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Hallucinate In High Fidelity

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The funny thing is, since they landed in Heathrow, John’s accent has exploded. If Zed thought it was odd before, now it’s taken a turn straight into gibberish. It’s not even the words he uses – he always did pepper his sentences with the occasional mate or bollocks or the like – but the cadence of his words. Like he’s given up on blending in, much as John Constantine would ever try to, and just babbles naturally.

Coming home has a different effect on everyone, Zed guesses.

Of course it’s not his home, exactly – she’s not the kind of ignorant American that considers every other country of the world to be a village without regional nuances. But it’s close enough that he must feel it, the push and pull of a home you left with good reason and only returned to reluctantly, for a brief visit. She can relate, in theory – she never did have to go back home, or anywhere close.

Right now, her and Chas are trailing after him through the busy mess of Liverpool Street Station – and no, the irony of that name isn’t lost on her, neither is it on John, she assumes, but they’ve both refrained from pointing it out – to talk to someone John calls The Map. Two days ago, he appeared in the millhouse – much like Anne Marie had, a projection of sorts – and asked them for help. John didn’t feel the need to explain how they knew each other, but he did book flights to London for the three of them within twenty-four hours.

He leads them away from the shops and light-flooded glass ceiling, past the platforms and into the maze of railroads, sparsely lit by emergency lights. Once they’re out of sight, he stands, arms wide, and shouts, “Alright, y'bastard. We’re here. Show yourself!”

Zed absently wonders if there’s any of his old friends that John doesn’t greet with insults or gets cursed out by for a hello. She doesn’t get to follow through on that thought – will the same happen to them, further down the road? – because suddenly she’s engulfed by another presence. What she sees is a man with dark skin and graying hair, wearing the uniform of a railroad worker, but that’s not what he feels like. It’s as if he carries the whole city with him, thousands and millions of souls, from the currently living to the long past deceased. They’re hovering in him, around him, and she has to take a step back, overwhelmed.

Map – at least she assumes it’s him – smiles at her knowingly and holds out his hand. “You can feel them, can’t you?”

“Yes,” she nods, has to make herself take his hand, because every fiber of her being wants to recoil from the onslaught she expects upon touching him. There is none, though. However his gift works, Map isn’t haunted by the weight he carries. If anything, touching him is like stepping into the eye of a storm, looking out into the crescendo from a shelter of calm and tranquility.

Zed smiles, and he places his other hand on top of where they’re shaking them, glancing in John’s direction. “Quite a find you made with this one.”

“Actually, she found me.” John looks back and forth between them both, face shifting from perturbed to amused. “Zed, this is Map. Map, this is Zed. Figured you two’d get along great. Now tell us what the hell happened here. People are dying and you’re needed is a pretty solid pitch, but it’s not really much to go on.”

Map lets go of her hands, but stays close to Zed, much like he knows his proximity makes the effects of his gift easier to bear for her. “Last week, a young couple jumped from the platform. They were killed by an oncoming train.”

“So some poor sods lost their way and got themselves killed,” John says, eyebrows quirked with impatience. He’s not one for longwinded stories, Zed found, likes his briefing into a case short and to the point. “I don’t see how that’s reason enough to make us hop on a bloody plane.”

“Do you know the history of this station?” Map asks, heaving a long-suffering sigh. Zed has to suppress a giggle; that, too, is the sort of reaction John seems to elicit from his old friends quite a lot.

John shoots him a seething glare. “Is that a rhetorical question? Everyone who’s ever worked around these parts knows that story.” He turns to address Zed and Chas. “In the thirteenth century, this place was the first location of what’s now famous as the Bethlem Royal Hospital. It eventually became, well, an asylum, you’d call it today, but back then it was little more than a dumping ground for the poor and the clinically insane. For centuries people rotted away here, locked up like dogs. If there ever was a place practically designed to be haunted, this would be it.”

“Yes. That’s how it earned its nickname; Bedlam, meaning noise and confusion.” The psychic waves around Map change and shift as John speaks, almost as if they’re reflecting the wails and cries of people who died here, invoked by talking about them. Map lowers his eyes, wipes a speck of dirt from his forehead with his shirt sleeve. “And haunted it is, has been for centuries. But last week… This isn’t the usual sort of malevolent spirit. Something – or someone – has been fanning the fires. It’s almost like – ”

“Like flushed birds, running from a cat in the backyard,” Zed cuts in. “And you think they’re going to do it again.”

 

***

 

They’re down on the platform where the couple died, John and Zed. She’s having a hard time concentrating, the constant noise and the echo of the Bedlam ghosts from down below conspiring to distract her. He’s... hovering, for lack of a better word, nervously playing with his lighter, but Zed’s rather sure it’s not her he’s worried about.

“Okay,” she says and raises her eyebrows at him. “What’s wrong?”

He glares at her and she expects him to deny anything’s wrong at all, but then he stashes his lighter away and sighs. “See, Map and I didn’t part on good terms last time – don’t even say it – but we were friends once, and I owe him one.”

“And?” Zed prods, trying to keep the surprise that he’s telling her about this at all out of her voice.

“He’s one of the most powerful people I’ve ever met. Pulling off spells and rituals most others couldn’t even dream about, teleporting his way around his city like he’s on an afternoon stroll, vibrating with the energy it gives him. But that’s a two-way-street, the city draws from him too, and now he’s drained enough that he hides away down there, unable to move or do much of anything.” Before Zed has a chance to reply anything to that, John straightens and puts his hands in his coat pockets. “Alright, that’s it with the therapy session. Do you get anything?”

Zed shakes her head. “Not yet.” She’s nowhere near ready to give up yet though; she looks around herself to get a better feeling for the place, closes her eyes, concentrates on the background noise this time instead of drowning it out, the rattling of the trains and the toneless announcements from the speakers, imagines the couple walking to their train after a night out, or an appointment, a meeting with friends...

The ghost isn’t actually there. It’s a memory, a replay, hovering just at the edge of her vision. His torn clothes are dirty, his too-long hair greasy and his beard all snarled. His expression is at the same time tortured and accusing, like he’s blaming her for the bad that’s happened to him, and she’s terrified, backing away without conscious thought, right until she feels John’s hand at her elbow, hauling her forward and yelling her name, pulling her out of the vision. When she turns around, she’s less than an inch away from the edge of the platform; one more step backwards, and she’d have fallen onto the tracks.

“Ghost?” John asks as he lets go of her, his hands curled into fists when they disappear back into his pockets, and Zed nods. “Well, at least now we know what caused Romeo and Juliet to take a dive.”

 

***

 

As John and Chas fan out to investigate the dead couple, get their hands on police reports and other records, Zed stays with Map. Now that she knows what happened here, it’s harder to ignore individual voices in the ocean of souls that’s tethered to him, tethered to this place, but she still wants to stay with him. She’s reconsidering her initial assumption that he stayed close to her in order to calm her down – it seems to be the other way around, as if her sharing the burden makes it easier for him to bear. It wasn’t so obvious at first, or he concealed it better, but the uproar in the lost souls gathering around them wears him down, and she doesn’t have the heart to deny him the comfort.

“It’s not always like this,” he says, glancing toward the shifting image of a young woman – hardly Zed’s age, naked and curled up on a bed of straw like a dog – before it fades away. “They’re afraid, and they’re clinging to me for help. Most of them don’t want to hurt anyone. They’re scared, and confused, and easily manipulated.”

Another image flickers a little left of where they’re sitting, this time a man, deadly thin, clinging to the bars of a cage as he stares out at group of spectators Zed can’t see, but hear and feel. Map doesn’t acknowledge this one, but he flinches when it appears and then again when it vanishes.

“I just wish they’d go back to being silent,” he says. “I can deal with them when they’re quiet.”

He doesn’t elaborate, but Zed understands him anyway; there’s a balance in the connection he has to the people of this city. Whatever’s responsible for the death of that couple stirred the pond, and now everything is increasingly out of synch and impossible to bear. Even in the few hours since they arrived, it got so much worse. She shifts closer, puts a hand on his shoulder. The connection flares between them, and it takes Zed a moment to realize that she’s not just taking on more of the burden, she’s thrown into a vision.

All of a sudden she’s running through another train station; she’s late and she’s going to miss the meeting with HR in an hour, she’s going to get fired, she knows she is. They’ve been waiting for a chance to get rid of her for ages, and this will be it. She trips and curses, looking up to see a girl, maybe ten years old, a worn teddy bear clutched to her chest, her clothes old-fashioned, threadbare and dirty. Her mouth is open on a scream and even though no sound is coming out she knows it’s a cry for help. Zed shouts, telling her that she’s on her way, she’s here, it’s going to be okay, but she’s too late; she doesn’t understand it, but suddenly all she cares about is saving that child, keeping her from falling onto the tracks and in front of the train, every other concern forgotten. The girl turns abruptly, flaring with a surge of violent anger that feels like it doesn't belong within her, and runs onto the tracks and Zed jumps after her, only realizing that there’s a train coming when she’s caught in the beam of its headlights, unable to get away in time –

She comes back to herself with a gasp, staring straight into the eyes of Map, who is gripping her at the waist and yelling her name. She screws her eyes shut to get rid of the sensation of bones breaking, flesh being torn by the impact of the train, and falls forward into his arms.

 

***

 

“Andrew Porter, thirty-six. He’d been waiting for his train to work at Bethnal Green Station,” John informs them after he’s shut and discarded his phone, having talked to what he nebulously described as a well-paid insider source. Zed’s not even sure she wants to know. “Three hours ago, he jumped in front of said train. So far police seems to think it was a suicide. Judging by your vision, I’d say they’re wrong. Dated clothing, you said, yeah? Forties maybe?”

He gives Zed a glance that’s equal parts question and concern, looking the other way again as she nods. They’re still beneath Liverpool Street Station, because Map refuses to leave and, even though he’d probably deny it under pain of death, John refuses to leave him.

“Okay then,” he continues. ”Gather around, children, another history lesson about another haunted Tube station. During World War Two, two-hundred people died in that station during an air raid test that went awry. Crushed to death after someone tripped. Nasty business.”

It’s Chas who steps forward to point out the obvious. “We’re not assuming that’s a coincidence, are we?”

“When do we ever assume that?” John rolls his eyes. “Considering the couple that died here didn’t throw up any red flags, let’s also assume both them and our dear Mr. Porter were random victims.”

“Yeah, I’d say so. She didn’t target anyone,” Zed says, remembering the girl – her panic, her fear. “I can’t get the look on her face out of my head. It could have been a trick, her screams, but I think she was afraid. Whatever controlled her made her do this. She didn’t want to hurt anyone, she just wanted to be at peace.”

“So someone’s raising ghosts at train stations?” Chas smiles at her, awkward but clearly aimed to be reassuring. Every now and then he grins at her a little conspiratorially, like they're sharing a secret John's not in on. She hasn't figured out what that might be, yet, but she likes it. “Seems oddly specific to me.”
John raises his eyebrows at them both, then sighs. "If they're being manipulated, then how about we find out who's pulling their strings? Map, I need to break into your stash, and Zed, let's take a little trip."

 

***

 

It's a short trip to Bethnal Green Station, just one stop over, and it’s the polar opposite of the clean, modern eel that Liverpool Street Station exudes. Bethnal Green looks like how you'd imagine an old-timey London Underground station: not much above ground and an escalator that descends into long tunnels with yellowed tiles.

The spot where Andrew Porter died isn't far, easy for Zed to identify from her vision through adds and displays that haven’t changed yet. John takes off straight towards it, kneels and starts fiddling the supplies – herbs and animal bones, the works – while Zed towers and tries to shield him from view. She doesn't have to worry much; people hurry by with their heads buried into newspapers or staring at smart phone displays, and no one pays them any mind.

“I'm going to summon your little friend,” he explains as he works, never looking up, just loud enough that Zed can make out the words. “Ask her to show us who made her a killer.”

He's barely said the last word when there's a zwoosh and a quick flash of greenish light, and Zed can feel the girl's presence immediately. She walks towards the ghost, palms held upward, smiling.

“Hello there,” she says, glancing to John, who nods at her to continue; Zed's not sure if he can see the girl himself, or if he knew he wouldn't be able to and that's why he took made her come with. “Do you recognize me? We don't want to hurt you, don't be afraid. We want to help you, make sure no one's going to make you do something you don't want ever again. Do you understand?”

The girl's transparent, wavering in the light that falls into the tunnel from upstairs like images on an old television set with bad reception. Her eyes widen, and she rubs at them, but she nods.

“Ask her to show us her master,” John says.

Zed repeats the question at the girl, and she nods again, turns to move in the direction of the escalator. She hesitates at the bottom of it, looks upwards, turns back around to Zed with fear in her eyes.

From behind Zed John explains, “She must be tethered to this place. Can't leave usually. Tell her it's okay, she can go upstairs.”

“Go on,” Zed says, smiles at the girl again. “It's fine. Nothing's going to happen to you, we'll be right behind you.”

After another moment's hesitation, the girl's small shoulders straighten and she takes a tentative step onto the escalator. Zed feels her stunned surprise at the movement beneath her feet, her fear and determination. By herself, she's anything but malevolent. She feels remorse and anguish for what she was made to do, and gratitude for being given a chance to put things right. Back before she died, she must have been a tenacious little thing. Memories of her life, short and burdened as it was, float to the surface, but Zed tries to ignore them; peeking would feel like a violation. They're not important. The girl's life isn't relevant. Zed doesn't need to know.

They follow her through busy streets, out of Bethnal Green and towards Whitechapel, marked by signs on buildings and shops, until she finally stops in front of a front of a run down terrace. The ground floors of some of them are occupied by small shops – food and clothes and electronics – but above them there are apartments with curtains and flowers on the window seals, and the girl points at one of them, lit by the flickering light of a television being run in an otherwise dark room. She sways forward on the ball of her feet and her mouth moves as if she was speaking, but no sounds come out. Zed wants to thank her, tell her she did good, but she's gone from one second to the next, fading out of existence.

Zed looks to John, but he evades her, gaze instead trained at the window the girl pointed out.

“Don't worry about her. She's going back to where she came from, hopefully for good this time.” He pulls a notepad from the pockets of his coat, scribbles down what Zed assumes to be the address of the building. “And we got what we came here for too. We'll just have to connect the dots.”

He turns around to her with that lopsided frown he does instead of a smile, as if simply attempting to imitate the expression somehow doesn't sit right with him. Zed closes up to him, gives him a real smile in return while he pulls out his phone, calling Chas to send him on his way gathering information on the building's tenants, and together they walk back towards Liverpool Street Station.

 

***

 

“The apartments in the building the ghost led you to,” Chas starts as soon as they're all gathered in Map's underground lair again a few hours later, “are low income, high rotation, people moving around as they find work. But one of them did stick out. Olivia Newton, fifty-seven, divorced, early retirement. Until four months ago, she lived there with her adult son Todd, but he died on his way home from a night out. Drunk off is ass, he fell in front of a train at Whitechapel station. She blamed the London Undergound, and tried to sue them, but lost.”

That must have been the anger Zed felt in the girl when she had the vision of Andrew Porter dying; blind hunger for revenge to a crime that probably wasn't one in the first place.

“So obviously,” John says with sarcasm, “the logical next step is binding a few ghosts to her will and killing more people.” He pulls a cigarette out of his pack and puts it between his lips, but reconsiders at a sharp glance from Map. No open fire down here. “I can think of about three spells for something like this, and all of them need a totem; an item or shrine to keep the magic going.”

Which leaves them with one obvious problem, Zed realizes. “But we don't know where that is. It could be anywhere.”

John points at her with the unlit cigarette he’s still holding. “Exactly the problem.”

“But the person working the spell isn't the only one who knows the location of the totem.” Map puts his chin into his hands, scratches at it. “So will the beings bound by it.” He smiles at Zed. “Maybe we could ask your little friend for help one more time.”

 

***

 

The girl looks at them with her head cocked, and at first Zed thinks they disturbed her for no reason, that she doesn't know what they want from her and can't help them. But then understanding settles on her face, and she nods, waving a hand for Zed to come closer. She points at the tTupe Map pinned to the wall, her finger stabbing towards Whitechapel Station, before she reaches out to touch Zed's arm. It's an odd sensation, cold and tingling, making Zed's skin erupt in goosebumps, and with it comes a series of images; a turn behind a platform, a scratched old metal door, a small dusty room, and in it a small silver cross with dried flowers wrapped all around it and a candle, the kind used at graveyards, burning before it.

“Thank you.” She covers the girl's hand with her own, right before she vanishes again. Turning towards John and Chas, she says, “I know where we need to go.”

They take the next train to Whitechapel Station, and Zed follows the series of images the girl gave her, leading them past the platforms, and, glancing around to orient herself, down a flight of stairs to a series of utility rooms. A few futile tries, but then she finds the right one: the cross is there, the flowers and the candle. She steps back for the rest of the job, watches Chas blow out the candle and douse the whole thing while John cuts his palm, throws another handful of herbs and other things at it and mumbles an incantation, waits for Chas to finish up before he gets out his lighter and sets it all on fire. They work as one, fluid, longstanding familiarity and years of teamwork having made their conversations in these kind of situations non-verbal. All three of them step back as green and blue flames devour the small shrine, and John declares their work done, wrapping a handkerchief around his hand while he walks out of the utility closet first, followed by Zed and then Chas.

“What's going to keep her from just setting up another shrine and starting over?” Zed asks as they climb the stairs back up to the platforms.

John stops and looks at her over his shoulder. “The ghosts will. Once free, they're going to turn on the person who bent them to their will. I can't predict what they'll do to her, but I imagine she'll be joining them before long.”

 

***

 

If Zed needed any more evidence that they're done, it's over, the ghosts are free, she'd have found it on Map's face. The worn, worried expression is gone , and he looks like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. Zed can feel it too; the ghosts have gone quiet, none of them surfacing around the station at random anymore, and the wave of anguished souls that fell in on her on her first day here has receded to a distant mumble.

The next morning, they have tickets booked for a flight back home, and the headline in the papers across Liverpool Street Station report of a mysterious death in Whitechapel.

Map's and John's goodbye is short and looks a little bit awkward, a series of curt nods and very few words. Zed, however, is hauled into a hug when she reaches out to shake Map's hand. “He’s going to need you,” Map whispers into her ear as he has her close enough that his words won't carry, “but he hasn't realized that yet. Don't let him scare you away when he does.”

Zed doesn't reply. She knows the visions that led her to John in the first place weren’t random supernatural match-making; they have a purpose together, in trying to fight off the rising darkness. She also knows he's going to make sticking around difficult.

Their bags in hand, Chas heads out of the tunnels first, while John waits for Zed to catch up. “What'd he say?”

Zed marches past him, doesn’t address him when she says, “Nothing I didn't already know.”