I don’t always think things through. This time, though, I had a good excuse. The outline for my next novel is due next week, and I can’t figure out how to end the damn thing. So I was a little distracted when Stephanie called to chat about her demon-possessed condo.
Still, when your sister calls in hysterics, you back up your file, pocket the flash drive, and drive over to see what’s what.
Stephanie was sitting on her front step, stress-eating Halloween candy. Crumpled wrappers swirled around her feet like autumn leaves. She didn’t have her make-up on, so I knew things were dire.
“Walls bleeding?” Yes, it’s a cliché, but then, Stephanie’s last crisis was a boyfriend whose “wife didn’t understand him.”
“Not yet.” She wrinkled her nose in puzzlement. “Why do they do that?”
“No clue. So, what have you got? Floating objects, disembodied voices, an overall sense of soul-crushing dread?”
“Pretty much.” She pushed herself off the step. “I’m not going in there until you get rid of it.”
Her unshakable faith in my ability to solve her problems should have been heart-warming, but honestly? I had no idea how to unhaunt a condo.
Oh wait—maybe I did.
A few years back, I was researching an urban fantasy book and stopped by a new age shop for a Tarot deck. According to the website, the owner did psychic readings, so I figured she’d have an assortment.
The woman behind the counter was comfortably plump, with hair the color of a Twinkie and the face that said “former cheerleader.” She looked up when I came in, flashed some dimples, and chirped, “Hi, Hon. Tarot cards are second shelf from the top.”
Maybe that was a lucky guess, but it impressed the hell out of me. I came back often, took a few classes, and got lots of material that struck me as potentially useful. At the time, I didn’t expect to deploy any of it in a real-world scenario.
“Do you have any eggs?”
Stephanie looked at me like I’d just suggested she wear blue eye shadow. “Like, for omelets?”
I sometimes forget that my sister subsists on Doritos and coffee. Before I could explain, she snatched my car keys.
“There’s a 7-11 on the corner,” she said as she sprinted for my car.
Tires squealed, and there I stood, alone with Whatever.
The sooner I dealt with Stephanie’s latest issue, the sooner I could get back to the novel. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and marched up the steps.
A cold wind greeted me at the threshold, bringing with it a foul, acrid miasma. Not a scent, exactly. This registered deeper, on the ancient, hidden level of pheromones and instinct.
Life and energy drained out of me so fast I could almost hear the whoosh! It was a lot like the feeling you get from dealing with online trolls, which confirmed that we had an Evil Entity here.
Fortunately, one of my psychic’s tales seemed applicable here. She’d once banished an EE from a friend’s house by bringing in a houseplant, doing some incantations, and leaving the plant to absorb negative energies. Two days later, the plant was dead and the house was ghost-free. She thought an egg would also work, if you buried it after.
My car horn blared. I scurried over. Stephanie held out the egg carton while I selected one.
“You’re not going to throw that, are you? I just had the carpets done.”
I briefly explained the concept of energy transfer and returned to the condo, which promptly decided to start moaning and vibrating.
In the space of a few (very fast) heartbeats, the sound dialed up to the roar and shriek of a fast train to Hell. Dark shadows swirled madly. Pictures fell off the walls. A half-empty glass of merlot toppled off the coffee table and rolled.
So much for the carpet.
I set the egg on the table. The puddle of red wine gave the arrangement a certain ambiance. An incantation was called for, but the best I could come up with was, “Suck eggs, motherfucker!”
Don’t judge. I do my best work in revisions.
The noise dialed down, and the shadows converged to flow in a single stream toward the egg. I had no idea that dark energy could make an egg glow, but then, Infernal Physics is really more of a horror writer’s specialty. I have no excuse, however, for not thinking this plan through to what happened next:
The egg hatched.
I know, right? Of course it fucking hatched. That’s what happens when some idiot (that would be me) hands a disincarnate entity a ridiculously obvious portal to the material world.
Actually, “exploded” would be a more accurate description. Noise, smoke, eggshell shrapnel. Next thing, there was a black imp batwinging its way over to the fridge. It grabbed a bottle of sriracha sauce and squirted a long, red stream onto the wall. Black hands darted and whirled as it finger-painted a bloody nightmare. I watched, rooted in horrified fascination.
The painting threatened—or perhaps foretold—a horrible fate for Stephanie. That said, it was great visual storytelling, with a beginning, middle, and the makings of an inventively twisted end…
I fished my flash drive out of my pocket and plugged it into Stephanie’s open MacBook. Then I snapped that laptop shut around the preoccupied imp.
After a moment, I risked a peek inside. No imp.
I tried to open my outline.
<File in use>
I ejected the drive, wiped the sriracha mural off the wall, and strode out into the beautiful October sunlight.
Stephanie cracked open a window. “Is it gone?”
“Energy transfer complete,” I assured her. “Our problems are solved.”
I know what you’re thinking:
A ghostwriter? Seriously?
Okay, yeah—I probably should have thought this through. Asked for writing samples, maybe checked some references. But did I mention the outline is due next week?
Elaine Cunningham has two sisters, neither of whom inspired this story. (Evil Entities fear them both.) She is a history geek, a mezzo-soprano, and a New York Times bestselling author whose work includes 20 novels and about three dozen short stories. For more information, please visit www.elainecunningham.com.