Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Exorcism, by J.P. Bowie

 I've only ever written one story that involved a serious haunting with ghosts and malignant spirits. Aptly titled A Ghost Story: The excerpt's a bit long, and draws heavily on just about every Hammer horror film I ever saw.

Robert ‘Robbie' Clavell, a young Victorian poet, is murdered by George Russell, a jealous competitor who also invokes an ancient curse that forces Robbie's spirit to remain earthbound.
When Jamie Barrett receives a phone call from his mother telling him of strange knocking noises and furniture moving about, he travels home to  give support to his mother and his twelve year old niece, Laura.
A psychic, Kevin Singleton, explains to Jamie and his mother that their recent family tragedies had opened a portal allowing base spirits to enter and feed off of Laura's youthful and vibrant energy.
 Kevin tries to exorcise Russell's spirit, but  an even darker force is summoned - one that could not only destroy the house and everyone in it, but ensure Robbie's spirit will never find his way home.
 ***
Kevin didn’t like what he was about to do but felt strongly it was the right thing. Slipping from the bed he shared with Jamie, he quickly pulled on his jeans, a T-shirt and a pair of trainers. Quietly, he left the bedroom, satisfied by the sound of Jamie’s steady breathing that his departure was undetected. He found Jamie’s house keys on the kitchen table, pocketed them, then picked up his car keys and exited the flat, closing the door softly behind him.
The rain-slicked streets were dark and deserted as he drove the relatively short distance to Walm Lane. It gave him time to reflect on what he was doing and the knowledge that Jamie would no doubt be pissed at him for going it alone, but as eager as the young man was to help him, Kevin’s intuition told him it was best Jamie not be there when he confronted George Russell’s spirit—and whatever was aiding and abetting him—if there was indeed a second malignant spirit there. He could only hope that somehow the combination of Robbie’s strength and his own psychic abilities might just be enough to oust Russell from the house. He wished there had been something in all that research to help him, to give him direction, but whatever—his own experiences, and hopefully Robbie’s help, were going to have to be enough.
Parking his car outside the house, he pulled a flashlight from the dash then glanced up at the darkened bedroom windows. A shiver ran up and down his spine, and before he opened the front door, he sent out a gentle mind probe searching for Robbie’s presence, but nothing came to him. Straightening his shoulders, he turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open, stepping quickly inside.
He could almost feel the silence, it was so ominous, so insidious, and it seemed to fill every corner of the house with a sinister stealth. Taking a deep breath, he walked towards the stairs, each step creaking under his feet as if to add to the atmosphere of creepiness that pervaded the house. Beads of sweat prickled at his eyelids, his hand felt clammy on the banister and a trickle of sweat ran down his spine. A faint stench of decay, sickeningly sweet, permeated the air.
“Jesus,” he muttered.
He had never experienced anything this menacing before. For the first time since he had begun using his psychic powers, he was afraid that what ability he possessed would not be enough, that maybe he had been foolish to attempt this alone. Perhaps waiting for Lisa to return from London was a better idea. But it was too late now.
His flashlight picked out the darkened landing ahead and the still-closed doors to each bedroom. He almost jumped out of his skin when all three doors suddenly swung open, each one banging loudly against the bedroom walls in quick succession.
“Fuck!”
All right, just a show of strength, made to shake me up a little…well, maybe more than a little.
He trained the flashlight on the open doorway to Laura’s room. Shadows moved and twisted in the beam as if caught in some spectral struggle. He saw a blur of white amid the darkness—Robbie’s shirt? He inched his way towards the door, which was suddenly slammed in his face. He jumped back as it was just as quickly flung open again.
Now he could clearly see what was happening inside the room, and his mind was momentarily frozen with horror at the sight. George Russell’s spectre was locked in combat with Robbie, their hands around each other’s throats. But what was even more terrible was the huge dark shape that hovered over them, a shifting miasmic mass that emanated pure evil. Black tentacles floated Black tentacles floated over Robbie’s head, then dipped down, encircling his body, adding their weight to what must be the already crushing power of Russell’s stranglehold.
Behind him, Kevin heard a door slam and the sound of feet thundering up the stairs.
No!
“Jamie, what the bloody hell? How did you get here?”
“Took a taxi. We’ll have a row about this later.” Jamie gave him a glance that was both a smile and a glare, then his eyes widened in shock as he took in the scene in Laura’s bedroom.
“Bloody hell,” he breathed.
“Now you know why I didn’t want you in on this,” Kevin said between gritted teeth.
“Safety in numbers,” Jamie muttered, gripping Kevin’s arm. “What do we do?”
“Wait. This could go on for hours.”
“What?”
“This isn’t an earthly struggle, nor even a human one. This is a struggle between good and evil in its rawest form.”
“But what’s that bloody awful ugly thing in the middle?”
“I think that’s whatever Russell summoned up through black magic.”
“They don’t seem to know we’re here.”
“Robbie knows. He opened the bedroom doors. He’s blocking our presence from Russell, and that thing. He needs my help…”
Our help.”
“Jamie, you have to stay out of this. It could get very nasty, and I don’t want to put you in any danger—”
“Too late!”
Kevin felt a weakening in Robbie’s strength and his mind was hit by a powerful surge from the black shape that now swooped down towards them. Both Both he and Jamie were knocked backwards, Jamie landing near the edge of the stairs and slipping down the first few steps. Kevin reached for him but felt himself being lifted off the ground and dragged into the bedroom, suspended over the still struggling forms of Robbie and George Russell.
Distantly he could hear Jamie call his name, voice sharp with fear, but his mind was invaded with a jumble of raucous sounds, a disturbing loud whining noise he couldn’t shut out of his brain, then a fearful pain that shot through his entire nervous system, rendering him incapable of movement. He was only vaguely aware of falling before his body hit the floor with a bone-jarring crunch.
“Jesus, Kevin…”
Hands cupped his face, then tugged at his shoulders trying to get him into a sitting position. He groaned at the effort it took for him to comply, then he was on his knees, staring up at the black shape that pulsated and twisted over him. A breathy gust of corruption emanated from it, passing over them like something foul and noisome.
“Jamie, get out of here,” he rasped.
“I’m not leaving you, not with this smelly…thing!” Jamie looked up at the roiling mass. “Fuck off!” he yelled. “You have no business in my home—get the fuck out!”
The shape grew larger, denser, and a low rumbling sound poured out of it. It was forming words, ancient words that grated on their ears. Despite the pain that still coursed through Kevin’s body, he struggled to his feet. He understood this language! How, he didn’t know, but the words that reached him were clear and intelligible. The black shape seemed to ease itself between Robbie and Russell, ending their brawling, at least for the moment.
“Berantha acroto labhair… I am summoned against my will,” the entity ground out, “but I must fulfill what is necessary…”
Ciod e ud?” Kevin challenged it. “What is necessary?”
“The destruction of Robert Clavell. His spirit must not prevail. He must be sent into everlasting oblivion.”
“But why?” Kevin demanded. “What Russell demands of you contravenes the laws of nature. He is a murderer. His motives are jealousy and hatred, and—”
 Kevin was suddenly knocked off his feet, the form of George Russell’s spirit on top of him. Jamie cried out in alarm and tried to pull Russell away from Kevin’s struggling body, but the fabric that was Russell’s coat dissolved into clammy nothingness at his touch.

“Robbie!” Jamie yelled. “Do something!”
But even as Jamie watched, Robbie’s once-vibrant appearance seemed to fade and be absorbed by the dark entity that began to fill the room.
It was Kevin himself who stopped Russell in his tracks. Muttering something under his breath, he swung a fist at Russell’s head and Jamie yelped as he heard the sound of the punch and saw it connect with Russell’s temple. The spirit howled and fell over onto its side, then bounded upright, its pale face fixed with a baleful expression as it glared at Kevin, anger tinged with something that looked close to fear.
Jamie had no time to ask how Kevin had managed to physically connect with Russell’s ghost, for now Kevin was facing the spirits down, challenging them in the language the dark entity had used.
“I have read your minds!” he shouted, taking a step towards Russell and the shifting black mass. “I know how the curse works—and now I will reverse it!”
From his mouth poured a torrent of strange, barbaric words. The swirling miasma seemed to rear back as if in shock, its twisting movements becoming less menacing, its darkness losing its density, appearing almost translucent.
“What’s happening?” Jamie whispered, gripping Kevin by the arm.
“That’s it, Jamie,” Kevin said, his jaw clenched hard. “Give me your strength. Let’s send these bastards to Hell, where they belong!”
George Russell’s spirit screeched with rage, the sound as grating as stone on glass, but as Kevin’s voice got stronger, louder, and the incantation continued to weaken the malignant entity, Russell began to cower under Kevin’s tirade, while Robbie’s spectral form became brighter, gaining power from Kevin’s verbal attack. Robbie moved to stand by Kevin, and to Jamie’s amazement he took Kevin’s hand. Jamie could feel the surge of power course through Kevin’s body. His own hand tingled where he gripped Kevin’s arm, and before he could stop himself he yelled, “Yes, you bastards! Get out of here!”
The air around grew deathly cold and the walls seemed to bow in and out, the floor beneath them undulating, causing them to stagger. Kevin held tight to Jamie, pulling him into his arms as the entire room and everything in it shook and shuddered. Jamie held on to Kevin with all his might for fear he’d be torn from his grasp. Then another amazement as Robbie wrapped his arms around them both, protecting them from everything that was being thrown at them.
A horrendous scream tore at Jamie’s senses, searing its way into his brain, and he cried out, watching with horror as George Russell’s spirit was pulled into the midst of the swirling mass he had himself summoned to help destroy Robbie. Now it lifted him off the ground and held him aloft before sucking him into what Jamie could swear was its mouth. A huge, dark, slathering mouth—something he never wanted to see the likes of again.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Magic in the Blood

By Lisabet Sarai

He may well be the love of my life, but I haven’t seen him in years. Now I sit beside a hospital bed where he lies pale, still and swathed in bandages. His chest rises and falls with his breath, but his eyes are closed. He doesn’t see me.

Something terrible has happened to him; I don’t know what. I hold his chill hand, willing comfort across this fragile physical link. A terrible grief overwhelms me. Sobs catch in my throat. I mustn’t cry. He needs me to be strong.

****

I wake from the dream disoriented, but the sadness lingers. This is long ago, long before email. I call him when I can grab a moment, long distance, a rare indulgence back then. He can barely speak. His father committed suicide last night, he tells me. Under my sympathetic pain there’s a flicker of wonder.

****

She’s a free spirit, my wild, artistic friend from California with whom I drove a thousand miles across the frozen west one icy winter, in order to spend New Years with our respective lovers. We’ve been out of touch for quite a while, though, since I returned to the East Coast. I know she has married a physicist, a deceptively normal guy whose order balances her chaos. She makes her living as a freelance journalist. She plays French horn in a rock band. She has a pet pig and a female store manikin she dresses in retro clothes and poses on her front lawn.

In the dream, over coffee, she tells me she’s pregnant. I can hardly believe that she would tie herself down with that sort of responsibility. Of course I keep quiet, but inwardly I marvel at how unlikely a mother she’d make.

****

Two days later, I receive her email. She and Dan are expecting a baby in six months’ time. She’s delighted but full of doubt. I am, too.

****

I’ve always had vivid dreams, the sort that haunt you after you wake. My dreams are like movies, with startling, brilliant images, exotic and mysterious locations and compelling characters, often but not always amalgams of people I know. Desire stalks me in many of my dreams; more than a few of my stories have been born from my night time visions.

I’ve had lucid dreams, where I know I’m dreaming, dreams I can control. In some of them, I have powers. I can fly. I have telekinetic abilities. If I concentrate my will on an object, it will fly across the room to my hand.

Yesterday while I was working out, I tried this on one of my weights, which had rolled away from my mat, out of reach. I wasn’t successful in drawing it back to me. However, the problem may have been insufficient mental focus or inadequate confidence rather than lack of ability.

When I was in grade school, I had a magic ring, adorned with a lovely faceted garnet, my birthstone. The ring granted wishes. With enough belief, I could cause a blizzard that would result in school being canceled. No homework! I lost that ring somehow when I entered junior high. By that time, though, my powers had shifted in new directions.

At the student summer carnival, I dressed as a gypsy and told fortunes. I’d studied the basics of palmistry, so I could identify the various lines. The process was anything but analytical, though. When I gazed at someone’s upheld palm, my predictions started to flow. I have no idea where the notions came from, but my clients seemed impressed.

And did the events I foretold come to pass? Of course I don’t know. As with the recalcitrant hand weight, I could be deceiving myself about the power I felt. Then again, maybe not.

My father told fortunes. He could read palms, tea leaves, crumpled paper. Once, at a party, I’m told that he read someone’s future in the bumps on a pineapple. We all laughed at this story, but his tight-lipped smile whenever someone brought it up made me wonder. He had a first cousin who made her living as a psychic.

Could it be that I have magic in my blood?

Could that be true of us all?

I do believe in magic, in the ability of mind to shape the material world. Too many of my desires have come to fruition for me to doubt that truth. The things we label as paranormal, in my view, are simple demonstrations of the fact that reality is a malleable construction of our collective consciousness. Our perceptions shape the world. We change our world by changing the way we see it.

All that sounds easy, but of course it’s not. Mystics and yogis have perfected techniques for controlling the mind and hence the world, but most of us only pierce the veil of illusion occasionally, as in my prescient dreams. I think it’s a mode of consciousness, not something to be achieved via intention or effort. My dreams reveal truths only about people with whom I have strong emotional connections. Love, not reason, is the origin of magic.

I’ve explored this view a bit in some of my stories. Right now I’m working on a story about a trio of witches. Two of them are aware of their power; they’re in the process of initiating the third. I don’t usually publish excerpts from works in progress, but this is so relevant I’ll make an exception.

****

Come, sit. Across from me, thats right. Were going to play a game.

A game? What kind of game?” Memories of high school spin-the-bottle flashed through Emmelines mind. I wouldnt mind kissing Beryl, she mused. Or Marguerite either. Shed never been attracted to women beforeat least not consciouslybut now the notion seemed almost natural.


Cards,Marguerite answered. She lowered herself to join them on the floor, tucking her legs underneath her, then placed an over-sized deck in the center of the triangle formed by their bodies. An intricate design decorated the back of the cards, full of stars and planets, fanciful animals and twining vines. The illustration, plus the size of the cards, led Emmeline to expect a tarot deck, but when Marguerite turned over the top card, it was an ordinary three of hearts.

Take a good look at this card, Emmy. Fix it in your mind. Close your eyes and visualize it.

Card tricks? Spin the bottle sounded like more fun. Brushing the thought away, Emmeline did as Marguerite instructed.

Can you picture it?

Yes. Of course.

Now open your eyes. Ive hidden the card somewhere in the deck. I want you to find it.

Dont be silly!

I think you can do it, Emmeline.Beryl fixed her with that penetrating green-gray stare of hers.Concentrate. Send your mind out seeking that three of hearts. Listen until you hear it call.

Please! I dont have any kind of psychic abilities or anything.The two women stared at her, focusing on her face. Their scrutiny sent hot blood climbing into her cheeks.Aside from a couple of strange dreams that seemed to predict the future... Honestly, I cant.

I believe you can,said Marguerite, her voice rich and sweet as whipped cream.You can if you try.

Do it for me, Emmeline.Beryl leaned forward. Her blouse gaped at the neckline, revealing the symmetric curves of her bare breasts. Emmelines own nipples snapped into aching knots.

But...

Emmy.

She heard authority in Beryls voice, power that had been cloaked until now. It simply wasnt possible to refuse.

Okay, okay...Emmeline shut her eyes once again and summoned the image of the card.

Some force tugged at her hand. At first she tried to ignore it, but as the pull grew stronger, she gave in. With the three of hearts blazing behind her closed lids, she reached for the deck, gripping it with her thumb and forefinger about a third of the way down. She cut the cards, laying the part of the deck shed removed on the floor. When she opened her eyes, a ten of clubs lay at the top of the deck.

You see? I told you...

Marguerites voice was almost inaudibleLook at the bottom card of the stack you removed, Emmeline.

She flipped the pile over to reveal the three of hearts.

Fear, excitement and lust washed through her in alternating waves. She pushed the exultation away.Its just random luck,she said, wanting but not daring to believe. That force, that attractionshed imagined it. She was suggestibleRichard had always said soand these two women had formidable wills.

Try again,Beryl urged.

The two of spades, the Jack of diamonds, the ace of heartsshe found them all, one after the other. The pull of the card she sought grew stronger each time.

What does it mean?she asked at last. She sounded small and scared to her own ears.

Lets try something else first.Marguerite drew a card from the deck, gazed at it for a moment, then placed it face down in front of her.Tell me which card I just picked.

The answer came to her almost before the tawny beauty had asked her question, with no effort at all.Four of diamonds.

Now me.Beryl selected not one but three cards, setting them out in a row.You know what to do, Emmeline.

The messages werent so clear this time. She felt as though several different people were shouting in her head. Images of cards flashed by, too fast and indistinct for her to decipher.I dont know,she whimpered.I cant...

Beryl seized her by the wrist across the gap. Power jolted through her. The pictures snapped into focus.Nine of spades, six of clubs, Queen of hearts. Oh my God...

Marguerite gathered Emmeline into her arms as the girl burst into ragged tears.



****
Of course I identify with Emmeline. It would be scary to discover irrefutable evidence of one’s own magic powers.

But thrilling, too.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Craving Escape

by Jean Roberta

Cravings, by definition, are generally assumed to be intense but momentary and not completely rational. A desire for fame and wealth is not usually thought of as a “craving,” compared with a sudden appetite for dill pickles, heroin, or the feeling of a warm mouth on one’s most ticklish parts.

At the moment, my most pressing physical craving is even more basic than a desire for sex. In the early depths of a Canadian winter in a dry climate, I crave warmth and an absence of itchiness on my skin. I could enjoy being an olive in a delicatessen, soaking in oil.

Despite slathering myself with moisturizer after every shower, I need to slather more goop on myself before going to bed; otherwise, the feeling of army ants biting every inch of my body prevents me from falling asleep. You might assume all the slathering would make me greasy enough to slide right off the sheets, but no. In the morning, my skin is dry again.

My physical craving to be somewhere else, where sunshine and moisture in the air would enable me to feel comfortable, feels like a metaphor for my fear of being useless.

University instructors, especially those of us who teach mandatory first-year English classes, have to motivate ourselves to keep going. Responses from students tend to be inconsistent at best.

Yesterday I met a class that has thirty students registered. There were about fifteen in the room, and most had 1) not done the reading assignment, and 2) not brought their textbooks. I only had one copy of this book to lend out while I gave the class twenty minutes to read the damn short story and jot down answers to my questions about it. Two students on one side of the room had no books, so they occupied themselves sending text messages on their cell phones. I didn’t interrupt them, since I wasn’t sure what I could tell them to do instead: stare into space? I could have told them to leave, but I was afraid this would trigger a general exodus.

Meanwhile, I have several piles of student essays to finish marking. Grammatical correctness seems to be a thing unknown.

Dry skin, dry and ineffective writing.

I fantasize about having the power to intimidate students into paying attention and doing the work, regardless of whether they care about their grade point averages. Thus was born my alter ego, Dr. Athena Chalkdust, a small but scary academic domme.* In a fantasy world, she breaks all the rules and gets away with it because many students secretly crave being forced to do things that will benefit them in the long run.

I doubt whether this is true in real life. I remember being a nineteen-year-old first-year university student, and realizing that I needed to motivate myself to do whatever I thought needed to be done. How little has changed.

In my first year of university, I was raped by a man (not a student) who haunted the campus. This was predictable, and so was the aftermath: I was told to think long and hard about how I had brought this on myself, and how to avoid attracting such negative attention in the future.

In the wake of recent celebrity sexual-assault scandals (Jian Ghomeshi, formerly popular program host with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, comedian Bill Cosby), I am reminded of how little has changed in the culture of North America (or of the world) in the many years since I was young. Some of the allegations against celebrities are from a previous era because the alleged victims were afraid of the consequences of becoming publicly known at the time. They still have cause to worry.

By now, I seem to be too old to be a rape magnet. I probably seem useless to predators. Does this mean I’ve reached a safe state of invisibility? This could be a good thing in some contexts, but there are no guarantees.

My female spouse is usually a great source of comfort and validation, for lack of a clearer word (we assure each other that we are both worthwhile members of the human race), but lately, she has been going through worse upheavals in her job than I have in mine. My situation is nothing new, so I really have no right to make my usual complaints to someone who might as well be living in a court of the Italian Renaissance. (Plots, cabals, scapegoats, smear campaigns and poisonings seem to be part of the culture.)

And before long, I will be expected to summon up some holiday cheer. That’s hard to do when one feels like an itchy Grinch.

I would like to be a hibernating bear in a warm, cozy cave. That’s what I crave now. I might not be meeting anyone else’s needs that way, but I could afford not to care.

--------------------


*My published stories by/about Dr. Athena can be found in these anthologies:
- She Who Must Be Obeyed, edited by D.L. King (Lethe Press, 2014)
- Slave to Love, edited by Alison Tyler (Cleis Press, 2006)
- Best Lesbian Erotica 2009 (Cleis)
- Best of the Best Lesbian Erotica 2 (2005, reprinted from Best Lesbian Erotica 2001) (Cleis)
- Best Lesbian Erotica 2005 (Cleis).