“This is the spot,” I said, handing Bobby a bag of salt from out of my coat pocket, “Make a circle. I’ll draw the sigils.”
The summoning signs spring to my mind easily. The voices save their resistance for things that could get them in trouble down the track. Summoning the spirits of the long dead is work-a-day business for them.
I snatched the cigarette from Sam’s fingers and stood in the middle of the finished circle. I held it, bare inches from my left eye.
“By lighted torch I summon thee, spirit of the restless dead.”
There was a hiss and a cold, foul wind blew out the cigarette. Sam muttered in irritation and lit herself a fresh one. The air shimmered before me, our torches flickered. The pale outline of a man appeared between us, inside the circle of salt.
“Whosat?” it muttered, “Are you the one whose been diggin’ up me graves?”
It’s voice was cold and damp, the inside of a fallen tree.
“You Called to me,” I said, “My name is Tom Grey.”
“I didn’t Call you, boy. I was just yellin’. Some fella’s been diggin up the graves. Me poor sweet family. Can’t even rest in piece. I drove him off, best I could. But ‘e’ll be back ta finish the job, boy. Mark my words. E’ll be back with more than just a spade.”
I held up my hand, motioning for them to keep quiet. The Call was louder now, but it was harder to pinpoint the direction. It was all around us, like a smothering fog.
Into the forest I went, pushing aside dead branches and wet bracken. Bobby and Sam followed, lighting my way with torches. They knew better than to disturb me when I was like this. It had only been a few weeks, but they were already learning my new habits.
We were close now, I could feel it. I snapped mossy logs under my feet, crushed wattle saplings and sword grass as the the Call drew me on.
We came into a clearing and the Call subsided to a low, persistent hum.
Bobby flashed his torch around.
“Someone used to live here. Fireplace.” His torch caught a tumble of bricks. There was other evidence to, rusted metal scraps, broken bricks, a twisted pipe from an old stove. The clearing was big enough for a house. Not a large house, but a serviceable shack.
“Someone’s been here recently, too,” said Sam, holding up a sodden cigarette butt. She lit herself one, as if reminded to do so by her discovery.
“We’re almost there. Up there, behind those trees.” I pointed and set off.
We climbed the small rise to find a second, smaller clearing. There, in amongst the gums were a half-dozen small, sad graves, marked with moss covered stone. Three had been recently dug up.
I followed the Call, whispers of the dead echoing inside my skull. My sister and her boyfriend followed me. We took back roads, little dirt tracks off into the deep bush. It got darker and colder. There was a half moon, but barely any light made it through the canopy. Mountain Ash towered above us from every side, silent, ancient giants, forever seeming to judge us.
I’ve already been judged. I was found wanting.
Eventually, I pulled over the car. Bobby’s old Land Cruiser shuddered to a halt behind me.
“Where the hell are we?” my sister asked, sipping from a thermos full of hot coffee. She looked like she’d been through the wars. By my count, she had now been awake for the past 45 hours. Staying conscious kept the Demons at bay. My fault as well, I’m afraid. As much Bobby losing his original arm was my fault. At least I’d made up for that one by conjuring him up a new one.
We dealt with Sam’s possessions by strapping her down with leather and silver, but it didn’t always work. Sometimes, she still got out. I was working on, but the voices were being uncooperative in that department. It didn’t pay to piss off Demons, especially if you were already dead.
I pull over the car and call my sister. Tell her I need might need backup. She can’t drive right at this minute she says. She’ll enlist Bobby to drive her out. Bobby is her boyfriend. I tell her to meet me in Lilydale, then we’ll go from there.
I buy McDonalds and show the girl at the checkout a card trick, where I pull her card from inside her own register. I put it there when I ordered, but she thinks I’m spooky as hell. She almost asks for my number, I can tell, then any attraction she was feeling slides from her face and she hands my Big Mac meal and goes into the back room. I know what happened there. Sometimes, after people spend a little time around me, they start to notice somethings wrong. I’m told it starts with a feeling of general unease, then one of sudden, personal danger. She’s gone to call her mother and make sure she’s still breathing.
I sit in my car, eating my food and listening to the radio, until Sam and Bobby turn up. Bobby waves at me with one gloved hand, Sam spins a finger in a circle next to her head. Regroup, move out.
It’s getting dark. I used to hate driving at this time of day, when the sun was dipping down below the hills. Make up your mind, twilight, are you day or night? I drive with my dash lights on, but not my headlights. The trees out this way are old and angry, surrounded by the deritus of my fellow humans. They throw up shadows around me, grasping, reaching shadows. They stretch out towards me, ghostly tendrils.
The Call has been doing the same. This one is leading me out into the bush, into the cold green of the Dandenong Ranges. I’ve never been comfortable out amoungst the green. The absence of concrete makes me uneasy. Seeing as I how I can’t feel fear anymore, I care a whole lot less.
There’s something long dead out here, though. Dead and angry. It might be long dead, but something has just happened to make it angry. Angry spirits are my business now. Spirits, demons, ghouls, curses, hexes, ghosts, hedge magic, lost souls, mythic earth gods. My name is Tom Grey. I have no soul.
I could’ve have chosen a better heroic chariot. A 1994 Honda Civic is a bit rusty, both literally and figuratively. A voice in my head tells me that’s a linguistic fallacy, but I ignore it, like I’ve been ignoring all the voices. Unless I ask. Then I need to listen. I also need to figure out lies from truth, but the voices haven’t led me too badly wrong so far. They want to fuck with me, but not to kill me. They’re enjoying living again quite a lot I think.
I take the Eastern Freeway, then Maroondah Highway, my little car chugging along. It’ll limp for a few more years, until I put it down like a sick dog. I’ll miss it, if I’ve remembered how. If I cared about missing things, I’d probably miss that particular feeling. I don’t though. I don’t really care about much. I know what I should do, I know what’s expected of me. I try to make other people happy, because I remember doing that, at least some of the time. I have to remind myself of it constantly, though. While I’m seperated from what makes me human, I need those reminders, before I take someone apart at their base elements because it’s easier than asking them to move. Now…morally, I wouldn’t feel the difference.
You can’t know until you’ve tried it, kids. Don’t trade your soul. It sucks pretty goddamn hard.
Stop being so fucking cool, with all the Impala leaning and greased back hair. Effortless prick. Don’t think I don’t see the seething, pulsing, roiling portal to Nether that you really are. You hide behind sunglasses and Chuck Hi-tops, but I know what you are. I see into souls and yours is black and rotten. You’ve been alive far too long. You’re ancient and terrible. A smirking, smiling, smug demon, wrapped in a beguiling meat rug.
I’m preparing to fight you. I really am. You don’t know it yet, but I’m learning. I’m ripping into my mind and tearing out the knowledge that I shoved in there. The knowledge that I stole, that I paid for. I might not have a soul anymore, but my lack of one is better than your black one. In here, my mind, there’s a way to kill you. To cut away that facade and drag you screaming into the light. And it’lll burn you, you sick fuck. I’m coming for you.