After (Final Part)
By Casey Douglass
as part of #fridayflash
This tale follows on from last week's #fridayflash "After" which can be read here.
The heavy leather book makes a loud thump as it skids across the floor. You hold your head in your hands as you look down at your barely disturbed salad. The book held no answers and your stomach rebelled at the thought of any food thicker than a hair. Your eye is drawn to a golden line of sunlight slowly creeping across the wooden floor. It was barely in the room when you started reading yet now is almost half way across. You pinch the bridge of your nose as your mind probes the problem for the hundredth time. What is it and how did it get through the circle?
You pick up a fork and dig around a lettuce leaf. You pry out a cherry tomato that is hiding underneath. You skewer it and put it in your mouth, the juices almost burning your tongue. You reflect that it’s the first salad you’ve ever had without a bit of meat somewhere on the plate. You never eat salad without meat, and you know that in the fridge you have some salty lovely smoked ham that you only bought yesterday. Was it the stress? Or some kind of feedback from the energies unleashed last night? You’ve read before of the need to fast or at the least cut meat out of your diet before commencing magical activities, but it has never effected you until now.
You stand and take the remains of the salad into the kitchen, scraping them from the plate into your little plastic tub for the compost heap. You turn to put the plate onto the side and feel the crockery slip through your sweaty fingers. It hits the floor and explodes in a blister of white shrapnel that pings off the units nearby.
You look down at the mess and shrug. A small ember of alarm begins to tickle the back of your mind as you reach for the dustpan and brush. Where was the swearing and self reproach? That was usually the outcome of any domestic accident if you were involved! Your thoughts come slowly and seem to be a long way away, each one an effort to mould and shape into something coherent. It’s almost like thinking about someone else.
You smile to yourself, feeling that you have just had a breakthrough even though only half defined. An image of the circle comes to mind, the positions, the feeling of attack, something familiar about it all. Personal. Your smile reaches from ear to ear. Got it!
It’s dark again now. A slight hint of moonlight is detectable on the floor but it comes and goes as the clouds scuttle across the sky. You sit on the floor with a lone candle between you and the back door, the space ahead clear and full of small air currents that toy with the flame. You squeeze the string in your right hand, the coarse fibres tickling the palm. It snakes off behind the candle and into the darkness beyond.
A thump comes from the door, muffled by the heavy wood but strong enough to set the latch rattling. Another comes, and another.
You close your eyes and breathe deeply, trying to still your fluttering heart. You’re unsure if you can do what you are hoping to do but there’s no other option. It feels right one moment, and then oh so very wrong the next. You breathe in and out. In and out. The thumping on the door gets more and more forceful by the second. You open your eyes and after one slight moment of hesitation...yank the string hard.
A tinny tinkling noise jitters across the floor as the fragile crystal ward falls from its hook above the back door. The delicate construction bounces and careens across the floor before becoming still off to the right somewhere. The air hangs with pent up forces as the protection spell disintegrates back to the astral plane. The thumping on the door has stopped and ushers in a silence that hurts your ears. You hold your breath. You hear the latch lifting with a subdued squeaking. With a clunk it hits the top of its range of motion. Your eyes are staring at the door, the wood now the only thing holding your visitor at bay. The door flies open with a bang, the sudden influx of air extinguishes the candle flame.
Your mind screams at you as you go against every instinct and close your eyes again. You know that there is little to see. Your whole attention is on your ears and the feeling of acceptance that you are trying to cultivate. Something brushes by your cheek and you flinch away. You stifle the urge to shriek and yell and run from the house. You feel fingers on your throat prodding and probing. Something sniffs your hair.
You tense and the fingers tighten, the digits like a noose around your neck. You try to bolster the feelings of love and embrace the thing with your hands. It feels tingly and familiar, but cold and hard. You start to gasp and gurgle as the air starvation begins to take its toll, the thrumming pulsing feeling in your temples beginning to suck in any attempt at thought and reason. A greyness spreads behind your closed eyelids, flecks and flashes of coloured light dancing in unruly patterns that hypnotise and beckon you to follow. Your face spasms and your hear someone scream before the lights bedazzle you completely.
A lone bird chirruping outside calls you back to consciousness. You roll over onto your back, the floor cold and hard under your shoulder blades. The whole room is baked in the bright white light of the new dawn, not a single dark shadow remains. You sit upright and rub your head, the feeling not unlike a severe hangover. The back door is still wide open, the semi-used candle and worm-like string next to your left foot.
You sit and stare through the open door for awhile, the lure of the garden greenery masked by a shadow of fear. You slowly piece the events together into what seems like a working mental framework and push yourself up to stand teetering on your feet. You smile. It seems to have worked, but you decide that you would put all this magic stuff on hold for awhile. You’ve heard of split personality disorder but never imagined that you could unintentionally manifest part of yourself outside of your body! You shake your head at the silliness of it all, and laugh as the phrase “Love conquers all” crosses your mind.
The room spins as you lurch to one side, a wave of dizziness assails you. Your stomach heaves and pushes fluid up into your gullet. You fall to the floor and begin to retch. Your wide watering eyes stare down as feather after feather slops out of your open mouth, the mottled grey and white slick with your own bile. You suck in deep quivering breaths before another constricting feeling squeezes at your gut. You retch and retch and retch, watching in horror as tiny bones begin to splurge across the floor in a puddle of frothy crimson.