So this week I’m reading Mean Spirit, by
Will Kingdom Phil Rickman, in which a famous medium, Persephone Callard (yes, named after that Persephone) is having a little trouble pursuing her craft, due to (1) being stalked by unknown persons seeking to do her physical harm and (2) having a particularly nasty spirit following her around and taking over the session every time she tries to communicate with other spirits.
So what do you do when you’re being bothered by an uninvited guest? You have a seance and try to capture it!
Phil Rickman, of course, is the author of the Merrily Watkins series (not to mention a couple of my favorite horror novels), and Mean Spirit reads kind of like a Merrily Watkins book without Merrily Watkins in it — or rather, with Merrily Watkins and her costars redistributed amongst different characters with different names and slightly different personalities. Which is fine for the reader, but the characters could use a visit from Merrily to exorcise the troublesome spirit. (She would probably call it a squatter.)
But without Merrily around, needless to say, it’s not that easy.
Seffi draws in a huge breath and her body rears back, shuddering, and then it goes still and tight and Maiden waits for her breath to come out, but it doesn’t. She’s frozen, arched and rigid, an abandoned sculpture in bronze.
Maiden throws himself at her, but there’s something in between, something that hones the air, makes it vicious like a blade. Far away, Malcolm’s howl is close to a scream.
Meanwhile, I am finally (finally!) done with the last round of content-editing of Television Man. Now I am just going through fixing typos and word errors.
This artwork wasn’t created for Television Man, but I think it captures the novel perfectly. Like I mentioned in the original post, as far as I’m concerned, the little figure in that painting is totally Bob from the book. But feel free to make your own decision after reading it. Perhaps we’ll even have a poll …
At the current rate things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the book is ready for release at around the two-year anniversary of the first time I posted that cover. This is about half as long as it took me to finally wrap up Strings, I think, which only makes sense — after all, Television Man is about half as long. Until then, here’s the full prologue, in its final form:
Remember the six of us as we were, before everything went crazy?
We sit in a corner booth at the Raincoat Cafe in Old Forge, where we had just finished a lunch of salads and soup, cheeseburgers and club sandwiches, French fries and apple pie: Extravagant, compared to the food we get now, but unremarkable at the time, ordinary. The dishes have been cleared away. Chuck’s map is spread across the top of the table―so archaic, a paper map; but then, Chuck always was a late adopter―showing the Adirondack Park, the vast mountain preserve of northern New York, where the wild things still lived then. Where they live even now.
Chuck traces his finger along the red line of Route 28. His plan is to follow it to Blue Mountain Lake, then head north to Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, and beyond. We would make a circle through the enormous park and head south on I-87, also known as the Northway, and return home via I-90, also known as the Thruway. South on the Northway, and not through on the Thruway, that was his plan. Is it any surprise things didn’t work out the way he expected?
“Blue Mountain Lake,” Chuck says, tapping a spot on the map. “We’ll stop at the Adirondack Museum―”
Chuck’s wife, Gwen, makes the crucial interruption. “A museum? You want to spend a beautiful day like this cooped up in a museum?”
“You didn’t complain about the museum when we were planning this trip.”
“You mean when you were planning it,” she says. “I don’t remember being asked for my opinion.”
“It’s a starred attraction,” Chuck says.
“So it’s really good.”
Chuck holds up a thick little book. He points at the logo on the cover. “Says the auto club.”
Gwen rolls her eyes extravagantly.
“Okay. What do you want to do instead?”
“Take a side road. Drive into the wilderness. See what’s really out there. The auto club doesn’t have everything in the world mapped out, you know.”
“Everything worth doing,” Chuck says, his voice bordering on a mumble.
“She’s got a point,” Kyle says. “It might be fun to do some exploring.”
“See? I’m not the only one.” She looks at the rest of us. “What do you say?”
Before any of us answers, Chuck waggles the book at her. “We’ve got the whole trip laid out right in here. It―hey!”
Gwen, quick as a ferret, has snatched it away from him and is already sliding out of the booth. Seated on the outside, she gets a head start on Chuck, who has to squeeze his belly around the table. By the time he is on his feet, she is out the door and into the morning sun.
The diner stood―still does stand, under a different name―on the eastern bank of the Moose River. It has a wooden pavilion that sticks out over the water, striding on pilings above the cool black current. Gwen runs to the railing of the deck. Customers sit eating at plastic tables beneath patio umbrellas. They were watching the river flow past, hoping to spot herons, ducks, an otter, perhaps even the moose that gives the river its name; now they’re watching Gwen. She stands at the edge, holding the book by the spine. Waiting.
Chuck comes out of the restaurant and spies her. The rest of us are right behind him. “Quit fooling around,” he says. “Give that back. Our whole itinerary is in there.”
“I’m sick of doing what this thing says to do.” Gwen shakes the guidebook over the water. “It’s predictable. It’s safe. It’s boring.”
“You’re acting like a spoiled brat,” Chuck says. “If you want to plan the trip next time, just say so.”
“I don’t want to plan anything. I want to drive away and be surprised. I want to have an adventure!”
“Okay, well, there’s white-water rafting places in there. That’s an adventure. There’s horseback riding places in there. That’s―what are you doing?” She has turned to face the water. She flings the guidebook away. It spins through the air, white pages flashing; then it splashes into the river and begins to drift away in the languid current. Some of the other diners are scowling at Gwen, at all of us. We are ruffians and litterbugs. We are noisy. We argue. We throw things in the river.
“Oh, that’s terrific,” Chuck says.
Gwen turns, smiles, and walks away from the railing.
“That was very mature,” Chuck says. “What are you going to do for an encore, drive the van into a lake so we’ll have to travel on foot?”
“No,” she says. “You’re going to drive. We’re going to go exploring.”
So that’s what we did; and as often happens when you travel with neither map nor destination, we found things we weren’t looking for. When that turns out well, you might call it serendipity.
Let’s call this something else.