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By Michael Laimo
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 Michael Laimo
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAugust 24, 1988 5:00 A.M.
It began with four bells tolling simultaneously throughout a large farmhouse commonly known in town as the Conroy House.
They rang once, their vibrations sounding much louder than usual. Thirteen seconds later, they rang again, stirring those in the house from their fitful slumber.
This early morning, a quarter moon beamed proudly in the sky, the winds blowing gently from the southwest, carrying with them the cries of blackbirds searching for the day's first worms. Rainclouds had dominated the skies the first two weeks of July, leaving everything in Wellfield gray and wet. Two days earlier, the power had gone out, and in parts of town the houses were still dark. The outage had only affected the Conroy House for twelve hours, an event soon thereafter considered a small grace from God.
At the tolling of the third bell, exactly twenty-six seconds after the first started, a man of forty-three years of age sat up in bed, swung his feet over the edge of the quilted mattress, and placed them in the perfect white circle painted on the oak flooring. The sweat-matted sheets drifted away from his naked form. He clasped his hands together, closed his eyes, and silently recited two prayers, the first to the Lord Jesus Christ, the second to the Lord Osiris. His lips moved gently against the hushed words escaping his throat.
At theconclusion of his prayer, the man stood in the circle. He set his sights on its intricacies, at the outer border of hexagrams, then at the inner border and the many sacred names of God etched into the bright paint. Upon each magnetic pole of the circle, pentagrams jutted. From the center of each, white candles rose like the stripped branches of ash trees. At the top of the circle, painted on the floor directly before him, was a triangle with the name of OSIRIS divided up, the O at the uppermost point, three letters at the lower right point, two at the left.
The bells continued to toll.
He gazed out the window at the wide stretch of land leading to the barn. A lone blackbird fluttered into view and landed on the sill, one oil-drop eye ignited by the faint moonlight, peering in at him. It cocked its head once, twice, then pecked a gentle message against the corner of the window. The bird hopped along the sill, then flapped its still-damp wings and flew away, leaving behind a sole black feather: a gift from Osiris.
At the thirteenth toll of the bells, the man, unsmiling, paced heel-to-toe about the circumference of the circle, knowing that in three of the other bedrooms, a woman, a girl, and a boy were carrying out the same exact procedure. He performed sixteen revolutions, then stepped away and paced to the window. He cracked it open and removed the feather from the sill.
After closing the window, he stepped to the bureau, where he struck a wooden match and lit a white candle. A yellow flame rose four inches high, its point flickering energetically, releasing a thin black line of wavering smoke. Alongside the candle, he lifted the pyramid-shaped top of a brass censer. Inside, loaded the evening before, was a cone of sandalwood. He placed the feather alongside the cone, then lit the incense and inhaled the escaping aroma as if sniffing a pot of steaming soup.
Still counting the toll of the bells, he waited until they struck thirty, then opened the bureau drawer and removed a leather parchment. He walked back to the circle, lit the four candles, then knelt inside the circle, hands resting lightly on his lap, palms facing upward and holding out the parchment like an offering. He relaxed his shoulders, facing the triangle. He began to breathe more slowly, inhaling deeply through his nose, holding the air in his lungs until the bell tolled thirteen seconds later, then exhaling for the same stretch of time. He repeated this process until he achieved a rhythmic state of reflexive breathing.
Concentrating solely on the spirit of Osiris, he unfurled the parchment and placed it flat inside the triangle. He studied the sigil etched in black ink on the worn leather, clearing his mind of all unwanted thoughts and worries. He repeated the spirit God's name for the toll of thirteen bells, chanting in unison with the voices of the woman, girl, and boy performing the same ritual in their respective rooms.
Following the tolling of the thirteenth bell, he recited a prayer, drawing out each word in a string of monotone notes: "I beseech thee, O Spirit Osiris from the vast astral plane, by the supreme majesty of God, to allow the child Bryan Conroy an association to our purpose, so that he too may benefit from your empowering gift."
As his words ended, the bells tolled again.
The Conroy House immediately grew hot. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. He closed his eyes and in his mind a warm glowing sphere appeared. He reached out for it, fingers extended. The golden light of the sphere seeped toward him in a thin tight line, as though it were composed of liquid. It entered his grasping fingers, quickly filling his body, snug and comforting, his legs, body, and head fully absorbing its fluid offering.
Once the light saturated his body, a slow vibration filled him, his body wholly accepting the powerful beat. He could hear it in his head, each encompassing cadence eventually forming distinct echoes. His ears popped with every echo, and he could see two dark misty spheres beside his head.
Windows to the astral plane.
The dark spheres expanded and faint gray holes appeared at their cores. He could hear sounds emerging, like the distant footsteps of a great and powerful giant. The man's lips moved of their own accord, his voice a long flat line as he repeated his prayer to the spirit God Osiris.
The golden light before him expanded, as did the dark spheres alongside him. A doorway appeared in the light, a glowing blue image on its metallic surface. The image took on a definite shape of curved lines atop an inverted triangle, bisected by a crooked arrow.
Slowly, the door opened. The pounding vibration exploded from the darkness beyond-from the realm of the astral plane into the physical plane.
The man gazed into the swirling black eddies, a storm of whistling winds that backed the slow, thunderous pulse. From within its murky depths, he could hear the spirit's message clearly, spat out one syllable at a time.
"Benjamin Conroy ... proceed with the ritual."
Excerpted from Dead Souls by Michael Laimo Copyright © 2007 by Michael Laimo. Excerpted by permission.
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