We sat around the kitchen table chatting amiably over cups of steaming hot tea. We talked about Manchester (anxiously trying to find places and people in common, as folk seem to need to when meeting strangers), about Big Patrick, Germany and our trip so far. As I listened to the others tell the story of Ghent my eyes wandered around the room, taking in the details. There was a dirty gas stove by a sink and worktop that reminded me somewhat of Rising Damp. Cabinets that looked pre-war leaned against each other along one wall, blue paint peeling off then. A single sixty-watt bulb lit the room, hanging from a grubby cord above us. I turned my attention back to the woman, who had introduced herself as Jacqueline some time ago.
In front of her was a scrapbook, open in the middle, which caught my eye. There were hand-written symbols and diagrams drawn over the pages with small paragraphs of text scattered around. As I strained to read some of the writing, Jacqueline asked, 'Do you know the Kabbalah?'
She became instantly excited and continued, 'Aleph, Beth, Death…' she chanted the exotic sounding letters of the Hebrew alphabet at us. 'Take a look,' she said, pushing the book over to me. I picked it up gingerly and flicked through it. There were trees covered in magical symbols, alphabets with lengthy explanations and pages of what looked like spells. Indeed, Jacqueline had just stood up and began chanting.
'This is a protection spell,' she told us, continuing the spell in a husky voice.
Then, after a few moments she went on, 'Then I pull down the light of the Kabbalic energy…' (she made a blind-pulling type of gesture that ended off on top of her head), '…the energy passes through my body and creates a protective bubble around me, with me in the middle.' She stopped and looked at us for our reactions.
We looked numbly back at her, completely blank.
'I can do this anywhere.' She said.
More blank stares.
'Great!' I said.
Jacqueline smiled and then walked past us and out of the room. We exchanged conspiratorial glances - Crazy, our eyes said.
Jacqueline returned and told us to settle down as she was going to tell us her story. We eased ourselves back into our uncomfortable wooden, high backed kitchen chairs and listened.
It all began in Egypt. Her and her boyfriend had taken a holiday to Egypt as they had both been fascinated by the pyramids and ancient Egyptian magic. He was particularly keen. They had saved up the money and flew out to Cairo without incident. Some weeks later they were staying at a small town near a pyramid that particularly interested them -- the magic of the place was very strong.
So, one day they took a trip into the pyramid and visited one of the royal tombs. In the tomb there was an empty sarcophagus, the king within now rested in an Egyptian museum. The crowds had moved along and they lingered in the tomb long after everyone had gone. He then suggested that she climb into the sarcophagus, for fun, to see how the energy felt inside. So, unsuspecting of his motives, she did so.
Once she was inside, he cast a spell upon her, using the power of the pyramid to bind it upon her. It was a curse.
Within a week he had vanished and she was penniless on the streets of Cairo. Everything went wrong for her; she had lost her money, her cards, her address book, and her passport, all in a series of unlikely accidents.
Over the next few months she had managed to get to Germany through a series of bizarre events, then before she knew what was happening she had been arrested and then thrown into a mental hospital in Dusseldorf. She was pumped full of drugs and then ignored.
At this point in the story, it may be worth nothing, we all exchanged further glances at the mention of the words 'mental hospital'.
She spent six months in the hospital until she managed to convince a visitor to the institute that she was sane. He was a doctor of philosophy but somehow passed himself off as her psychiatrist and arranged for her release under his care. The doctor lived in this building, upstairs, and had introduced Jacqueline to the people living here, Big Patrick amongst them, whom she was now sleeping with.
Aaah-ha, we thought.
Jacqueline was now concentrating on removing the curse before it brought her any more bad luck.
We sat in silence after the tale had ended. Eventually, James broke it.
'So, when will Big Patrick be back then?' he asked.
When Big Patrick arrived, we could all leave for the Dolomites. As it turned out, Big Patrick was delayed in East Germany (he was a truck driver) by a series of bizarre accidents over the next few days.
We made our excuses and headed off across town to X's house. X being some guy James had met the last time he was in Dusseldorf, and, unknown to us at the time, a voodoo witchdoctor.