The image of the sorcerer in Classical Literature is almost uniformly dark: Circe the seductress, Medea the Murderess, Ovid’s Dipsias, Apuleius’ Oenothea, and especially the Canidia and Sagana of Horace, who with pale and hideous faces, naked feet, disheveled hair, and clothed in rotting shrouds, meet at night in a lonely place to claw the soil with their taloned fingers, rip apart a black lamb, eat its flesh, and invoke the gods of the underworld.
(—A History of Witchcraft, Jeffrey B. Russell & Brooks Alexander,)
25,000 feet above some Midwestern state...
Before I get into the drowning, the darkness, and the monsters I have to backup.
The things a person ponders while staring blankly out of the window about an hour into an airplane ride are normally comforting and pleasant. It’s a place where you can gaze out into the softness and infinity of the cottony clouds and impossible blue. I could be thinking of any number of comforting images: a cute boy who I saw jogging by our house a couple days ago; how funny my mom acts when she gets so much as a grain of sugar in her system; how awesome a pair of converse sneakers feel on my feet. A normal 16-year-old girl wouldn’t be thinking about drowning.
I’m not too normal, I guess.
The less comfortable you are with air travel, the more pleasant the images have to be. But there’s a point where no amount of positive self reflection and affirmation and images of cute little puppies and gorgeous European soccer players can make you feel better—especially if you’re deathly afraid of flying and you want to think of anything other than the probability of a water landing and the complexities of getting out before the obese woman in 24C blocks the escape, damning the rest of us to claw our way out of the front escape door.
Not that a water landing would be anything more than a series of cartwheels where every possible part of the plane is stripped down to tiny fragments, like dropping a raw egg out of your car while driving down the highway. The yellow part that gets painted across several hundred meters of concrete, that’s us.
Clouds and surreal blue, that is what I need to focus on. Sometimes, right as they start the speech about putting on your oxygen mask and life preserver—a term I never much bought into—I pretend I’m a mutant with the ability to fly. Once I’m sure that the plane is spiraling on it’s path down to ground level, I’ll just punch right through the tiny oval window where thousands of people before me have made foggy evaporating breath splotches like I am right now.
I’ll smash my small fists through the tiny plastic window and escape the chaos, floating safely above. I might, in some cases, try and save some of the other passengers. Like the boy with the spiky black hair and perfect tan sitting in that first row of seats that is on the embarrassing border with first-class, but not actually in with the rich people.
I’ve seen him glance back a few times, looking for a flight attendant, or just seeing what the back of the plane looks like. Every time he does so, my eyes lower. Something about him is frustrating to me. As if he has no idea how gorgeous he is. He’s like a monkey wielding a gun, with no appreciation for what kind of damage he could do.
Not that he’s the kind of boy I could like.
I would need somebody more subtle. The last thing I’d want is a guy who every girl drops their jaw for when he’s around. My life is far too complex to have to worry about stuff like that. I’m not a jealous person, but you can only push a girl so far . . . right.
Unluckily for him, he gets to spend his whole flight watching the flight attendants open and close the curtain so that the rest of us can’t see what really goes on up front in the fancy part of the plane.
I would definitely save him, freeing him from certain death and we could joke about the frivolity of being stuck in first-class, and how good they really have it. The parties, the fantastic wines and cheeses from all over the world . . . what good it is to them now?
My teacher, Gabe, says that the front of the plane is the worst place to be. He says, “You know, the front of the plane is the first point of contact with the earth in the event of a disaster. Leather seats and expensive purses, they still meet their demise first.” He’s got a very dark sense of humor.
The captain just muttered something about us being at cruising altitude and that it didn’t look like we would meet any turbulence on our way into Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport.
I’m feeling much calmer now, my fists tired, beginning to open from their previously clenched status. Now I don’t have to concentrate on things just to sate my nervousness. I noticed the beautiful boy glanced back at something or somebody sitting around me. And even though I realize he was far too cute to be staring at me I felt this warm pressing sensation in my chest.
I swallowed a few times and put the silly notion out of my mind. I needed to think. I need to concentrate on the task at hand.
As I settle—the sounds of cellphones and iPads and nooks and children are fading into the background—I let the other things creep back in.
Oddly, because I am now less worried about the flight, not forced to focus on happy thoughts, I find the darker memories creeping back in to my mind. I look down at my wrists, normally concealed under one of my many long-sleeved jackets or sweaters. I have bracelets that aid in the cover-up . . . lots of them on both wrists, but I know the twin crescent moon scars are there. It seems like they have been there forever, a gift from my fourth year of life.
My mom always said I looked like Punky Brewster with all my bracelets. Not knowing who that was, I Googled it and all I could find were clips of an obnoxious looking girl who dressed like she lost a bet with Fashion Week, always smiling like she was high on pills.
The marks, which I call scars but Gabe proudly proclaims are “symbols of prophecy,” bring back the taste of water in my mouth.
My symbols of prophesy come with the incredibly lucid memories of being choked by cold water. So cold I couldn’t even take a breath. So cold that the pain that shot down from my neck through my back paralyzed me so much that all I could do was watch myself drift off into the abyss without so much as a whimper.
Screaming underwater . . . it’s useless. Nobody hears you. You don’t even hear you. But worse than the cold and the pain and the choking . . . it’s the fear of what comes next. It’s the uncertainty of those next few minutes that bothered me the most. Bare in mind, I was only 4 when all of this happened. I still only remember colors and pictures, not really any kind of state of mind I might have been in.
Before that morning, I was like any innocent little girl. I liked to play at the beach near our house. I liked to paint with my mother in her art room, the windows open and the salty sweet air blowing off the ocean and into our house. Soft yellow curtains fluttering silently in the wind, so delicate they might have been made with mist instead of silk. I liked to dip my thumbs in the paint and touch whatever my mother was working on, when she least expected it. The concept of life and death and danger, they were as foreign and impossible to understand as my physics lessons from last year.
Before the water consumed me, I’d have never considered the monsters that were lurking among us. Nor the war that is raging so close to us that we can hear it sometimes if we really listen.
No, before the morning when the storm rolled in so quick that my mother couldn’t even see where the water had crept ashore to kidnap me, I couldn’t imagine a world as turbulent and chaotic as ours.
I used to love horses—unicorns especially—and I had a doll named Sarah Joe, that cried if left alone and said “mommy” when I picked her up. I would put Sarah Joe in a black and green antique rocking chair at just the right angle so that with a fair push she would say “Mommy,” over and over until I could tell that my mother wanted to pull Sarah’s electric heart out and stomp on it. That was my insurgency, my little Improvised-Annoyance-Device to get results when my mother was painting and I was bored.
And that doll, that’s what my mother held on to for those hours when I was in the darkness. My mother standing there on the beach, surrounded by police, clutching Sarah Joe while I was being shown things that a four year old can’t possibly comprehend, but that an adult wouldn’t be able to believe.
Gabe tells me, “So young and uncorrupted by life, you were, that I had no choice but to show you these things. Such a mature young child.” He showed me a world that I just accepted without argument. I didn’t have the ability to dismiss things that were beyond the confines of normalcy. I wasn’t old enough to know what was crazy, and what was perfectly normal. So I just blinked my eyes over and over.
While I grew up, after that morning, I wasn’t scared of monsters in the closet or under the bed. I didn’t fear the dark. I learned quickly that the real monsters don’t hide at all. They’re sitting in the corner of your room. They ride with us in the back seat of our cars. They make our dogs bark for no reason at three in the morning, and send smaller, more sensitive animals running for cover.
It’s a lot to ask you to believe that I hunt monsters. It’s really too much to ask anyone. You don’t have to believe me. You don’t have to believe in Demons any more than you should believe in snakes or trains or knives or sunsets. But they’re all real. Depending on who you are, and what you do . . . they could all end you.
The monsters . . . that’s just the beginning.
If I fail, if we fail, that’s the really scary part.
Like I said, I’m not asking you to believe me. I’ll tell you what I know and you’ll see for yourself, just like I did. My name is Muriel Chase, and about an hour and twenty-six minutes from now I’ll be on my way to finding out if I have to die again tonight.
MICHAEL HARMON’S PERSONAL DIARY
Diary Entry: Saturday morning, 9:53 am:
The things you think about when you’re strapped into a bucket seat about 25,000 miles above the earth:
1) At least I have plenty of legroom sitting in the first row behind first class—Which I guess means, technically, I am second-class.
2) When is the food cart coming through that first-class section so that I can get something to eat? I imagine sitting in 1st class is like living in Beverly Hills, and every other part of the plane is like living in Mexico—not quite 3rd world status, but might as well be.
3) My air vent is clogged by some piece of plastic that makes it sound like a lung transplant patient trying to spit on me—almost moaning as just the tiniest fraction of air spews out in my general direction.
I could be thinking about any number of things but my mind is stuck on a little slip of a girl in the back of the plane. Muriel . . . Muriel Chase.
I have been watching out for her for several years now, even though she doesn’t seem to know I exist. She reminds me of a pixie or even a fairy from the picture books my mother used to read to me each night as a young boy.
She’s so unique that she could be imagined into existence.
She’s the kind of girl that you have to take a second and then a third look at because she is that dynamic.
She grabs your attention to the point that you want to study her like a new species in biology class. She’s dramatic in all that black with those bright searching eyes and bright bangle bracelets—she probably has no idea how striking she is.
You can tell at a glance that she is intelligent. You can see it in her eyes and the way she moves. She squints her eyes and tilts her head when she is considering something. And as she computes, her eyes shuffle around as if she’s grabbing bits and pieces of information from all around her and just sticking it all together like a puzzle.
She’s a brain—actually brilliant—according to the others. “Just like her mother,” they say.
Every time I look back to try and catch her looking this way, she averts her eyes like she is purposely avoiding me. They must not have told her about me.
Not one word about us.
No mention of our destiny.
My father is a Sergeant Major in the marines, stationed in Oceanside, California. He’s tough and rugged, and the skin near his eyes looks like beef jerky. In his constant quest to make me the “Best of the Best,” he had me wrestling by the time I was five.
I was learning how to box at age 7.
For my 10th birthday he gave me shin pads and a set of heavy leather Thai-boxing gloves and had me kicking trees in the back yard.
On Saturday and Tuesday nights a thin, mean-looking Brazilian man would come to the house and teach me the nuances of submission fighting—like they do in Brazil. I guess in Brazil kids are choking each other and breaking each others arms by the age of 3.
This was child rearing, as far as the Sergeant—my dad—was concerned. Semper Fi and all that.
He had the value system down pat: Marine Corps, then God, then family. It was inconceivable to try any shenanigans with the Sergeant. He never had to yell at me because the low, base-filled thunder of his voice was enough to scare statues into looking the other way.
I think he runs the base single-handed. And, come to think of it, so does he. This is the kind of guy who, most likely, chews saddle leather and picks his teeth with railroad spikes. I figure he brushes his tight-cropped hair with a steel brush. The veins in his neck look like strands of coaxial cable.
Seriously, if he was ever to have an arm chopped off and they discovered that he was made of titanium or something, I wouldn’t be surprised. He uses his teeth like a pair of pliers, and his hands might as well have been catcher’s mitts they are so big. With him, you don’t get out of line because you know that the consequences are just to painful to fathom.
He did have one soft spot, though, and that was for my mother. Everything about him softened when she was around. He wasn’t the Sergeant then, just Phil. Phil would smile and be playful and on the rare occasion . . . he would attempt a joke. He even looked different when she was alive.
Thank God she lived long enough to help him accept me and my unique talents. Now I’m 18 and I would have to say he respects me . . . at least in his own way. I couldn’t ask for more from my father. If I made mistakes, he told me in such a way that made it clear what I had done and how he felt about it.. If I did good, he’d nod a few times.
In his gruff voice he would say, “You don’t get a pat on the back for doing what you’re supposed to do. You’re expected to do right . . . so do right; do wrong and you have to pay the Man.”
And trust me, you do not want to pay the Man. When I was younger, he kept busy with the Core. He kept me busy with school and fighting and reading, and then more school and more fighting. Our relationship, and my upbringing, is based on a rigid set of morals:
Maintain honor and respect.
Take responsibility for your actions.
You go until you collapse, then you go some more.
There is an answer to any and every obstacle.
And then, to add to my childhood, came the dreams and the visions and the premonitions. Dreams so real I could taste the water when I awoke. Visions that left me hurt and sore. Premonitions that echoed far beyond the darkness they hinted at.
It started when I was six. It first happened after a rather nasty boating accident. My father loved to sail and my mother loved picnics so that became our family outing and bonding time, according to my mother.
It was the one time each week that my mother wouldn’t allow the Sergeant to mention the military. If he even grunted, she put him on probation for an hour where he wasn’t allowed to eat any of her snacks. She was so good in the kitchen that such a probation was like telling a drug junkie he can’t have his fix.
It’s funny the things you remember. I remember we used to rent a 40′ sailboat—white with a turquoise stripe running down the side, and the name “Angela” painted in blood red script on the back. Mother made all our favorites: honey-fried chicken, potato salad, spicy baked beans, and an assortment of pickles and olives. The Sergeant was definitely Phil that day.
It was just the three of us, the wind, the water, the impossibly blue sky, a few feathery clouds, and a fabulous picnic basket. It was perfect! The sky was missing a rainbow, and that was about it.
We sailed to Catalina Island and enjoyed our picnic on the beach. I spent most of my time gathering shells along the shoreline, having this wild theory that I would find oysters full of pearls and would make a fortune. When that didn’t pan out, I decided to make a castle with my yellow plastic bucket and shovel.
It was warm that day but the real warmth came from the comfort that comes with knowing that your parents love each other and you are on the inside of that circle of love. As mom would say, we were bonding.
When the late afternoon approached, we gathered the picnic remains—towels, bucket, shovel and my shells—and boarded the sailboat for our return trip home. I remember looking at all the impossible colors in the sky as the sun was making it’s final exit for the day.
“Just look at that,” my mom said. “Have you ever seen such an incredible sky?” Every shade of pink, purple, orange and red flooded the horizon as we sat on the bow of the boat totally mesmerized. It was as if somebody was on the other side of the sky, painting wild colors with a giant soft brush.
Our eyes were so transfixed on the sky, that none of us saw it coming. The wave that hit us and capsized the boat came out of nowhere.
Just one random roll in the otherwise placid ocean.
The culmination of math and physics.
I remember my mother screaming my name as I sank under the water and then zipped, like lightning, into the depths. The sound the water racing past my body was accompanied by this warm, comforting voice in the back of my mind.
I didn’t know if I was dreaming or awake. Was it a fantasy? Or just the lack of oxygen to my brain? I still don’t know. But I certainly remember. I remember every tiny detail.
“You’re fine, Michael,” he assured me. “You are safe. Do not panic. Do not worry. I have a special gift for you.”
It all happened too fast for me to comprehend at the time. A mixture of push and pull, I felt my body accelerating and decelerating over and over, until I was left with horrible images all around me. An underwater prison of monsters.
That was when I first saw flashes of the gate.
The gate that can never be opened.
To the hideous monsters.
The beautiful lost girl.
To the unending night that is our eternity.
The things I saw that day were prophecy of our ending, at least I think that’s what I saw. I can’t be sure now. All I know for sure is I never want to see that prophecy happen.
And as quickly is the images came, they whisked away. They found me the next morning floating peacefully on a life preserver, still appearing to be the little boy who played on the beach the day before. But I was different. Forever changed. I would never look at the world the same.
When you get all of the facts, or even just some of them, the world is a much scarier place. Ignorance truly is bliss.
Now I am here, in this moment, as this beautiful creature pretends I don’t exist. This wonderful girl who is more important than she can possibly imagine.
I have to protect her. That is the promise I made. It is a promise I must keep. I am here, now, as her backup . . . her support. I can’t . . . I won’t allow any monster to take her from me.
She may not know I’m here, but very soon she is going to fight against an evil presence and I’ll be there for her.
My name is Michael Harmon, and I’m in the demon demolition business. I fight with the kinds of horrible things we all don’t want to believe in. I fight against the things that want to eat you from the insides.
And right now, sitting in this plastic and steel seat, close enough to smell the microwave that the flight attendants are using to heat up our shrink-wrapped meals, I can’t stop thinking about her—about the imp of a girl in black in the back of the plane.
That girl just wrecks me.