“…[T]o encompass them by a definition, dæmones are living beings in kind, rational creatures in mind, susceptible to emotion in spirit, in body composed of the air, everlasting in time. Of these five points I have listed, the first three are shared with us, the fourth is their own, the last they have in common with the immortal gods; but they differ from them in their capacity to suffer.” ~Apuleius, On the God of Socrates
“I will still haunt you,” I said to nobody, but her.
Standing beneath our catalpa tree in the middle of Forest Park, St. Louis, I felt her all around me. She fell in pollen dust from evergreens. She disguised the wind with perfume. Tara died four months ago, and I destroyed myself in her memory.
Five months ago, I would have said, all flowery and ignorant, that death was transitory—death, and all the little deaths of life—and haunting was just a relative term for endearment.
And today, I crave, without wanting, death. I nearly tasted her. I wanted to walk through, just for a moment, to kiss her cheek, to say goodbye. To say, unequivocally, she is loved.
Death is a door I once found beautiful. It is still a door. A gnarled, looming door. And I didn’t see Tara beyond it.
Which brings me to the quote on the previous page.
Demons figure into death, in this story. Mostly. They figure into Tara. Mostly. The rest is the stigma we attach to demons as a society, and our destructive obsession to ignore them for the sake of worshipping Science. Societal dissociative disorder.
thus the creature spoke. I’d start my memoir with that line, all lowercase and everything. Depending on the moment in my life, it could refer to anything. Including me.
This isn’t a memoir, so I started with the quote from Aupelius. Demons. Daemones. Divells. Those that have never drawn breath. Purveyors, gatekeepers, wisps. If a Christian reads this, the demon is evil incarnate, spoken by the thing worshipped before Science: The Roman Catholic Church. Demon is concentrated abomination. Pagans understand the place of a demon—creatures to share the world with—of course, they worship something that came before both Science and Christianity. Hindus worship many of them; Science or Christianity never quite subdued Hinduism. I quote Aupelius for the sake of consistency. This is my understanding of demon, and I remove all other filters of understanding.
They seem as complex and as individual as people. They live on the other side of the door and stare in at our world much as we stare into theirs. The other side of the tug-of-war. They aren’t inherently evil. Few things are. I prefer to label the extremes as chaos vs. order, self vs. society, discipline vs. freewill.
I’m twenty-six years old, cynical, and haunted. Four hundred years ago, I’d be called a Cunning-Folk, if you want to do some research. This is an observation of someone’s truth. Not my truth. Not the ultimate Truth with-a-capital-T. But his, or hers. And if you step far enough into the story, their truth, as well. The demons’ truth. The enlightened dead’s truth.
I am Soren Gahiji, and I’ll try to explain what I see through the door as I unwrap my story.
Again, it began in a park, remembering her. We promised each other, some time ago, that if one died first, the dead would haunt the other with care and love and adoration until the other passed or found a better partner. Tears welled in my eyes. I should have gone first. I could have protected her. I would still haunt her for as long as it took for me to find peace.
I stared at close-cropped grass, remembering it from childhood as if it were a faded picture. The sun had died earlier in the day, asphyxiated by a wall of cloud. The sky grumbled in the distance, some storm talking to anyone who would listen, promising rain and something electric. Whenever I saw a storm approaching, or the grandiose clouds of thunderheads all collected and dispersing, I thought of Tara.
I had memories of what she enjoyed, what we shared in the smell of honeysuckle and catalpa. I did not sense her presence, only attachments to things I recognized as hers. I wanted to taste her guarding, her guardianship. I leaned against the tree, watching the sky, watching the people walking about. I didn’t share connections with them.
Not yet. Not with Tara’s death. She passed on. She didn’t linger. She left me alone. Terror and Insubstantiation hung heavy around my neck. She didn’t haunt me.
It was then I noticed a man at a table, also alone.
He dressed like a priest: black shirt, black slacks, black shoes, white collar. Unmistakable. Yet his hair was disheveled. He didn’t wear socks. His eyes were unfocused, distant. He played chess by himself. He tapped his heels to a rhythm.
And he mumbled with an ecstatic, seemingly drug-addled, smile.
Rummaging around in my pockets, my right hand sought the invisible lighter. My left waited with an invisible cigarette.
I gave up smoking two years ago. The day I met Tara. No nicotine to calm the image or the memories of slaughter. I was jittery. The scene wasn’t right.
Or—and my mind switched tracks almost instantly—he haunted me. Either way didn’t change my urge to assist. Reality is a fickle thing. Every interaction is a journey.
Every five minutes or so he would jolt and grow tense, close his eyes and hum. His hands would move at his sides while his back arched. He’d stop, either holding something invisible in one hand and raising his right hand in the Jesus Kriya—which was the mudra, or hand symbol, painters depicted Jesus signing in so many stained glass windows in so many churches—or holding both hands up to the same Kriya. He would cough, look down while patting his chest with his hand, and continue playing as if nothing had happened.
My hands twitched and formed into the mudra at my sides. A dirty little habit of mine.
I had to focus not to mimic his movements. The energy he exuded electrified and inspired me to the bone. He exuded a spiritual energy. I sensed it—through the sixth, seventh, or ninth senses, I felt it. The temptation to actively share in the energy was so great I nearly cried. Images danced around in my head. I couldn’t describe them, but the image of a greenhouse in storm-chopped water filled with rotting tree roots was the simplest of them. The image meant trapped, in a universal way. In a nothingness way. Cryptic.
Rule One: Protect the house. As within, so without.
It meant I must control what went on inside my head, control everything I could, so I could protect myself from things I couldn’t. In a world of beliefs-become-real, mind games would cause me to go properly insane. Properly, of course, meaning a mobiüs strip of severed, contradictory, “facts.” Structure meant not indulging in whim. I had no idea what would follow me.
Sounds autistic. Might have some truth to it.
I watched him for half an hour before a chill fell down my spine; the chess pieces moved on their own while he tensed in his rapturous pose. No one else noticed. Needless to say, no one cared to watch. It was only one piece at a time, and he clearly played both sides while he was cognizant.
It meant magic.
My novel, of Salt and Fire, is an upcoming work where Soren fights the demons of his past alongside the demons of a church in South St. Louis through the use of mysticism, psychology, and more than a little luck. Yeah, he’s a little morbid. No, he doesn’t do birthdays.