Amber’s body heaved and hissed as she glared in my direction. “Circe! What have you done?”
I stopped whoever was slinking up the lane behind me and the writhing creature in the fire circle before me. Grasping my head, I shouted into the night, “What’s going on?”
I had no one to help me with this, so I coached myself by repeating the word focus over and over again until the bewilderment turned to clarity.
With everything happening all at once, of course, I felt confused and overwhelmed. Who wouldn’t? I may have been skilled in the magical arts, but when it came to necromancy, I was what you might call a newbie.
“Paul?” I asked tentatively. “Is that you?”
Before anyone reading this starts to doubt my ability as a sorceress, know that I am one of the original enchantresses of human history. Still, no one is immune to experiencing a WTF moment from time to time. That just happened to be one of mine.
“Paul? Who is this Paul you ask about, Circe?” Amber’s thunderous voice boomed through the fire circle. “Are you claiming you don’t recognize your lover’s voice?”
My head shook in disbelief. “My lover’s voice? Whoever you are, you sound like Amber!”
“I am not Amber. I am using her body as you directed,” Amber roared.
Calais? I wondered. “How? Why would you come through? Is this further punishment for killing you?”
“I’ve never known you to be so daft, Circe. I thought our union was sacred. Now, I must know, who is Calais?” Amber’s voice demanded.
“Calais! My husband!” I replied fiercely. “If you are not he, who are you, and why do you question my intentions? On second thought, I revoke your presence so that I may speak with the essence of the recently departed Paul.”
Even though Amber was unaware of what was happening, it was evident the ritual had revved her body. Beads of sweat trickled down her face, her voice bellowing through the flames encircling her. “Not so fast! Tell me about Paul. Why are you seeking to speak with him?”
I felt increasingly disturbed by this degree of questioning and responded, “Paul was, or is, a dear friend of mine. That is all you need to know! And since you say you are not Paul, then who am I speaking with? Who is using Amber’s body to come forward? Why does my desire to connect with Paul even concern you? Just who do you think you are?”
“I don’t think I am anyone but me, Circe. It is I.”
That word I had no sooner crossed Amber’s lips than I didn’t need to hear the answer. “Odysseus? Am I really speaking with Odysseus?”
Amber’s voice eased up a bit and began to distort as Odysseus said, “The one and only. Are you surprised?”
Although I was relieved, my body was still trembling from the shock of Odysseus’s roaring arrival. But, as I’d heard some mortals say, never let them see you sweat. With a bit of a titter in my voice, I answered, “Well, duh!”
Amber rushed toward the edge of the circle, her eyes glaring intensely. Her garment fluttered about as if to taunt and avoid the ritualistic flames in the very same way. “Circe!” her voice sputtered. “You know how much I dislike paignidi! Tell me the meaning of this mortal word, duh. Better yet, tell me the purpose for waking the dead.” As if Odysseus were having a temper tantrum, Amber stomped her foot so hard the surge of air nearly extinguished the fire. “Stop wasting our time!”
“Look, here’s the deal,” I said as I transported myself to join Amber inside the fire circle. “Paul and I have been friends for the last year or so. Although we could communicate, he spent his last year on the planet as an invalid. Just before he passed away, he told me there was an important message he needed to share. Yet, that conversation never took place. So, tonight was about calling him forward. But instead,” I said, flailing around the circle, “you showed up!”
Walking back over to Amber, I grabbed her by the shoulders and began shaking her violently. Her head tossed back and forth as I shouted in her face, “Why?”
“Haha! You are a funny sorceress,” Odysseus-Amber retorted through a sardonic laugh. “What did you think you were going to do? Exorcise me by rattling this mortal cage?”
I lost my temper, pulling and twisting my hair. I needed some space and storm off, pacing the small confines of the circle. “Good gods, Odysseus! You were just as maddening when we lived together as lovers on Aeaea. Just tell me. Where is Paul?”
With the slightest smirk, Odysseus-Amber tilted her head and asked, “What makes you think I know?”
“AAHH! Now you are fucking with me!” I shouted. “I realize raising the dead is not a common practice for me, but I did everything I was supposed to do to prepare. I know I didn’t screw up this badly. Please tell me what you know and why you showed up? Where is Paul?”
Odysseus-Amber quietly walked up behind me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Relax, Circe. You made no mistakes in this ritual. Paul,” she pointed out, “was the person you froze as they walked up the lane behind us. You know, the guy that showed up at the very same time I did.”
Drawing my hands to my face, I hung my head. “How could I have forgotten? I’m such an idiot,” I muttered.
“Knock it off, sorceress. You’re not an idiot, but time is of the essence. Get it together,” Odysseus-Amber insisted. “That man striking a pose in the middle of the road is Paul.”
“Two spirits cannot inhabit one body,” she pointed out.
I removed myself from the circle, utterly rattled. To the best of my knowledge, nothing like this has ever happened in the history of necromancy. It seemed my nerves were easing up a bit. I’d gone from grabbing at my hair and head to wringing my hands as I walked down the road. As I got closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Well, wouldn’t you know? Dan!” Clapping my hands, I turned and shouted back in the direction of Odysseus-Amber, “It’s not Paul! It’s Dan!”
I believe Odysseus-Amber had been waiting for that response because they didn’t hesitate to holler back, “That’s Paul! Dan passed away at the very moment you called Paul forth. Being that they had been friends for decades, Paul was permitted to take up residence for the sake of your meeting.”
“So, now what?” I wondered.
“Undo the hex, Circe!”
Slightly embarrassed, I waved, letting Odysseus-Amber know I appreciated the reminder as I focused on releasing Paul from the spell.
“Circe! It’s good to see you, and it’s even better to not only hear my voice, or a voice at the very least, but to hug you too.” Reaching out to wrap his arms around me, Paul-Dan fell over his own feet. We both ended up on the ground, nose-to-nose, laughing with excitement at seeing one another and imagining what our physical sandwich must look like to Odysseus-Amber.
I knew we had to get on to business, so I gently rolled from underneath Paul-Dan and helped him to his feet. “Take my hand,” I insisted. From there, we materialized into the fire circle. I was relieved Odysseus-Amber remained quiet about the delay.
“So, I am curious why you’re here, Odysseus. I’ve asked several times, and you have yet to give me an answer.”
With the biggest tooth-filled grin they could muster, Odysseus-Amber batted her eyes and said, “I missed you.”
“Are you for real? You just randomly selected tonight to haunt me?”
Odysseus-Amber could hardly contain herself, letting loose with an explosive laugh. “Hahahahahaha! Take it easy! I’m kidding. Necromancy doesn’t have to be that serious. In all honesty, there is a time and place for everything,” she pointed out. “Now is the time, and this circle is the place.”
“Paul’s message is big,” she continued, “And I am here as his backup because madness was as much a part of Ancient Greece as it is today. The difference is, in ancient times, madness was often brought on through the use of hallucinogenic plants. Today, it’s classified as one of several diseases of the brain.”
“I don’t know, Odysseus. There are plenty of mortals that like their hallucinogens.”
“Hang on,” he requested. “Something I don’t believe you know about me is, I was quite good at using madness to avoid situations I didn’t care to experience. That was until someone discovered my tactics.”
“So, Paul, you were using drugs?” I asked.
Paul lowered his eyes as if ashamed and shook his head. “Only the ones my doctors prescribed to quiet the madness.”
This conversation completely baffled me. “What are you talking about, Paul!? I do not understand any of this.”
“Mortals are not what they seem,” Odysseus offered. “They possess an ability that only a few are aware of.”
“Yes!” Paul exclaimed, waving a finger in the air. He stood taller in Dan’s shoes as he took over the discussion. “It’s important for mortals to know their existence is so much more than the physical body they inhabit. How many of them, I wonder, have allowed themselves to journey beyond what human eyes perceive?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Paul,” I answered.
“To be honest, I didn’t want an answer, Circe. It was more of a rhetorical question for consideration. One person cannot fully provide such clarity around a topic as broad as this. I suspect more children than we realize go there…to the outlands of their mind. Yet, the moment they share their experience, it’s frowned upon and met with ridicule because it is not real life. They are quickly shut down and redirected to focus on the physicality of their existence. This, as you know, is what happened to me as a child, and I refuse to believe I was or am the only one to face such mortification.”
I shake my head, trying to figure out how this all fits together.
“In many instances,” Paul continued, “these youngsters start using hallucinogens in their teenage years because they need to trip away from this physical world. Who could blame them? Whether they admit to it or not, humans see life as pointless. It’s either a rat race or at a standstill. Yet, it is a consistent road to nowhere other than the grave. However, when one can take flight for a while, the physical existence is no longer an arduous adventure.”
“I understand this, Paul. I’m certain many others can relate to it as well. What I’m not getting is the message you were determined to deliver. Is this it? Did I miss something, or is there more to this tale?”
“Oh, there’s more, Circe. Trust me,” he said with a grin.
He began earnestly rubbing his palms together, then continued by saying, “We’re just getting started!”
“Wait a sec,” I requested as I flashed a finger.
“Whoa!” They shouted in stereo as they both jumped backward and fell to the ground. I guess they thought I was up to no good when all I was going to do was ask Paul-Dan to put a pause on his thoughts for just a moment.
“Yikes! It’s okay, you guys. I just wanted to redirect the conversation and ask Odysseus-Amber if there’s anything else they’d like to add before leaving. Amber’s body is running on borrowed time. I don’t want to lose her to the other side.”
“Circe, it’s always good to be with you, and it saddens me to say goodbye. However, I understand and respect Amber’s accommodation for this practice. Therefore, I leave you with this, heed Paul’s words. Life happens in the mind, which is not the human brain. The future of mortal existence depends on their willingness to access this magic. The war they experience is the one they embody.”
As Amber’s body slumped to the ground, Paul-Dan assisted me with making sure she was comfortable next to the fire. We sat down next to her and chatted until dawn. I could hardly keep up with everything he was saying. It was odd speaking to him while looking at a different face, yet there was no mistaking it was him. Paul was both an intellectual and an incredible storyteller with an inspiring purpose.
As the darkness began to lift, he asked, “Do you have any further questions?”
“Just one,” I replied. “How?”
He gently kissed the back of my hand before walking over and lying next to Dan’s favorite cottonwood tree. “All that’s required of you, Circe, is a commitment to bring this information forward. The details will take care of themselves.”