Hallowe'en is coming up fast, and in honour of that auspicious occasion, I'm posting some spooky stories on the next few Sundays.
If you've been to this blog before, you'll recognize Dark Clouds. "The Mandrake Ruse" is the first chapter in what is slowly growing into a complete novel that I hope will cross the occult/paranormal-spy thriller genre boundary.
You can download Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse as an e-book for free from the tab at the top of the page.
What follows is a short chapter, this one focusing on "pretty little Teri," the heroine of The Mandrake Ruse, What Made me Love You? and The Graveyard, and the wife of the Witch's son and hero of the tale, Matt.
Dark Clouds: Teri and the river
|Photo of Dumoine River copyright Scott Bury|
The water was surprisingly warm, swirling and dancing in the setting sun, dark where it was deep, orange where it flowed over rocks, white were it leapt and spun and rolled in joy.
Teri let herself drift. She closed her eyes to let her spirit see freely. She felt the river’s joy, its happiness in its own strength, in its ability to feed the life in it and around it. Teri saw the fishes and the other creatures below its surface, hiding under soil and rocks and among the trees that pushed their roots into the river to draw their lives.
Teri’s skin tingled with the energy of life, but she ignored the sensation. She could not even be certain she was breathing, whether she was above or below the surface, but she pushed those thoughts, those fears out of her mind. She opened her spirit wider, searched for every sensation and tried to contact the river’s spirit.
A riot of sensation shocked her and her eyes flew open involuntarily. She found herself lying on her back on the water’s surface. She let the river take her. Trees drifted past on either side. The current pulled her until she drifted downstream, head-first. She felt a tug to one side and saw a boulder slide past her vision. The river had kept her from injury.
Teri took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She opened her mind again, willing herself not to think of language or any human constructs so that she could communicate with the essence of the river.
There it was: the joy, the power of the river, constant motion, different in every second, eternally the same. Dark, alive, irresistible. The river acknowledged Teri’s attempt at communication, and her mind filled with a cognizance of a powerful, dark, living and curious presence.
She wanted to ask “Where am I?” but knew that forming human words in her mind threatened to break the communion she had with the river. She explored the edges of her consciousness and found she could not exactly see, but gradually become aware of the world beyond the river’s banks, of the trees and hills and other rivers and lakes and animals, the forest stretching across the world’s curves. Life buzzed and oozed until it twisted or cramped in pain, and Teri understood that happened where humans built their cities.
But there, to her left, no, now her right as the river turned her playfully, there, far but not so far for the river, was her home. And beyond it, her parents’ home. And over there, yes, she could tell where Racine was. She could feel his rancour, feel the stink of his fear.
And in the other direction, a malevolence that could only be Helen. The Witch Queen was looking for her, but she did not have a connection with the joyous river and could not see Teri.
Teri felt the river probe her spirit. Later, her memory would translate the deep connection she had into words.
“Do not fear, little one,” the river said.
“I am not afraid. Thank you for saving me. How did I end up in you?”
“I do not know. One moment, you were there. Perhaps you fell in? The banks, though, do not remember you.”
“The last thing I remember is being in a dark room, chained to a bed,” Teri told the river, careful not to make her thoughts too concrete. “How long have I been in you?”
“A full day. Do not worry, my child. I will keep you warm until I deliver you into the waters of my brother/sister.”
Teri realized she was naked, but not cold. She wondered, briefly, if the sun had set yet, but she did not dare open her eyes in case that would sever her communion with the river.
“Who is your brother?” she asked.
She felt the presence swirl under and over and around her, like an enormous otter or fish, playing in the water. “Some of your kind call her/him the Ottawa River,” said the presence. “I will carry you to him/her by the time the sun rises again. You are tired. I can tell. Peace, child. Sleep. Trust me to take you home.”
Sleep. How long had it been since she had slept, Teri wondered. Days? Weeks? She had no idea how long Helen had kept her in that windowless room. The time had dragged; she knew that Helen had drugged her, somehow, to bring her there, and had used drugs or spells repeatedly to take away her consciousness. She remembered opening her eyes to see Helen’s only inches away, or across the room, supervising Loretta or one of her other bitches as they humiliated her. Even the water’s warmth could not keep her from shivering at the memory of two of Helen’s coven, hands on her ankles, spreading her legs apart while Helen laughed and brought a small crystal vial toward her vagina. But it had only been psychological torture; Helen would never bring herself to actually touch Teri.
Teri let the river calm her, let the water caress her skin. Her thoughts retreated from the world around her, from the embrace of the water, from the presence of the river. And then she felt the presence within her, and she knew that she had defeated Helen.
She slept, and the Dumoine River carried her gently through the night until it gave her to the embrace of its great sibling, and Teri moved with the speed of the deep natural world toward her home.