Elroy Stark shuffled up the steps to the Eternal Flame Christian Spiritualist Church one wet Monday afternoon. He was late again. His manager always managed to persuade him to stay for ‘just a few minutes’ to finish off some important document or other.
He shook his umbrella several times in quick succession when he reached the top step, folded it down and smoothed back his wet, greasy hair into an overly-slick Dracula style before entering the hall.
The meeting, as usual, was already under way and the spirit medium, Frederick Wallas, was sitting perfectly still and upright in a wooden chair at the front. His monotone voice bounced off the stone walls of the former Freemasons’ building.
Elroy’s scuffed leather shoes squeaked on the highly polished floorboards as he approached the back row of seats. He tried to shift his weight to prevent the squeaking, but ended up making it worse. A few heads spun around to look at him as he squelched his way towards them. One woman in her sixties saw it was Elroy, shook her head and turned back to face the medium. A red-headed, pale man sitting in the front row narrowed his eyes and glared at Elroy as if trying to kill him with his thoughts. That was ‘Bonny’ Benny, the Church’s founder.
Elroy sat on a chair right at the end of the back row, next to a lady he’d noticed at the last three meetings but had not spoken to. Her greying auburn hair was wavy and although it was fixed up tightly in a bun, a couple of wild strands frizzed out in a rebellious act totally at odds with her perfect posture. She sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and looked to be in her early forties; at least ten years older than Elroy, but there was something about her lips and her flawless Snow White skin.
He wriggled in his seat, attempting to remove his arms from the sleeves of his sodden raincoat. He should have taken it off before he sat down, but the glaring had been too much. As he managed to extract his left arm, he elbowed Posture Lady, who shot him a sharp sideways look and cleared her throat before returning her attention to the medium.
“Damnit,” he muttered. “Sorry.” The other arm flew out as if controlled by some external force and he shoved the coat in a ball under his chair.
As he settled down to listen to Fred, he made a mental note to catch the earlier bus next week. He’d made that same mental note each week for the past six months, but this time he really meant it.
“The time is approaching when mankind will achieve its full potential.” Fred paused. He always paused for an uncomfortably long time between sentences when he was channelling the Vegans (or whoever it was this week), “When all will be made aware of Spirit,” he continued, his voice wheezy and slightly wrong – almost robotic. “But we are afraid that humanity must first pass through a terrible era of war, starvation and disease.”
Sounds great, Elroy thought. Fred said more or less the same thing each Monday as he channelled messages from the beings of the star Vega, or the planet Saturn or the unicorns from Never Never Land. They never gave specifics or a plan of action, just endless warnings of death and destruction. He could have stayed at home and watched BBC News for that.
But he didn’t stay at home. Something about the place fascinated him. Six months ago, after he’d been overlooked for the third time for promotion to supervisor at his insurance firm, Elroy had plunged head-first into a mid-life crisis. He preferred to think of it as a mid-life crisis and not a nervous breakdown; mid-life crises were more socially acceptable. He was 33 years old, single, stuck in a job he despised with no more opportunities for promotion in the foreseeable future and, worst of all, he suffered from clinical depression. He’d needed a change; something new. Something that would provide some answers.
The Eternal Flame Christian Spiritualist Church in Dagenham hadn’t provided any answers yet, but Elroy returned each week because it gave him a glimmer of hope that there was something more. More than offices and taxes and pensions. More than TV soaps and ironing shirts. Something beyond supermarket promotions and sofa company sales.
Elroy Stark needed to believe that there was more to human life than the concrete buildings and the endless stupidity that surrounded him day in, day out. He was desperately searching for the escape hatch out of his mundane, colourless life.
His parents, if he had still been in contact with them, would have reminded him how he was given every opportunity to make something of his life; to become somebody. They had sent him to one of the most prestigious public schools in the country, but the young Elroy hadn’t been interested. His barrister father was eager for his son to follow in his footsteps, but Elroy had been more interested in girls and art… and girls. When he failed all of his exams after they had spent thousands on his education, his parents practically disowned him.
When the meeting was over twenty minutes later, Elroy thought about introducing himself to the lady next to him, but instead he squeaked back out of the hall and went home to his microwavable lasagne.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Martin Cosgrove has enjoyed writing since a young age. Too young, some might say. He was writing before he was able to walk or poop unassisted, which explains the unstable crap he churned out growing up.
Born in 1980, just like Macaulay Culkin, he used to pass the many hours he was left home alone by scribbling down whatever stream of consciousness would help him to deal with the inner demons.
Martin grew up in a small town near Liverpool called Bootle — just like celebrity psychic and entertainer Derek Accorah. Both hear voices in their head.
He grew up (sort of), left school, then went back to work in one. He tried to leave school again (went part-time) in order to write more. He wrote more.
Visit Martin’s Website.