It's just over two weeks now before my new novel The 'Geisters hits the ground. We've got a music video, and some interesting blog tour stuff lined up, and hopefully a review or two on its way. Now, there's also a bit of the book--right here. This is the first part of the first chapter. It picks up... right at the beginning.
* * *
Glass of Gewürztraminer
it terror, or was it love? It would be a long time before Ann LeSage
could decide. For most of her life, the two feelings were so similar
as to be indistinguishable.
was easy to mix them up.
now . . . family is far away,” said Michael Voors, and as he said
it—perhaps because of the way he said it—Ann felt a pang, a
prescience, that something was not right with him. That
perhaps she should leave now. Until that moment, she’d thought the
lawyer with the little-boy eyes was the perfect date: perfect, at
least, by her particular and admittedly peculiar standards.
look at, Michael was a just-so fellow: athletic, though not
ostentatiously so; taller than she, but only by a few inches; dirty
blond hair, not exactly a mop of it, but thick enough in his early
thirties that it would probably stay put until his forties at least.
listened, asked questions—the whole time regarding Ann steadily,
and with confidence.
and confidence were first among the things Ann found attractive in
Michael, from the night of the book launch. He’d approached her,
holding her boss’s anthology of architectural essays,
and asked her: “Is it any good?” and she’d said:
“It’s any good,” and turned away. He hadn’t been thrown off
had been enchanted by this easy confidence. After everything that had
happened in her life—everything that had formed
her—it was a quality that she discovered she craved.
now, that confidence crumbled, leaving a man that seemed . . . older.
And somehow . . . not right.
hadn’t taken much. Just the simple act of asking: “What about
you? Where’s your family from?”
tapped his fingers and looked away. His suddenly fidgeting hands cast
about and found the saltshaker, a little crystal globe the size of a
ping-pong ball. His eyes were momentarily lost too, blinking
away from Ann and looking out the window of the 54th
view of Toronto’s financial district, a high hall of mirrors up the
canyon of Bay Street. They were in Canoe, a popular spot for
lunch and cocktails among the better-paid canyon dwellers. It should
have been home turf for him. “Just
my father now. In Pretoria. But—” and he twirled the nearly
saltshaker, so it spun like a fat little dancer “—I don’t hear
from him. We have had—you might say a falling out.”
are very different men.”
waiter slowed as he passed the table, took in Michael’s lowgrade
agitation and met Ann’s eye just an instant before granting the
tiniest, most commiserative of nods: Poor
picked up his pace toward the party of traders clustered at the next
table, and Ann suppressed a smile. She was sorely tempted to stop him
and order a big, boozy cocktail. But it was early—in
the day, and in the relationship—for that kind of thing.
Particularly because the way things were going, she didn’t think
she’d stop at one.
is an Afrikaner,” continued Michael. “You understand? Not just by
birth. By allegiance. When the ANC won the elections in 1994 . . . He
wasn’t a bigot—isn’t a bigot, I mean. But he’d seen the
that the African National Congress could do—the business with the
tires . . .”
tires?” Ann said, after a heartbeat.
Michael made a half-wise smile, set the saltshaker aside. His hand
must have been trembling: the shaker kept rocking.
God,” he said, “you’d think I’d been into the wine already.
I’m sorry. They would put tires around fellows they thought were
traitors, and light them on fire, and watch them burn to death in the
streets of Soweto. And then they became the government. You can
imagine how he felt.”
remember that,” said Ann. She nodded in sympathy. That
real terror, now. In the face of it, her own inexplicable instant of
fear vanished. “I was small. But didn’t Nelson Mandela have something
to do with that?”
wife. Winnie. Maybe. Probably. Who knows?”
smiled reassuringly and they sat quiet a moment; just the chatter in
the restaurant, a burst of boozy mirth from the day traders; the
pool-hall swirling of the saltshaker on the glass tabletop.
waiter scudded near and inquired: “Need a minute?”
a minute,” she said, looking at her menu.
studied his too, and without looking up, said: “Share an
there real truffle in the wild mushroom soup?”
want to share soup?”
there a law says I can’t?”
thought Ann as she regarded Michael, was how you kept it going on a
second date: make a little joke about the appetizer. Don’t talk
international politics. For that matter, don’t start asking a lot
of questions about how international politics and tires kept father
and son apart for so long.
fact, don’t start talking about family at all. Because as grim as
the tale of Michael Voors’ own family turmoils might be—if
Michael then started asking after the LeSages, and she was compelled
to tell that horrific
story . . .
He was already thrown enough to fidget—she could hear the rolling
sound of the saltshaker again.
about the salmon tartar?” she asked before he could answer. She
allowed herself a smirk: why, Mr. Voors was actually blushing! “We
don’t have to share soup.”
I—” he was frowning now, and looking down at the table.
goodness,” he said softly.
lowered the menu, and looked down at the table. And froze.
saltshaker was dancing.
twirled in a slow loop across Michael’s place setting, rolling
along the edge where the curve met its base. Then it rocked, clicking
as the base touched the tabletop, and rocked the other side, turning
back. Michael held his menu in his left hand—his right was splayed
on the tabletop near the fork. His pale cheeks were bright red as he
stared. First at the saltshaker, then up at
set the menu down, well away from the perambulating saltshaker.
said Ann quietly, not taking her eyes off the shaker as it continued
she thought, horrified.
it had never left.
wanted to reach out—grab the shaker in her fist, stop it
physically. But she knew better. Already, she could hear the rattling
of glasses at the long bar. Two tables down, one of the traders
commented that the air-conditioning must have kicked in. One of his
lunch-mates asked him if he were a woman and everyone laughed.
Michael’s eyes were wide as he watched the
reached under her chair and lifted her handbag. “Don’t touch it,”
looked at her and asked, “Why not?”
going to the ladies room,” she said and stood. “Now please—don’t
drew a long breath, and pushed her chair back to the table.
didn’t stop her, and he didn’t try to touch the spinning
waiter, carrying a tray of two martinis and a fluted glass of lager,
stepped past her—and without her having to ask, directed her with a
free hand to the restrooms. “You have to go outside,” he said.
“By the elevators. Just past them.”
smiled politely and, shoulders only slightly hunched, head bowed only
the tiniest, hurried between the tables, out
the doorway and past the elevators—and there to the
where she finally skulked inside. It was as safe there as anywhere,
blessing: the washroom was empty but for her. She made her way to a
sink, spared herself a glance in the tall, gilt-framed mirror. Her
makeup was holding. That was something.
fumbled with her phone.
was a new one, and she hadn’t had time to program her numbers into
it. Not a catastrophe—she knew the number she had to call now like
she knew her own name—but speed dial would have helped.
a signal. One
the glasses still be on the rack now, or sliding, one by one, along
the rails, crashing into the plate glass windows overlooking Bay
frost be forming around the edges of those windows, irising a circle
of white, evil crystals to block out the sun?
one of the traders hold up his hand, wonderingly, examining the steak
knife that had penetrated the back of it as he sat, turning it this
way and that while his mind processed the impossibility
of it, and itself began to unravel?
first might be dead—the only question would be who . . . who it
would choose. Not the waiter! Not Michael Voors—
God . . .
on, Eva,” Ann said to the empty washroom. “I need you.”
click: and five.
And . . .
Eva Fenshaw was on her own cell phone—she’d obviously figured out
the intricacies of call-forwarding since last they spoke—and her
voice crackled. She sounded as though she
be in some large space—maybe the Wal-Mart where she liked to spend
hot afternoons before her consultations started in the early evening.
Ann should have remembered, and called the cell phone first. “Ann,
how nice to hear from you!”
so nice, Eva,” said Ann.
you all right?” Pause. “Ann, dear?”
coming,” said Ann.
oh. The Insect.”
acoustics shifted—maybe as Eva moved down an aisle,
more private. “All right, Ann. It’s all right.”
not all right. It’s back, it’s coming out, I can feel it.”
are you? At work?”
lunch. With a date.”
Creator,” Eva whispered. She had, of course, warned Ann about
Michael; Eva Fenshaw had a lifelong distrust of lawyers, born of the
needless troubles in her divorce thirty years ago. When Ann told her
about Michael’s interest in her, Eva had had some unkind things to
didn’t repeat them in the Wal-Mart. “All right, Ann. Were you
Now. How did it manifest?”
saltshaker,” said Ann. “Moved on its own. That’s for sure.”
shout,” said Eva. “Stay calm. We’re going to visualize the safe
gave a yogic huff, and Ann drew a deep breath.
hates him,” she said. “It’s the same as before.”
Her voice was sharp this time. “Visualize the safe place, Ann. It
can’t harm you there. And if it can’t harm you . . .”
can control it. All right.” She shut her eyes.
dear,” said Eva, in a voice that seemed to recede down the long
corridor that was the first part—the gateway to Ann’s safe place.
Eva had helped her construct it—how
long ago? Not important.
years ago. At the hospital. You remember the hospital, don’t you,
little Annie? I know I do—
concentrated on opening herself up, seeing the hallway, walls made of
cut stone with bright, leaded glass windows along both sides. There
was a sunrise—Ann was always happier with
the onset of light than she was the spread of
darkness—and it manifested in pinkish rectangles along the
safe room was at the far end of the corridor. It would take a moment
to walk, but by the time she had made the journey, she would have
shed the tension that had brought her here. That was how
Eva had explained it, all those years ago as they sat together in the
lounge in Fenlan, waiting for word of her brother, of Philip after
going to walk as slowly as you need to, and at each window, you can
pause and throw any worry you have out there into the light.”
of the rising sun?” young Ann had asked, and Eva had replied: “Just
the light.” And she had held Ann as Ann described how that hallway
would be: like the hallway between high towers in
a wizard’s castle.
wizard wasn’t there, because she was the wizard.
was Ann’s castle.
stopped at the first window. Ann always had a leather satchel with
her when she walked the Hall of Light, and she reached into it this
time. She found a small parcel, wrapped in a dark, oily cloth. It was
warm to the touch.
wasn’t important—it might even be counterproductive—to try and
determine what worry, exactly, was contained in this package.
Whatever it was, it was heavy, and warm, and alive. She pushed open
the first window, and threw the package out. It fell into the hot
sunlight, down the mountainside, and disappeared.
was inclined to hurry, to the thick oak door at the far end of the
hallway. She certainly could do so; the castle existed only in her
imagination, as guided by Eva’s own counsel. She could simply
imagine herself all the way down, in the tower room, her fears cast
from windows in retrospect. She could simply say to herself that she
had unlocked the twelve sturdy locks, and removed the bar, and raised
the miniature portcullis that led to the tower chamber, where it—the
she told herself, watch
as the whole, fragile construct collapses to dust. While God—excuse
me, Creator knows—what havoc the Insect is wreaking in the
meticulously, Ann went window to window, tossing cloth packages and
poisonous apples and broken daggers and twisted candles from her bag,
until it was empty, and then removed the
ring, and set to work on the door. And then, free of all burdens, she
stepped inside—to the tower room.
you see it there?”
don’t.” The chamber was a circular tower room, with a single
window overlooking a bright kingdom, far, far below. There was a
chair. A table. A little flask of iced mint tea (in the past, matters
had gotten uncontrollable when there was wine in the room). It was
otherwise a bit of a cliché: but what was to be done about it?
They’d devised it during the depths of Ann’s teenaged Dungeons &
Dragons obsession. And circular tower rooms in wizards’ castles, as
Ann had explained seriously at the time, were both pretty comfortable
safe places, and made awfully good prisons. Good, but obviously not
gone. It’s escaped.”
course.” She looked up, into the rafters of this room—where just
a few years ago, during the big blackout, when she was sure the thing
had gotten out again, running amok in the dark corridors of her
residence, flinging knives, she’d found it hanging like a great
chrysalis, grinning down at her, long hair dangling like the
tentacles of a man-o-war.
this time, though.
this time,” said Ann.
at peace,” said Eva. “All right dear, let me tune in.”
couldn’t help imagining Eva in the Wal-Mart, moving her hands so
they hovered inches apart from one another, eyelids fluttering . . .
the little rituals that she invoked, to tune in to Ann, and
her safe place, and the prisoner that she kept there.
Eva in Wal-Mart, or indeed anywhere but in the circular tower room,
was of course exactly the wrong thing to do.
safe place was
unreliable construct . . . a lie, really, although best not to think
of it in those terms. Hurrying would knock it over, and so would
distraction. Start thinking of some other place,
particularly a real place (like the Wal-Mart) and that place
she hissed, as the door to the stall farthest from the door
slammed shut and her eyes opened. “Sorry,” she said to the closed
stall door. The woman who’d presumably gone inside didn’t answer,
and suddenly Ann felt nothing but foolish—imagining how
she must have appeared to the woman now sequestered in the stall, a
moment earlier quietly passing the sinks, and wondering: what a
strange young woman, leaning over the sink with her eyes
shut tight. Some
of us can’t hold our liquor.
That’s what she would think.
said Eva, and Ann said, again: “Sorry.” She shut her eyes, and
reassembled the tower room, re-inhabited it. “Got distracted.”
right,” said Eva, “now hush. I’m sending you energy.”
as Eva said this, the tower room flooded with light—appearing
through the mortar between the stones, and the narrow slit-like
windows that gave a tantalizing view of the realm. Ann thought she’d
have a look at that realm—cement some details in her mind—the
bucolic roll of hills, a silver river that wended between them . . .
that mysterious, snow-capped mountain range in
the distance—and take in the energy that Eva insisted she was
she really? Sending energy? From Wal-Mart?
such as those, Ann had long ago learned to suppress.
she did so now. After all, they did nothing to help her take control,
to give her the strength she would need to wrestle the Insect.
clank, as the door to the stall rattled. And a voice—echoing off
the tile of the washroom. “Are
you all right out there?”
said Ann, keeping her eyes shut this time, “thank you. I just need
hollow rumble of toilet paper unwinding now.
know what you really need?”
fine,” said Ann, while on the phone, from Wal-Mart, Eva said:
fine-looking young man out there. He’s a crackerjack!”
door to the stall rattled fiercely. It slammed open, and closed
again, and somehow Ann was turned around, the cell phone on the
floor. Watching as the door to the stall slowly rebounded
Showing nothing but an empty stall, with a long line of toilet paper,
draped over the toilet bowl in a mandala form.
the floor, Eva’s voice buzzed. Like a bug, Ann thought crazily
(like an insect)
and she watched, transfixed, as the silver button on the side of the
tank depressed, and the toilet began to flush.
said the Insect, as it settled back into its chair in the shadowy
part of the tower room, crossing its hands on its lap, slender
fingers twitching and intertwining. “I
you,” said Ann when she’d collected her phone from the floor.
that do the trick dear?” asked Eva, from Wal-Mart.
seemed to do it,” said Ann.
she said—not sure at all.
sighed. “I’m glad, dear. Be at peace. Now you call, if—”
one tower to another, Ann LeSage made her way back. She could find no
evidence of mayhem en route. The glasses hanging over the bar gleamed
in the afternoon sun, which shone through windows clean and clear.
The traders gesticulated at their tables, hands unblemished, while
their cutlery stayed safe in front of them. The waiter was cheerful
and intact behind the bar, tapping lunch orders on a computer screen.
And Michael sat back in his chair, ankles crossed, hands palm-down on
the table, while the saltshaker sat unmoving between them. His face
was strangely, beatifically calm.
Ann recalled that July day—months later, outside Ian Rickhardt’s
Niagara vineyard, while she cradled an unreleased Gewürztraminer on
the south-facing veranda and looked down upon
the rows of grapevines, with just a moment to herself before their
other guests arrived . . . this moment, not any prior or subsequent,
was the moment that defined it. She, folding her skirt beneath
her as she resumed her seat; Michael, looking steadily at her,
unblinking, as he lifted one hand, and lowered it on top of the
saltshaker like a cage of fingers.
Michael said as he lifted the shaker off the table and studied it
with real glee.
it terror she felt looking at him then?