Prompt: Tag | Word Count: 2500 words | Genre: Paranormal
Shivers ran the length of my body as the M.E. led me into the morgue. God, how I hate that place! After consulting her clipboard, she walked over to the wall of drawers and pulled hard on 23B. The smooth slide of the drawer unnerved me as the movement of its exit from the cabinet blew a corner of the sheet over the body’s right foot exposing the tag hanging from the big toe.
“NJ4379-00-10-2387, Jane Doe, Female, Hispanic/Asian, approx. 30 years of age.”
I cleared my throat before addressing the doctor. “Cause of death?”
“Undetermined at this time. Her heart seems to have just given out. There are no signs of trauma. ‘Tox’ screens show no abnormalities in the blood. She was in reasonably good shape and there appear to be no apparent health issues. Quite frankly, we’re a little stumped at the moment.”
This is why they brought me in. I reached for the corner of the covering nearest the wall. “May I?”
I pulled back the cover just far enough to expose her head. The sheet had disheveled her hair. As gently as I could, I brushed it away from her face. What happened to you? My silent query left unanswered, I opened my bag for the tools I would need.
. . .
Gran was my closest companion growing up. With Mom and Dad away all the time working for Doctors Without Borders, I spent nearly all of my childhood in her care. She told many stories and from her, I learned a great deal about our family legacy, the Sight. Dad had not been born with the gift, but early on, I learned it had been passed down to me.
“Hold your posture just so.” Gran was a patient teacher and I quickly learned the art behind the gift. “Don’t forget the talisman. And set your candles around your subject. Above all, you must treat your subject with respect.”
I was an eager student. “Now what do I do?”
“Close your eyes and reach for the veil. You’ll know it when you feel it.”
“I feel it!”
“Calm, child. Now, rub your hands together with the talisman between them to warm them up and open a channel to the veil.”
“I can see it!” Of course, as quickly as it had come, it dissipated. “What did I do wrong?”
“You broke your concentration child. You must maintain that if you wish to pierce the veil and speak with the spirits who live there. That’s one of the reasons for the candles. To help you focus your concentration.”
“I’ll never get this!” Frustration ground my teeth together and sloughed off me in waves.
“Hush child. You are Romano. It is in your blood. You merely need to practice and eventually, it’ll come to you as naturally as breathing.”
. . .
Not long after finally breaking through the veil for the first time, I learned that candles were a mere concentration tool. For the sake of expedience, calling stones work just as well and are easier to carry around. I placed them one-by-one carefully around the head of Jane Doe. Onyx on the pillow above her. Jade on her right shoulder. Agate on her left. The final stone, white quartz, I placed just above her heart. The cross-section of the autopsy scar unnerved me for just a moment. I pushed it away and focused on the stones.
I closed my eyes and reached for the veil. There! The viscous air hung invisibly just within my reach. I rubbed the talisman between my hands. The warmth of the stone heated them as my concentration deepened. Taking the medallion in my left hand, I reached out and touched her forehead with my right. Then, reaching out with my mind, I “pushed”.
Fog enveloped me as I pierced the curtain between the living and the spirit world. Figures, gray and amorphous, surrounded me and, just as quickly, moved away. I searched for a soul that shone more brightly than the others. Such is the way of the Sight. The object of the gift-bearer’s focus glows with more intensity than all the rest. This time, however, I found no glowing figure. The deeper into the spirit realm I went, the more mundane graylings I found. Each touch from one of these, sent shivers through my soul, sapping my strength and concentration. Could she really be gone?! This had never happened to me before. I gathered my thoughts together and prepared to release the veil. Turning to exit, I found the way barred by a coal-black figure. Its crimson eyes burned like the forges of Hell and it reeked of sulfur and brimstone.
This was new! Instinctively, I drew upon the stones and formed a shield around me. A low, rasping scrape resolved into a mirthless laugh. A chorus of many voices speaking as one, tore at my mind, clawing away at my psyche. “That shield will not protect you here!”
In all my years of Seeing, I had never encountered such malevolence. “Who are you?”
Fog swirled anxiously as the temperature dropped around me. The shield tightened, threatening to crush me inside. Instinctively I knew, if I let it go, this creature would have me. Drawing deeper on the stones, I willed more energy into it.
“Impressive!” The Cybil-voiced figure grew darker before me. “You clearly have more iron than the others.”
“Others?” I tried to draw it out. Keep it talking. I needed answers. I needed time to think. “What others?”
“Others like you.”
“Romani!” The figure spat. “Gypsy filth! No. Sightbearers.”
My mind reeled with the idea that there were others out there like me. I had never encountered any other people with the Sight. This was definitely something to follow up on when I got back. If I get back! “What happened to the others? The ones like me.?
The creature uttered a garbled hiss I took to be a laugh. “I ate their souls.”
. . .
Gran rocked in her chair out on the porch. “Fetch us some tea, child.”
After handing her a tall glass of sweet iced tea, she waved at me to sit on the chair beside her. Always open and gregarious, she was more pensive this evening than I had known her to be. We had just finished up a grueling two-hour Seeing, bolstering my confidence with its success.
“The Sight is a gift, child. But it also comes with danger.” I had learned to wait out her pauses. “Always remember the candles. They have significance. They represent your ancestors. From them, you can draw strength.”
“Yes, Gran.” She took a sip of her tea before continuing.
“Do you remember the stories I told you as a child?”
“The stories of the early Roma?”
“Yes, child.” Silence met her pause. As though the whole world shared my expectation of the tale to come. “In the old days, a necromancer approached the Romani offering a great magic. The ability to speak with the dead. Our people were quite superstitious and decided, in their fear, to reject the necromancer’s offer.”
“I remember. He was very angry and decided to raise an army of undead to destroy the Romani people. That is why they became nomadic. Traveling in caravans and never setting down roots.”
“Yes. What you don’t know is that two brothers, Nikolai and Tomas, decided to stay and fight for their land. For three days they met the undead and killed them by beheading or with wooden spears blessed in holy water.” Gran paused as if to gather her thoughts, taking another sip of her tea. “But they were sorely outnumbered, and Tomas was gravely wounded. The necromancer approached them as Nikolai was fighting to get back his brother’s side. He took Tomas by the throat and sucked the life right out of him. The way we sit here and sip at our tea. Nikolai screamed in anguish and threw his last spear. By the grace of the Great Angel, the spear struck the heart of the beast who burst into flames knocking Nikolai to the ground.”
“What happened next?”
“Without the necromancer, the undead fell to the ground and turned to ash. But, with his dying breath, he cursed the young man with the ability to speak to the dead. It near drove the Nikolai mad. Each day after, he only wore black. And there are stories of him talking to someone who was nowhere to be found.” I waited, knowing the story wasn’t yet over. “Eventually, he recovered and married his brother’s wife. They had eight children together and all of them were born with the Sight. Thus, it has been, with our family, generation after generation, until you.”
“So, the black candle represents Nikolai!”
“Yes. And the white one, the Great Angel herself.”
“What about the others?”
“Green is for your grandfather who fought in the great war. Such a tall and handsome man he was! And such a fine figure in his green uniform.” Gran drifted away for a moment. “Not long after I got the news of his passing in the war, I went in search of his spirit. In those days, I only had the power of the three candles. I wandered the spirit world for weeks and still could not find him. I became convinced they were wrong about his death. That somehow, he had survived. One night, as I was about to leave the veil, a dark spirit blocked my way. It was a Souleater. I had been warned of this creature by my mother, but never encountered it before. And never since.”
“You’re grandpa. At the moment I needed him most, he came. He shone his spirit light so brightly, the Souleater was forced to retreat. Oh, it was a bittersweet reunion! But I knew I would have him with me all the rest of my days. So long as I had the Sight. Afterward, I fashioned a new candle in his memory. A spirit that strong is a worthy ally.”
“And the multi-colored candle?”
“Ah, yes. That one represents the Roma people in all their diversity and glory. A nation without a land.” She reached out and took my arm. There was an intensity in her eyes I had not seen before. “From these four sources, you can draw the strength you need to face the dangers of the spirit world. There is light, and there are the graylings which, though basically harmless, can sap your strength. But darkness lurks there too. Beware of the Souleater!”
. . .
Crimson orbs bore holes through my shield threatening to break down my barrier. The Souleater’s will, like the hammer of Vulcan to the anvil of the world, beat down upon me. I staggered against the force of its malevolence.
“Why do you resist me, boy? I can see the chaos raging in your mind. You have no strength against my will. Let me ease your burden of life. In me, your spirit will live forever!”
I called upon the stones. I called upon the spirits of Nikolai and my grandfather. Of the Great Angel herself and of my people. Give me the strength to overcome! My shield strengthened and expanded. It held firm and gave me the strength to stand. I knew I had not enough power to overcome this creature, but I hoped at least to have enough to escape.
I railed at the monster. “Who are you to go about eating souls?!”
“Do you not know, boy? I see the glimmer in your mind. I know your grandmother well, for I nearly ate her soul. Surely, she told you of me!”
I didn’t want to believe. It couldn’t be possible, could it? Could this creature be the one who started it all? “You are the necromancer. The creature of old who cursed my people so long ago.”
His rasping laughter scratched across the void. “So! You are a bright one. You will make a worthy adversary. I will grant you three answers, though it will warrant you nothing. Your soul will be mine before the night is through. Ask your questions.”
They say, “Knowledge is power.” And right then, I needed all the power I could find. First, the reason I was here. “Who is the young woman whose body lays before me and whose soul you consumed?”
The creature drew back a moment as if in consultation with another. “Her name was Vivien Li. Like yourself, she was a Sightbearer.”
I reached out once more for my grandfather, whose spirit I had not yet tried to find. “What do you want of me, Souleater?” I reached out to the spirit of Nikolai as I awaited the devil’s answer.
“You have strength. It has been many centuries since I encountered such. I wish to leave this realm and once again walk the green fields of the living. I will eat your soul and use you body as my vessel.” He drilled his eyes more fiercely at me. “What us your last question boy?”
I called upon the Great Angel and the collective spirit of my people. Pulling together all of that power, I radiated it out to my shield. “How is it you cannot stand in the light?!” and then, I glowed. Light burst from my shield in great pulses of energy. The Souleater was forced back. Its amorphous arms flailed about. It shrieked in the glare and shrank away fleeing the brilliance of the light. Nearly exhausted, I opened the veil and departed.
Back in the world of the living, I staggered and nearly fell to the ground. The M.E. steadied me until I could stand on my own. “Thank you.” I flashed her a wan smile.
“Are you alright?” Concern wrinkled her otherwise smooth brow. Her glossy hair brushed my arm and for the first time, I took notice of her. Black eyes framed by wire-rimmed glasses and full red lips.
“I will be. I just need to rest a bit.”
“What did you learn?”
“Her name was Vivien Li. She was a Sightbearer like me. Her life was taken by a Souleater. Without a soul, the heart has no reason to continue beating.”
She let go of my arm, pulled back her hair into a ponytail and drew a pen from her pocket. Picking up the tag attached to Vivien’s foot, she scratched out the name of “Jane Doe” and wrote “Vivien Li” above it. “Cause of death, heart failure.”
Turning back to me she asked, “Are you sure you’re alright?”
My heart fluttered a bit at her concern. She really is very pretty! “Yeah, I’ll be okay. This was a pretty tough case.”
“Let me buy you a cup of coffee and you can tell me about it.” She covered up the body of Vivien Li and slid the drawer back into place. The tag slipped out past the drawer as she shut it. A reminder that there was more work ahead.
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