Halloween is almost here, so this time, dear Delilah fans, I’m going to share a personal story before I tell you about my featured short story. Snuggle in with a cup of hot tea and tuck that blanket around your legs. And enjoy the hair standing up on your neck.
A friend had come to stay with me while she searched for a place to live. She had lived in Europe for several years, and on her journey back to the States had stayed for a time in London with an old friend. He was ailing and subsequently died. She told me about her mysterious experience with his ghost visiting her after his death.
After returning to the States, she lived at my house maybe two or three months before finding a rental she liked. After she moved out, a month or so later, I was sitting in the living room watching television like I did every night when I suddenly became aware of another presence in the house. The hair went up on my neck.
At first, I tried to convince myself it was my imagination, because that’s what we all do at moments like that, right? Then I reasoned that if someone had come in at the back end of the house through that seldom-used door, I would have heard it. It didn’t open without a creak. I heard no creak.
But after several minutes of very eerie energy wafting through the house, I forced myself to get up from the couch and go back there. I slowly crept the thirty feet down the hallway to that back door, gooseflesh on my arms. I even stopped to pick up a large bamboo rod to use on an intruder. I flipped on the hall lights, calling out ‘Who’s there?’
When I got to the room with the door, it was empty. So was the rest of that part of the house, including closets and under the beds. Yes, I checked. And the door was locked. But Something was there, an energy that was so strong and so haunting that I could feel it all around me.
Almost immediately, I realized it was the ghost of my friend’s friend. It must have followed her since she was the person who had seen him through his last days and communed with the ghost after her friend’s death. I remembered her remarks that she had visited with the ghost more than once.
Well, thanks a lot! I didn’t need that ghost, and I didn’t appreciate her leaving it here with me.
It was hostile, maybe because she had left it behind. I didn’t trust it. Didn’t want it. I tried to reason with myself. Maybe it was likely just lost.
So I addressed it. I stood there in the rooms she had stayed in and told it this wasn’t where it needed to be. I tried to change my energy from fear and resistance to a more loving and sympathetic frame of mind. It wasn’t easy because I was spooked, but I said it would rest better if it joined the other spirits in the places they lived. I told it to go to the light.
I thought it had listened because the presence seemed to leave. Later, though, when I went back to that part of the house after a few days, my eye caught on a work of art one of my kids had done in grade school. Taking pride of place near the end of the hallway, it was well-done rendering of a clown with a teardrop on its cheek that had always made it a sad image.
Well, now the image was not sad. It was demonic.
The ghost had taken up residence.
I admit I’m not a big fan of clowns in general, so there might have been some prejudice in my observation. But a couple of visiting neighbors got the same chill from looking at the painting. Disturbed by what was either a supernatural presence existing within my house or, alternatively, the fact that I was losing my mind, I ended up asking my daughter to take the art to her dad. Where it remains. I have not been bothered by that ghost again.
The ghost had no direct influence on the story of Emily’s Halloween. But living in the deep woods offers plenty of opportunities to let the spirit world walk tall in the imagination. The Halloween magic that created “Emily’s Very Special Halloween” started one afternoon with a sketchy idea for a writing project. It was an early fall day with the woods taking on their colors of orange, gold, and scarlet. A wind blew that morning, sending a kaleidoscope of color whirling through the air. I thought, okay, something with dark mystery would be nice. I’d figure it out the next morning.
During the night, this idea came to me about an ancient book and masculine magic. The next morning, I could think of nothing else. I sat down at my desk and, by noon, the story was finished.
I’ve never had that happen before. In the story, a book falls, quite literally, into Emily’s hands while she’s dusting shelves in the bookshop where she works. Bound in blackened ancient leather, the slim volume includes a title visible more from the indentation on the leather than by surviving lettering. Spells and Incantations, it says. She leafs through the brittle pages, muttering some of the strange words written there. From there, a story unfolds of sex magic and a mysterious dark stranger.
Excerpt from Emily’s Very Special Halloween
He wore a long black cape which only emphasized his masculine stature. His other garments also were black except for an elaborate vest with bizarre geometric markings that seemed to glow in the dark and move of their own accord in the reflected light of the bonfire. Faintly, she wondered if he found the vest in the same vintage shop.
His mouth reminded her of the man today in the bookstore. Her startled gaze returned to his face where a teasing smile lingered along his sensual lips. If the black mask covering his upper face were gone, would he…
She gasped. “Were you…”
“At the bookstore today?” He bowed slightly. “I’m flattered you remember. Yes, I like old books. I look around in every town I visit.”
“You’re visiting?” she stammered. God, she was horrible at this. Her face heated. “Well, I mean…”
One of his eyebrows lifted and his mouth pursed as if he choked back a laugh. “I’m teaching a short philosophy course on campus,” he said. “You would be welcome to sit in, if you like.”
“Oh, I’m taking seventeen hours plus I work, so… But thank you for inviting me.”
“Yes, of course,” he said smoothly. “So if this is the only time we might have to get acquainted, may I escort you around the grounds?”
Emily felt her jaw sag. Her glance at Sarah discovered an equally stunned expression. This man was older than her twenty-two years, certainly leagues beyond any of her classmates in terms of worldly wisdom. A visiting professor, no less. What was he doing at this party? Why her?
“Uh, sure,” she said, unable to think of any other response.
“I saw Harris over there,” Sarah said smoothly, pointing to a group of people several yards away. “I need to talk to him.”
Well, at least one of them had a clue about what to do next, Emily thought frantically. What now? There weren’t any ‘grounds’ here. He talked as if they were at some palatial estate with sculptured gardens and paved walkways. The ground here was rough with clumps of recently-mowed pasture grass and unexpected dips, most of it in shadow with only the bonfire to cast uneven light.
Her pulse fluttered in her throat. How had she found herself so far beyond her comfort zone—the dress, the party, and now this man? Too late. She almost regretted not staying at home. This whole idea from dressing up to attending the party was Sarah’s thing, not hers. Sarah loved going out. Emily, not so much. Actually not at all. She had the Friday evening schedule of television programs memorized, her go-to method of chilling out after a hard week of class and work.
A more reasonable concession to Halloween might have been a couple bags of candy for the neighborhood kids, assuming any of them ventured up the rickety outside staircase to her apartment door. Instead, here she was at somebody’s farm with a man touching her elbow sending shockwaves through her body. She glanced up.
“Don’t be afraid of me, Emily,” he said. “I think we should be formally introduced. I’m Ned Lucian, but everyone calls me Jack. Among other things,” he added with a grin.
“I’m, well, how did you know my name?” she said.
“Your name tag at work.”
“Oh, yeah, gee whiz.” She grinned sheepishly. “Emily Sanders. Nice to meet you, Jack.” She stuck out her hand.
The firm clasp of his hand seemed to burn her entire arm. She couldn’t seem to let go or even think of backing away. His presence surrounded her as if she had slipped inside his cloak. That incense scent she’d noticed in the changing room filled the still air, probably because her body had become hot and pulled the scent from the dress. Her breath came in short gasps. She felt dizzy.