SparkWord: Apollo.

Hey! Bin a while, how you been?” The sound of the disembodied voice is so close, it could be inside my head.

Startled by the intrusion, leathery winged creatures of the night drag a scantily clad angel into the terrifying shadows. A trail of ooze from her partially amputated wings glistens in the half light.

Hi, Monique.” I would open my eyes, but knowing I am asleep, there seems little point. “I miss not having you around. Written hardly anything since you disappeared. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company at this late hour?” No more than two hours could have passed since I stumbled to my bed in an absinthe-induced coma.

Thought you should know. You’ve been tagged on a Spark Word.”

Spark Word?” The name dredges through the guts of memory from a distant past. “You don’t mean SparkWord as from Mel’s Diner?”

The same, although who resurrected the diner, I have no idea.”

Thoughts of Evil Dead scurry through the dregs of sleep in my head. Whether they come from Monique or me, I am unsure, such are the uncertainties of communicating telepathically with an undead muse.

Do you know who tagged me?” Monique is unable to guess; I continue, “I bet it was that Miss Vish, may the lament of a thousand tortured, medieval poets torment her dreams. So, what is this sparkly word we are supposed to embrace?”

Apollo!” I sense smug satisfaction in her reply.

The NASA lunar expeditions of the last century,” I confirm, deliberately inserting my thoughts in conflict with hers.

My muse is bemused. “Everyone else is going for the Greek God angle, but it’s up to you… I suppose.”

I sense the disappointed apathy in her response. I’ve no doubt we will soon be writing about Greeks too, although I would much prefer a jaunt into the Sci-Fi world. But I am only the poor, deluded writer and must submit to the inevitable as demanded by the muse.

What have you got on Greek gods then?” I ask.

I was reading what some of the others have written, and…”

Do I pay my muse to glean inspiration from what others have written?” I interrupt.

You don’t pay your muse, not even in compliments! So…”

I feel admonished. She continues, “They seem to have the idea that Apollo, Lord of all muses, patron saint of art, poetry and music, is some young, muscle-ripped, tanned Adonis going around performing grand acts beneficial to humans.”

I suppose you are going to refute this romantic notion, then.”

I’m a muse. I’ve met Apollo. I know Apollo quite well.”

I chuckle silently. My muse amuses me. I sense a deeper knowledge than she cares to admit.

She sighs loudly enough to convince me she draws her last breath until I remember she has not breathed air in the last fifty years. “Maybe he was an Adonis three millennium ago, but he has aged, and not in a good way.”

I thought Greek gods were immortal.”

They still age, especially if they won’t pay heed to their diet. Too much wine and ambrosia, I suspect. If you can imagine a pot-bellied, 250-pound flabby pig dressed in a toga, you would be nearer the truth. He’s almost bald yet resorts to wearing a wig in public. Most of his teeth are missing and he has bad breath. He has that disgusting body odour of a dirty old man with a urinary problem. A twitch on the left side of his face makes you think he is winking at you. That’s really creepy. The worst, though, he still thinks he is God’s gift or Zeus’s gift to the opposite sex. Same sex too if stories I hear are correct. He claims conquest over most of the muses, both male and female.”

You seem to know a lot. Have you ever…?”

This muse doest not do kiss and tell.”

For a moment, I wonder if I’m pushing her too far. She seems offended. “Come on Monique. This is me you’re talking to. It’s not as if you’re telling the whole world. What’s he like in bed?”

She pauses for several moments as if struggling to keep the knowledge from me. Hiding the truth when communicating telepathically, however, is almost impossible. “I’ve certainly known better.”

As a prostitute in your previous life, I guess you do have ample experience to pass judgement.”

If Monique had been a dog, I’m sure she would have growled at me for reminding her of the events leading to her death. “He convinced me that sex was part of the indoctrination ritual of a new muse. It was only the one time, though. He called me a frigid bitch. That was after I told him his dick was too small to satisfy even a cockroach.” She giggles. “I hadn’t intended the pun. You see what I did? Dick, cock roach?”

Her sense of humour hasn’t changed since I last saw her. “When does the writing need to be complete?” I am still tempted to explore moon landings, aliens, and the dark side of the celestial sphere.

Whenever. The weekend should do, I think. If you need my help, just call.”

Just one thing,” I say. “Did Apollo not have a sister, Selene, goddess of the moon and magic?”

The Delicate Fragrance of Violets. 2

Part 2 of my Friday Frights submission for prompt, Psychological Horror. Word count: 2500

The Delicate Fragrance of Violets.

By Robert A. Read

Part 2.

The hostel feels similar to a hotel, although, unlike a place of vacation, we have to work. I have been here for almost three months. There are five residents other than myself, but including the elderly lady who runs the house. From the window of my room, I see narrow streets between tall, dour buildings of grey stone. Like yesterday and many days before, it rains. Not heavy rain, but enough to make one damp and cold; that dreary October drizzle reminding me of cold dark days of winter—the only thing imminent in my future.

My accommodation is twenty miles from the village in which I grew up. I have spent many weeks, now, contemplating the idea of visiting my old home. The thought of seeing my parents scares me. I remember the whipping I received after an hour’s tardiness for a meal. What would be my punishment after all this time, and I can think of no excuse for my absence.

I have continually put off the visit. Now, thought of Violet gives me encouragement. For the past week, I have heard her calling to me in my dreams. Her voice is accompanied by that wonderful fragrance of her flowers. At first, I believed it impossible she could still be living in the village. Now, I am convinced she will be there to greet me. I only wish there was some way I could contact her, but, as I still have no family name or address, such a wish is meaningless.

A single deck bus leaves the market square at ten-thirty each morning on a circuitous route through the surrounding villages. Today, being a non-market day, few people use the public service. The sky is grey and overcast, but no rain, for now. However, I expect it to return before the day is over. As the bus pulls away, I feel a sensation of unease in my stomach. Is it caused by the excitement of making such a venture or trepidation at the possibility of seeing my parents and confronting my past life?

The only registered stop, at which I can disembark from the vehicle, is in the centre of the village. It still leaves me a further half mile to walk to the house I knew as home. The trepidation I feel is almost enough to make me pay the additional fare to travel directly back to the hostel. Doors of the bus whir and hiss to close. My only means of escape leaves me alone and shivering in the dim, fearful surroundings of a past-life I am still unable to recall with clarity.

One main street passes through the village. There are few people to be seen, as I would expect with children in school and many adults at work. Two women pass along the footpath on the far side of the road. The older tugs a leather strap attached to a surly black and white dog, while the younger pushes a small child in a push-chair. Engrossed in their own conversation they make no acknowledgement at my nod of head in greeting.

A sharp bend and several tall trees will prevent me from seeing my destination until I am almost at a brick wall in front of the house. My footsteps slow involuntarily as I negotiate the corner. I am afraid to look. Then I am around the apex of the curve with uninterrupted view.

I stand transfixed. I cannot believe my eyes. There is no house!

Grassy lawns stretch back to the whitewashed walls of two small bungalows. A young man, a stranger to me, is painting a fence that runs along one side of the plot of land. An ivy-covered brick wall had bordered the plot when I lived here. He is unaware of my presence. I watch him for several minutes applying the paint until he turns the corner behind the house and moves out of my sight.

On the opposite side of the road is a small shop—a village grocery store—with, next to it, a thatch-roofed pub called The Royal Oak. A sign on the door of the shop indicates it is closed for lunch. The doors of the pub, however, are open and welcoming. I feel nervous approaching. This will be the first time I have been inside a pub. During the years I lived in the village, my age forbade me from entering. My knowledge is limited to depictions of such establishments on television.

The landlord, like the fence painting man and the two women, is unknown to me. He is a heavily built man with a large, bushy, red moustache and equally red and bushy eyebrows. He wears a yellow waistcoat over a blue shirt with a yellow bow-tie.

He greets me quite enthusiastically, so I request a glass of sweet cider and ask to see a bar menu. The ploughman’s lunch of cheese, pickled onions, fresh-baked bread and salad sounds appetizing, so I place my order. Sitting at the bar on a high stool, waiting for the food, I survey the interior with interest. Electric lighting gives a dim yellow ambiance reflected in the bottles and glassware behind the landlord. Flames from a small, log fire stutter in an open grate opposite the door through which I entered. Several small, wooden tables with accompanying chairs are placed at intervals around the wall. Apart from five more stools like the one on which I sit, the area in front of the bar is empty. The smell of hops in spilled beer that has soaked into the wooden counter, mixed with stale cigarette smoke is strong to my unaccustomed senses.

Two elderly men sit at one of the tables in front of a bay window. They play at cards, the slap, as they lay them on the table, audible above the rustle of a newspaper the landlord is reading and the sound of kitchen utensils coming from a doorway behind him.

My meal finished, I lay the knife and fork together on the plate. The barman responds by taking the plate and asking if the food was to my satisfaction.

Excellent,” I reply. “I didn’t realize plough-men could eat so well here.”

He chuckles, causing the moustache to twitch beneath his nose. “I take it, you’re not local to this area,” he adds.

I take a deep breath. “Actually, I lived in this village many years ago. I’m here chasing childhood memories.”

He nods his head knowingly, so I continue, “The place has not changed a lot, but I recall a house with a thatched roof on the other side of the road.” I indicate with a small wave of my hand toward the window that looks out onto the road. “Do you know what happened to it?”

He shakes his head. “Only been the two bungalows in the six years I’ve run this pub, but old Tom Chandler may know.” He nods his head in the direction of the card players. “Lived here all his life, in fact, he’s been writing a book on the history of the village. He was collecting old photographs of village life from before the wars and earlier. Hey, Tom! Have you got a minute?”

Of the two, the one with his back to me turns his head. I feel I should recognize the name, Tom Chandler, but like so many other memories, it remains just beyond my grasp.

What’s up, Arrthurr?” His voice has the slur common to the area, as if he rolls the ‘Rs’ on his tongue like marbles.

Somebody here asking about a thatch-roofed house across the way. Do you know anything about it?”

Arrr, yeah.” He replies slowly before taking a deep breath and continuing, “The old McKinley house, they called it. Remember it well.” He shuffles to his feet with the aid of a walking stick, picks up his half empty tankard and meanders toward the bar still talking. “Weird, it was. Really weird. The house burned down. God-awful fire that was. Must have been almost twenty years ago.” He peers at me closely as he approaches, as if his sight is impaired. “I’m surprised you’re old enough to remember,” he adds.

I grin, not too toothily, I hope. “Only just. What happened?”

Don’t think exact details have ever been known. Most of the stories are mere speculation. I interviewed a lot of people for my book. Did Arthur tell you I have a small book on the village history, just recently been published?”

I nod my head. He continues, “I devote an entire chapter to that event. We don’t have that much excitement here, so it becomes urban legend. Mr. and Mrs McKinley came here from somewhere up north. Lancashire, I think. They had a daughter soon after they arrived. She must have been six or seven at the tine of the fire. She was a strange girl, weird, really weird, she was.”

‘Weird, really weird,’ sounds to me a favourite expression of Tom Chandler’s. I feel a fleeting familiarity with those words, but, like so many others, just beyond my memory.

I’m trying to remember her name, but…” He screws his face into an expression similar to one I know so well and use when memories elude me too. “I remember standing with Mrs. Adams as we watched her in the school yard.”

My look of surprise must register with him. “Yes,” he continues, “thirty years I was a teacher at the school here. She wasn’t in the years I took. I had the eight to elevens. Margaret Adams took the juniors, the five to eights. Anyway, we used to watch her through the window talking to herself. She never mixed with other children. We suspected she was being abused at home. She often came to school with welts and bruises on her arms and legs. Wasn’t much we could do though. It wasn’t right to get involved in those days, unless a child came to you for help. Even then, we could only notify the school inspectors of our suspicions.

I remember, it was late August, the night of that fire. We’d had an unusually warm period, so the thatch in the roof was dry. Once that straw catches… well, it’s like an inferno. Mr. Cooper saw the fire. He was landlord of the pub then. He phoned the fire brigade; about two in the morning, that was. No fire brigade in the village, you see. They had to come seven or eight miles, so by that time, it had well taken hold. My aunt had the shop on the corner in those days. She phoned me and several of the lads from the council houses at the other end of the village. We brought buckets, but nothing we could do other than try to keep the flames from spreading to the remaining houses.

It wasn’t until late morning they had the fire damped down enough to get into the house. Of course, there wasn’t much left by then. We assumed the whole family had perished in the flames, so you can imagine our surprise when one of the firefighters claimed he heard a child sobbing.

While writing the story, I spoke to both fireman who found the girl, so I have a first-hand account. They both agree in detail. The first said he still has nightmares about the discovery. I don’t think anyone realized the old house had a cellar. Not many homes around here do. Part of the wooden floor had collapsed, which was how they got in. They found her sitting on a filthy mattress against the wall furthest from where the flames had been, which must have been how she survived. One really weird thing though, she was hugging the mummified corpse of a small boy.”

He seems to enjoy emphasising the horror in his narration. Although I hear his words, they make little sense. For a moment, they are only background noise against the muffled roar of flames. I taste the bitter smoke, like tar, filling my lungs. While I cower from the intense heat, I listen to the horrifying screams of my beloved Violet as she hugs me.

I only dimly perceive as the man continues to recount his story. “The coroner said the boy had been dead for about ten years. Police records from Blackburn, Lancashire, showed him as being the McKinleys’ first-born, Stephen McKinley. He disappeared, couple of years before they moved down here. That was the time of the infamous ‘Moors Murders’, so he was suspected to be another, never-found victim of child killers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

Anyway, his death was not by natural causes. Several fractures of the skull showed he had been beaten about the head. The police suspected child abuse by one or both parents, but with them now dead, it could only remain as suspicion. The girl was no witness, being born several years later, although her appearance at school supported the notion of abuse. How she found, or how long she knew about the lad’s body, no one knows. She was put in a welfare home, but I’m not sure what happened to her after that. My research for the book met a big, fat nothing. Perhaps she died, or, maybe she was given a new identity. Dammit! Wish I could remember her name.”

I have a feeling of surreality, as if this is a dream, as if nothing here is real and that I am watching characters portrayed in an old, black-and-white film. Who am I? I cannot remember my name or why I came here.

An old paraffin heater stands against the wall in the kitchen on the far side of the cellar door. The smell of spilled paraffin is overwhelming as I tip the heater on its side. Just one lighted match and he will regret what he did to Violet. The box of matches is kept in a drawer of the kitchen table. The drawer screeches too loudly as I pull it open, but I don’t think anyone heard.

If you’re interested, and you’d like a copy of the book, you could take it and read at your leisure.”

I realize Tom Chandler is still talking to me. Perhaps I nod my head, for he turns his attention to the man standing behind the bar. “Do you still have a couple of copies, Arthur?”

Then he is waving a slim paperback in front of me. “I’ll even sign it for you.” He speaks smugly, “What is your name?”

I have difficulty forming the words. The emotion of realizing, after all these years who Violet was, has rendered me speechless. I take from the inside pocket of my raincoat a card in a clear plastic envelope. It must be carried with me at all times in case of emergency. Beneath my name, it lists the medications I take and the contact details of the doctors who prescribed them.

He peers at the card for a moment, then looks at me before opening the book and scanning through several pages. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” he says. He takes a pen and scribbles some words on the inside cover before handing the book to me. Beneath the title, in blue ink, he has written:

To: Violet McKinley.

Deepest sympathy for the tragic loss of your family. May God grant you the strength to forgive and forget.

Tom Chandler. Author – October 1992.

Author's note: This story is intended to reflect my 
greatest psychological horror, of waking in a hospital 
with no memory of who I am or why I am there.

The Delicate Fragrance of Violets. 1

Having been without internet for most of last year,  this is first chance I’ve had to submit to Friday Frights for some time. This month’s topic of Psychological Horror intrigues me. This is a two-part story. Part 2 next week. 

Word count part 1 –  2300

The Delicate Fragrance of Violets.

By Robert A. Read

Part 1.

Who am I? What have I become? If only I could remember.

Memories are so important when we have nothing else. And yet, my memories seem nothing more than ghostly apparitions that haunt me through the moonlit hours before fading away like damp mist with the rising sun. Has it always been this way? How often have I been on the point of remembering something, but then it fails to come? Taste and smell tantalize. The scent of a hedgerow plant beckons me toward a garden that I cannot quite visualize, the taste of an apple or plum transports me to a small orchard where discarded fruits lie hidden in long grass. Sounds tease me; the faint cry of a baby, the far off bark of a dog, or the distant laughter of children at play and I could be lying on a grassy knoll, beneath a clear, blue afternoon sky. But are these memories or just my imagination?

Those sounds of children—today, I hear them against the background murmur of city traffic—remind me I was once in love. I was ten years of age, or was it five? With the passage of time, those years lost their significance. I try to remember from where I knew her, but the memory is vague. I think it must have been from school, but I cannot be certain.

Half a mile from the small village in which I grew up, stands a small coppice of trees. Deciduous leaved branches of beech, ash and elm intertwine with the evergreens of laurel and yew. I close my eyes and, in my mind, touch again the cool, green, moss-covered bark. I loved to walk alone among those trees, safe, protected.

A Sunday in May. Shafts of golden light, like arrows, pierced the foliage to strike the carpet of the previous year’s fallen leaves, through which, the first shoots of new grass thrust tiny blades, like green needles. Among the fresh, new growth rose many delicate, trumpet-shaped, purple flowers, so petite, so fragile, a kitten could crush them beneath its paws.

I see her now as I close my eyes, sitting cross-legged on the floral carpet, with her back towards the smooth trunk of a massive beech. Her hair shimmered, falling around her shoulders, like water dancing over pebbles in a stream. One by one, she plucked the tiny, mauve flowers, weaving and plaiting them lovingly into long strings which she draped over her knees.

Hidden in the shadows cast by a clump of glossy, large-leaved laurel bushes, I watched for many minutes, making no sound, hardly daring to breathe. My eye, my heart, my sanity she snatched and held captive in those minutes, with her demure, angelic beauty.

Perhaps I moved. She looked up. Her eyes opened wide in a stare like a rabbit caught in the headlights from a car. Scrambling to her feet, the chains of flowers slithered to the ground. Her hands fumbled for the hem of her blue frock, tugging at the fabric and pulling it down to cover her knees before brushing at minute twigs and leaf-mould.

Stepping out from the shade, I moved toward her.

Please don’t step on the flowers.” Her voice was high-pitched, trembling, anxious.

As if about to tread, barefooted, on broken glass, I froze. “Sorry,” I muttered. Then slowly placing the balls of my feet between the fragile blooms, I moved closer. As I did so, she took several steps backward until her back was against the trunk of the tree. At the sudden jolt arresting her momentum, one hand shot to her mouth, as if to stifle a scream.

I too paused. Stooping, I retrieved several chains of flowers from where they had fallen. The perfume drifted upward around my bowed head, as delicate as the blooms themselves. Closing my eyes, I inhaled a slow deep breath to appreciate the tantalizing allure. The scent of those flowers comes to me, even now, as I lay here in darkness.

Extending the hand that held the chains toward her, I said, “Don’t these flowers have a wonderful smell?”

Yes. They’re violets.” Although not taking them from me the pitch of her voice dropped by several semitones.

I think they would look even lovelier if you wore them round your neck or in your hair.” A small shake of my hand I intended for her to realize I wanted her to take them from me.

In silence, we held eye contact for several moments before she took two small steps toward me. “That’s why I’m making them into chains,” she said, “cos my name too is Violet, and tomorrow is my birthday.” She took the flowers from me.

Oh! I didn’t know. I wish I had. I would have brought you a present.” A lack of money made such an act impossible at that time, but it felt the right thing to say.

That’s all right. How could you know?” The smile on her face as she said those words remains with me even as all other memories fade into dark forgetfulness.

Can I help you to pick more? There must be hundreds around here.” I indicated with my hand to the ground around us.

We knelt side by side, picking the tiny mauve flowers. I did most of the picking, while she wove them into the chains. Embarrassment at being in such close company to a girl tied my tongue in knots, creating an uncomfortable silence between us. Several times we both began speaking at once causing more embarrassment as we each insisted the other speak first. Many times I caught her looking at me with furtive glances from her grey eyes. She looked away the moment our eyes met.

The sun sinking almost to the horizon reminded me of the unusually rapid passing of time. Mother served the meal promptly at 6:00 every evening. The position of the sun showed that I would be more than an hour late. Trouble awaited if past experience had taught me anything.

I didn’t realize the time has passed so quickly,” I said struggling to my feet. My legs felt stiff from where the moist soil had left cold, damp patches on my knees. “I must get home straight away or I shall be late for dinner.”

She sighed. “Okay. Thank you.” The words seemed to be spoken with such sadness as if she mourned the death of a cherished pet.

With an uncomfortable feeling in my chest as my heart jumped and fluttered, I asked, “Don’t you have to be home yet, too?”

I don’t have far to go. I’ll be all right for a while longer.”

Well, if you’re sure.” I still felt awkward at leaving her. “Bye then.”

* * *

With parents, I shared a difficult relationship. Frequent punishment for the smallest misdemeanour led to me spending many hours, often the entire night, locked in the cellar. The rattle from the iron bolt on the outside of the door, as it closed is another memory that will never leave. A switch on the wall of the kitchen outside this door operated a single, dim electric light bulb set in the ceiling of the cellar, and always turned off the moment I was inside. Many nights I spent, whimpering and shivering with pain and cold, in the terrifying darkness.

That evening, my late return resulted in a night incarcerated without food or drink. After the heavy wooden door closed with its solid thud, and the grating of the bolt sliding metal against metal into its recess, I groped about in darkness for the damp mattress in the corner. Still fully dressed, I lay down, curling myself against the wall while trying not to breathe the pungent, dank odour. That night I did not cry. That night I dreamed of Violet. In my imagination, she shared the stinking mattress with me. As we huddled together for warmth, the scent of violets in her hair comforted me. I regretted not having waited a little longer so we could walk back to the village together. My punishment would have been no different. As it was, I had no knowledge of where she lived, or even of her family name. I wished I had been given the foresight to arrange another rendezvous with her.

The following Sunday afternoon, again, drew me to the location of our first meeting. Of the violets, there remained nothing more than a few straggling survivors. They only bloom for about ten days in spring. Of my Violet, there also was no sign.

At the edge of the coppice, a barrow mound rises forty or fifty feet above the ground, the top of which makes a vantage point to oversee, in the distance, the first houses of the village. Around eighty feet in diameter, they were tombs for the leaders of the ancient Celtic tribes that inhabited the chalk plains of Southern England three millennium ago.

Too young to have any fear of tombs or the bones interred within, I began to climb in the hope I might see Violet heading towards me. Mid-afternoon sunshine glared like a search-light from a clear sky into my face. With my eyes watering from the brightness, I climbed almost blind.

Before reaching the summit, a child’s voice hushed me into motionless silence. I closed my eyes to clear the blindness. My sight returned, bringing her into focus. Kneeling beside a small bush of yellow flowering gorse, she pointed to a spot ten paces in front of her, where four young rabbits chased each other among the tussocks of grass. We watched their antics in silence until, at the shriek of a buzzard circling in the sky overhead, they fled into holes in the side of the hill.

My memories after this point become more vague. We talked of many things, although topics remain vague. Time flashed by, with hours seeming to last no more than minutes. Violet gave no indication that she was expected to be home at a certain time. With the sun setting, she laughed when I voiced my concern that she should be out so long. I bade her goodbye knowing that the sky would be almost dark by the time I got to the front door of my home.

My punishment, that night, included a severe beating from my father’s buckled, leather belt before I was locked in the cellar. In agony, I cowered on the damp mattress until Violet came to me, soothing my injuries with her violet scented fingers. I would not let her see, but I think she knew I had been crying. She kissed me until I fell into uneasy sleep.

We played out the same scenario many times through that long hot summer. Although we made no definite plans to meet from one week to the next, at certain times I was drawn to the coppice of trees and the barrow mound. Violet was always there before me, and always stayed when I had to leave. I bore my punishments with dignity, even looking forward to them, knowing that she would come to my bed to comfort me.

Knowledge of my relationship with Violet remained with me alone. If I ever showed signs of happiness, smiled or laughed with enjoyment, I suffered beatings far more painful than if I wore a sombre mask of enmity. As an only child, I bore the blame for any untoward occurrence in the home, from a broken cup to my father losing his job, or my difficult and painful birth causing mother’s continual state of depressed anxiety.

And then I became ill!

Of the cause or the manner of my illness, or the events leading up to it, I have no memory. Neither can I remember how long it lasted. Perhaps it was a month, perhaps a year or two, or even a decade. The time merges into one brief instant that lasts for an eternity. One moment I recollect my life of near normality, with school, home, the punishments and yet the joy of being with Violet. The next, I woke in hospital; they told me it was a hospital.

My psyche seemed to hover in a shroud of mist or smoke outside of my body where I could only dimly perceive the events taking place. Apparitions, ghost-like images, of men and women dressed in white coats while moving in never ending procession around my bed, drifted like bubbles in and out my consciousness. I remember low, mumbling voices making sounds that had no meaning. Had they a language of their own that was alien to my ears, talking amongst themselves, as if I did not exist? These memories are even less substantial, those brief, surreal recollections one retains after waking from a dream.

After some length of time unmeasurable to my awareness, the memories did become more real. None of the hospital staff were friendly towards me. They treated me with contempt as if I were a prisoner rather than a patient. I had no visitors. That my parents stayed away did not surprise me, but I yearned for news of Violet. I spent entire days watching for her to walk through the door. She never did and I could not understand why. We had been so close.

Intense moments of melancholic loneliness drove me to contemplate suicide, by jumping from a window. My room was situated several stories above a concrete plaza. I remember two nurses clinging to me, as I attempted to force open the glass panels.

Eventually, a day came when the doctors told me I was well enough to leave. The thought of returning home filled me with dread. I said as much to the one who gave me the news. He told me not to be concerned as I would be convalescing in a rehabilitation hostel.

The Blues Harmonica Player

Returning from a Halloween party, I pass a large cemetery. My home is opposite the stone arch and iron gates. About to cross the road, the haunting notes from a harmonica reverberate on the cold night air.

I play guitar and harmonica for a blues band—the traditional Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker blues, yet I stand, mesmerized by the music until the last haunting notes die away. I would give anything to play half as well. I can bend notes producing the blues wail and play a haunting reverb, but a decent player, like this one tonight, can play a full chromatic scale on a ten-note harp.

Thus inspired, I practice every night for a full year, to improve my technique while listening at the open widow for a repeat performance from this mysterious musician. There is only the silence of the tombs backed by the hum of traffic…

…until the last night in October.

At around midnight, the quavering strains of sound, again, send shivers down my spine raising hairs on my neck.

Entering the cemetery, howling tones drift on the swirling autumn breeze, first to my left, then to my right. I follow the sound along winding paths between sepulchers, tombs and graves, past stone angels and ancient sarcophagi. Closer until, I know, around the next bend I will see my mysterious musician.

Then the notes stop. The final chord fades, leaving only the rustling whisper of falling leaves. I look all around, but not a soul can I see.

Re-invigorated to achieve perfection, I practice harder and longer throughout the following days. Another year passes while I yearn to hear again my musical mentor. I believe my playing becomes almost passable during this time.

All Hallows Eve, I am waiting, listening, expectant. Then I hear—music. Taking my blues harp, I again cross the road into the cemetery, raise the instrument to my lips and play the opening notes of a haunting riff I composed a few weeks ago. The mystery musician pauses, listening. Then he returns an answering riff. I follow his notes with an answer of my own, while moving among the tombs and graves. Closer I approach as we exchange arpeggios. My rendition reaches its climax; I wait for his answer. He responds.

I step into a small, moonlit clearing among willow and yew trees. No one is there. Confused, I wait as the last notes die away. The only thing I see is a grave marked with a wooden cross.

There is a name engraved in the wood. Unable to read, I stoop and then kneel to stare at the letters. I cannot believe my eyes. It is a name I know so well. The engraved letters are the same as those I use when writing my own. The date of birth is also the same as mine. I am horrified. I read on to the date of the mysterious harmonica player’s death—31 October, three years ago to this very day.

©2012 Robert A. Read.

Come the end of each October,
                        when the skies look grey and sober,
When the mist rolls on the water,
                        falls this dark All Hallows Night.
Keening wind that moans and mutters,
                      round the window panes and shutters;
Dreary rain that fills the gutters,
                        stains the stone that once was white.
Then, the dead can walk unhindered,
                      walk abroad till dawn’s first light.
Nameless horrors taking flight.

Gates of Hell, that death unhitches;
                       vampires, demons, wolves and witches,
Loosed upon this world of sorrow –
                       all Pandora’s boxed delight.
Lucifer, whose voice like thunder,
                       rends the tombs and crypts asunder,
Raise the dead from six feet under;
                       zombies stalk you through the night.
Seek the flesh that may release them
                       from apocalyptic plight
On this dark, All Hallows night.

Werewolf shape-shifts in the shadows
                       of the trees beside the meadows,
Where the cattle graze and tremble
                       at its fearful howls, in fright.
Werewolf wends his wayward wander,
                       through the woods to houses yonder,
Snatches small child from beyond her
                       mother’s reach and darkened sight.
Feeds upon the bloody carcass
                       of the poor angelic mite;
One more death on Hallows night.

Spectre of the child now haunting
                       woodland glade where death came, taunting:
Mournful cries, she calls for parents
                       passed beyond the veil of night.
Ever is she doomed to prowling,
                       like the wolf her lonely howling,
When full devil moon is scowling,
                       echoes through the silver light.
She will wander, ever searching
                       for release from demon’s might.
Just one more All Hallows night.

To the Sabbat, broomstick riding
                       witches with black cats confiding.
Open heath beneath the sky, where
                       Satan calls them in their flight.
Naked, round the fire dancing,
                       widdershins the circle prancing,
Chanting, even though they can’t sing,
                       to perform unholy rite.
Pan, the horn-clad god presiding,
                       knowing all with second sight,
Ruler of All Hallows night.

Crucible and cauldron boiling,
                       now they cast their spells, despoiling
Fields of corn with fungus growth, a
                       pestilence of mildewed blight.
Calves may die before the morrow,
                       bringing farmers grief and sorrow;
They, for comfort, seek to borrow,
                       holy words to ease their plight.
But the dogma from the churches
                       has no Godly power to fight
Darkness this unholy night.

Vampire, rising from the grave, he
                       mocks the vampire killer, bravely
Armed with crucifix and stake of
                       wood, who dares to stand and fight.
Vampire bites the hapless hero,
                       drains his blood from full to zero;
Stands and laughs like Emperor Nero
                       watched Rome burn in flames so bright.
Wipes the blood from fangs which gleam in
                       pallid, sickly-pale moonlight.
He’s undead, tonight’s his night.

Rain on rotting linen falling,
                       listening to the old ones calling
From the pyramids in Egypt,
                       stands the mummy, bandaged tight.
Now’s the time he must deliver
                       talisman of ancient river,
Stolen from the life-force giver;
                       to his Pharaoh lost despite
Knowledge he would live forever
                       ‘mong the constellations bright
Of this sacred Hallows night.

Hid behind a sepulcher of
                       lichened stone, with matted hair, a
Ghoul of once commanding stature
                       stares into the darkening night.
Crouching low deformed and hoary,
                       eats dead human flesh: that’s gory;
He could tell a gruesome story
                       connoisseurs of fear and fright.
Will you listen to his ramblings?
                       Will you listen now, despite
Needs to flee this morbid sight?

Though you’ve all had ample warning
                       that you may not live till morning,
Still, the last day of October’s
                       welcomed in with great delight.
Standing on the doorstep, bandy-
                     legged children beg for candy
In their costumed garb so dandy,
                       fearless of the ghastly sight
That awaits them in the shadows
                       Hides another evil sprite
This macabre All Hallows night.

All Hallows Night.

Demonic Jack

Friday Frights submission for DarkMedia City  week 61.  A poem for prompt – Down a Dark Alley:


You lurk in the shadows at the end of the street,
Where the trash cans are scattered in chaos complete,
And the old down-and-out, drinking meths for a treat,
Warms his hands on a fire that throws out little heat:
There, the gray misty fog, wet and cold like a sheet,
Winds around with a stench of decayed rotting meat;
And you wait to decide who in death you will greet,
As you stand in the shadows on clawed scaly feet.

No need of a knife, instead sharp teeth and claws:
Yet no one hears screams, just the soft padding paws,
And the beating of wings, and the mandible jaws,
Ripping and tearing like serrated saws,
When they slice through the flesh without even a pause,
Disembowelling your victims for no reason or cause;
Just leaving the bones to the old rat that gnaws,
While you disappear like the breeze through a gauze.

With the mist from the Thames rolling over the shore,
Jack the Ripper, they thought, had left red blood and gore
In the old lumber yard where the homeless and poor,
Local residents, there, were all shocked to the core,
At the death of a woman known by some as a whore,
In the old lodging house, in a room with locked door:
One more Whitechapel murder, the corpse on the floor,
Has baffled police like so many before.

To the mist on the Thames, no turning your back;
For deep in the shadows he waits to attack,
With leathery skin that he wears like a mac:
His eyes burn like fire as he looks for a snack;
After eating his fill he’ll depart to the track
Of the underground railway, darkness so black,
To the labrynths of hell, he escapes through a crack;
The demon they call by the name of, “Ole Jack.”

©2012 Robert A. Read.

Friday Frights: The Parisian Apocalypse

My Friday Frights submission: Issue 59: prompt – Apocalypse. Word count – 1200,

If you had said to me two years ago, that I was to become the instigator of the Parisian apocalypse, I, madame, would have said you were mad. Now, with hordes of the undead prowling the streets, I must plead my case, explaining my innocence.

Please, don’t all speak at once. May I suggest you leave your questions until I have finished. Thankyou.

As some of you know, I am a writer of occult horror. My interest in the occult began as a youth, when I discovered references to an ancestor of mine from some three hundred years ago, Sir Francis Dashwood, Grand Master of The Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe. Perhaps you know of the order from the more notorious name of the “Hell-FireClub.” Many half-truths and fabrications have been invented by the popular media, but no one really knows what rituals took place in the caves below West Wycombe. Perhaps it was only fitting that our family motto “Fay Ce Que Voudras”, meaning “Do As You Will” should be used by the best known practitioner of the black arts, Aleister Crowley.

Unbeknown to most readers, I suspect, the rituals described in my novels I base on actual events, practices and experience gained during my years of study while at Bath University. Many of you, media reporters, may not believe, but I can assure you, demonology and the occult is very real.

My involvement with the present day situation began when I was introduced to one, Sébastien Charnay. His father owned the funeral parlour just off Rue de Rivoli. A few months after the first meeting, he came to me with a request that I might help him in a necromancy ritual. As you may, or may not, know, necromancy is a way of communicating with the spirit of a deceased person with the intention of gaining information of which that person had knowledge during the time they were alive.

In the story Sébastien gave me, a young lady friend of his had been murdered. After several weeks of police investigation they, being no nearer to the discovery of her murderer, had released the body for burial. Sébastien discovered this on seeing the corpse in his father’s funeral parlour. His idea was to contact her spirit – Nicole her name was – and discover the identity of her killer. He showed me a ritual, from a 16th Century Grimoir of Demonology, which he hoped to use.

I accept, I should have been more astute in checking a translation of the ritual, but I saw this as a chance to use the rites of the ancient Mages for good rather than as the power of darkness to which the past has accredited such practices. I saw no reason to suggest Sébastien may have had ulterior motives.

We conducted the ritual in the funeral parlour on the night of 17th September, the day before Nicole’s burial. Sébastien read the invocation in the language in which it was originally written, a form of Latin and ancient French. As you know, even my present-day French is not good. I had no idea if his pronunciation of the words was correct. Nothing appeared to happen; no materialization of the girl’s spirit. I say nothing happened, but a vivid blue light appeared momentarily over the coffin. It was there for a split second then was gone, as if some spiritual entity had tried to come through. I assumed the ritual was either incomplete, or incorrectly read.

Sébastien seemed resigned to the fact that we had done all we could, and apologised for having, apparently, wasted my time. I realize, now, how rapidly he seemed to want me gone.

Back in my apartment, unable to sleep, I was concerned as to why the ritual did not work. I have used necromancy on several occasions in the past quite successfully. I began by searching the internet for information on the spiritual entity – you would probably say demon – Sébastien had invoked, Frucissire.

Eventually, my web browser unearthed – figuratively speaking – a reference to, “Cabalistiques Magiques, Grands Secretes des Liber Juratus.” A quick word search through the text produced the information I was looking for. I read, Frucissire revives the dead…”

Revives the dead – To reanimate!  Not to communicate! I wondered, did Sébastien know this? His attitude at the end of the ritual suggested he did, but I was certain he did not realize the danger to which he was exposing himself. A reanimated corpse without a soul? A zombie! I could only assume Sébastien’s relationship with Nicole was more intense than “just friends,” as he had indicated to me.

I tried to phone him immediately, but there was no answer. My concern was such that I actually ran the threekilometres across Pont de Sully at 4:00 am that morning rather than phone and wait for a taxi. The funeralparlour where I left Sébastien such a short while ago was a chaotic shambles of destruction. I dreaded actually entering, but enter, I did. I almost wish I hadn’t.

Several coffins complete with corpses had been scattered, literally picked up and thrown, about the room. Sébastien was dead. His naked, headless torso hung out of the coffin in which Nicole had lain. Nicole’s corpse was missing.

As you know, the police report at the time laid the blame on a crime syndicate, assuming Nicole was involved in organized prostitution. That her body was removed and the murder of Sébastien conducted by the group for reasons unknown. This belief was strengthened by the discovery from a comparison of the DNA in a semen sample, taken from Nicole during the original investigation, being identical with the DNA profile in Sébastien’s blood. They believed her death had been the result of a sexual game that had gone wrong, and that Sébastien, coincidentally or not, was her murderer. This confirmed, to me, his infatuation for bringing her back to life, The head of Sébastien has never been found.

The zombie apocalypse is not the result of failed military experiments, or of biochemical, hazardous waste as depicted in films. It is the work of the demonic entity, Frucissire, As Sébastien summoned the demon, he is the only one with the power to banish it. But as you know, Sébastien is dead. The demon walks this earth and we have no power to return it to its domain.

I pause, waiting for the incoherent babble of questions from the newspaper reporters in front of the dais. There is only silence. I look up. Every face is staring at something on the stage behind me.

Turning, I gasp in horror at the nightmare creatures shuffling, arms outstretched, toward me…

© 2012. Robert A. Read

Author’s note: You wish to reanimate a corpse? Frucissire really is the demon to invoke. You will need a copy of Cabalistiques Magiques, Grands Secretes des Liber Juratus which may be difficult to obtain. There are not that many in existence. The one on internet is incomplete. Just remember: you really, really would be creating a zombie.

The Entertainer.

My submission for week 58, Prompt :– Steampunk. Quite a short one this week. 1500 words.
The Entertainer.
This is the New Age of Steam. All resources of fossil fuels were depleted three centuries ago, leading to anarchy against the world government of that time, the original New World Order, whose monopoly of all sources of energy fuelled the uprising and the resulting Armageddon.

So absorbed in their own war was the human race, they were not even aware of the alien invaders. No one questioned where the invaders came from. Now, no one even cares. Ninety-five percent of the humans were exterminated to, “protect the ecosystem of the planet,” the invaders said. Many of the survivors, like me, were cybernetically modified to serve our alien overlords. The remaining humans inhabit the ruined cities of several islands in the Pacific ocean, once called Zealand.

The aliens brought with them their own technology. I am unsure of detail, but energy is derived through fusion reactors using water as fuel. The hydrogen gas is stripped from the water then, somehow, converted into helium. Here is the reason we call this the New Steam Age. The only waste products are more water and oxygen gas.

I am a musician, my main function is to entertain. I do not play a musical instrument of the type depicted in the pre-geddon archives. Our alien masters have little appreciation for rhythm and melody. They have no audio receptors – ears, as humans do. They communicate with thought, telepathically. They are aware, however, of the vast archives of audio recordings made by humans in the past. They appreciate these recordings when they are used to produce visual displays, which is the work for which I was engineered. I feed the audio output to modulate the high frequency oscillations of high tension, Tesla voltage generators. These produce up to a million volts creating dancing arcs of multi-coloured lightning in a darkened arena. For those of us who can hear sound, the audio content of the modulation is reproduced quite accurately although noticeably distorted by the crackle of high-voltage ionised air.

As you can imagine,working with such high voltages can be hazardous. The ionizing arcs appear to be randomly generated around the high voltage toroidal coil that sits on top of the Tesla device. One false move and I could be frazzled like a barbecued pig.

There is, however, a subtle correlation between the high energy arcing and the tone and tempo of the music. A deep appreciation and understanding of the beat is needed to accurately predict the position and intensity of the next strike. Having listened carefully to the recording for several hours, I believe I have enough understanding to move among the voltage generators unscathed. To be certain, I wear a thick suit of insulating fibre which is coated with an aluminium mesh. The mesh is connected via a tether to an earthing plane mapped around the Teslas where the arcing is directed. My eyes are covered with a hardened one-way lens that limits the intensity of the blinding flashes of brilliance while still allowing me the ability to see clearly.

For tonight’s performance, I have chosen a recording of The Brandenburg Concerto by ELP. I am uncertain whether ELP is the composer or the performer, but such information would be irrelevant to my audience. The tempo of the music is slower than I normally choose, and should produce a vivid display predominantly in reds and blues.

As I step into the arena, I see additional entertainment has been provided for the evening. In the centre, surrounded by the five Tesla generators stands a Faraday cage. Like my suit, it is grounded to provide a safe haven for the occupants, three humans, young adults, two male and one female. All are naked.

I am surprised how, in the 260 years since my engineered mutation, and if these three are typical of their race, the appearance of humans has degenerated. In stature, they are around one and a half metres, and pathetically under-nourished. They all have pale, almost translucent skin with a few irregular, straggling clumps of light hair or fur. The hair on their heads is longer, and so blond it is almost white. They all have blue eyes, and look so similar that they could be blood related. I suspect their limited numbers has resulted in too much inbreeding.

Perhaps they recognize me as once being human. They seem to be trying to communicate, holding out their hands and turning faces in an imploring manner. But their speech patterns are little more than grunts, growls and whines, as if they no longer have intelligible language.

According to my program notes for the evening, they were captured while trying to escape from their island home. Tonight they will die. As the performance begins, the cage will be hoisted clear leaving them vulnerable to the electric discharge. If they can negotiate their way to the exit from the arena without being zapped, they win their freedom. In my experience, no one has ever gotten close to freedom.

The opening bars of music set a ponderous tone to the ambience in the arena. Awesome flashes of light leap from the flattened balls at the top of the towers to the metal floor. The three figures in the cage huddle together, cowering in terror from the sizzling, electric blast.

After two minutes, the locking bolts on a time release disengage. The cage falls apart as the frame is whisked away. With the prisoners’ only protection gone, the lightning bolts move close enough to sear flesh. In blind panic, the first, a male, tries to run. He covers no more than five strides before a vivid blue flash engulfs him. An arm and part of one leg are incinerated. Still alive, he writhes for a few moments on the steel floor before another strike leaves him as a burning husk of blackened cinder.

The remaining two watch in apparent horror, before they both try to flee in the opposite direction. The second male is slightly ahead of the female when a deep red lightning bolt hits him in the chest. At the same moment, the female figure leaps sideways to avoid the flash as if she knows of its imminent arrival. She pauses, crouching, looking about as the upper half of the male body is instantly vaporised. His trunk and legs kick a few times while orange flames and black smoke rise from the floor. The female watches, her mouth opening and closing as if shocked by the devastation. Then she leaps again before a bright red ball of flame strikes the area she has just vacated.

Crouching again, her head is cocked on one side. She must be listening to the music. She leaps sideways as another blue bolt strikes the metal. From side to side she dances, evading the erratic discharges. She makes no attempt to escape from the arena. Her only concern seems to be in avoiding death. Several times she receives minor burns from secondary strikes that fluctuate through ionised air after the main pulse has earthed itself. The flesh on her arms, shoulders and back is singed. I can see the skin bubbling, blistering. Her limbs, for a few moments, go rigid from the electrical shock of ten to fifteen thousand volts. She is in pain but recovers to continue dancing.

Her hair flies wildly across her face as she evades another blast. She seems to be tiring. I cannot see her lasting more than a couple of minutes longer. Yet, amazingly she does. As the final chords die away, and the last, blinding flash diminishes she sprawls on the metal surface. The upper part of her body heaves as she drags the ionised air into her lungs. I believe she is sobbing from the exertion, or perhaps from the relief that the ordeal is over. She is soaked with perspiration that drips and puddles on the floor.

I feel sensations in my body that have remained unrecognised through most of my life. I remember, it was once called compassion. It can be nothing more. The technicians made certain that my reproductive abilities and urges were eradicated during the surgery.

I propose to take this white haired female back to my residential complex. I can construct a special cage for her, look after her, feed her. I remember how once, centuries ago, as a child, my parents gave me a kitten. It grew into a beautiful, graceful feline animal. My new pet brings back memories of the wonderful innocence of that time. I wonder, what name I should give her?

Auhor’s note 1:
Not sure if Emerson, Lake and Palmer ever recorded Brandenburg Concerto. Keith Emerson did with his group, The Nice.

Auhor’s note 2:
Always wanted to build a Tesla Coil. It is possible to modulate them with an audio signal too, as this video shows. Awesome! This is Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor played on Tesla Coils.

© 2012. Robert A. Read

Friday Frights: Screaming Skull.

My Friday Frights submission for the Issue 57 prompt – Telekinesis. This story is around 2300 words. More fun at the expense of my dear neighbours. Continues from my Dinner Party Story, She Wasn’t Invited.

My first and, I expected, my last dinner party here in France, was a disaster of epic proportions. All went well until an apparition in the form of a child, a girl of eight or nine years appeared on the staircase and scared the bejesus out of my guests. Without exception, they fled from the house leaving me to confront the nightmare alone.

Actually, it was not so much of a nightmare. I knew the house was haunted. It began, at least I first became aware of a ghostly presence, when, whilst digging to clear brambles from an area of garden, I unearthed a human skull. I realise I should have reported the find to the local Gendarme, but this being France… The skull had obviously been in the ground a very long time and I could not see them being overly keen to investigate a possible murder of so long ago. Besides, I thought it might look good, well, a talking point at least, if displayed in a glass cabinet under an eerie green light.

The night I first brought it into the house was the night I first saw the young woman to whom the bones had belonged. Aware of the paranormal for as long as I remember, I have no fear of ghosts and, after an initial moment of embarrassment on my part for desecrating her grave, we began what I think many people would see as a bizarre relationship. Her name, when she was alive, was Monique, a beautiful name that I will always refer to her by.

She liked my idea for the display of her remains as it gave her a strong physical link with this house. She wanted to stay and, to be honest, I enjoy her company. I should add here, our relationship is not sexual. No matter what romantic fiction writers tell you, physical sex with a ghost is not possible. For an apparition to even remain visible, it must draw energy in the form of heat from the physical plane. This is why there is such a noticeable drop in temperature during paranormal activity. No matter how stunning your ghost appears, I challenge any man to maintain his libido when she feels like a block of ice to his touch.

Anyway, getting back to the dinner party, I made no mention of hauntings to my guests before they arrived. I really did not think they would believe me. It never occurred to me that Monique might get upset at not being invited and make an appearance with such devastating effect. Monique and I had a long talk later that evening, when I explained that most living people do not understand ghosts the way I do and, as I thought she understood that, she would know why I could not invite her. Admittedly, I should have told her about the dinner, but as it’s not every day she visits me, and I am so pleased to see her when she does, it had completely slipped from my mind.

This pacified Monique, but I was uncertain how I should explain to the neighbours I had invited. I considered one idea: that being a writer of horror stories, it had been an experiment to see their reactions and my ghost was the daughter of a friend made up and dressed to look scary. Unfortunately, her mother, who had been upstairs all evening with her, had got a little carried away and made her look too realistic.

In fact, I didn’t need to go to such measures. Mid-morning the next day, I was disturbed from some writing by a knock at the door. It was Michelle who had been the first to see Monique on the stairs.

“I am so sorry that we all rushed away leaving you alone,” she said. “I expected to find you this morning a white haired, gibbering wreck of a man. Did you realize the house was haunted?”

“Well, as it happens…”

“I’m sure you didn’t.” She answered for me before I could admit I did. “I thought I could sense a lurking evil in the house as soon as we came in.”

I am certain I looked at her in surprise. Monique has never struck me as being evil. I know she worked as a prostitute before her murder by a deranged psychopath who believed he was, “doing God’s will by cleaning the scum from the streets.” Monique’s words, not mine. I also know she has a certain sense of humour in an un-deadpan sort of way. But evil… She bears no grudge, even against the man who ended her life.

Michelle continued, “I’d like to bring some friends over this evening. I know they can help you.”

“It’s okay…” I tried to stop her but she was not listening.

“Would nine be all right?” She glanced beyond me into the room, perhaps as if expecting to see a winged demonic presence on the carpet. “Well, nine it is then. Bye for now, and please don’t worry.” She turned and almost ran from the house to her waiting car.

I tried to call Monique, but it is not as if I could pick up a phone, so whether she got my message or not, I had no way of knowing.

At a quarter-past nine, I began to suspect Michelle had been unable to arrange the “help” she promised. I started to feel a sense of relief until there was a knock at the door. Michelle with her husband Guillom, a plump woman who appeared to be in her late forties, with almost flame red hair, and a thin, elderly man in the attire of a priest stood waiting on the step.

The moment the door was open sufficiently, Michelle made her apologies. “I am so sorry we’re late, but I didn’t realize Father DuBois needed to make so many preparations.”

“You’d be surprised how long it takes to get holy water.” Guillom was smirking as he added his contribution.

Father Dubois looked more serious. “My apologies, but it’s not just a question of turning on a tap and filling a flask.”

“And this is Odette.” Michelle indicated to the red haired woman. “She is a psychic.”

The woman bustled forward until her presence seemed overwhelming. Perhaps it was the red hair, or perhaps the bright orange dress. I felt dazzled.

“We’ve already met,” I said.

Odette stopped abruptly. She looked bemused. “I think you are mistaken.”

“Not this life,” I added. “Paris? 1790? The French Revolution.” I have no idea if I was correct, but three of my four guests stared at me in awe.

“So, you believe in reincarnation?”

I had assumed The priest would not. Such a concept is not part of the Catholic creed. “Of course Father,” I replied. “I’ve seen too much evidence not to be certain.”

Odette looked deflated. “I think… maybe I do remember.” She sounded very hesitant. One up to me, I thought.

“You’d better come in,” I continued holding the door open for them to enter.

Odette, having pushed herself to the front was the first to enter. As she reached the middle of the lounge, she clutched at her chest with both hands and her knees buckled. I thought she was about to collapse; heart attack or something similar.

Michelle grabbed her arm for support before I could move. “Whatever is the matter?”

“I feel it. That sense of foreboding. That evil presence you told me about. I feel it, here in this very room. It’s so strong, so powerful, so overwhelmingly evil.”

A large black ball of indistinguishable form suddenly appeared in the corner of the room, flew across the carpet and out through the open door. Everyone jumped, Michelle screamed and the priest made the sign of the cross with one hand.

I tried to stop laughing. “It’s all right. That was only one of my black cats. You scared her.”
How many cats do you have? The priest asked. I would swear his voice had developed a nervous quaver.

“Three black and one silver-grey. I think the others are out at the moment.” I turned to Odette. I intended asking if the “evil” presence was still in the room now the cat had gone, until I realised she had fainted. I went into the kitchen for some water as Michelle tried to revive her.
As I turned the tap, I felt a snigger of amusement. Monique?

I could not see her but sensed her presence. Monique and I have a wonderful system of communication. She speaks no English, and my French is very limited, but as a spirit, she is totally telepathic. We communicate with pure thought, with sensation, emotion, feelings. She translates my sensations into French, while I translate hers into English. The thoughts are the same; it is only the symbols, the words we use to convey those thoughts that vary from language to language. If one of us thinks of an apple, which is the word symbol I use, Monique sees the same fruit but she knows it as “un pomme.” It is perfect. There is no chance of any misunderstanding.

I realized at that moment, we also had the ability to talk with none of the others overhearing us. I’m so glad you’re here Monique. I couldn’t stop them. I hope they don’t really exorcize you.

I don’t think they can. SHE, is a charlatan. I assumed Monique was referring to Odette.

I thought you would be more concerned about the priest. With his talk of holy water, he had me worried.

If we were religious fanatics, maybe. But neither of us believe in a god, do we?

That was true.

I returned to the lounge with the water. Michelle and Guillom had Odette sitting in a straight-backed chair beside the dining table. Placing the glass on the table beside her, I said, “If you want to call off tonight…”

“We wouldn’t dream of it.” Michelle seemed to have taken on the roll of spokesperson for the group. “You must have been living through hell these past years.”

“Not at all!” I felt it was time I explained before they got carried away with their hocus-pocus. “I’ve always known this house is haunted. A young woman by the name of Monique who was murdered here around fifty years ago. She doesn’t always haunt the house as a nine-year old child. I understand she was seventeen when she died. She can appear as any age she experienced in life, up until the moment she died. She believed a nine-year old would have the most sensational effect among those she wanted to scare. I should have warned you before last night, but, to be honest, I didn’t think you would believe.” I decided to make no mention of the skull sitting in a box beside the computer in the room I use as a study.

I turned to Michelle and Odette. “I don’t know why you should think she is evil. She can exude an air of sadness, melancholy at times, but evil? Never to me. She has given me some wonderful inspiration for stories. I see her as my muse.”

A snort of derision from the priest drew my attention back to him. “Then she has seduced you with her lies. This is exactly the way God’s word describes the behaviour of demonic entities. We are expressly forbidden in the Holy Bible to have any contact. To prove to you the demon’s true nature, I will summon her in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to appear before us in her true form.”

I was not sure why he felt he needed to speak in such a loud voice. Far more quietly I said, “There is no need for summoning, father. She is standing right behind you.”

The look on his face was priceless as he spun around. Of course, he could not see her. I was aware of no more than the faintest glow of ethereal light.

“Would you please be good enough to show yourself in your true form Monique?” Even when speaking to the dead, it is considerate to be polite. I asked the question aloud only for the benefit of the living. I felt the sudden drop in temperature from the warmth of the summer night.

I guessed how she would show herself: the way she looked, the moments before she was murdered. Many times has she appeared to me in such a form, she knows it excites me. I was not disappointed. I think the priest was shocked. The two women definitely were. She stood, a glowing vision, completely naked. To me, she looked more like an angel than a demon.

The events that followed, I was not expecting. Father DuBois pulled a crucifix from an inside pocket of his cassock, thrusting it toward Monique. The electric lights in the room were suddenly extinguished. There was a loud thud from the table behind me. I think both women shrieked. I half turned, catching site of the skull now resting in the centre of the table. It still glowed from the eerie green light, although there was no light visible. The priest yelled something in French and unprintable. I looked back to see the crucifix glowing redder than Odette’s hair. He dropped the cross from where it lay, smouldering on the carpet. The smell of singed flesh mixed with burning carpet-pile reminded me of sulphur and brimstone.

The final straw was the loud, demonic chuckle that came from the skull. Four figures, including a badly shaken priest fled from the house.

I turned to Monique. That was amazing. I didn’t know you could do telekinesis.

There was a strange, almost frightened look in her eyes. It wasn’t me,she whispered.

© 2012. Robert A. Read