1. Family Matters
Suddenly, after a period of blackness, he was aware again, and, as he felt a force pulling at him almost as if he was tied to a rope, he realised he was dead, and that the pull he felt was his fëa being called to Mandos. He briefly gave in to the summons, but then he hesitated.
"No! I cannot go! Not now! Not yet!" it flashed across his mind, and he pushed himself away. Soon the pulling ceased, and he knew he was free of the summons.
Elfride slowly walked up the steps to her aunt's house. She always enjoyed these visits, but this time she needed her aunt's advice as much as her company. She was worried about the way her brother Alwin had been behaving lately; it was almost as if he wasn't himself.
Elfride finished her tale, and Aelfhild hesitated before she spoke. "I had hoped it wouldn't happen", she said, so softly Elfride almost didn't hear it. "Too much to expect, obviously."
"What? You know what is wrong with Alwin? What is it? Is he taking drugs? Is he going crazy? Is there some kind of inherited insanity in the family? Can we do anything about it?" Elfride rushed ahead anxiously.
"I know what is wrong with him, yes; or rather, I have my suspicions," the older woman replied. She paused to pour them both another cup of tea. After taking a few sips, she continued, "it's rather a long story, and I ought to start at the beginning, or none of it will make sense. But first I will have to get something."
Aelfhild got up and took a stack of papers from a cupboard. They all seemed to be very old, and Elfride couldn't imagine what they had to do with her brother's behaviour. Aelfhild put them down on the coffee table.
"You wonder what these have to do with your brother, right? Bear with me, it will become all too clear before I'm done," the older woman said as she sat down again.
"These papers have been in the family a long time and they'd been lying undisturbed in my parents' attic for years. They had been my uncle Alfred's, and mother had inherited them after his death and that of his son the year after. I'd never bothered to look at them; I'd never met Alfred as he died before I was born and the talk I'd heard of him – how he didn't really seem to age after he turned twenty and vague jokes about Dorian Grey's picture – was interesting to those who had a mind for such mysteries, but I prided myself on being practical and levelminded, and family gossip about dead relatives was the last thing on my mind."
"In fact, I had as good as forgotten about the papers – and Alfred – when we moved house in 1938. The movers had done the heavy work in the old house, but abandoned us with boxes and crates stacked in the living room in the new one – maybe they felt they'd done enough for their pay; I didn't know and was more than a bit annoyed by it."
"As a result, I had been dragging stuff around all day, and so, after I'd dragged this latest crate up to the attic, I sat down to take a break, and picked up one of the books in the crate. It turned out to be one of old Alfred's documents, and I shrugged, thinking I might as well see what the man had had to say for himself. I was a bit surprised when I opened it and found it was written in some strange Arabic-like script, and I could make heads nor tails of it. I put it down, and looking in some of the others found them to be written in the same script, and apparently the same handwriting, even though they seemed to be much older and written on what I was pretty certain was parchment rather than paper. I was puzzled by the whole thing, but being ever the practical person, I reminded myself that crates of books don't unpack themselves, and I got back to work."
"Again, I didn't think of the journals for years and years; at first I was too busy helping to get the new house in some sort of order, and then I found a job as a typist and discovered the joy of being a young girl in a university town, though my wild years were cut short by the war."
"I was twenty-eight when the war ended, and got married that year, as you of course know. Because of the housing shortage, James and I lived with my parents until they died, and it only seemed sensible that we would stay in their – now our – house afterwards; we could afford it and a growing family would easily fill the available rooms. Of course we wanted children. That we wouldn't have them didn't enter our minds at the time, and we decided that it made sense if I did some secretarial work for James's company for the time being. I also took some correspondence courses and did work for charity, and so life was busy enough to keep my mind away from the papers in the attic."
"Unlike me, James was always interested in mysterious things and his reading habits reflected this in my opinion odd taste of his, so our bookcases slowly filled up with all kinds of strange stories, scientifiction – as we called it then – magazines and books, and other novels of the fantastic, including some books written by a local professor, which I tried to read, but found not at all to my liking; the only things that interested me were some of the illustrations, which looked familiar, especially the writing in them. It looked a lot like the strange script in those old journals I had upstairs. But surely that was impossible? Uncle Alfred's journals had all been written before his death in 1915, and this book was published in the 1950s. There could be no connection."
Aelfhild shrugged, and got up to pour another cup of tea. As she reached to take the pot out of the tea cosy, she stopped and suggested that they might want something a bit stronger before they were done with this tale. Elfride, who, despite her anxiety over her brother's strange behaviour, was becoming intrigued by this bit of family history, nodded in agreement, so her aunt got out a bottle of whiskey and poured for them both.
They sipped the smoky-tasting liquid quietly for some minutes before Aelfhild continued her story.
"Life went its busy way for years, until James died in 1960. I found myself quite well off and with a lot of time on my hands, and I decided that I would try to decipher those journals, or diaries, whatever they were. I'd never mentioned them to anybody, not even to James, though I'm sure he would have been interested in them. Over the years I had started to think of those mysterious papers as my personal secret; perhaps my only fancy, for I still considered myself to be a sensible person with both feet firmly on the ground, and I knew others saw me like that as well, and an obsession with a long-dead relative's secret journals didn't really fit this image. Silly of me perhaps, to be so bothered by appearances."
"Anyway, I finally had time to take a serious look at the journals. I dismissed the similarity with the writing in that book for the time being, and showed one of the more recent documents to an expert in Arabic. He told me straightaway that it wasn't Arabic or any other alphabet he knew of, and suggested I find someone who understood codes and code-breaking. I kept the suggestion in mind, but decided to follow that half-hunch I had about the writing in the book first. It didn't take me long to realise that I had been right."
Elfride had picked up one of the journals and now opened it. "Is this some kind of joke?" she said indignantly, "because if it is, I don't think it's very funny! You do know that this is the alphabet from Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings'?"
Aelfhild sighed. "I wish it was a joke, child. Diaries written over centuries, in tengwar. No, unfortunately they're quite genuine. I even had one of the oldest ones tested to see if it was a fake, but it's real."
"But what does it have to do with Alwin? Alfred died in 1915! That's nearly 60 years ago."
"We'll get to that. First, let me read the final page of Alfred's last journal to you. It's dated November 8, 1915.
'Today is the last day of this lifetime. This body has served me well over the last thirty years, and in a way I regret the necessity of letting it go, for it always remains uncertain whether my new host will submit easily, and whether he will last. Neither has been much of a problem over the last few lives – the hroar of the atani are much healthier these last few yéni than they have been since the blood of Númenor became weakened beyond recognition. And the spirit of the men of this family is so weak that it surprises me they manage to stay alive long enough for me to take them over. I wonder about this, for their daughters are spirited enough, yet their sons have all the fire of a clump of mud. Mayhap I myself have had this effect. It would be no surprise to me, for I have bred them for my use for many long years, but I would know if it is indeed true, for if ever I cannot move to a next generation, it might prove difficult to take a host outside this family.
One last sip of this excellent wine, and then I shall call the son of this body to me.'
It ends there."
"I don't understand," Elfride said. "What happened after that? Are you saying Alwin's possessed by some kind of family ghost?
Aelfhild refilled their glasses. "After that? I do not know, except Alfred died that night, and his son was killed at the Somme the next year. And yes, I fear that whatever possessed Alfred and his forebears has now taken up residence in Alwin. Yes, it is preposterous. Don't you think I I don't know that?
They sat silently for a while, Aelfhild leafing through some of the journals, Elfride deep in thought, trying to make sense of what her aunt had told her. Then, just as Aelfhild got up to draw the curtains and switch on the lights, the bell rang. Both women went for the door, but Elfride was just a bit quicker, and opened it. Aelfhild couldn't see who was outside, but she could see that Elfride was shocked to see the other person. Just as she realised who it must be, her suspicion was confirmed and Alwin stepped inside.
"Hello, aunt Aelfhild; hello, sister," he said as he closed the door. "Surprised to see me?"
"Should I be?" Aelfhild replied, meanwhile observing her nephew carefully. As Elfride had said, he did indeed look different, more alive than she'd ever seen him. "Why don't you come in to the living room and join us for a drink?", she continued.
As they entered the room, she realised the journals were still lying on the table. Elfride also noticed and started to clear them away quickly. A slight smile played across Alwin's lips as he watched his sister's frantic activity.
"Shall I help you?" he offered, and proceeded to do so without waiting for her reply. "Oh, tengwar!" he exclaimed, as he picked up one of the oldest books and opened it. "Mind if I have a look?"
The two women hesitated and looked at each other, not knowing what to do or say.
Alwin laughed. "Never mind! Anyway, why don't we sit down and have that drink you promised me, aunt Aelfhild?"
"Of course. Whiskey or port?"
"Whiskey, please." He sat down and waited while Aelfhild got an extra glass for him and filled their glasses. Picking up his drink, he continued talking, though his voice now was like that of a stranger, Aelfhild thought.
"You two are acting so guilty. You're not keeping some kind of fascinating secret from me, are you? Like these?" He held up one of the journals. He laughed again at their confused expressions. "Come on! You didn't believe for a moment I wouldn't realise that you would grow suspicious of the way I was behaving, or did you? I knew where these papers had to be, I just couldn't do anything about them. Anyway, it's wonderful to be back among my own family and have a young body again, rather than imprisoned, blind and deaf to the world, in the head of a stranger."
"You admit...", Aelfhild began.
"What?" Alwin laughed again, "of course! Why not? It's not as if you can do anything about it, after all. But don't worry, I wouldn't harm my own family."
"Stop saying that we are your family!" Elfride exclaimed. "You're not Alwin. You stole his body in some way, but that doesn't make you family!"
"Dear sister, how can you say that? My heart is broken!" he mocked her. "No, sit down!" he exclaimed, as Elfride jumped up.
Elfride was shocked to find she could do nothing else than obey, and she sat down again. His eyes were shining now, with a light like she'd never seen before in anyone's eyes. "Who... what are you?" she stammered.
The answer came from Aelfhild. "He's an Elf. One of Tolkien's Elves out of Middle-earth. Or rather, the ghost of an Elf, if I understand correctly. He drowned a very long time ago, and instead of going to – what is it called again? – Mandos as he apparently should have done, his spirit stayed here, and he took over the body of a human shepherd boy, who didn't know how to resist him, and he needed a body as quickly as possible. That's how he started his parasitic existence, jumping to a new body when the old one started to grow old, using and dumping people like you and I throw away old newspapers."
"I had no choice!" Alwin shouted, "I couldn't die without finding out what happened to her! What if she was still alive, lost somewhere and looking for me? Besides, this family, your family, did well enough out of it too. You haven't been poor since before the Romans came to this island, and it seems that some of your forebears, at least, appreciated my presence, or else the family names would have fallen into disuse long ago, don't you think Aelf-hild, Aelf-reda?. And I didn't take that much in return; just the loan of a hroa once every generation."
"Loan?" Aelfhild scoffed, "is that what you call it? I'd call it theft, myself. Maybe you should be honest about what happens to your host when you abandon him?"
"Wait," Elfride interrupted, "are you saying that Elves really exist? And that Middle-earth is real as well?"
Alwin and Aelfhild threw her identical exasperated looks. "Yes, sister dear, Elves are real," Alwin snapped at her, "now keep silent and don't interrupt me."
"I am not your sister! Stop calling me that!" Elfride snapped back at him, but seeing his eyes, she fell back in her chair again, truly afraid for the first time now.
"Anyway, I'm grateful for your looking after my diaries for a while, and this certainly has been a very pleasant visit, Aunt, but this has gone on long enough now, don't you think?" Alwin suggested. "Much as I enjoyed our nostalgic little chat, I don't think there's much point in revealing any more knowledge that you won't be allowed to remember anyway to you ladies."
The young man stood aside to let the ambulance men into the house. The policeman patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, son. They'll be alright. It's lucky you found them in time, though. Carbon monoxide... You'd think that people would remember to have their chimneys swept and their fireplaces cleaned every so often." He shook his head pensively, and if he noticed the exceptional brightness of the young man's eyes, he perhaps put it down to unshed tears.
A/N [furtive look over shoulder] I *will* be haunted after this, I fear. Either that, or there will an earthquake with its epicenter in Wolvercote Cemetary.[/furtive look over shoulder]
hroa: body (pl. hroar)
fëa: spirit (fëar)
yén: long year (pl. yéni), 144 years of the Sun
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.