Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Séance From "The Sleep of Reason"

What's better than a séance in the middle of an abandoned church cemetery on a cold November evening? Here's from my upcoming novel, The Sleep of Reason:

Mindy and Russell parked their car at a designated spot a short distance from the entrance to the JFK Prep grounds as per Doug’s instructions. Doug and Izzy awaited them there, wearing serious expressions that conveyed their concern. Together they walked a short way to the gates of the site that had been the start of the town of St. Nazianz. Over a hundred and fifty years of growth and change had made it something utterly different from what it had started as, but some aspect of the vision remained. From its start as a religious sect seeking a new way of life, it had been taken over by a Catholic order that had used the place as a seminary. And when this had shut down, it became a prep school. But it was decades since it had been used for much of anything at all. Such places lend themselves to the creation of stories and legends.
“We will attempt a séance,” said Doug. More for Mindy’s sake than the others, he explained, “One cannot call a ghost into being. Either it already exists or it does not. The dead have passed on to the undiscovered country, or simply ceased to be. We’ll set aside any theological arguments regarding where we go when we die because, frankly, they have no bearing. As Johnny should have explained to Dave, a ghost is not the spirit of a dead person. It is merely a creation of a psychic trauma, a ball of emotional energy formed in the intensity of a person’s dying moments. Memories may be burned into what we call a ghost. Typically they are rather simplistic creatures, acting out a scene that is significant to someone who was once alive. Occasionally, they can be a rather sophisticated facsimile of the person they were formed from. Obviously, most people do not create ghosts at all when they die. Ghosts are quite rare, the intensity of the event would need to be quite profound.
“Johnny reported to me the events in Manitowoc. He informed me that they had encountered two separate entities resulting from the death of a single person. One was formed of grief at the betrayal of his wife and friend, the other a desire for justice due to the same event. I’m afraid what we have here is a similar dual or even multiple entities formed by an extreme emotional occurrence.
“I’ve been aware of this site, heard rumors and unsubstantiated stories. I knew the potential for trouble existed here, but I had no real cause to pursue the matter. I knew enough about it to warn Johnny to stay away, but perhaps I didn’t know enough about Johnny to appreciate the temptation it would present. But in the end, I will not hold myself accountable for the choices that others have made. We will however deal with this situation as best we can. We have need of the abilities Johnny and Dave possess, and we will not abandon them if there is something we can do. But be warned that there are obvious risks.”
Doug looked around at the others. When Mindy had shown in her gaze her obvious commitment, he turned to look at Izzy, and so did Mindy. She was fairly convinced Izzy had a good heart. If there was anything he might be lacking, it might be courage.In the event in the Apostle Islands, he didn’t appear overly eager to confront such things. But perhaps that too might be an act he put on for her benefit.
“I thought we were here for Bingo,” said Izzy. “Yeah, I’m in. But I’m going to need a vacation after this.”
“Did you get something acceptable?” asked Russell.
Izzy reached into the pocket of his thick flannel jacket to pull out what appeared to be a necklace. He placed it in Russell’s waiting hand.
“A rosary. Where did you find it?”
“Where do you think we found it?” asked Izzy.
“We took them from the hands of Gregor Soeldner,” said Doug.
“You dug up a grave?” said Russell, looking horrified at the idea of holding an item that had been in the clutch of a dead man for over a century.
“It’s not as if we had much choice,” said Doug, “or much time. You said you needed an item that was cherished by one of those in question. Gregor Soeldner was in charge of The Association after the death of Anton Oxner. There’s no guarantee he’s in any way a part of this, but I figured he was our best chance of discovering something. And as far as finding an article or relic from someone, I imagine that something that someone wanted to be buried with must be pretty important to them.”
“What about Oxner? Couldn’t you find anything of his?”
“We thought about it. It turns out he was buried under the altar in the chapel. Izzy couldn’t bring himself to go digging up an alter for such purposes, and I have to say I was uneasy about it myself. Let’s give it a go with this and if it doesn’t work, we’ll go from there.”
“Alright,” said Russell. “Let’s find a proper spot and we’ll do this. Any ideas?”
They eyed the grounds from their spot in the empty space surrounded by buildings.
“I wouldn’t mind doing it indoors, if we could,” said Mindy, feeling the chill of the evening.
“Where?” asked Izzy. “Somehow a church doesn’t seem to be a proper place for a séance. And the other buildings seem a little too new to be related to whatever it is that haunts this place.”
“The cemetery,” said Russell, a degree of authority in his voice. This was an area where his knowledge exceeded the others’ and he needed to assert the fact.
They walked towards the gravestones that cast shadows from a full moon that shown behind them. The chill in the air seemed to cut past Mindy’s clothes, penetrate her skin and take residence in her bones, making her feel older than she was. It felt as if her innermost self was not protected the way she was used to feeling, the soft hidden aspects of her were being exposed to a chilling and unfriendly outside force.
They followed Russell until he reached the center of the graveyard of perhaps two hundred graves. He stood before them and turned, his body blocking the rays of the moon that was sinking towards the horizon. It made him appear like a radiant saint, but the rays were all behind him, his form a blackness within the light. Whatever discomfort he normally showed was missing now: he now appeared as the scientist making sure the elements of his experiment were accounted for.
“Form a circle,” he said. They did, with Russell to Mindy’s left, Doug to her right, Izzy in front of her. I occurred to Mindy at that moment that she really didn’t know these people. Izzy was no longer the joking person he was, Russell had lost his discomfort, even Doug had abandoned his always-on stage persona.
“We’re going to have to hold hands for the duration of the séance. We must maintain the circle throughout the séance, this is most important. For that reason, we might as well sit down, make ourselves comfortable. If one of us were to slip and break the connection, we would be unleashing God knows what on the world.”
There was not much space between graves, so that when they sat down, Mindy realized she must be sitting on top of some long-dead soul. Several graves down she noticed the freshly dug grave from which Izzy and Doug had claimed their relic. When she joined hands with Doug, she could still feel bits of dirt on his hands. She had hoped in vain that the hand that Russell offered her was not the one that gripped the rosary beads. The feeling of the beads that Russell gripped hard against her hand felt to her like teeth ripped from a corpse.
“Now what?” asked Mindy.
“Now we wait for Russell to make a connection to the object in his hand,” said Doug. “And if there is a living entity, or reasonable facsimile of same, perhaps it will provide a link to said entity.”
“You all must be receptive to whatever thoughts my pop into your head,” said Russell, “because perhaps those thoughts will not be your own. If all goes well, we will soon be experiencing a blending of selves, so that we will be very much aware at the same time of things that we are not perceiving with our ordinary senses. We must all be both open to such perceptions and yet retain our personal integrity. This is not a matter of life or death, but a matter of success or failure, as well as just plain good manners. You’ll understand as we go.”
Mindy tried to silence her thoughts, tired to block out the outside world. She was acutely aware of the hands that held hers, that she held. She was both holder and holdee, she though, a link in a chain that was more than the accumulated links.
Gahhh! I’m thinking. I should be emptying my mind of thoughts, allow myself to be receptive. Now I’m thinking of thinking. And the cold ground, I can’t sit like this for long.
She tried to shift herself slightly, all the while being acutely aware of the hands she was holding, realizing that as she held on to them that they held on to her. She was holding hands of people who were probably busy trying to silence their thoughts in order to be open to something outside or inside of them. Four individuals joined together, and she couldn’t help thinking their minds should be no more distant or unreachable than their hands were. And all at once she had the feeling that her consciousness was not in her body but somewhere in the middle of the four of them. No, it wasn’t her consciousness! It was theirs. It was hers, but they were all sharing the same thoughts in the same way that people sitting around a fire were all sharing the same warmth and light. Except that she was the fire. Sort of. It wasn’t really so important to try to explain it as it was to just experience it.
She was aware of her body a few feet away, felt that she could return to it anytime she wished. It wasn’t effort that kept her where she was now, just a state of mind. She only hoped that she would continue holding the others’ hands, detached as she now felt from that body.
And as she looked upon her own body, she now looked upon the others in the same fashion. She felt that she was able to return to any of those as easily as she could her own, that they were just houses that could be entered as easily as opening a door. And it seemed that each house was as empty as her was.
Curious, she attempted to peer into the person that was Doug Slattery, magician, collector, man of wealth. She wondered what lay beneath the artifice and façade he showed to the world.
It shouldn’t have been surprising that she witnessed in him the same trepidation and concern that she felt, being in the same position as she was. But she realized that was only the concerns of the moment. There were great depths of experience and memory there to be delved into. Not thinking of the consequences, she delved in a little deeper.
And there she felt lust. Not merely physical urges but the frustration at withholding from acting upon such urges. And behind the lust and the frustration were deeper emotions, fear of being dislike by someone he had loved, fear of rejection and betrayal. And even beyond that was a deeper fear, a fear of being wrong, of believing he knew who he was and what the world was and the crushing pain it caused him to realize that he had been living in a fantasy world. All these emotions and sensations existed in him at once and were stacked upon each other, showing to her the complexity of a person and the myriad influences working upon even the simplest decisions. And anger welled up in him, akin to the sense of betrayal she had seen. She quickly retreated from the house that Doug’s life force had built about him, sneaking out through a side exit, careful not to slam the door.
She was again in the middle of the circle, again aware of the openness, even vulnerability, of the others. She was not sure what she should be focusing her awareness on, but knew it was Russell who was the driving force behind whatever it was that was going on. She suddenly became quite attuned to him, felt the concentration towards another awareness that allowed him no time to be aware of the others. She tried to align her awareness with his, to see what it was that he saw, aid him in his search. Again she found herself entering the house of another, so to speak, permitted herself to step past set boundaries.
She felt herself quickly swept up as a leaf in a breeze. It was thrilling until the realization of her helplessness set in Her psyche was in the grip of forces more powerful than she’d ever experienced, lifting her to tremendous heights, separating her from the rootedness she was familiar with. But the fear of falling quickly accompanied the thrill, until she dared to look down. She felt herself falling, prepared herself for a drop that would crush her against a rocky bottom.
But there was no bottom. Whatever ground she had been standing on had been swept away, leaving a deep dark pit into which she was speedily descending.
Again, her presence had been detected by the residence of the domain. Russell understood what she was doing, pulled himself back from his search. Within his mind he constructed for her a floor for her to land safely on. But even as her feet reached the ground, she felt herself opening up. Russell was probing into her as she had done to him. She experienced moments of her childhood popping open from long closed boxes. The unwelcome attention of her older brother’s friend, the humiliation of a boyfriend’s betrayal. She felt helpless before Rusell’s probing, couldn’t understand the cruelty of it. And then in an instant he retreated, leaving her psyche to herself.
It was then that she realized what to her felt like an assault was no different than the innocent probing she had been engaging in. She understood now what Russsell had meant when he talked about good manners. Learning proper boundaries was a matter of social etiquette whether or not one was talking about physical space.

She was back in the cold, dark cemetery again, but she still felt as if she were in the middle of the group rather than her own body. Until she looked in between the ring of hands and saw a bluish glow arising from the ground between them. She was then aware that she was back in her body, still holding hands with Russell and Doug. She noticed Doug Squeezing her hand hard and didn’t know why until she realized she was trying to tear away from the circle, trying to get away from whatever it was that was rising in their midst. She forced herself to stillness as best she could, tried to look at the others to gain strength from them. Each of them reflected the bluish light that came from the center of the circle.

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