Excerpt for Odd Spirits by , available in its entirety at Smashwords









ODD SPIRITS

- a novella -


By S.T. Gibson







Copyright © 2018 Sarah Gibson


All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.


Eminence Publishing

Distributed through Smashwords


*



www.stgibson.com







This book is dedicated to my fear of death and proof of souls, Jay Anthony.







Acknowledgements


I would not be where I am today without the support of my family, colleagues, and the writing communities I’ve been blessed to participate in through Tumblr and Twitter. This book is the result of a lot of hard work on the part of my fantastic beta readers, some of whom read the draft twice over, and my beloved, who has workshopped this novella with me more times than is seemly to admit.








CHAPTER 1


As with anything else out of the ordinary, Rhys had been the first to notice. He wasn’t initially sure whether the scissors and neckties that went missing before turning up in improbable places were anything to be concerned about, so he attributed the strangeness to forgetfulness. He even managed to brush off the night he woke up feeling positive that something was in the bedroom with them, lingering just out of sight. In his line of work, you had to have a strong stomach for the uncanny. He did not consider himself a superstitious man.

However, when he opened the door to his study to find every single book removed from the shelves and arranged into tottering stacks on the floor, Rhys took the matter up with his wife.

“You can’t be serious” Moira said with a laugh. She had been tending a pot of chamomile and calendula simmering on the stove, and the billowing steam gave her skin a fresh-from-the-sauna glow. Little baggies of spices and bundles of dried herbs were spread across the counter in an explosion of color. The kitchen was the warmest room in their Hyde Park townhouse and so made an excellent makeshift greenhouse for Moira’s potted yarrow, five fingers grass, and high john. When Rhys had stepped through the kitchen door, their leaves had given a little shiver as though they were happy to see him.

He reached out to touch an adolescent oregano plant with leaves pressed against the windowpane, seeking the sun. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed weird things happening around the house lately.”

“I read fortunes for money and you’re a hobby occultist; I think we’re well beyond weird at this point.”

“Out of the ordinary, then.”

“Well, maybe. But…You don’t think I invited something in?”

Rhys shook his head while he cut himself a slice of Moira’s freshly-baked peach pie. She was often too busy with her private clients and erratic hours at the vintage clothing store to cook. But when she had the time, she filled the house with the scent of Georgia, and of summer.

“I don’t imagine it was intended.”

Moira huffed, sorting through the various items stuck into her up-do in search of a pen. She plucked some sprigs of freesia out of her kinky black hair before Rhys reached out to retrieve the ballpoint pen that was securing the hair at the nape of her neck.

“You’ve been doing a lot of dreamwork lately,” he continued gently. “And out-of-body meditation.”

“Yes, by going deeper into my own unconscious mind. It’s not like I just wander around in limbo saying hello to every spirit that wanders by. I’m a responsible astral traveler.”

“I’m not saying you’re irresponsible. I’m saying things hitchhike.”

“And I’m saying it’s probably just some negative energy passing through. Or an old resident of the house pitching a fit about our renovations to the guest bedroom.”

“The house isn’t haunted. We had it tested, remember?”

Moira clicked her pen and marked something down in the margins of her recipe book. At least Rhys thought it was a recipe book. Moira had a tendency to throw her recipes, astrological calculations, financial records, and notes on herbal medicine into the same dingy composition notebook. Rhys kept all of his esoteric research in labelled, encrypted files on his laptop, and never understood how his wife ever found what she was looking for.

For a moment it seemed like she was willing to consider what Rhys had to say. But then she scrunched up her nose and shook her head.

“I’m sure it will sort itself out,” she said. “Find me the honey, baby.”

Rhys rummaged around in the cupboard above the sink for the ceramic jar of local sourwood honey. Moira’s ingredients, at least, were a little better organized, with allocated shelves for dry herbs, essential oils, prepared tinctures, and so on.

Rhys sidled up beside his wife and kissed her shoulder as she took the jar from him.

“What are you brewing up over there on the stove? A hex to keep the neighbor’s cat from leaving dead moles in our driveway?”

Moira chuckled. “You should be flattered. Cats like magical people. That pot on the stove is just a facial toner. But this…” She spooned the honey over a collection of herbs layered atop each other in a small mason jar. “Is for Ms. Rivkin, the librarian. Her future father-in-law is being awful mean to her and I figure this ought to sweeten his disposition up before the wedding.”

“So how does this sort of operation…Operate? You just give it to her? Or to him?”

“My spells come in all shapes and sizes but they all work the same way: I bring together the proper energies and symbols, I infuse them with my intent, and then I give them to the client with instructions about how to bring their conscious and subconscious mind into alignment with that intent.”

Rhys watched his wife layer more cut flowers and honey into the jar and nodded along, even though he still wasn’t quite sure about the particularities of the whole thing. He was used to magical operations that required expensive international orders of rare resins and incenses, and he wasn’t sure he could whip up a spell from household items if someone held a gun to his head and told him his life depended on it. That wasn’t even taking into consideration the painstakingly correct pronunciation of transliterated words necessary for Rhys’ operations to deliver on what the spellbooks promised. ‘Intent’ didn’t count for a lot.

“I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”

Moira’s shoulder’s sagged as put her final touches on the concoction, and Rhs wasn’t sure if something he had said upset her. He considered asking after her mood, but opted instead to take her by the wrist and kiss the tips of her fingers, suckling off sweetness where he found it.

“Did you ask for payment, miss witch?”

He gave her the wry smile of someone who already had his answer, and Moira made an irritated sound in the back of her throat.

“It’s just a little spell. It hardly takes any time at all.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

She dropped a lock of hair tied with blue thread into the jar, then screwed the lid shut tightly.

“I just hate imposing.”

“When are you going to let me make you an Instagram?”

“When I’m dead.”

“Oh come on! Imagine it: snaps of you busy at work in the kitchen, aesthetic pictures of butterflies in the herb garden or candles next to your full moon baths. People eat that stuff up! We could advertise a range of services and voila! Spiritual entrepreneurship. It’s very on-trend right now.”

Moira brushed her cheek against Rhys’ and then nipped him lightly on the nose.

“I prefer to find my clients the old-fashioned way. Word of mouth and elbow grease.”

“Suit yourself,” he said, returning to his untouched slice of pie. When he took a bite, the color drained from his face. The plate clattered against the countertop as Rhys set it down and pushed it away.

“Moira, how old is this? It’s gone bad; the peaches taste rotten.”

“That’s impossible; I got those at the farmer’s market yesterday. They were perfect.”

She plucked up Rhys’ fork and took a bite, then promptly spit it out in the trash can.

Displeasure knotted up her mouth she worked the last of the rancid taste out from between her teeth.

“Okay…that’s very weird.”

Rhys’ dark eyes shone smug and self-satisfied.

“Call that negative energy?”

Moira sniffed, then turned to slap a canning label on the completed spell jar.

“It’s just bad vibrations or something. Open a window and let some air in. It’ll pass.”


***


The intruder went largely uncommented-on for the next few days, despite the otherwise secure paintings that crashed to the ground and the nighttime knockings that stirred Moira from sleep. It wasn’t uncommon for the doorbell to ring in the wee hours with someone on the other side sobbing for a tarot reading, a charm bag, advice, anything. Moira always let them in, much to Rhys’ sleep-deprived chagrin. Lately however, she would pull on her robe and hurry downstairs, straightening her spine and summoning the most soothing expression she could at two in the morning....only to find that no one was outside.

The knockings and clatterings were not regarded fondly by the couple, but they did become familar, and by the end of the week Rhys and Moira had almost gotten used to it. Then, on Saturday night, Moira marched into Rhy’s study wrapped in a towel.

Rhys looked up from the research he was doing, one hand tousled in his chestnut hair that always wanted for trimming. When he saw Moira’s state of undress he pushed his charts of planetary hours away.

“Is this a sexual overture of some kind?”

“I’ve come to pick a bone,” Moira said. She was dripping all over the elaborate pentagram Rhys had drawn onto the hardwood with some chalk and the straight edge of a Latin primer. The apples of her dark-skinned shoulders reflected the low light from the wall fixtures in hues of honey-gold.

“So no?”

She was pacing around now, trailing water and her bad mood across the study.

“So I’m in my bath. I’m unwinding with a mugwort cigarette, I’ve got incense burning, I’m listening to Drake.”

Rhys leaned back in his leather chair, the one he had lifted from the dean’s office at the university when the old man retired.

“I’m following.”

“And all of a sudden I hear this really awful, and I mean terrible voice come right out of the faucet, speaking God knows what kind of language. And just when I’m feeling scared shitless every pipe in the damn wall starts to rattle and I am out of that bath in a flash. And then I think to myself: how could this have happened? How could something so nasty have gotten into my house? And then I remember.” She turned on him, black eyes hard as flint. “My husband thinks it’s fun to call up demons for late night chit-chats.”

Rhys kneaded his temples with the tips of his fingers. “We’ve been over this, Moira, they aren’t demons.”

“How many times have I told you summoning circles are dangerous?”

“A summoning circle, when well-cast and properly closed, is perfectly safe.”

At that moment, the portrait on the wall behind him began to weep blood. Moira, frozen by horror, stood stock still. Then her fear melted into anger and she gave her husband a withering glance.

“What part of coercing these things into telling you what you want to know is safe?”

Rhys turned to daub at the possessed portrait with a tissue. The blood was dribbling down onto the rug and congealing into a tacky stain, and if he had not been in the middle of a disagreement with his wife, he might have been impressed with the quality of the manifestation.

“The methods I use have been painstakingly recorded in the Goetia. By observing proper procedure when I call and bind them, I can question any spirit I want without putting myself at risk. I told you when I met you; this is what my magical practice looks like. You said you were fine with it.”

Moira gnawed at her lips, which had gone ashen in the wake of the bloody painting. She watched the delicate red rivulets trickle down the old poet’s face, reproduced from an original done in oils. Very little of Rhys’ study was authentically vintage— they couldn’t afford that quite yet— but he took pains to make it appear as though it was.

“I wish you could just do your research on Wikipedia like the rest of us,” soira said.

Rhys, a research librarian by trade an in temperament, was a little affronted by the suggestion that Wikipedia was a valid academic source. He gave up on his attempt to salvage the painting and tossed the tissue down on his desk.

“These spirits have been around since before recorded history. They know more about the universe than Wikipedia does.”

A sickly chill swept through the room, causing Moira to draw her towel tighter around herself

“Listen, I don’t care what you do with your friends at your boys’ club meetings, but I’ve made it clear I don’t like you bringing that stuff home with you.”

Rhys, feeling rather badly represented in the whole situation, scrambled to advocate for himself.

“I’m telling you I didn’t do this!”

“Then do whatever ceremonial shit it takes to fix this, Rhys. I’m serious.”

“When I call something up, I send it away when I’m done; it doesn’t stick around and bang my cupboards at all hours of the night. Besides, most of the spirits I summon are perfectly civil. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

Moira was already padding towards the door.

“Whatever arrangement you have with this thing,” she called over her shoulder, “End it.”


CHAPTER 2


They had met because they had the same suppliers. The nearest metaphysical shop was an hour away, and Moira wasn’t really the pentacles and crushed velvet type anyway, so she spent her Saturdays visiting the local gem store, gardening center, and stationery shop in order to meet her varied needs. Running a spiritual consultancy business out of her dorm room wasn’t easy, but she was getting good at shopping for spell ingredients on a budget, and had learned to hide her open flame candles whenever the RA dropped by.

Moira had begun to notice the same man while running her errands: sharply dressed and inevitably reading long and precise lists of necessities off his phone to the shopkeeper. She sometimes stole a glance at him while she was buying her selenite or packets of yarrow seeds, just long enough to catch him holding a crystal sphere up to the light or signing a request order for sheaf parchment. Moira had always found something about his focused air charming. That is, until she got stuck behind him in line at the candlemaker’s with three heavy beeswax candles balanced in her arms.

“I’m sorry, but they all have to be exactly the same size,” he told the cashier. “Twelve inches.”

She peered around the man’s shoulder to find him comparing two white taper candles by holding them upright next to each other. Ten more lay on the counter.

“I can trim the longer ones, but shorter ones won’t do,” he fretted. “Listen I’m awfully sorry but do you have a tape measure?”

The shopkeeper muttered something and began rummaging around behind the counter. Moira set her candles on the ground with a clatter. She had a feeling she was going to be in line for a long time.

Moira watched quietly as the man measured each candle before allowing the cashier to bag it. He had beautiful, long fingered hands.

She breathed in, second-guessing herself until the last possible moment. Then she said,

“I doubt a stray centimeter is going to ruin any ceremony worth its salt.”

The man turned to scan her face with eyes so brown they were almost black. His gaze was unscrupulous, but Moira stood her ground in her platform sandals and stared right back. He had that look; arresting and incisive with something velvet-soft just under the surface. Magician’s eye, her mother always called it.

Finally Rhys turned away from her and said,

“Details matter. God and the devil and all that.”

“Well, here’s hoping one of them shows up.”

A smile touched his mouth briefly before darting away.

“That’s the idea.” He nodded down towards the candles at her feet. “Litha?”

She smirked, pleased with their little guessing game. Litha was a witches’ sabbat, one of six seasonal holidays celebrated by Wiccans in particular and earth-minded spiritualists widely. In her family they just called the holiday the summer solstice, but she would give him partial credit for his guess.

“I’m brewing mead, too. Are you Wiccan?”

Rhys noticed that the cashier was watching them, and he deftly swiped his credit card, plucked up his bags, and turned to leave.

“Ah, no. I’m more of a traditionalist.”

“Oh.” She tugged at the hook on her overalls for a minute, not sure how to proceed. “Well. Nice to meet you.”

Rhys smiled cordially and slipped by, but he touched her lightly on the wrist as he passed and said,

“Enjoy the solstice.”

Moira smelled rosemary and watery men’s aftershave, and suddenly her face felt hot. Before she could say anything he was gone, the bell on the door dinging behind him. She watched through the shop windows as he unlocked the driver’s side door to a gunmetal Lincoln parked on the street. A Williams College sticker was displayed proudly in the back window, and a rosary hung from the rearview mirror.

The cashier cleared his throat.

Moira tore her eyes away from the car and gave a weak little smile.

“Receipt, please,” she said.


***


The weeping paintings and malfunctioning plumbing continued as the days progressed. When Rhys went off to work, Moira was often overcome by a creeping sensation that she wasn’t alone in the house. Her anxiety was only worsened by the onset of autumn, which meant that her hours at the vintage store would dwindle and Rhys’ schedule in special collections would be full to bursting. While her husband had his hands full with freshman seminars on proper research technique and back-to-back viewing sessions for faculty who just had to examine their Cuneiform cylinders or illuminated manuscripts before week’s end, she was followed around the house by her growing sense of unease. Sometimes this sensation came with scuffling footsteps that vanished as soon as she whirled to face them.


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