The Tent of benign influence

The tent is the same black and white striped canvas as the others, but it has a real front door that looks similar to the one the political leaders of England use to visit the Prime Minister in Downing Street.

Except this door has a silver door knocker in the shape of a large spider. A small notice reads.

The Tent of benign influence

For those who seek to influence but fail to be noticed.

Another smaller sign reads: Arachnophobics beware!

You knock on the door and it opens just a crack so you push it wider to allow you to enter and step inside. The room is tiny and it contains shelves with notepaper neatly set out: white rectangles, black squares, parchment rolls and black and white striped postcards.

An old man scuttles forward, he is tiny, brown and stooped. 'Enter, enter, choose your paper carefully' his heavily accented voice booms out making the tiny room reverberate with sound. 'Think what it is you want to suggest and who you wish to influence'.

Taken aback, you take only a few moments before a broad black and white striped card is in your hand without you being aware of picking it up. The old man nods and gestures towards a strip of fabric undulating gently. You pull it aside and step through a gap in the canvas into another tiny room. An old woman steps forward, she is the female twin of the man in the previous room. Her head resembles an oak apple, but when she smiles her teeth are straight and white.

'Choose pen and ink here' she smiles 'show me your paper'. Then she patters around reaching for different pens and inks. You deliberate, eventually choosing a black ink with silver swirls moving slowly around inside it. The pen is long and elegant, black glass with a silver nib.

The woman indicates that you should stand in a semicircle painted on the wooden floor.

Hugging your stationary to your chest you step onto the semicircle and the woman pulls on a silver chain hanging down from the gloom above your heads. The shelves beside you begin to move and so do you. The bookcase revolves and you are propelled into the room behind it.

This room is larger and has walls lined with writing in countless different fonts in languages, runes and codes both familiar and unknown to you.

There is a man sitting in the shadows behind an ornate desk, a large silver bowl in front of him on the desk. He seems to glow with a silver light. You cannot tell if it is reflected on to or emanating from his person. His hair is white, as are his eyebrows and his face is so pale he can never have turned it towards the sun. His almond shaped eyes appear to be a silvery grey.

The silvery man doesn't smile at you. He indicates that you should put your pen and paper onto the desk. Then he looks at you and you feel a shiver run through your body.

He picks up your pen and closes his eyes, he sighs and when he opens his eyes they no longer seem silver, and they have turned inky black. He lines the paper up in front of him, then he opens the ink and sniffs it. The odour seems to bring a shadow to his cheeks and darken them. He dips the pen in the ink and sucks the nib.

The silver man asks you who you seek to influence and to what effect. You converse for some time but later you cannot recall the questions he asked or the replies you gave. Nor can you remember the sound of the man's voice; all you can recall is a rustling like dry leaves blowing across a courtyard.

The man motions you to sit in a chair and he begins to write. He writes elegantly, long graceful fingers holding the pen. He is an artist painting a precise miniature masterpiece. He lays down the pen, puts his hand inside the silver bowl, withdraws it and scatters some glittery sand onto the paper to dry the ink, shakes the excess and then folds the paper.

He hands it to you indicating that you should stand back in the semicircle, the bookcase turns again. Instead of finding yourself back with the oak apple lady, you are in the room with her twin brother. He is waiting for you and has placed a selection of envelopes on the counter. You make your choice and he places the letter inside it then he waves you through the strip of fabric into the old ladies' room.

The Oak apple lady has a black candle burning on her counter. She takes your envelope, picks up the candle and drips some wax onto the flap of the envelope. The wax is thick and glutinous, it is sealing wax. The old lady produces a black seal as if by magic and stamps it into the wax. She hands you the envelope and when you look at the seal you see it has your initials stamped into it.

The old lady smiles reassuringly and motions you to stand in the semicircle again. Another visitor to the tent enters and you catch a glimpse of a man dressed in black with a long red silk scarf as the bookcase turns.

This time you find yourself in a room with the silver man again. This room is larger, and lit by lanterns which hang from chains. You cannot see what they are connected to and they waft heavily perfumed incense which reminds you of attending church services when you were a child. There is a black and white striped chaise longue against one wall. The silver man stands in the shadows behind a table at the opposite end of the room. You cannot see his face, you can only identify him by his silver hair.

The silver bowl on the table is much larger than the one which held the glittery sand in the previous room. The man in the shadows asks you for your letter and tells you to sit in the chaise and relax. The smell of the incense makes your head swim, makes your throat dry and your eyes heavy. Later, this makes you unsure you really saw what followed.

The silver man puts the envelope into the bowl, there is a spark and the contents of the bowl ignite in a yellow flame. Or are you thinking of the bonfire outside? The bonfire in the iron cauldron with snow white flames.

There are no arrows this time but the flames in the bowl echo those in the cauldron. They turn from yellow to sky blue then bright pink, your heavy eyes close for a moment here. When you open them again your eyes are dazzled by a bright orange there is a pop then scarlet red, crimson and a deep wine colour. Your head feels heavy it drops and bounces back up. The flames shift from violet to indigo, then midnight blue. The room darkens the flames look black and so does the skin of the silver man. There is fizzle and a bang and your eyes snap wide open there is a blinding light and a shower of sparks. Then nothing but a plume of grey smoke.

The man with silver cobweb hair and black skin picks up the silver bowl and tips the ashes onto the floor. There is a sudden rustling, the sound of dry leaves again, a black ribbon is undulating across the floor. Spiders! A ribbon of spiders. They cover the ashes which disappear have the spiders devoured or dissolved them?

The spiders will carry your wish to its intended recipient and will walk across their pillow and insinuate your suggestion in their dreams. On waking these suggestions will be mulled over, meditated on and weighed up. Very rarely will these suggestions be rejected by those receiving them. Once considered nearly all the suggestions will be complied with, followed, acted on.

Depending on who you wish to influence and how you want to influence them recipients will feel lucky to have you as a friend, old resentments will be let go of. Your parents will bless their luck having you as a child. Your boss will realise how much he values you and promote you/give you a raise. The person you yearn for you have not had the courage to speak to will feel that it would be a good thing if they came and spoke to you. Your partner will wake every day with a thought of you that makes them smile.

The silver man lifts a flap of striped tent fabric and the night air hits you like a slap in the face. You step outside the tent, your eyes are still heavy and your throat is dry. 'I suggest you try the hot chocolate stall' says the silver man smiling benignly. 'It will wake you up'.