Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Talisman - Part 2 of 2

If you haven’t read Part 1, please do so first.

With only the round moon of nearly midnight as a witness, I lit a timid flame under the pile of deadwood I had gathered in the afternoon. The flame licked the twigs, started eating them, then crawled onto the thicker branches with maddening slowness. The wind toyed with it for a few seconds, spreading sparks, but the fire finally took. In the orange glow, new shadows rose to dance with the emaciated silhouettes of the trees, drawn by the cold moon.

I couldn’t believe I was there, behaving like a naïve teenager in my old age, instead of nesting in the quietness of my room. But I was doing it as a farewell to my aunt, and I used that thought to somehow warm my bones.

The instructions had been simple and I followed them dutifully, although emotion made my left hand even clumsier than usual. I spread the powder over the fire, hardly avoiding the sudden burst of flames. Then, in the foul smell that rose, I read aloud the text on the side of the box. I had glimpsed at it earlier, just to make sure I could decipher it, but still the guttural words of the dead language – in a voice that barely sounded as my own - brushed my heart with a strange foreboding.

It was an ancient Egyptian funeral incantation, written in hieratics, though not one that I had ever seen in the Spells of Going. A reversed, twisted utterance, meant to call forth the soul into another existence, not to ease its journey into the realm of the blessed dead. I have always laughed at superstition, but the thought that my aunt had in secret entertained such ideas was particularly disturbing.

When I finished, my mouth dry as if filled with sand, a grey smoke stirred in the flames. The wind played with it, allowing it to gain shape only to scatter it again shortly.

Almost deafened by my own heartbeat, I took the miniature coffer from my bag and managed to steady my fingers long enough to open it. For a stretched moment, I forgot to breathe.

Inside, on a white velvet cushion, there was a small hand, a child-sized hand, a gold ring with a tiny ruby on the index finger, the wrist bloodied as if freshly severed. Surely only a rubber moulding, the macabre prop of a prankster.

Under my rounded eyes, the hand twitched.

I almost dropped the chest.

Surely, only a trick of the flames.

Despite myself, I looked at my old stump, then at the child’s hand in the coffer, helpless before the tangled memory that rushed at me and threw me whole in the pit that had opened in my stomach. The county fair. The fortune teller Gipsy. The smiles and the money exchanged between her and Aunt Lilith. The ring the Gipsy offered the five-year old I was then. The car accident. My parents’ death. My crushed right hand that could not be recovered from the burnt wreckage. My tears for the lost ring. The recurring nightmare of my troubled sleep.

What strange, unwanted thoughts. I had no use of them.

I had a mind to throw the chest with its hideous content in the fire, when the hand twitched again. I gasped, intrigued, disgusted, scared. It couldn’t be. What was I doing there? Better to go home.

But in the moment I tried to snap the lid closed, the twitching hand jumped from the coffer. A shriek rose from the shadow in the fire, or maybe from my lips. I dropped the box and stumbled backwards, my eyes frantically searching for the hand on the ground, when I realized that it was on me, that it had somehow attached itself to my stump.

Oh, the terror when I shook my arm and couldn’t loose that child’s hand, that foreign hand! The numbing coldness of the iron tendrils piercing my wrist, holding it in a metal vice.

I pulled. I pushed. I scratched. I turned, seeking a tool to help me. A stick broke on it. In desperation, I started striking a boulder. Nothing. Nothing.

Nothing but the suffocation from the panicked struggle, from the thickening smoke.

Under my eyes, it started growing, a beautiful white hand, with silky skin, no longer a child’s hand but a young woman’s, the one I could’ve had, the ring, already too small, cutting deep into the index finger.

And then, a whisper whirred from the fire, from the wind “…dear girl…” the howling of a ghostly wolf over the moor “I’m returning your gift…” a fluttering of soft wings “we’ll always be together… I’ll be your talisman now…” a shuffling of leaves “… as you were mine…” the drumming of my blood “dear girl…” growing, twisting whispers “pull me out, dear girl… dear girl… pull me out…”

Against my battered will, I approached the fire, leaning closer, my right hand extended as if to caress the flames.

“dear girl… pull me out…”

The heat was painful on my eyes yet I didn’t lower my eyelids. There was something in the smoke, a distorted face, with miniature features. “pull me out…” Was it only my hallucination? Was it really the dark soul of my aunt balancing on the brink of hell, struggling to avoid an eternal damnation?

“pull me out…”

An arm of smoke extended from the fire, long, shaky fingers seeking the unnatural hand. One final usage of the talisman, to pull her out of Hell.

Her fortune to be passed onto me. Has she meant good fortune in addition to material one? A few more years, better years for me, luckier years for me, with Aunt Lilith always there… at an arm’s length… So tempting…

“dear girl…”

Why not?...

As I reached into the fire, I realized I could move the hand, that I could control the fingers that hadn’t been mine for sixty years. I made a fist and plunged it into the flames. The shadow-smoke contorted violently, perhaps from the pain I could not feel, perhaps from trying to grasp the hand that I would not open, and an inhuman shriek pierced the night, reverberating in my heart. I endured it, until there was nothing left but the charred bones, even beyond that, until the pain took my consciousness away.

No handshake, Aunt Lilith.

* * *

For some more Halloween fictional tricks and treats take a look at:

Bernard's Return of Demon

Charles Gramlich's Hunter's Moon

Fireblossom's Five Wolves

K.Lawson Gilbert's Once We Were Cats

Laughingwolf's H-5... 1, H-5... 2, H-5... 3, H-5... 4 and H-5... 5

And my older Little Halloween Triptych:

The Flying Dutchman


A Mother's Gift

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Talisman - Part 1

Aunt Lilith was taking her last breath. If I were to add “finally”, I would be considered ungrateful, but I couldn’t help entertaining that adverb, somewhere at the blurry periphery of my thoughts.

The houseboy who came to fetch me was livid and panting, and seemed to have somehow lost the cheekiness with which he habitually addressed me. Was he perhaps acknowledging in me the new Mistress of the house? I threw a shawl over my achy shoulders and followed him as best I could, though didn’t force my injured leg overly.

When I reached her bedroom, her doctor came to meet me and I knew then, by his countenance, that I was too late. He resembled a grimy carrion bird, his complexion sallower than usual, his narrow shoulders stooped under the brown jacket.

The canopy bed, on the far wall, was lost in the mist of light filtered by the heavy curtains. I limped to it, passing covered mirrors (does the soul go into mirrors?) on ancient massive commodes, the sickly sweet odour of medicine and dried flowers almost overwhelming to me.

She lied on burgundy sheets, serene in her eternal sleep, still unbelievably beautiful and youthful looking. Even in death, she hugged tightly the small mahogany chest that never left her.

“She gave me this for you,” the doctor said, handing me an envelope.

I had no expectations now, more than I’ve ever had. Aunt Lilith has treated me fairly well, though barely above a housemaid. I have been tolerated, not loved. Provided for, not nurtured.

An old maid with one hand. An orphan who became a burden for her vivacious aunt.

At ninety-five, her organs failed her but she’d been lucky to have a lucid mind and physical independence up to the very last moment. Come to think of it, luck was something she’d had plenty her whole life, and with a capital L. I’d never really thought of it, but it had been present in all the circumstances of her life.

She’d lost her husband at thirty-five, in the car crash that had also cost my parents’ life and my right hand. But her husband had been a nuisance and, through his death, she avoided the divorce she’d been planning and inherited his whole fortune. She’s never remarried and has never had children of her own, but took many lovers, one richer and better looking than the other.

Throughout the years, she has miraculously escaped fires, car crashes, bankruptcies, epidemics that have thoroughly destroyed the other people touched by them.

I haven’t been that lucky. I lived, it’s true, when my parents died, but the price of my survival had been a life painted in shades of grey, a life of infirmity and renunciations.

What could she write to me? I opened the letter.

Dear girl,

Yes, despite all the perceptions and the adversities that we, or rather you, have misconstrued over the years, you were my dear girl, my dear deceased sister’s girl, the one I couldn’t have and raised as my own child.

So, dear girl, no time to waste now. Death presses me – I know - and there is one last thing I must ask of you, one of immense importance for both of us.

After you fulfill my last request, you will be a greatly rich woman, but I trust that the wisdom you acquired during all these years of modesty will continue to guide your steps.

I am grateful to you for what you have given me – if you are surprised by this, be patient a little longer and you will have your answer.

What I give you now – what dr. Abramian will give you when the time comes - are my precious chest and a pouch.

On the seventh night following my demise, you must take them and go to the crossroads at the abandoned mill. You must light a fire and, precisely at midnight, scatter the powder you’ll find in the pouch over the flames and pronounce the words carved on the side of the box.

You will have no difficulty with them, I am sure, for you are such an erudite girl. (She must have meant they were written in some dead language – these had no secrets for me for I have been “buried” for decades in the museum’s Antiquities department.)

After that, and only then, I cannot emphasize it more, you can, you must open the chest.

I conjure you to do this and give me the last peace that my soul longs for. It is a small thing to you, but something of utmost importance for my beliefs. After that, all my fortune will pass onto you.

There’s even a special gift in there for you, my dear girl, one that I know you will appreciate for the rest of your life.

After all, we have always enjoyed longevity in our family so you will have many more years to benefit from your great fortune.

Your loving aunt,


to be continued...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October Chills

under the round Moon
tears of the gone rain
on dying leaves
like just as many diamonds
or eyes
of secret beasts
who read your soul
and wait
your heart
to falter
you hurry
your fears
under the round Moon

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Infernal Stalking

The night is wings of crows, flapping silently over my shoulders. A thousand whispers of leaves, or mice, scurrying at my heels.

Only three more streets and I’ll be home.

The wind is brother to hungry wolves. With iced fingers it seizes my eyes, tears my hair, dies quickly only to be reborn through another crevice between buildings.

An operatic voice rises behind me, too close, too loud. A tremendous bass-baritone from a tragic opera I vaguely seem to recognize. The voice is close, the instruments far, in a discarded dimension. Is it in Italian? Or German? Who listens to opera in these deep hours of the night?

I think I can hear my name. How can it call my name? The wind is meowing, mocking my ears. It must be.

Only two more streets and I’ll be home.

Again. My name. I hear it now with aching clarity. I chance a glimpse back, just as I force my march into a trot. The street is a valley of stone, with nothing animated but the white wings of abandoned newspapers, tumbleweeds blown on a prairie of asphalt. No car even sleeps by the curb. No window is alive, behind me, in front. Darkness has engulfed everything beyond the meagre streetlights. Is there a power outage?

Where does the music come from?

Only one more street and I’ll be home.

I pull my jacket tighter, unable to repel the chill in my heart. My name echoes wildly behind me, around me.

My trot morphs into a sprint, the soles of my sneakers slapping the sidewalk impossibly loud.

Finally. But my house is dark too. There’s nobody home. It takes an eternity to fumble with my keys. An eternity of operatic madness.

At last, the door shuts behind me, enclosing me in the cocoon of safety built by the familiar feels, and smells, and noises. The tic-tock of the grandfather clock, the clanging of a water pipe from the heating system, the sweet, humid smell of earth and plants. The absence of opera sounds.

The light switch is dead. I feel my way along the wall to the kitchen. A muffled humming permeates the door that leads to the lowest entrails of the house. What’s in the cellar?

Against all caution, against all hope, I open the door. A milky glow bathes the staircase. The opera music builds in a sombre crescendo from which the bass-baritone voice calls my name.

I have nowhere to go home.

I am home.

(photo from

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beware of the Wolf Man!

He’ll stalk you when the full moon is out!

In one of our entirely too numerous trips to the dollar store, which now has increased – if that is even possible - its fascination upon my daughters with its display of Halloween paraphernalia, I picked up the book that you can see below.

I just couldn’t pass the opportunity to buy a book with such a title for one Canadian dollar (well, 1.13 after you throw in the taxes…).

It’s a children’s book, previously sold by Toys’R’Us for 2.69, according to the label on the back. Published in 1992, is was adapted from the Universal film “The Wolf Man” by Justine Korman and illustrated by Art Ruiz.

Why am I giving these many details about it? Because it’s a surprisingly good book. It’s a small treasure.

You can read the blurb from the back cover.

I’m not suggesting you go out and seek it, however, I must say that I loved it. It is written in a relatively simple language, for the intended readers, but it is well written, suspenseful, even scary. They’re not lying in the blurb…

“The Wolf Man” is a 1941 film with Lon Chaney, Jr., a classic of the horror cinema. Imdb gives it a rating of 7.4/10, which is very good. I plan to find it and watch it. From what I read, a remake’s been filmed, with Benicio Del Torro in the main role, but hasn’t been released yet.

And in the meantime I can have fun with another “delicious” book for the season…

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Myself and I

photograph by Jo Whaley

I sometimes spend the better of my day
in silent conversation with myself
and any storms that happen on the way
I simply take and put them on a shelf
inside this lamentable closet of a brain
where weirdest things have long been stored:
romantic love, forgotten dreams, plenty of pain –
I might be sobbing, mad, but seldom bored.

They often surface on a whim
and sometimes, when they’re summoned, hide.
Nevertheless, they’re all inside
for I alone,
and for this paper, now and then.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Ama(i)z(e)ing Apples

There is something about walking through a maze of corn that brings to my mind thoughts of dark, weird stories. Maybe it’s the forest-like feeling I get, even on a splendid summer day (make that end of September, but it still feels like summer...) , even with the happy shouts of children in the background, when I look at the crossing swords of green. A forest is a repository of eternal mysteries.

I haven’t read King’s “Children of the Corn” nor have I seen the movie, although I heard of both. In fact, just before writing this, I read a bit about them in wikipedia. However, the “Village of the Damned” type of story is not the kind that comes to my mind.

You can get in, but what if you’re not allowed to get out?

There is something menacing when you look at the sky from this perspective…

Finally, in the apple orchard…

Crunchy apples…

I wonder what their beauty’s hiding…

Hmmm, Halloween is coming…