The Soul Shredder – Halloween Month

For the final story of Halloween Month, I’d like to take you to a darker realm where monsters run rampant and the unthinkable finds a way to permeate our reality. “The Soul Shredder” is a short story that first made its appearance in The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural. At its heart, it explores the idea of consequences. There is an old adage: You Are Free to Choose but You Are Not Free From the Consequences of Your Choice. At this very unique time, with the world poised in so many instances precariously on the precipice of personal choice, we might want to take a moment to consider the consequences we are choosing. Seen or unseen, eventually, and without fail, they always come around. Food for thought. I hope you enjoy “The Soul Shredder,” and do have a Happy Halloween.

The Soul Shredder

“Is the light bothering you?”

He had dimmed the lights in anticipation of her visit, but she silently shook her head in negation staring out of his office window into the waning light of the November evening. He settled behind his desk, waiting for his last patient of the evening to speak to him. It was a new patient, oddly enough referred by an optometrist — some sort of odd reaction to cornea surgery. Evidently, he wanted to rule out psychological ramifications.

“Quite frankly, Randall, this is a shot in the dark. I’ve no idea what’s going on here. I’ve done all the tests I can, and the eyes themselves seem healthy, unusually resilient after the surgery. So, all this junk she’s seeing, I can’t account for it. It goes way beyond floaters or adjustment or anything I’ve seen or read about before.”

“So, you think it’s in her mind.”

There was a silence on the other end of the phone. But Randall waited, if he was anything he was patient. It was a tool of the trade. He heard an exasperated sigh, strange reaction from a physician. Then again, he’d met more than a few who were enamored of their own ability and couldn’t fathom a problem eclipsing their talents. He himself did not suffer from such grand illusions. Time and life had showed him quite a different world. And then, after a protracted silence, his friend had relented, “I don’t know. I can’t call this one. She has a peculiar history. Bad eyesight all her life, until now. Maybe it was too much for her. I don’t know. Just see what you think.”

And so, the appointment was made and cancelled twice. That conversation had been nearly a month ago. But this evening, last appointment of the day, she’d finally shown up.

Randall Callahan leaned back in his large, dark brown, leather chair and tried to stretch out his neck a bit. It ached from the tension that he carried there. He glanced at the clock, six o’ five. His receptionist had already left for the evening, pleading personal obligations. She rarely as a matter of course stuck around past five thirty. It had been only for the last three months that he’d begun scheduling later appointments. His divorce was final, his house empty. There was nothing to go home to. So, he might as well allow the night to stretch on. He cleared his throat to gain her attention. She still stood by the window overlooking Poydras Street below. His office was on the twelfth floor of one of the taller office buildings in the area. But she didn’t move an inch in response, just remained standing with her back to him. “Do your eyes still bother you from the surgery Ms. Wilshire?”

“No,” her voice was soft, nearly imperceptible.

“Well, is it the light here? Is it too strong for you?” She turned around to face him slowly, her face still masked by the pair of large oval sunglasses that she wore. She was a slight woman, perhaps 5’4″, 5’5″ at most, small build, definitely on the thin side with shoulder-length blonde hair. Her face was hard to determine, given the glasses, seemed attractive he thought, but difficult to tell without seeing the eyes. He’d always thought the eyes the most telling part of a person’s appearance and personality. “Dr. Lariviera said that you complained of some light sensitivity. That is why you continue to wear the sunglasses. I did dim the lights in here in anticipation of your coming.”

“Does he think I’m having a breakdown?” she asked somewhat sedately.

Randall straightened up a bit, struck by the directness of the question. “Did he say that to you?”

“No, he did not. I suspect that would have been a tad bit blunt for him. He’s not a very honest man.”

“Why would you say that Ms. Wilshire, or can I call you Lila?”

She shrugged a bit, “It’s my impression. He tells you what you want to hear and then,” she paused, as if trying to collect her thoughts, “and then makes arrangements behind your back.”

“You mean consulting me.”

She nodded, “I wonder how many patients of optometrists end up in a psychiatrist’s office.”

“Well,” he laughed a bit, “perhaps those who have adjusting to do.”

“He thinks I have adjusting to do?”

“Well, what do you think Lila? Has your life changed since the operation on your corneas?”

“Changed?” she emphasized the word in an odd way. “Well, I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”

He lightly strummed his fingers on his desk. “How would you put it?”

He thought she’d smiled but couldn’t be sure. The damn glasses, she would be so much easier to read if he could only see her eyes. “Dr. Callahan, is it? Or can I call you Randall?”

He shrugged noncommittally, caught a bit by her repetition of his earlier statement. “If you’re more comfortable doing so.”

Unexpectedly, she drifted closer to his desk. And he felt an impulsive chill transverse his spine. But she stopped, oddly right on the heels of that sensation. “What exactly did Dr. Lariviera say to you Randall?”

“Well, he said you’ve experienced some odd vision anomalies since the procedure. He told me you’d lived a long time with extremely bad sight, but the advances in laser surgeries allowed him to correct most of your problems. But there have been—”‘

And she interrupted, “Adjustment problems?” cutting him off directly.

“Is that the case?”

“If they were ordinary, I don’t imagine I’d be here.”

He shifted in his seat a bit and rubbed his bearded chin for a moment, as in some sort of contemplation. It would buy him time and hopefully put her off a bit. Her directness he found disconcerting. “He did say they were outside his area of expertise. He wanted to eliminate any other possibilities.”

“Psychological ones?”

He paused, deciding to refocus things, “Does the light bother your eyes, Lila?”

“Why?”

He swallowed, “I’d like to see your eyes. I connect more easily with a patient if—” and then his voice faltered, as he understood how odd his request must sound.

“I’m tired.”

“Would you like to sit down?”

“You don’t understand. I’m tired of covering up, of lying. It’s using me up Randall.” Her statement he found a bit surprising. Her voice was so flat, devoid of emotion. It didn’t match this eloquent plea for help.

“You don’t have to lie here Lila.”

She shook her head in negation, “I only told him a little bit, Dr. Lariviera, just a little bit. And he smiled, told me it was all right, and then I ended up here. If I tell you, where will I end up?”

“I can’t help you Lila, if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”

She stared down for a moment at the floor. And he waited, wondering if this was leading anywhere, feeling inexplicably unsettled by the whole business. But then, she raised her head again to face him. “It’s not the light that bothers my eyes.”

“It’s not?” he asked.

“No, it’s just that the glasses keep me from seeing them.”

He drew a breath, trying to process what she’d said, “Seeing what exactly?”

Her hands both lifted simultaneously. And as she placed her hands on either side of the sunglass frames, he could see that they were trembling, shaking nearly uncontrollably. Slowly, she pulled the sunglasses off her face and pulled them down so that he could finally see her. And in this most peculiar moment that he could only describe as odd, almost shocking, he wasn’t at all sure if he was looking at something exquisite or something bordering on hideous. They were blue, the eyes, but pale blue like a faded sky, or like something that had been shielded from the sun all its life. He stifled a gasp. But then the eyes widened and looked beyond him, suddenly examining every space in the room. “I suppose they come from all the different people who come through here,” she whispered huskily. “They carry them and leave them about.”

He followed her gaze and glanced about, seeing nothing but his office as he had always seen it. “What are you talking about, them?”

She wrapped her arms tightly around her, looking a bit stricken, but still not focusing on him, just somewhere else beyond. “It’s my eyes you see. He corrected everything too much. I see too much now.”

“So, Randall, you met with our strange case last night, Lila Wilshire.”

He checked his watch. It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet. He was just walking into the building, cup of coffee that he’d picked up on the way still clutched in his hands. He’d have to speak to Carla, his receptionist, about giving out his personal, cell phone number. “I’m actually just getting to my office George. How about I give you a call later?”

“Look, I’m not looking for anything in-depth, just an impression. Is she off the deep end?”

He paused in the lobby, scooping up a morning paper from the security desk. “It’s a little early for all that.”

The voice at the other end sounded oddly rattled, something he found perplexing. But then again, yesterday’s appointment had definitely left him in a similar frame. “Is that it?”

“I just don’t want to make a premature diagnosis. I’m sure you can understand that.”

“So, you’ll be seeing her again.”

“Yes, today, in about an hour.”

He was nervous. Last night’s appointment with Lila Wilshire had fallen somewhere in that gray area between unnerving and downright bizarre. His formal training as a psychologist should have immediately categorized her as a disturbed personality, fraught with extreme bouts of depression and hallucinogenic episodes. That is if it had been anyone else that would be his prognosis. But somehow, somewhere, she’d struck a deep chord within him that quite clearly told him she was credible. His intercom beeped, with Carla announcing, “Ms. Wilshire is here.”

Uncharacteristically, his heart picked up its beat. He was a bit surprised. Given her reticence in seeing him initially, he had half expected her not to come at all today, even though he’d strongly urged her to do so.

“It’s essential we explore these visions of yours Lila.”

“Why,” she’d asked quite flatly. “Do you think you can make them stop Randall? Do you really think that’s in your power?”

He answered the intercom, “Tell her to come in please.” Quite quickly, the door to his office opened as he stood up from his desk.

Again, she noiselessly entered, wearing the same nearly oversized pair of sunglasses. She was dressed in a fitted suit of light blue, an outfit that would be striking if not for the odd eyewear. He smiled, determined in the bright light of day to get on a proper footing, a place devoid of so many shadows as was the evening before. “How did you sleep?” was his greeting.

She shrugged, “My sleep hasn’t been good since the operation. I consider myself lucky if I get a few hours.”

“Really?” he sat down, as she seated herself in a chair on the other side of his desk. “That’s not good. I could prescribe you something for sleep.”

“I don’t know,” she murmured. “I like to be aware.” But she didn’t elaborate.

He picked up a ballpoint pen from his desk. He realized dimly that it had been a present from his wife — an impulse gift last year, or had it been the year before? “Aware of what Lila?” he asked simply.

She leaned back in the leather chair that faced him and smiled he thought. “You remember Randall. We talked about it last night.”

He absently spun the pen around on his mahogany desk, “You talked about them, things you see.”

“And you didn’t believe me.” He glanced up. She was still, eyes focused on him, or as much as he could tell behind the sunglasses.

“That’s not true.”

“It’s not?”

“I didn’t disbelieve you.”

She laughed unexpectedly. It was a harsher laugh than he expected — not soft like the exterior but brittle like twisted metal. “Now that’s not the same as believing. I bet your wife had fits with you committing to anything.”

His eyes widened, trying to digest what he’d heard. “What did you say?”

“I said I bet your wife has fits with you committing. You equivocate.”

“That’s not what you said. You said had fits — past tense.”

She tilted her head a bit in surprise, “Did I? Well, you aren’t wearing a wedding ring. That would make it past tense, would it not?”

“What makes you think I was married at all?”

Then her head straightened, “Last night, when I looked at you. It was obvious. I could see it.”

“See it?” he echoed.

“When I took off the glasses, I could simply see it. I can’t really tell you what, but I could see.”

“Take them off now and tell me what you see.”

She shook her head. “It exhausts me. I don’t want to.”

“Are you afraid of seeing them, whatever it was you saw last night?”

“I’m tired Randall, not afraid but tired. Do you see the difference? Whatever is there is simply there.”

“Take them off. I want to know what you see,” he compelled.

She hesitated, “You want to know. I thought all of this was for me.”

He cleared his throat, “I can’t help you, if I don’t know what you’re seeing.”

And then he detected another smile, “You do equivocate Randall.”

Quite calmly, sharply in contrast to the drama of the night before, she reached up and took off the glasses as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Again, he was struck by the unearthly shade of her eyes, but in the morning clarity they seemed more normal, not quite so startling. She stared at him directly, quite calmly, not looking about her frantically as she had before.

“What’s changed Lila? Last night, all of this seemed quite disturbing to you.”

She shrugged, looking at him serenely and yet coldly. “I don’t know. I think I’ve given up.”

He leaned in a bit, struck by her words. “Given up? What does that mean?”

“I’ve decided not to fight what is, not to try to change it, not to try to make the world what I want it to be. I’ve stopped fighting it all.”

“So, then you aren’t seeing them today?”

Her cold eyes warmed, ever so slightly. “I am.”

“Now?”

“Now.” She repeated.

He glanced around. “Can you describe it to me?”

She nodded, rather blankly. “Your room here is infested with different things, some fly, some crawl. Most are smallish, no bigger than the size of my extended hand.”

He smiled, and then a chill flew over him that seemed to support her assertion. “And what do you think these things are?”

Her pale blue eyes widened. “I think they’re parasites.”

“Parasites of what?”

“Of living Randall, that’s all I’ve been able to put together. They come. They live off of us.”

“All of us?”

She frowned, with a look of fatigue marking her features. “I don’t know exactly. I’ve noticed people with problems, who are weak in some way seem to have more. I suppose they’re more vulnerable.”

He shook his head, “Problems? What do you mean sick?”

“Not always, emotional problems, I think it has something to do with energy fields. But then sometimes they just come in great hordes and attack no matter what.”

He was listening but glanced down at the hand that was gripping his pen more tightly hand than he realized. It was disturbing to him, this conversation, more than he cared to admit. “When you say attack Lila, what does that mean?”

She glanced away, toward the window that she’d spent so much time staring out last night. “I’m not really sure Randall. Just that they feed somehow from us, take something, because they get stronger.” He sat back, thinking for a moment, not at all sure where to take this. “You’re trying to decide whether to believe me. You know it doesn’t matter if you do or not.”

“Where do you think these things come from Lila?” was his next question, not willing yet to deal with what she’d just said.

“I don’t think they come from anywhere really. I think they’re just here, and now I can see them,” and then she swallowed hesitantly, “them and—”

He followed the direction of her eyes that seemed to be on the wall directly behind him. He looked, but again there was only an emptiness. Then, he turned back to her, “And what?”

“I’m not sure,” she whispered. “But I was worried about it. I came in your reception area last week and saw it. That’s why I cancelled. But then I was worried—” she was almost stammering, nearly unable to put into words what she was trying to express.

“Worried about?” he asked, feeling an odd panic surfacing in his stomach.

And then the eyes, unearthly pure blue eyes looked at him, and seemed to pierce him on some level. “There’s a real problem Randall, a real problem here. It’s following you I think, shadowing you — a thing, a dark thing hunting something.”

Her words struck him as fantasy suddenly, nonsensical. “What are you talking about Lila?”

“I’m not sure. I’m not sure, but I think it’s a soul shredder.”

There momentarily was a stillness that seemed to engulf them. “What did you say?” he asked, quite assured that he couldn’t have heard correctly.

And then her voice came to him in a whisper and yet felt like an odd discordant shout inside his head. “I said it’s a soul shredder.”

His eyes widened as her initial response was reaffirmed. As the cold hand of detached reason finally reached inside him and shook him soundly, he concluded the only reasonable assumption that was now available from his vast pool of professional experience. The woman was clearly, completely out of her mind.

The wind chapped her face as she walked away from the tall skyscraper that housed the office of Dr. Randall Callahan. It was a bright November day, so she was not at all out of place wearing her overly large sunglasses. But eventually, night would come and then so would the odd stares, but that was something she could bear more easily than the alternative. She took one last glance back at the building that she had exited merely moments before.

A sinking feeling of disappointment tangled around her insides. She’d misread him completely, the doctor. Initially, he’d seemed to have a greater capacity of awareness than nearly anyone she’d come into contact with in a very long time. It was less that she knew this, than she felt it — felt it as strongly as she had felt the shroud of disenchantment that he wore like a regal cloak. She’d always been able to read people, long before she could see through them, as she did now.

She headed into the parking garage where she’d parked her car. Her head throbbed from that morning’s session. She imagined that fear had gotten a hold of him. That was why he’d stopped listening to her, started greeting her with the psychological doubletalk of a well-seasoned professional, the demeanor of one who had already dismissed their patient. It was remarkably disheartening to her. In an odd way, in a very short time, she’d come to like the doctor. He wasn’t at all what one would call conventionally handsome, but instead someone who was well-worn, already a face showing signs of age, wrinkles around his dark brown eyes, but a warmth there, of course a shrewdness as well. The profession, she imagined, left one jaded.

And it was all a shame, because she hadn’t intended to see him at all, not until she’d seen it near him.

She reached the darkened second level and walked to her small beige sedan. Her hand hesitated near the handle. Guilt swept through her. She shouldn’t have done that, left him alone with it. It didn’t make sense, no sense at all — why him? Why him?

His 10:30 had cancelled. So, he had the option of waiting until after lunch for his next appointment or going out. But he couldn’t seem to drag himself out of his chair. It bothered him immensely, more than he could say —— her story, her long winding story, and then his reaction to it.

“So, this — what did you call it?”

She smiled, in that odd, removed way of hers, “Soul shredder.”

“Why do you call it that?”

Then a shadow had passed over her translucent blue eyes. “It’s very complicated.”

“How so? Isn’t this something you’ve only seen since the procedure with Dr. Lariviera?”

There was a definitive, prolonged hesitation, and he had concluded in this self-created fantasy that she was weaving, it took time to extrapolate out the details. So, he was placating and gave her the space that she needed to weave. “Actually, I remember it from before, maybe not this one but one like it.”

“Before?” he questioned.

“Yes,” she nodded. “You see, my eyes weren’t always bad. When I was little, they were quite clear.”

“Little, how little?”

“I don’t know, seven, maybe eight. Sometime after that I got sick, very sick with a high fever. That was when my eyes were damaged.”

He nodded, beginning loosely to get a picture of where this was leading. “So, this thing, soul shredder, you believe you saw it before, back then.”

Steadily, her gaze took his, and he felt keenly as though she was seeing right past him, past all those hidden places that even esteemed doctors of psychiatry kept locked away. “I did see it, Randall. The others, all the other things I didn’t, but this one I remember clearly.”

He swallowed on a bone-dry throat. It was beginning to annoy him how much all of this affected him. “Under what circumstances?”

The pale blue eyes were steady on him, but she was considering he thought — considering whether to continue at all. Perhaps, he had reached the secret core finally of all of this nonsense. And he would find something he could make sense of. “I would see one, like this one, but not completely the same, around my uncle.”

“Your Uncle?”

She nodded, “Yes, he stayed with us one summer. We lived in the country. I remember clearly that summer. And it would be around him, at first once and awhile then more, then always.”

He waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t. She just sat in stillness before him, waiting for more questions, more prodding from him. Returning from that distant place of memory, she focused completely on him. “Are you all right Dr. Callahan?”

He had to smile. It wasn’t Randall as before. Now it was Dr. Callahan. And he wondered quite distortedly why he deserved that title. He pulled himself tightly back into his role. “Why? Lila, why do you think it—” And then his voice faded off, not at all sure what he wanted to know. “Why was it around him?”

Her voice was soft but deliberate. “I can’t be sure. I think I know, to feed. It fed off him. I would see it sometimes, doing that.”

“See it how?”

Her face seemed strained at the question, as though it were painful to recollect. And then he mentally corrected himself. It wasn’t a recollection. After all, he had decided she was weaving. “I saw it, a lot before he left,” her voice was nearly trembling as she spoke. “With its hand, it would reach right into his chest and pull something out and eat it. I know how bizarre it sounds, but it would.”

“What did it pull out? Was it blood, tissue? What did you see Lila?” he asked, with an uncanny need to know.

“It pulled out light. It pulled the light out of him and then ate it.” His head pounded at the vision that she had evoked in his mind. “I don’t know how I knew, but I did even then. I knew it was his soul. It was slowly eating his soul.”

He nodded, feeling an odd nausea boiling up inside him, “Soul shredder.”

She shrugged, “Just a designation, but it stuck with me all these years.”

“Was there anyone else?”

Her face seemed to blanche a bit. “What?”

“Was there anyone else that this thing attacked other than your uncle?”

“No, I—I never saw it. But there were other people around.”

“Well, what made him unique?” Question marked her face. “Why him Lila and no one else?” She glanced away, not answering, and he was sure that she knew. And just as sure that she must tell him before she left his office. “It’s important, especially if you’re seeing one around here.”

“But you don’t believe me.” Her voice was distant.

“You must have some idea why.”

She sighed wearily, a sound that seemed to come from deep inside, “Yes, I suppose. I think it hunts certain kinds of people.”

He nodded encouragingly, “What kind?” His voice sounded a bit hard to him given the circumstances, but there was the gnawing need inside him now to understand, to understand everything.

“People, I think, who’ve made themselves vulnerable.”

“Vulnerable?”

“Yes,” her eyes had wandered to that window again, where she had spent so much time the night before. He could see now that it was a kind of refuge for her.

“How did your uncle make himself vulnerable Lila?”

“I think he damaged himself, his soul maybe. He did things that, well, must have marked him some way.”

He breathed in deeply, as the picture began to solidify in his mind. Her voice, so vulnerable now, so young. He’d heard that tone before, so familiar, in victims, very young ones. And then he asked the question that made the picture complete. “Did your uncle, did he do things to you Lila?”

Her eyes turned on him, the blue translucent eyes, on him now, hard and biting. “Did he molest me, are you asking that?”

“Yes,” he asked coolly, “is that how he marked himself for this thing to feed on?”

Their eyes clashed in the moment. And he knew, he had his answer, and now a very easy solution to this self-concocted delusion that she had presented him with.  “Yes, I think so Randall. But that doesn’t make it any less the truth, the fact that he hurt me. It doesn’t make it any the less true that one of those things is standing behind you right at this moment.”

He waited, feeling a distinctive chill pass over him. But he brushed it aside deliberately. “It is helpful for a child’s mind to concoct ways to lessen their pain, even creatures that might take on the role of the avenger, punisher, for them.”

She smiled grimly, “You really believe I’ve made this up.”

“No,” he said quite coldly. “I believe your uncle molested you. The rest I’m quite sure is a fantasy.”

She stood up, a marked expression of disappointment now marring her exquisite face. “What about the one I see near you? Aren’t you at all concerned that I might be right?”

“Have you seen it reach into my chest and pull out pieces of my soul?” he asked flatly.

She stared at him for a moment, then beyond him, finally shaking her head. “No, no I haven’t.”

He stood up, feeling quite justified in the growing disdain that he felt for the woman before him. “Well fantasy or not, Lila, I can assure you I’ve never molested anyone nor plan to.”

She looked at him a little sadly, a little beaten as though some battle somewhere had been lost. “There are other ways to mark yourself Randall. Please be careful. It wouldn’t be here for no reason at all.” And then picking up her purse from where she left it on the floor, she turned toward the door. Not looking back, but instead putting on her sunglasses, she opened the door and left.

The encounter had been incredibly draining for him. He considered having Carla call Lila Wilshire to schedule another appointment but then thought the better of it.

As he sat in his chair behind his mahogany desk, Randall Callahan considered things carefully. Considered his life, his anger, and mostly carefully rethought his plans to murder his ex-wife. Regardless of what he would do, he believed Lila Wilshire and knew that the soul shredder was only waiting for his next move.

Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert

The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural

Halloween is the time of year when that veil between worlds is thinned, and you can just catch a quick glimpse into the realm of the unknowable. In this collection of short stories, Evelyn Klebert takes you to a place where ordinary life splinters into the sphere of the paranormal.

The journey begins with one woman’s unstoppable quest for vengeance against a supernatural creature in “Wolves,” and continues in an old historical graveyard where a horrifying discovery is uncovered in “Emma Fallon.” In “The Soul Shredder,” a psychiatrist’s unusual patient opens his eyes to a disturbing new view of reality, while in “Wildflowers,” a woman strikes up a supernatural friendship with impossible implications. And in “The Left Palm,” a fortuneteller in the French Quarter receives a most unexpected and terrifying customer.

Wolves (Halloween Month)

My fourth story for Halloween Month is a tale of a werewolf and a woman seeking vengeance at any cost. Ethan Garraint made his first appearance in this short story in a collection entitled The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural and then later surfaced in another story called “The Broken Window.” At that point, I felt as though he’d truly earned his own novel, so I penned The Broken Vow: Vol. I. of the Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf whose newly revised edition has just been released. Currently, I am finishing up its sequel, so only time will tell what further adventures this particular lycanthrope will have. Enjoy!

Wolves

“Wolves.”

His eyes widened from behind the rather well-worn spectacles that he wore precariously perched on the edge of his nose. He wasn’t a young man, but in contrast a wiry, elderly fellow, who didn’t much like change and even less surprises. So, in a procrastinating fashion, he removed the glasses, pulling an old handkerchief from his back pocket and leisurely wiping the lenses while his still razor sharp mind contemplated a backdoor out of this dilemma. He sighed, again positioning the glasses on the end of his nose and giving just the hint of a smile that said he was just an old fool, running a curio shop in the French Quarter. Taking a deep breath that felt clearly as though it rattled deeply somewhere in the recesses of his brittle ribs, he played his best cards. “Is there something in particular I could help you with today?”

There was the finest flicker of a smile across a pair of young and dark red lips. The eyes in a fine-boned oval face stared back at him as though they were neatly and concisely ripping away the layers of his well-contrived façade. The eyes were green. His wife Roberta of nearly sixty years had green eyes as well, but not at all like these. His wife’s were filled with light and color. But not these, these were dark like a forest on the verge of night. Any light that tried to reflect was muffled out by something unseen within.

The mouth was moving, and he was watching it in a curious way, compelled perhaps, he thought, somewhat distantly. Was she trying to entrance him or suffocate him? At this moment, both felt like a tangible probability.

“Wolves,” she murmured again. Of course, he knew of what she was speaking. He might play the fool from time to time, but he certainly wasn’t one. Long ago he was told when it was first placed in his keeping that someone would come for it one day with only that single word as their calling card. And he out of more than obligation — out of a binding indisputable agreement — must surrender it. Of course, at the time he was well-paid, in fact had never been better paid for any single acquisition in all his years. But it was so long ago, thirty, perhaps closer to forty years back. And that payment was just a distant, fleeting memory now. While the object itself, well, it was worth an untold fortune.

Abruptly interrupting the meandering of his mind, he felt a slim hand come to rest on his. His eyes looked down. They were long slender fingers, flesh that was paler than warmed by the sun. But then the delicate hand began to squeeze with a strength he did not understand. “I don’t have time for this old man. Give it to me,” she rasped. Those lightless eyes were wide now and so very frightening to him.

“Give you what?” He choked out. But it was his final lie. For in his mind as clear as though he were seeing it before him, his building, his store of so many years, and him within were being engulfed in flames. It must be happening now, in the moment, for the flames were wildly everywhere, burning him, scorching his flesh on his arms, until he could see the white of his very own skeleton. “Uoohh!” he gasped, the unintelligible and desperate words of a dying man.

And then clearly, sharply penetrating into the horror of his own hell, he heard a voice; a voice speaking to him within his own mind. “Now let’s try this again,” she whispered, because there was no need to shout. She had won. “Wolves,” this time it rolled off her tongue like the sweetest poetry.

“This is foolishness, pure foolishness my dear.”

She grimaced, “So you’ve said.” She perched the cell phone a bit unstably on her shoulder and checked the rear-view mirror. What was foolish was taking a call on an unfamiliar highway while she was driving an unfamiliar rental car.

“Where are you now?”

“I’m driving.” Luckily, it was a clear stretch — this last piece of the journey between New Orleans and the small south-central city that was her destination.

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“It’s best not. I’ll fill you in when everything is done.”

“And you my little sister, will you be done too?”

She sighed deeply. How she loved her older brother, his protectiveness. Ostensibly, he was the only family she had now, except for certain unknown factions. But just now, his protectiveness felt more than a bit smothering. “Well, let’s hope not.”

“Are you sure you’re reading that thing right? What if you end up with the wrong one?”

“Charles, you have to have a little faith. I am not without my own gifts.”

“Cecile, I don’t want to lose you.”

“I know. Just have a little trust in me.”

On the way into town, she picked up a street map so she wouldn’t be entirely clueless as to where she was going. And then just off the highway she checked into a motel. It was one of a moderately priced chain. She’d stayed in better. She could most certainly afford better. She and her brother had money. Her parents had left them well off, well, when they died. But just now, the surroundings didn’t matter much. She only needed a place to regroup.

Cecile placed her small suitcase on the bed and sat down quietly beside it, contemplative. What she’d done to the old man in the antique shop had been cruel and unfair. And certainly, on some level, she was ashamed. But she’d sensed his greed, his reluctance to relinquish it, the thing she needed.

Steadying her nerves, she reached into her black leather purse and drew out the bundle of material that she’d wrapped it in. It was a fine white, raw silk piece of fabric. Rather gingerly, she laid it on the bed and began to unwrap its folds. Already her fingertips quivered from the emanations of power, although she had not even touched it. It sat there in its own mahogany box latched with a clasp of pure silver. It was quite valuable, perhaps priceless in its construction, certainly in its origin. It was understandable that the old man did not want to part with it.

She rubbed the palms of her hand together briskly trying to drive away the chill that had settled in her fingers. She had spent enough years studying the magical arts to know that handling such powerfully enchanted tools did come with a price. Taking a nearly painful breath, she quickly flipped the latch, opening the box of the Houdin Trouveur.

That it was stunning was undeniable — beautiful, quite ornate, constructed purely of platinum and black onyx. The platinum arms of the antiquated compass fluttered for a moment and then swirled in a deliberate direction, markedly toward the southeast. She sighed. He would be there. The murderer of her parents was somewhere in this city.

Something was off. He’d felt it all day, deep down in his skin, actually the night before as well. And irritatingly, the dreams had come, a sweep of redness and then fire, fire exploding pure and white. What it all meant, he wasn’t so sure. He’d given up this divination business, this reading of dreams some time ago — in fact two hundred years ago to be exact. For some time, with the exception of a few minor lapses, life had become quite placid for Ethan Garraint. That was the name he’d adopted several decades earlier. And he had to admit he’d grown fond of it. This part of the country was quite welcoming to those of a French descent.

Ethan continued to polish a heavy, black oak wardrobe mirror that he’d just put the finishing touches on for the festival today. He enjoyed working with black oak. There was something depthless about its sheen. But then again, black oak, pine, maple, cherry wood, they all had their respective charms. For a moment, he glanced at the reflection serenely staring back at him from the long oval mirror. From his appearance, he could not be mistaken for a man of more than thirty. His light blue-grey eyes and thick blonde hair suggested an almost innocent quality that his soul did not agree with. He’d been alive too long and seen too much to be naïve about much of anything.

He finished polishing the wood of the mirror, more interested in his creation than anything else. He’d found some solace through the long years and endless solitude in developing this craft. There was a strange contentment he’d found in working with the wood that eased the burdens that his unusual life had deemed he should carry. In some ways, he felt as though he imbued his creations with small pieces of his soul. After all, even he couldn’t live forever, not with so many people trying to kill him.

“How will you be able to find him with it? Doesn’t it just seek out any werewolf?” Charles had asked her this among other questions before she’d set out from Boston nearly five days ago.

“Well, I haven’t spent all these years studying and developing my own gifts without the intent of making use of them. As an insurance policy, I will work an incantation that will affix the Houdin Trouveur solely toward him, toward our parent’s killer.”

He’d stared at her with a great deal of anxiety within his acute, dark eyes. “I don’t like it. And regardless of your intentions, I don’t think our parents would like it either.”

She frowned explicitly, “Well, they’re not here to give us an opinion, are they?”

He looked away, clearly disturbed by her words. “I know they would want you to get on with your life Cecile, not become obsessed with vengeance.”

She sighed. They had this discussion before, countless times. But evidently, Charles felt it worthwhile to try one last attempt to dissuade her. “They weren’t the type to look the other way. They wouldn’t have allowed an injustice to stand. You knew them. You were older when they died.”

His eyes flickered gently across her face. He was a strong man, a stern man, except when it came to his younger sister. He had always reserved his kinder nature for his dealings with her. “They had limits Cecile. They were human. I know they wouldn’t have approved of how deeply you’ve gone into these dark arts.”

She hardened herself. Now was not the time to be thrown off course. Not when she was so close. “I’ve only done what was necessary. I can’t go after Le Guerrier unprotected.”

He smiled grimly, “Don’t call him that. It makes him sound too much like a mythology. No, I know that you feel you’ve done what you’ve had to. But at what cost Cecile?”

She blocked his words from her mind. She couldn’t afford to question herself now, not now. “It’s time Charles. Did you get me what I need?”

“Yes,” he said quietly, seemingly resigned for the moment. “The location of the seeker.”

She’d smiled broadly. If he was nothing else, Charles Bissett was thorough. “And the password to get it?”

“Yes, my dear one, all of that. But finding the monster won’t kill him for you.”

She so wished he was not so anxious. If anyone should be, it should be her. But an odd sort of serenity had settled within her. Perhaps, it was the acknowledgement of what she must do — her acceptance of what her long years of aimlessness and restlessness had brought her to. “I know that. I’ve spent years tracking Le Guerrier. I’ve researched, learned every scrap, every nuance that is knowable about him.”

“But these last fifteen years he’s completely fallen off the radar. Even with my extensive connections, no one knows anything. How do you even know he’s alive?”

“I know it.” She stated flatly with complete conviction. “I would know if he were dead.”

He straightened up in the brown leather chair situated by the fireplace in their study. In that moment, it struck her quite poignantly. She remembered all of the nights that she’d curled up in it as a little girl when her nightmares kept her from sleep and wondered in a fleeting twist of yearning if she would ever see it or her brother again. “How would you know it, Cecile?” he asked.

A simple question with such a complicated answer, “Because I would feel peace if he were dead.” There was a look in his eyes at this — perhaps sadness, perhaps disbelief. “Don’t worry Charles,” she murmured.

“I can’t help it. I don’t want to lose you too.”

“I can beat him. I know him completely.”

And then he smiled grimly, “But what if he’s changed?”

She’d packed the tiny pistol deep within her purse. It was loaded with three silver bullets that Charles had managed to get blessed by a Bishop in Northern Massachusetts. Anyone else making such a request would probably been tossed out unceremoniously on their backside but not Charles. Charles was a rich man, and money and donations often made the ridiculous become acceptable.

Late the previous night, Cecile had performed an intricate locator spell on the Houdin Trouveur. It had enabled her to gain a more precise fix on his location. But as a consequence, it had drained her terribly. It seemed the magical compass had to pull in a great deal of energy from its user to fulfill its purpose. She hadn’t anticipated the severity of this complication. It was clear she should use the Trouveur as seldom as possible lest she lose too much of her own power. She slept deeply that night and dreamed of crowds of people laughing, and dancing, and colorful booths and exhibits all about her. Then she saw fire, white blinding fire, somewhere else.

When she ventured into the lobby that morning for coffee, she noticed the signs hanging up promoting the festival. It was then she made the connection. Clearly these were the images from the night before. Donning blue jeans, a white cotton shirt, and a pair of lace up, black leather boots that she’d bought on a trip to France the year before, Cecile then obtained directions to the festivities which oddly enough turned out to be exactly southeast of her location. Everything was falling into place, and that more than anything made her extremely uneasy.

Amelia Gerard had just turned twenty and was majoring in communications at the local university. As the crowds milled around her on this bright Saturday in October, she felt annoyed and a bit preoccupied. She’d left behind a group of friends near the stage, listening to one of the musical acts booked for the festival. She’d told them she was going for another beer, but instead, she bypassed the refreshment stands and wandered most deliberately into the artisan section.

Although there was quite a mixing of people and more than a little stirring of dust from the ground, she was able to locate the man she sought quite readily. She stood to the side of the booth where he’d set up his collection of furniture pieces for the occasion. She waited quietly but not entirely patiently as he finished talking to what she surmised was a potential customer. It was some minutes before he noticed her, but he did greet her with a welcoming smile that at that moment felt well worth the wait. “Ms. Gerard.”

“Mr. Garraint,” she responded lightly.

He wore a dark T-shirt with khaki pants that she thought made him look particularly handsome, but then again, she was completely smitten with the man. “So, are you enjoying the festival on this fine day?” He asked with his fluid drawl that she had never quite been able to identify. It wasn’t exactly local, but in some ways, it did seem a bit French.

She tipped her head a bit, warming under his gaze, “Well, it’s a bit crowded and a bit loud. But other than that, I’d have to say yes.”

He moved a rocking chair that he’d been showing to someone further back into the open booth as he spoke to her. It felt odd to think that she’d actually met him only a few months earlier. Then she’d been involved in a project for a journalism class, interviewing local artists.

Initially, perhaps to her ignorance, she hadn’t considered furniture making an art. But once she met Ethan Garraint, she was enlightened, and that opinion was radically revised. Intriguing truly seemed too ineffectual a word to describe him. There was an aura about him, a subtle but powerfully enigmatic aura that captivated her. She was quite sure he was a good ten years her senior, but that hadn’t stopped her from forming a romantic interest. After all, she always considered herself quite mature for her age.

He nodded, “It is busy today. But that’s good for everyone’s business.”

His eyes had flickered over her only briefly, and then continued to glance around the crowds as though he was watching for something.

“Is everything all right Ethan?” She asked, wondering why she was not holding his attention today.

He glanced up at her, looking a bit pensive then smiling. “You should go find your friends Amelia and enjoy yourself. I’m afraid I’ll be quite busy with things here today.”

Her eyes widened, and then he nodded, reaffirming his previous declaration. She was being dismissed, and it chaffed, particularly his abruptness. But she did have to admit, there was something else in his voice that was quite grave, that told her that this was for her own good. Although why, she couldn’t quite put her finger on. “All right then, have a good day.” She murmured reluctantly.

“Yes, yes and you as well.”

From some yards away, Cecile watched. It must be him, but she couldn’t be positive, and she certainly couldn’t confront him in the middle of such a crowd. Werewolf or not she would be arrested for shooting an unarmed man. The only way to be positive was to use the Trouveur. But that too was risky. It was too powerful to go unnoticed by such an ancient magical being. In addition, it would tip her hand and, in all probability, leave her to the same fate as her parents.

Her eyes locked on and carefully followed the young blond he’d been speaking to.

With great focus, she sent out an impulse that encouraged her to pass near Cecile. As she did, Cecile propelled a discreet energy marker toward her that landed on the woman’s arm. With this in place, she could be easily traced when Cecile had need of her.

Amelia left the fairgrounds around five. Her friends intended to stay much later and move on to some downtown clubs as the evening progressed, but she had been seized by a strange fatigue and melancholy. She knew she was being silly. There was nothing between her and Ethan Garraint, nothing but her own fantasies. The man had always been kind, cordial, and charming in a way that some might construe as flirtatious, but then again, it could just be his manner.

She flung open the door to her dorm room, shutting it loudly behind her and flopping vigorously onto the bed. If she was anything, she was practical and knew when to cut her losses. Tomorrow she would remove Mr. Garraint from her consciousness and her radar. Then she would take a look around to find some other, more attainable fish in the sea. She closed her eyes, allowing the excessive tiredness she was feeling to take hold. It could have been moments, or even hours later when she awoke to the sound of a very quiet knock on her door. Amelia glanced at the clock by her bed. It was six-thirty. Sara, her roommate, wasn’t due back for some time yet.

Slowly sitting up, she was feeling a bit disoriented. But again, merely seconds later, there was another light tap on the door. “Just a minute,” she called out, her voice still croaky from sleep.

She rose on shaky feet, trying to smooth out her long blonde hair as she approached the door. She wondered distractedly if she was getting sick, because the room actually felt as though it was swirling around her. Her trembling hand touched the knob of the door. It felt cold and moist beneath her fingertips. But then maybe it was her. Her hands did feel strangely clammy right now.

Just before she turned the knob, it occurred to her, like a flash through her mind that she shouldn’t. But her pragmatic sense pushed that impulse aside as she opened the door. In that instant, time seemed to rush around her in a blur as an impossibly strong hand reached out and grabbed her by the throat.

Ethan began to close up his booth somewhere around seven in the evening. Others set up near him had left earlier, but he waited as long as he could. He was expecting something. He was no clairvoyant, but he did have very acute feelings and a sense of things. Today, he sensed a menace about. And more to the point, he smelled it. There was dark magic in the air.

So, he waited and watched all day. But this menace was a clever one and remained hidden. This, however, did not overly concern him. One thing he did have that all these extraordinarily young souls milling about him seemed to lack was patience, infinite, inexhaustible patience. He could wait it out.

As he loaded his small van up with the pieces of furniture that did not sell at the fair, he heard from quite a distance the footsteps approaching the truck. His powerful sense of smell identified their author rather quickly. He smiled to himself, even before she reached him.

Persistent was a word that seemed appropriate.

He allowed her to approach without turning around as he finished packing up the van. This type of complication he felt quite sure he could manage with very little peril to himself.

“Ethan,” she whispered.

And then he turned around with a smile. “Amelia, this is a very isolated place now for you to be all alone.”

She did not smile back at him in her usual, coquettish manner. “I’m not alone. You’re here. Aren’t you concerned about it being so isolated?”

He sighed. She was in a very serious mood tonight. Not her ordinarily light-hearted self. “I am not a young beautiful woman, and I can handle myself.” He frowned, “What’s the matter little one? You seem very grim tonight.”

She tilted her head, and those lovely blue eyes looked at him oddly in the semi-darkness. “I need to talk to you Ethan about something very serious. Can we go somewhere private?”

He grinned a bit, trying to put her more at ease. “Now that might ruin your reputation.”

But he was a bit surprised. It did nothing to thaw the gravity of her demeanor. “It’s important, please.”

“I was headed back to the store to bring the furniture.”

“Could we go there and talk?” Her voice sounded nearly pleading, but it didn’t reach the eyes. They remained distant. Something was definitely amiss. It seemed clear to him now that it was best to discover what all this was about.

“Where is your car?”

She shook her head, soft blond hair whipping about her shoulders. “A friend dropped me.”

He nodded, “Fine, then let’s go.”

She said nothing but quietly climbed in the front seat of the van beside him.

It becomes quite odd when a scenario you’ve built up in your mind since literally you were a child finally comes to fruition. Every nuance is painstakingly planned, pulled somewhere from an endless well of grief, then later disappointment, and nursed to an excruciatingly fine point of razor-sharp detail.

She had rehearsed the scene all her life; put endless preparations into the part; and lived and breathed for just these few paltry moments. And nothing, absolutely nothing was as she expected.

Cecile retreated into some quiet place, where the observer watches and marvels at the contradictions that reality unravels. The man next to her was charming and warm — not cold and brittle like the killer of her dreams but something else entirely. As they walked into the dimly lit front room of his St. Julien Street establishment, his calm, soothing demeanor sickened her and twisted at her like a poorly placed knife, lodged somewhere precariously between her ribs, making breathing a bit difficult.

As she crossed the threshold, a sudden blurriness swept up in front of her eyes. She forced her mind to concentrate and funnel even more energy into her façade, although she knew that it was ill-advised. Taking on the form of another visage was a gamble, risky, stretching well beyond her own limitations. It couldn’t go on for long. Besides it was best to finish him off before he was onto her, best to be done with it. But the idea of just killing him now and leaving, that felt oddly empty. She needed more to put this all at rest. She needed —

He grabbed her arm to steady her. “Are you all right, Amelia?”

She nodded and murmured. “Yes, just feeling a little weak. I haven’t eaten.” She tried to avoid his eyes. She had read an account once, from a seventeenth century monk chronicling the history of Northern Gaul. It was a local uprising, in some obscure way involving Le Guerrir. The monk referred quite pointedly to the hypnotic quality of the foreigner’s eyes. She remembered it now, thinking it strange at the time. After all, wasn’t it vampires not werewolves who held the hypnotic gaze? Then again, he had lived an abnormally long time and had no doubt picked up a few interesting tricks along the way.

She felt his hand gently grasp her chin, deliberately tilting her head up to face him. She had no choice. Her pistol was in her purse, not exactly accessible right at this moment. She allowed her gaze to meet his, concentrating heavily on the incantation that separated her from disaster.

The light was dim, but in this moment, his eyes appeared markedly darker than she remembered them at the festival grounds. They were blue but also a grey, not a light grey but a dark turbulent one. He was looking for something. He felt the difference. She was sure of it, but hopefully hadn’t fleshed it out yet. “Tell me what’s really wrong,” he murmured.

Her heart was beating wildly with fear. She dug, dug deep into the flashes she’d picked up out of Amelia Gerard’s mind even as she ravaged and drained her life’s energy earlier this evening. Then she hadn’t thought about how ruthless she’d been, and now there was no time to reflect on such collateral damages. In desperation, she hooked onto something — her affection for this man, unrequited affection. It was just enough to throw him temporarily off-balance. With deliberation, she put her arms around his neck, reaching up and giving him the most passionate kiss she could muster.

At first, she felt him freeze in total surprise. Good, that’s exactly what she wanted. Keep him surprised, off-balance. And then in a startling movement, he pulled her more closely against him and returned the kiss with a fervor that she found completely unexpected. She expected a rejection, not capitulation.

In reflex, forgetting where she was and what the goal was, Cecile abruptly tore herself out of the embrace. “What are you doing?” she spat out without thinking.

He stood there staring at her, and then his face broke out in a smile she could only describe as quite engaging. “I was kissing you back my dear. You know, you really should decide what you want.”

She quickly regrouped, coming back with the most insipidly, vulnerable expression she could concoct. “I want you stop toying with me Ethan. I want to mean something to you, not be a passing fancy.”

The smile drifted away from his mouth, and a grimmer expression replaced it. “Perhaps, we should sit down and talk this out Amelia. He motioned to a small cherry wood dinette at the back of the shop. “Why don’t you sit down, and I’ll make us a cup of tea.” She nodded, still trying to look the part of a confused, lovesick female. She kept her purse clutched close to her side and slowly sat down at the table.

Softly, he patted her back and whispered in her ear, “Be back in just a minute.” And then he disappeared into a back room. She looked down. Her eyes were blurring again, twenty minutes to half an hour. That was the very longest she could retain the appearance of Amelia Gerard. Her hand reached down into her purse and fingered the pistol, but the back of it brushed against the cloth that held the Trouveur. Even through the material, it burned against her hand.

She was sure it was him. It must be. But she would like to confirm it before she took his life. This much she owed to her parents, to be absolutely sure. She grasped the Trouveur and placed it on the table.

He had a small kitchen in one of the back rooms of his shop. It was a galley across from which was the larger studio where he did much of his woodwork. There was an old-fashioned kettle that he was using to heat up the water for their tea. Of course, the microwave would be much faster, but he wanted to take the extra minutes to contemplate. It seemed as though all the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end, alerted in nearly a violent fashion to a danger in his proximity.

But all that was present was Amelia — beautiful, unpredictable and dare he say unstable Amelia. He placed the teabags into the two mugs as the copper kettle began to rattle on the stove. He enjoyed the simplicity of his life these days, minus all the trappings that people become so intertwined with that they can no longer see the truth.

He took the kettle off the stove, poured the steaming water into the cups, and watched quietly as they steeped. In a life stripped of those things that separate one from clear vision, it is easier to discriminate truth from illusions.

The things he’d felt essentially about Amelia were oddly distorted tonight. She was not a person to behave erratically. She was conservative, practical, would not gamble unless it was warranted. But tonight, he swirled one of the tea bags in the hot water until it bled its color throughout, did not add up. He didn’t smell alcohol. He didn’t detect drug use, and for her, that too would have been completely out of character.

He turned toward the front room reacting to something, something subtle — a sort of crackle in the air. And then suddenly directly in his heart area he felt a pressure so acute that he flinched at its impact.

What he did next was foolish, but he had come to live a simple uncomplicated life as much out of the shadows as was possible for a creature like him. So, he walked, without caution, quickly into the front room.

The table where he’d left her was unoccupied, but even from across the room, he could see a nearly luminescent object sitting on top of it. The gentle pressure in his heart only became stronger as he approached, but nothing could quell his curiosity. It was perhaps a yard away from it that he stopped, his curiosity quite satisfied as he clearly identified what he was looking at. One piece to an irritating puzzle had fallen into place. “That bastard Houdin,” he muttered with part contempt and part amusement. “He swore he’d destroyed the damn thing.”

And then from behind a large, cypress armoire a rather shadowy figure emerged. Her voice was not mellow and fluid like Amelia but instead deep and raspy “Too bad for you that he didn’t.”

His eyes first took in the tiny pistol that was pointed at him and second the features of the woman that held it. The hair was long, thick, and auburn, and the eyes, as far as he could perceive, a dark mossy green shade. At this, the rest of the puzzle fell into place, for the resemblance was unmistakable. He smiled broadly, never one to face his own demise without a light heart. “Well, if I’m not mistaken you must be Cecile. I’ve made it my business to keep track of the Bissett children.” She frowned. Evidently that wasn’t the reaction she’d been expecting. “I knew your mother. She was a resourceful woman, but evidently not as resourceful as you are.”

Her voice was quiet and steely, “I’m here to kill you.”

He nodded, “So I see, but not before we have a nice visit, I hope. After all, I’m the only one who can tell you the truth about your parents’ death.”

The noise in her head roared around her in the room, but it was clear he didn’t hear it. She steadied herself, although her knees shook with weakness. With extreme concentration, she gripped the pistol, although her hands were so chilled that she could scarcely feel herself holding it.

She could see Charles in her mind as clearly as if he stood before her. “At what cost Cecile, revenge at what cost?”

Her vision was blotchy, parts of the room completely blotted out. When she’d used the Trouveur, it had been different. It glowed and shook, and then the pointer had spun to the direction of the back room. But before it was finished, she’d felt it emanate something, a force that had been subtle before. It pulled energy from her as if it were tearing it directly out of her heart. But she couldn’t let him see. She only had to finish it. That was all that mattered.

“I’m not a fool Le Guerrier. Do you really think I’ve come here for a chat?”

He moved slightly, but she wasn’t sure. Her vision was so bad now. Everything was indistinct light and shadows. “Your mother was a very determined woman. I think finishing me off might have been a feather in her cap. But your father, I don’t think he cared much, except for her. She was everything to him.”

He’d moved now. She was sure. “Stay still, or I’ll end all of this now.”

The movement stopped. The only way she could see him was reflected in light. Was this what it was like going blind? She followed the impressions that were left in her vision. “It was in Italy, you know. I don’t like to travel much now, but I did that year. They didn’t know it, but I came there to learn from a master furniture maker. Isn’t that amusing? The werewolf hunted down because he wanted to make furniture better?”

She breathed deeply, raggedly. She could see her parents in her mind, and then Charles and then Amelia. She’d left her on the floor of her dorm room, not dead, but close to it. “Stop talking,” she rasped.

“You know, they thought it would be safe that night. It wasn’t a full moon. It would be an easy kill for them, they thought. But the wolf came out that night.”

There was deep ravaging, painful breaths now. “What do you mean?”

She looked around the room, but she’d lost sight of him. He wasn’t moving, just hidden in the shadows. “I learned how to control the wolf, summon it at will without the necessity of a full moon. An old magician helped me perfect the technique.” She focused on the direction of his voice, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere. “His name was Houdin.”

It seemed moments before the reality rolled over her. “What, what did you say?”

“A 19th century magician, cantankerous fellow, but loyal and brilliant. Haven’t you figured it out yet Cecile?”

“What?” she murmured. She couldn’t feel her hands at all. They were like ice, as was her skin, as was her mind.

“That thing, the Trouveur that you’ve been using, has been killing you, feeding a poisonous fire into your veins.”

“That’s impossible,” she barely was able to get the words out. He was standing next to her, but she couldn’t stop him. She couldn’t feel the gun. It might have dropped. She didn’t know.

“The Trouveur kills the person who uses it. Slowly, I grant you, but my friend was a merciless bastard.”

She slipped down to her knees, seeing Charles taking her out of the chair in the study when she was a little girl, whispering away the nightmares. She barely heard his voice. “He was merciless. But I am not.” She heard the low growl beside her but did not see the wolf. She’d already walked into the white fire.

Two days later Amelia Gerard woke up in the hospital. Her mother was sitting beside her, holding her hand. Tears were running down her face as Amelia first opened her eyes. Two days after that an arrangement of yellow roses arrived with a card that read, Best Wishes on a Speedy Recovery, All My Regards, Ethan. That was the last time she ever heard from him.

Copyright © 2013 by Evelyn Klebert

The Broken Vow: Vol. I. of the Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf

In the heart of every man, there is a history. In the heart of every monster, there is a story. In The Broken Vow, (the first installment of The Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf), Ethan Garraint is on a vendetta that begins in the heart of the Pyrenees with the fall of Montségur and leads him to the streets of New Orleans nearly five hundred years later. But the person he chases isn’t really a man anymore, and Ethan has been a werewolf for almost a millennium. With the aid of a gifted seer, he is on a blood hunt that will culminate in a journey that crosses the line between heaven and earth and ends somewhere in between.

Obsession – Halloween Month

For the second spooky story for Halloween Month, I thought I’d change pace just a bit. “Obsession” is a story out of a collection of the adventures of Malachi McKellan and his companion, Simon Tull. In Travels into the Breach: Accounts of a Reclusive Mystic, Malachi is a 65 five year old widower, author of esoteric books, as well as a bit of a psychic detective and Simon is his spirit guide, a nineteenth century, twenty something English fellow. The two join forces in “Obsession” against a curious and somewhat determined foe.

Obsession

“If I were man, this wouldn’t be such an issue.”

Adele Blanchard struggled to hold onto her pleasant demeanor in the presence of the young woman in front of her. She was reading her tarot cards. She didn’t do palms. That was Annette’s job, but occasionally Adele did still read Tarot cards in addition to attending to the day-to-day operations of her esoteric bookstore, The Blue Pelican. It was as much for herself as anything. She enjoyed reading the Tarot for customers, playing off the vibes she received from them, digging deep into her intuitive gifts while using the symbolism of the cards as a bouncing off point. Usually, she gained as much from the endeavor as those she read for, usually. But this one, Suzanne Evans, she couldn’t seem to get her to focus on what Adele was saying. Rather, she was purely focused on the one that got away.

“Oh, I don’t know about that Suzanne,” she murmured as jovially as she could manage. “Unrequited love unfortunately, when taken to extremes can turn into harassment — male or female in question.”

She bristled noticeably. In fact, she found that young Suzanne Evans tended to bristle whenever she didn’t readily agree with her. “Are you implying that I’m harassing Joe?”  She delivered in a stringent tone bordering on indignant.

Adele steeled herself inwardly, continuing to shuffle the oversized deck of Rider Waite cards. It was difficult keeping calm. Something about this woman had raised her hackles from the very moment they’d met. This would be the second elaborating spread she was doing for Suzanne as the original and the one following didn’t seem to penetrate her rather tunnel vision perception.

“No, I didn’t say that. Joe, of course, would have to be the one to determine if he was feeling harassed or not.” And then she smiled to temper the sharp edges of her observation.

Suzanne’s face seemed to only harden at Adele’s remark. Her sharp cheekbones seemed to set as though carved in stone, and her well sculpted eyebrows froze over her long almond-shaped eyes in an expression of determination. She was an attractive young woman, an ER nurse, no doubt a catch. So why was she so resolutely focused on a man who clearly wasn’t interested anymore?

“I’m sure you’re wrong Ms. Blanchard. Once Joe remembers how good we were together, he’ll wake up. I’m sure he’ll value and appreciate the fact that I didn’t give up on us,” she stated rather flatly.

And invoking what Adele considered her minuscule repertoire of psychic gifts, she definitely sensed a wall here. There was a block in Suzanne’s thinking where reason, reality, and good common sense just did not seem to penetrate.

I honestly can’t account for it Malachi. Love, lust, obsession — whatever you might want to label it, that sort of nonsensical determination is going to lead to trouble, maybe even of the criminal sort.

She was sitting out on Malachi McKellan’s screen porch with his lovely view of the Bayou St. John and sipping tea — something fruity, blueberry or raspberry, or something of the sort. He had said distinctly that she needed calming before they sat down to talk. He was very sensitive to those sorts of things. And it was true. She was extremely agitated. The problem was that this whole matter incensed her to no end. The why exactly she couldn’t say, except that she felt an instinctive dislike of Suzanne Evans.

“And how did the appointment end?”

“Well, I spread the cards again, which advised for the third time the same thing. Move on, let the fellow do the same. But to no avail. It was absolutely as if I was talking to a brick wall, then she left.”

He shrugged, “Young love.”

“More like obsession.” He leaned back on the rattan sofa, smiling a bit, she thought. She amused him, though exactly why her frustration amused him was a bit beyond her. “Are you taking this seriously Malachi?”

“I always take you seriously Adele. You have a powerful, though admittedly raw, psychic radar. I find you quite infallible.”

“So, what do we do?”

“Do? Well, nothing at the moment I’m afraid. Ms. Evans’ obsession I’m afraid is just that, her obsession.”

“But she could very well ruin her life over it.”

“Yes, she might. But it is her life to ruin.”

“Energy vampire?”

“Yes, no question, a young one, unconscious of it, but undeniably caught up in the thrall.”

Nuance sat perched on one end of the tan suede sofa in Malachi’s mountainside cabin. It was where he and Simon Tull, his spirit guide, met to hash things out, so to speak.”

“You don’t seem inclined to do much here Malachi.”

He scratched Nuance’s head. She was nuzzled up against his leg. “Do you know how high a percentage of the population are energy vampires Simon?”

“Of course, it’s a significant rung in the ladder of spiritual evolution.”

“Yes, something no doubt both you and I experienced in some former life,” he said a bit distastefully.

“No doubt more than once my friend, it’s a hard lesson to fully absorb. That you have power and yet you must learn not to use it.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” Malachi scoffed.

With a big smile Simon tapped him on the shoulder. “And what’s another way my old friend?”

“Learning not to be a parasite, sucking the energy out of your fellow human beings, and in effect compromising them and yourself.”

“Not everyone is vulnerable.”

“Yes, I know. Just the ones a little lost, searching for their next path.” Softly, he commented, “Yes, those in between, but they manage to sniff them out readily enough, exploit them, steal their energy.”

Simon frowned, “They’re not evil you know. Mostly it’s unconscious.”

Malachi shrugged, “One can feel what’s positive or negative even if they choose to ignore it.”

“It’s all learning my friend, no judgment, just learning.”

“Yes, as you say,” Malachi said a bit dubiously.

“So, are you going to help?”

“Help who, poor hapless Joe?”

“No, help Suzanne Evans.”

“Suzanne — the vampire?” Malachi said with a bit of surprise.

“Yes, before she destroys herself.”

In the evening, Malachi took a long walk down to the metal footbridge that connected Moss Street to its other half, crossing the placid waters of Bayou St. John. It bothered him, the feeling that whatever he did, however he chose to help, was seemingly inconsequen­tial in the vast scheme of things.

His hands rested on the metal railing of the footbridge as he stared out onto the darkening waters before him.

“It sounds like a dark night of the soul Malachi.”

He didn’t look up. He knew the voice. He would have known her voice anywhere. She didn’t come around often, not often in his dreams, or even in his imagination. He believed that if she did that he might just cease living altogether and drown himself in those few precious moments when he was in her presence again.

“It must be pretty bad, if you’re making an appearance.”

“Maybe you just need a jolt or a kick.” Her graceful hand softly took hold of the metal rail just next to his.

“I’ve missed you, Josie.”

She laughed softly, “You keep busy enough trying to save the world, except when you won’t.”

He glanced up. She looked young, maybe into her thirties, not as she looked when he’d lost her nearly fifteen years before. Then she’d been ill, it had been a long-protracted illness, before she finally let go, leaving him to find his way alone in the world.

He breathed in her presence. It was intoxicating. Yes, he remembered love, and he remembered loss as well. “Whatever I do doesn’t seem to make a difference.”

She smiled. “It makes a difference to those you help, even if you can’t help them all. It makes a difference to them.”

“I’m tired Josie.”

Again, that incandescent smile, “I know my love. But there are still miles to go, so many miles.”

He decided to focus on Adele. He sat in his den; candles lit and put himself into a meditative state. He could see Adele clearly in his mind’s eye. Using her as a starting point, he allowed himself to be drawn with her into her meeting Wednesday at The Blue Pelican with Suzanne Evans. It took place in a room at the back of the store, a small room that Adele had furnished almost as an old-fashioned Victorian sitting room with a splash of New Age. Intricate esoteric tapestries hung on the wall, and several vintage looking lamps that reminded him a bit of steam punk with ornate shades sat on small antique-looking tables. There was a short pink velvet, serpentine loveseat, and two rosewood parlor chairs covered in a deep burgundy striped satin facing the intricately carved, mahogany card table. Adele had undeniably spent some time thoughtfully decorating the room, reaching for just the right atmosphere to conjure up the image of a Victorian séance.

But as he looked closely at Adele’s companion, he could see that all the ambience seemed lost on her. She was, and he was trying to summon the proper word —

“Pragmatic,” Simon completed for him.

His spirit-guide companion was now standing just to the side of Adele’s chair. The women were silent, motionless, almost as though frozen in a tableau as he analyzed the situation. “I was wondering if you would make an appearance.”

“As did I, I thought to leave you to your own devices, but my curiosity won out.”

“She seems a bit cold.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said eyeing the tall brunette with expertly styled bangs fluttering across her forehead. “Certainly not terribly romantic, but undeniably a girl who knows what she wants.”

“And that’s Joe.”

He shrugged, “She thinks so in any case.”

“But not romantic?”

“I believe the word of the day is pragmatic. She feels she needs Joe for her life to progress on as she envisions.”

“And that’s not cold.”

“Perhaps, but I don’t know. Some of us like our romance wrapped up in flowers, music, and pretty poems. And others in necessity, as things you must have like food, medicine, a car.”

Malachi sighed, “And that’s love?”

“Oh, I didn’t say anything about love.”

“You lost me.”

“All right, think about your wife Josie.”

He frowned, “I’m not interested in discussing my wife, Simon.”

He held up his hands as if felling off an attack. “Yes, yes, old boy, nothing personal, but if you knew you were causing her upset, distress, would you continue?”

“Of course not, if she wanted me to or had wanted me to, I would have left her alone instead of trying to force what I wanted on her.”

“Yes, exactly, the difference, but Lady Suzanne here feels justified in pressing her expectations, her needs, her desires with no contemplation on how it might cause distress to poor Joe. In a nutshell, she wants what she wants and everyone else be damned.”

“Not love.”

“No, not love, need perhaps, inexplicable deter­mined need.”

Malachi murmured in fatigue. “Of course, but she calls it love.”

“Indeed, justification is a handy tool.”

“So how to reach her?”

“Yes, that is the question. Perhaps make the cost too high.”

“Too high?”

“Yes, let’s start with Joe.”

Joseph Orusco worked for an insurance company — car insurance, health insurance, life insurance, whatever your pleasure might be.  He was a young businessman just into his thirties who liked to spend his weekends playing tennis or racquetball.

“Doesn’t seem like a complicated fellow,” Simon commented dryly.

Malachi and Simon had traveled deep into the next evening and now stood in Joe Orusco’s bedroom, quietly pondering their next move.

“I see your thread. Why such a commotion from Suzanne? Yes, okay of course the draining. Addiction to the energy she’s gaining from him.” Malachi glanced across the bedroom to the set of sliding glass doors leading out onto the patio. Quite clearly through the open blinds, they could see a familiar figure in a long black nightgown pacing the pavement. She just kept walking back and forth in front of the window, not looking up at them once.

“Relentless might be the word,” Simon muttered.

“I imagine if we weren’t here, her astral self would be inside draining Joe relentlessly as you say.”

“Yes,” Simon murmured. “She is still draining through their bonds, but not as much as if she were closer and not nearly as much as if they were in actual contact.”

“Even more, of course, if it were intimate contact.”

“Quite so.”

Malachi stared at the sleeping figure of Joe Orusco tossing around fitfully in the bed. With a bit more concentration, Malachi could actually see a faint flow of energy, looking a bit like a translucent beam of light colored blue green, moving from Joe’s heart area toward the outside wall where Suzanne’s astral self was holding its vigil. “The addiction goes both ways,” Simon murmured.

“Yes, I suppose he has a taste for it, addiction to the draining, even if he is trying to break away.”

“I wonder just how hard he is trying.”

Malachi stepped back from the king-sized bed. “Let’s find out, shall we.”

He put his hands together and sank himself into a focused concentration reaching out to the deeper, spiritual self of the man in the bed. Within moments, the astral self of Joe, still wearing the same sweat-soaked New Orleans Saints t-shirt, sat up in the bed, and stood, entirely separating from his physical self that remained in the bed.

His short cropped, brown hair seemed damp and his eyes somewhat unfocused when he finally acknowledged Malachi. “What are you doing here?”

Malachi tried to appear pleasing. “Mr. Orusco, my colleague and I have come to talk to you and hopefully be of aid.”

He looked around with confusion, then to Simon, who he eyed up and down a little warily in his vintage tweed suit. “Am I dreaming?”

Malachi responded a bit energetically as he suddenly felt anxious to be done with this business. “In a manner of speaking Mr. Orusco, this conversation you will remember as a dream, but that does not make it in the least bit not real. In fact, perhaps very essential to your well-being, do you see right now who is pacing across your patio Mr. Orusco?”

In the instant of a thought, the three of them were back in his den, standing in front of the sliding glass doors. Joe frowned looking over Malachi’s shoulder at the woman now staring longingly through the glass. “Son of a bitch, that’s Suzy out there. I told her this was over.”

“Apparently, she didn’t get the memo,” Simon muttered under his breath.

“Why don’t we sit down Mr. Orusco and have a chat.”

“Yeah, well okay, is she just going to stay out there all night?”

“Hard to say,” Malachi responded.

Joe Orusco had a small kitchen table in his condo, espresso colored, lighted by a low hanging brass chandelier situated over the table. The three of them settled in for a discussion as Malachi debated the correct approach to the problem at hand.

“Mr. Orusco,” he began.

“Everyone calls me Joe,” he commented a bit obtusely, still appearing more than a bit disoriented.

“Joseph,” he began again. The old adage that everyone understands from their own level of perception kept ringing in Malachi’s ears. Joe even for a white-collar working fellow, he could feel, was rough around the edges. He operated from a place of pragmatism, possibly more concerned with the comforts of the material world. This, more than anything, could have been his initial attraction to Suzanne Evans. “Tell me, are you in love with Suzanne?”

The tall well-muscled fellow focused on him a little blankly. Perhaps it was the effects of being in an astral state or perhaps it was his fallback demeanor, at the moment, hard to say. He shrugged. “Honestly, Suzanne is a great girl. We had a great run, but I’m looking to see what else is out there.”

He heard Simon beside him sigh deeply. And he wondered for not the first time this evening, why he was even trying. “So, I take it you have fully severed the relationship.”

Joe leaned back in the chair, absently strumming his fingers on the espresso-colored tabletop. “For the most part.”

Malachi caught the explicit frown that placed itself on Simon’s face. “What the devil does that mean for the most part?” His speech had slurred a bit back into his cockney English accent, which tended to happen when Simon got irate.

“I mean, well, we’ve been together a few times since we broke up.”

Malachi pressed for clarification. “By together, you mean intimate?”

“Well, you know, yeah, sure I guess so.”

Simon shook his said saying nothing. So, it was clear Joe’s firm feet were undeniably feet of clay, which would mean mixed messages.

“Yes, well Joseph, I’m going to tell you some things that you may or may not remember tomorrow morning. But you should remember your emotional reaction if nothing else. Suzanne is what we call an energy vampire. She has been draining your spiritual energy. That is why you have been feeling tired, unfocused, excessively emotional, having problems concentrating, problems with sleep, perhaps inexplicable pains in your body, in your chest, and in generally poor health.”

Joe was looking a bit befuddled, but again perhaps a fallback expression. “I thought I’d just been pushing too hard at work.”

“The low energy is going to make it difficult to function in all areas of your life.”

“Why would she do that to me?”

“It’s not conscious on her part, just something that she does. But it’s up to you to cut her off.”

Joe seemed confused again, but Malachi could understand that this was a lot to take in. “Suzy, well, is persistent. She was very unhappy when I asked her to move out, angry and really upset. And I didn’t want to seem like a total jerk.”

“You were living together? That makes the draining much worse, much more chronic.” Then Simon directly lit into Joe with evident distaste. “You’ll have to be a jerk. It’s best for you and actually a kindness to her. So, she’ll hopefully fill her life with other pursuits.”

“Yes, in a nutshell Joseph, no contact, particularly intimate contact,” Malachi continued to pound the point. “The closer you are to her, the stronger the energy bonds she has with you. It is best to sever all contact, even if that means a restraining order.”

“How could I do that?”

“You must. You must not equivocate. You must make it clear she is out of your life for good. No backtracking Joseph, no communication, no phone calls, no emails, no texts, no contact at all. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Joseph, look at me,” Malachi said strongly.

It startled him. That was good. He wanted to scare him, so the impression was deeply embedded. “This is a dangerous matter. It will end badly if you do not heed me. Follow my instructions to the letter. No contact Joseph, even if you have to move, even if you change your phone number. No contact Joseph.”

Joe Orusco nodded slowly, but Malachi wasn’t satisfied. He needed to drill it in so that the impression wasn’t pushed aside in the morning light. “Repeat what I said.”

“No contact.”

“With whom?”

“No contact with Suzanne.”

“Again.”

“No contact with Suzanne.” That night Joseph Orusco repeated the mantra one hundred times. Malachi suspected that Simon thought he was being excessive, but he said nothing.

As far as Malachi was concerned, Suzanne wouldn’t see reason, so Joe was the only hope. When Malachi finally returned to his body, he felt as though he’d expended all of his energy trying to leave Joe with enough concern in his heart that he might actually stay away from Suzanne. There was no guarantee, but he’d tried and tried his best. So, he slept, a heavy sleep, devoid of any travels.

“I haven’t seen Suzanne Evans again. I thought about calling her to see how she is.”

“Best to let it go Adele.” They were taking a late afternoon walk along the perimeter of Bayou St. John. She’d shown up at the house earlier, and he’d felt a remarkable draw to be outside, no doubt in need of the healing energy that nature could afford him.

“Do you think it will work out for her Malachi?”

“Hard to say my friend, we all have free will and ultimately are responsible for our own destiny.”

“Yes, but we can’t anticipate everything that happens to us.”

“No of course not, but how we navigate the waves that crash on our shore. Well, that is always our choice.”

Copyright © 2018 by Evelyn Klebert

Travels into the Breach: Accounts of a Reclusive Mystic

At first glance, his life seems quiet, serene, and even uneventful. Malachi McKellan, a 65 five year old widower and author of esoteric books, lives largely as a recluse in a house situated just off the banks of Bayou St. John in New Orleans. But unbeknownst to most, he is also a bit of a detective, a specific kind of detective whose specialty is psychic attacks. Alongside his lifelong companion and spirit guide Simon Tull, a nineteenth century, twenty something English gent, Malachi battles the unseen, and is an unacknowledged hero to the most vulnerable – most of the population who have no idea what is really happening beneath the surface of the world in which they live.

In this collection of adventures, Malachi McKellan and Simon Tull wage war against the most insidious elements of the paranormal. In “The Three,” Malachi and Simon come to the aid of a young woman being victimized by a group of dark witches. An old apartment building is the scene of an unimaginable battle against monstrous forces in “The Lost Soul.” Malachi and Simon find themselves strategizing against a psychic vampire in “Obsession,” and “The Hotel” turns back time to the 1980’s where Malachi confronts a demonic spirit. In “Between,” a past life is revisited as Malachi attempts to rescue a beloved sister from committing her existence to vengeance, and “The Wedding” takes a personal turn when Malachi must confront painful truths while endeavoring to protect his niece from a potentially devastating union.

Travel into the Breach with a pair of paranormal warriors who choose to confront overwhelming forces on a battlefield unsuspected by most.

Short Stories

“Slipping” is the story of a young woman finding herself threatened by unexpected interdimensional attacks. It comes from a collections of short stories entitled Appointment with the Unknown: The Hotel Stories.

“Obsession” is a story out of a collection of the adventures of Malachi McKellan and his companion, Simon Tull. In Travels into the Breach: Accounts of a Reclusive Mystic, Malachi is a 65 five year old widower, author of esoteric books, as well as a bit of a psychic detective and Simon is his spirit guide, a nineteenth century, twenty something English fellow. In “Obsession” the two join forces against a curious and somewhat determined foe.

“White Harbor Road” first appeared in a collection of stories entitled White Harbor Road and Other Tales of the Paranormal. It is the story of a woman essentially trying to escape her life, if only for the holidays. Quite unexpectedly, she meets a stranger on a beach along the Mississippi Gulf Coast who changes everything.

“Wolves” is a tale of a werewolf and a woman seeking vengeance at any cost. Ethan Garraint made his first appearance in this short story in a collection entitled The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural and then later surfaced in another story called “The Broken Window.” At that point, I felt as though he’d truly earned his own novel, so I penned The Broken Vow: Vol. I. of the Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf whose newly revised edition has just been released.

In “The Soul Shredder,” a psychiatrist’s unusual patient opens his eyes to a disturbing new view of reality.

Slipping – Halloween Month

Well, it’s that time of year again, the spooky time, and it’s also Halloween Month at evelynklebert.com. To kick off the month in hopefully a great way, I’m posting a story from my recent collection The Hotel Stories: Appointment with The Unknown. I started to pen this collection while my husband was on a very busy lecture circuit, and I found myself spending more and more time in very interesting hotels. My mind began to wander, and the result was this curious collection of short stories. So I hope you’ll enjoy this slightly unnerving offering that I call “Slipping.” And whatever you are up to, please take a little time to enjoy the season. 🙂

Slipping

She’d checked into a hotel off of US Highway 65. It was on the outskirts of somewhere, some town or city, heading into the Ozarks. She hadn’t really paid much attention, just stopped when things started getting wholly unbearable.

“Just one?” The girl at the receptionist desk had asked. Just one, as though it were an oddity. The world was filled with people who were Just One, traveling this great canvas all by themselves. But she didn’t belabor the point. She was deeply in need of a shower and a soft pillow to rest her weary mind upon.

“Enjoy your stay Ms. Ascher.”

She was not married, thirty-four and more single, she thought, than most people.

She took the elevator up to the third floor. Her surroundings were not penetrating her psyche just now. It took every effort to reach her destination down a long insufficiently lit hallway. But perhaps it wasn’t the lighting, perhaps just her eyes not functioning properly.

She slid in the card, opening the doorway to room 302. She let the heavy door close behind her, plopping her large shoulder carrying bag onto one of the two double beds. The room was large, beige, decorated sparsely with a few oversized floral photographs. The beds were unremarkable, white bedspreads, dark burgundy, cotton bed skirts. The headboards were a dark wood of a cheap variety, as was the rest of the furniture. As hotels went, it was serviceable, and her skin wasn’t crawling.

She pulled her long black hair out of its ponytail and shook it out. Even in her thoughts that sounded, well, snobby. But it wasn’t actually. It was literal.

Many places felt simply, physically intolerable to her. She laid back on one of the beds and closed her eyes. She was so tired. With distraction, she wondered why they gave her two beds if she was Just One?

She heard the fly buzzing around her, and her eyes flickered open. A chill of recognition traveled up her spine. Evidently, she was not Just One. There was something else here with her.

He must have been only a half an hour behind her. It was eight in the evening when he pulled into the Ozark Mountain Motel. It had been late afternoon when he first became aware that a traveler was passing through the area. He was just leaving his office as the first wave hit him. It felt a bit like a strong current of erratic weather rushing through the landscape, a sudden storm but not a focused one, though evidently only apparent to those that were tuned in. Immediately, he’d cleared his mind, sending out feelers to his network.

“What is it?”

More like someone.

“Are you sure? It doesn’t feel like anything I’ve ever sensed before.”

Yes, the consensus is it’s a traveler.

“A traveler, you mean a time traveler?”

No, no different, maybe dimensional.

Now that had given him pause. He’d been studying esotericism and parapsychology for nearly twenty plus years, and he’d never encountered a dimensional traveler.

Do you want me to follow it up? There seems to be something wrong there.

“No,” he’d sent out almost involuntarily. “Let me. I’ve never encountered anyone capable of dimensional travel before.”

At this point, it really isn’t clear what she’s capable of.

“She?” He’d asked, surprised, but why exactly he wasn’t clear. He’d just assumed it was a man. Perhaps that was a tinge chauvinistic of him.

Yes, late twenties, early thirties it seems. But the energy is erratic. Be careful.

“Yes,” he’d answered, getting in his car. There was an overnight bag in the trunk already packed in case, well, just in case the unexpected might happen. And this as much as anything qualified as unexpected.

It seemed like a dream at first. No, that wasn’t true. It seemed like a nightmare, a waking nightmare. Nina woke up in her bed, and she had slipped, though at the time she didn’t know it. Where she found herself was dark, shadowy, but undeniably her bedroom. She remembered the horrible panicked feeling, her heart pounding wildly. She was only twelve. That’s when it had really started. Her menstrual cycle had just begun the week before, and it brought with it changes, clearly unforeseen changes to her psyche. Her mother had told her to be aware, cognizant of unexpected feelings, but she hadn’t warned her about this.

She’d sat up in the bed, calling out, “Hello,” but no answer, in fact just an eerie muffled sort of silence. Silence, until of course it wasn’t. The movement began quickly, first in the shadowy corners of her room. There were things unseen there, things rustling, scurrying.

Cold fear energized her as she jumped out of her bed and began in fact running through the house. But it wasn’t the house she knew. Everything was different, even the air, cumbersome, as though she were pushing through sand, heavy wet, mushy sand that clung to her skin, weighing her down and impeding movement. “Momma,” she screamed in terror, but the sound of her voice was constricted, stifled in the thick darkness.

With Herculean effort, she moved from room to room, only to find each empty, filled with dense shadows. No one was there, and yet it seemed as though they almost were. She could feel heat in places, the heat of living bodies, the heaviness of form that was simply not quite where it should be. Again, she opened her mouth to scream, but it was as though she was swallowing the murky atmosphere around her, thick in her lungs. There was no doubt in her mind that this would kill her if she remained. She was literally drowning in this place.

And then joltingly she was back, as though she’d just awoken from a bad dream. But it didn’t feel like a dream because that place was still inside her making her sick. She thrashed in her mother’s arms. “Nina,” she whispered in her hair. “It’s all right. You’re back home now,” and it chilled her, because it was clear that her mother knew exactly what had happened.

They called it slipping, her mother, her grandmother. But it was a secret, something not spoken of — a curse of sorts, they believed, passed from daughter to daughter. It bypassed the men, her uncles, her brother, being immune and completely ignorant of it.

“Shouldn’t we tell them?” she’d asked.

“They wouldn’t understand,” was their answer. “They will believe something is wrong with your mind.”

“But I don’t understand. What is that place?”

Her mother had remained silent, and then her grandmother had spoken. “It’s another realm, a dark place, just next to us. A terrible place, I think. That was how my mother described it. There are things there that shouldn’t be seen, shouldn’t be known about. The best thing to do is to try to learn to keep yourself here and ignore it.”

That was all that was said, their best advice she surmised. And when she tried to speak of it again, she was stonewalled.

Usually, she was pretty successful in anchoring herself. Unless, well, unless she was too tired or run-down. Over the years, Nina became an expert in monitoring her physical and emotional state. And, of course, relationships were a problem. She started dating in college, Jerry. And then it became a battle, a constant struggle.

A year or so into their relationship, she’d spent the weekend with him and found herself trapped in the middle of the night in the cabin with things, horrible distorted things in those shadows. She’d concluded that there was an emotional component to all of this. The next day she had him take her home, and she broke up with him soon after. She would be Just One. Decidedly, it seemed the only solution.

She opened her eyes and watched the fly bounce off the ceiling of the hotel room. It wasn’t very big. But her instincts told her that it was much more than just a fly. Her eyes opened wider as it circled overhead. Louder, louder, the buzzing grew until she felt it in her fingertips, her hands, beneath her skin, then her blood synchronizing with the irritating pitch.

“Anchor yourself.” She could hear her grandmother’s voice from the past. But it was all too late, she noted as she slipped into the darkness.

He’d just begun to settle in his room on the third floor when he felt it. Something powerful seared through the energy around him. There was a distinct pull and loss of energy in his chest as he abruptly sat down on the hotel bed trying to collect himself. Peter Lochlan breathed in deeply, while focusing on centering himself again.

“She’s traveling,” he sent outward.

Yes, an answer. He was never really alone, just a directed thought away from obtaining much-needed guidance. Are you sure you want to handle this?

“Yes,” though he didn’t know why exactly, just something he felt strongly about. “She’s pulling energy.”

It’s not deliberate. It’s done in a sort of panic.

“Do you think she’s dangerous?”

It depends on what you mean by dangerous.

The room pulsated around her. It wasn’t always the same. Where she ended up wasn’t always the same. The hotel room wasn’t couched in shadows but rather distorted, flickering frequencies of light. And she could still hear that buzzing sound that the fly was making, but it was in everything, the walls, the furniture. The carpeted floor all pulsated at that strange reverberating pitch.

She moved rather fluidly back against the bed. This was the manner of movement here, a sort of liquid-like slithering, not unakin to swimming through jelly. She continued to stare at it. It was affixed to the pulsating ceiling. She should have screamed, but it was pointless. And she’d seen worse, much worse in her time. The fly had ballooned in size, its eyes glowing orange, all its eyes on its enormous head, now around the size of a small bear. Its legs fidgeted and pranced, moving around the ceiling as though trying hard to get a grip on its fluctuating surface. No, she was wrong. Perhaps, she should scream. It was zeroing in her, undeniably positioning itself, wanting something.

She deliberately focused on the door, concentrating. Each place, each space, had its own rules. This place felt connected to it, to that thing. She didn’t want to call it a fly, because it wasn’t really. That was only what it looked like in her world.

With will and concentration, she pushed off from the headboard, springing across the room to the door. When her hands made contact, she found the fluctuating wood thick and slimy. Wielding a fist through its unstable surface, then punching through, she pushed herself through the newly created opening, tumbling with significant force.

Again, she focused, being direct and mindful she’d learned were the tools of the trade in survival. The hallway was different, completely different, as though she’d passed into a different level. Its ceiling was low, and it seemed to stretch endlessly, bending, and curving out of her sight. Here, all the walls were a flickering, blinding white. She heard it behind her, scrambling, that horrible buzzing sound. The other place had been its domain, but it clearly was coming after her, hunting, predatory in nature.

She took off down the curving hall. But the more she traveled, the more it curved and bent like a confusing sort of maze. She was stupid to have stopped here at this place, at the hotel, but she’d been so tired. This place was complicated, so many pockets, unseen pockets. It would be easy to get lost.

Directly behind her, she heard it scuttling, that horrible, incessant buzzing noise. She could feel how it wanted to rip her to pieces in that pincer-like mouth. And if it did, would she be dead, or just trapped somewhere unspeakable? Her calmness was deteriorating into panic. That could be deadly to her. She pushed forward, stumbling along the tight and uneven little walls of the hallway. They went on and on relentlessly, no place to break out of. And then she turned a sharp sudden bend, and there was something or rather someone standing there in front of her. Her vision was blurred here, but she clearly made out a form.

Her heart clutched in fear. In all the years she’d been doing this, experiencing these bizarre phenomena, she’d been alone, solitary, except for the ambient creatures. There was no one else. But this form, person she suspected, reached out toward her, jarringly grabbing her arm in a painful grip.

“Come on,” she heard a voice inside her head and then felt an abrupt yank outward.

Nina sat up in the bed in her hotel room. She touched her face with the palms of her trembling hands ― icy, sweaty, her heart cramping painfully in her chest. She physically jumped when the first knock came at her door and then the second, sharp, unrelenting. She looked around, still in that state of panic. She didn’t see the fly. Perhaps, it had moved on. Then the third knock, just as fierce, reminding her sharply of the present. After that it stopped, for quite a space nothing, just silence. If she waited, whoever it was might just leave. But there was something that began to pull at her, something powerful, insistent, drawing her to her feet.

Without thinking, without being able to stop herself, she reached out, opening the door.

A man was standing there, out in the hallway, looking at her intently. “Are you all right?” he asked directly. And he reached out, catching her, as she began to collapse in exhaustion.

He had gotten her a glass of water and waited patiently as she took a sip. He watched her intensely as though every movement she made was of some peculiar fascination. “You need to leave this room. There’s something in here that’s not good.”

She looked down into her clear glass of water, feeling intensely embarrassed. “It’s a fly.” She spoke softly. It was so awkward, so alien, speaking to anyone about this.

“A fly?”

“I mean, it looks like a fly, but I’m sure it’s something else.”

“Some sort of drainer?”

She frowned, looking up at him with some confusion. How could he know? Who was he? He wasn’t an old man, maybe a bit older than her, but not terribly. He was dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt, sleeves rolled up, and tan slacks. She wondered with distraction how it was possible that he was jumping into the middle of her secret world, and more than that why. “Maybe,” she murmured hesitantly.

“You’re not the only one who knows things, sees the unseen, you know. They’re many of us out there,” he said quite solemnly.

“I—” she tried to speak, but it felt as though her breath had been cut by something.

“You’re very tired. Get your things and come with me.”

“Where?”

“My room, there aren’t any flies there,” he said flatly, though with just the hint of a smile.

Nina Ascher appeared oddly delicate to him ― that long black hair that she pulled up into a bun at the nape of her neck before they left and that pale porcelain-like complexion. Her skin felt cool, in fact too cool, and clammy as though she’d run a great distance. And as far as he could tell, she had indeed.

Peter was surprised that she seemed so willing to go with him. He hadn’t expected, well, the truth was that he hadn’t known what to expect. But he knew, as soon as he walked into her room, that there was something very problematic and even threatening there. He accepted her word that it was a fly. He’d seen odder things, and he was greatly concerned about her. Dimension traveler or not, she needed help.

As he opened the door to his hotel room, she slowly walked inside, a bit dazed. “What was your name again?” she nearly whispered.

“Peter, Peter Lochlan.”

“Oh,” the overnight bag that he’d taken from her room, he placed on the far bed. She glanced around tentatively with obvious distraction. “It looks like mine.”

“No flies,” he murmured, closing the door behind her. “Would you like a soda or something?”

“Maybe, but don’t leave right now,” she said with hesitation. “I’m so tired, worried I’ll slip again.”

“Slip?”

She laughed awkwardly. “That’s what my grandmother used to call it, slipping.”

“You mean dimension travelling?”

She looked at him with a bit of confusion. “Is that what I’m doing?”

“I think so.”

She sat down gingerly on one of the beds. “Just don’t leave. I feel so weak. If it happens again, I’m worried I won’t come back.”

It was calming, being around him. She’d expected questions, but he was quiet. They’d walked down the hall, largely in silence. He’d gotten her a Sprite from the vending machine and a Coke for himself, then they’d returned to his room, a stranger’s room that she curiously felt safer in than her own.

“You must think I’m very peculiar,” she commented, as they made their way down the actually very unremarkable hallway.

“I think you’re extraordinary,” he answered softly.

That was shocking, comforting, having someone be so kind to her. The world she was used to was hard, people generally rough with her. He opened the door to his room, and she walked in, but then stopping, just inside as the door closed behind them. She looked around, actually actively considering things for perhaps the first time since she’d met him. “Why are you here?” she murmured. “I mean at the hotel.”

“You,” he answered, sitting on the edge of the bed closest to them, then sipping his Coke.

“Me?”

He looked at her directly. She noticed him doing that since they’d met, just looking at her directly, unflinchingly as though it were no problem. It made her uneasy. She was used to other sorts of people who didn’t look so closely, who were perhaps more comfortable only seeing what they thought should be there. “I felt you, sensed you, driving near where I worked. So, I followed you. It felt as though something was terribly wrong.”

She looked down at her Sprite, breathing deeply. It was easy to talk to him, and for her that was more than unusual. “Where do you work?” That wasn’t the question she wanted to ask. But it was the one she could manage.

“Branson, I’m a psychologist.”

She glanced up. He had brown eyes, not hard, but still focused on her. “Then you must think I’m crazy.”

“No,” he said with a bit of surprise. “But I think you’re having a difficult time. You should sleep here tonight, in the other bed.”

She’d expected it but still ― “Peter, I don’t know how I can do that.”

“I don’t know how you can’t,” he stated flatly.

Do you need help?

“I don’t know.”

Have things stabilized?

“I’m not sure about that either.”

She slept restlessly, tossing, murmuring in her sleep. He concentrated on her, trying to place a protective shield or rather bubble of energy around her, but he wasn’t sure if he was trying to keep something out or trying to keep her within. And on top of everything, just attempting to maintain it was incredibly draining to him. It was a battle. Clearly, there was an unconscious component of her that wanted to travel, wanted to slip into these other lower, problematic dimensions so close to their own. Yet, her conscious self resisted and was being dragged unwillingly along.

What was happening was terribly disturbing, but beyond that the why of it bothered him even more. There was a persistence, perhaps a self-destructive thread here that he did not understand. Peter sat cross-legged on his bed, focusing on her, dropping down to a level where he could reach her subconscious mind.

“Nina,” he summoned. He felt a stillness overtake her, and the restless thrashing of her sleep ceased. Again, he directed the thought to her mind. “Nina, do you hear me?”

The whisper came floating tentatively back to him. “Yes.”

“What are you fighting?”

There was silence, then a stirring. “I am drawn.”

“Drawn to what?” he prodded.

“There is something here, something dark.”

“Why are you drawn to it?” he asked, pushing her for concreteness.

“I need to stop it.”

He hesitated. He hadn’t expected this, that there might actually be a purpose to any of her traveling. “You’re very weak.”

“You’re stopping me.”

“Yes, I don’t want anything to happen to you.” This was the concern, and he’d openly admitted it, perhaps for the first time to himself. There was something about her, about Nina Ascher that he was finding it difficult to keep professionally detached from.

“I have to go. Let me.”

He stopped, considering. Whether he wanted it or not, it was clear that she would be traveling. “Let me go with you.”

It seemed like endless moments before there was an answer. Then finally, “Yes.”

He sent out a call for aid to help bolster him before he released the shield around her. It was clear. If this was really going to happen, then he needed all the help he could get.

Was it shame? She wondered why it was never spoken of. The women of her family seemed to bury their ability as if it were an aberration. They operated under a definitive pressure to blend in, be unseen, appear normal.

But she wasn’t. And at times in wandering the darkness and in exploring these unknown spaces between, she admittedly felt more herself than when she was in the “normal” world.

She landed on a swampy surface, her feet sinking and then rebounding. It was different here, in Peter’s hotel room, than it had been in hers. The shadowy, turbulent surfaces were slashed with waves of calming blue-green light, flickering, and tempering the darkness.

She recognized from some inner compass that it was temporary. Peter had brought the serene light with him — his influence, his power perhaps. Straightening up from a crouching position, she canvassed the room. As her vision cleared, surprisingly, she saw him right beside her, though he appeared insubstantial, as though he hadn’t fully made the leap.

“Are you all right?” She sent the thought toward him. She could almost see its physical movement appearing as a kind of wave in the thick, gelatinous atmosphere.

His image beside her seemed to solidify a bit as her thought merged into him. He began to move, and she saw fluctuations in the light bands. It was clear that all that energy was connected to him.

“Adjusting,” he sent to her. And again, she could see the thought traveling in a ripple through the jelly-like atmosphere, until it hit her. Although it wasn’t exactly a hit, it felt more like a benevolent warmth spreading over her before the meaning crystallized in her mind.  

She silenced her thoughts and listened. The buzzing that she remembered from her room was in the distance but near. With instinct, she began to move toward the door, but his arm shot out in front of her, barring her way. “Wait. Where are you going?”

She stopped. She hadn’t thought, just responded to the pull. “I need to find it.”

Again, his thought collided with her. “Why?”

Why? That repeated in her mind. There wasn’t a coherent answer. She didn’t know Why. She only felt an urgency. She pulled away, forcing her way through the pulsating barrier that was his door. Peter was following her. That much she knew. His thoughts and emotions were tangible things wrapping around her like a cocoon.

Complete disorientation was what Peter was experiencing. The first time that he’d sent himself to this level to reach her, it hadn’t been wholly him, just a projected piece of his consciousness. But now, he was all in and woefully out of his element.

He followed her through the sticky mess that was his doorway and into the hall. His vision here was severely compromised. He had experienced moments of complete blindness, then after periods of settling some splotchy forms had begun to creep in.

The usual guidance he received from others on his team had become completely muffled out. This place that Nina Ascher had slipped into was clearly a corrosive, toxic space. Just being here had already caused him a severe drain of energy. He had no idea how she continued to function on this level of reality, except that perhaps by virtue of who she was, she possessed a natural immunity to it. Trying to keep up, he followed her down the dark aberration that was the hallway, amazed at how quickly and fluidly she moved in this space, nearly as though she were swimming through the dense atmosphere.

“Where are you going?” he sent out to her.

But she didn’t respond, just continued to move, wrapping around unexpected corners and turns. And then suddenly, abruptly, she stopped in front of a doorway. This gave him the chance to finally catch up, reaching her side. She remained motionless, staring forward. From his sketchily representational vision, she now seemed to be floating, feet not even touching what could loosely be called the carpet of the hallway.

“What is it?” he sent out. Though at first, she didn’t seem to respond to him.

“My room,” she sent back jarringly. So odd, how he could feel actual impact from her words. “It’s inside.”

He looked at the fluctuating doorway, now semi-recognizing it in its mutated form. “What does it want?” He sent toward her.

Then she turned to him, no expression. So strange how different she seemed here, more confident, oddly in her element. “It wants me.”

Peter wasn’t doing well. She could feel it. She knew she should attempt to send him back, but for some reason his presence was helping her, helping her feel more focused than she usually did, more empowered in some way.

As he stood next to her, she felt an inexplicable impulse that she seemed helpless to resist. Reaching her hand out, she grasped his tightly. Initially, the effect was as expected, skin touching skin, as it would be in their “normal” world, but then, just like the doorways and everything else here, she felt the surface give way. Her flesh began to actually part and melt into his, and she moved beneath the surface of his palm. Her hand began to physically merge with him, sinking past skin, past bone, beyond.

She could feel, feel all that energy that she had seen in the room, touching her. And then she sunk deeper, her form, the body that she remembered, completely merging into his, until vision was not hers, nor his, but theirs.

“What is this? What are we becoming?”

“We’re one.” Each thought was not hers, nor his, but now undeniably theirs.

They moved, though in what form was now unknown. They moved through the doorway, then beyond.

It was there, as expected, waiting in the middle of the room for them. It had drained all the energy that she had left behind and grown to enormous proportion, now almost reaching the ceiling in stature.

They knew that they could not leave it like this. It would be too damaging in this world and theirs. They centered thought, drawing from both consciousnesses.

The creature almost immediately began to react, nervously twittered, clearly intimidated by what they’d become. It felt them, and its great misshapen head twitched in agitation.

With all the force that they could muster, they directed energy, his energy, her focus, with the solitary thought of evolution. The thing that had been a fly in her room was hit, at the center of its being, scrambling, maddeningly for a moment in response to the flood of positive energy, then stopping and finally allowing the evolution to take place. It shrunk and transformed before them, mutating into a small form, a bird, perhaps a sparrow that fluttered uncontrollably for a moment then flew out of the room from a sudden gap that appeared in the wall.

They stood there, transfixed by what they’d done. Then Nina began to feel the tearing of their separation before everything swirled into blackness.

She was unconscious when he found her on the floor of his hotel room, breathing steadily though her pulse was racing. Peter shakily placed her in one of the beds pulling the blanket over her. He was trembling himself from the profound loss of energy. What had occurred, he couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around. Profound didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. He’d always been drawn, drawn to the paranormal, drawn to the other worldly elements of his studies. And undeniably, he’d been drawn to Nina Ascher even before he set eyes on her. But now, well, they were connected in a way that he couldn’t begin to fathom. At the moment though, all he wanted to do was rest. He hesitated, then climbed into the bed himself, pulling her into his arms before he collapsed into sleep.

What happened?

“It’s hard to say. We were able to intercept a drainer on another dimensional level and, well, stop it.”

Stop it, how?

He paused. How could he explain? How could he explain something that he didn’t understand?

Nina had woken up during the night a few times. She seemed a bit disoriented but other than that in reasonable health. He had a made a motion to leave the bed, but she’d held onto his arm, pulling him back. There weren’t words. What had happened between them was beyond words. They had become one being, one being that had the power to evolve another creature out of its own darkness into a new form of existence. He couldn’t imagine what that meant going forward — only that there was a formidable link that had been forged between them. 

She’d slept the rest of the night in his arms. Tomorrow they’d talk, talk about how to move forward; how they would move forward together.

“It’s hard to explain. I think we’ll need a bit of time to sort things out, sort out the ramifications. But I’ll be in touch.” 

Copyright © 2021 by Evelyn Klebert

A hotel for most represents a normal place, a predictable realm of commonality. One might even go as far to say a safe space, the reliable where nothing particularly unusual is expected to happen. Or is it?


Dimensional traveling, spirit guides, mystical storms, and soul mates separated by time are only a few of the elements dotting this supernatural landscape. Drop into a collection of romantic paranormal stories where that place of commonality is only the threshold, the jumping off point, for extraordinary adventures into the unknown.

Something Reconsidered

Over the last several days, I’ve spent time in the quiet of a house without internet due to hurricane Zeta. I fully intended to post a different story at the end of this Halloween, this very unique and in many ways unprecedented Halloween of 2020. But in my “quiet time” I reconsidered. I thought about the journey we’ve all taken this year and wanted to leave you with something a little different to think about. I’ve never posted this story anywhere else except for the collection of short stories where it first appeared, The Left Palm. I hope you enjoy and know I wish you all peace, the most important commodity I believe that is available.

The Left Palm

Fear, a manifestation of fear, certainly this was it. It was the only explanation, the one that made any sense she could live with.

She looked outside the bedroom window of her apartment onto her small secluded concrete patio. Hopefully, this time it would be gone. Shakily peering through the blinds, her heart clutched in her chest. It was nearly midnight, but the nearby streetlamps still illuminated the enclosed space, reflecting off its thick black coat. It turned its face toward her, unmistakably a pure, black wolf with eerily pale blue eyes.

She stepped back, allowing the blinds to snap back into place.

Again, it feverishly crossed her mind to call the police, or the SPCA or the fire department — frankly anyone. But each time she moved to pick up her cell phone, a paralysis crept in. Something inside her refused, absolutely refused to follow through.

Silently, she crept back onto her daybed, pulling the covers tightly around her. In the morning, it would be gone. It always was. After all, this was the third night in a row she’d seen it.

It was summertime, unbearably hot and humid in the city. But she made her way to the college by the lake where she was taking one graduate course in Victorian Literature. It was a nine o’ clock class. After lunch, she would head to the French Quarter for the rest of the day where she worked oddly enough as a Tarot card reader at a small shop on Chartres Street.

Granted, it was an odd profession but one that she literally fell into. She’d been working at a gift shop on Decatur Street and feeling the pinch of inflation began looking for a second job. There was a sign, boldly taped on the door of The Left Palm, “Looking for Part-Time Help.”  Seeing it, she just sort of drifted in with no idea of what she was getting into. The front of the store itself was filled with books, candles, and even clothing, so quite naturally she’d assumed that it must be a sales position.

The lady that greeted her from behind a glass counter was older, at least late fifties. She had substantially long black hair, dramatically streaked with gray, which was piled up in a low bun behind her head.  Quite a striking image, she wore some sort of electric blue caftan dress and an ornate oriental scarf draped across her shoulder. But when she’d met her eyes there was no smile, rather an almost suspicious expression reflected through her intently plucked black eyebrows. “Yes,” she’d asked nearly sternly.

She breathed in deeply, suddenly feeling as though she’d like to slink off somewhere and forget the whole thing. “Well,” she hesitated, quelling a bizarre combination of panic and curiosity, “I saw your sign outside, about a job opening.”

The slim dark woman who’d been leaning over the glass counter in front of her now straightened up. It was difficult not to be struck by the regalness of her bearing.  “You’re looking for a job?” She asked flatly.

“Yes, I am.”

“It’s part-time.”

She nodded, feeling amazingly uncomfortable, “Yes that’s fine.”

And then she outstretched one of her hands that were ornamented by very long, bright red nails, and placed it flatly on the glass case in front of her. “So, you’re a reader.”

She hesitated, “A reader?” asking with surprise.

“Yes, we need a Tarot reader.” Suddenly Claudia glanced around the store and took it all in — crystal balls, new age paraphernalia. Of course, now she understood. It wasn’t a sales position at all. Again, the woman repeated in low tones, “You are a reader.”

And Claudia with great confidence met her dark eyes and answered quite directly, “Yes, I am.”

Actually, prior to working at The Left Palm, it had all been a hobby, an eccentric interest. She’d done Tarot readings since high school for friends, relatives, but never herself. Long ago, she’d recognized that she simply couldn’t read for herself. It was too personal, rather she was always searching for something. And it was frustrating, because more than she wanted to know anything, she wanted to understand about herself. She needed to know why all her romantic entanglements ended disastrously; if she’d ever finally finish her degree; if she’d stop having to work so much; and if her life would ever settle down. But The Left Palm had proved to be more lucrative than she imagined at first. The pay was largely commission, and before long she had developed a clientele. The work itself, at times, she’d found less than rewarding, and at its worse completely draining.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, the money was too good to relinquish. Even with an assistantship at school, there were too many bills to pay. So, Claudia continued to read people’s fortunes, all kinds of people.

And on the early morning drive to school in late July, she wondered if there was some connection in this, in her work and the black wolf that had prowled her patio for the last three nights.

It had rained earlier in the morning, which increased the humidity to an almost stifling extent. She’d always loved this city but did not love the summers. She yearned for the fall again, when it would be easier to breath.

As she entered the English building, hearing her sandals lightly tap on the stone floor, it struck her suddenly how deserted everything seemed. Granted, the summers were a quiet time around here, but this morning seemed exceptionally quiet. When she’d arrived, she’d noted a few souls wondering about in the parking lot and then sitting on the steps of the library as she passed by, but the English building now was virtually empty.

Then, as she finally reached the door of the classroom, she understood at least one of the reasons why: A note on the door, “Class Cancelled.” She thought longingly of how she could still be in bed catching up from another largely sleepless night.

Her thought was to go home, try to catch just a few more hours, but such a fatigue suddenly filled her that she couldn’t even muster the effort. So, instead she wandered outside and sat down on the first bench that came along. Just a few minutes, she thought, only a few to regroup. She leaned back against its wooden frame and closed her eyes, trying to draw energy from anywhere.

It was some moments before her eyes flickered open again, before she noticed that a rather substantial shadow had fallen over her. But when she did, she instinctively straightened up in a jolt. It was quite unexpected. Not a cloud passing over, but a man standing in front of her. a man dressed in a black suit, standing a few feet away, just watching.

The sun shone directly in her eyes. With one hand, she attempted to block the glare, trying to get a clearer glimpse of this stranger. Bearded, dark, possibly black hair, but skin fair. She straightened up a bit more, expecting something from him, some sort of conversation, but nothing.

“Umm, can I help you with something?” she asked in puzzlement. And then, an unnerving wide smile spread across his face. Suddenly, a flash of sunlight stung her eyes so painfully that she quickly squinted. But more disturbing than that was that when she reopened them the stranger was gone. She bolted up, quickly scanning in all directions, but seeing no one that even remotely resembled his form.  He’d simply vanished. An unexpected chill of fear traveled up her spine and spread out making her skin feel like ice. She quickly began heading back to her car, moving so fast that it nearly felt like a run.

“You look awful.”

After an hour of sleep and a quick shower, she had somehow managed to drag herself into work for noon. Madame Christina stood behind the front counter with a bit of a frown on her face. Over the year that Claudia had been working at The Left Palm, she’d come to a plateau of understanding with the shop-owner. Christina Duverje rarely smiled, had a sour disposition, and was profoundly psychic. Once you accepted all these facts about the woman, life working at the French Quarter shop could be bearable. “No sleep,” she murmured as she crossed the threshold. “Any appointments today?” she asked, secretly hoping that there were none. Between the wolf literally at her door and the disappearing stranger at the University, her nerves were frayed to the point of unraveling. What would be most medicinal would be a nice quiet, uneventful afternoon.

“No, my sweet,” the older woman commented. “Just a few stray walk-ins this morning. Wednesdays, as you know, are notoriously slow around here. But I do have some new stock you could put out on the shelves while I go to lunch.”

Claudia nodded. Just for a passing moment, she thought about confiding the recent bizarre occurrences in her life to her boss. But something kept her silent. Somehow talking about them felt as though it would become more real.  Madame Christina had already gathered her things from a locked drawer beneath the counter. “You can ring me on my cell if things get too busy. Marguerite will be in at one. And I probably won’t be back for a while. I’m meeting an old friend.”

Claudia smiled with distraction as her boss noiselessly exited, except of course for the delicate chiming of the bells positioned strategically over the entrance.  She breathed out a deep sigh of fatigue. It would be an hour until their very high energy palmist swept through the door, hopefully a quiet hour to regroup. She sat on a stool behind the glass counter at The Left Palm and attempted to clear her mind. It was stress that she felt all over her, crawling over her skin, sapping her strength. She should have simply called in sick, but the truth of the matter was she didn’t want to go home. The memory of the black wolf last night prowling her patio left a fear wrapped around her heart. It was clear that whatever was happening couldn’t continue. She needed help, but exactly what kind of help was the ultimate question.

Claudia was deeply lost in thought when the bells at the doorway of The Left Palm chimed to signal the entrance of someone. She came to her feet quickly, but in the next moment stood literally rooted to the spot as a man rounded the corner of a book display. Her breath caught. There was no mistake, the black suit, pale face, and now, as he approached the counter, she could see very clearly the ice blue eyes.

He stood in front of her, not unlike he had done earlier at the University. But there was no hint of expression on his face, just a calm appraisal. They stared at each other silently, and then, almost against her will, the words slipped out, “What do you want?”

Now, there was a smile, the kind that didn’t touch the eyes. He spoke in a low voice with a clipped British accent. “Why, I think I’d like a Tarot card reading.”

They were like booths, partitioned with long red curtains at the back of the store.  Madame Christina had set up the first one in particular with a slim sightline through the curtain to the front entrance. Business wasn’t booming enough that there would always be more than one person working at a time. So, this was a way to alert a reader if there was another person in the store. Within each booth, there was a card table covered by a soft white, silken scarf and two chairs on either side. They were actually very nice padded, armchairs that Christina had obtained from a friend at a nearby antique store. It was all very atmospheric, which was necessary, given that they charged sixty dollars for only a thirty-minute reading. 

And today, Claudia was giving that reading to a man who called himself simply “Neil.”

She had no idea why she was doing this. It was crazy. It was crazy. A thousand excuses, a thousand lies had flooded up to her mind the moment he asked for a reading. But she seemed incapable of uttering even one, just stood there staring at him blankly, as though he had just asked to clean out their cash register. And then he’d asked quite calmly, “Is that all right?”

And she answered too quickly on its heels, “Yes,” without paying any attention to what her brain was screaming at her. The man himself was calm, collected, and showed no indication whatsoever that he’d ever laid eyes on her his whole life. And then, the doubts crept in. Perhaps, it was her. Perhaps, she’d had some premonition of their meeting. That was why she’d seen him before. But why and what did it mean?

And now, here she was only moments earlier feeling content and pleased to have the shop to herself, and now literally counting down the minutes until Marguerite flew in the front door like a tornado. Blessed tornado, for once in your life please be on time.

“Is everything all right?” he asked.

She glanced up at him, again entertaining the gaze of those strange, blue eyes. She’d tried to avoid looking at them too often. They were pale, disturbingly pale. She had tried to somewhat gage the man’s age, but found it difficult — late thirties, early forties, hard to say. And that suit, that was one of the oddest things of all. It was a nice suit, but so unsuitable for this time of year — so heavy, so hot. Then again, maybe he worked in a funeral parlor. She started to shuffle the oversized Tarot deck in her hands and leaned back in her chair. “No, everything’s fine. Have you had your cards read before?” she asked, her eyes still downcast, concentrating on the cards.

“How old are you?” She looked up; a bit surprised at the question.

“I’m twenty-four,” she answered a bit guardedly.

He nodded, “Seems young.”

She stopped shuffling, and perhaps a bit too abruptly placed the cards on the table. “If you’d prefer a more seasoned reader, Madame Marguerite will be back in this afternoon.”

“No,” he murmured. “That’s not what I meant. And yes.”

She looked at him with puzzlement, “Yes?”

“You asked if I have had my cards read before.”

She looked down again, nervously picking up the deck. “Oh yes, well is there anything in particular you’d like to know about?”

Again, he answered “Yes,” rather quietly.

She glanced up. He was watching her again with that odd curious expression, as though he were expecting something. “Well, then as you shuffle the cards, you should concentrate on it.”

She reached over handing him the deck and feeling the brush of his fingertips as he did. The contact was startling, disturbing. The only way that she could describe it was electric and cold at the same time. She pulled her hand away feeling an absolute numbness in her fingers now. Instinctively, she glanced through the slim opening in the curtains toward the front door, nothing, no movement. And then she glanced at her watch, forty minutes until Marguerite. Murmuring to him, she said, “We’ll begin now.”

She glanced up, noting that he’d stopped shuffling the cards. Suddenly, she realized she’d neglected to pull out a significator. “I’m sorry, I forgot—”

But then she stopped in mid-sentence as the man who called himself Neil was holding out a card to her. “It’s all right,” he said. “I pulled it myself.”

She hesitantly took the card in her hand and flipped it over. “The Hermit,” she read. “That’s an unusual choice. I mean for someone whose—”

“Not old?” he finished. She looked up again. He was smiling that slight odd smile as though he was somewhat amused. “Well, I might be older than you think.” And then he handed her the deck.

“You really should cut them three times.”

Slowly, he shook his head, “Not necessary. They’re fine.”

She nodded hesitantly, placing the Hermit in the center of the table as she began the spread.

“You have a strange style.”

It was her job interview or rather her audition as a Tarot card reader for Madame Christina Duverje. At the time, she’d smiled back at the dour older woman feeling without question that there was no way in hell she was getting this job. She had no professional experience as a Tarot reader, and this woman, well, she oozed experience in so many spheres.

She continued driving home her point, “You’re very weak on specifics.” She glanced at her over the Tarot spread that Claudia had just boldly read for her. Naturally, she had given her all, hadn’t held back. It wouldn’t do, she thought, to appear hesitant. After all, she’d believed that these people were seventy-five percent theatrics anyway. But now, her potential, and she used that word shakily at best, boss was glowering at her. Christina Duverje eyed her critically, slowly shredding away any feigned confidence that she’d brought with her. “You know,” she went on, “Clients like specifics. The man they’re going to meet, who’s going to have a baby, illnesses, even who’s going to kick the bucket.” All of this she delivered with a straight face, as those these were only the facts of the business. And then she pointed one of her menacingly long fingernails at her, “But you, you’re too vague.”

She nodded, mentally considering what her next plan of action would be. Maybe a job at a mall, although she did hate the really late hours. And then Madame Christina had completely surprised her. She had reached out with one of her elaborately manicured hands and placed it atop Claudia’s. She looked up, into the older woman’s dark eyes. “But you know, I really think there’s something there. With a little coaching, you could do this.”  She literally couldn’t believe what she was hearing. And, good to her word, she had coached her, albeit briefly, just enough to get her up and running. But today, this day, in front of this man, she could literally feel all of that confidence that she’d built up over the past year slowly melting away.

She swallowed on a dry throat as she finished laying the Celtic spread, her hands hesitating over the cards. Again, it was crazy. This not only seldom happened. This never happened. It was all major Arcana cards. The first twenty-two cards of the Tarot, the most powerful cards in the deck, and this guy had ten of them, plus of course the hermit that they’d started with. “Umm,” she started, just stunned. “Are you sure you shuffled these well?”

“Yes,” he answered pointedly, “as did you.”

She nodded. That was right. She had shuffled them. And she did see him do so, or at least she thought she did. “This is just very strange.”

“Really?” he answered, with little emotion.

She glanced up, “Would you like to redo it?”

“No,” he stated flatly.

She frowned, “Okay,” distractedly placing the rest of the deck down on the table.

“Do you read palms?” he asked.

She looked up, “No, our palmist will be arriving very soon if—”

“No, I was just wondering if you did.”

She forced a smile and shook her head, “No, sorry. No, just the cards.”

“I wondered, because of the name of your shop — The Left Palm.”

“Madame Christina does read palms as well,” again seized with the hope that their interaction will be cut short.

“Do you know what that means?”

She stared at him blankly. “I’m sorry?” she said with genuine confusion.

“The Left Palm, do you know its significance?”

She shook her head slowly, “No, not really,” feeling that chill sweep over her again, the one that she’d felt at his fingertips.

He spoke slowly and deliberately, “The left palm charts the path of the spirit. Did you know that?” he asked with deliberation. Again, she shook her head, feeling greatly unnerved by this turn in the conversation. And then, he placed both of his hands face down on the table in front of her. “I’d like to show you something. So, you can get an idea of who I really am.” She stared at him with confusion but unable to utter a sound, just like before. And then slowly, he turned over his left hand, and in that moment time just, truly seemed to stop. Her eyes blurred over in disbelief at what she was seeing. His hand, his entire palm, had no creases, no lines in it at all.  It was entirely blank.

“Oh God,” she finally managed to mutter brokenly.

“So, now Claudia, I would like to spend these last minutes we have together not reading my cards, because, as you might have guessed, I know exactly what they say. But instead, having a little talk that is long overdue.”

It began when her grandmother died. She’d been ill for some time and had stayed with her family at her parent’s home toward the end. She’d even briefly shared a room with Claudia, which had made the little girl, who was only eight, somewhat uneasy.  It wasn’t the recognition of her grandmother’s failing health or even that particular sensation of agitation that seemed to surround the older woman at the end. It was as if her soul was fighting the change. It created a discordant feeling between the body and the spirit that felt the pull to escape. Of course, all of this, she didn’t recognize at eight. But she did see them — all around, and in the end all the time. Some were spirits that looked like a bright glow of light, and others came in more tangible forms, people moving around the room, talking to her grandmother — whispers all the time whispers, and then, the last night, right at the end, the angels. Beautiful lights, white, gold, long robes glowing, when they took her with them. When her grandmother did pass on, it hadn’t registered at all to Claudia that there was still a body there. She had already left with the angels, and there remained a disturbing emptiness once they were gone.

She breathed in deeply, deep painful breaths of fear. “Oh God, what do you want?” she asked.

He smiled coldly, so coldly. “Now, we get down to it. There’s no reason to panic.”

“The wolf,” she whispered.

“A messenger to let you know I was coming. But I see you didn’t quite get that did you.”

She glanced around, looking to the door. Still no sign of Marguerite, and it was ten to one.” She’s going to be late,” he stated flatly. “Late enough for us to finish this.”

“Finish what?” she snapped out.

“I need a promise.”

“You’re out of your mind. I’m not signing anything.” She almost yelled emphatically.

He laughed softly, leaning back a bit in Madame Cristina’s antique chair, “You’ve seen too many movies. No, my dear, you’re not important enough for that. I just want a promise.”

“What kind of promise?” she knew that she shouldn’t have asked. She knew she should have run, run like crazy to the nearest holy ground. But instead, she asked what should not have been asked.

“I’m busy.”

She stared at him blankly in bewilderment, “What?”

 “What I need is less complications.”

“And I need a vacation, what’s your point?”

He smiled, “Actually, you’ve hit the nail on the head. You need a vacation, and I need less complications. All I ask from you is that you live your life, a nice life, a comfortable life perhaps but stay out of my way.”

She stared at this strange aberration of a person in complete confusion. “What?” was the only response she could think of, “What does that mean?”

His pale face seemed to harden a bit. Evidently, she wasn’t giving quite the expected answers. “Let me paint you a picture my dear. One life, things go smoothly. You finish college. You get a nice job. You get a house, a car. You marry a nice man, have children, live quietly, peacefully, sound nice?”

She shrugged. Did he really want an answer?

“Another picture,” he continued in a silky low voice. “A life of struggle. Takes a while to finish school, not enough money. Not so easy to land a job, things interfere, unfair things. You continue to work, sometimes several jobs. No house, not enough money. Maybe no husband, maybe no children. Always a battle, always some impediment. Sound nice?” he asked with an edge of sarcasm.

“So, you’re saying if I stay out of your way, I get the first life. And if I don’t?”

“The wolf will always be at the door,” and then he smiled coldly, “So, to speak.”

Her heart thudded loudly in her chest. Her head was spinning. Was this real or some sort of deluded dream? Impossible, how could it be?

And then the answer came to her softly, almost silently, in a whisper — angels. She remembered now from back then. She’d told her mother about them, expecting, completely expecting her to say she was crazy, or that she had imagined them.

“You didn’t,” she’d said. “It’s a gift that you could see them, and they’ll always be there for you when you need them.”

And she had. She’d seen them again five years later, when her mother died unexpectedly. She knew then that she was right. It had been and was now a gift.

For a moment, the coldness seemed to lift enough for her to think clearly. So, she reached out slowly and gathered the cards together quietly glancing down at her watch. She met his ice blue eyes and said calmly with confidence. “Your time is up.”

He frowned explicitly, “Are you sure you’re making the right decision Claudia?”

She nodded with assurance, “Yes.” And kept him in her sight until he left.

Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert

Even in the Darkest of Times

My next short story for Halloween month is a tale about a young woman in the midst of one of the darkest times in her life finding hope and a new beginning in the most unexpected way. “The Tear” is a paranormal short story that I first published in a collection called Dragonflies. And it has always been one of my favorites. Hope you enjoy! Follow the link below.

The Tear (link)

Now For Something Completely Different

In need of a bit more Halloween right now? Here’s a spooky story about a disenchanted bookstore clerk who gets an unexpected customer late one Halloween and is unwillingly dragged into a terrifying supernatural battle. The lesson I guess is that you never really can predict what is just around the corner. Follow the link below to “Late One Night at Berstrums Books. “

Late One Night at Berstrums Books (link)

The Left Palm New Edition

Need something spooky but just a bit unpredictable to read this Halloween season? The recently revised edition of The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural has just been released.

Halloween is the time of year when that veil between worlds is thinned, and you can just catch a quick glimpse into the realm of the unknowable. In this collection of short stories, Evelyn Klebert takes you to a place where ordinary life splinters into the sphere of the paranormal.

The journey begins with one woman’s unstoppable quest for vengeance against a supernatural creature in “Wolves,” and continues in an old historical graveyard where a horrifying discovery is uncovered in “Emma Fallon.” In “The Soul Shredder,” a psychiatrist’s unusual patient opens his eyes to a disturbing new view of reality, while in “Wildflowers,” a woman strikes up a supernatural friendship with impossible implications. And in “The Left Palm,” a fortuneteller in the French Quarter receives a most unexpected and terrifying customer.

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