Over the last few days I have been spending a considerable amount of time sorting through all of my short stories and proofreading them to see if they would benefit from further edits.
This is an enjoyable practice that allows for a whimsical nostalgia as I revisit all of my past characters, explore their motivations and spend time patching up some of the loose plot holes. Time builds perspective, and this is doubly true with fiction writing.
The process of editing reminded me of all the great fiction I have written on steem in the past, and I have decided to share one of my favorite stories once again for #Showcase-Sunday. For those who don't know, Showcase Sunday is a chance to resurrect your best work, and perhaps get some new eyes on those posts that took hours/days to make.
This short story is a fantasy tale set on earth in an alternative universe where magic is real and can be accessed through the astral plane. Astral Echoes is a story of mystery and psychological horror. A mingling of the fantasy and detective fiction genres set in a big city in South East Asia.
Anyway, no more spoilers... lets get into the action!
Rain bounces off the frying pan streets, dowsing the city’s mid-morning swelter. Bangkok on a Monday screams its frenetic cadence into my sleep-stained head as I leave my apartment for the breakfast of kings. A hastily wolfed helping of Khao Neow Moo Ping and I’m on my way. This meeting is important for my continued livelihood. A prominent business man is convinced he’s beset by demons. 'Fung shui gone wrong', the words of his PA echo in my memory as I hail a tuk tuk and jump in.
“Sa wat dee”. I greet the driver as I scramble into the cramped cabin.
It is advisable to enter your tuk tuk promptly as the never ending stream of scooters can sweep you out and away at a moment’s notice. I’ve seen a tuk tuk's door taken off by one of these suicidal bikers before now.
“Sathon Nuea road please.” Pulling off into traffic, I find myself staring into the frantic smog choked kaleidoscope that is Bangkok. Five lanes of traffic jostle for position as scooters whiz between them, reckless of traffic lights, wobbling with giggling teenage passengers stacked three apiece. The salt-singed smell of frying shrimp and coconut oil mingles with diesel fumes as I sit back into the sticky red foe leather and consider what I know about this particular clients Astral footprint!
A room bathed in a dull indigo with a bed by the wall pulsing ethereal light. A book sits half open on the bedside cabinet, pages twitching in the gentle flow of my aura. Light envelops this scene, green through to red as my aura shifts with the pulse of the indigo ether. I drift over the open book, a single word jumps out of the page like a lightning bolt ‘FATHER’. It seems to echo in my mind like a scream. I glance to my left and my adversary is still moving through the treacle I’ve set in front of him. I still can’t tell whether he’s human! The impossibly wide smile, desperate and hollow, speaks to me of one possessed. A soul lost in the astral, then found by one of Them.
BANG, I spin as the wardrobe door slams open and closed over and over. The noise echoes through me as an icy wind spills from the flapping doors. The indigo glow subsides to a dull shimmer as the room darkens and I turn back to my adversary.
He is there right before me. Mouth impossibly wide the teeth icicles and his breath covers me in the stagnant smell of the swamp as my bones numb and my knees give way. I choke as my breath sticks in my throat and everything fades.
“What are the symptoms Mr Xioin?" His pallid face twitches as I stare into sunken eyes, unblinking, pupils wide. "How do these daemons manifest?”
“The night is where they reside. Between dream and waking. Sometimes I wake from a dream only to be enveloped by a strange light. After, I walk in the wakening world, around my apartment and... everything is enlivened." He breathes in short gasps as he talks. "It’s as if everything has a soul, the lamp, my leather chair even the books call out there stories, words that wash through me like fire." His head dips and rests in the palm of his hands. "There is no rest”
“Go on...” I lower my voice as I watch his body shivering in the pain of memory.
“Then there are the dreams that seem to be reflections of my life. I'm working at the company but it’s like I’m looking over my own shoulder as if someone else is performing my daily routine. I’m convinced I’m awake until I actually wake and it feels as if I’ve never slept at all." He stares into my eyes, pupils contracting back to a normal size for the first time since I’ve been here. "Can you help me?”
My heart strains against my chest as I struggle to close my third eye, a dull ache in the center of my forehead. He smiles like a clown, an open wound across his face, mocking me. White mists swirl around us as a landscape forms in the astral firmament, his mind superimposing a tapestry in the space between dimensions. I look around searching for any clue to his nature. Any clue that will help me to defeat him.
Those icicle teeth reflect the aching blue glow of pavements. Trees flash into being to my right, soft blue shadows of palm and Banyan. To my left the high-rise skyline of Bangkok's Sathom district shivers and merges like oil across the surface of a puddle. A low hum reverberates as ghostly cars and scooters flash past.
Just ahead, Mr Xioin turns into Lumphini Park staggering slightly as the creature reaches out to caress his neck, almost tenderly. Lithe pale fingers tickle the air as if tasting the breeze. As their auras mingle, I notice Xioin's face droop and the creature inhales deeply, breathing in some of the loose tendrils of incandescent light.
Interesting, could this be the connection? He mentioned he walked in dreams as if behind looking over his own shoulder. A symbiotic being? An astral leach? If there is one thing I have learned over twenty years of navigating these lanes of limbo, it is to never accept the first answer.
The park opens out into fields of sun-drenched azure. Ethereal joggers race by while a group of people practice tai chi out in the sea of gold. Indigo rays of active chi pulse from their hands as they sweep a majestic pattern into the white mist of the firmament.
This seems odd. For the players in a dream to exhibit such strong expressions of soul. A repetitive memory perhaps.
Xioin walks along the park's central avenue to stand looking up at the King Rama monument. Fountains thunder cascades of shifting patterns, throwing off fractal expressions through swaying sunbeams. The creature crouches in the shadow of the low wall surrounding the fountains pool.
King Rama stands on the pedestal looking out across the park with regal indifference. His eyes flash suddenly with a blood sheen as one finger twitches at the hilt of the sword he leans on. Xioin stares up at him transfixed and seems to shrink to the size of a child.
The creature smiles that wide needle grin.
I struggle to get closer through thickening air as I watch King Rama flare into fiery awakening. He steps down from the pedestal sword held stiff to one side, the other hand raised in a fist. Xioin is down on his knees now and I can barely hear his pleading wails as the fist strikes hard. The air is so thick it stuffs up my ears like cotton wool and I glance at the creature. Its eyes shine blood red as it stares at me and the grin widens. It should not be able to see me! My protections are failing. I stagger forward pressing on my third eye and repeating a mantra through the heaviness in my head. "Fo...Ma...See."
"Father." A loud cry cuts me short and I glance up to see King Rama beating a boy-like Xioin as the creature rakes his back with cruel claws.
"Fo...Ma...See, Fo...Ma...See." My hand warms as my third eye flares and then closes lurching me back to my body with a painful snap.
Cold permeates my bones as I sit up in the air-con office of the 24th floor. Mr Xioin lies on the couch near the window eyes flickering, still under my spell of hypnosis. I look out of the window to ground myself and take a deep breath. In the distance a tiny helicopter seems to crawl in the heavy grey distances. I breath and chant quietly, focusing on that tiny aircraft until the chill subsides a little. My breath calms, I look at Mr Xioin. He stirs, stretching and sits up with a smile on his face.
"Do you remember anything from your trance Mr Xioin?" He looks at me, eyes serene.
"No, nothing. That is the most peaceful sleep I have had in months. The most expensive sleep I have ever had, at your rates." He coughs and smiles again. "But well worth it Mr Niran for some peace at last."
"Hmnnn." I look at him sidelong as I sort through the jumble of my projection into his astral construct. "Well, I think I learned a lot about what is effecting you. There was certainly a strong story happening in your subconscious ether, maybe it's better that you didn't remember it. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"Sure, ask away."
"How is your relationship with your father?" His face darkens a moment and blows out a long breath.
"He is dead." Silence.
"How did he die?" I lean forward as he folds his arms.
"He was in the army, he died in the border war with Laos in nineteen eighty eight. I don't like to talk about him. He was not a good father!"
"Ok, but I think your father is intrinsically linked to this creature that stalks you Mr Xioin. I am not sure yet if they are one and the same. A ghost of your father given power through your subconscious and projected into the astral or if this is an external creature which has taken residence in your psyche and is feeding off your fears. Either way, the more information you can supply, the better equipped I will be to deal with it."
He nods his head ever so slightly. "My father was a severe man. He didn't spend much time with me and my mother and when he did it was only to instruct." He winces as he speaks these final words.
"Did he beat you?" I watch pain filter through his face like a drop of ink in clear water.
"Yes, sure and more besides. As I said he was only interested in instruction. I learned at an early age how to play a thousand roles. It serves me well in business, so I suppose his instruction served its purpose." He raises a wistful eyebrow.
I let it go at that. I can see that he is biting back tears long held in and as harsh as it may seem I need him to hold on to that pain for a little while longer.
"Right. I am pretty sure now that you are being attacked by a Meinleth." He stares at me blankly. "This is a creature, no an energy form is a better way to describe it, that lives in the astral and latches on to victims of trauma. Sometimes, people with PTSD fall victim to them while others simply live in a super-real repetition of the emotions the memories elicit. I'm convinced you are one of the former cases Mr Xioin. The reason why I'm so sure is that it continues to attack me when I am observing your dreams in the astral plane. If it were a monster of your subconscious construction it would not be able to do this."
He shakes his head slowly. "What is to be done?"
"We need to fight it together. I am going to hypnotize you again and instruct you in the techniques of lucid dreaming. When we next meet Mr Xioin we shall face this daemon together, and we will destroy it!"
I hum my mantra low and slow as my breath slips in and out. Presence of thought settles me in my body as I feel the essence of life, the simmer of my blood, flowing channels of energy through my chakra. The energy builds until I can feel my arms stretching away into the stillness of the ether. With each exhalation and vibration of the Ra sound, I divest myself more of this skin wrapping. A pulling up from my shoulders wrenches me into a fierce flight from the center of my forehead as the pineal flares, shooting lucid fountains of Ajna around my astral body.
I drift through the paintbrush world of Mr Xioin's palatial home. Dark mahogany bookcases line the hallway leading to the stairs and first floor landing. I drift through the wall into his bedroom, experiencing that strange call to form that passing through walls always brings. Like my body is trying to rewind the spring of my astral cord.
The room is deep in darkness, like the nest of a vole. His snores reverberate through the firmament echoing in base staccato. The bed starts to pulse gently, a book sits half open on the bedside cabinet, this all seems so familiar. Yet... something isn't right. The bed flares indigo from Mr Xioin's face as everything fades into pastel drapes of drifting mist. A landscape comes together, faint like an expressionist's painting. A golden field, King Rama looms large out of the cacophony of light spinning away in a second before marching off into the distance toward a tiny figure. I begin to follow and suddenly the creature appears. Saliva cotes shining maw as the creature's breath freezes me. Its fingers form claws from the mist of the ether, coalescing into razor edges trailing sparks of amethyst as they ark down at my throat. Everything flashes as I dive out of my third eye abandoning that form to renew in the storm of the astral fugue. Surging forward I strike the creature in its emaciated ribs. They crack and spit, tumbling drops of black blood. We clutch and roll drawing ever closer Mr Xioin who stands among the fountains at the base of the pedestal.
A man stands in place of King Rama facing Xioin, wide-eyed with pallid skin.
The creature bites my neck and I scream blasting it from our tangled limbs with every ounce of power I can muster. It strikes the marble base of the fountain with a sickening crack before writhing like a spider that has been squashed by a book. I turn to look behind me.
Mr Xioin bellows a single word as he drives a knife home into the neck of the man. "Father".
The creature is on me then, catapulted up from a feral crouch to land on my chest. Everything flashes in strobe-time as my face disovles in the wash of that syliva and a knife drives home again... and... again. Mr Xioin grins impossibly wide, long needle teeth splitting his smile as he whispers.
"You should never never accept the first answer Niran. I have you trapped now, in the timeless place between realities."
© Rowan Joyce all rights reserved