“Do you mind if I join you, Jackie Boy?” Thanatos asked.
Freya and I were in the middle of dinner at David Burke’s Primehouse. After receiving a substantial kickback for my previous services rendered, I really felt like splurging on something I never imagined being able to afford without a swollen credit card. I had just ordered a 75 day aged ribeye that’s supposedly divine, while Freya spent a few more moments looking over the menu. She chose the filet mignon which I recommended because that was one of the few steaks I never screwed up on the grill. I knew a steakhouse like this would have it perfected.
The waiter had just set our food on the wooden table, and Thanatos slid a chair over to our two seat table. This man, or should I say god, exuded the same blackened mana that I had grown used to. The bodily energy looked like smoke flowing off the charred remains of a tree trunk after a wild fire, blowing in the wind. Of all the beings I’ve encountered thus far, this god’s mana was the deepest and calmest. Thanatos stabbed my ribeye with his fork, which he also took the liberty of snatching off another table, and slid my plate over to his side.
I shared a slightly annoyed look with my beautiful indigo-haired companion and she countered with a laugh. Freya had a uniquely cute giggle. Her gorgeous blue eyes glimmered under the dim lighting of the restaurant. “I’ll share mine with you, if you would like.”
“Na, that’s alright.” I gestured to the waiter so I could order a second ribeye.
“My, my, my, this piece of meat is glorious.” Thanatos shoved a second hunk of dripping beef into his mouth. “Thanks for ordering it for me. You should really get yourself one.”
Not entirely appreciating his method of acquiring a free meal, I responded, “I suppose this makes us equal for the fortune acquired in Egypt, huh?”
Thanatos smiled awkwardly. His facial gestures were humorous. I wasn’t sure if it was unnatural for him to smile, but I had heard him laugh a few times before and, each time, it sounded peculiar. Almost as if he forgot what his natural stride was. His hairless pale features were somewhat ghastly, hovering somewhere between Jean-Luc Picard and the creatures from The Strain. “Sure. $5 million in exchange for a steak, that sounds equal,” Thanatos dismissed. “Anyway, I’m here to check in to see if you’ve been digging into the Codex Mortuorum. It clearly appears that you haven’t, based upon your mana activity.”
About two months ago, I acquired an ancient text. The timing was appropriate considering it was right around Halloween during the acquisition. It’s funny that Thanatos would be making his rounds now, right around Christmas. Maybe he had another gift to give me soon. I hope he gets me a bike.
Basically being the equivalent of the Book of the Dead, this Codex was supposed to unlock my brain and allow my seeing Purgatory. What happened after I took it into my possession was quite literally the scariest time of my life. All the tell-tale haunting bullshit had been happening since then and I was having an increasingly difficult time dealing with it. The spiritual activity was growing in concentration as the weeks progressed.
“I have been trying to dig into the Codex, but I can’t go for more than a few pages without some fucking spirit slapping me in the back of the head or running its fingers down my neck.”
“That was me last time, remember?” Freya smiled and slid her hand over, interlocking her fingers with mine.
I nodded and returned a smirk. Freya had scared the shit out of me when I was attempting to read the Codex for the 5th unsuccessful time. Looking back at Thanatos, I said, “I haven’t seen anything but glimmers, but that’s enough to let me know they exist.”
Thanatos noticed the undeniable connection between Freya and me. “That’s sweet,” he said without sarcasm. Then he looked her up and down. “That’s really a lovely dress, by the way, Freya. It is honestly a relief to see that you’re growing accustomed to wearing shoes.”
Freya had discovered the clothing styles that were appropriate for a contemporary late-twenty-something woman. She had begun to shed her Magi roots, allowing the harmonizing with Reality. She was wearing a cute black dress that came just above her knees and a retro pair of black Chuck Taylors. She grew fond of the style after seeing my little sister, Rena, wearing it. Everyone that noticed Freya’s slightly-purplish blue hair said it looked amazing, with its natural curl. Her pale complexion had taken on a slight tan during the two months since she’d inhabited Reality.
“They’re still uncomfortable, but if I am to assimilate to the people of this region, I must adopt certain styles. This fabric, Jack said, was cotton, and is actually quite comfortable. I also really enjoy the freedom of these dresses. I’m surprised that, in a world that considers public sex taboo, they’d allow such a revealing garment.”
Thanatos nodded. “And that is why I had to pick you, my dear. Not all the Magi would’ve been so willing to forsake their hatred against the Machina.”
“I still think Machina technology is extremely dangerous, but I do see the benefits. It entirely depends on how it’s used. Old world hatred really has no place in this modern society. After what I experienced in my short time here, I now understand that balance.”
Thanatos nodded. “Well, Jackie Boy, I’m going to need you to dig into your studies. We still have a bit of time, but procrastination never did anyone any good. Great meal, by the way! Thank you for that. After you leave here, go home and jump into the Codex. If you want any sort of peace of mind, you’ll spend some time in there. That book attracts spectral energy, or as we like to refer to it, prana. If you don’t do anything about it, you’ll be neck deep in angry assholes that haven’t crossed over to the Netherworld.”
“You’re saying there’s a way to deal with them inside that book?”
Thanatos nodded. “Exactly! You should be able to see them, as well as perform some other duties. There’s a reason we hid the Codex in Netherworld. We didn’t want endless wandering spirits gathering around and collecting, not wanting to continue on their own voyages. We honestly didn’t want to punish anyone with the custodial duties of solely tending to the spirits.”
“I take it that this has occurred before?” Freya asked.
Thanatos nodded. “Long ago, when Earth was far less inhabited. I could only imagine what sort of reaction the Codex would attract now. You have your work cut out for you.”
I laughed and nodded. “I can say it’s pretty fucked up. Don’t worry, though, I’ll look into it after I’m done here. Which chapter is it in?”
“Take a look at the one about prana absorption. That should be a great start,” Thanatos suggested. “Well, my friends, I shall check in soon.” Thanatos took a glance across the restaurant at one particular individual, locking in like a dog watching a squirrel. “I have some business to attend to.”
Thanatos stood up from the table, and slipped into the ether as if stepping behind an invisible curtain. No one seemed to take notice of his disappearing act. I could still see the ether reacting around him, appearing like radiating flux lines around a magnet. He approached a fat Italian man who was chowing down on his second Porterhouse steak.
As a predator of the Astral Plane, which my Djinn colleagues have affectionately titled Purgatory, Thanatos took it upon himself to tend to this man, in front of his wife. No, that couldn’t be right, This petite blonde with thin rimmed glasses and a short blue dress was far too young. She looked to be closer to a daughter’s age.
The obese fellow, just as he was shoveling quarter-steak sized portions into his mouth like a pig, stopped mid-bite as Thanatos ran his fingers across the man’s shoulders lightly, allowing the tips to send shivers down his spine. As soon as contact was severed, Thanatos drew the mana out. It appeared as if the man was having a heart attack from Reality’s view, but from an ethereal standpoint, Thanatos was still there. He absorbed the soul, leaving behind the overweight shell. The little blonde woman screamed for help as Freya and I continued with our meal. I had just received my second ribeye and wasn’t going to let Thanatos ruin that one, too.
“Absorption is a hell of a way to go,” Freya said as she sucked down a Long Island iced tea, indifferent to the man’s death. She just loved the flavor of the alcoholic beverage, but was starting to notice the differences in the way it was mixed depending on who was performing the mixology. “This is a pretty good one.” She tilted her cup towards me.
I declined her offer as I couldn’t help but stare at the commotion. Noticing how disinterested Freya was acting, I asked, “That doesn’t bother you?”
She glanced over, then back at me. “Should it?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe it was the way I was raised, but seeing someone die in front of me is really disturbing, even if I know it’s probably rightfully dealt out. Nobody really needs to eat two of these huge steaks.”
“It is quite a tasty morsel.” She cut another chunk and daintily chewed.
A bystander had called 911. The blonde woman was crying as she pulled out the man’s phone and made a call. A few moments later, an older brunette woman in an expensive dark grey business suit showed up. Like a shark going after bleeding prey, she honed in on the fat man’s table, approaching quickly, and slapped the younger female across the face. She then turned her attention to the fat man and kicked his stomach repeatedly as the paramedics fervently tried to revive him. They had to push her away.
“You stupid fat son of a bitch. I told you to lay off the fucking steaks. Goddamn idiot. And you!” She pointed towards the blonde. “How dare you stay here when you knew I was coming?”
The drama unfolded right in front of the entire restaurant. Clearly, the older woman knew of the mistress, but didn’t want to interact on any level with her.
“Can’t say that I feel sorry for that, though,” I said.
Freya smiled. “That just reminded me of some garbage I accidentally stumbled upon on VH1. Mob Wives, I believe it was called. It was terrible, but somehow I was drawn in.”
“Yeah, definitely not my cup of tea.”
My eyes were fixated on where the ether was still being affected. Thanatos remained in the restaurant to watch the outcome. He didn’t smile, just watched, like many of the numerous gawkers standing around. This didn’t appear to be a pleasurable kill, but more like it was his duty to eliminate another glutton. He departed shortly after, once the spectacle calmed and the paramedics had painstakingly loaded the heavy victim into their ambulance.
A few hours later, we returned to our home, River Place. I could see glimmers of random colorless mana floating around the beautiful two-story Tudor Revival style house. Spectral energy, or prana, as Thanatos called it, had been gathering in continually growing concentrations ever since the Codex found its home here. Many of the energies moved slowly, as if drifting. Others were more aggressive, and those were the ones that fucked with me in the middle of the night, as if they were aware that I was on the cusp of having the ability to remove them from my domain. The frequency of the interactions had grown so greatly that my buddy Calvin couldn’t handle it anymore and moved out. I didn’t blame him, and I even told him the door was open for him, whenever we get this all under control.
“Hey Jack, man, we gotta call a fuckin’ exorcist.” My short Mexican best friend, Deny, yelled as we got out of my recently acquired black BMW Z4. He was the only one to remain as a roommate within River Place. “I’m over here making some taquitos and something rubbed all up on my back. I don’t know how much more of this I can handle.”
“Thanatos just visited us,” I informed, “and said I have to learn from the Codex to get this under control.”
“Man, I tried to read that book, and holy fuck! It’s like getting an ectoplasmic enema. I can’t help you out with this one. It’s a whole different monster than the Grimoire.”
“That’s fine. I’ll take care of it.”
“I’ll try helping out,” Freya stated.
“Good, because I’m getting tired of hearing that damn doorbell going off every half an hour,” Deny complained. “I even unhooked the mother fucker and it still chimed.”
“Yeah, that midnight ringing is quite annoying.”
Freya and I headed to my bedroom. After numerous non-spiritual house crashers invaded my home before the incident in Indiana occurred, I decided to invest a good sum of cash on a fireproof safe to hold my etheric goods. The Codex, along with my black magic book, the Grimoire, as well as this funky gray crystal skull knife known as a Phurba were all stored within the secured box. I wasn’t sure how to use the dagger yet, but maybe with the Codex, the answer was only a few pages away.
The vault had a digital combination, which prompted me to use as the combo the exact amount of money that we robbed from the bank during my initially raucous reception of the Grimoire. 161-803. Without context, that number didn’t sound substantial, but I soon realized it strangely corresponded to the Golden Ratio, only with the decimal place moved over. I’ve learned not to overlook anything, since coincidences in this Djinn lifestyle aren’t ever just that. The chances of getting such a specific number of dollars from a robbery just seemed too perfect. Or maybe, I was just looking for correlations that could or could not have been there, sort of like searching for the number 6 and finding it in nature everywhere. I eventually shrugged the fluke off, but kept it as the safe combination, as a subtle reminder.
“You wanna go first, or would you like me to?” I asked.
Freya replied, “I’ll sit back and watch. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. Take note of any physical or metaphysical changes that occur.”
Opening to the first page, I started from the very beginning, considering it felt a little silly to start anywhere else, even with Thanatos’s suggestion. A couple of paragraphs into the hand-written blood ink text, and I was able to grasp that this was a journal similar to the Grimoire, only this was Thanatos’s narration instead of Hecate and Narkissos’s. The gist of the opening statements implied that the text focused around energy exchanges and manipulation. Similar to Freya’s convalescence, what Thanatos outlined was various conversions. Ether to mana, prana to ether, and prana to mana. These weren’t the only exchanges specified, but the gist of what I understood involved these three energies.
Although energy exchange was a major part of this script, another distinctly important addendum to the narrative involved controlling bodily energy away from the vessel. Beyond that, I didn’t look too far because my eyes were twitching horribly as I flipped through the pages. An enveloping feeling surrounded my body, but as soon as I allowed my eyes to stray from the page it all went back to normal.
I spent about a half an hour reading maybe three pages. An intense headache formed in the back of my head and a separate but equally painful sensation occurred right behind my eyeballs where the optical nerve connects. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before sighing.
“Did you see anything, Freya?” I asked as I massaged the section of the bridge of my nose which led into my eye sockets.
“You shifted slightly.” She paused momentarily, as if trying to figure out how to put it into words. “Um, I’m not really sure how to describe it.”
“Your turn. Let me see what you saw.”
Freya took her turn at the Codex, and within a few moments, I noticed what she had a hard time explaining. As if looking at a mirage in the distance, her body swayed slightly. A moment later, her mana began rising.
“Freya, I don’t mean to alarm you, but your mana is separating from your body.”
Her energy returned to its original position and she held her head. She appeared dizzy and slightly confused. “I think that was the initiation of astral projection.”
“Hold up, which section did you look at?”
What Freya described wasn’t anything like what I read. She had jumped to the rear of the book while I wasn’t paying attention. “Right here. I figured if you started from the beginning, I’d check out the end.”
“Oh man, this is going to be one crazy ass mind-fucker. I can already see it. And by the way, I’m not sure how they do things in the Netherworld, but you’re supposed to read a book from beginning to end, not backwards,” I teased.
Freya shrugged it off. “Yeah, I know.”
That night, I had one of the most restless sleeps of my entire life. My eyes flashed constantly, and I kept feeling the sensation of coldness touching my skin everywhere. 3 A.M., I opened my eyes to a shock. My skin crawled as I sat upright against the headboard for a few seconds, thinking maybe a deep sleep had slipped in while my concentration was in other places. A little semi-transparent boy stood in front of me. He exuded a dimly lit colorless aura, barely visible, and I assumed this gray mana was what Thanatos referred to as prana. We looked at each other in silence for a few minutes. I didn’t move and neither did he. His mouth was gaped open like he saw me as a ghost.
I saw his mouth form the word, “MAMMA!” as he ran off through the closed door as if it were opened to him. I didn’t hear the word, but I read it clear as day. There was no way I was going to follow him. I was too afraid to get up out of my bed. I had just seen my first real ghost. Not a god jumping through the realms or visions of times before, this was the first actual human ghost.
Freya was downstairs with Deny at the time, watching TV and eating popcorn. Freya’s sleeping patterns still hadn’t adjusted from Netherworld, and she’d frequently stay up two days straight and crash for 14 hour naps at random times. Back in Netherworld, the entirety of our 24 hour day was extended to 46.5 hours due to the way the ether effected time between realms. I was curious if Purgatory had a similar result.
“What’s up, Jack? I thought you were sleeping,” Deny said.
“Man, I just saw a little boy in my room. He woke me up.”
“The fuck you doing with little boys in your room? You trying to be a priest or something?”
“Ha ha,” I said unenthusiastically. “That was a lame joke. You pick that from South Park?”
He smiled. “Na, for real though, you saw a ghost?”
“I saw something. I guess it’s safe to say it’s a spirit, but the little guy looked like he was stunned to see me looking back at him.”
Deny suggested, “Maybe he didn’t realize he was dead.”
“Oh, like The Sixth Sense?”
“Exactly! Mother fuckers just walking around like they ain’t dead.”
I nodded. “Now I’m starting to see dead folks, and they can see me…” I drifted in thought.
Freya added, “Maybe the Codex reduces the ethereal barrier between Purgatory and Reality to the reader.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right.”
“Freaky shit indeed! And didn’t you say that the book was attracting those sons of bitches?” Deny asked.
“Yeah, Gunther and Hogni said it supposedly attracts spectral energy. And Thanatos told us that he stuck it in Netherworld so the spirits wouldn’t try gathering around it.”
“Man, I hope those assholes enjoyed the Netherworld sunrise,” Deny said, referring to Gunther and Hogni.
Thinking back on the event in Northeastern Indiana, I remembered how we nearly met our demise. The brilliant Gunther and Hogni were basically mad scientists playing around with Tesla-style experiments. They shot us out of a massive ether dimensional gateway that they called the Tesla Tubule into Netherworld. The propellant was an antimatter explosive device named the Gamma Utilizing Shockwave Transmitter (GUST). They were highly intelligent researchers, but they made the fatal flaw of using us as guinea pigs. It was a shame, too, because with their collective intelligence, I could only imagine what other projects they were experimenting with. If it weren’t for the god, Aether, saving our asses, Deny, Freya, and I would’ve been deep fried Djinn, roasting over an open plain of Fólkvangr. The GUST blast was the most pain I had ever experienced in one moment. Every inch of my body felt like the intensity of a nut shot.
“You know what, fuck this bullshit.” Deny gave in, annoyed by another prana orb floating through him, making him tremble momentarily. He shook it off as he had numerous times before. “I’m going to see what I can find in that Codex. Let’s take turns.”
With him taking the first shift, Freya and I returned to watching Paranormal Activity 1-5 in sequential order to hopefully desensitize ourselves to what was going on in River Place.
Hours coursed by into the early morning, and after watching the final entry to that horror series, I said, “That just made me feel less comfortable about my home.”
“I agree with you. That was kind of stupid,” Freya replied. “I don’t even want to go to the bathroom.”
“Well, feel like watching Insidious while we’re at it?”
Freya laughed. Two months ago, right around Halloween, that was one of the first haunting movies she watched. The man with the fiery red face freaked her out. “Do you have a Ouija board?” She asked.
“Absolutely not! I’m not trying to piss off the spirits that bad.”
“That’s a shame. It could possibly help us understand what these entities want. It might help us decode the Codex a little quicker and steer us into the right direction.”
“I think I might have to cut you off from the…” My attention was drawn away from our conversation as a grey massless aura floated by behind the couch.
Freya looked back and was startled. “This is going to be interesting.” She tried to touch it. Upon contact, it minimally interacted with her mana. “It’s cold.”
I stood up and followed the prana, and touched it myself. Just as Freya stated, it felt cool to the touch. Analyzing my own mana, it slowed in its irregular fluctuations, almost relaxing. The spirit continued on, circling around my house aimlessly.
I looked at Freya. “Do you really think a Ouija board is a good idea?”
“It couldn’t hurt.”