THE GHOST AND THE SHADOW
SIDNEY BLAYLOCK, JR.
Primum non nocere
(First, do no harm)
A cool summer breeze drifted lazily up from the deep canyon. Ghostwalker, sitting perilously close to the edge of the canyon, shivered as the breeze mixed with the searing heat that radiated up from the hard, dun-colored rock. The ancient shaman, from long years of watching the light-giving orb, knew that the sun was directly overhead. High noon. The time of Legends. The time of Light. The time when the Gate opened.
The breeze increased its intensity, ruffling the few wisps of Ghostwalker’s shroud-white hair that peeked from under his wide brimmed hat. The breeze found its way through his light beige shirt, cooling him. He wiped his heavily wrinkled face with a handkerchief from the back pocket of his denim jeans. His murky chestnut eyes scanned the beautiful vista, seeking the tale-tell glimmer of white. The spark that showed the Way to the Gate. It took him longer than usual to find it. The spark shimmered against the pale aqua sky, more than thirty feet above him, and nearly twice as much out over the deep abyss of the canyon.
Ghostwalker closed his eyes and concentrated. Instantly, the Fear engulfed him, even after all his years of fighting it. He was mortal. He would fall and die, or his magic would fail him. The Fear turned his thoughts against him.
Frowning, Ghostwalker forced himself to focus on the four-year-old girl who lay dying in the reservation hospital. He had heard the Fear in the voices of the girl’s parents when they had asked for his aid to find the cause of the sickness.
Ghostwalker inhaled deeply. As a shaman and medicine man for the tribe, it was his duty to find out the nature of the girl’s illness. He had to make the journey to the spirit lands, otherwise, the child would die. And he could not, would not, let that happen.
Under the assault of his memories and the strength of his purpose, he forced the Fear to flee from him like a beaten beast fleeing for its life. The muscles around his eyes eased as his mind settled into the sheltered discipline of his meditation. Slowly, as if being carried up by the sweet breeze that flowed under him, his body lost contact with the ground in defiance of the law of gravity. He levitated upwards, gaining speed as he drew upon the massive reserves of Magic released by the Day-Star at the height of its zenith. In his mind’s eye, he saw the shimmering spark of the Way moving towards him.
Slipping into the spark, Ghostwalker floated through a dark, forbidding corridor that seemed to be of near infinite length. The Fear returned, stronger than ever, enveloping him. He felt it clawing at his mind, seeking, threatening. He shut his eyes tightly and concentrated. He strained to hold his reason and his sanity in place.
“I am the One!” he screamed to the deaf, uncaring corridor of the Way. He was on the edge of madness; his finely crafted fortress of reason was cracking. If he could not conquer his Fear, he would wander the Way throughout Eternity, lost in the grip of madness, lost in the grip of unreasoning terror. He raised his head high and yelled into the corridor again. “I am the One Who Walks!”
Suddenly, the Gate shimmered in front of him like a star. It looked exactly like a doorway, except that light radiated from its center.
The Fear fled like a beaten beast. Ghostwalker entered the Gate leading to the Lands of Burial–the Lands of his ancestors.
* * *
Ghostwalker floated through the stark Lands of Burial. Here, the spirits of the Ancestors lingered, kept in the Lands by the fond memories of their friends and family. Other Ancestors, no longer remembered, had long since faded from the Lands. Here, also, rested the spirits of those on the Edge–those on the very boundary between life and death.
Ghostwalker opened his mind to the Lands, letting the memory, the knowledge, the understanding flow through him. He could feel everything in the Lands. The gossamer strength of the spirits slid over him, the ethereal wind prickled his skin, and the never-ending light burned and cleansed his soul.
At the edge of the Lands, however, there was one place Ghostwalker could not feel. It was if a cloak had descended upon that part of the Lands, obscuring it from his view and understanding.
Ghostwalker concentrated on the spot and bent his entire will upon floating as fast as he could. Shimmering lakes, great forests, and long flat plains passed by in mere instants.
When he reached the edge of the Lands, Ghostwalker’s eyes widened and his pulse quickened. A long, black gash stood in front of him like a dark, angry mouth waiting to devour him. He stopped floating, and hovered at the edge of the Lands. The girl’s spirit twisted on the ground as if wracked by terrible pain. Kneeling down beside the girl’s frenzied spirit was an ebony shadow, an invader in the Lands. The specter’s hands rested on the child’s temples.
From somewhere far behind him, in the Lands, he heard the mournful howl of an Ancestral wolf as it passed from the Lands, forgotten at last by those Outside. The howl, combined with the monstrous sight before him, sent a shiver hurtling up his spine.
The Fear returned! It swooped from out of its dark cell and caught him like the golden Osprey that snatches fish from the river. Its talons gripped him, and it wrapped its sinister coils around his mind.
Stunned, he hovered in mid-air. Then he saw the other shadows as they moved about the inside of the dark scar like rats scurrying in the night. The Fear tightened its grip on Ghostwalker’s mind and planted its dark seed into him. The seed of Anger. Ghostwalker’s Fear fed his Anger. The Anger bloomed in Ghostwalker’s mind, canceling all reason.
This is our only remaining refuge; we will not give it up! We have given all we can give; we will not give our souls as well!
The Anger washed away all of Ghostwalker’s thoughts. He called for his magic, and his body trembled as the power of Ages coiled about him. Ancestral knowledge of dark spells and incantations flowed through his memory. The power embraced him like a lover. And, for the first time since he had been young, untrained, and unworthy, Ghostwalker returned its embrace with a similar passion.
With a cry of rage, Ghostwalker stabbed his hands at the shadow and power exploded through him. A searing blast of white-hot energy shot towards the unsuspecting shade.
The sound of the slow, ominous tolling of the grandfather clock brought Doctor William Nashan out of his studies. Midnight. The Witching Hour. The time of the Vortex.
Dr. Nashan waved a brown hand reflexively, and the two books he had been studying from, The African-American Journal of Medicine and A Witch-Doctor’s Guide to Herbs, Second Edition, floated lazily back to the mahogany bookcase that stood beside the desk.
Dr. Nashan heard the vortex’s screaming winds before he saw it. The winds tore at his black suit, threatening to rip it from his body. His tie flapped wildly in the wind. He swiveled and found the vortex just outside the open window; a swirling hole of two intermixed shades of black, upon the lighter darkness of the city’s night sky.
The doctor of medicine and witchery grabbed the small medical bag on which his name and profession was printed. The bag contained not only his medical equipment, but also several talismans of Warding.
He jumped through his window, into the night sky, into the waiting winds of the Vortex.
Dr. Nashan was tossed and thrown about in the chaotic winds of the Vortex. This was the part of traveling between the Realms that he disliked the most. Already he could feel the cold, slimy tentacles of Terror reaching for his racing heart. He scrunched his eyes shut, hoping the talismans had enough power to see him safely through the Vortex. Time soon lost its meaning as he swirled in the ever tightening circle, moving closer to the ultimate night that lay at the center of the Vortex.
The doctor felt as if his head was being ripped from his body. The Terror gripped him in its maddening coils. He tried to scream, but his cry was lost in the cacophony of the winds as he swirled, and swirled, and swirled.
Suddenly, the winds ceased. Their incessant howling faded away as Dr. Nashan struggled to regain his senses. He floated calmly in the center of the Vortex, the eye of the storm. From here, the journey into the Realm of the Shadows would be peaceful.
Dr. Nashan floated along slowly, taking in the terrible chaos that swirled around him. He marveled at the sheer destructive power; the power that could have destroyed his sanity.
He came upon the Dark Door. Its edges glowed with a faint azure light, heightening the obsidian darkness of the Door. He pulled a small key of liquid light from his medical bag and placed it in the door. The Door flowed away from the key like water being displaced from the spot where a pebble is dropped. The hole in the Door continued to widen with a soft liquid sound, until it was man-sized. Dr. Nashan stepped through the opening quickly, and it flowed back with an audible splash.
The Realm of Shadows stood before him. Its sky was an ocean of deep blue, like that of a dark, but clear, night sky. A silvery moon, the only source of light, blazed incandescently overhead like a small silver sun. The Realm itself was completely flat; no hills, mountains, or buildings disturbed the barren landscape. Shadows shifted across the land; shades, more felt than seen, curled about the doctor.
Something’s wrong here, thought Doctor Nashan. He could feel the shadows’ Terror! His heart quickened. What could scare shadows? They barely exist, truncated by death, slowly fading into eternal night and eternal sleep.
The doctor felt the shadows pulling at him, urging him. He let them pull him toward whatever was frightening them.
Far in the distance, he saw something bright. His Terror sprung forth. He suddenly did not want to know what lay in the distance. His courage almost failed, but he remembered the talismans. The Wards they contained were the most powerful of all the practicing Witch-doctors, having been continually re-enchanted for nearly half a millennium.
Dr. Nashan floated forward, his hand clenching the black bag. The gash pulsed brightly. Already squinting, he shaded his eyes with his free hand. Within seconds, he glided to a stop in front of the huge white scar. Light spilled out of the gash into the Realm.
Dr. Nashan’s eyes watered. He considered backing away when he caught a flash of movement on the other side of the scar and heard the sound of a low moan.
To the doctor’s trained ears, it sounded as if a child was in pain.
Dr. Nashan floated silently, unsure of what to do about the situation. He had to help if he was to remain true to his Oath to protect and heal, but the Terror chained him.
The voice on the other side of the scar moaned again. That decided Dr. Nashan. He had pledged his life to help those who suffered. With his hands locked firmly on the bag, he floated slowly through the great white scar.
Through the blurred vision of tears brought on by the intense light, he saw the form of a young girl, no more than four or five to his trained eye, on the ethereal ground.
Dr. Nashan eased himself down to the child, reached out a hand, and touched the girl’s forehead.
The doctor winced. He felt the child’s spirit being drained by the Sickness that ate her body. He wished desperately that he was in the physical world, so that he could see the girl’s medical charts and history. Unfortunately, the child would be long dead by the time he left the Realms and located her in the real world. The girl’s only hope was for him to combat the Sickness from here, using her spirit as a conduit to her physical body.
Dr. Nashan shifted his hand to the child’s temple. He called upon the power of the Talismans and sent their healing power through her. The girl’s spirit began to thrash violently as the Sickness fought back against the healing magic. Dr. Nashan wanted to calm the girl’s frenzied spirit, but he could not spare the power; the Sickness in her was strong, and trying to combat it from so far a way was difficult. He bent his head in concentration, determined to win against the Sickness.
On the edge of his senses, Dr. Nashan heard a cry of rage, and Terror gripped his mind in its freezing embrace. He knelt there, paralyzed by Terror, as a lance of searing light blasted him.
The heat was agonizing. Dr. Nashan felt his flesh withering on his bones. As the pain became overwhelming and he felt his consciousness fleeing, a jet of cool air flowed from his black bag. It traveled the length of his arm and encased his body with its cooling touch. The pain subsided, although he had to close his eyes against the fierce brightness of the blast. It took several seconds for his vision to clear. He looked around, surprised to find he still lived. The Talismans power had protected him!
Dr. Nashan turned around to see a blazing wraith hovering above like an unholy angel.
Indignant Rage filled the doctor. So, the wraith wishes to feed on this child’s spirit? I will not let that happen!
The Rage seized him completely, leaving no room for any other thoughts. Ripping open his bag, Dr. Nashan grabbed the talismans and thrust them out. He twisted their power, forcing the power to flow into patterns that the talismans were not designed to handle. His mind flashed to the thought of the wraith claiming the child; the wraith would drain the girl’s soul while the Sickness destroyed her body. Terror for the child welled up in him. Suddenly, the Rage and the Terror mixed, combining in an unhallowed alliance.
Doctor Nashan screamed at the luminous wraith. He discharged the power of the talismans. Black fire, obsidian dark, leapt up at the specter.
Ghostwalker’s eyes narrowed as the black fire leapt toward him. He raised his hands high over his head. “The Four Winds of the Lands, heed my call! Come to me!”
Four breezes began blowing turbulently; one from the north, south, east, and west. Ghostwalker forced them headlong into the coming fire. The winds fought not only against the fire, but against each other as well. They battered themselves until they were a swirling tornado of winds and fire.
Ghostwalker sent the fire-spout moving toward the shade.
Doctor Nashan realized that the evil Spirit was going to try to send his fire back to attack him. He shook his head, determined not to let it happen. Raising his talismans again, he called forth their Power, and arrested the black fire-spout just before it hit him.
“Now, we’ll see which of us is stronger!”
Dr. Nashan willed all his power through the Talismans to keep the fire-spout away from him.
Sweat rained down Ghostwalker’s forehead as he channeled his power into the raging fire-spout. His Anger and Fear twisted together sending adrenaline coursing through his body. He redoubled his efforts and power surged into the fire-spout, pushing it closer to the gash. He heard a loud crack and saw the creature’s black amulets explode in great flash of light. He saw a middle-aged Black man in a business suit whose features were frozen in a rictus of panic.
Ghostwalker, his chest heaving like a bellows, stared in horror. His one thought: That’s not a shade, that’s a Walker!
He tried to pull the fire-spout back, but it was too late. The fire-spout tore through the Walker. Ghostwalker saw the other Walker drop to the ground, writhing, caught in the obsidian tentacles of the fire-spout.
The fire-spout devoured its victim with agonizing speed. When it moved on, there was only a smoking lifeless bulk. The girl’s ethereal form, not touched by the raging heat of the blazing fire-storm, was still.
Ghostwalker, tears threatening to fall from his eyes, watched the fire-spout dissipate as the magic holding it together finally failed.
“What have I done?” he whispered.
Ghostwalker floated slowly down, his mind blank.
He saw the black bag of the dead Walker. His eyes widened as he read the name on the bag, William Nashan, MD.
“No,” he whispered as he dropped to his knees beside the bag and the burned husk of the doctor. “Dear Ancestors, no.”
He looked at the child. She was still–so very still. Ghostwalker knew he had just moments to act before it was too late. Snatching the broken Talismans from the charred hands of the fallen Walker, he forced his magic through them. Their power was greatly diminished, but he could still fell the Doctor’s goodwill toward the child as he channelled his magic through them.
Tears of regret and desperation streamed down his face. Please, let this work!
Finally, the girl’s Sickness faded and her Spirit gained strength. She floated upward slowly and she began to fade. Soon her spirit would rejoin her body. He knew that she was now resting comfortably in her hospital room. He had done it. He felt no elation, however.
The gash still stood before him. The Fear tried to return, but he beat it down ruthlessly. Had he not been afraid, none of this would have happened. He picked up the Doctor’s bag, squared his shoulders and entered into the gash–determined to do no harm.
Originally Published in Gotta Write Network Litmag (Winter 96-97 Issue) © 1996 by Sidney Blaylock, Jr. (All Rights Reserved).