Nine candles, slowly burning and evaporating wax into the air. Each pressed firmly down into the molten stub of that which preceded it. But there are no more candles, and these nine shall be the last. I wait. The summoning circle holds firm about me – I am secure, I am safe. But I am still alone. These last nine candles represent my eighth attempt to complete the summoning.
It’s been a very long few days. I can’t leave this circle until the spell is done, and honestly I’m getting really tired. And hungry. So hungry. The problem with summoning the dead, or the dead-adjacent (I’ll come back to that), is that you really do need to be on your toes when they arrive. They’re innately sneaky bastards, and if they spot an opportunity to swallow your soul, possess your body or just rip you into shreds of bloody leather, they’ll take it. It’s a risk, obviously. I had rather hoped to have drawn the fucker in sooner, like yesterday – or the day before. As it goes, I’m now weary and famished, and the candle flames flicker in and out of reality before my eyes. I can’t lie down, because that will likely break the circle, cueing the entry of some dead bastard who wants new legs. Can’t risk trying to curl up for fear that some nightmare will lead to random flailing, knocking over those candles and at best setting light to myself. At worst, well – we’ve gone over that. I least I had the wisdom to have a bottle of water by my side. I say wisdom, but that was just dumb luck. Generally you don’t want any extraneous gubbins in your magic circle. The whole business is precisely calibrated, the spell is the sum of the parts contained within that circumscribed space: the circumference inside of which magic can be formed, as well as a boundary to separate magician from the outside, as well as the Outside (you should be able to hear that capitalization in your head); the candles a beacon to draw in the darkness; myself to focus that beacon and charge the circle. The theory’s all good, but the execution appears to be lacking.
One nice thing about this particular summoning is that I don’t have to do anything except pour my will into the flames. No continuous chanting or any of that nonsense. I mean, it’s optional: all it does it focus your will by driving yourself mental with endless repetition of mantras until you can’t make sense of the words you’re using and even phrases like “come to me” get disassociated and you don’t know if you saying “come to me” or “comet ome” or “co met om e”. It gets worse and it’s the kind of behaviour that makes magicians go nuts, or at least makes everyone else think they’re nuts. How are you supposed to have a proper conversation with someone from Outside if you can’t even parse your own name by the time they rock up. No thank you. I’d much rather retain my speech centres than end up all raspy and weird. Still, two days of focusing on the flames is messing up my eyes just as badly. You’d never imagine there were so many colours in the black heart of fire. It’s just another trance state I suppose, but despite the hypnagogic state I’ve fallen into – just on the edge of falling asleep – I am silently freaking out about running out of candles.
The trance is necessary, because otherwise the sound of lorries and the smell of fumes from the petrol station just across the road would have absolutely trashed my concentration. It’s not the most ideal place to do spell casting, but we can’t all be wealthy and have nice quiet penthouse suites on Canary Wharf now can we? Some of us still live in the real world, getting by on smaller spells that actually help people rather than just hoarding wealth like they do. Well, this will change that. If the Outsider turns up before the candles finally gutter and die, leaving me vulnerable to them. It’s not a lot that I’m after – just a little bit of extra power, some more influence that I can pour into the next spell, and then the one after that. I’m going to bring back the forest. There used to be a nearly endless wood here – trees after trees after trees – full of life that thrust upwards to the sun or scampered in between its rays. But it’s all gone now, replaced with the grim tedium of tarmacked roads, stinking lorries and the crap we leave everywhere. It’s been getting on my nerves for a while. I signed the petitions, wrote the letters to the local MP and council when it was all being planned. We contributed to the process, followed the process, did all the right things. And nothing happened. Nothing good. The forest was battered to death by bladed machines, explosives and people who didn’t care. I could have taken that, I reckon, if I hadn’t later learned that those London magicians in their towers had been exerting their influence, magically and otherwise, to see it done.
That’s what really rankled, but I figured I could beat them at their own game, or at least fight back a bit. So I set myself out to summon something special, from the Outside. It’s where the dead go, and where those who have never been dead yet have never lived also reside. They’re the ones we call the dead-adjacent. They have most of the properties of the dead (they’re not alive for starters) and they’re in the same place. Whether they were there first and drew the first dead towards them, creating a road in reality which all the dead now travel, or whether it was the presence of the dead which led the dead-adjacent in, we’ve no way of knowing. It’s not clear if there’s anyone in the Outside who remembers. Being dead sucks, and the longer you’ve been dead for the less of you there is. Untethered from physical reality, the soul attenuates, fades and withers. Only the dead-adjacent stick around, and arguably it’s because they’re the ones doing the fading, or rather eating the dead souls.
I’m hopeful that I can persuade one of those soul-eating bastards to lend a hand, to help me resurrect a forest. Because the forest is still here – if you look right, look backward, remember – there are still spaces between realities where those trees stand tall. All I want the Outsider to do is assist me in getting reality to remember what was here before. In exchange, the Outsider can have everything that’s there right now. While they do love a good soul to suck on, or a crunchy magician body to flense and wear like a badly-fitting Primark tracksuit, living meat is just the same as concrete to them: it’s all just physical stuff, ashes to ashes, etcetera. It’s a good trade, I think. I imagine there will be some backlash from the towers, but if I get the right Outsider there will be nothing they can do about it.
The candles are getting really low. Tiny flames dance around the pools of liquid wax, skittering from side to side as the wicks suck up the last of the fuel and burn themselves away. And at last, there’s a sound, like the world drawing its first breath, so deep that the room loses all its colour for a moment. Then the exhale, and light rushes back in, chasing off the dark shades that were stolen. The darkness coalesces before me, right outside the circle, twisting and coiling into what it thinks a person looks like. I don’t think it’s seen a person before, just chewed the memory of it out of our dead. I say, “hi.”