Occasionally, I do stuff for Halloween. I might do a picture, or write a story, or both. This year is both . . . almost.
That is obviously not a photo. Would you believe I made that in like ten minutes in Photoshop? Yup. Ten minutes, maybe less.
I used a free action from PanosFX. Everything in that picture was positioned and scaled by me. He does good work, he does.
The story below took a bit longer.
Since this is a themed story, I did not put it in a password protected post, meaning I will not try and sell this anywhere. Yup, an exclusive just for this blog and my readers.
The story itself took a few hours to write and another half hour to edit. Yes, I know it’s not a masterpiece like I imagine some of my prior Halloween fiction efforts present themselves . . . then again, it does not suck as bad as some of my previous Halloween fiction efforts present themselves.
I’d been trying to come up with something all this past week, but my mind was not into it. This came to me last night when I wrote the opening lines. I wrote a couple of paragraphs before going to bed. This afternoon, I scrapped them and wrote the above from scratch. The editing consisted of rearranging the sequence of some of the paragraphs and trying to catch typos.
I hope it’s not too screwed up, and please remember this is outside the genre I normally write.
© 2016 – E. J. D’Alise (2,100 words)
The sight of her granddaughter sitting by the window weighed on Serena’s spirit more than the dreariness outside. No child should have to endure losing one’s parents, and no parent should have to suffer the loss of their child, and yet, here they were.
The freak accident took from them both what each held dear, but her granddaughter had suffered the bigger loss. Serena sighed. It was a few years early, but Jody was as mature a twelve-years-old as she had seen.
“Jody,” she called, “would you please help me with something?”
“Sure, grandma,” Jody answered, glad for any chance to keep busy. Six months had passed since her parents had . . .
. . . died. Died. Jody forced herself to think the word. They had died. She was past the desperation, past the anger, past the crying bouts, and past the occasional thought of joining them. Sorrow. Sorrow and loneliness. Those lingered. She had withdrawn from her social life, her friends becoming but mere shadows in the periphery of her life. Still friends, but Jody rarely interacted with them.
“I’ll be right there,” Jody added as her thoughts swung to Grandma Serena. Before the accident, she had always been somewhat distant. After, Grandma Serena had become the rock Jody hugged when stormy emotions threatened to cast her adrift.
Jody shook her contemplative mood and followed Grandma Serena upstairs. They stopped in front of the work studio’s door. Jody had never been in there. The door was kept locked even when her grandmother was in there. Grandma Serena produced a key. Jody heard a click, and the door swung inward, her grandmother then holding it open as she motioned for Jody to enter the room.
Even before fully in the room, Jody felt as if she was leaving this world for another. Unlike the rest of the house, this room’s hardwood floor was weathered and uneven. She registered the cracks in the wood, the knots that seemed as eyes tracking her every movement. The planks were worn smooth and painted black except for a faint pentagram design in the center of the room. The walls, including the windows, were covered by heavy drapes that absorbed what little light there was. Light from two lit candles weren’t strong enough to help her resolve the color of the drapes, but they looked blood-red.
Jody turned when she heard the door close behind her. Grandma Serena was in the process of lighting two more candles when another noise had Jody look to the far end of the room.
“We have a cat?” she asked. In the six months she had lived with her grandmother she hadn’t seen, smelled, or heard a cat, and yet here was a big cat staring back at her from atop an ornate roll-top desk. Except for a streak of gray running the length of its side, the cat was all black. So black that it was difficult distinguishing the outline of the cat from the background shadows.
“That’s Bones,” her grandmother answered as she went into the walk-in closet and came out holding a wooden chest the size of a toaster.
Serena sat on the dark leather sofa and patted a spot next to her.
“Come sit, I have something to show you,” she said.
“What is this place?” Jody asked as she looked around, more than a little unnerved by the transition of her surroundings from cozy suburban home to secret occult lair.
“Wait,” Jody continued, “are you setting this up for Halloween? That’s months away.”
Even as she grasped at that tenuous strand of normalcy, she knew it wasn’t the case. None of what she saw looked staged. Instead, it had the feel of someone’s office . . . if that someone was in the business of magic and rituals.
She heard what sounded like a cross between a growl and purring and turned to look at the cat. The light from one of the candles must have been reflecting from its eyes because they appeared bright green.
“I think she is ready,” her grandmother said.
Jody looked at her grandmother and back at the cat.
“Are you talking to the cat?” she asked as she became aware of the pounding of her heart and her shallow breaths.
“Jody, please, sit.”
Her instinct was to run, but Grandma Serena had helped her during her darkest time. If she couldn’t trust her, Jody feared she would be lost forever. Hesitantly, after a furtive look back at the cat, she sat on the sofa, but a few feet away from her grandmother.
Serena looked at her granddaughter. Despite her assurance to Bones, this was a delicate moment. She remembered her own mother introducing her to The Art, to Bones, to a legacy that went back more than a thousand years.
Serena opened the box she had carried and removed two figures, one of a man and one of a woman. Each figure stood approximately eight inches tall and felt heavier than one might assume from looking at them. They were made of stitched leather and loosely filled with heavy, glossy, and partly magnetic fine black sand gathered from a placer deposit in Arelat — now the western part of Switzerland — around the year one thousand AD. The leather itself was younger but still more than one hundred years old, with a patina shine that gave it a nice glow. The stitching allowed for the joints to flex such that the figures looked like rag dolls as Serena placed them on the sofa between herself and Jody.
Softly at first, then with a practiced tone and cadence, Serena spoke their family’s oral history. As she spoke, the figure took on a faint golden aura.
Jody stared at the figures. She wanted to touch them, to hold them. She wanted to hug them as if they held a deep connection to her instead of being two dolls that she had never set eyes on before now. And then Grandma Serena’s voice intruded into her awareness, but not to distract her from the figures, but to help Jody bond with them, with their history.
Grandma Serena spoke of the Crusades, of pilgrimage, spoke of traveled ancestors practicing and honing abilities awakened by tragedy and suffering. Connections to the spirit world, connections to dark and light, connections to the past, connections to their ancestors. Grandma Serena spoke of the times when their kind were sought for counsel, and of the dark times when their kind were persecuted and hunted nearly to extinction. She spoke of their escape to the new world where again they faced torment and mistrust from ignorant and fearful people. Grandma Serena spoke of the migration to the American West, of meeting Shamans, of broadening the influence and connection to the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits. She spoke of the eventual decision by some to hide their abilities and of the decision by others to turn their back on The Art for the sake of living amongst regular people.
Jody’s mother had been one such when, upon turning sixteen years of age, Serena had spoken to her about The Art. Jody’s mother chose to shut herself off from the dangers of the spirit world, but also from the beauty and wonder of it.
Jody realized Serena had stopped talking and — expressionless — was now looking at her. Jody also noticed Bones was now sitting at Serena’s side, his eyes still glowing green.
Serena held her breath. If Jody turned her back on The Art, her lineage and all of her knowledge would die with her. She was already at peace with the possibility from the decision of her daughter, Jody’s mother, to remain blind to The Art. She now dared not reawaken the hope of forty generations past.
Serena stilled her breath as Jody regained focus in her eyes, as Jody looked from her to Bones and back to the dolls.
Serena heard Bones approving growl before Jody’s eyes met hers; before Jody even spoke the words “teach me.”
He liked the name “Bones.” Centuries before, he had forsaken his original name, Caim, for a title: Venator Mali Spiritus, Hunter of Evil Spirits. He had now served this lineage for over eight hundred years and was very good at his job. In the sixteenth century, Bones had traded his blackbird form for that of a cat and shortly after that, he had been given his current name.
As a fallen angel, there was not much he couldn’t handle. That none of his charges had ever perished by the hands of men or by the ill will of spirits — a record not matched by any other familiar — was his singular point of pride.
Jody would be his next charge. A bit young, a lot inexperienced. He didn’t see it as a problem.
Jody remembered the prior year’s Halloween. She’d argued she was too old to dress up and go Trick-or-Treating but her Dad had insisted. He accompanied her as he always did; dressed in a homemade costume. Last year it had been Iron Man. Really, she had only relented because she knew how much he enjoyed the spirit of Halloween. She’d gone as a zombie, and they’d made a fine pair going house to house.
This Halloween Night, wearing casual clothes and carrying a box about the size of a toaster, she made her way to the cemetery, Bones trotting alongside. Jody smiled and greeted a few people along the way. By the time she entered the cemetery, the only sound in the air was the rustle of dead leaves disturbed by her passing.
Making her way to the graves of her parents, Jody extended her spirit sense, confirming there were no other humans in the cemetery. Spirits, however, were another matter. She felt their stirring, their anticipatory excitement. She didn’t have to be here on this Halloween day; it just tickled her fancy. The spirits didn’t care or even know about Halloween.
Upon reaching her parent’s graves, she knelt between them. Without speaking, she opened the box and took out the two figures, putting one on her mother’s grave and one on her father’s grave.
She then closed her eyes and willed open the Passage to the spirit world. She didn’t look but sensed Bones morphing into her Guardian. She felt his presence grow in stature. She knew he shape-shifted into a tall figure, the gray streak on his side now a translucent sword in his hand.
He would keep the malevolent spirits at bay, keeping them from escaping into the world and keeping Jody from harm. Trusting in him as generations before had trusted in him, she set to her task.
She found them drifting and called them to her, bringing them to the figures that one moment laid lifeless on the grave, and in the next moment stood, unsure and hesitant.
Jody put on her headphones and hit the play button on her phone. She would be their conduit to her parent’s favorite song. As the first notes struck, the figures turned toward each other. Hesitant at first, they gained fluidity as they neared each other, embraced, and started a slow dance to Con Te Partirò.
A smile played across Jody’s lips even as a tear rolled down her cheek at the sight. The notes played, the figures danced, and Jody felt the connection through them to generations before her; a connection spanning more than a thousand years.
She felt more than saw the change in Bones. His figure grew darker, his sword brighter; spirits approaching. Jody was determined to give her parents the full time with their song. Reaching out, she tasted the approach of malevolent spirits, the metallic taste in her mouth almost breaking her concentration.
“I got this.”
Bones growly voice calmed her with an assurance of competence. “Take care of your folks,” he added.
The last notes of the song fading, the figures parted slightly but kept close to each other as they turned to face Jody. They bowed, waved, and then collapsed, the spirit of her parents drifting away. She closed the Passage and looked at Bones, now back in cat form, doing a languid stretch.
“Happy Halloween,” she said.
Bones growled. A low growl tinged with a hint of smugness. Interesting times ahead, he thought. He liked interesting times.
I should clarify that I hold no belief in anything beyond our own reality. Whatever connection we have to our ancestors, it rests in shared memories and stories passed down from generation to generation.
It’s interesting that we live in a time unlike any in our history. Future generations will have access to much more and more intimate information about us than was possible even a few years ago.
Had we decided to procreate, my great-great-grandchildren would likely have access to this very blog, thus offering a pretty good glimpse into the person I am, faults and all. It’s something to think about as we carelessly rant hither and fro. I mean you; I ain’t got no kids so I can pretty much say anything I want.
Below is a video with the song Con Te Partirò.
Here’s a live performance by Andrea Bocelli.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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