patterns over his face.
"What have you done to me?" he whispered.
"I told you there would be implications…" Pete said. "Complications. It happens sometimes. You weren't completely unconscious, so the magic erupted in…different ways."
"What would you say if I told you that I think you look rather distinguished?"
Dennis promptly fainted.
"Oh. Alright then."
"I've just remembered something."
"What's that, then?"
"Well, when you said that if you awakened the magic in me I could go home, you didn't quite explain that I had to do five years of training first…why was that?"
The two men were out in the desert, resting on a dune under the burning jewel of the sun. Dennis scratched his cheek, feeling with his fingertips the slight indent from the red scar around his eyes. It didn't hurt anymore, after two years.
"I imagined you'd be more receptive, I suppose," Pete grinned. "Despite the perks."
"Perks? You call running around a hot desert a perk?"
"No, but I do call eternal youth a perk."
Dennis blinked. "You didn't mention that."
"Well, it's not really eternal. You just age much slower than everybody else. It's due to the excess power in your system. You might be eighty and still only, physically, be about fifty."
"How old are you?"
There was a moment of quiet. Dennis sighed. "You know what I'd really love right about now? Some good, old-fashioned English rain." His eyes brightened at the prospect: "Can you do that?"
Pete laughed. "No, no. Elements are elements; they're out of our control. But it's a complicated ritual you're undergoing, my dear Denzoid. Have you got a signal yet?"
Dennis sighed, and listened to his mind, his eyes sweeping over the desert. "A complicated ritual? It's just like hide and seek! And no, I haven't got a signal. Are you certain this thing is working properly?"
"It takes a lot of patience to be able to hear over long distances," Pete responded. "It's useful for tracking. You can hear direction. Think of it as an internal Tom-Tom."
Dennis frowned. "Tom-Tom?"
"Never mind. It doesn't matter. Look, you just need to open your mind. Listen!"
Dennis sighed, and screwed up his eyes. He listened, the magic dissecting each sound as it came to him. A condor flapped its wing a mile to the West. A lizard slipped on the sand two miles to the South. More miles than he could track away came the faint, almost indistinguishable sound of a small settling village; human civilisation. He could hear sound as it shifted left, right, pointing out his direction for him, for it was under his control. Then, there it was! A small crack of dry leaves as the mouse Pete had him following scampered a few centimetres east.
"This way!" he cried, and the two followed the sound together.
It was ready. It sat unassuming on the sand, but still the faint aura of magic pulsated around it like a heartbeat. Dennis thought it was the most beautiful piece of craftsmanship he had ever seen. The colours almost seemed to melt and mingle together in the careful design of the fabric; a plane-crash of hues that ebbed and flowed together. It was an absolute gem of a carpet, and it was ready to fly. Dennis had now been in the desert for five years, honing and refining his natural skills that he now appreciated were a gift. He was even familiar with the marks on his face now. Five years was a long time, but now he could say that he was a fully-fledged Shaman. Pete was almost a father to him, as well.
"How long will the journey take?" Dennis asked, fiddling with a ruby-red tassel as he perched, waiting on the carpet. The sun was just rising, and Pete was packing up; taking down the tents that they had lived in and boxing all the supplies to take with them. The older man had bought a small apartment in the heart of Soho where he could carry on with his experiments.
"It shouldn't take too long," he replied. "A few hours, at most."
"Good, good…" Dennis muttered.
He remained silent until Pete had loaded up his own carpet – his a faded peacock blue – with his equipment. The two men gazed at the empty spot of sand where their tents had once stood, and Dennis felt a sudden sinking feeling in his chest at the mere thought of not waking up to the warm welcome of the sun or the softness of sand beneath his toes.
"Dennis? It's time."
Dennis nodded and, in a deft, precise movement, flicked the edge of the carpet. It rose high into the air, breaking through the atmosphere, and Dennis felt the rush of pressure in his ears that he used to feel in his aircraft. His heart threatened to explode as the desert rushed away from his feet and the carpet clambered higher and higher towards the heavens. His stomach swooped. It was completely different from being inside an aeroplane. There was an indiscernible cry nearby, and he twisted head to see Pete astride his own steed, grinning and gesturing their pathway.
"Come on…" Dennis whispered to himself as the carpet began to speed off after the other. "Let's go home."
He didn't even know how long the eventual flight took. They passed, undetected save for a few confused birds, over deserts that swirled into green fields. The sea was bluer than sapphires. The sun seemed somehow brighter as it rose above them, and the breeze was just…breezier. Dennis found himself laughing with exhilaration at points. The time seemed to pass quicker than sand through an hourglass. Then there was a beach, and he recognised it's curvature from maps he had studied. It was England – he was home. He grinned even as a thin layer of smog settled over everything, and the grey blocks of London rose from the Earth like mountains. Pete yelled over, his voice lost in the wind, beckoning downwards. Dennis pulled his carpet to the side, his stomach plummeting as they dropped down towards the Earth. When he was close enough to reach over and touch the ground, he hovered over the ground, and then stuck his leg down the side. His sandaled foot grated against grass, and the carpet came to a halt.
Dennis clambered off, and looked around him at his surroundings. He was standing in an empty field, lusher than he'd seen for five years and yet vaguely familiar. He grinned to himself at the sight of the large house that was a few yards in front of him. He was home.
"Is that it? The infamous Pettifer estate?" came a voice. Dennis turned to see Pete behind him, his face flushed, rolling up Dennis's carpet.
"Yes. That's it, alright."
Pete sighed, and hoisted the carpet over his shoulder, his own still hovering, waiting. "Look, Dennis…don't get your hopes up too much, alright? It's been a long time for them as well."
"It'll be fine!" Dennis scoffed. "I'm home, now!"
He couldn't wait to see them all. His mother, his father, Minnie…
"Good luck, Denzoid," said Pete, smiling a little sadly. "May our paths cross again soon."
"Don't be silly, Pete…" Dennis said, a little unsurely. "I'll come and visit you."
"Yes. I'm sure you will. Go on; they'll be waiting for you."
Dennis didn't need telling twice. He turned and strode off across the field, pulling up his robe as it dragged in the long grass. The field soon gave way to a cobbled road that led straight to the large iron gate outside the house. Dennis's heart fluttered like a baby bird in his chest as he stroked the metal bars, remembering them with fondness. He pushed the gate open, and walked up the path to the house, ignoring the strange look the gardener shot him. He jogged up the marble steps to the house, and pushed the door open.
The house was exactly as he remembered it: silent. Dennis shut the door behind him, and looked around at the hallway.
"Hello?" he called softly, and then tried louder: "Hallo?"
There came the sound of steps on the staircase, and a figure descended. Dennis saw first her shoes, which gave way to a heavy and elaborate purple dress and a head of dark brown ringlets.
"Hello? Who's there?" said his mother. Dennis smiled as he looked on her face.
Their eyes met.
Then, slowly, Caroline Pettifer's pupils widened, and she sunk to the floor.
"Who are you?"
"M-Mother…" the young man whispered. "It's me, Dennis. I'm home."
"Dennis?" said Caroline. "No, you're not Dennis. Dennis is dead."
Dennis frowned. "No, I – I promise you, Mother, I'm alive!"
"You are not my son," said the lady sternly. "Look at your face! And your eyes."
For the first time in four years, Dennis suddenly became self-conscious of the brightly-coloured marks that flowed over his skin, and he reached up to touch them with tentative fingertips.
"I shall have to ask you to leave the premises immediately," said Caroline.
Hot tears had begun to sting behind Dennis's eyes, and he suddenly realised just how cold it was without the comforting heat of the midday sun on his back. "Mother, it's me…!"
"Leave, before I call my husband."
"Do you remember when I was seven, Mother?" Dennis cried desperately. "I ripped one of your dresses just before dinner, and then I hid in the wardrobe because I was so scared. It didn't take long for you to find me; I was never a very good hider…" He trailed off at the look in his mother's eyes. "You have to believe me. I've come back. I've come back at last."
For a moment, there was a storm in Caroline's eyes. But then it froze over and turned to winter in her mind, and she twisted away and called out, "Arthur!" over her shoulder. The call echoed around the whole house. Then there was a clack of shoes on the stairs, and a response: "What is it, dear?" Dennis watched with anticipation as his father rounded the stairs.
Arthur Pettifer was a tall, imposing man, and his frown contorted his whole face when he laid eyes on his son. He was holding a tobacco pipe in one hand, and the acrid smoke it left stuck in Dennis's throat and made his eyes water. He stood behind Caroline on the staircase.
"What is this creature, Caroline?"
Dennis winced at the bluntness of the statement, but bravely met his father's eyes. "Father. It's been a long time." He bowed.
Arthur nervously chuckled. "What is this?"
"He claims to be Dennis, darling," said Caroline. Arthur's frown deepened.
"My son has been dead for the past five years," he said gravely. "Would you care to inform me why you, an imposter, have come here, to my house, to disturb my wife with your lies and to tarnish the reputation of my child?"
"I'm not lying, Father!" Dennis shouted. "It's me, it's Dennis! Your son!" Breathing sharply, he tried once more a similar tactic. "When I was eleven you showed me how to send off a homing pigeon, and for my twelfth birthday you gave me one. I called it Nigel. Believe me!"
"My son is dead," the man barked. "He died in the war."
"You never found his body though, did you?" Dennis cried. His father's face shifted. "Hah!"
Arthur Pettifer breathed in through his nose. His eyes were sharper than steel. "Let me ask you this…" he said quietly. "If you were indeed my son, how do you think this would look, hmm? You arrive home after five years with no contact with your family, are brutally disfigured, seem to be dressed in a…a sack-cloth and you honestly expect us to simply welcome you with open arms? No. This is how I know you are not Dennis, for he would not have been so foolish."
Each word was like a blistering hot poker to Dennis's skin. He could barely breathe. "But…"
"Now, I wish you to leave the premises immediately, and never bother my family again."
For a moment, Dennis searched the faces of his parents for any sign of familiarity or recognition. But they betrayed him none. After a moment, he turned, dragged down by the weight of his own heart, and left the house.
He trod sombrely down the garden pathway towards the gates. He could still taste the smoke in his throat. Then he saw a flash of palest yellow out of the corner of his eye, and turned. And there she was. He started to run, and grinned broadly as she began to turn to him. She was laughing. When she set eyes on him, her eyes widened, and her mouth curved into a perfect circle.
"Minnie!" he cried.
His fiancée opened her mouth, and gasped. Then she screamed.
Dennis stopped in his tracks. "Minnie…?"
"Good God!" the girl cried, clasping a hand to her lips. "Get away!"
Dennis looked at the flash of cruelty in her eyes that made her soft, heart-shaped face almost ugly. He took in the nasty twist of her lips and the faint flutter of revulsion in her limbs. He stopped, and he shook his head, and he looked at her.
"Right. I'll just be on my way then, darling," he spat, and turned on his heel. He was halfway down the garden path when he heard Minerva unsurely call his name. He ignored her, and slammed the gates behind him as he turned his back on the Pettifer estate for good.
He'd taken a few angry, self-righteous steps down the road when the tears began to pour down his face. He cried angrily, not caring if anybody saw. When he looked up, he saw a sorrowful pair of familiar eyes gazing back at him from a nearby tree.
Silently, Pete threw over the carpet.
Dennis glanced at himself in the mirror. He quite liked his new moustache; it was an odd silvery colour, but it quite worked against the pale pallor of his face. Combined with the new cloak that Pete had made him – black Yeti fur with a collar of upright peacock feathers – he looked more and more mystical every day, like a proper Shaman. Anyway, nobody seemed to care. Not here in the blackened lungs of Soho, where girls smiled coyly from outside Gentleman's Clubs. Dennis wasn't really into that sort of thing, after Minerva, but he had spoken to a few of them, and they seemed quite fond of the eccentric 26-year-old man who smiled at them every day from the top of the stairs. He and Pete were currently residing in an apartment near a city-convent, so they didn't look too out of place with all the Cockney monks scurrying around. After a month or two of brooding, Dennis had decided to make the best of what was really quite a good situation. He and the older Shaman were like a family now, and closer than he'd every felt to his own father. They'd started a freelance business, and all sorts of strange types turned up at their home to demand potions and lotions, ingredients and enchanted trinkets. The underbelly of London was a fascinating place, even after two years of living there. Dennis couldn't imagine another life.
The Shaman turned around to look at the square of amber light that flooded into his room through the bedroom door. The flat was pleasant enough, and they'd decorated it with all manner of strange, colourful and beautiful things. "Yes?" he called back.
"Can you come in here a minute?"
Dennis sighed, and wandered through into the main room, where Pete was bent over a simmering pot of a strange fluorescent pink liquid.
"Hangover potion?" Dennis quickly identified. Pete grinned.
"It's for Riley," the older man explained at Dennis's inquisitive look. Dennis frowned for a moment, but then remembered the young lady who lived in the flat below them. "She says she's got a blinder." Pete sighed deeply, and shook his head. "For God's sake, Dennis, don't get wound up in all that nonsense. Shamans get a natural high off magic; there's no need whatsoever."
"Won't touch the stuff," Dennis swiftly promised. "So what did you want me for?"
Pete stood up, and dusted his hands on his black cape. "I'm going out. I need you to keep an eye on this for me."
"Alright," Dennis said, giving the potion a quick stir. "Where are you going?"
"I've signed up for an Amateur Dramatics class."
Dennis laughed, not unkindly. "Acting? You?"
"And what's wrong with that?" Pete smiled.
"Absolutely nothing. Have a nice time."
"Cheers. I'll see you later."
"Break a leg!" Dennis cheerfully called at the front door shut behind his mentor.
Things usually seemed unnaturally busy on a Saturday night. This was usually the night when other magical folk – usually White Witches and Clairvoyants and the like – would seek out bits and pieces that were difficult to get from anywhere other than the slowly dwindling group of Shaman in England. Dennis remembered, when they'd first moved in, an old lady called Yenata had bought some Mermaid milk and had remarked at how good it was that Pete had come home at last. When quizzed, the older Shaman admitted that he'd actually been a very prominent figure in the magic world before deciding to live a life of solitude. He'd smiled fondly at Dennis and said, "That was before you turned up and forced me home, obviously."
This night was different, though. It seemed much quieter. Riley came by to pick up her potion, and a young green witch bought 100 Euros worth of dried Mandrake flakes, but otherwise there was very little going on. Dennis went over to the rack of second-hand books that Pete had hoarded from his days of prominence. There was something for everyone: spell-books, potion-books, summoning-demons-books. The potions manuscripts, Pete's speciality, were dog-eared and had obviously been thumbed through many times, with little spidery scratches of writing in the margins where notes and other, exploratory recipes had been jotted down. He flicked through it with disinterest. But then there was a click, and he turned towards the front door of the flat.
What he wasn't expecting however, was that Pete wouldn't be alone.
In front of the older man stumbled another man, a youngish boy, who turned and scowled at the room he found himself in. His wiry black hair hung to his shoulders, and his face was pale; his eyes dark. He was very short, and the petulant look on his face made him look like a toddler.
"What m'I doin' here, anyway?" he groaned. His tone was monotonous, lisping, tinged with a London accent, and it clashed with his expression. Pete closed the door behind him and locked it.
"Dennis," he said calmly. "This is Naboolio Randolf Roberdy Poberdy."
"Yeah, it's Naboo, actually," the young man snarled.
Dennis looked between the pair, perplexed. "I'm sorry; what?"
"He turned up at the acting class," Pete said, by way of an explanation. "He's from another planet, and he's 321 years old."
"He's also a Shaman."
"No, I'm not!" the little man protested. "I dunno what you're on about!"
"Well, not yet he's not. He's had absolutely no trailing. I tell you, the magical coaching team on Xooberon are completely pathetic."
"Xooberon…?" Dennis muttered weakly.
"I'll have to teach him, of course," Pete muttered, completely oblivious. "Especially with the mission he's on. It's ridiculous!"
"Teach?" Naboo cried.
"What do you mean; he's 321 years old…?"
"Oh, and I forgot the interesting bit," Pete grinned. "Our friend here…" He slapped Naboo on the back, and the young man glared, "Happens to be the Guardian of the Fountain of Youth!"
"Yeah, great, tell everybody, why don't you? I've only known you five minutes!"
"Wait one second!"
The room fell silent at the outcry. Dennis's blank eyes flickered from face to face. "Will somebody please explain to me exactly what is going on? The Fountain of Youth; that's fairytale. Don't tell me that's real too."
Naboo shuffled a little awkwardly on his feet.
"I'm sorry, Dennis," said Pete quietly. "Bit strange, I know. But it is real, and it's located on the planet Xooberon, in the farthest regions of the galaxy."
Dennis inhaled. "Right. Well, that makes perfect sense."
Pete ignored him. "The thing is, as you can imagine, the Fountain has been under attack for…well, millennia. The King put the activation spell into an amulet so that nobody could use it and then he sent a child," he looked pointedly at Naboo, "To look after it."
"I'm not a child, I'm 321!" the young man said.
"Yes, about that; how can he be 321 years old?" Dennis cried.
"Xooberon have much shorter years than us; he's really only about twenty three."
Dennis sighed shakily. "And he's the Guardian of this amulet?"
"I'm still here, y'know!" Naboo grumbled.
"So why have you brought him back here?"
"Because he stole my motherlicking trainers and I want them back!" Naboo supplied helpfully.
Pete shrugged. "Well, I had to coax him somehow."
Dennis shook his head. "I repeat, why have you brought him back here?"
"He's a powerful Shaman, Dennis," said Pete slowly. "He is aware of his powers, if not in control. And he has access to the most potent ingredient known to man."
Dennis felt his shoulders sink. "You want to teach him, don't you?"
"You want to bring a 321-year-old alien stranger back here and teach him magic?"
Naboo had had enough. "This is fucking ridiculous. You're all ballbags. Can I leave now?"
"Think what an opportunity this is for you, Dennis," Pete said, gesturing wildly with his arms.
"I'm not having you teach me anything, mate."
"He'll have to come and live here, of course; I can't have him running off on me."
"What, so I'm your prisoner now?"
"Shut it, Naboo," Pete sighed. "It's not so bad, Dennis…"
"No, hang on a minute!" the young alien shouted. "I'm tired of this. I'm going to have to turn my back on you!
Pete and Dennis stared, brows furrowed, as Naboo swivelled around until he was facing the door. For a moment, there was absolute silence.
"If he does that all the time there's no way I'm bloody living with him…"
Dennis was fuming. His vision was slowly colouring a bright, Technicolor red around the edges like someone had smothered it with crayon. He didn't care if he was acting stupidly, or if this whole sense of jealously was irrational, but he was at the end of his tether. It was one thing if Pete had gone mental and wanted to teach the alien magic. It was another thing that said alien had to live in their house, filling Dennis's room with suspicious fumes that made the young man choke and splutter, to Naboo's eternal delight. But it was the fact that Naboo was just so bloody wonderful, and such a magical genius that made his skin tense with jealous rivalry.
Prodigy, his backside. The alien spent more time out getting wasted then he did actually unveiling the secrets of the universe. He'd even had the cheek, the nerve, to offer Dennis something a couple of weeks back. Dennis had curled his lip and said, "I don't think so," He'd been hoping to invoke remorse, humiliation at best, but had then been confused when Naboo spluttered with laughter behind his hand. What did it matter if Naboo was naturally more talented than he was? He didn't have the drive or determination to reach his full potential, not like he did. It was just a shame Pete didn't see that, really. He wasted every second he invested in the boy.
Not that Dennis cared. He really, really didn't. It would be difficult for anybody to see somebody immediately master a spell it had taken him hours to crack. Naboo was advancing in leaps and bounds, and he didn't even care. He was more interested in the theatrics, of telling willing girls, "Hey, I'm a Shaman", and had adopted a look for that exact purpose: a blue robe and turban which he was never without. He only tried hard when he knew that he could give Dennis that smug look he had. It seemed that, however unwillingly, Dennis had found himself a rival. He loved the sour look on Naboo's face when he was given complicated tasks to do by Pete, or when he was put in charge of the black magic – the alien was only on beige – that had to be handled with care for the more adventurous customers. It was very satisfying.
Pete, for his part, remained completely oblivious to the friction in his flat. He seemed to ignore the looks the two boys shot at each other during the course of the day. He looked tired sometimes, especially when he stayed up all night, locking himself in his room to "experiment". Whatever he was doing was top-secret, and neither Dennis nor Naboo was allowed to enter the room. For the most part, he was his usual old self, and Dennis thanked God that he always managed to put time aside at the end of the day to have conversations.
Some days, though, Dennis really missed the desert.
It was the large, explosive bang that shook the whole flat and an acrid scent of smoke that alerted Dennis to the distinct fact that something was not quite right. In the future, he would look back on this day and realise that most of the bad events in his life had the similar faint residue in the background of his memories, lodged in his mind. As it was, he turned swiftly towards the door, the plumage on his coat shaking behind him and his coat dragging on the wooden floor. He flung the door open with a tremendous force, feeling the whole flat shake beneath his hands, and threw an arm over his face at the sudden onslaught of smoke that rose up in clouds to cling and scratch at his face. He coughed violently, his body shuddering with them, and his eyes watered as he tried to gaze through the wavering air in his flat. There was no smoke without fire, he knew, but he couldn't hear any flames licking their way around the flat; no ferocious heat or blinding, burning ashes. Which meant…
Which meant it wasn't coming from the kitchen at all.
The smoke was thick and grey, though, almost black. It clung to the walls of the flat. Dennis felt a raw tear rip its way out of his eye as the carbon forced it out to sear down his face. He could barely see, but he managed to stumble over to Pete's bedroom, hacking and covering his mouth to protect his blackened lungs from further damage. He shouldered the door open, and closed his eyes from the clouds. When he finally opened them, they felt swollen, and he had to squint to prevent his vision being blurred by stinging tears. There was a cauldron upturned on the floor, leaking a liquid which could have been multicoloured for all Dennis knew; the darkening around his peripheries made it impossible to tell. The compulsory fire had already started to scramble up the walls, catching and swallowing up the wooden floor.
"Pete!" Dennis shouted, but it was to no avail. He grabbed the Shaman's shoulder, and shook it, and dragged him unceremoniously towards the door when there was no response. He leapt back at the flames, and cursed the old words: Elements are elements; they're out of our control. He pulled Pete out of the flat and into the hallway, and rested his master up against the wall. Pete's head lolled, his eyes glassy and unseeing. He coughed in his slumber, his breathing shallow. Dennis held on to him, shaking his shoulder and batting at his face.
"Pete, for God's sake, wake up. Come on!"
He couldn't boil up a healing charm; the ingredients were still in the burning flat. Dennis felt water, boiling hot from the heat, send blistering tear-tracks down his cheeks.
"Snap out of it; you've got to wake up! Pete!"
He didn't even notice that the group of monks who lived downstairs had called for the Fire Brigade; the hallway was slowly filling up with people. Man carried the long hosepipe into his flat, and he could vaguely hear the surge of dousing water over the rushing in his ears. One of the monks, a young boy by the name of Toby Potts, came over and took Pete's wrist and pressed his fingers to it. Then he winced, and let the limp hand drop to the floor.
"M'sorry, guvnor," he sighed, and rested his hand on Dennis's shoulder before going into the flat to join the other men. A group of girls clustered around the stairs, watching with sympathy. Dennis curled into himself, and tried to catch his breath.
He didn't know how long he waited there, wound up next to the body of his friend whilst the Firemen trotted in and out of the smoking rooms. He barely even looked up when someone came and lifted Pete up and away. It was only in the morning, when the weeping sunlight rose through the dirty windows, that Toby came and spoke to him.
"Dennis?" the young man said cautiously. Dennis looked up at him, and nodded.
"You can, er…your flat's been cleared out. If you wanna go back in. I mean, you dun 'ave to – you can come and sit wiv us, if you like, eh?"
"No, no. I'd best…" Dennis muttered. He hoisted himself up and, ignoring the cautious glances that the remaining stragglers were giving him, wandered back into his home.
The place wasn't as wrecked as he'd imagined – the walls were shaded in somewhat, like a crude sketch of a flat, but the furniture seemed relatively unharmed. The colours were still bright and vivid, but now mockingly so. The ingredients in the larder were salvaged too. The whole place held a faint odour of ashes, like a funeral pyre. Dennis sighed shakily, and opened the door to Pete's room. This was the most affected, the darkest and dirtiest and most choking. The upturned cauldron was still there, red hot, next to the fire-licked scar in the carpet. Dennis ran his hand along the bookshelf that Pete kept there. Beside the bed was a notebook, with Experimental Potions scrawled on the front. Idly, Dennis picked it up, and flicked through it, reading through the words his teacher had written, notes and recipes which dated all the way back to 1910. He felt his eyes stinging as they trailed along the familiar handwriting. As he got to the last potion, however, a small note fell out, and fell gently to the floor. He stooped and picked it up.
Dear Dennis, it read. Writing a note seems, admittedly, over-convenient, and a little insensitive considering that you reading this means that I am probably dead. After all, why else would you be going through my stuff without my permission? If fate has granted me a little foresight, then chances are there's been an accident with the potion I am currently working on. I knew it would be dangerous if not fatal to attempt a power-enhancer, and this is why I am writing now. In the case of my untimely demise, Dennis, everything I own goes to you. I have already sorted this out with the Council, so don't worry about that. I would also like to give you the responsibility of continuing Naboo's education – I know you are exceptionally capable of it. I want you to know, my dear Denzoid, that you were without a doubt the most talented individual I have ever come across, not to mention the most patient. You've suffered a lot, I know, and I apologise for the part I played in it. I only hope you had the time of your life. I know I did. With love, your friend, Pete.
Dennis read the letter through a few times, and then pocketed it. There came the sudden sound of footsteps behind him, and he turned on his heel to see a familiar face, robbed of its usual composure. Naboo stood, mouth agape at the scene before him.
"What the hell happened here?" he cried out. Dennis shook his head.
"There was an accident. Pete…" He trailed off.
The two Shamans stood, and gazed at the ruined flat in front of them.
"So, you need to keep your eyes focused, be in tune with the universe. Open your mind…Naboo? Are you even listening to a word I'm saying?"
The young alien turned his head from where he'd been gazing at the wall. "Nah."
Dennis sighed and ran a hand over his bald head, wondering for the fifteen-hundredth time why Pete had managed to put up with teaching this, to be frank, stroppy and unreasonable git. His teacher's untimely death had had seemingly no sobering effect on the alien. Naboo had no desire to do anything he was told, and it made it difficult to engage his attention. Dennis thought wistfully back to when he was a schoolboy, and wished with all his heart that he could apologise to Mr. Quigley for not paying attention to quadratic equations.
"This is important, Naboo," he sighed, not without a trace of impatience. "It's the basis of your whole training."
"Look, I know what I'm doing, yeah?" the boy lisped condescendingly. "Cool your boots."
Dennis fumed. "You need to be trained in the ways of the Shaman, I-"
"Oh my, is that the time?" Naboo suddenly burst out, unconvincingly glancing at the clock on the wall above Dennis's head. "I need to go; I've got to meet some friends."
Dennis quirked an eyebrow. "Friends?"
"Yeah; my mate Barry," grinned Naboo. "He's thinking of being a Shaman, too."
"It's not something you can just decide on a whim, Naboo!" Dennis snapped, ignoring his hypocrisy. "You need to have a…deep, spiritual connection with the universe!"
"Oh, Barry's got that, if you know what I mean." Naboo mimed smoking a joint with his fingers, and rolled his eyes at the blank look he received in return. "Never mind…"
Dennis sighed, and glanced at the amulet that hung conspicuously around Naboo's neck. "I don't understand you. This is an amazing opportunity and you just don't care. You're an enigma."
Naboo frowned. "Hey…I like that. Naboo the Enigma. Yeah; nice ring to it. Cheers, mate!"
And then he was gone. Dennis sighed, slumped down in the armchair, and missed Pete again.
As much as it pained Dennis to think on it, the flat seemed far, far too empty now that Naboo had gone. Having completed his training the week previously, the young alien had buggered off somewhere with barely a backwards glance or a thank you. It didn't matter – he'd never even really wanted to do the training in the first place. Dennis didn't know where his charge had gone, or what he was going to do next, but it wasn't his concern. He didn't miss Naboo, for sure, but the flat was too quiet now, too big for just one man. He was in charge of the shop now, of course. He still served customers, still talked to the strange and wonderful people, but now things seemed somewhat emptier. It had been two years since Pete's death. Dennis's pain was barely visible to the naked eye, unless the sun cast a particular angle on it and laid it bare for all to see. He was coping, and that was all that mattered. Sometimes, though, Dennis wasn't too sure if he wanted to spend eternal life sitting in an empty flat with only ghosts for company.
There was a knock at the door at around midnight that jarred Dennis out of his slumber. He'd been sitting behind the shop counter reading up on modern levitation spells until the time had crept behind his eyes and pushed his head forward into sleep. Now, though, as the sharp raps hammered at the wood, he leapt up and rubbed his eyes. The knocking continued, becoming more and more persistent. Dennis frowned, and stood up. The book fell to the floor.
"Yeah, sorry, we're closed!" he called. There was a short pause, and the knocking began again. Dennis sighed: "It's the middle of the night!" he yelled. "Come back tomorrow, please!"
When the tapping continued regardless, he hauled his tired body forward, grumbling to himself. He grabbed the handle, unlocked the door, and swung it open.
"What?" he cried. Then he stopped short.
The girl standing in front of him was, without a doubt, the most beautiful thing he had ever laid eyes upon in his life. Her cheekbones slanted up to her navy eyes, which twinkled with irritation. Her hair was bright blonde and cropped short, just behind her ears. She was clad in a thin dress adorned with small beads and circular mirrors. There was no delicacy in her appearance or in her sharp, angular face. If Minerva was a sparrow, shivering with daintiness, then this woman was a slender but powerful hawk. She was breathtaking. And she looked thoroughly pissed off.
"What is the meaning of this?" she snarled with a very peculiar accent, her face illuminated by the floating candles that had been strategically situated around the flat to create atmosphere. She flounced into the flat, her cloak sweeping around her. "I have been travelling for days to get here and then I am treated with such rudeness by…who are you, anyway?"
Her cool eyes bore into Dennis's, and he swallowed.
"I offer my humblest apologies, Miss. I'm afraid I was asleep, and it is late-"
"Well, never mind that!" the lady huffed, folding her arms. "Who are you?"
"I'm Dennis?" Dennis squeaked.
The lady looked down her nose at him, despite being a little shorter. "I am looking for my Uncle. I have it on good authority he lives here. You must know him. Pete Marshall?"
It was somehow more surprising to hear that Pete actually had a last name than relatives.
"You're…Pete's niece?" Dennis coughed. "You haven't been told?"
The girl frowned, her face sharp angles. "Told what?"
Dennis's eyes flickered to the ground. "Um…I'm afraid Pete…died. Three years ago, in fact."
The girl's face slipped sideways. She sunk down into an armchair.
"Oh my God!" she sighed.
"I'm so sorry; I didn't know he had family," Dennis added quickly. The lady looked around at her surroundings, and shook her head. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine," she said. "Just a bit shocked, you know? I mean, I wasn't that close to him, but it's very surprising to hear."
She twisted her hands together in her lap, and Dennis looked on helplessly.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" he asked after a moment. The girl gave him an incredulous look. "Right, yeah, sorry."
"No, actually…" the woman mused. She leant forward, a steely glint in her eye. "Have you got anything stronger?" She bit her lip and smiled predatorily.
Dennis stood up and swished off into the kitchen. After searching through the boxes for a moment, he eventually pulled out a dusty bottle of brandy (used for medicinal purposes only, of course) with a triumphant grin. He poured two glasses and took them through, and passed one over to the eager lady, who threw it back down her throat.
"So, Dennis," she said, raising her eyebrows in a way that made the young man feel about ten inches tall. "What do you do?"
"I'm a Shaman myself," Dennis replied. "I was Pete's apprentice before he…"
"Pete was a Shaman?"
Dennis blinked. "You didn't know?"
The girl shrugged, and threw back another shot of brandy. "I don't know him at all, really. There are some vague memories of him playing with me when I was little, but that's all."
"So, if you don't mind my asking, why are you here?"
"Oh…" the lady shrugged. "This and that. Home was so boring!" At this last word, she stretched like a cat over the back of the armchair. Dennis almost choked on his own breath.
"Oh. Right," he stuttered.
"So, you're a Shaman? Are you dangerous then, Dennis?"
Dennis tried not to look afraid. "W-What?"
The woman leant forward. "I like dangerous."
When Dennis didn't reply she threw her head back and laughed deeply.
They talked deep into the night, and the bottle of brandy slowly diminished in front of them. Dennis thought that this strange, compelling lady who had knocked on his door in the middle of the night was fascinating. Her worldly views were completely different to his own, and yet they slotted together like two sides of the same Euro. When they were both too intoxicated to care, he whispered in her ear declarations of undying love and insanity. When she kissed him she was butter and honey and he melted into her with ease. When they lay together afterwards, as the sun rose over Soho, she grinned as she stroked his face. He grabbed her wrists and kissed her again and then she laughed into his mouth down his throat and into his heart.
"I never caught your name," Dennis mumbled as her scent threatened to drown him.
She ran her fingers over his head and down his neck. "It's Methuselah, darling."
There was a yelp and a sudden pull at his arm, and Dennis felt his body drop sharply to the side as Methuselah tripped and buckled on her legs. He hoisted her up gently, and pulled her quickly up the road towards their house. There was a soft rumble in the distance, and a cloud of smoke rushed up towards the sky as another cascade of bricks toppled to the floor. A young, fat man was ushering people towards the shelter, blowing his whistle frantically. At the sight of the odd young couple stumbling down the road he turned to them, his face red.
"'Ere, where do you think you're goin'? The Anderson's this way, sir!"
Dennis ignored him, and pulled his wife of eleven years (and he never tired of saying it) up the small steps that led to their house in Shoreditch. He slammed the door behind them and locked it, and turned to Methuselah, who was busy brushing dust from her hair.
"Are you alright, my dear?" he asked.
"Yes, love. I am fine," she replied, drinking in his appearance like she had never seen it before. "This ghastly war! It owes me thousands in cosmetics."
Dennis pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her slim, androgynous frame. "It's alright. I've set a spell. Any bombs that drop on this house will be reflected right off."
"I know this," Methuselah grinned.
"Good, good. I just don't want you to be hurt."
Dennis turned, and gazed at the thickening sky as the air raid siren began to slowly falter and die. "This cannot be…" he muttered to himself. "The fate of humanity is in the hands of these…animals! They don't even understand what it is they are doing! Sometimes I think the whole of humanity needs saving from itself."
Then an idea came to him. It was a small idea, and certainly a foolish one, but once it has planted itself in Dennis's brain it grew like ivy.
"But what if we did?" he muttered to himself. The skyline of London was sickly with smog outside. "I could start a group…a council. A Board of Shaman. God knows we might be a dying breed, but we could start a training program, and reopen the trade! If worst came to worst, why, we'd be a united and unstoppable force. We'd prevent anything like this from happened ever again!" Excited, he turned to his wife, who was watching him with a bemused expression. "What do you think, darling?"
Methuselah smirked. "Yes, yes, good for you, Dennis. Are you coming to bed or not?"
Dennis pulled the blackout curtains tightly shut as somewhere in South London a house fell down to the ground, and the room was doused in petrol-darkness.
"Hello? Hello? Yes…I am looking for a young man. His name? Naboo the Enigma, I believe. You're sure? Alright then. Yes, fine. Thank you very much. Ok. Bye now."
Saboo was gazing down at him, arms folded, with an indeterminable expression. That was the trouble with his new recruit, Dennis thought – he was argumentative and stubborn and petulant, but it was almost impossible to read. The boy was young, too. Dennis still looked in the prime of life, but his mental clock had racked him up to almost fifty now. Saboo had only been young a few years ago. If his story was true, he'd been studying philosophy at Cambridge before the war broke out, and then had somehow gone into the Shamanistic business. Dennis didn't want to know, and he knew better than to ask. The boy was very closed-off and surly. But scratch that iron surface, and he was a sweet bloke underneath, just reluctant to admit it.
"No," Dennis replied. "God knows where he is. He could be attempting world domination in Burma for all I know."
Saboo nodded, and went back to his book.
It hadn't taken long for the Board of Shaman to be set up. Dennis had revived some of his older contacts from his freelancing days and found the brightest of the bright to be on his team. Of course, he'd had to sift through a lot of morons who were too stoned to understand what he was asking. These were the people that needed regulating, should they ever do something stupid and reckless that put mankind in danger or, God forbid, lead to someone finding out about them. People like Naboo.
It was against his own better judgement that he even wanted Naboo on his team in the first place. Things would surely only get worse if he did. But, nevertheless, he craved a familiar face, and he'd trained Naboo in the ways of the Shaman, once upon a time. He was impossible to track down, though, and Dennis was beginning to give up. He put the phone down with finality.
"I would like to call this council into order," he called over to his team. Saboo looked up from his book and rolled his eyes. "Who would like to speak first?"
"I'd like to propose a one-way carpet system!" piped up Sheila, a green witch. "I don't want my kids getting knocked down by reckless drivers."
Dennis smiled, and scribbled something on his notepad. This was the beginning of a new era – he could just feel it.
There was a tramp outside the hospital, playing "Blown' in the Wind" on a battered old guitar. He was an ageing hippy, with long messy brown hair and frayed flare jeans. When he'd finished he looked up at the people passing by him and said, "Love has not yet died, people! Peace and harmony for all!" In response, a few businessmen glared at him and spat curses under their breath. One young man yelled out, "It's 1978, not the Sixties! Get back to your acid!" Dennis watched the scene with confusion and felt, for the first time, very out of touch. It all seemed a long way away from the Pettifer estate and the dovecot. It seemed a long way away from the Desert, which a small eighteen-year-old piece of his heart still missed.
Methuselah was in the ward at the other end of the hospice, lying defiantly in the bed, her hair looking as if it had been electrocuted. The baby was in the cot next to her – he was small and pink and utterly beautiful. Dennis picked him up in his massive hands and smiled down at him.
"I know what you want to name him," the new mother said with a smile. Dennis bent down and kissed her, surprised that after all this time she still tasted like butter and honey. Then he stroked the baby's downy head.
"Hello there, Pete," he whispered to the child.
Due to the strange and mystical lifestyle of his parents, Pete grew up rebelling the only way he could – by being entirely conventional. By the time he was twenty-five, he was studying History at university, working at Dixons on the side to earn a bit more money. He seemed, to his father's chagrin, almost entirely uninterested in being a Shaman. He was a pleasant boy, surprisingly accepting of the weird and wonderful world he'd been born into, and Dennis, on the whole, was pretty damn proud of his son. In any case, the boy might want to learn a few tricks when he was older if he was anything like his namesake.
Dennis was sitting in the back garden reading when his son phoned him. Even if he was ageing slower than the average man, he was still getting on a bit. There were a couple of crow's feet under his eyes. He wasn't really concentrating on his book, but thinking, surprisingly, about Minerva. She was probably dead by now, and his parents definitely would be. He still remembered being in love with her like it was yesterday, only now he wouldn't call it love. He was older and wiser, and he called it letting expectation rule your heart, something he hadn't done for a long time. Love was a slow-burning heat in your lungs that tasted like butter and honey. Dennis sometimes sat back and wondered what his life would be like had he checked his plane wasn't faulty, that morning all those years ago. He remembered that deep desire to fly he once had. He still loved that sensation of soaring, but now he wanted to land for a bit.
His mobile jumped into life on the table next to him. Pete had set him up with one, and although Dennis was loathe to call himself past it, it amazed him how much technology had advanced in recent years. He picked it up, and accepted the call.
Dennis beamed at the sound of his son's voice. "Oh, hello there! How are you doing?"
"Yeah, I'm great. Listen, you know the Board?"
"You remember how there was always this guy that you wanted to join?"
Dennis frowned. "Ye-es…?"
"What was his name?"
"Naboo. The Enigma, possibly."
"Right. Only, I think I've found him."
Dennis almost dropped the phone. "What?"
"Yeah, turns out I know him pretty well. He works in this zoo in Dalston. Shall I give you his number?"
"Er…one second." Dennis fumbled for a bit of paper and a pen. "Aha! Yes, go ahead."
When he got off the phone, Dennis stared at the didgets for a moment. It didn't take long for him to make up his mind, though, and before he knew it the mobile was by his ear and ringing.
It got picked up after three rings. "Yeah, what d'ya want?"
There it was – that familiar monotonous voice. Dennis cleared his throat. "Er, hi. Who am I speaking to?"
"I'm Naboo, that's who."
Dennis almost laughed out loud. "Yes, of course."
There was a pause.
"Yeah, sorry, who is this?"
"Oh. It's, er…well, it's Dennis."
"Fuckin' hell! What do you want?"
"It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"No shit! How did you get this number?"
"I think you know my son. Pete?"
There was a rush of surprised breath. "I thought that was coincidence."
"How've you been, Naboo?"
"Not too bad. Yourself?"
"I've been alright."
"Wait, so what…oh, hang on." There was a muffled noise in the background, and Dennis heard Naboo's voice, suddenly distant, yell: "Vince! I told you not to touch my stuff! Get out of here! I don't care what Howard told you…and you believed him? You're an idiot. Get out!" Then a rumble, and his voice appeared on the other end of the line. "Sorry 'bout that."
"Who's Vince?" Dennis asked cautiously.
"Don't matter. What did you want, anyway?"
"Oh. I've got a proposition for you, Naboo."
"Yeah? What's that, then?"
"I'd like to ask you if you're willing to join the Board of Shaman. I trust you've heard of it."
There was a pause. Then Naboo laughed. "Yeah, I've heard of it."
"Well? What do you think?"
"Get lost, Dennis."
Dennis was momentarily stunned. "Beg pardon?"
"Not interested, thanks."
"Oh. Ok, then."
"Don't take it personal or nothing."
"Your son's a nice guy, ain't he?"
Dennis smiled proudly. "Yeah, he is."
There was an awkward silence. "Well, I guess I'll see you round?"
"Yes, yes. Probably."
"Alright. Oh, shit…Vince! Don't touch that! I gotta go. See you, Dennis."
"Goodb-" But Naboo had already hung up.
Dennis put the phone back down on the table, and gazed up at the clouds with a small smile on his face. The sky was beautiful today. Magnificent. Marvellous.
Maybe it was time to get the old carpet out for a spin.
Note – Ok, so I know that technically Naboo turned up on Earth in 1978 according to FOY but I'm going to be irritating and cite artistic licence. When has Boosh continuity ever made sense? I was originally going to write a series of these about each Board member, but I got stuck on ideas for Tony Harrison, so I'm now challenging anyone who is interested to write a Shaman History – you can do so much with them, and there is so little written. Go on, what have you got to lose? Bonus points if it's canon with this one.