When her older half-brother unexpectedly commits suicide, Crystal is devastated.
The only thing she thinks will take away the pain is understanding why he did it. What she doesn’t know is the danger her search will create for her family when she dabbles in magick and calls something forth from the grave that wasn’t what she intended.
If she can learn how to control and subdue the supernatural, she may find the answers she seeks. If not, the thing that led her brother to commit suicide is going to continue picking off her family members one by one.
Fortunately for Crystal, her brother left behind a friend who may be willing to give her some much-needed guidance.
Crystal walked to the river in the moonlight, amazed as always by how she could see as well in the dark when it was like this as she could in broad daylight. She hadn’t checked the calendar, but it seemed to be a perfect full moon. She was always drawn to a full moon like a lover. On nights like this, she could feel how charged the air was. The energy felt electric, like she could pull it into herself and do anything with it. The night held expectation and promise and vibrated with life. She could hear the frogs croaking and the sounds of night creatures around her in the distance. She had heard reports of mountain lions in the area and her parents didn’t like her walking alone in the dark because of what might be out there, but she didn’t care. She loved to slip out of the house in the dead of night and go for a run in the oak canyons, miles from anything where no one would ever find her if she disappeared. There was a thrill in being that free, and probably some thrill in the danger of it.
She walked through the cottonwood trees and stared at the water. It had rained hard the night before and the water was deep and churned up, muddy with debris. It would be three or four days before it would be all right to swim in it again. As she stood watching, she thought she saw a body floating in the water, face down and blue. She stifled a scream and walked closer to see it, but it was gone. She rubbed her eyes and wondered if not getting enough sleep was making her hallucinate.
The wind picked up just then and caused last year’s dead leaves to swirl around her. “Crystal.” She heard her name but couldn’t hear where it was coming from. “Crystal, where are you?” She felt the goosebumps on her arms and couldn’t answer through her fear. “Crystal.” It was ahead of her, and then she heard it behind her, just the slightest whisper on the breeze.
“Crystal, I’ve been looking all over for you.” Mike said, coming up behind her. Max had come down to the river with Mike, and he nuzzled his wet nose into Crystal’s hand.
She wiped Max’s slobber off her hand and onto her shorts. “Christ, Mike, you scared the hell out of me!”
“Well, who else is going to be out looking for you in the dark?”
“I–I don’t know.” She stammered. “It’s just that I thought I saw something in the water just now.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. Just for a minute, it looked like a body or something. I’m sure it wasn’t. I’ve just been a little spooked lately.”
“You’re not the only one, Sis. Come on, let’s go back.”
“Is Joe still here?”
“No, he’s gone. Mom said he’s leaving for Colorado tonight. I guess he doesn’t want to be in the house anymore. I can’t say as I blame him.”
“Me neither.” Crystal said. She was thinking that made going through Nick’s things easier.
“He’s not coming back, Crystal—at least not for a while. Mom said we could have what we wanted from the house and that he’s going to put it up for sale.”
“Damn. I wonder what it’s been like for him living there since it happened. It had to be hell. Do you think it’s haunted now?”
She shrugged, and they walked back to the house in silence, the question hanging in the air. Mike kicked at clumps of dirt along the way, and Crystal was lost in her thoughts. A bullfrog bellowed in the distance, and the horses ran and nipped at each other in the pasture. The night still seemed charged with electricity, like right before a storm.
What Happens at Midnight Stays at Midnight
It was pushing midnight as I left the office, and the chill of the January night seemed to creep through my bones like a virus, starting first with my flesh and then eating deeper into my muscles before creeping into my internal organs. As I left through the back door of the bank building, I noticed someone had left the gate to the courtyard behind the bank open. It had always been locked, as far back as I could remember, under the pretense that the owners didn’t want people going inside to smoke and leaving their cigarette butts lying about or some such thing. But, tonight, the huge iron gate stood ajar.
From the conference room window of my law firm, eight floors above, I had sometimes peered down into the enclosed area with the ivy climbing up the brick wall on the far side, yearning to go in there and sit on one of the stone benches, with my toes absently stroking the green grass, and get lost in some fiction novel instead of meeting with whatever poor broken-hearted soul was asking me to solve their problems at the moment. I had never seen anyone actually go inside, but the grass was short and it was well kept, so someone had to enter it. I remember vaguely wondering if someone mowed that grass at midnight or when it was done. An ancient looking, gnarled tree stands in the center of the courtyard and extends its many bent arms and crooked fingers out over the whole area so that sunlight only barely manages to filter through its leaves and dapple the ground below. That is all I could ever really see of that mysterious little section of city, because a high, wrought-iron fence encircles it. It is the kind of fence that has narrow spaces between the bars and wicked sharp points on top, which forbids trespass by its presence much more effectively than any security officer could have done.
Tonight, as I paused in the dead of winter at the gap in the barrier and peered through that two or three foot opening where the gate was inclined inward, I looked up at the tree, and its gnarled fingers seemed even more skeletal than usual. I stood for a long moment considering, before I stepped inside the gate. I didn’t particularly want to mar my clean–or mostly clean–record with criminal trespass charges, but I couldn’t just walk on by without looking inside. Perhaps had it been warmer outside, I might have stood there and contemplated a bit longer, but icicles forming on one’s eyelashes do have a way of motivating one to seize the day–or the night as the case might be.
I shoved my car keys into my pocket and stepped cautiously through and around the gate, peering around it to make sure that no one was on the other side. It was deserted and quiet, and somehow warmer on the inside. I felt myself stop shivering almost as soon as I passed through the gate. It was also much, much quieter than it was outside the gate. Somehow, the noises from the city were muffled. I saw now, as I stood next to it, that the rough bark on the ancient tree spiraled upwards, and that the bark was not arranged randomly as ordinary bark might be. I looked around at the arrangement of stepping stones carefully laid out on what would otherwise have been the green lawn of my fantasies during the summertime. I had never noticed them from up above when I had looked out of the window. The stones were in an almost perfect circular pattern, or perhaps a spiral, I thought, as I came closer to them and saw more of the rough-hewn white stones appear.
I backed up, not quite trusting my eyes, because the inner swirls of the spiral had not at first appeared until I was near its edge. Sure enough, as I got back closer to the gate, only the perimeter of the stone circle showed. I looked up at the bright smattering of stars that glimmered through the twisted branches of the tree, and around the perimeter of the courtyard at the stone bench sitting nonchalantly against the brick wall and it all looked so ordinary, but as I approached the circle of stepping stones at the center, inner swirls of stones again began to appear. I then noticed that they were not flat, but rather curved inward and into a vortex of sorts.
I came and stood on the edge of the circle and it seemed to me that while the circle had a depth to it, that the depth seemed to change and shimmer somehow, one minute appearing to go on forever, and the next minute, appearing to only be slightly concave. I rubbed my eyes, and shook my head, trying to clear the cobwebs from my brain, and then, because I had to, I gingerly, put one foot over the outer perimeter and onto the ground between it and the next row of stones. It felt like perfectly ordinary ground and I began to walk forward and to follow the path the lines made, not at first looking up, and only looking down at my high heels. The ground was slightly damp so that my heels sank in and I was trying not to lose a shoe or fall down. I noticed it becoming significantly warmer, and my muscles started to relax. Gone was the tension I had felt from the cold. I looked up and saw that there were dirt walls on my sides, not deep, but in layers extending outward such that the one beside me was maybe two feet tall, the next four feet tall and so on. It occurred to me that the spiral was getting progressively tighter, and it was then that I came to a doorway.
A doorway is not quite accurate because there was actually no door, only dark space like a yawning mouth. Had it actually been a mouth, I would have been standing on its tongue and it would have been about to swallow me hole. Somehow, this didn’t bother me at the time. I was only curious. I went through the door and as soon as I passed through, I found a large, brightly lit cavern. I couldn’t quite tell what the light source was. It seemed like I was in the daylight and it felt like sunshine, but there was no sun in the sky or whatever passed for sky that loomed above me. There was no real color to it. It was not the blue summer sky that I might expect, and it was not the gloomy grey of winter that I was used to. Neither was it dark, nor particularly white. It just was. Mostly the world was green. There was vegetation everywhere, but no animals or birds, or even insects as far as I could see. The landscape was varied by hills and mounds and what appeared to be more stone circles in the distance. Everywhere about me were those same gnarled trees with the spiral bark swirling around them and upward. The ground was lush with freshly mown-grass.
I didn’t know exactly what else to do, so I kicked off my high heels and I sat on the grass. I felt the ground shift under me and conform to my body like the memory foam in my favorite pillow. I was instantly comfortable and at ease and as I settled back, I felt like I was being lulled into a kind of peace that I had not felt in a very long time. It was like floating in the hot tub with the jets off. I was warm and cozy and everything felt right.
I closed my eyes and I began to feel like the trees were watching me. I became uneasily aware of their presence. I felt their consciousness. When I opened my eyes, the trees were in their same places, not having moved or advanced in on me. But now, I became aware of certain bushes nearby which looked somehow sentient.
It was not long before I heard first the thoughts of the trees, and then the thoughts of the bushes, intrude into my consciousness. I knew they were not trying to be invasive, but there they were, nonetheless, in my own mind with me. Some were soft and subtle, and I felt the slightest, tinkling vibration of their thoughts. Others felt more like coarse stones rubbing together, a deep growling grumble. The bushes were lighter presences, more airy and I sensed they were not as intelligent as the trees. Perhaps they were only younger. I could feel my consciousness merging with the trees, and I began to resist, fearing I would lose my own identity and that they would absorb it somehow. I could feel my mind expanding to encompass all of the world below, and then it begin to spread upward through those spirals on the tree trunks into the world above. I was being stretched and pulled and merging with everything green on the planet and I knew my sanity could not last more than another heartbeat or two. It was then that I felt myself connecting to the billions of individual blades of grass, all with their own identities and yet all connected, some down below with me in this world which were vibrant and green, and others up above mercifully dormant and quiet. That was when I finally felt my consciousness fracture like a mirror being dropped and a million shards of broken reflection exploded into my mind’s eye.
And then, there I was, sitting in my car in the parking garage looking out from above the courtyard. The keys were in the ignition and it was running, but I had no idea how I had gotten there. I looked down and saw that I was missing my shoes. Those particular high heels weren’t that expensive anyway, and I supposed I could live without them, but I didn’t really want to drive home barefoot. I got out of my car and looked down and into the courtyard. The iron gate was firmly and solidly closed. There would be no going back after my shoes. There was nothing to do except to drive home. With the concrete of the parking garage floor fast leeching the warmth from my body, I decided it had better be sooner rather than later. I cast one last quick look back over my shoulder at the courtyard as I left, wondering if the gate would ever open for me again.
The clock inside struck midnight as she watched the waning moon through the trees. It had been a long week, trying to fit in at work, trying to be proper in such a stuffy world where she didn’t belong. She had been to her breaking point these last few months, feeling her world crumbling around her until she had begun to believe it was karma. She had started to think she deserved it for betraying her family to seek a soulmate. She had known what she was doing was wrong when she did it, but she had wanted more. Now, she thought she was paying for it as she saw her career ending and contemplated moving by herself to another town to try to start over. Karma was catching up with her and it wasn’t going to give her any peace.
Sighing, she rose from her spot on the lawn and went inside to put some shoes on. She needed to clear her head, needed the cool comfort of the forest. She changed into jeans and then pulled on a pair of boots. There were thorn bushes in the forest where she was headed, among other things. She grabbed a flashlight and pulled the door shut behind her, slipping into the dark as silently as a cat.
She knew the path well enough in the daylight, but her feet were the only ones who took it, so the ground was undisturbed, the branches of the trees unbroken, and the progress slow. She made her way through the backyard, down the hill, over a mossy tree and around what almost looked like a stone pathway. The stones were natural limestone and flat, and the line of them, pale green against the darker green earth of the forest was what had drawn her to the stream and the ancient oaks the first time.
As she neared the stream, she slipped her boots off and sat them on the last of the stones. Where she wanted to go could only be reached by walking in the stream. She rolled her jeans up as far as she could and stepped into the water. It was the first of October and she gasped at the chill of the water as she stepped in. It served to clear her mind and bring her in touch with the present though. It was hard to think of anything but the icy sting of the water in the stream.
She made her way upstream, squishing her toes in the mud on the bottom and avoiding the more rocky areas where she might cut her feet on the stones. She came then to a shallow place in the water where there was a clearing in the woods. She stepped out onto the mossy bank, and looked up through the branches of the oak and ash trees at the moon winking in the night sky. One Oak tree stood in the center of the clearing, larger than the rest. Its brethren flanked it in an impressive warrior formation. Those trees thrummed with power that she could feel like a heartbeat, standing on top of their roots with her own bare feet.
She stood, head bowed, hand on the tree’s trunk, clearing her mind and soaking up the energy in the clearing. As she did, she felt herself growing stronger. She felt her heartbeat grow strong and regular. Doubts faded, and the headache she had felt for the last week relaxed as she let the tension leave her muscles for the first time in as many days. She breathed in the night air and breathed in power.
She heard a twig snap very near her before she heard the low growl only feet away and to her left. Her heart skipped a beat and her stomach clenched as she realized she was not alone. She hoped that it was not hungry. Then she heard another low growl to her right, and another behind her.
She almost panicked, almost made a run for the stream, before she heard the tree laugh. “What are you afraid of?” It asked. “You too are a creature of the night and you are twice the monster they are.” She laughed then and patted a thank you in answer against the tree’s bark.
“I am.” She said. “I am a monster,” she shouted at the shadowy figures. “And you are nothing but dogs. I am more monster than you will ever be because I was once human.” She added with a growl. They stared each other down, she daring them to come forward and take her. She wanted them to do it. She wanted to savagely rip them apart, starting with their jaws. Perhaps sensing her pent-up rage and frustration, and her desire to fight to the death, they bowed their knee to her before they slunk back into the night.
About the Author:
Krista Carlson was born in South Dakota, in 1980, to a farmer and a librarian. She grew up in Ord, Nebraska with an older brother, and they were homeschooled, which meant that they spent a great deal of their time riding horses, swimming in the river and anything else they could think of to avoid studying. She did rather enjoy books though, especially literature and history, and so, after having her first son a young age, she began to pursue her education seriously. By the time she was seventeen, she was married with two sons and had a year of college behind her. She later graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and then went on to graduate from law school with distinction in 2008. Upon graduation, she became a civil defense attorney with a firm in Lincoln, Nebraska. While studying History at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, she began to explore her interest in magick and spent the traditional year and a day with a local Wiccan coven. This interest prompted her to write her debut novel, Gryphon’s Passing, which was released in March of 2015.
Signed copy of Gryphon’s Passing by Krista M. Carlson and a necklace with a quartz crystal