I was sitting in my study the other evening, poring over some documents that my cousin M had located about great-uncle Edgerton. The better half had gone out to a wine-tasting with some of her girl friends and the house was silent apart from the distant ticking of the Second Empire clock and the whimpering of the dog. He had entered REM sleep and was chasing a rabbit, a creature that he rarely encounters in life but that is nevertheless important in his world view.
My great-uncle Edgerton, it will be remembered, was a modest man. He had a secret, his membership, to the Third Level, of the Order of the Drawn Sword, but his employment would not have made him rich, there was little family money and his Masonic activities would not have altered that situation. Uncle Edgerton had a wife, Salinger (in practice Sally) and a son Swallow.
(‘Swallow’ – I pencilled a note to suggest some play on words for the gay porn people.)
Uncle Edgerton died, slightly mysteriously, in the War. I remembered Aunt Sally and Swallow from my childhood. Aunt Sally was a nice old woman. Swallow was overbearing, a bully with a fruity voice unlike anyone else in the family. He never married and he died quite young.
And here was the mystery. Uncle Edgerton sent Swallow to Eton. None of us could work out where the money for this came from. There was no scholarship; Eton had confirmed that. Then the money seemed to have run out. Swallow didn’t go on to the University. He had gone through life with a grievance, believing it owed him more, and, as I say, he died young.
I was ruminating on Uncle Edgerton when I felt a sudden itching sensation all over. Moreover the walls of my study had become infirm and the dog was growling. But for the dog I would have ascribed it to indigestion. As it was, I prepared myself rapidly for the worst – and I was right.
Suddenly I was elsewhere. It was a featureless room. Two figures were there, struggling to the death. One I instantly identified from the old photographs as Uncle Edgerton. The other was a zombie.
They saw me the second I saw them.
Aaaargh, said the zombie.
Aaaargh, said Uncle Edgerton.
Clearly they saw me as a ghost – and that gave me a brief advantage. I took in the situation at a glance. Uncle Edgerton was fighting with a handicap. He had, of course, one rolled up trouser leg (tweeds, like the Court of Appeal judge’s, but of a much cheaper cut) and it was coming loose. He was grabbing at it with his left hand to stop it falling down and grappling with the zombie ineptly with his right. I strode forward and took the zombie in a head lock. It was grim work, but soon over. Uncle Edgerton slipped a golden sword from about him and severed the creature’s neck.
He then did certain unspeakable things to render the zombie inactive for eternity, and over them I will draw a veil.
Good show, he said. Wasn’t sure it would work. Desperate measures.
Curiously, I said, I was thinking about you.
Always helps. With summonings.
I introduced myself.
From the future, eh? Unusual that.
Did you know it would be me?
My dear fellow, of course not. How could I know about you? Just a general cry for help. At the highest level of course.
Level Three, I said.
He looked at me rather straight. Are you on the Square?
No. But they told me.
Best forget all about it.
A woman, you say.
A modest Moslem woman. Unbelievably skilled in combat.
I could see that the Jibjab Woman was a bit much to take in all at one go.
Well, he said. Mustn’t keep you. Unbelievably grateful and all that. But the summoning does take a degree of psychic energy to maintain, and I’m running out.
Indeed the walls of the room had become in their turn unpredictable.
One thing, I cried, as Uncle Edgerton himself became hazy in outline. Swallow’s education. Eton. How did you pay for it?
Uncle Edgerton disappeared altogether but his thin voice lingered:
I was back in my study. The dog had resumed his sleep – dreamless now. The better half was still out tasting fine wines. It had all taken very little time.
What a sap, I thought. I’d have spent the money getting out of Lewisham.
I wondered if it would ever happen again. Then I noticed on the top of my pile of papers a pamphlet that I’d never seen before. It was entitled in an antique typeface ‘The Order of the Drawn Sword: a Handbook.’ I wondered if the procedure would work the other way around. I would investigate, just as soon as I’d reported on the school fees to my cousins.