CHAPTER 3 - INBIBBING SPIRITS
Keenan’s eyes fluttered open expecting to be in his bed. Instead, he had his face buried in the porcelain altar, throwing up his guts, listening to Reggie cooing encouragements.
“There you go, old bugger. Get all of it out. That’s the lad.”
Coughing until he thought his lungs would come up, Keenan tried to figure out what had just happened. All he could focus on was the splattered white inside his toilet, his splitting head, and a persistent ringing in his ears. The sexual encounter was very fuzzy.
“What the fuck?” When he spoke, his throat turned to sandpaper.
He pulled his head out of the toilet and put as much air into his lungs as they would take. Sitting on his haunches, he glared at Reggie. The shining specter smiled down at him, floating nonchalantly by the sink. Everything else was black. A random thought flashed through Keenan’s addled brain. I wish I glowed in the dark.
"Are you better, my friend?”
“What the fuck?” Keenan repeated and lurched to his feet.
“You asked that already.”
Keenan stumbled to the sink. Turning on the tap lighted only by Reggie’s ghostly glow, he put his head under the water and tried to drown himself in it.
The cold made the ringing and the muddle go away, but his head still pounded like murder. Keenan grabbed the wet towel from the shower curtain rod and ran it violently over his head and face, hoping the weird sickness would saturate the towel instead of his brain.
He felt dirty, violated, like someone had pulled his pants down in front of cheerleaders. Yet, there was another part of him that was somehow fulfilled, satisfied, satiated. It was making him sick to his stomach.
Keenan threw the towel on the floor, stomped into his bedroom, and then stopped with a jolt. Reggie almost ran “into” him.
In the soft light from his window, he could see the bed was completely disheveled. The mattress was turned sideways and touching the ground. It stood there like a beached whale. Everything not otherwise tied down was on the floor. Three pictures looked like someone had pitched them against the wall. Worse, except for the window, there was not a single piece of glass in the room that had not been shattered including the screen to his rabbit-eared TV. The shattered remnants covered everything.
“I think you need a drink, my friend.” Reggie pirouetted across his path and glided to the door, but Keenan only blinked at him.
“A drink. You know…ice, booze, perhaps soda or a wedge of lime.”
Keenan shook his head long enough to get the daze out of it and then gingerly crossed the mine field of glass to pull on his coat and step into his sneakers. He didn’t even bother to untie them.
Miraculously, the shoes were glass-free and the coat was right side out. In his state, it probably didn’t matter.
It dawned on Keenan as he followed Reggie out to the living room that the familiar disembodied noise was back. Arguments, low conversations, whispers, and even a little song flitted in and out of the air around him. It was somehow comforting.
The crowd of visible ghosts was light; three screamers Keenan couldn’t see very clearly, a Hindi named Nihar who was standing on his head amongst fake flowers on the window sill, and a crowd of coal miners dancing on the kitchen table. Three of them were swilling pale mugs of beer.
Keenan searched the crowd. “Constance?”
Reggie spun around and gave him a ghostly wink. “Sorry, old chap. Not here tonight. Besides…” He floated over to the door and made a grand gesture with his arm. “…for this, you’ll need a gentleman’s perspective, I think.”
“What do you…?”
“I’ll explain all of it after you’ve had a drink or two. Off we go.”
Keenan’s head throbbed enough to make him not care where he was going. He lifted one numb leg after the other. When the front door slammed behind him, it sent a cartoon sound wave that should have caved in his skull. It must have been very cold outside…he could see his breath come out in solid clouds…but he was toasty enough. Thank God for small favors.
He stumbled after Reggie who was whistling a happy tune just to torture him.
The haze around Keenan brain didn’t get any better the further down the block Reggie led him. He wondered what time it was; would the bar be open this late?
When they rounded the corner, the neon blue and red Taps blinked in and out, boring into the headache under Keenan’s right eyebrow. The white OPEN sign underneath looked misty in the late night fog. The heat that blasted his face when he opened the door smelled of cigarettes and humanity.
Once inside, Patrick the bartender (or was it owner? Keenan never asked) eyeballed him briefly without comment and went back to chatting with the drunk at the end of the bar. Keenan didn’t feel like lively conversation, so lifted two fingers to the bartender instead. Patrick nodded once, yanked a glass from the stack behind him, and filled it with beer from the tap. Keenan disregarded the twenty or so incorporeal customers that Patrick didn’t see. The chatter from the group was smoky, bouncing dully from the dark oak rafters.It was only then that Keenan realized he was naked under the long coat.
He froze and sweat followed the jolt of realization down his armpits.
Can anyone say flasher?
Cramming his hand into his coat pocket without hope, he touched the soft crumpled surface of a bill and several coins. When he pulled the ten out, the sight sent momentary relief through the tight muscles in his neck, followed by a chill that rippled just under his skin. He slid it over the bar and took his beer, hoping to God that the two men staring at him didn’t notice his bare legs. Neither said a thing when Patrick slid the change to him and went back to cleaning glasses behind the high bar.
The dead patrons laughed their asses off.
When Keenan was settled in a booth as far back from the entrance as possible, he downed half the beer in a single gulp and came up breathless.
“Steady, man,” Reggie said softly, “sitting” across from him. “You’ll need your wits.”
Keenan stared at the half-filled mug and curled his lip. “What was that?”
Reggie lit a mirage cigarette and blew billowing clouds into the ether. “You’re not going to like it.”
In reply, Keenan snorted irritably and looked around to make sure no one was close enough to hear him talking to himself. He didn’t need psychosis on top of public indecency tonight.
“Spill it,” he hissed.
Reggie flicked the cigarette into the air where it disappeared. “Have you ever heard of a succubus?”
“Sure.” Keenan sat back and tapped on the beer mug absently. “Don’t they suck out your life when you’re asleep or something?”
“Not exactly.” Reggie’s smirk deepened and the ghostly light in his eyes intensified. It was obvious he was enjoying this way too much. “A succubus is a type of female spirit that lives off the sexual energy of men. They visit you in your sleep, stupefy you, and then…well, have their way with you, not to put too fine a point on it.” A mischievous grin split his lips and another cigarette appeared between his teeth. “How was it?”
Keenan growled and took another drink. The headache was better, but not by much. “Dandy,” he replied, looking back at the bar again. “I feel like shit. What did she do to me?”
An eerie laugh escaped Reggie’s mouth. It was almost gleeful. “Actually, you are lucky to be conscious at all. I’ve known men that can’t walk for a week afterwards.” He gave Keenan a lascivious wink and leaned against the table, pulling his elbows back when they slid into the wood. Keenan could feel heat in his hands wrapped around the cold mug. Reggie was the only ghost, as far as he knew, that gave off heat instead of cold. “You must have some endurance, my lucky friend, to go so long with one.”
Keenan watched the suds dissipate. “So, is she a ghost?”
“Not really.” Reggie pulled a long draw on his cigarette.
“A demon?” A prick of panic set a twitch off in Keenan’s guts.
Reggie tilted his head and regarded Keenan for several ticks of the grungy clock hanging above the booth. The smoke coming out of his nose gathered in a wreath above his head and lingered there for a long time.
“No, not a demon either. She’s…very unique. I don’t know of many still practicing, so to speak. Not in the US, anyway. You find them in Germany and parts of Italy, of course, but they don’t travel over the pond much. You are quite lucky.”
“Lucky?” Keenan hollered. When Patrick and the other man shot looks at him, he lowered his chin and tilted the beer toward his chest. “You call this luck?” he mumbled.
Light shone from the pale face. “Are you telling me you didn’t enjoy it?”
Keenan opened his mouth, but shut it just as quickly. Fact of the matter was he had enjoyed it…very much. He wasn’t going to tell his misty friend that, however.
“So, if she’s not a ghost and she’s not a demon, what exactly is she?”
When Reggie pulled the equivalent of air into his lungs, the cigarette fumes disappeared into his nostrils and then came back out as fog. “I’m not an expert, mind you, but I’ve heard things here and there.” He made a show of steepling his fingers and looking intellectual. “The myth tells us the original succubus was Lilith, Adam’s first wife…”
“Adam’s first wife? Adam’s wife was Eve.” Keenan wanted the words to be adamant, but they came out plaintive instead.
Reggie leveled a condescending stare at him and raised one eyebrow. “Honestly! You modern living never learn anything. Suffice it to say that Adam had a first wife who misbehaved and was turned into a succubus by Lucifer.”
“All right, so what is a succubus then?”
Reggie leaned back into the bench seat and floated his arms over the worn red leather seat back. Keenan knew Reggie was happiest when he could show off his boundless knowledge. And it was boundless; there wasn’t anything Keenan could ask that Reggie couldn’t answer. The man…er, ghost…was brilliant.
“As I said, it lives off of sexual energy, i.e. the arousal of men. The incubus is the male counterpoint and seduces women…and sometimes men, depending. Think sexual vampire, and you’re half way there. The only difference is she is not endemically evil, despite what two centuries of Christian propaganda have convinced people otherwise. These poor creatures are usually seraphim enslaved by a demon and then forced to become what they are.”
“Seraphim angel…part of the choir of angels. Pretty close to the Big Man, from what I’ve heard.”
Keenan blinked at Reggie. “You trying to tell me this…thing is an angel?”
“Well…” Reggie tapped his fingers against the backrest and gazed up at the murky Tiffany light above the booth. “Not anymore.”
“So what does it want with me?”
Reggie shrugged and rubbed his nose with a long forefinger. “They are drawn to powerful men…psychics.”
“That’s horseshit, Reggie. I’m no psychic.”
Reggie nailed him with a cold stare and chuckled under his breath. “Let’s see…you see dead people. Not only do you see them, but you talk to them. As a matter of fact, some of your best friends are dead. Sounds rather psychic to me. But what do I know?”
Keenan looked down at his folded hands. “Oh.”
“May I continue?”
Keenan nodded miserably. He had never considered himself psychic and the idea left his chest tight.
“Anyway, given your history, it’s not surprising she would select you. Maybe she wants a child…”
“Angels can have kids?”
Reggie pursed his lips and wrinkled his nose. “Not in the strictest sense. The succubus seduces a man, collects his seed, and transfers it to an incubus who changes it and then delivers it to a human female. Seems to me that would just produce your garden variety human offspring, but apparently not. The child born to the woman is called a cambion.” A shadow of a warm smile touched his cold lips. “Now, these little fellows are really something… ugly as sin when born, no breath, no heartbeat, but they run around like the dickens for the first seven years or so. Then it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate one from a human. A cambion eventually becomes devilishly cunning with the face of an angel. Persuasive too. Can talk a saint into dropping his drawers on Sunday and a nun to give up her habit…”
“So what the hell am I supposed to do?” Keenan’s senses turned to melting marshmallows the more Reggie talked.
“Haven’t the foggiest.”
“Great.” A cold breeze snuck in between Keenan’s legs. He smashed them together and adjusted his coat. “Why didn’t you guys warn me? Where the hell did you all go?”
“Ghosts are not omnipotent, you know. They are human,” Reggie said, raising both eyebrows. “There are certain spirits that scare even the dead. They usually flit away before anyone can say, ‘Bob’s your uncle.’ Not me, of course,” he added, clearing his throat. “I wasn’t even there at the time. Checking the twins out again, you know.”
Anger was taking over Keenan’s better judgment and the earlier warmth was turning into a deep chill. He wasn’t sure which feeling was making his knees shake when he leaned across the table.
“So what do we do about it?” he whispered.
Reggie examined the nails of his right hand. “Dashed if I know. Let her do it again and see how it goes?” he asked hopefully.
Reggie smiled and rose to his ethereal feet. “Sorry I can’t be more help, old cocker, but I have to hurry off to a previous engagement.” A pair of gloves appeared out of the air that he slipped onto his hands in a blink. Tucking a walking stick under his arm, he tipped his head to Keenan. “I know I’m coming across all mouth and no trousers, but I wouldn’t worry it any. It’s probably an isolated incident, never happen again. You survived. That should bring you some comfort.”
Keenan scowled up at the apparition as he moved passed the table. “What the hell does that mean?”
Reggie stopped and regarded Keenan over his shoulder. “A succubus can kill you, my friend…and usually does after a while. I think you…how do you Americans say it? Dodged a bullet?” Without another word, Reggie disappeared, leaving Keenan to contemplate his mortality.