Authors: Joseph Nassise
She explained that each of her visions had shown her the city of New Orleans wrapped in some kind of apocalyptic scenario. Destruction by fire and water featured fairly prominently, but she’d also seen it destroyed by war, famine, and plague. Clearly, they were all a warning of some danger to come and a summons for her to prevent it, if possible.
“But how do you know that?” I argued. “What if they’re just lucid dreams brought on by something you read? Or something you saw on television?”
“Because dreams don’t write on windows,” she replied, but then seemed to regret doing so and wouldn’t elaborate any further when I pressed her.
Write on windows?
What the hell did that mean?
We sat in silence for a few minutes until I decided to try a different tack. “Okay, I’ve seen some really strange shit over the last few months, so let’s say I buy into the whole ‘message from the Earth Mother Goddess’ thing you got going on here. How do you know you’re interpreting it right?”
Her answer was pretty quick and to the point.
“It’s pretty hard to misinterpret apocalyptic disasters, don’t you think?”
She had me there.
In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess.
“Okay, New Orleans it is.”
She suddenly went still, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I felt that she was watching me carefully, trying to gauge whether I was serious or not.
After a moment, she said, “You’ll go with me?”
I shrugged. “You followed me to New Jersey. Least I can do is return the favor and go with you to New Orleans.”
My motivation was more than that, but now wasn’t the time to explain it to her, as I wasn’t yet sure that I could put it into words. Just thinking about her leaving made me anxious; it simply wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned. If that meant following her halfway across the country, then so be it.
She turned and wrapped me in a hug, something she had never done before, and I responded in kind. I was acutely aware of her scent in my nostrils and the warmth of her body beneath my hands; it had been a long time since I’d held a woman.
“Thank you, Jeremiah,” she whispered in my ear, before pulling away.
I let her go, wondering if she felt the same reluctance to end our embrace that I did.
Denise called Dmitri inside and filled him in on what we’d just discussed. Upon hearing her reasons for wanting to leave, he agreed that it was a wise move. Ignoring the visions, he told her, could have disastrous consequences, and not just for the people of New Orleans. So with that settled, we got down to some serious planning, figuring out what we needed to do in order to close up shop here, deciding just how we intended to get there and what to take with us.
Given our decision to hit the road, I thought I’d be able to skip my afternoon tutoring session, but I soon found out I was sorely mistaken.
After we’d fled Boston together, Denise had taken it upon herself to improve my education with regard to the ways of the supernatural world around us, and not a day had gone by since then that we hadn’t spent an hour in “class,” trying to bring me up to speed as quickly as possible.
Our sessions ranged from formal lectures on how to identify a nukekubi in the middle of the day while it was in its human form to hands-on workshops like the time she had me track a wererat around the Newark shipyard in the middle of the night after three straight days of no sleep. That was anything but fun. Dmitri would occasionally sit in, giving his own unique perspective on the topic at hand, but more often than not it was just Denise and me.
Some days I looked forward to my lessons. Denise was a good teacher, with what seemed to me to be an encyclopedic knowledge of the unusual and the arcane, which meant that I always came away from our time together a little more informed than before. At other times it just felt like a colossal waste of energy. With the police on my tail, I didn’t expect to remain free long enough to encounter a Malaysian Pennagglan, never mind need to know that the only way to kill it was to pour broken glass into its empty neck cavity while the head and internal organs were off feeding on someone in the dead of night.
Heading into today’s session, I was pessimistic about it all.
Cross Mr. Miyagi, Yoda, and Merlin the Magician and you’ve got some sense of what it was like having Denise as an instructor. Learn by immersion, that was her motto, particularly for our hands-on sessions. She had a habit of giving me specific instructions without explaining the hows or whys behind whatever it was we were doing, expecting me to pick it up as we went along. What that really meant was that I’d usually fail the first few times, often spectacularly, and usually at my own expense. At that point she would patiently tell me what I had done wrong, walk me through the steps necessary to correct it, and then grill me mercilessly over and over again until I had it right. More often than not, this went on for days, as I tend to be a slow learner.
The whole “wax on, wax off” approach got on my nerves, I must admit.
That afternoon, after telling me there was no way we were going to miss our session, Denise led me back down to the beach. While we’d huddled about our trip, the good weather had slowly slipped away, leaving a gray sky and a chill wind that blew off the ocean with a vengeance. The smell of the mud flats on the wind told me the tide was out.
Denise brought me to the water’s edge and then stepped back, saying, “Tell me what you see.”
Cloud cover or not, I couldn’t see a thing; I never could, not in broad daylight. Denise knew that and I knew she knew, so she must have been asking me to look at the world around me in a different fashion.
Confident that I’d solved the first of the lesson’s challenges, I triggered my ghostsight.
The snow white blindness faded, leaving me looking out into a hazy world of gray. I could just make out the suggestion of the things around me, like faint sketches only half-drawn; the long rise of the beach to my left, the roll of the waves off to the right, and the blurry outline of Denise standing several yards away.
“What do you see?” she asked again.
This time, I answered her.
“Ghosts,” I said.
And I did. About half a dozen of them stood a few feet away, watching us with the unblinking stares of the dead. They were surrounded by a faintly luminous silver white glow that made them seem to pop out against the gray haze of their surroundings, clear and distinct to my eyes, though whether the glow was something that they projected themselves or simply an aftereffect of the use of my special sight, I didn’t know.
“Call one of them over to you,” Denise instructed.
Since most of my work lately had been targeted at increasing my control and connection to the spirits around me, I wasn’t surprised by her request, though I did wonder why we were doing this down on the beach. The dead followed me wherever I went. We could have done this just as easily from the warmth and privacy of the beach house’s kitchen.
Yours is not to question why
, I thought to myself, as I pulled my harmonica out of my pocket.
There is a theory in certain circles that ghosts feed off the emotions of the living, that by doing so they can regain, at least for a little while, some of what they have left behind. I don’t know if that’s true or not. What I do know is that they react to my music like it’s a drug of some kind, a balm to the soul that helps them ease the pain they’re feeling at being stranded between this world and the next. Like a junkie who refuses to give up his fix, some ghosts will sit there for hours listening to me play, until they have exhausted all of the energy it takes for them to manifest and they fade away into nothingness.
I spent a moment listening to the sounds of the world around me, the crash of the waves, the low murmur of the wind, trying to get a feel for the place, to sink into the here and now. That was one of the tricks Denise had taught me, and it had made this process a whole lot easier than it had been before. When I thought I was ready, I brought the harmonica to my mouth and began to play.
I’m not sure how it is that I know just what to play in times like this. I just do; the music just comes to me, like it’s been sitting down there deep in my soul, just waiting for the right moment to come out, and this time was no exception. A low mournful tune filled the air, and as I watched, one of the ghosts, a tall, thin man with thinning hair, dressed in a cheap suit and carrying a battered briefcase, stirred and began walking in our direction, following the sound of my music.
I kept playing until he stood within arm’s reach.
“Now borrow his sight, Jeremiah.”
That, too, had become old hat. I reached out to put my hand on his shoulder, but Denise stopped me.
“You don’t need that anymore, do you?”
She was right; I didn’t. Where once I’d had to touch my target in order to borrow its sight, the weeks of practice had shown me how to do it from across short distances. The closer I was to the ghost, the easier it was to make the connection, and this distance should be no trouble for me at all.
I let my hand fall to my side and focused my thoughts. There was a moment of dizziness, startling in its intensity, and then the taste of bitter ashes flooded my mouth and I was looking out through the eyes of a dead man.
It’s not what you’d think and certainly not what I ever expected. There’s this incredible explosion of color, ten times brighter and more vivid than anything I remember from the days before I lost my normal sight. And the things they can see! The supernatural denizens of the world are clearly visible to ghosts. They see everything, from the fallen angels that swoop over the narrow city streets on ash gray wings to the changelings that walk among us unseen, safe in their human guises. The glamourlike charms that supernatural entities use to conceal themselves from human sight are no match for the eyes of a ghost.
But what has always struck me as the cruelest irony is that ghosts can see emotions pouring off the living as plain as day. It’s like each one has its own wavelength, its own unique color, the same way light does when seen through a prism. And if that isn’t bad enough, then there’s the fact that it isn’t just the living that give off emotions the dead can no longer feel for themselves, but average everyday objects, too. If it was important to someone for some reason, an object would soak up whatever emotions the living attached to it. A child’s teddy bear might glow with the pure white light of unconditional love, while the hairbrush used to brush a woman’s long glossy hair might reflect the scarlet eroticism felt by her husband as he wielded it night after night over twenty years of marriage. The more important the object was to its owner, the brighter the glow.
Down here on the empty beach there weren’t any objects to focus on, and I’d long since gotten used to seeing Denise through the eyes of my sight. So I was starting to wonder what this was all about.
Thankfully, Denise didn’t keep me in suspense. “This is a test of control,” she said. “No matter what happens, I want you to maintain the link, all right?”
Piece of cake
, I thought.
Which just goes to show how blasé I’d been getting about my lessons lately.
When I’d first met Denise I’d thought her talents had been restricted to simple things like fortune-telling and scrying. What I used to think of as parlor tricks. The term
just didn’t conjure up images of Gandalf the Grey, if you know what I mean. But during our confrontation with the fetch and its sorcerous master, I’d seen some of what she was really capable of and had come to understand that Denise was a force to be reckoned with, a power in her own right. An affinity with nature wasn’t just about plants and healing poultices. After all, earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes were all part of the natural world as well. I just wasn’t expecting to run into any of them on a sandy beach in New Jersey.
After all I’d been through over the last few months, you’d think I would have taken Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “Expect the unexpected,” to heart by now.
Denise retreated up the beach toward the dunes, leaving me standing by the water’s edge with the ghost at my side. I could feel his interest waning now that the music had stopped, so I brought the harmonica back to my lips and played for a bit, strengthening the ties between us. Just when I was starting to wonder what Denise was up to, I caught sight of something moving down the beach toward me.
Or should I say under it.
Imagine a massive worm tunneling just beneath the surface, causing the ground to rise up several feet as it was displaced by the creature running beneath it, and you’d have some idea of what I was looking at. The fact that there were four of them headed in my direction didn’t help matters either. My entire being screamed at me to run.
I fought down the urge while doing what I could to maintain my link to the ghost beside me, reminding myself that this was a test of control. If I lost my vision now …
The ground beneath my feet began to shake and tremble as the things drew closer, but I planted my feet and simply willed myself to stay upright.
I was sweating by this point, wondering if I had made the right decision, as those four humps churned toward me with remarkable speed, and I prayed that I wasn’t about to become lunch for some supernatural denizens of the deep that I hadn’t yet learned about. Denise would have warned me if I was in trouble, wouldn’t she?
At the very last second, the creatures, if that’s what they were at all, dove deep beneath the surface, leaving the ground to shake for a moment beneath my feet. Then that too quieted down and grew still.
I grinned; my link with the ghost beside me remained intact, and I used my borrowed sight to focus on Denise and wave to her good-naturedly.
No sooner had my hand gone up than I was pummeled by a hurricane-like wind that seemingly sprang up out of nowhere. It knocked me to the ground and forced me to cover my eyes from the sting of the sand and grit that were carried along with it, but I recognized it for what it was, another test, and focused my concentration on maintaining my link to the ghost serving as my lab partner. The wind howled around me in a voice like a thousand banshees, but I refused to be distracted, and after a moment it died down as quickly as it had sprung up.