Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Book of Hope 30: Honeymoon

Man, where has this summer gone? It's been like a month since my last post, I can't believe it. Anyways, I forgot to show you my pictures of Christina's baby. Her name is My, named after "Little My" in Moomintroll. Isn't she totally amazing??? So now it's gonna be another month till my next post, because I'm off for three weeks on my so-called honeymoon. Which involves driving cross-country and then back again, believe it or not. To pick up some furniture. So I'll be seeing you all again in September hopefully, just as school starts. Blecch!

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Friday, June 29, 2007

The Book of Hope 29: Only the Shadow Knows

When we got back to Pauanne, Riita went off by herself somewhere to cell Erkki and I guess tell him the good news that he was all forgiven, so I took the opportunity to respond to all the messages in my voice-mail. But no one really had time for me. Christina was all weird and busy, Jo answered her phone by snarling "what?!?" (she's gonna make a really great pediatrician someday), and Kerry had picked up a new phrase that she used three times in our short convo: "It made me want to throw up in my mouth a little." I made a mental note to myself to try really really hard not to ever use it. Because I'm so verbally suggestible, it's pathetic. I mean, I could easily find myself saying it over and over even to strangers like I did with "crunk" or "toodles" or "he's just not that into you" or whatever, and I didn't want to go around implying to everyone that I was throwing up in my mouth all the time whenever they said anything. Already I was feeling the temptation, though. Because, you know, that was actually happening a lot, especially lately.

Anyways, because I didn't have anything better to do, I wandered across the parking lot to see if Dr P was around. He was--and for once he was in a really great mood. In fact, it was like the happiest I'd ever seen him, since he was usually cowering under a shawl or something and blubbering or moaning. But today he was beaming and smiling with all his chins and practically prancing around waving his arms, once Gailis and Matsson helped lower him down the steps of his RV. He was all dressed up again, and was even wearing his little cape.

"Success, Miss Hope, success!" he crowed, and began sort of dancing an oddly girlish wobbling little jig. "Thanks to you and Miss Riita. If I were a drinking man I would indeed break out the champagne this fine morn."

I was like, "Yeah, congrats! I just read in the paper that Likkanen is really alive after all."

"Even better than that--well, can't you see it for yourself?"

"See what?" I said stupidly.

"My shadow, dear Miss Hope, my shadow. He has returned! Behold!" and he pointed at the ground. Sure enough, his shadow was there, prancing and jiggling along with him. Only--well maybe it was my imagination, but it really did sorta look different somehow, like it didn't quite belong to him. For one thing, his shadow was definitely thinner than he was (that had to be an optical illusion though--I mean, anything looked thinner than Dr P!), and from some angles it looked a little like it was wearing a hat or a cap or something. Maybe a beret. But it was really impossible to tell for sure, since he was moving around so much. Still, he'd obviously got his mojo back or whatever, and that was a good thing. At least I assumed it was. Maybe a monster was about to be unleashed on the world.

And maybe subconsciously I was sort of dreading that, because totally without thinking I opened my big fat mouth and said something kind of bitchy. In fact, it was exactly the same mean kind of thing the Mothership always says to sort of 'cut you down to size', as she would put it, like saying "Aren't you afraid your skin will break out again like it did last time if you eat that ice cream?" or "Do you really think you should be driving again so soon after your little accident?" In fact, I gotta say it was the first moment in my life I ever felt like I was totally channeling her--I guess because Dr P had seemed way more manageable and even kind of sweeter and more helpless and dependent before when he was being all scared and miserable. I guess I'd felt in control or something.

What I actually said was, "So now are you gonna look in the mirror again?" And I could of kicked myself the moment the words were out of my mouth, because in like two seconds all his jollyness (is that a word? "Jollity" sounds stupid) was gone, and he sort of seemed all deflated and saggy like a big pink party balloon. A party balloon with plastic Bob's Big Boy Restaurant orange hair. With a guilty sinking feeling I realized I was gonna make a really lousy mother myself someday. Before I'd said anything about mirrors poor Dr P had been laughing his 'hearty' theatrical ho-ho-ho laugh in a deep voice as he danced around--now he wound down like a clockwork toy and started to tremble.

"I haven't seen any sign of Alex today," I said, desperately trying to change the subject. "What's up with him?"

"Mr Alex is in disgrace," he muttered. "I'm quite cross with him, Miss Hope. Last night he was instructed to lead you onstage, not to injure you. Blood must be given voluntarily in order for such ceremonies to be properly effective."

So I was all like, "Well look on the bright side--it did work! I mean, if if I can be all positive about it with this eggplant glued to my forehead and my nose covered in bandages and the rest of me all covered with mosquito bites, then I guess everyone else can, too."

"Yes, yes of course." But suddenly he didn't sound so convinced any more. Maybe he'd seen the newspaper that morning too and realized that Likkanen had actually been alive all along, making all the stuff we'd done the night before pretty pointless really, except as an excuse for a really weird party. Or maybe he was coming down off a blood-sugar high and just pouting. I mean, it obviously took a major zoo-feeding every few hours to keep his enormous bulk going.

"Hey, you got your shadow back. That's a good thing anyway, right?"

He burst into tears. "You think I'm a fool," he said. He took out a monogrammed handkerchief and loudly and wetly blew his nose into it. I had always thought of Scandinavians as you know, sort of dignified, emotionally reserved people, but between him and Riita I was beginning to feel like I was trapped in a Spanish fotonovela.

Meanwhile I was being like, "No, of course i don't think you're a fool, Dr P. In fact, I think you're one of the smartest and most interesting people I've ever known. I mean, you actually know really awesome things none of my professors have even dreamed of. Because you've like lived through them and stuff for real. You're an amazing person."

"You've read my website, haven't you, Miss Hope?"

"Every word," I lied. Well, be fair, most of it is pretty boring.

"In that case, you must be familiar with the term I have used to describe the world we see reflected in the mirror, the 'Anti-Pleroma'. This of course is a misnomer, but will do as well as any other. Possibly you know that the term 'Pleroma' is Greek, literally meaning 'fullness'--Paul of Tarsus and other early Christian writers adopted the concept from the Qabbala, and even Jung employed it in modern times as the origin of all divine goodness. According to them the opposite of the Pleroma is the 'Creatura', or the world that God created. But this is nonsense--the opposite of God is not the physical universe, not even the astral plane or the Satanic Hell. It is the absence of, or more specifically, the death and decay of God Himself, like a form of anti-matter. The Anti-Pleroma." He took my arm and we began to hobble together out of the parking lot and along the empty driveway while he droned on and on. "The early gospel writers had the most childlike notions of sin and virtue and how they were opposed, and despite the death of religion, this simple-mindedness persists even to the present day. All such logic is subjective in our society and therefore subject to endless interpretation. Scientists even tell us now that there is no such thing as time itself, that events unfold like a froth of bubbling alternative branches and that the human mind invents a rational sequence of interpretion in order to create its own sanity. So it is, I believe also with the 'Mirrorland'--it has no logical form or laws that we can understand, and so our minds assign it a familiar structure based on the 'reality' we have memorized. Tell me, Miss Hope, have you ever seen anything...unusual or disturbing in the mirror?"

We stopped, and I looked through the fence across the meadow where I'd glimpse the floating black garbage bags. Of course now it just looked like a Monet or Corot painting to me--anything could be floating around there now.

"Sort of," I said.

"Ah, then you have at least a primitive notion of what I mean. And why I should be terrified of mirrors. Quite aside, ho ho ho, from the more normal reasons of human vanity." I tried to think of something nice to say about his appearance but couldn't think of anything. So for once I just shut up. Big mistake. Because he didn't.

"The first time I was attacked," he went on, "Was when my dear friend and mentor Frederik Wilander lay on his deathbed. In Sweden we have national health care for the dying--not like your system in America where the elderly are all abandoned--but unfortunately the helpers that the social services sent to look after him were very incompetent. There was one Serb who wasn't so very bad, but the Somali women were useless--worse, they allowed their husbands inside to steal things, though of course, there was very little left in poor Wilander's flat that he hadn't already pawned or sold off already. This magnificent man, perhaps the greatest man of our century, you will recall, was the grandfather of your friend Mr Likkanen, who did absolutely nothing at all to alleviate his suffering. In fact, I gave the social services his address in New York, and he never responded to their letters at all. But perhaps he was busy at the time. In any case, because I was myself homeless and possessed considerable medical training after I found one of them hitting him, I dismissed the Somalis and looked after Wilander myself--he was by then both senile and incontinent, so this was no small thing. The saddest aspect of it was that he rarely recognized me, but instead would revile me as an enemy, often screaming the most terrible abuse aloud at me, which hurt me very deeply. But of course, this is often normal with dementia, so naturally I forgave it. And naturally I was still alert to any wisdom he might still pass onto me, since I was a mere novice at the magical arts compared to the great Frederik Wilander, despite his sorry condition. In particular, I was hopeful that he might offer some clue to the password of his bank's safety deposit account. He had some months earlier, when he was still somewhat compos mentis, told me of its contents--the final testament of Adolf Hitler--and of the provisions he had made for its inheritance.

So it was no mystery to me when Wilander first removed all the mirrors from his flat and had painted all the window-panes a flat gray color. I knew that he had taken Hitler's words very seriously indeed and perhaps had even conducted some experiments of his own with mirrors, but I must confess to you I was not inclined to lend any credence to it, not even to the slightest degree. It struck me at the that the whole story might be nothing more than a senile fantasy of poor Wilander's. Magic is every bit as rigorous a science as physics or chemistry, you know--thus, I was already comfortable in the realms of both the living and the dead. I could not imagine that a third and far more terrifying plane of existence might lurk inside the mirror. After all, reflections are present everywhere on many surfaces--they are an ancient and normal part of daily human life. It did not occur to me that they might simply be an optical illusion masking a reality far more sinister.

Because it is only we humans who are deceived by reflections. Animals, you know, are not. An animal will either ignore its own reflection in a mirror or thesurface of a pool, try to attack it, or else, like a kitten, attempt to sneak behind the mirror's frame in order to solve its mystery. A dog will bark--we assume at the 'strange dog' it sees reflected there--but its instincts may well be keener than our own. Perhaps a dog is growling and barking at the terrible threat it senses emanating from the Anti-Pleroma. After all, such a loyal beast will warn its masters of many another more mundane threat--and defend them against it. But of course, I had none of these thoughts at the time. Tell me, Miss Hope, when you saw whatever it was you did see in the mirror, did you also sense a deep humming vibration?"

I was like, "Huh, what do you mean?" I guess I was sort of surprised to be suddenly included in the conversation again. Normally when Dr P got going his lectures weren't exactly Socratic.

"A feeling of vibration in your bones or teeth?"

I tried to think. "I dunno really. I guess I was just too freaked to notice--it only lasted a few seconds, anyway."

He nodded wisely like an owl, another of the fake-o 'jolly fat man' mannerisms he had developed like the hollow laugh. "Yes, usually the influence of the Mirrorland is very weak indeed, particularly in daylight. And you are not a dabbler in the magical arts, which I believe acts as a magnet to attract it. That is why Wilander's deathbed was such an extraordinary nexus of power. Have you ever attended a dying person, by chance?"

"Yes, actually I have."

"Ah, then you know well the sensation of keeping watch for hours and days, anticipating every breath as they grow weaker and more labored. Very quickly the worst part becomes the boredom--it is impossible to read or watch television, of course, and one is too upset and distracted to work. Yet, all too soon, one begins to wish for the torture simply to be over, so that life may go on again. And of course, such thoughts are instantly accompanied by tremendous guilt. Such were my emotions attending Wilander's deathbed at any rate, mingled with many more: desolation at my loss, shame that I had not done more to provide comfort for his declining years, fear of my own future without his wise counsel and guidance, and of course regret over so many missed opportunities. Even at that very moment. Because, you see, a scene of death is ripe with possibilities for the true magician or sorcerer to exploit. Many of the most arcane and potent spells or ceremonies can or even must be conducted at such an event, or a body part or essential fluid extracted for future use. Naturally, as the Grand Master of the Craft, Wilander would have enthusiastically wished me to utilize his death to the full in this regard--but of course, I dared not. The old man had invoked and offended so many Invisibles and even great Powers in the course of his physical life that I could literally feel the weight of them gathering about the dark, airless little room. Had I attempted any sort of ritual, even one designed to ease his passage into the next world, I might easily have caused such a terrible etheric disaster that the entire umbra of all Stockholm would been disrupted or even destroyed, like an invisible nuclear explosion. And so, propped up on my own little pallet on the floor beside him, all I could do was patiently await his end. When it came at last, as is sadly so often the case, I was napping from sheer exhaustion and missed it.

I had no stethescope, of course, but after I had fruitlessly checked for a pulse with my fingers, I took out a small pocket mirror and held it to his mouth in order to detect any misting of breath. There was none. Yet suddenly I could not move. As I have said the flat was very dark, due to the fact that Wilander had painted all the window-panes a battle-ship grey, because there were no lamps left in the place, I could only see by the light that oozed through the painted glass. However, during the weeks I had spent there, my vision had adjusted to the gloom, and moreover his death took place in broad daylight. And so when I caught sight of something stirring deep inside his throat and nostrils, I was assured that it was not my imagination."

"What did you see?" By now we had wandered out into the garbage-bag meadow and stopped to look back at Pauanne. Above it the sky was already darkening--not the sudden violent pop-up squalls we had had along the coast the day before, but a big serious front moving in. The paper had said we were in for several days of heavy clouds and steady rain to usher in August and the national return to work.

"A universe," said Dr P dramatically.

"You saw the universe inside the old man's nose?" O-K...

"No, no--I saw a universe, Miss Hope. Perhaps 'saw' is too strong a word. I became aware of tiny creatures inside him. I can scarcely describe them to you--for one, none of them looked the same. You are familiar with the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, of course? It is my belief that he was describing the world he saw inside the mirror, because that is very much what I was reminded of. But I did not 'see' this, precisely. Rather, I felt it. This feeling began in the bones of my right hand, the hand that was holding the pocket mirror, first as a tingling, then as a painful deadening vibration that slowly spread up my arm and thence to the rest of my body. I realized to my horror that my finger-bones were actually fusing to the mirror itself, so in a sense I was 'seeing' the mirror world directly through my finger-tips. It was utterly dark, filled with a bluish illumination rather like an X-ray--the landscape seemed alien and barren, yet violated and half-destroyed, as if some terrible war had taken place on the moon. Yet in every direction. tall spindly towers that slightly resembled radio towers reared up, darker than the blackness around them, and I felt it was these towers that were giving off the powerful vibrations that were about to shake me apart. In addition, I should add that there was a 'fuzzy' organic quality to everything I sensed there, like microscopic photographs I had seen of the surfaces of insects or mold spores. And so, after the event was over and my rational mind rebelled at the experience, I wondered if I had not somehow hallucinated an optical magnification of Wilander's pores and nasal hairs, perhaps brought on by stress and over-exhaustion.

In any case, it seemed to me at that instant that I could perceive thousands of creatures moving between the dark mold-spore radio-towers. Some seemed almost human in appearance--their naked flesh glowed a shade paler than their surroundings--others appeared to be their overseers, and these had strange bird or insect-like heads and were wearing dark uniforms with gleaming jack-boots. All of these beings seemed to be going about their tasks with a terrifying air of everyday practicality, and none, I noticed, possessed eyes or ears. All at once I became aware of an intense electrical force inside each of the towers, as if each were an identity broadcasting itself into an infinite void, where only such pulse-like signals could be perceived. In that instant, I became aware that I, too, was merely another of these organic towers, and that I was receiving the last message of my dear old friend, Frederik Wilander. But it was not a message in the form of human words, rather it was one of emotions, each of which I experienced inside my innermost self as intense bursts of low-frequency sound, rather as those teenaged youths must who convert their cars into mobile stereo speakers. First came a trembling wave of intense love and relief at my presence, closely followed closely by sheer terror--and then at the end a warning to save myself. With an almost superhuman effort, I forced myself back into my own consciousness--and found myself physically standing over my dead friend's body with the mirror shattered in my hand. I was bleeding profusely where its shards had pierced me.

This was my first visit to the Anti-Pleroma, but alas, it was not to be my last. The second occasion was some months later. By then, I had stumbled on the greatest of my mentor's secrets, the reddish powder that Alchemists call 'Phoenix'--the Philosopher's Stone. You see, most people believe that the Adept struggles to discover this secret in order to attain limitless wealth through the transmutation of baser metals into gold. In fact, that is only a 'by-product' of the Great Work. The Alchemist's true ambition is to achieve immortality. When ingested, the powder can prolong human life--even make one eternal!"

"Um," I said. "Your friend Wilander obviously knew that. So how come he died if he was taking this powder?" Maybe he took a powder, I thought to myself, har har.

"Yes, that mystified me, as well, for a time. At least, until I was almost captured again by the Anti-Pleroma--and then I understood at last. It happened one winter's day on a crowded sidewalk in front of the NK department store on Hamngatan. Several of its facings are mirrored, and as I walked past, jostled by crowds of shoppers and pedestrians, I suddenly fancied that I glimpsed Frederik Wilander waving from them to attract my attention. I stopped and looked wildly around, then approached the wall of the building. There was no sign of Wilander, but catching sight of my own reflection I began to experience the same faint sense of urgent vibration that I had felt at his death. It began in the fillings of my teeth, then spread to the teeth themselves, then to the bones of my skull. It was as if my eyeballs were exploding with it and would soon run down my face like the yolks of poached eggs. The pain of these vibrations, centered on my teeth, became overpoweringly intense--in order to palliate them, I moved closer to the NK wall and, opening my mouth as wide as possible, placed my teeth against its surface. I felt as though they were flowing like liquid mercury into the mirror itself. At the same time I heard a screaming high-ptched sound in my ears, and my lungs seemed to fill up with molten lead. It was an actual relief to fall into the Anti-Pleroma.This time it was not dark inside it--I suppose because it was reflecting a busy city street in daylight--but there were still the qualities of the X-ray and the organic in my sensation of it. At the same time my vision remained rooted behind in the real world. Directly behind the reflection of my face in the glass, I was also uncomfortably aware of my physical human form, grossly distorted and melting. I have no doubt that had it not been for the prompt intervention of a security guard, I would have been sucked forever into Mirrorland.

Because in those few moments that I stood there, I suddenly realized the fate that my poor departed friend Wilander had suffered. You see, it was now obvious to me that his own shadow had been stolen from him somehow, just as mine was some several days ago--as you can bear witness to, my dear. Initially, I had assumed that the sole reason he was living in darkness was that he was afraid of reflections. But that was only part of it--otherwise he would have employed oil lamps inside his home. But he did not, because it is possible to delay the inevitable death and decay of the shadowless soul by existing in darkness. For the magician, an ordinary death holds terror, of course--but it is not the terror of the unknown, as it is for so many. No, no, it is the terror, I would say, of the known. Like me, Wilander had crossed into the underworld, had cheated death, had exchanged one shadow for another, had employed sorcery to gain his own ends and in doing so had made many etheric enemies--with only the distant hope of a Christian salvation at the end of it after aeons of atonement. Like me you are a Christian, Miss Hope, so you understand that even for such a sinner as myself there does still exist that faint, distant hope for eventual redemption. However, that does not exist in the Anti-Pleroma. The Anti-Pleroma is the opposite of God's Grace, which can penetrate even the nethermost reaches of what we think of as Hell. The Anti-Pleroma is a place where God never existed and is therefore dead and decayed and so cannot reach into. And by ingesting the Philosopher's Stone, which must itself contain some essence of it, he condemned himself to the Anti-Pleroma forever. And so, Miss Hope, have I.

Like Wilander, I have been eating the powder for some years. And this is why I became so childishly and irrationally terrified, you see, at the prospect of my own 'death'. My only hope for the future now is never under any circumstances to allow myself to die."

"Wow!" I said. I mean, what else can you say to something like that? Good luck? A light drizzle began to fall. We turned and began to walk back toward the parking lot.

"And it may well be that Adolf Hitler's book will provide me with that key. That's why it is necessary for us to speak with Mr Likkanen as soon as possible. We must break camp at once--our time here is over."

"Well, I hope you won't fire Alex on my account anyway," I said uncomfortably.

"Why would I do that?"

"Well, it sounded like he was in your dog-house or whatever." This made Dr P start ho-ho-hoing again.

"Worse than that, he is in Tampere." Seeing my baffled look, he went on, "Tampere is Finland's industrial capital. It is also the headquarters of Nokia."

"OK, but I mean why did you send Alex there?"

"Because that is where Mr Likkanen is at this moment, in hospital. He was medically evacuated there by helicopter after his collapse--Tampere has the most advanced trauma care unit in Finland, it seems. My shadow has returned to me with this--and much other--information. So we are all driving there now. Mr Alex has merely gone ahead to make the arrangements." A spattering of heavier drops came down around us, and I could see a tall dark blob under a pie-shaped one coming toward us across the field. It was Gailis carrying an umbrella. Something about the scene reminded me of the Three Witches of Eastwick--which I was even more reminded of when I saw Siirka-Liisa and Gunilla waiting for me with Riita beside her yellow car. Apparently they were catching a ride with us to Tampere. Dr Praetorius would have to lose about 200 pounds to look more like Jack Nicholson, though--and get a personality transplant.

Before I went inside our RV to pack, he coughed and cleared his throat a few times. "My very dear Miss Hope," he said. "About the little matter we discussed yesterday. When I asked you to marry me, naturally I assumed I was to die very soon and would therefore be no great burden to you. In fact I welcomed the idea of leaving behind someone who truly understood me, someone who knew of my fate in the Anti-Pleroma and would be a proper caretaker of my vast library. After all, at the end of the day all any of us ever really desire is simply to be remembered by someone. However, I do understand that, being a healthy, vital young woman, very naturally you might now be appalled at the thought of marrying such a grotesque old figure, one who, moreover, may very well enjoy eternal life. So you must be entirely selfish in your answer."

Whenever the Mothership would get a bit tipsy and was mad at my dad she would always either talk about 'going on the game' if anything ever happened to him or else she would tell the story of how her high school sweetheart, the only boyfriend she ever had before Dad, had proposed to her the summer they graduated. And, word for word, her little rejection speech. And now, to my total shock and horror, I actually found myself recycling it! I was totally turning into my mother in the course of a single conversation.

"Wow, Dr P, I'll always treasure that you asked me to marry you. It's the first time anyone's ever asked me--and with my luck, it'll probably be the last. But I just can't help feeling that even though you're a really terrific catch and any woman would be honored to accept your proposal [OK, that was a total stretch], it's just that I don't think we'd be very happy together." Notice I didn't use the word "flattered" even once. Or "ewww" or "gross" either. Anyway, when I finished, I found him giving me like a sad little smile.

"But that's not the real reason of course. You are in love with someone else."

So I was like, "Shut up! I am???"

"Yes, my shadow told me that as well," he said.

"Did he say who with?" I mean, it sure was news to me. But Dr P just shook his head.

To be continued...

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Book of Hope 28: One Of Our Zombies Is Missing

I had the world's worst hangover when I woke up. Ever. And it was so not fair, because I hadn't actually done anything to deserve it! I hadn't even had a single beer. My nose and forehead were all swollen up like a balloon, and obviously I'd bled some more in the night because the pillowcase was all stained with nasty black gooey stuff--I almost fainted when I saw it. In the bathroom mirror I saw that the spot where my face had crashed into the rock, right where my nose meets my brow, was turning all purple and had an ugly cut on it. I was covered in mosquito bites, my streaked make-up made me look like a photo of a Jane Doe corpse in a morgue, and my hair was a total mess. I felt like a casualty on CSI. Not just an actress playing a casualty--a real one. The kind that could walk and talk, maybe--but only to those 'medium' detectives who see dead people. I could see a future job market for psychic cosmeticians.

Just to put all this in even clearer perspective for me, Riita showed up at that point looking all golden and glowing like a nature goddess. Don't get me wrong, nothing could make the girl look beautiful--she was too solidly built and plain for that. But she was all brown from the sun, her hair was streaked with gold, and she was even humming! Which was totally disgusting. She'd spent the whole night stoned and doing God knows what with who, and she was practically purring like a cat--meanwhile I, who'd done absolutely nothing at all, was a total wreck. To add insult to injury, the moment she walked in and took a look at me, she started trying to clean me up in full clucking I-told-you-so mother-hen mode, with no sign at all of the crazed Maenad who'd had public sex as part of a Black Magic mass orgy just a few hours earlier.

"Oh my poor, poor Hoop," she kept saying while she dabbed ointment on me and stuck washcloths in my eyes and tried to comb my hair out by its roots, until I was just about ready to punch her out.

"Where's Kimmo?" I finally asked her instead. She shrugged and made a face like she wasn't sure who I was talking about. I decided to twist the knife in a little more. "He seemed like he was really into you last night" (hee hee.) But she just shrugged indifferently again.

She was like, "Oh, there is an American word for that, I think. He was just my 'f--k-buddy' for our holiday. But now the holiday is over. Besides, I think he is already going back to Gumbostrand now."

"Where's that?" It sounded like someplace on stilts on a bayou in Louisiana.

"A little seaside town near Helsinki. He lives at Ior Bock's house--you know, the crazy old hippie man. All the band lives there." Oh yeah, I vaguely remembered that convo from the night before. What else was I forgetting?

"So, are you gonna see him again when you get back?"

She gave a little snort of disdain. "No, no--he is too pretty for me," she said. "And I don't think he is really such a nice person. Perfect companion for vacation, though!" Damn, sometimes I really wish I was Finnish. They're just so amazingly...well, practical. Nothing ever gets wasted in that place. Especially not tears.

Since there was no food in the RV, and neither of us was in the mood to share another disgusting meal with Dr P, we decided to drive into Kaustinen and get some breakfast, then look for an optician's shop and a drug store. "But first you must see a doctor, Hoop," Riita kept saying over and over very firmly. "I am sure your nose is broken, and this could be dangerous for you. It could become terribly infected. Besides you have such a pretty nose, we don't want it to become ugly and crooked, do we?" Since Riita was always wrong at the top of her voice, her opinion made me feel a bunch better. However, I couldn't totally count on it, since she was so unreliably unreliable, so finally I caved.

As it turned out Kaustinen was too small to have either its own hospital or eye doctor. I would have to order new glasses or contact lenses, the pharmacist told me, and the earliest I could get them was in like about two weeks. So until I reached civilization, I was obviously gonna be stuck using Riita as my seeing-eye Finn. Gradually, it seemed to me, she was starting to take over all my support functions one by one--soon I wouldn't even be able to go to the bathroom without her help. For the first time I was starting to realize how my dad must have felt near the end. In the meantime, though, there was something to be said for being half-blind--in the bright sunshine, the little town had a sweet sunny glow full of fuzzy spongy green shapes for trees and blurry soft-toys for car traffic. The cartoon medical station, which was just across the street from the main stage not far from the folk museum, didn't open until noon, according to a hand-written sign on the door (which I could read by standing like six inches away from it), so we had time for some 'Finnish hot dogs' and surprisingly greasy coffee before going back there. One thing could be said for hanging with Dr P--I was already getting spoiled about food. If I was ever crazy enough to accept his marriage proposal I'd probably end up weighing almost as much as he did. Even a quarter would be bad enough.

The doctor on duty was the same very tanned goth-punk lady who'd been sitting behind me at the orgy last night. And her middle-aged husband was her male nurse! She told me that they only time they kept the Kaustinen clinic open was in the summer during the festival season--the rest of the year they worked in Ibiza, where '"there is much more money and not so much taxes." Her husband, she told me, had been a rock-music promoter and drug dealer who'd become interested in practical nursing during a prison rehab program and gone to nursing school after his release. She shyly showed me their matching eyebrow and ear rings. I declined to examine the genitalia versions.

"Your nose is not breaking," she told me after mauling it a bit, but she gave me some pain-killers and a big dorky bandage. The visit cost me $5, even though I didn't have a Finnish health insurance card. It wasn't until after I left that it occurred to me that they could of given me first aid on the spot. You know, when it actually had happened the night before. But I guess maybe they were too busy. Whatever, when I went back to the waiting-room, I found a big brown blob which I assumed to be Riita hiding behind a big white blob, which I discovered to be a copy of the Finnish national daily newspaper, the Helsingen Sanomat.

"I have made an important decision, Hoop," she was like when she saw me. "And it is all because of you. I have decided to forgive Erkki." Huh? Because of me???

"What are you forgiving him for?" I asked her instead, because I was still worried that maybe she'd found out about what he'd been doing in Moominworld after all, and that was why she'd been such a girl gone wild at Pauanne. But then I thought, doh, what I was doing protecting Erkki anyway? I mean it wasn't like I really cared. In a few short weeks I'd be gone, and I'd never see any of these people again. It was none of my business. But as soon as I had all these thoughts, I noticed Riita staring at me in horror. Was I bleeding again?

"For being such a bad partner to me, of course. We have discussed this many times between us, Hoop. You know how cold and hurtful he has become. That is why I have taken this little holiday away from him now. But I can see that you are disappointed with me."

I was like, "No, I'm not disappointed in you, Riita."

"Oh yes, I can see it in your eyes," she said. "You Americans are so simple about sex, you know. You think everyone should be married, just like you think everyone on this planet should be a Christian and eat at a MacDonalds. But life is not always so simple as that, is it?" Frankly, I was surprised she could see anything in my eyes at that point--it certainly wasn't two-way. To prove her point she started translating the front page of the newspaper for me (later I went online and dug it up again just to give you an idea of Finnish attitudes on the subject. And newspaper reporting):

'Young Finnish Women Want Safe Yet Thrilling Sex [no, I'm not kidding--that was the front page headline]

Young Finnish women appreciate sexual affairs which are safe and yet exciting. Nearly half of them think that a woman should be sexually experienced; however this fact should not be public knowledge. Senior researcher Osmo Kontula from the Family Federation commented yesterday on the questionnaire on young women's sexuality published by the pharmaceuticals company Organon. According to Kontula, the potential of female sexuality has increased among women of all age groups.

"Is sex becoming a matter of competence for women?" Kontula asked. However, he pointed out that female sexuality varies: some women prefer intimacy over sex, whereas others feel they can't cope without sex. Three-quarters of the women polled were ready to make an effort in order to keep the spark in their sexual relationships. However, over 40 percent didn't consider passion as an essential element of their lives.

"Selfishness is considered bad in a sexual affair, yet it is vital as far as pleasure is concerned. Being selfish doesn't necessarily mean one doesn't care for one's partner", Kontula said.'

"You see?" said Riita when she'd finished reading all this to me on our way back to the festival parking lot. "I am not such a terrible person, after all. I am very normal for Finland."

And I was like, "I don't think you're a bad person, whatever." But I realized that if I was honest I actually did sort of disapprove of how Riita and Erkki were acting a bit. And isn't just because I'm such a prude or moralist or whatever. It's because of 911.

Ask anyone, and I bet you they can tell you exactly what they were doing on 911, mostly in like really boring detail ("I was getting coffee when my coworkers called me into the kitchen, where the TV was on. I can still remember I was holding a bag of creme-filled doughnuts." Or "My mother-in-law called and said 'Turn on the TV.' I just stood there running the blender over and over thinking it was the end of the world.' etc). It's like some kind of collective Rohrshach (sp?) memory test, almost everybody can remember every detail of those first few hours, but everybody sort of sees them differently. So, OK, here's my 911 story.

And I swear to God I would remember that day pretty clearly anyway, because it was the day before my 22nd birthday, it was my first term at UChi, and Kerry and I had just met and finished moving into the apartment we were sharing the night before. Neither of us had early classes, so we'd both agreed to sleep in late the next morning. So there I was, sound asleep, when suddenly I saw what looked like this ghost standing at the foot of my bed with a deathly tragic look on its face. Naturally I woke up, anyway enough to notice that the ghost was my new roommate in my bedroom wearing only her PJ top with tears streaming down her face. Uh oh, I thought to myself, what kind of psycho lesbian head-case have I hooked myself up with this time? I looked at the clock, and it said 8:51.

"I think you better come see this," she said. So I got up thinking it was probably just another cockroach in the bathtub (she'd totally freaked the night before--I guess she'd never seen a bug before in her life) and went into the living room, where Kerry had propped up her little TV-DVD player on an aluminum travel-trunk. It was showing the people, you know jumping from the WTC building. So we just stood there watching and hugging each other for like forever until, like everyone else all over America, our cell phones started ringing.

OK, now you gotta remember this was just a short time after my dad died, so our family was like especially closely in touch. Plus two of my bros are commercial airline pilots, though as it turned out, neither of them was actually in the air at that particular moment. But that fact wasn't established until the Mothership had made like a bajillion brief but hysterical phone calls ("Hello, Hope? I'm putting you on hold") to all of us. The problem was that there was an additional casualty of all her cell phoning that day, and it wasn't a casualty mentioned in any newspapers or TV shows. The casualty was my middle brother Jerry's marriage.

I've mentioned my sister-in-law Carmen to you before, but in spite of the fact that the Mothership and I (after a rocky start) grew to love her to pieces, we never really got to know her as well as we'd have liked, because she and my older bro never lived anywhere nearby--mostly they were based in Texas and the West Coast, and we only saw them on family visits, pretty much. You know, weddings and funerals and the occasional Xmas. But Anna was a different story, because right after she and Jerry got married (very suddenly), they came to live near us while she went to law school here in DC. Of course, Jerry wasn't always around, being a pilot and all, so that meant she and I got to spend some time together--a lot of time actually during the year Dad was dying, and she was really really great about all that. In fact, I'm not sure we could have gotten through it all without her, because she was absolutely great about taking care of all the details and she was a fearless and patient nurse. That was one side of her personality--super-meticulous and energetic and kind. OK, that's a few sides.

For me, it was doubly cool, because I'd never had a sister. Now suddenly it was like I had one--someone who'd spend time with me and talk things through with me when I was having guy trouble (like during the worst of my time with Gene) and give me great hair and fashion advice. I mean unlike the Mothership, advice in an actual good way. She even took me to my very first spa (she always had sort of expensive tastes). To be honest it was the first time an older girl had ever like taken an interest in me before. Plus, since Jerry was away a lot at night, it gave me a sort of second home to spend the night at whenever things got too intense at school or at home. And right before she graduated, Anna got pregnant and had my nephew, Donald, who they named after my dad. Of course that didn't stop her from immediately moving the three of them to Ft Lauderdale to take a job at a law firm (she specialized in immigration law and is now one of the top legal experts on it in the country).

She was (and still is, I'm sure) a real dynamo, a big, fleshy oversized strawberry blond with an incredible history. She was actually Dutch and was an orphan or something who had grown up in state institutions and foster homes--then when she was like 14 she'd come to America to be an au pair, then went first to high school and next to college, which her adopted American family paid for. By the time she married into our family, she didn't even have a trace of an accent--you totally could not tell she hadn't always been American. I guess she was really good at fitting in, wherever she was. Of course, physically, she stood out. She looked like, well, the best example I can give you is Marie Antoinette--not the MTV Sophia Coppola singing movie version, but the real one, you know like you see on book jackets. She looked really European, like a big healthy farmer's daughter. She had curly blonde hair, sort of a perfect pinkish white complexion, huge blue eyes, a teeny little pink mouth, big boobs, strong arms, big powerful legs, and, if I'm honest, a really huge butt. But if you loved her, you thought she was pretty. I guess not, otherwise. Anyway, her personality was like that, too, once you got to know her: larger than life, you could say. Loud, earthy, salty-tongued, argumentative, petulant, pouty one minute, giggling with you the next. Truthfully, I still sort of miss her. A lot, actually.

Of course I was super-naive and gullible. I mean, you know that about me by now, right? So no surprise there. The only two warning signs I really noticed in those two years were things I just accepted as being part of her personality, like her always having to be the center of attention, always having to be right, always having to decide what was best for everyone, being really cold and stone-faced when she didn't get her way. And one other sort of weird thing--and all this is after the fact, stuff you only think about much later--was that she liked to entertain in bed. I mean socially. She would often just lie with her big legs spread talking to friends or eat her meals or study for hours there, and if you wanted to visit her you had to just go hang out with her in her bedroom. I mean, at the time she made this seem a very natural thing, sort of cool and hippyish or something, so I never gave it much thought.

Anyway that morning (of 911) Jer was scheduled to captain a Lauderdale-Newark flight (he was working for American Airlines then), but of course everyone was in a total panic, and all the airports were closed, and rumors were flying everywhere instead of planes, so he was grounded on standby. And of course, nobody remembers this, but things were especially tense in Lauderdale in particular, because a bunch of the terrorists (yes, Rosie, the ones who really did it, not Karl Rove or the CIA) had been living there just like a mile away from Jerry and Anna and Donnie, and the cops were blocking roads and turning over their entire apartment block. And just the month before there had been the anthrax attack just a few blocks north of that at the National Star offices--in fact, I'd actually been down there visiting them when that happened. So I guess when he was stuck at the airport watching CNN in a passengers' lounge, Jerry sorta freaked. Especially when the Mothership kept phoning him every five seconds with updates like, "Now they've located the mystery plane, but no one knows where it's headed." And "I've tried calling Anna a dozen times, but her cell-phone's not answering, and her switchboard at work's been turned off. Is she at home?" No, because Jerry had been trying her a dozen times, too, and their nanny who looked after Donnie in the daytime said Anna wasn't there and that she hadn't heard anything from her. So even though he wasn't supposed to, Jerry went AWOL and drove to her office looking for her.

That morning all across the country--not just in New York and DC--I've heard that offices were closing early and people were going home to be with their families. Because nobody knew just exactly what was going on. Was this just the first of many attacks? Were we at war? Everybody was scared and upset and worried about their loved ones, so there were like huge traffic jams and long lines of cars stretching in every direction in Fort Lauderdale, anyway, though parts of it, like the beach-front and the commercial downtown district, were pretty much deserted, Jerry told me. By the time he got to Anna's office, he found the building empty and locked down--the only reason he got in was because the security guard at the front desk knew him. Exactly what happened next I dunno, because he never really talked about that part of it much, because obviously it was pretty painful to think about afterwards, but to cut a long story short he went to her firm's darkened suite of offices and found her having sex with her boss. Sometimes he said it was in her office, sometimes he seemed to imply it was in his, I mean the boss's. But later Jer told the Mothership a long rambling drunken story over the phone about how he found no one in her offices at all, but on his way back down in the elevator, by accident he pushed the button for the second floor, which was being remodeled, instead of the lobby. And that when the elevator doors suddenly opened on the big empty stripped concrete space, lit by strings of utility bulbs strung across the ceiling he saw them humping on a stack of drywall panels covered by a big plastic tarp. So I'm guessing that's the true story. Because that's like an image you wouldn't find so easy to get out of your mind. At least I don't think I would, but I hope I never find out.

Anyway, when Anna got home she swore to him that this had been the only time and that it would never happen again. Then she begged him to go to couples' counseling with her so that they could 'learn to forgive each other."

"What the hell has she got to forgive me for?" Jerry asked me at the time. Well, it was a rhetorical question--he was probably having the exact same convo with everybody, even strangers he met in bars. Instead of agreeing to therapy, he moved into their basement so that he could still spend equal time with Donnie. In south Florida lots of houses have 'tearaway' first storeys that aren't connected to the house above by inside stairs--each of them had their own separate entrance so they didn't have to see each other. But he could still hear her walking around above him whenever she was home, since like a lot of large women she had a really heavy tread, and I guess that must have sucked for him a lot. He'd been suspended from his job for walking out that day, so he quit and went to work for Delta for less money. He got really dark and twisted and bitter during that period, too--whenever we talked on the phone he seemed really angry and depressed and mumbled a lot of nasty threats and stuff. Stuff he didn't mean. I guess that mood was why he hired a private detective to investigate Anna's story (later he told me that he wanted to believe her but that something the nanny had told him--he never would say what--made things not quite add up.) He even paid this guy to go up to Georgetown University in DC, where she got her law degree, and even UPenn and Beaver Falls, PA, where she went to high school, to check out her past. That's how crazy he got on the subject. And he got even crazier when the detective reported back to him.

According to this guy, Anna had always cheated. In fact, one of the other women in her law school class told him that Anna had done nine different guys her final year there--and this was while they were married, even while she was pregnant! Apparently everybody there knew about it. Just not Jerry. Or me. But it sort of explained why she never got out of bed much when she was at home. In Beaver Falls he was told that she'd seduced several of her teachers--and even the father of the family she'd lived with, which was why he'd paid her tuition all through college. So now Jerry was totally in shock--it was like everything about her was a lie. When he moved away from Lauderdale, he said he couldn't even be sure now he was really Donnie's father without a DNA test, which she would never agree to. Anna moved to Houston to join a prestigious law firm there and is really rich now, I heard, so her behavior obviously hasn't hurt her career. Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying she was an evil person or anything. She just should have never married someone and promised to only be with him when she already knew she couldn't right from the get-go. It wasn't even just that she'd hurt Jerry--the thing tore my whole family apart at a really bad time, just a few months after my dad's death. It was like she'd been a chameleon, lying to all of us, pretending to be one thing but really being something totally different, sort of like the blond Cylon babe on Battlestar Galactica. It was petty of me, compared to poor Jerry's miseries, but I guess I felt pretty personally betrayed, too. And that's why I was feeling no patience with Riita at the mo. I mean, what's the point of being together at all if you're gonna act like that? Maybe her relationship with Erkki wasn't perfect, but it looked pretty good to me from where I was standing (at least with no glasses on). I mean, I had no one to love at all. Realistically, my life was emotionally empty. I meant nothing special to anyone. If I'd fallen a bit harder and cracked my skull and died the night before maybe a few people would miss me--my close friends and family for sure--but let's face it, even they would all get over it and get on with their lives pretty fast. Like in about five minutes. Riita and Erkki had someone to love, they had a real thing going for them, and instead of valuing that, they were both behaving like stupid sluts. If they weren't careful, they were gonna really screw things up for good. OK, dumb American maybe, but at least I could tell a car wreck when it was about to happen.

But I didn't say any of this to Rita. What would be the point? Instead I was all like, "So is there like any actual news in that paper?" Bear in mind this was right after the Qana bombing, a shooting rampage in a Seattle synagogue, and Mel Gibson's drunk driving arrest. But I was living on another planet, apparently.

"Oh yes, it is a very busy time now," Riita said, stopping to read the rest of the headlines. "Festival attendance has set many new records in Finland this summer, that's a very good thing. But it says the big loser was the folk festival here at Kaustinen, not so many people want to hear folk music any more. Well I suppose it is a kind of music that is very boring for youths, of course. Here is another story of interest: 'End of summer holidays brings rush to, hmmm, what is the English word, detoxic clinics. It is because of the alcoholism here, you see. Oh look, look, Hoop! Here is a story about your friend!" She practically started jumping up and down on the pavement.

"My friend?"

"You know, your friend, that Likkanen! Listen to this:

'Two Suspects Arrested Over Attempted Waterpark Murder

Police in Espoo have arrested two men suspected of the attempted murder of an American tourist of Finnish extraction committed in the city on Monday. Night workers at Waterpark Serena were surprised to see the victim crawling inside the recreational complex from the outdoor artificial lake in the early hours of Monday morning. It is believed he was shot three times at another lake nearby and somehow waded to shore and then crossed a marsh before entering the water park, which is the largest in Europe.

"In the light of information we have now it is likely that we will ask that the two be remanded", said the head of the investigation, Detective Inspector Sakari Juurikkala of the Espoo police, speaking on Tuesday. However, he also emphasised that so far the pair are not the only suspects and that the investigation has indicated the presence of a third assailant.
Police have seized a cellphone and laptop computer that they believe the men stole during the crime, which they were attempting to sell on huuto.net [the Finnish eBay]. In addition, they are examining at least two "biker vests" which they believe were worn by the perpetrators. Juurikkala says that the suspects are an Espoo native born in 1952 and another man from nearby Helsinki, who was born in 1951. Both have a long record of criminal activities - mainly petty theft and drugs dealing - and at one time were members of the 'Banditos' motorcycle club.

On Tuesday the police asked the public for information on a stolen white Ford Sierra taxi cab which might have been linked with the crime. Police are still interested in knowing more about the cab's movements, especially on Sunday night and Monday morning. Juurikkala says that the police do not know why the victim was shot. The crime is being investigated as attempted murder and aggravated robbery. In what is seen as a related development, the victim's hotel room in Helsinki was robbed and the remainder of his personal belongings stolen. At present, the location of the victim, Donho Likkanen of New York, USA, and the details of his injuries will not be released to the public for fear of further attacks on his life. After collapsing beneath a water-slide, Likkanen was given first aid by an emergency rescue team and pronounced dead at the scene. However, some minutes later he was apparently revived and flown by helicopter to an undisclosed trauma speciality hospital.

Police are also looking into the possibility of a connection between the incident and a similar crime that took place in Kankaanpää a week ago. In that crime, two masked men broke into an apartment and beat up a man living there. "The acts have certain similarities. We are looking into the possibility that they might be connected", Juurikkala says.'

"Wow, that's really amazing!" I said. "So we actually did it--we brought him back to life again! Or Dr P did, I should say."

"Don't be silly, Hoop," Riita said with a sniff. "All of this happened days ago. He was at a hospital the whole time."

"Yeah, but we didn't know that for. Maybe, I dunno, the ceremony adjusted time and space into a new continuum or whatever where he was brought back to life by what we all did. Maybe he was really dead in the old one--it says in the paper that he was pronounced medically dead at one point." I had a mental picture of poor old Safe-T-Man in an ICU somewhere guarded by police like in a movie. Poor guy--maybe I should try to send him flowers or a card or something. Of course, we hadn't exactly parted on the best of terms.

"I'm sure the doctor knew all of this before the ceremony," Riita pointed out with that peasant shrewdness that always took me by surprise. "After all, he was the person who stole Likkanen's clothes from the hotel room. Perhaps he is the third bad man the police are searching for. You just want to believe in magic, Hoop, that's why you are always have such silly ideas." And nothing I could explain to her about alternate realities and pocket universe theory all the way back in the car made any difference. Some people are just born un-silly, I guess.

Still, yesterday he'd been dead, at least as far as I knew, but today he wasn't. That's a kind of magic, isn't it? Beats the reverse anyway.

Continued here...

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The Book of Hope 27: Raising the Dead, Part Deux

My first thought was that somehow Alex or Dr P had phoned the Mothership and somehow convinced her to overnight-Fedex the dummy from my closet to Pauanne. Then, doh, I realized that Safe-T-Man was still for sale as a product, even in Europe, and that all the copies of him looked exactly alike. So it was just an eerie coincidence. Or something. And of course, I'd just seen Dr Praetorius making a book 'walk' with threads at the National Library in Helsinki--obviously he was doing exactly the same thing right now, just on a much bigger scale. Even though I could barely see at all and was getting a really splitting headache (and my nose was throbbing big-time by now--I was just praying it wasn't broken), I could appreciate the artistry involved in his performance. I mean, it really looked amazingly real, even from, where I was standing.

So I just stood there staring with my mouth hanging open, which was really starting to happen to me a lot in Finland it seemed, when I felt Alex tugging at the back of my skirt. Which I guessed was my cue to climb down from the stage. So I let him lead me back to our rock--the only problem now, aside from being all swollen and in pain, was that I couldn't actually see much of what happened next. Everything looked like one of those blurry 'bursts of color' screen-savers. First I'd lost my contacts, and now my glasses were like totally busted. Obviously I needed to see an optometrist or an optician (I can never remember which is which) first thing tomorrow--I mean what was the point of sight-seeing in a foreign country if you couldn't even see??

Anyway what I think I saw next was Dr P invisibly raising Safe-T-Man up in his 'grave' so that he appeared to be standing upright, just sort of swaying and trembling like a marionette. At some point I remember Dr P leaned over and started licking the foamy stuff off the dummy's face--at another point he asked him two or three questions in Swinish, to which Safe-T-Man gave grumbly answers in a sort of echoey far-away voice, which I assumed was ventriloquism. I understood one of the answers, which was "54". Then Dr P killed the poor swan, who didn't seem to object much or make much of a fuss, by cutting its throat with a dagger. Meanwhile the crowd got into it again, banging on drums and chanting and stuff, and when this reached a crescendo, Dr P set Safe-T-Man on fire. He practically exploded into flame, blazing up like a nylon nightdress or something and sending off clouds of dark, rubbery-smelling smoke. People were screaming and howling all around me, dancing around like kids in one of those day-care exercises where you all pretend to be animals out of a Richard Scarry book or something. My main feeling was pretty much embarrassment. And of course I was totally pissed about my glasses and my broken nose, which I now could not breathe out of. And I was like way exhausted, because it had been a long day. More like two or three.

One of my very favorite and most loyal readers of this blog is named Mikhail from Russia, who's just emailed me in response to the last chapter saying:

"First you say you hate stories where no details are given about magical rituals, and you say it is cheating. But then it seems to me you are doing the same thing here! ;))"

OK, busted. If anyone really, really wants to memorize the details of the ceremony, which I later pieced together from Dr P's notes and my own research, here they are. Don't try this at home, though (oh, WTF, go ahead. In fact, I dare you. Email me if it works for you):

To raise the dead properly, the ceremony should take place on a Night of Power and be tailored specifically to that night; in this case, Lunasa (or Lughnasa), the night of the first full moon of Leo and festival of the harvest. The ceremony should also accommodate local deities, legends, and even flora as much as possible and will require three willing volunteers, in addition to the necromancer. The necromancer should be wearing robes made from flayed human skin or at least clothes taken from a corpse, and to help the process go smoothly must adorn himself and the ground around the ceremonial circle with tokens of death (such as bones, skulls, pieces of dried human flesh, etc.), as well as the head of an owl. The flesh of a dog can sometimes be used instead and even consumed as a substitute during parts of the ritual. If the subject has been dead for a long time the necromancer can call the spirit to an earthen grave outside anywhere--the actual gravesite isn't necessarily important. If the necromancer merely wants to interrogate the spirit of the departed, he can ask the questions required and then either burn the corpse or bury it in quicklime so that it could never be disturbed again and the spirit can return unhindered to the netherworld. If a substitute for the corpse is created in order to resurrect the dead in another physical locus these 'mock-remains' must always be burned so that they do not become a soulless zombie. The necromancer can alternately finish the ceremony by feasting on the flesh of the corpse, although this does not always destroy its animation. Burning that which remains afterwards is always wisest.

Altar supplies: yellow or orange candles (preferably of tallow or rendered human fat mixed with pitch and sulphur; animal fat if this cannot be obtained), burner, herbs, chalice for body liquids, salt, pentacle, chalice of wine, dagger or sword, wand or staff, plate of bread or wafer, ambergris, and a honeycomb. Because Lemminkainen is a fertility god (Adonis, Baldur, the Zodiacal Leo), and not just an ordinary everyday mortal, his own colors and plants must be included: chalices and dagger should be made of real gold whenever possible, and the drapery should be white, not black. Because Lemminkainen was killed by the Swan of Tuonela, a swan should thus be sacrificed as part of this ceremony. His plants are ash, chamomile, celandine, marigold, mistletoe, and St John's Wort, his runes are sowilhu, fehu, and raidho. Also Fall flowers, ivy and leaves for decoration.

Light twelve candles at nightfall and cast them three at a time, to the dwarves of the four prime directions (Nordhri, Sudhri, Austri and Vestri). Place ambergris, human bone, hair or fingernails in the first gold chalice and ignite them. Place the bowl in the center of the twelve candles, thereby completing a pentagram of occultated space above an earthen grave. Lay a solid line of moist earth in a complete circle around the candles. Outside the first circle, lay a second circle of common salt. The reason for this that when the proper time and place is fixed on, a magic circle is to be formed, within which, the master and his assistant, for in these ceremonies there must be at least two participants, three if the master is not pepared to use his own ejaculate, four if he does not wish to use his own blood) are to carefully respected. The dimensions of the circle is as follows: a piece of ground is usually chosen nine feet square, at the full extent of which parallel lines are drawn one within another, having crosses and triangles described between them close to which is formed the first or outer circle; then, about half a foot within the same, a second circle is described; and within that another square correspondent to the first, the centre of which is the seat or spot where the necromancer and his acolytes are to be placed. The vacancies formed by the various lines and angles of the figure, are to be marked with the names of gods and spirits written on runestnes or scraps of vellum or skin. Then cast a third circle over them with the sword or dagger, saying,

"I consecrate this circle to the ancient gods of this land [you may wish to invoke them by name], asking that they appear to us inside here and restore their beloved son to life."

Then go back to the altar, facing north, and raise your hand or wand in greeting above the belly of the girl or woman lying upon it. Her sex should be exposed and her legs parted to receive the offering of a male acolyte. If you do not choose to perform this office yourself, at this point summon him. After he has ejaculated inside her retrieve the mixture from between her thighs, saying:

"I stand now at the Gate between Two Worlds." Add to the first chalice of burnt offerings a mixture of semen and vaginal fluids, and place it inside the pentacle, then hold the dagger above it, saying,

"Great Mother-Goddess of us all, bless this offering of human seed to your service." Then plunge the dagger into the flames of the incense-burner and hold it in the flames until it begins to smoke, then raise it over the salt, saying,

"Great God-Father of us all, bless this offering of salt, and through fire transmute it to your desire." Then sprinkle the salt into the chalice inside the pentacle and hold the hot dagger in the mixture. Carry the cauldron counter-clockwise around the outside of the circle beginning with the east, then return it to the altar, saying,

"Many fragments were wanting to make up the body of Lemminkainen--half of his head, a hand, many little fragments. Life was wanting in the body. But still his mother would not cast it back into the river. Once again she raked Tuonela's deep river, first along it and then across it; his hand she found, half of his head she found, fragments of his backbone she found, and pieces of his ribs.

She pieced all together; the bones fitted, the joints went together. She chanted a Magic Song, praying that Suonetar would weave the veins together, and stitch with her finest needle and her most silken thread the flesh and the sinews that were broken. She sang a Magic Song, praying that Jumala would fix together the bones. Then the veins were knit together, the bones were fastened together, but still the man remained lifeless and speechless. He needed blood. Now I call upon the Flower of Saari, the Bride of Lemminkainen to come forth with her gift of blood."

The Bride approaches the altar and is given first the wafer, then the wine. Then blood is taken from her, and along with the honeycomb is added to the burning liquid inside the cauldron, with the words,

"Great Father and Mother, I take this blood, freely given, and offer it for your blessing so that your son may live once more. All the Fires of Creation, All Powers of the Air, I bind in your name inside this blessed circle. Cauldron of the Great Mother, cauldron of birth and renewal--hear my call. Return to the earth your son Lemminkainen at cock-crow, healed of all illnesses; rebuild his body, his mind, and his spirit."

On the offering plate should be the mountain ash leaves, cloudberries, feverfew, vervain, and wormwood, as well as the precious oils belonging especially to Lemminkainen, frankincense and cinnamon. The totem animal of the local deity, in this case a swan, should now be offered. It is wise to drug the animal first, both to spare it suffering and to render it docile. Lead it into the circle and employing your dagger, slit its jugular with a single firm swift motion. [you may wish to practice this on farm animals before performing it publicly, as a botched sacrifice can wreck the ceremony.] After the gravesite has been sprayed with its blood, cut it to pieces and extract its liver and sex. Sprinkle these, along with the herbs above, over the smoldering mixture, then tap the chalice three times with the dagger.

"And now as once did Lemminkainen's mother, I sing the Magic Song [now begin the incantation below and speak loudly and clearly]:




Then, little by little the grave begins to stir, and various strange sights appear to the sorcerer while the dead man is being very gradually raised; but it goes very slowly, as the dead are most unwilling to move, and say "Let me lie quiet!" But the necromancer must not give in to their pleading, nor yet let himself be dismayed by the sights, but must mutter his incantations faster than ever and roll his stick until the dead man is halfway out of the ground. At the same time he must be very careful that no earth falls outside the grave when it begins to heave, for such earth can never be put in again.

"For she bade the bee go forth and find the honey-salve that would give final healing. The bee flew across the moon in the heavens; he flew past the borders of Orion; he flew across the Great Bear's shoulders, and into the dwelling of Jumala the Creator. In pots of silver, in golden kettles was the salve that would give final healing. The bee gathered it and brought it back to Lemminkainen's mother.




With the salve she rubbed him. She called upon her son to rise out of his slumbers, to awaken from his dreams of death."

[Now say very loud and fast five times]:


Up he rose; out of his dreams he wakened, and speech came back to him. Even then he would have slain the Swan so that he might win a bride in Pohjola. But his mother persuaded him, and his mother drew him back with her to his home. There the bride awaited him whom he had won in another place and on another day, Kyllikki, the Flower of Saari. Now join with me in chanting five times [in this particular instance]:

Live, Lemminkainen! Live, bright one, shining God, light for all to see! Return to us and walk the earth once again!"

When the dead man has risen half way out, the magician must ask him two questions:

"What was your name in life?"

["Donho Frederik Likkanen."]

"How old were you in death?"


Never ask a third question, or the corpse will be released back to the realm of the dead.

When the dead man has said who he is and is half-way out of the grave, the sorcerer can either drive him down again if he chooses, or can continue the spells till he is completely emerged. When the dead first emerge from their graves, their mouths and nostrils are often bubbling over with a frothy mixture of mucus and mud known as 'corpse froth'; this the magician may lick off with his own tongue for its magical properties. Then he must draw the salve from the chalice, and moisten the dead man's body all over with it. When this is done and the corpse is standing fully upright in his grave, then comes the final ritual: he is set on fire. If the ceremony is successful, this will be a blinding blaze and all-consuming--trapped inside the circle of power, he will silent and unmoving, be turned to ashes in just a few short moments.

Now everything connected with the ceremony must also be burned, and all the ashes collected and buried together in a ploughed furrow in a field before cock-crow.

After everything onstage, including the remains of the poor swan, had been tossed into the grave and burned up too (and damn, it really stank), the still-smoking ashes were gathered up into the chalice and a bunch of us followed Dr P and Anssi outside. It was quite a slow procession, since Dr P was gasping for breath from all the unaccustomed exercise, and I was just barely able to hobble along behind him. We walked past the little artificial lake on the top of the hill next to the Great Hall (more of a mosquito-ridden pond, really) to a spot of meadow-land beside the tree-line, where someone had dug a sort of shallow ditch. We buried the ashes in it along with a Barbie doll wearing a wedding dress, then stood there chanting for a few more minutes until we could see the first faint light of dawn.

"Once upon a time, we'd have buried you instead of the doll, " Alex whispered to me as Dr P tossed the first clods of earth onto the doll. He sounded a teeny bit regretful.

A moment later a teeny little pink prick of light peeked through the trees, and somewhere a rooster crowed. In fact, once it started it wouldn't shut up.

"I bought that along with the swan--too bad we couldn't have killed it instead," said Alex, putting his arm around me to help me walk back. "But apparently no magical ceremony is considered over until dawn or 'cock-crow'. And Dr Praetorius is a literalist. Which is good news for me--this is all going to make a fantastic chapter in my book." Great--after all my hard work I was gonna be a chapter in somebody else's book.

I was like, "So it's over?"

"All over," said Anssi, grabbing my other arm. I felt like a drunk being helped home in an old screwball comedy or something. "How do you think it went?"

"I thought it was totally stupid and disgusting," I said.

"That's not quite what I meant to ask." He looked at Alex, whose lenses reflected back at us blankly. "Do you think it worked?"

Alex burst into laughter. "Do I, bollocks!" he said. Together, the two of them somehow got me back down the hill and into the woods where it was still pretty dark. Every now and then I could hear a rustling or a crashing noise, and a couple or a group would burst into view whispering to each other or whooping or making animal noises. Then they'd disappear again together looking for more private places to party, I guess. All I could see was pale splashes of naked skin in the forest gloom with dark shapes like pointed ears or antlers above them. And then suddenly I realized that maybe it wasn't so dumb or embarrassing after all, what they were doing. For years I'd studied Mythology and magic without really thinking about the reality of it much. Well, this WAS the reality of it. I mean, they were just doing what our ancestors had done naturally and even like religiously for thousands of years. I guess it was sort of still wired into us humans or something, because after being just plain disgusted by everything that had happened so far that night, suddenly the sight of all those naked people flitting through the trees in the darkness or whatever was actually making me horny! I totally couldn't believe it!

I guess maybe it's the same sort of thing that sometimes happen to me when I'm commuting to work on the Washington subway, which is called the 'Metro' after the one in Paris. Whatever, in the Metro the light is always so soft and dim that it's like you're in Dante's Inferno or some sort of club or underworld down there--sometimes you feel totally anonymous, like nothing you did would actually count, if that makes any sense. And because of the lighting guys' faces often look way cuter than they really are, unless they're like old old or super-ugly, in which case they look hideous and evil. I know this for a fact because a few times I've flirted with guys on the platform and then once we were at street level discovered that they were actually not hot. Which is always embarrassing.

Luckily--or maybe unluckily--neither Alex or Anssi seemed to notice my mood change. They left both right after they got me back to the Pace-Arrow, and I fell into a deep, drugged-feeling sleep on the bed as the world started to turn a pale peach color. There was no sign of Riita.

Continued here...

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Book of Hope 26: Raising the Dead, Part One

"Then his mother went in quest of him; she questioned the trees, she questioned the pathway, she questioned the golden moon in the sky. But the trees, the pathway, the golden moon in the sky, all had their own troubles, and they would take no trouble for any woman's son. She questioned the sun in the heavens, and the sun told her that her son was in Tuonela's River."

--The Kalevala

When I was about 11 I got my very first crush on a boy in my class named Thomas di Angelo. He was half-Lebanese, half-Italian, and his dad was in the Army Corps of Engineers--he had the biggest, softest brown eyes you've ever seen and very sweetly helped me with my math homework (the only subject I ever needed help with) on and off. There were only two downsides to this great romance of mine: the first was that I was like nearly a foot taller than him, and the second was that he was officially the boyfriend of my then-best friend, Courtney Payne. So I totally couldn't do anything about it, even if I'd actually known what to do. But you know how it is when you have a secret crush--you feel like you'll burst if you don't tell somebody. I guess I coulda told my mom, but I mean somebody real. Besides, if you tell your mom a secret odds are pretty good she'll rat you out sooner or later anyway, and usually at the most embarrassing moment possible. I'm not accusing the Mothership of actually doing that on purpose constantly. I'm just saying. Anyway, I needed somebody who was like totally 100% discreet, somebody who'd never ever tell anyone else, ever, in the future history of the whole world. So I told a tree.

Yeah, yeah, I know how crazy that sounds--but gimme a break! I was only 11! Besides, this wasn't just any tree. There was a little park next to the base that I used to go walking in most days after I got home from school on my way over to Courtney's or whatever. And in the park just at a corner where three sidewalks met, there was a little glen with an old hollowed-out oak tree covered in ivy and moss that had a sort of natural door in its base that looked like an open mouth. One day I'd seen a pair of chipmunks come tumbling out of it and down into the grassy glade wrestling with each other--another time when it suddenly started raining, I saw a family of rabbits huddled up inside. Higher up, there were a few of holes in it where limbs had fallen off that looked like eyes and ears, and sometimes you'd see squirrels peeking their heads out of them watching you walk by. Bees were always circling around it and flying in and out. So privately to myself I thought of it as 'Treebeard', from the name of the chief Ent in The Lord of the Rings, which I'd just read for the first time that year. Finally, when I absolutely, totally couldn't stand to keep my secret crush secret one minute longer, I decided to confide it to Treebeard. So one hot summer day, after carefully making sure that no one else was around, I went up to it and stood on tip-toe and whispered my guilty secret into an 'ear- hole' in its trunk. And, stupidly, I actually felt way better! I can still remember how I fell asleep extra early that night.

But then I had a bunch of really bad dreams. Apparently I'd been overheard whispering my secret by a bee--so he told a squirrel, who told a crow, and somehow it got all over the neighborhood and finally to Courtney's dog, Sean Cassidy (yes, that was his name). That's when I finally woke up. But everything that day still felt like I was trapped inside a nightmare. I'm sure you know what I mean. First of all, when I got to school, I had the feeling that everybody was staring at me. You know, like we all stared at the poor geeky girl who peed herself in class in 5th grade and had to transfer to another school. That kind of feeling. But nobody said anything, just looked and acted funny. Then at recess after lunch, I was standing under the covered connecting walkway talking to another girl, Lourdes, because Courtney had been kind of ignoring me all morning, when suddenly I saw Courtney leading like half our entire class toward me, sort of like religious acolytes going on a pilgrimage or something, all excited and whispering to each other and giving me sneaky smirky glances. "Uh oh," Lourdes said, and split. I didn't blame her, because we'd both seen Courtney pull this kind of public shaming before.

See, Courtney was the class 'Queen Bee'. She was a blowsy honey-brown blonde girl, even taller than me, and way bigger. She had boobs before anybody else in our class, and her bra-straps were always slipping over her shoulders, plus she was constantly motor-mouthing and gossiping about everybody behind their back. Or even to their face. I'd been immune from that treatment up to this point because we were best friends--but today it was my turn. She led her delegation up to me, and suddenly I was surrounded. Thomas was standing at Courtney's shoulder (well sort of below her shoulder, actually), with a nasty look I'd never seen on his face before. Everyone was staring and grinning at me. Already I could feel my face flaming. "Look," Courtney said, pointing at me, "She wears guys' underpants!" Then she reached down and lifted my skirt so that everyone could see my panties. Which were girls'. In fact they were even pink (which didn't keep me from trashing them that night anyway, so they wouldn't keep reminding me of what had happened.) Everyone just kept staring at them for a minute--then I grabbed my skirt and I guess started channeling the Sound of Music or whatever, screaming, "F-ck you! F-ck you! And you and you and you!" (I had picked up a lot of really nasty language that year from my bros--I guess that's why I'm such a prude nowadays), and burst into tears. Then I marched off and locked myself into a restroom stall for the rest of recess. Then I came out and washed my face pretended nothing had happened. But after that I didn't want anyone of them for friends any more, which was maybe a little harsh of me.

Not that it mattered, because just a few months later I was living in a whole other country and starting over at a whole new school anyway. Which is typical in the life of an army brat (and I use the term 'army' generically, because everybody knows the Corps despises the regular army).

To give her credit Courtney even apologized to me the next week. Someone in the class (no doubt tipped off by the gossipy squirrels) had told her that I liked Thomas and that he and I were "doing it" when he was tutoring me in math, so she had retaliated in the only way she knew how--by publicly humiliating me. The weekend before I had gone over to her house wearing a pair of my bro's jockey shorts, and I guess she had caught sight of them when we were trying on stuff. See, what had happened was that my parents had been away all week, and when she got home, my mom hadn't quite caught up on laundry. So suddenly I had no clean underwear. "You can wear a pair of mine," she suggested, "Or you can wear these till I run a wash"--these being an old pair of my middle brother's white jockey shorts that were still in a drawer. In point of fact, except for the crotch, they actually could have been girls' panties pretty much, they were so shrunk and cut so brief, and of course in just a few more years in middle school everybody was into grunge and punk and Goth and wearing their boyfriend's clothes or pretending to be bi, so no one would have cared anyway. But you know what 6th grade was like. And I certainly didn't want to wear my mother's panties---ewww! Anyway, when Courtney had spotted them I'd been too embarrassed to do anything but just laugh, so I guess maybe she thought I was still wearing them. Or always wore them. Or whatever.

Anyway I accepted her apology, but we were never really good again. She wasn't a bad person, and I'm sure that somewhere she's now ruling a suburban cul-de-sac just like she ruled our class--probably she still leads delegations of housewife minions around inspecting her neighbors' house-siding and mocking their lawn furniture. And she taught me an important lesson: the moment you have a secret, even if you don't tell it to anybody but a tree, it's not a secret any more. The trick is never to act secretive about it. "Hide in plain sight, Scout," Dad always told me. So that's what I pretty much did for the rest of 6th grade. And that turned out to be pretty good practice for the rest of my life. If I ever get the urge to wear guys' underwear again I'll wear them on the outside.

Come to think of it, characters in the Kalevala are always talking to the rocks and trees. In fact, there's even one scene where Vainomen plays his kantele and makes the trees dance. Animals and birds are always talking, too, just like in my dream. Maybe that's why when Lemminkainen's mother goes wandering through the woods asking the trees and stones where her son is, it kind of makes me think of myself and Treebeard. I can easily imagine that if I ever suddenly lost someone I loved, like a husband or a child, I might wander around like that, too, so crazed with grief that I wanted to touch, even to talk to, all the things that had been a part of his life: the bed, the walls, the furniture, the trees outside...In fact, I sort of did that right after my dad died. I mean, I didn't say anything out loud, but I did touch lots of stuff of his after the mortuary ambulance came and they took his body away. And the whole time I wanted to ask each of them, "Where is he? Where's Dad gone to?"

Like his pillow or his glasses would know.

Although on second thought, according to Father Mac, objects do retain a sort of "memory" of their owners, sort of like how an old-fashioned photography chemicals respond to light--it was the saturation of the walls and floors and ceilings of the house in Bronzeville with his skin-scale dust, he told me, that had allowed the spirit of Billy Draper to remain behind as a ghost. But I would never have wished that fate for Dad and neither would he. So why on earth was I participating in a ceremony that would supposedly do something sort of similar to poor Likkanen or Lemminkainen or whoever you believed he was? I mean, A. it wasn't totally clear from the news reports that he was actually dead in the first place, just that he was "reported" to be dead, and B. even if it was possible to bring him back from the dead (which by now I totally didn't believe could happen, or to be even more specific, didn't believe that this cast of clowns could do it even if it was actually possible), what sort of form would he take? Would be come back transformed or whatever like 'Gandalf the White' instead of 'Likkanen the Gray'? Or would he be sort of all sad and ghostly inside, like Frankenstein's monster? Would he be a zombie? Would he be a normal human being, except with no heartbeat or breath or whatever? Could he even die again? I was totally unclear on all these details--but it suddenly seemed to me to be way kinder and, well, smarter, just to let him stay dead. Let sleeping gods lie, right?

Only Dr Praetorius had other ideas. Of course, it was all BS, right? I mean, I'm gullible as hell, but even I don't really believe it's possible to raise the dead (even after we actually did it). But here's the other problem--I don't really know how it happened or much of anything else about that night. It's all just kind of hazy. Because, well for a variety of reasons: I wasn't paying close attention at first, I was sort of out of it, I don't speak Swedish or Finnish, etc, etc, plus I got injured in the middle of the whole thing. I know, I know--I'm a complete loser. And this is even a perfect example of what I hate most about horror stories and fairy-tales and even slasher flicks--they endlessly refer to magical songs and spells and formulas, but never go into any specific detail. Except for 'Hail Satan' and 'Fee Fie Fo Fum' and stuff like that, but that doesn't really count, does it? I mean just try saying "Rumpelstiltskin-is-my-name' three times and click your heels and see just what happens. Even when I was a little girl I thought this was really unfair, because if a magic spell works in a story, then it should work in real life too. Otherwise it's just cheating. Supposedly, the original sources of the Kalevala were full of specific spells and chants, but Lennrot edited them out because of Christian prudery. But I'm not sure I believe that--I suspect the old story-tellers cheated, just like they always do, and fudged the details.

According to everything I've been able to dig up on the subject, there are three main ways to raise the dead, or to be more specific, three completely different and separate concepts that people mean when they talk about it, that roughly correspond to the three main magical techniques. The first is seeking answers from the dead in order to find riches or treasure, or to gain knowledge from those who have passed onto the next world, especially predictions of the future, like with the Witch of Endor in the Bible. This can mean anything from using a Quija board at a party to digging up a grave and forcing the skeleton to talk. The second is to prolong life (or briefly bring a loved one back from the dead) by stealing the life-force from others, most specifically through the medium of their blood, or using spells and incantations. Vampirism or cannibalism is the typical example of this technique. The third is to raise the dead, either individually or in legions, by magic to serve as slaves or soldiers. Jason sowing the dragon's teeth or the zombies of Haiti are examples of this one--and so are traditional fairy-lore resurrections, like in Jonathan Norrell and Mr Strange (or is it the other way round? I can never remember.) All three are called 'Necromancy"--that's what a necromancer does, is raise the dead in one way or another. Now, I'd like to pretend to you that I already knew all this at the start of Dr Praetorius' little ceremony, but actually I didn't--I've tried to understand what went on that night in hindsight by researching the subject, talking it over with Alex (who was sitting beside me whispering at me most of the time) and, of course, Dr P himself, who later gave me typed instructions for the ceremony (actually, I had to retype them--most of it was just scribbles). Because at the time I was pretty much totally clueless.

For one thing, it was dark. The rest of the 'crowd' on their individual rocks were now just dark indistinct shapes, some of them punctuated by the tiny glowing points of cigarettes or spliffs. Except for a few murmured conversations everything had turned dead quiet. I guess it must have been about 1 AM or so, and I started to doze off. Onstage a match flared, and I saw Anssi's face briefly as he lit a candle--and then very slowly one by one about a dozen more in a wide circle. This more or less dimly illuminated the rock-stage, and by their flickering glow I could make out that Anssi was now wearing a hooded white robe with gold stitching. So I figured Alex was right--we were in for a bit of theater. I caught a whiff of the candles and started choking.

"Ew, gross!' I gagged at Alex. "What's that smell?"

"Sulphur," he whispered back. What was he whispering for? Behind us, there was a restless sort of rustling noise, and Dr Praetorius appeared suddenly on the stage, apparently dressed for a luau, stuffed into a bright Hawaiian shirt and surfer shorts underneath a hooded robe that looked like it had been sewn together from carpet-scraps. As my eyes adjusted I noticed that the edge of his hood was fringed with human teeth on little threads, and he was carrying a sort of staff that looked like a human thighbone with a stuffed owl's head stuck to it. I started choking again just trying not to laugh. Huffing and puffing, he wheezed his great bulk around the stage pointing at stuff with his 'wand'--I noticed a big mound of earth in the middle of it, and behind that 'Tapio's Table', the giant slab of wood, had been converted into an altar by having a heavy white sheet draped over it. A gold chalice sat on a sort of fondue burner at one end, and at the other someone seemed to be lying on top of it. The person's clothes looked familiar--and suddenly I realized it was Riita! She was lying like in a trance or something, unmoving but with her eyes open and staring, up there in her 'bridal gown'. And she wasn't the only one wearing one, it occurred to me.

So I was all like, "You mean Riita's part of the ceremony? What about--?" but Alex shushed me. I stared at him in shock, because now he was wearing an owl mask too. It looked like something he'd found at a costume shop, and I could see his glasses glinting though the eye-holes. I looked around, and noticed that most of the people behind us were putting on animal masks and tails, and some were even taking off their clothes. This looked like it could get really ugly, since the average age there must of been like 40 or whatever. Anssi walked down the stage and past us swinging a sort of incense bowl like a censor in church that was billowing out a dark, putrid-smelling smoke. Pretty soon the whole hall was hazy with it, and I wasn't the only one coughing any more. At least it helped keep the mosquitos away.

"Don't inhale too much of that," Alex muttered in my ear. "You'll pass out. It's a mix of vervain, wormwood, rue, henbane, dried nightshade, mushrooms, belladonna, and poppy." A home-made hallucinogen, in other words.

A successful necromancer has to sort of become 'at one with the dead' if he's to be successful in raising one of them. This means he has to go through a phase of living like a graveyard ghoul, surrounded by dead things, making his utensils from bones and his clothes from their skins or whatever, and even eating their flesh raw, like Hannibal Lector. He has to bathe in dust and sleep in a coffin, ideally inside a charnel-house, so that at some point the world of the dead becomes as real to him as this one, and he can actually start seeing and you know, talking to them or whatever. That's the idea, anyway, though it's too disgusting to actually think about seriously. I mean, wouldn't you get e. coli poisoning or something? But it's like a rite of passage for a magician--Dr P seems to have gone through a stage like that when he was homeless and dumpster-surfing for meals and panhandling tourists and stuff before he got rich. At least according to his website. I guess the experience was a little like getting an advanced degree from a state university. As far as the food is concerned, anyway.

Now Dr P was standing with his back to us and his arms dramatically outstretched over Riita, started speaking in what I took to be his own personal version of Finnish mixed with Swedish (privately I think of this pidgin as 'Swinish'). I couldn't understand a single word, except a few of them in Latin. All of a sudden, I realized where I'd seen the clothes he was wearing before--on Likkanen on the airplane, remember? I guess maybe Dr P had stolen his suitcase or something in order to bring him back to life. Now I was hearing a new noise, kind of a jangling, vibrating sound like instruments being tuned up before a concert. What had happened was that a bunch of the musicians from the bands that had been performing all day were bringing out acoustic instruments like guitars, fiddles, tambourines, drums, etc. and were kind of picking at them, not really playing a tune, but just making a kind of droning musical vibration. Most of the women there, still wearing their animal masks, took off the rest of their clothes and started slowly dancing. Onstage, Dr P struck one of the gold chalices three times with his staff and raised his arms again, and a naked man wearing a deer-mask with antlers on his head walked slowly into the firelight. it was Kimmo, sweating and red all over, still wearing his running shoes but nothing else. He had a really painful looking woody, if you'll pardon my French (I say 'painful' cuz it was even redder than the rest of him, maybe with embarrassment.) The crowd started chanting and clapping in time with the music, and he went up to Riita, who was still lying there all out of it, and just stuck it in her.

All around me, people started falling down on the little mossy patches between the rocks and on picnic blankets and whatever and doing it. I wish I could say it was a big turn-on or even like mildly interesting in a Margaret Mead-social anthropology sort of way, but I can't. It was significantly less exciting than a bad porn movie and, with all the dirt and moaning and groaning under animal masks and meaty smacking of bellies and cellulite, more than a little spooky. I caught sight of somebody I was pretty sure was Jenn, but the guy on top of her wasn't Harvey. Or her husband. And I didn't even wanna imagine what Drundrero and Mrs Dundrero were getting up to. Or Siirkka-Liisa or Gunilla. I'm sorry, but I'm allergic to stuff like that. I'll just never be a totally swinging modern, I guess.

Suddenly Riita gave a loud scream.

"OK, that's your cue," said Alex, pulling me to my feet. Dr P was looking down at me from the stage, his arms raised.

I was like, "My cue for what?? No f-cking way am I having sex with anyone here, dude!"

"No, no--your role tonight is just to give a little blood. It's OK, just symbolic."

"Blood?" Not again, I almost said. "Forget about it!" But somehow Alex managed to wrestle me toward the rock-stage--I guess he was way stronger than he looked. He'd have to be, really. Anyway, I was so surprised and tired and wasted from the smoky haze that I kind of passively let myself get pushed along, which isn't really like me at all. Then, just as we got to the first of the little rock steps up to the stage, I felt something suddenly smack into my sprained ankle. I swear to God it was Alex's foot--he had deliberately tripped me! I pitched forward, the dark rocks came rushing up at me, and with a horrible smack my forehead hit the top step. My glasses shattered and fell in pieces everywhere, and I just sort of half-lay there stunned, my vision blacked out and pierced by bright flashes, and my ears filled with a loud roaring noise. For a minute I thought I'd gone blind.

Then I felt Alex pulling me up and I could see the candles flickering and Dr P in front of me, but all just sort of soft yellow and pink blobs, like an impressionist painting in motion. My face seemed to be covered with water--Dr P's pink blobby fingers reached toward me and started mopping my mouth with a handkerchief that instantly turned bright red, and I realized I had like the world's worst nosebleed. Figures. The roaring in my ears got louder. It was the crowd chanting. Riita and Kimmo, I vaguely noticed, had disappeared. Dr P took the blood-soaked handkerchief and dumped it in the gold chalice cookpot, then chanted some more. After he did that for awhile he started sprinkling stuff from the mixture onto the mound of earth in front of me. Everybody in the hall chanted along with him, the same nonsense phrase over and over again. He raised his staff over the mound and made stage-magic passes with his hands. Suddenly the earth began to stir. Loose bits of dirt started to fall away, and a hand poked its way out. Then the entire topsoil began to tremble and shake, and something pale and shiny could be seen beneath it--with my lousy vision it looked like tiny squirming black worms on top of a balloon. The rackety music clashed and screeched and reached a sort of loud crescendo with the howls of the audience. Suddenly the balloon-thing sat straight up in his grave and stared right at me. It was Safe-T-Man.

No, not Likkanen, the dead guy from my hotel in Helsinki--Safe-T-Man, the life-sized plastic dummy from my closet back home. He had some disgusting foamy stuff all over his face, and he seemed to be trying to tell me something...

Continued here...

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