There is no moon. In a deserted farmhouse somewhere in the West, three young people are clustered round a Ouija board, their nervous faces lit by a solitary candle. Outside, a door swings on rusty hinges, squeaking in the wind. A dog howls mournfully...
Quiet now, let’s give this a proper try. Is... there anybody there?
Is there anybody there?
Of course there is. There’s everyone from Cleopatra to Kurt Cobain up here.
Do you.... do you have any message for us?
Well, that depends on whether you’re worth giving a message to.
What do you mean?
What’s your IQ? Did you have a college education? If I’m going to go to the trouble of passing on the wisdom of the ages from beyond the grave, I want to be sure you’ll understand it.
Well, yes, we all went to college.
Though now I come to think of it some of my direst moments have been in the company of people who ‘went to college’. People for whom the dark night of the soul means dancing to Macy Gray. In idle moments I’ve tried touring their spiritual insides. Needless to say I didn’t go into business offering package tours to the folks up here afterwards.
Hold on a minute – we’re having trouble transcribing this letter by letter...
I think that answers my question about your mental capacities. Forget the Ouija board – a squalid corporate attempt to colonize the ether. Just clear your mind and you’ll hear my voice inside your head. All right... so what do you want to know?
Who are you, for a start?
You can call me Nil – and make up your own mind whether it’s short for nihilism, Nilotic or Nilgiris.
Why not just plain Neil?
I’m not just plain anything. And your assumption that I’m male on the basis of a disembodied spiritual voice without tone or texture, let alone an Adam’s Apple, only betrays the sad sexist assumptions of your culture.
Sorry we spoke.
Apology accepted. I have of course been born male many times, just as I have been born female many times too – I lose count of the actual numbers as the millennia wear on. At the moment I’m, as you might say, ‘between roles’, waiting for my place on the great casting couch in the sky.
Let’s get this straight. You’ve lived on this earth many times but now you’re in the sky.
Well technically no – I’m not sitting on a cloud. But I thought I’d better reduce things to your level. Don’t you people usually think gods and angels live in the sky and waft around in long robes?
Not sure we give it much thought these days.
More’s the pity. Where there is no thought of angels, there is only dust...
Don’t tell us – in your last incarnation you were a chat-show host.
There are worse things to be. Let’s face it, you’ve struck lucky. You could have ended up with just anyone by using this board – and believe me there are entities out here who could make for a pretty terrifying blind date. As it is, due to a temporary hitch in the cosmic bureaucracy, I haven’t been assigned to my next body yet – which means the universe is your oyster if you’ll only stay tuned...
Next month: exclusively in the NI, from Marilyn Monroe to Joe Stalin’s joke book, the cosmic adventure continues.
Last month's solution
1 See 27
4 Bucks a UCLA cop found south of the Border? (8)
10 Desert-like, Harare’s cut off, eastern railhead linking South Africa and Namibia, initially (7)
11 Washington builder’s overdue: housing hold up (7)
12 Cut or reform the Algerian-French soldier (5)
13 Scot at university’s course is in Jurassic geology (9)
14 Buddhist symbolism attached to unknown quantity describes traditional Burmese centre (8)
16 Be indebted to the Poles for Olympic hero (5)
19 A star somehow becomes a cult figure (5)
21 Witch spun around and turned medium into moss! (8)
24 Book jerk going to university in jeans (9)
25 A pure-sounding variant of an Eastern prince (5)
27 & 1 Librettist and French, she’s in charge in old colonial islands (7 & 6)
28 Church and hospital abandon Chihuahua’s turbulent southernmost town (7)
29 Islands and more than one county to the south of Ireland! (8)
30 US Department of Defense come after wood – are there Philistines here? (6)
1 Estimator of Indonesia’s loss? (4,5)
2 Left to right and around, sound surprised to find the mud slide (5)
3 Cable and ring airline for Spanish destination (7)
5 West Coast’s spiritual leaders! (6)
6 Creature is too poor and wretched (7)
7 One’s indifferent when a number died tumbling into the Spanish Main (9)
8 Ecstasy swelling up about the theatre (5)
9 African articles surrounding record returns (7)
15 Country centre architect’s imprint on French town (9)
17 A line of a desert seen around the Uzbek city (9)
18 Half Oporto’s reckoning to get animal... (7)
20 ...aardvark as rat bane, perhaps (7)
22 A patriach sits over the revolutionary skinhead tribes (7)
23 Chesty hack coming a cropper (6)
24 On leaving bayous arrive at African place (5)
26 Beast’s dash to get dinner started (5)
1 See 27
4 Mexico’s premier Pacific resort (8)
10 Relating to the arid region of North Africa (7)
11 Benjamin Henry ———-, English architect responsible for creating the White House dome (7)
12 Algerian soldier in the French forces (5)
13 Belt of Jurassic clay in the English Midlands: relating to the University (9)
14 Ancient capital of Burma (8)
16 Jesse ——-, US athlete who won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 (5)
19 Jamaican cult follower, typified by dreadlocks (5)
21 Moss which forms peat when it decays (8)
24 One of the Pentateuch (9)
25 Version of emir, an Eastern potentate (5)
27 & 1 Island chains which together formed a British colony between 1915 and 1975 (7 & 6)
28 World’s southernmost town on Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (7)
29 Islands off the east coast of Ireland: generally, small reefs or rocky islands (8)
30 Philistine town where the stolen Ark of the Covenant was kept (6)
1 New, troubled democracy – capital, Dili (4,5)
2 Mud flow, lava flow (5)
3 University city of Argentina: Carthaginian-founded city of Andalusia (7)
5 Old Muslim spiritual leaders, regarded as successors of Muhammad (6)
6 Rat-kangaroo (7)
7 Christian indifferent to the faith, as per the Book of Revelation (9)
8 Greek theatre, concert hall (5)
9 Inhabitant of former Portuguese west Africa (7)
15 Home of the Grand Ole Opry, in Tennessee (9)
17 Uzbek city, destroyed by Alexander in 329 BC (9)
18 American and Australian marsupials, usually abbreviated (7)
20 Aardvark: South American edentate (7)
22 Last Native Americans to be subjugated by the US (7)
23 Mow (down) (6)
24 Chief city of Nigeria; resort on Portugal’s Algarve coast (5)
26 South African elk-like antelope (5)