DARK CHAPTER

Morag recognised the woman as soon as she entered thanks to her website, and that online article about a medium finding a missing child.

Almost calling out Morag placed her coffee mug on the counter and shivered. Why was it so cold in here today had the heating failed again, was she coming down with a virus or could it be something else?

The coffee in the mug began to ripple at first gently then with more violence, some of the brown liquid sloshed onto the counter to form tiny puddles and these too were rippling.

It was only when the mug began to vibrate that Morag looked down in alarm, the heavy china mug suddenly cracked down one side as though hit by a small hammer.

She knew better than to touch it and edged away, keeping the new customer in her eye-line, her long black dress swishing about her legs. She wanted to speak but found she couldn't then the digital display over the till pinged, bright green digits flashing vividly.

Above her the low watt bulb started to flash too pulsing rapidly as though about to burst. Morag chewed her lip, there was no putting it off any longer or denying the truth it was here with her it could follow her wherever she went, there was no escape.

Drifting from romance to SF and reaching crime fiction Florence sniffed. There was an odd smell in ABRACADABRA today sort of stale and musty, earthy and coppery. She didn't like it and couldn't understand it as the place was pristine, no stains or litter no discarded cups or unwashed patrons. Aside from her there was the Goth girl behind the counter and some guy browsing the latest bestseller from a British crime author?

Pausing Flo picked up her own copy. It was the usual clichés, ambitious female cop, serial killer (aren't they all), a fake medium. Mediums were always fakes in crime fiction which was so predictable and status quo in its thinking, so wedded to five-sense reality.

Putting the book back with a huff she moved on past the browser who was a bald guy in a suit – a solicitor perhaps, there were several on this street and he looked boring enough with his grey tie, loafers and thick bifocals.

The Goth girl seemed agitated for some reason, moving from side to side, the bulb above her flashing. Flo frowned, picking something up on a different frequency, a heaviness, a strong potential like a spiritual entity.

A book shot out in front of her clattering noisily to the floor, she almost ignored it until she read the one word title THREAT, curious she picked it up and felt this icy chill wash into her hand.

Replacing THREAT she moved onto the spiritual section, which was always well stocked here – psychics, healers, out of body experiencers, fortune telling, past lives, UFO encounters and divination.

She recognised some of the authors, a couple had done readings at the church where she was booked tomorrow and she smiled at their familiar jacket faces.

"Excuse me," the voice made her jump it the girl not the man, "May we talk," the black lip gloss and thick kohl were startling against the ashen pallor yet this kid was young barely twenty if that.

"Of course," said Flo having plenty of time, above her a light bar began to flash and fizz.

"In private," the girl pleaded.

"What is this about," she was sure she didn't owe any money or had damaged stock?

"Not here," turning Morag hurried to a door marked PRIVATE and unlocked it with her own key; she seemed to be the only staff on today. Curious and a little perturbed by the way the flashing lights seemed to follow the girl, as did a sinister chill Flo hurried over her sense of uneasy growing.

Something wasn't right here today the shop felt oppressive, occupied and frankly menacing.

She felt the bald guy watching the girl who was shapely inside her maxi-dress, you dirty old solicitor she thought as he harrumphed and went back to his thriller.

"I'm Morag," the soft Welsh accent was pleasing but the delivery slightly hysterical as they stood in a store room 'old stock' boxed on the left 'new deliveries' packaged on the right.

"How can I help," Flo softened her tone using her church voice?

"You're a clairvoyant, right," the girl demanded, "I've been on your website."

Flo didn't much like the site but had been convinced to have one as it was the 'done' thing these days even mediums needed to advertise online although she drew the line at Facebook.

"Do you want to make an appointment," Flo's list was pretty full for the next six months, then the bulb above her flickered, a creak went through the wall and some plaster dust fell in a single worm-like cloud.

"I need help now," close to tears Morag gave a sniff, she had that trapped look, her lips trembling and fingers intertwined.

"What's the matter," Flo asked although she could feel the temperature dropping by the second, the bad smell was worse in here and her neck was tingling. All reliable signs, all hints that things were not as they should be.

Lips trembling and cheeks flushed the girl blinked back tears and seemed to be fighting for air, wringing her hands she gazed away and released a powerful sob.

"Morag," Flo persisted then decided to open up her psychic senses to save time. She saw Morag in jeans a black T; she was stood in a small room maybe a bed-sit. With her was a lean guy in his late twenties with long greasy hair and thick lenses.

He was holding some kind of old book with a red leather binding and reading from it, on a table five candles guttered they were set in the design of a pentagram,

"You summoned something," Flo interpreted, "The man with you performed a conjuration, his name is," a short name beginning with P no B, "Bjorn," she thought of ABBA.

Giving a sharp cry Morag reached out to grab Flo by the arm, "Help me."

Instantly Dunleavy felt pain shoot up her arm a burning sensation like acid had been injected into her bones, she had to pull free so intense was the pain it had brought tears to her eyes.

Good grief she felt overwhelmed, she could also see something else in her mind a kind of oozing grey shadow that was descending upon the bed-sit, Bjorn was fitting, convulsing, he had fallen onto a narrow bed legs kicking and foam around his lips.

Panicking Morag could do little but scream and hold onto her boyfriend.

"What did you call," said Florence, "What is it," all she could see was a grey outline wide and roundish with a darker core nearer to black with small dots of red in the outer murk.

"For god sake help me," almost hysterical now Morag was openly crying and trembling pretty close to a nervous breakdown.

"I will if I can," Flo promised then jumped with shock as something struck the door behind her giving a repeated tap then a voice.

"Hello, are you in there," a man's voice, "I'd like to buy a book," it was the bald solicitor.

Flo cast the girl a look but Morag was in no state to serve a customer so she replied, "Give us a minute."

"Are you all right in there," baldy was persistent?

"Yes we're fine," Flo actually rolled her eyes at this audacious lie, Morag was anything but okay.

"Only I'm in a hurry," said baldy.

"One moment," Flo placed her palms together asking her guides for help, before her Morag swallowed, wiped her face and gave a short cough.

"Sorry," she croaked.

"Don't be, you're in shock."

"I can't get away from it, wherever I go it's there; it's in here now I can feel it."

"Can you serve this guy," Flo asked and Morag gave a curt nod.

"I'll try," she shuffled to the door then fell against it holding her stomach.

Flo said, "Let me do it, give me the till code."

A second later she emerged into the shop to find the bald man pacing up and down, tie slightly askew he was a bit flushed and checking a mobile phone.

"At last," tone curt he glared at Florence, "I have an appointment."

Not apologizing she went over to the counter, eased behind it and entered some digits into the till. With ill-grace he handed over his book and taking it she blinked, it wasn't the bestseller of before not a thriller but a copy of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT by Dennis Wheatley.

Her hand shook as she accepted it, she ran a wand over it, "Cash or card," but the guy was gazing at her in a very odd way his eyes fixed and mouth curled into a sneer. He seemed to be trembling and he was swaying from foot to foot.

"I thought you were in a hurry," she said after a drawn out pause.

"Bitch," the word was barely audible just a whisper then louder and sharper, "bitch," spittle moistened her cheek.

"Do you want this or not," taking a step back and touching her pendant Flo saw something around the man something round and grey with red spots in it, he had the same red spots in his eyes.

With a lunge he tried to grab her but she was too fast squirming around the counter, saliva on his bared teeth and nostrils wide, "bitch," he repeated picking up the heavy hard back book and throwing it at her. The throw was good and if she hadn't ducked the book would have smashed into her face.

It was like he'd gone mad only she knew it wasn't that. As he began to climb over the counter she removed her pendant and thrust it around his neck before he could stop her. Muttering the name of two arch-angels she avoided a clumsy back hand swipe and visualised a strong white light for protection.

Snarling and wheezing he gripped the pendant as if to try and rip it free, features twisted into a rictus of blazing manic fury, eyes bulging and neck muscles corded.

The grey energy fizzed and contracted then flew off him leaving the possessed man to sag across the counter gasping for air, a low mewling escaping his throat. The entity hadn't left the shop just this poor unfortunate, which it had used like a puppet.

"Morag," she called, "Stay where you are."

Ignoring this advice the girl emerged to gaze at the prostrate man, "oh my god," she shrilled, "That's Mr Copeland the accountant."

He was almost Mr Copeland my murderer thought Florence as the grey shape swam behind the poor man then oozed away from him sideways.

In her mind she heard the voice of her guide. She'd had 2 guides in her life; the first had been her Grandma Ada who'd appeared to her when she was just two. At sixteen a new guide took over and he was much more advanced and incredibly powerful; it was he who counselled her now.

He was a Sioux Indian brave who had died in 1818, before then he had been a fierce warrior now he was her mentor and inspiration.

"Morag, where is the book," she asked, "The one Bjorn used to call the entity?"

Freezing the girl blinked then said, "It's here in the shop, why?"

No time to explain, "Show me," her guide's advice still ringing in her mind Flo dashed over and the two of them jogged to the paranormal section near the back of the store.

"What did Bjorn invoke," Dunleavy asked?

"I don't know, he wanted to punish the guy who fired him."

"Show me the book," Flo could feel it getting cold again and dark to, a grey miasma filling the aisle behind them so that the front of the store was no longer visible.

With a grunt Morag hefted a thick, heavy tome from a bottom shelf labelled ELEMENTAL MAGIC, the book itself had neither a title nor an author name but the moment she saw it Flo knew it was the right one.

"Open it to the right page," she advised and the temperature plummeted another ten degrees. On the page was some text in copper plate and a ghastly face bearded and horned with slanted eyes and fanged teeth.

"This is the one," backing away Morag hugged herself. Looking at the drawn face then at the grey cloud Flo felt a tightness in her chest, she could barely breathe and there was a growing pain behind her eyes.

"Yes," she muttered, "I can feel him now."

"What do we do," Morag sounded close to hysteria once more?

"Tear out the page," Dunleavy said firmly.

"I can't deface a book," the response would have been comical under other circumstances.

Squatting down Flo tore the page out herself; there just wasn't time for social niceties. The grey cloud ringed her growing thicker and darker, within it now she could perceive a beard and slanted eyes; the definite shape of a head and torso.

"We must destroy this," her voice felt so far off and had a clear echo.

"We can't," Morag's voice was slowing down.

"We must," Flo reached into her shoulder bag. She'd given up smoking some years ago but still carried a lighter because it was a present from dad; the last as it turned out.

Horror blanched the Goth girl's face even more, "You're going to burn it?"

"No, you are," Flo offered page and lighter, "Say these words," she said, "I dismiss you back to whence you came – say it Morag."

Large cold paws closed around the medium's throat, scaly and long nailed with long hooked thumbs. She felt a hot breath on her cheek rank and fetid, pure hatred drilled from the slanted eyes.

"I dismiss you," Morag stammered, "Back to whence you came."

"More conviction," Florence croaked as her throat tightened and her windpipe was compressed, she felt herself squeezed and lifted.

Repeating the words Morag flicked the lighter, nothing; she flicked again then repeated the chant.

Come on thought Florence hurry, air cut off completely now she was gagging.

"I dismiss you," Morag grunted with effort, "I dismiss you," she used both thumbs on the lighter which had never failed before, "Back to whence," a flame jumped, died, returned, "Back to whence you came."

The flame was applied to the thick yellow page – which failed to ignite. Now what – said the girl's wide pleading eyes?

Totally unable to speak Dunleavy felt her shoes leave the carpet.

Morag ran the flame down the side of the page and up the other side, still it refused to burn or even discolour.

"It's no good," she shrieked as Florence began to choke and die.

Then a new figure blundered forwards, it was Mr Copeland the accountant. Taking page and lighter he married one to the other virtually smothering the flame. No longer possessed he was helping them.

Suddenly Flo was free, dropped she sank to her knees retching and gagging, her burning lungs sucking in much needed air.

The demon roared with fury as the page finally caught, a tiny bit of it burned black then a bit more.

Then Mr Copeland was knocked to the floor dropping page and lighter, picking them up Florence screwed the page into a tight ball inside her fist. I dismiss you she thought, you are dismissed.

A flame jumped bigger and brighter than before, the paper caught it crackled. Around her the grey smog thinned out and the evil bearded face grew opaque, she could hear a drum beat and it sounded Native American like a war drum.

The page combusted turning black, curling up and starting to flake into fragments as it did the grey vapour bled away as though sucked through a vacuum nozzle.

The shop grew warmer and clearer, it had worked the entity had lost its grip on the earth plane.

"You did it," Morag's relief was accompanied by a hug and kiss, "It's gone away," she sounded incredulous.

As the page became nothing but ash Florence eased free of the hug, she'd been hugged enough for one day. "I suggest," she gulped, "That you take that book out of circulation."