“Funny, isn’t it,” Ben Russell said, “how everyone ended up inside, your brothers, the whole damn lot of ’em, all ’cept you?”
Jude was slouched on the old brown sofa, pretending to watch as Piers Morgan tore shreds from a junior government minister on Good Morning England. His parents sat together at the drop-leaf kitchen table, the white and orange lino cracked and peeling beneath their feet, duct tape securing the floor where it met lime-green kitchen units. Through the eleventh-floor window, Jude could see three of the Seven Sisters, the malevolent fifteen-story hags that had arisen from the Salford slums during the sixties. Those caught in the witch’s spell spent their lives breathing in the poison of substandard materials, turning up the volume on the TV to drown out the sound of domestic violence, pulling down the blinds to escape the scything shadow as each tower block took its turn spreading a blanket of despair and despondency
Ben Russell finished his bacon and sausage, dropped stainless steel onto crockery, slurped tea from a parcel company mug, fixed his grey eyes on his first-born, then delivered his judgement, “Make a deal did yer, son?” He picked up the Manchester Evening News and held it out in front of his face. “Stop clenching your fists, lad,” he said. “Forty years old, and you’ve neither wife nor heir. Are you not out of the closet yet, yer fuckin’ arse tickler?”
Jude watched his mum eating scrambled eggs on toast, her eyes never leaving the white dinner plate decorated with green dragons. All those chipped plates, teacups, and saucers stacked in the cupboards, they must be older than I am, he thought. He remembered his mother telling him the dinner service had been a wedding present from Aunty June. Lillian had been close to her sister, until the day Ben had fallen out with Uncle Derek over politics. And that was that—Jude hadn’t seen his Aunty June and her purple Mini Cooper since he was eight-years old.
His mother’s poverty offended his pride, his love. But his father would take no money, wouldn’t leave the place that had been their home for thirty-eight years. Old Ben was happy in hell and he expected his wife to keep him company there.
His father left the table and stalked past his son. Jude helped his mother clean up. Then, he started washing the pots and putting them on the drainer. His mother dried using a faded Royal Wedding tea-towel. Washing-up together was their ritual and both derived comfort from it. “You’ve got farmer’s hands,” he remembered Grandma Russell telling him as a boy, “like a spade, like your great-grandpa John’s.” His mum and his nan had provided the love he had craved. The twins, Samuel and Eric, were the centre of his father’s life. There was something in Jude his father resented. His mum had told him that parents were always hardest on those aspects of their offspring they recognised as weaknesses in themselves. As he scrubbed the frying pan clean, Jude hoped to God he had nothing in common with the owd fucker apart from a shared surname.
After the dish-cleaning ceremony was finished, he held his mother and kissed her goodbye in the hallway.
“I love you, and God loves you too, son,” she told him.
“Your dad doesn’t mean to mither: he loves you, too.”
“He’s never forgiven me for being born.”
“How’s your health? Are you…”
“Shhh,” Jude said, as he pointed to the parlour door.
“He can’t hear. How long will you be away for? Who’s minding the garage?”
“I don’t know how long. That’s why I wanted to see you. Just in case it’s a stretch. Just in case…you know. Kiddo is keeping shop while I’m away.”
“You did a good thing with young Jeff, him losing his dad so young. I’m proud of you. Your dad is proud of you too. In his own way.”
As he held his mother close, Jude felt a stab of pity for the man whose one gift to his firstborn had been to teach him how to hate, how to really hate. He had feared and despised the provider of his Y chromosome all his life. He remembered the beating he’d taken for torn school trousers, for refusing to eat cold mashed potato, for pranging his new bike, for a lost shoe in a field, for looking at his dad the wrong way after United lost at home to City.
Now, all that was left between father and son was a cold, empty space. All Jude asked of his biological sire was that he left his mother alone: because, if he ever, ever, raised his hand to her, again…Jude brushed away the image of his father’s bulging eyes, his hands tightening across the old man’s throat. He took the picture of violence, placed it on a high shelf inside the cave and was himself once more.
The cave of quietude formed inside Jude as he had grown into adulthood: the product of acid erosion, the cave was a remote place deep inside, emotionally distant, cold, dispassionate, a place where he found the state of separation that was the prerequisite for doing the things that had to be done for the country he had chosen to love above all else. The cave banked all his anger and rage: sometimes he made deposits, sometimes he made withdrawals. His mother’s faith in the coming Christ gave her solace amidst the pain that living brought to her. Her eldest son interpreted life very differently: he had learned that “turn the other cheek” pacifism could not stop a fist or a knife, could not protect a man’s home and family from robbers and rapists, and could not, would not, give England back to the Angle Cynn.
English republicanism was the one thing, the only thing, he and his father agreed upon—the righteous struggle against the American invaders, the global corporations, the greedy bankers, the corrupt politicians, the paedophile bishops, the tax-exile businessmen defrauding the poor of their pensions, and, most of all, the country’s tax-sucking Hanoverian King, George IX—Herr Odd as his disloyal subjects mockingly referred to him. The national socialist revolution could not be achieved through leaflet-drops and bring-and-buy sales: the only credible solution was a military one and that required soldiers prepared to take human life.
He let go of his mother, kissed her, picked up his things, and walked into the front room. His father was in the armchair, reading the Pink.
“See yer, Dad.”
“I can always smell a betrayer. You’d sell your friends out for thirty-bob, you would. You’re lucky your mam’s still around. I’ve half a mind to have a word with those that know.”
Squeezing the ends of his mother’s fingers, Jude walked out through the door, slammed it shut, and never came back—never saw either of them alive, again.
He descended the stairways of his childhood, strode the covered walkways of his youth, walked past the boarded-up doors and windows, ignored the out-of-order lifts, and stepped over the needles and curled-up tin foil by the exit. The community he had grown up in was gone. Left behind were the impoverished English non-working classes, Eastern European immigrants, the poor, the old, the hopeless; a populace that was fodder for hate organisations, crime gangs, pay-day loan companies, and satellite TV providers.
On the plaza, Jude gazed up at Lyssa Tower—to the tenth floor, where twenty-four years earlier a police informant called Greg Kidd had got both barrels in the face from a masked assailant whilst his three-year old son looked on from his play pen.
Thirty minutes after leaving his parent’s home, Jude was stepping off the bus and lifting his rucksack over his shoulder. He walked through the glass-fronted entrance of Salford Central. Avoiding eye contact with the three gum-chewing, body-armour-wearing, pistol-packing transport police, he scanned his ID on the barcode reader—no alarm sounded, no lights flashed, and no urgent shouted instructions to lie flat and put his hands behind his head came. He breathed again, paid cash for his ticket at the machine, and descended to the platform using the escalator
The call the previous day had been brief—a man’s voice had given the instructions, “Our mutual friend has an interest in a place on the West Pennine Moors. See what you can find. Catch the train to Bolton tomorrow. A guide will meet you in the station café at eleven.”
Looking out through the window of the 10:26 Manchester Victoria to Blackpool North, Jude watched the homes, the factories, the supermarkets, stream past. The thought came to him: all the hatred, all the men he had killed, did they represent his father as he pulled the trigger? Nausea hit and his head began to ache. He swallowed his last four Nurofen Plus and washed them down with the dregs of an orange juice bottle left on the table.
Jude knew it was the cave, his dark half, his Slim Shady, his Tyler Durden, his Darth Vader that made him good at what he did. But another part of him longed for the fruit of the tree of life, the food that healed both mind and body. Through the train window he saw concrete and metal giving way to green fields, gardens, and farms. He was city born, his farming roots sundered by three generations who had lived and worked amongst the grime and noise of Manchester. But there was no joy for him in steel and glass. It was connection with the land, anchoring his feet in the soil that cured his headaches and gave him brief moments of peace. His allotment had become a lifeline, and he celebrated each carrot, lettuce, potato, and turnip the earth had given him.
Jude felt the land outside the train reach out to claim him. He pressed his hand to the window—if he farmed, it wouldn’t be agri-business metrics and yield per hectare that motivated him: growing crops would be an extension of his self, just as his flesh and blood was an extension of the earth. Yeats was bollocks, Kavanagh was the man. He would be no Patrick Maguire, trapped in fields that imprisoned. He would be an artist of the soil. He was the son of those who had cleared the forests and first farmed the country now called England. His grandmother had seen that in him, appraising her grandson’s pedigree in the same considered way she had condemned her own son.
Severance from the soil had emasculated him: he could have had a wife, children, land, animals, crops. Instead, he was a bum, a murdering childless bum. He considered how much human pain was caused by disconnect from the earth. Could a cure for neurosis be found by bringing people back to the land on top of which they had built factories and multiplex cinemas? When the ERA was done, when they had given England back to the English, he would claim his own corner of the country: he would farm, he would find a wife, raise children. He would sow. He would re-fucking-build.
It was a crazy plan. He had no money, no land, no woman, and no real agricultural experience. But he was half-crazy already. If he was going to keep himself away from the void, he needed his crazy. If planting his feet in a field controlled his headaches, then he’d find a field. He would find the money from somewhere. First, he had to look out for his brothers, and if that meant shooting a cross-dressing vicar in the face, then so be it. What did one more corpse matter, anyway?
A boy in a field watched the train pass. The role reversal made Jude’s blood run cold. Instinct screamed danger around the next bend. Then, the houses started, the retail sheds, the fuel depots, and the engineering works. Green gave way to grey.
And nothing happened.
Jude got off the train in Bolton and walked down the platform steps into the station concourse. He saw the newspaper headline, “ERA deputy-leader captured in mine gun battle.” He made his way into the newsagent and bought a copy of The Express: Joshua Patterson had been found hiding in an abandoned lead mine in the Trough of Bowland. The news filled Jude’s gut with a corrosive sense of foreboding, for the Movement, for his brothers, for himself.
Armed police were stationed by the exit. He walked to the turnstile, scanned his ID, and that was when the buzzer went off and the turnstile locked.
Jude froze. His first instinct was to escape, to run, but something deeper within told him to stay calm.
A policeman walked over cradling a semi-automatic, “ID, please.”
Jude knew the drill. It wasn’t what he said, it was how he said it. He had rehearsed the story until he believed it himself: he knew how to control eye axis cues, and he could minimise the body-language indicators that a well-trained officer of the law would spot as incongruities in his narrative. He held out his ID card.
“We are conducting random searches today. Can you confirm your home address for me Mister…Russell? Where’re you travelling to? Are you meeting anyone? Where’re you staying? Do you have a return ticket?”
“213 Kant Street, Salford. Kearsley. No. I’m back home tonight. I’m going back on the bus.”
“What’s in the bag?”
“A change of clothes.”
“What do you need those for if you are going home today?”
“I’m working outdoors.”
The policemen watched his face, then grew bored, “Lucky man. Pass your bag through the X-ray machine, please. Okay, you can go, thank you for your co-operation.”
Jude collected his bag and walked across to the bus station café. He settled himself in a red plastic seat at a plywood table and ordered coffee and a ham sandwich.
He was half-way through his lunch when a short middle-aged woman with close-cropped purple hair came in and sat across from him. “Mister Los, I presume,” she said.
“Yeah,” Jude said, “and you are?”
“I’m Val, your guide for the next hour.”
“You want a drink?”
“Yes please: coffee, two sugars, semi-skimmed cow juice. We’ve missed the 11:05. We have forty minutes to kill before the next bus to Horwich.”
Jude groaned, got up, paid for two coffees at the counter, and carried them back to the table. He tried to count how many piercings the woman had in her ears, nose, and lip.
“You don’t drive?” Val asked.
“Nah, I like to use buses and trains.”
“What do you know about the West Pennine Moors?” she asked. “Why are they so special to our wandering priestess?”
“No fucking idea,” Jude said. “Is Val short for Valium?” He slurped his coffee and put the cup down heavily on the table.
“I’ve had to deal with rude, ignorant men like you all my life. Why do you get off on taking the piss? What would your mum say if she was here?”
Jude said nothing.
“Do you want to hear about the Moors or not?” Val said.
“The West Pennine Moors are a triangle of land stretching from Preston in the north, running south-east along Highway 61 to Bolton and Bury, with the vertical axis heading north along the Irwell valley following Route 66. The top of our right-angle triangle is the M65 which runs from Blackburn back across to Preston. Most people drive past these bleak hills. But our people have lived, farmed, and hunted there since Neolithic times. There are cairns, barrows, stone circles, burial mounds, Roman roads, churches built on pagan sites, Saxon villages, Viking farmsteads: the place is a microcosm of England’s history. But it is a hard land.”
“Fascinating,” Jude said, his voice laden with irony, but something in her narrative had awoken his interest.
“Your friend, Miss Arkuss, seems particularly interested in one place, an ancient church, a church with a very special stone outside its front door. I’ll tell you about the stone on the bus, but what I can’t tell you is what the stone means to her. And I rather think that our mutual friend would like you to find that out.”
Jude listened as Val explained more of the history of the moors: the highland clearances of people, livestock, and homes by the Liverpool Corporation as it drained the land and built the drinking-water reservoirs, mysterious murders, tragic plane crashes, mining for metals, local family sagas, and then the 575 swung into the bus station.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Jude said.
They queued behind the chatting pensioners and the kids playing hooky from school. “Two for the Crown,” Val said to the Asian driver, as she paid their fares in exact change.
Jude followed her to the back seats on the bottom deck. “So, what’s with this stone?” Jude asked, slumping beside Val and placing the backpack on his knee. “What’s so special about a shit village in the middle of nowhere?”
“The Sator Square.”
“And that is what, exactly?”
“There is one in the Manchester Museum that was found down a well in Castlefield. One was excavated in Pompei, another in Syria. Most of them are the best part of two thousand years old. The one in Rivington came from the Anderton family chapel. The Anderton’s were the local nobility. They had strong links with other local families: the Heskeths and the Standish family.”
“Our girl grew up in Standish. How far is that from Rivington?”
“A couple of miles.”
“What does a Sator Square do?”
“It is a word puzzle. There are people who think the Sator Square was a means of communicating during the times that the Church faced persecution. What is interesting is that the Square should come back into consideration at a time when some would argue the church faces another far subtler, far more deadly, form of persecution. There are others who believe the Sator Square contains a coded prophecy. I don’t want to go all Dan Brown on you here, but I believe there is a link back to Saint Paul himself. Don’t forget Paul was a Roman citizen. As to why this Sator Square came to be in an obscure part of Lancashire, I have no idea.”
“Show me what it looks like,” Jude said.
Val took out a pen and notebook and began to draw a five-by-five grid. “See, it reads the same backwards and forwards, up and down. Literally translated it means ‘Arepo the sower guides the wheels with care.’”
“The sower? Who’s Arepo?”
“No one knows; but if you rearrange it, this is what you get.” Valerie turned the page over and scribbled. “A Greek Cross with the word ‘Paternoster’ across and down, leaving the letters A and O to signify Alpha and Omega. Paternoster means ‘Our Father’ in Latin.”
“This country is littered with stone crosses,” Jude said, “I’ve often wondered why anyone would use an instrument of torture as a symbol of faith.”
“You forget your Church history,” Val said. “Paul was the conduit for transferring the Jewish concept of one God into Greco-Roman theosophy. Then, it was Constantine, who three hundred years later formalised monotheism as the religion of the Roman Empire. The great Jewish hope of the coming of the Messiah was represented to the citizens of the Empire in the form of the cross. A representation of pain and death was transformed into one of faith and hope. The X and Y axis combined to represent the intersection of time with the timeless. The cross is a promise, a promise that God will walk in the world to mend the schism of original sin, of separation, that She will break down the distance between us Herself…if you believe in that kind of thing, that is.”
“You’re telling me,” Jude said, “that Saint Paul left a coded message with friends of his who passed it down from generation to generation in an obscure part of the Roman Empire, waiting for the Christ to stumble across it with the additional assumption that he, the Christ, would be able to decipher this word puzzle two thousand years later. That doesn’t sound very probable to me.”
“You’re making the assumption that the Christ is a ‘he’.”
“Whose side are you on, Val?”
“Come on, pilgrim, this is our stop. This is where we say goodbye.”
“Which way?” Jude asked, as the bus pulled away, belching black diesel-fumes into their faces.
“Up,” Val said, coughing. “Everything…serves God, eventually. Do you believe that, Mister Los?”
“No, I do not.”
“By the way, Val is short for Valerie. It is a name that means ‘strong’.” She squeezed his hand until it hurt.
Jude watched as the mad woman walked down the hill. He lifted the backpack onto his shoulders, grimaced at the black clouds over his head, shoved his hands into his pockets, and started out.
He’d been on the move for two minutes when the heavens opened and pelted him with rain. He put on his orange waterproof and strode into the heart of the grey-stone Lancashire town.
Outside Wrights Wine Merchants, Jude let the rain pour down his face. He watched as liquid bullets bounced off the pavement.
The cold crept into his bones.
Kill the Christ, said the dead voice of the cave.
“Fuck you, pallid grey thing,” he whispered.
He saw the shadow. He heard the scuttling. The thing that lived on his evil, the thing that was him, the thing that wasn’t him, thrust its pincers into the floor of the cave in rage.
“I’m not you,” he said to the shitty rain, to the shitty grey town, to the whole shitty grey world. “You can’t fucking have me.”