The darkness is rising and one man stands against it: the exorcist mage Simon Alliant. But in Baltimore, he finally meets his match…a part-mortal divinity with the power to whisper away demons.
Simon Alliant is an exorcist who battles demons, whether he wants to or not. Sometimes it’s not so bad…he gets to play with magic, after all. But for Simon, magic represents a demon of another kind. He’s addicted to magic and it takes more than a handful of charms to keep that particular demon at bay.
Chiara is part Light, part Dark, and stubbornly mortal. The woman has a way with words: she literally talks demons into abandoning their human hosts. Simon thinks that’s not the only trick she has up her sleeve-and that’s pretty high praise coming from a mage like him.
As intriguing as that may be, Simon has too many reasons to distrust her…one of them being his more-or-less partner, an angelic Watcher. Amidst all the celestial warnings of the rising dark comes a new prophesy that makes him wonder: is Chiara a threat to him and all of mankind?
Or will she be his salvation?
“You seem much improved, Mr. Murphy.” The social worker folded her hands on top of his file, a fat many-paged collection of his previous ins and outs. Saint Berenice had become more than a temporary lay-over. It was starting to feel like home.
Which meant he’d stayed too long. “Feeling better, sweetheart. Time I move on.”
“But you were extremely vulnerable when you arrived. I must insist.” She shook her head, peering into his eyes.
He avoided that burrowing gaze and stared at the folder. A photograph was paper-clipped to the cover, the name KEVIN MURPHY printed in block letters across the top. Dark hair, dark eyes. What his mom would have called “properly Black Irish”, clipped and shaved like a dandy. He snorted a soft derisive sound, knowing that he looked nothing like that when he was at his worst. That’s the picture they should have—rumpled shirt, straggly almost-beard, dark rings beneath gray ghost eyes, the magic still burning through his veins. On the wagon was such a school boy look.
“Kevin.” Her voice made him look up again. “For your own sake.”
“I’m not doing this for my sake. I’m doing it for yours.”
She bit her lips, a look of resignation on her face. “I think that this is premature. You feel rested, don’t you? You look healthier. But it wasn’t just anxiety that brought you back here, or the worry of a relapse. You are avoiding the true reason you haven’t attained peace.”
“I avoid a lot of stuff. It’s how I stay alive.”
“But your addiction—”
“You don’t know the first thing about my addiction.” Simon regretted the sharpness of his tone but was unable to soften it. “Don’t presume the answer lies here among your group therapy and your Jungian theories and your psychological voodoo. If I say I’m better, it’s because it’s as better as I’m going to get.”
A long silence passed between them. She’d never been anything but polite to him, even helpful at times; the game was different now. Truths were going to out themselves, truths that tended to drag everyone nearby down with them. He’d hurt her, just now. He couldn’t prevent collateral damage but he had a duty to minimize it. Even if it meant he had to be an asshole to do it.
“You have to sign here to discharge yourself against doctor’s orders,” she said, her voice heavy. She flipped open the back cover to a printed medical form.
“I checked myself in.” He took her pen and signed the bottom of the paper with a flourish. Kevin Murphy. As good a name as any, but he could never get the letter v right. Maybe it was time for a new alias. “I can do the same in reverse.”
The therapist sighed and closed the file. She pulled a yellow envelope out of a basket. Opening it, she tipped the contents out onto the signed paperwork.
Wallet, cell phone, wristwatch, religious medallions, the wand. It rolled toward him and he snatched it up, shoving it into his breast pocket before collecting the other items. “Ah. My worry-stick. I was looking for that.”
“Kevin, I don’t think a simple worry-stick is enough to conquer the demons inside you.”
“We’ll not talk about my demons, sweetheart. Not when they can hear you.” His smile faded, his eyes going glassy and hard. “Until next time, eh?”
He snapped an about-face and strode out of her office, down the taupe-colored hallway toward the door, pausing until he heard the electronic buzz of the lock release. He left the facility, doors slamming shut behind him.
The air was balmy, remnants of sea air tainted by traffic fumes as it filtered through miles of city sprawl. Ah. He inhaled deeply through his nose. The smell of freedom. Good to be out and about again.
Then again, he’d had a similar thought when he checked himself in month ago. Shrugging, he straightened his jacket and set off toward the news stand on the corner. Freedom came in many forms.
He hadn’t made it to the sidewalk before a warm wind and the scent of clean linen surrounded him.
He caught the whispered sound of his real name and tilted his head toward it.
His real name was nearly an unknown thing these days, especially after having played the role of Kevin Murphy, career mental case and junkie from Boston’s darker side. He’d created the alias so long ago that he’d nearly forgotten the details of Kevin’s manufactured life.
If only his time as Kevin allowed him to forget his life as Simon.
Looking around, he spotted a tall, pale man wearing a tunic and loose pants, leaning against a tree. Sandy brown hair fell in soft curls to his shoulders, framing a sculpted face that seemed unbeguiling.
So out of place in modern Boston. If the dude wasn’t careful, he’d get mugged. Good thing he was more or less invisible to ordinary people.
The tall man straightened himself and walked toward him. A vague mist hung about his shoulders, trailing behind him like a shadowy fog.
It would have seemed unnatural if Simon didn’t spend so much time hanging about on the wrong side of nature. Odd mists weren’t enough to put him off. They weren’t even enough for him to mention.
“Mack.” Simon looked him up and down. Sandals. Another reason to mug him. He really needed to get with the times. “Long time, no see. What, you couldn’t visit even once? Not even on Tuesdays? We had Taco Tuesdays, buddy. You really missed out.”
“You were trying to regain your sanity, Simon.” The man’s voice was smooth and melodious, a mild accent that couldn’t be pinned down to any one region. Or millennium, for that matter. “I doubt visions of an angel would have helped.”
“Shoot, sanity. It was good old R and R.”
“Was it, now?” Mack pursed his lips, eyes brows raised. He had a very human-like quality to his features, if one ignored the ghost of his wings. “I thought it was…antidepressants and group therapy.”
“Well, the first week or two. But then nothing but spa days from there on out.”
“Mmm.” The angel smiled, a gentle radiance that elevated his already-beautiful features. “A solid month of being magic-free? How did it feel?”
Simon ruffled his hair. He couldn’t lie, not to the one entity that had never lied to him. Magic and free never belonged in the same sentence. “Feels like I can use a smoke. Shall I buy my ciggies now or after we land?”
“After. We need to get your boots on the ground right away.”
“I just got out of the looney bin, pal. Give me a moment to acclimate.”
Mack slowly shook his head. “There was a gathering at the Ladder today. Simon…the darkness is rising.”
“Why not?” Simon hung his head, defeated. “Can we just skip the Metatron light show and just have the down and dirty? They held my afternoon Valium and my head is splitting.”
“But you lose the surety—”
“I’ve never gotten anything but the straight shit from you, Mack. So let’s have it.”
“There is a…traitor.”
He rolled his eyes. Half of Mack’s heavenly announcements began with those same words. “There’s always a traitor. Why does this one get divine attention?”
“Because it’s an internal concern. A child of the Light has one foot in the darkness. It needs to be handled…delicately.”
“And you need good old Simon Alliant to be the heavy. Figures. Nobody else willing to get their wings dirty.” He cracked his neck and spared a forlorn glance at the newsstand down the street. “Where, this time?”
Simon groaned. The original Charm City. He’d taken a great deal of ribbing from an old master about previous sojourns there. A man who used amulets for a living had no business in a city with so trite a nickname. “I hate being that close to D.C.”
“You can complain afterwards.” The angel stepped behind Simon and wrapped his arms around his chest, emitting a soft glow that began to encompass them both.
“I usually do.” Simon closed his eyes, waiting for the pull and the drop.
The power hit swiftly like freefall, pulling his breath out in a gush.
For a moment, his essence was caught between two places, his molecules stretched apart, his spirit suspended in a void. Memory couldn’t reach him here. His past couldn’t catch up to him here. It was a perfect singularity, this being in the now.
True freedom, the shortest lived of its kind. Yet the perfection of the moment was tainted. Tainted with a dread he couldn’t outrun.
He dreaded the inevitable instant this tiny reprieve would end.
Hi! Welcome to another stop on the Haunted Halloween Spooktacular blog hop!
I’m Ash Krafton and I’m a writer of all things speculative fiction. I especially enjoy writing novel-length urban fantasy…and recently I celebrated the release of the first book in a new series. CHARM CITY is about an exorcist mage living in Baltimore. Simon Alliant sees it all—angels, demons, and those who may be a little bit of both. On top of everything else, he gets to play with magic. Now, if only it didn’t feel like a drug to him…
The story can be a little bit dark at times, but it’s not horrific or hopeless. I like the dark. I like the shadows. Why wouldn’t I? I’m the girl who thinks the ideal fictional boyfriend is Jack Skellington. (Makes trips to Disney fun for the whole family ;^) )
And it’s all because I adore Halloween.
My enthusiasm for Halloween is long-established and well-known (just check my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/6–VFEHg8u/?taken-by=ash_krafton). I’m the neighbor who keeps Halloween decorations up year ’round, has a life-sized toy skeleton (named Napoleon) who accompanies me on long car rides, and who lives every day like it’s Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. Halloween isn’t a one-day celebration (or, in the case of someone who works in retail, a six-week event.) It’s a philosophy, an attitude, a way of life.
I love scary movies and love being scared silly. I know 90% of it is in my head but I’m in my forties and STILL can’t look in a mirror in a darkened room. (You know why. Her first name is Bloody and her other name is NO I WON’T SAY IT) My desk has, among other things, a skull in a jar on it (with pretty LED lights. It’s festive) and I own more than one Tarot set.
But not a Ouija Board. Nuh, uh. That’s bad juju.
I suppose my guests are a little confused by my office décor (and the Grim Reaper mannequin in the basement) especially since there is another theme prevalent in my home: Catholicism. I’m an Irish-Polish Catholic and for every macabre knick-knack there’s a Crucifix or a saint statue or other blessed item.
I’m pretty sure it aggravates my mother, who has learned to choose carefully where to look when she visits and tends to stay in the kitchen. (No skulls in there. Not good kitchen aesthetic.) But she knows me. She knows how my brain works and knows that when I call and say “I have a new book coming out!” odds are it’s going to be something she doesn’t think a good Catholic girl should be reading. But she accepts it, in that way moms love even the goofiest of their children. I love Halloween. She loves me. It’s just the way it is.
I’ve dealt with anti-Halloween prejudice all my life. In high school, I owned a vampire cape, and I’m talking in the pre-Lost Boys eighties. Nobody got it. In college, I discovered Anne Rice and assumed a safe place for people like me existed, after all, since the Humanities Dept. pretty much sanctioned vampires, right? Wrong again.
By the time my kids were old enough to attend the local parochial elementary school, I had just decided I was going to let my vampire flag fly. Too bad for the kids on Halloween. They could Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle all they wanted but the lady who ran the PTO Halloween party dressed like a vampire and wouldn’t make them feel better by insisting it was a just costume. (I also had cultivated a rich throaty Mu-hahahahaha laugh that made first graders scurry out of the room real fast. It still makes me laugh all these years later. Mu-haha.) In fact, I still say they were lucky I limited it to Halloween. I could have dressed like that every Monday when I ran the school bookstore.
The teachers gave me a lot of side eye and probably thought, Oh well, she’s a volunteer. Buy cheap, get cheap.
But that was their anti-Halloween prejudice talking. If only they knew just how Catholic Halloween really was.
Many people associate Halloween with pagan practices, but that’s really not where it all started. In fact, the connection people make between Samhain and Halloween is actually an historically recent development.)
Halloween began way back before the ninth century as an association to All Saint’s Day, which Catholics observe on November 1. It is a Holy Day of Obligation which remembers all those who have been blessed in Heaven.
Way back then, they used the word hallow for saint. November 1 was, accordingly, referred to as All Hallows. That made the evening before, October 31, All Hallows Even… or, you guessed it…hallowe’en, for short.
November 2 was celebrated as All Souls Day, a day to remember those in purgatory (a time-out for those souls who hadn’t behaved enough to go directly to Heaven.) But what about those not in Heaven or Purgatory? If there is to be a Day of the Damned, it needs to find a different spot on the calendar because one thing’s for sure: it’s not Halloween.
What about all the occult aspects of the holiday?
The idea of the occult is Catholic, too, as it’s based on our belief in the afterlife. During Hallowtide (October 31-November 2) it’s thought that the boundary between the living and the dead was thinned, and ghosts or other communications from the “other side” were more likely to occur. Whether we want to admit it or not, we Catholics are a massively superstitious bunch. Those beliefs may have led to the practice of dressing up like ghoulies on Halloween.
Culture may have grown to associate Halloween with scary, dark, or even evil things but it’s really just a way to observe and recognize our own mortality. Consider the Danse Macabre: an ages-old artistic rendering of the truth that beggars and Kings, and all between are united by Death. Danse art decorated cemeteries and churches, and was performed in verse and in dramatic performances. Writings from the fifteenth century proclaimed:
Wer war der Tor, wer der Weise,
Wer der Bettler oder Kaiser?
Ob arm, ob reich, im Tode gleich.
Whether foolish or wise, beggar or king, rich or poor, all are equal in death.
Perhaps modern man lives too lush and comfortable a life to believe we are conquerable by Death. Maybe we all believe we’re a little bit immortal. Reminders of the inevitable end are considered an interruption to our lifestyles, a thing to be abhorred.
But let’s face it: there is a skeleton walking around inside each and every single one of us. Where is the evil in that? It’s just life.
So, to all the holy Hallow-haters, I say: relax. Halloween is an expression of my Catholic faith. I don’t need a novena to save me from the dark side, even if I do wish every day was Halloween.
My stories are a reflection of my beliefs. Yes, I write about vampires and demons and the fight between Light and Dark, good and evil. I believe that fight is real, and is present in each of our lives to some degree. But I also explore the element of faith and the hope of redemption. Art imitates life, right?
And, while I may not wear my cape much these days (thanks, pharmacy day job, you party pooper, you) the sweet shadows and macabre poetics will always fill the corners of my heart.
Don’t be afraid to let them fill yours, too.
About the Author:
Ash Krafton (@ashkrafton) is an author of speculative fiction. She’s an unrepentant Ultimate Sinner who once guest-hosted a radio show on Sirius XM Radio channel Ozzy’s Boneyard (and proclaimed Alice Cooper to be “dead sexy.”) She also writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance, stories that seek to find redemption for her characters. Vampires, demons, reincarnation…you name it, she writes it. Currently, she’s celebrating the release of the first in a new series of magic and mayhem: CHARM CITY (The Demon Whisperer #1) is available on Kindle Unlimited now.
Ash is giving away three print proofs of CHARM CITY (The Demon Whisperer #1), each with a unique handmade charmed bookblade. (She loves the shiny things!) Want to try your luck? Enter now!