Friday, 17 August 2012

Raising Kane

One day I decided I really must raise a ghost for real.

“What’s the use of that?” my familiar asked me, growling up from the tangle of matted black fur that served him for a face. “You can’t even do simple things after all.”

“Shut up,” I told him. Being a familiar, the words had no effect on him. They didn’t even make his jaws freeze up. “I’m a Grade B warlock of the First Order,” I reminded him. “I can do anything but raise demons from the Fifteenth Hell and below.”

He snorted. “Do you remember the werewolf?”

“What werewolf?” I had no memory of any werewolf.

“That guy you converted into a werewolf, long distance, so he would kill that other character you’d been paid to slay, the one he was meeting in his private study. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh...that werewolf.” I was about to change the topic but he wasn’t having any of that. “That didn’t turn out quite as expected, did it now?” he asked.

“It wasn’t my fault,” I began. “You see...”

“All he did was stumble and fall downstairs and nearly break his neck,” he went on mercilessly. “And the shock made him revert to human form anyway.”

“Well,” I argued, “how could I have known that the man was almost blind and needed such powerful glasses? Naturally when he changed they just fell off his head, so he couldn’t see a thing. That wasn’t my fault!”

“And the other time, when that poultry farmer asked you to create a spell to increase the size of the eggs his birds were laying? How about that?”


“You turned all his chickens to ostriches, didn’t you?”

“He wanted big eggs,” I said truculently. “He got big eggs.”

“You know someone who likes to eat ostrich eggs?”

“Anyway,” I said, “I want to raise a ghost, and you’d better help.”

“Any ghost in particular, or will just any ghost do?”

“Well, uh, for this first time, any ghost. Later we’ll try and be more particular.”

“You are going to make a mess of it,” he said, grinning with all his huge battery of sharp teeth. “A stupendous mess, even by your standards.”

“Are you going to help me or not?”

“Oh,” he said, combing his fur with his huge hooked claws, “I’ll help. I’m interested in seeing just what kind of mess you make.”

“I’m not going to make a mess.” I ordered him to get the some of the materials ready while I got the rest. He scuttled away on his seven long limbs, and in a short space of time was back with the four black candles of mammoth tallow I needed, set in the candelabrum of Solomonian silver, design Warlock’s Standard. This he set in my bowl of the Water of Lethe.

“The water’s going stale,” he said. “You really ought to change it.”

“I have so much to do,” I muttered. I was rummaging in my cupboard of ingredients, putting packets and bottles on the table. “Where the devil is my powdered unicorn horn?” I asked.

“Don’t you remember? We used the last of it when you tried to help that crooked contractor beat his deadline for construction of that skyscraper. And you recall what happened then.”

“He told me he needed it finished,” I snapped. “I got it finished by the date mentioned. It’s his problem that I had to stretch the rooms to get to the height he needed, not mine. I...forget it. Where can we get some unicorn horn in a hurry?”

“Where? Nowhere. Unicorns no longer exist, or had you forgotten? They died out when there were no longer any virgins left to bridle them.”

“But I need unicorn horn!”

“Get cow horn.” He emitted a weary sigh, along with the usual greenish gas and darts of flickering flame. “It hardly matters either way. Horn is horn.”

“Don’t I feed you enough?” I asked. “Your suggestions lately have been less and less useful.”

“Enough?” he snorted. “I can barely survive on what you give me. A baby a week and an adolescent a month, and I have to slaughter them myself. Bah!”

“You enjoy slaughtering them,” I reminded him. “You told me that yourself.”

“They still hardly fill my stomach.” He went off grumbling and came back with my essence of mandrake.

“Where’s my diplodocus blood? I’m sure I had a vial somewhere.” I found the vial. “Damn, it’s fossilised.”

“Big surprise, seeing it’s a hundred million years old.”

In the end we managed to get together everything I needed. With the sputtering of thick smoke, my familiar lit the four black candles in the candelabrum that he had set in the bowl of the Water of Lethe. I took up the heavy book of ichthyosaur parchment bound in griffon leather, and as I turned the pages my familiar began drawing the pentagrams and other designs in chalk from the sacred cliffs of Edhan.

I found the appropriate page and the first passage. “Here goes,” I said, and began reading. My accent was probably atrocious, but then who knows how to properly pronounce “Grsdsrlzwrk skwrdbsunawk” anyway?

The candles began to smoke and spit. I nodded and turned the page and my familiar dropped fragments of vampire tooth into the flames. They immediately shot up to twice their height and turned bright red in colour.

“Mskrfzl!” I said, and slapped the book shut. There was immediately a tremendous gout of black smoke and the room grew dark for a moment. When the smoke cleared, the candles were burning with bright white flames and there was someone sitting behind them.

At first it was difficult to see who it was. Then he leaned forwards and I saw it was a hooded figure, which drew back the hood with a skeletal hand. Underneath was a skull, empty eye sockets pools of black shadow.

“Who are you?” I asked it. “I command you to answer in the name of the Evil Spirit.”

“Clack!” the skull said. “Clatter!”

“Great,” said the familiar. “How do you expect it to answer without a larynx, lungs and a tongue? Poor thing’s doing its best.”

“I conjure you,” I said, “to grow a voice apparatus.”

Something happened to the air in front of the spectre, and a moment later it had developed a pulsing set of darkened and soot-streaked lungs and a set of cracked and fissured lips.

“Speak!” I commanded. “Who are you?”

In response the spectre coughed and heaved with the force of its coughs. “Give me a fag,” it coughed out. “I need a fag.”

“I don’t smoke,” I told it. “And you shouldn’t either. Now who are you?”

“How the hell do I know? I don’t have a brain any more, do I? So how do you expect me to have a memory?”

“Told you it would be a mess,” the familiar said.

“Shut up, you,” I growled, and this time threw a Silencing Spell at him. It bounced harmlessly off all the fur and splattered against a mixing bowl in which I had been, for the past week and a day, creating a Symphony Spell for a composer who had lost his touch. The low music that always stirred there stopped.

“Carry on,” the familiar said. “This is beginning to rise to my expectations.”

I ignored him, as I should have from the beginning. I’ve wondered many times why I settled for a demon from the Thirteenth Hell for a familiar instead of using a black cat or dog like most of my profession. My ego, I suppose. Anyway, I was now stuck with him and there was nothing to be done about it.

“Grow a brain,” I told the ghost. “After you’ve finished growing it, regenerate your memories.” I slapped the book’s cover for emphasis.

The ghost simmered and sputtered for a while, and the candles burned brighter and whiter than ever. Then it opened its mouth and let out an ear-splitting howl.

“What the hell was that?” I gasped.

“Just testing my memories,” the ghost apologised. “That was a bad one.” It began to shake with laughter, so hard that its bones rattled. “Oops,” it said, as its right humerus detached from its pectoral girdle. “Can’t afford to do that too much.” I threw a Superglue spell at it and the humerus reattached itself. The ghost continued to chuckle and snigger to itself, and occasionally to make noises like weeping. It could not actually weep because I hadn’t given it lacrimal glands, of course.

“Can you hurry this up?” I asked. “I don’t have all day.”

“Oh baby, baby,” the ghost said. “Do that again, touch that once more.” It began slurping and moaning. “Oh oh oh oh oh.” The familiar grinned.

Suddenly the ghost stopped groaning and grunting and chuckling. Its voice took on a silky tone. “Ah, sir,” it said. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Kane. Have you considered the dangers inherent in your profession?”


“I thought not. But, you see, the future is uncertain and hazardous, and it can never be depended on. Well, for only a small amount a year, we can offer you freedom from all worries. Yes, I have insurance policies to offer you for all occasions; policies to suit every pocket, to fulfil every need. For example, here...” it pawed at the air, and drew out from somewhere several sheets of paper stapled together, “we have...”

“Send it back!” I shouted urgently to the familiar.

“Send it back yourself,” he said, laughing. “It’s not my job.”

“I can’t send it back without the unicorn horn, you moron!”

“Are you short of unicorn horn? We have a policy that covers eventualities of shortfall in supplies causing loss of productivity as well. Now if you’ll be so good as to look here...”

“I,” I announced, “am leaving. I can only do so much. I need to drown my sorrows in a few glasses of the sparkling wine of Pandemonium.”

I came back after a while, calmed by the wine and determined to try and use something else – perhaps hippogriff scales – as a substitute for the unicorn horn. To my astonishment, the space behind the candelabrum was empty.

“Where’s the ghost?” I demanded. “”Where did it go?” A sudden dread seized me. “Did it escape? A mad insurance agent ghost let loose on the world? What have I done?”

“Relax,” said the familiar. He wandered in from the back, picking his teeth with a spine from the tail of a phoenix. “The ghost didn’t go anywhere.”

“Where the hell is it then?”

“In my stomach,” he said, and burped. “It was very tasty, though the bones were a bit on the dry side. I like this idea of yours. Shall we do it again?” 

Copyright B Purkayastha 2009/12

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