The last lesson, finally.
Dusk is my favourite time of day. Usually.
When I watch the sky darken from pale orange to cerulean blue, I feel as if the earth is taking a deep breath before night begins. This vision mesmerises me; fills me with serenity. Apparently, this is a trait all manangs share.
Tonight though, serenity is far from me.
Colin and I are trudging through the cemetery of St. Alban’s church; crushing the fallen flowers of the Jacaranda tree. Like most old cemeteries and this one was over a century old, judging from some of the headstones around me, broken headstones scatter throughout the overgrown grass and the ground is uneven. I stumble and Colin grabs my elbow, righting me.
“Watch where you’re going, Jess! I don’t want you getting a sprained ankle before we even begin!”
I jerk my arm from his grasp and reach down to rub my ankle which was beginning to throb. “Thanks.” I mutter.
Dried leaves and twigs crunch under our feet as we venture deeper into the cemetery. I have no idea what we are here for and Colin refuses to answer when I ask him.
Trailing behind, I take a deep breath and immediately I sputter. “Gross, this place smells like -“
Colin turns and grabs my chin hard and hisses “Don’t…”
Twice in one night. This is a record.
I start to tell him to stop with the manhandling when a memory flashes through me – Grandfather’s voice telling me that fragrances encountered after dark and especially in unfamiliar surroundings must not be acknowledged for these fragrances are traps set by mischievous spirits to lure unsuspecting travellers into the spiritual realm. Indicating aloud that a fragrance is noticed is akin to walking into the trap from which returning may be impossible.
Colin’s hand is still on me; his eyes locks with mine. Heat creeps up my neck and again I jerk myself loose. I’m such a fool. What kind of a manang am I?
He lets go and we resume walking until we reach a mound with a worn wooden headstone to mark its location. I remove the flashlight from my pocket; it is almost full dark and read the text inscribed.
9/ 1/ 1925 – 25/ 9/ 1943
I do the math. So young.
“So, since we’ve stopped, are you finally going to tell me what we’re doing here?” I ask Colin.
“We’re not doing anything,” he starts, “you are.” He crosses his thick arms across his broad chest and I try not to ogle. Or drool. “Manang 101 – summoning spirits,” he finally elaborates.
“Summoning? You mean now? Spirit? Hers?” My eyes go wide as I point at the headstone. “I’m not ready!”
Typical Colin, he ignores my protests. “We practiced this. Remember. Search for the Source, tap into it and focus on calling Clare’s spirit. Only her spirit. Ground yourself – “
“- and push against the Veil. My memory is fine, Colin. That’s beside the point! I’m not ready!” And frankly, freaking scared but I keep this thought to myself.
Colin just glares at me and I know that there’s no getting into bed with a warm glass of milk and a racy romance novel anytime soon until I get this done.
The sun has set completely now and the night feels thick. The hair on the back of my neck prickles. I ignore the neck-prickling and close my eyes as I reach for my connection to Menjaya Raja Manang, the Witchdoctor King. The connection is tenuous so I exert my will until I feel the psychic snap that tells me the Source, the well of power recognises me.
I call Clare.
Spirits have always shown themselves to me. When I was a child, they did this because they sensed that I wasmanang and assumed that I would be able to pass on messages to their loved ones for them. They come when they want something. Calling a spirit that does not seek anything was another matter altogether and requires more effort. I feel the Veil and reach in to find Clare’s spirit.
I am in shock because almost immediately Clare comes to me in a rush and I gasp. Something’s wrong. This doesn’t feel right. I hear buzzing around me which intensifies. I start to say Colin’s name but I can’t speak.
The spirit stumbles and twists in my direction. “It’s beginning,” she hisses and I almost pass out from the stench of her breath. Wait, do spirits breathe?
I hear Colin’s voice as if through molasses – garbled, unintelligible “Jess …not Clare… dismiss … before… touches you… order!”
Tendrils emerge from the spirit and reach out for me. It looks like a deformed squid now. I fall on my behind and push myself backwards with my hands and legs on the ground like a crab. I try to pull more power from the Source so that I can shove this whatever-it-is back into the Veil.
My hands and legs are tiring and the thought of just lying there on the slightly damp ground sounds enticing. I begin to slow my retreat when I feel a sharp pain on my right hand. OUCH! I hold my hand up close to my face and see blood gushing from where a rusty needle has pierced the fleshy part of my palm. Great, just great. Pursued by an unknown spirit, abandoned by my Guard, found a rusty needle – all in all, a perfect night.
I try one last time, before the wooziness of seeing my own blood claims me, to shove the spirit-that-is-not-Clare back where it belongs. I hold my bleeding right hand up and pull on the Source as I push. The spirit screeches and claws at me but doesn’t quite reach as an invisible force drags it backwards into a point that can only be the Veil. With an inaudible pop, the menacing spirit is gone and silence surrounds me. It’s the blood…
I shut my eyes and let my head fall back onto the ground. I can’t move my limbs. So tired.
“Jess! Jess! Are you okay?” I feel Colin lift my head onto his lap. Hmmm…such strong thighs. I resist the urge to purr. Now, he appears, that darn man.
And the stars fill my vision, plunging me into night.