The Initiate – Snippet 06

Some were so blatantly fake they made him angry. One “psychic sensitive” did such a clumsy cold reading he stopped her halfway through and told her to stop embarrassing them both. A seminar on “personal alchemy” attracted some visitors in very expensive suits who listened very attentively when the speaker told them that a sufficiently advanced soul could indeed transmute lead into gold, and afterward all of them placed crisp new twenty-dollar bills into the donation basket. Sam dropped in a nickel.

In a rented hall in the Hotel New Yorker a self-proclaimed “spirit talker” charged fifty dollars a head to let the audience watch her talk to the air. Sam stood patiently in line until he reached the front of the room. The spirit talker, an overweight middle-aged woman with glittery eye shadow, looked him over. “I sense great sadness,” she said. “You’ve lost someone close to you.”

“My sister,” he said. He had no brother or sister that he knew of.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m getting an image. A woman, possibly younger or . . .”

“We were twins,” he said.

“Yes! Twins. You were very close. I’m getting a name, it could start with M, or possibly a vowel . . .”

“Sarah,” he said, just to be mean.

“Yes, Sarah,” said the medium without batting an eye. “I can feel her presence near you.”

“Can she hear me?”

“The spirits watch over us all the time,” she said, and he heard satisfied murmurs from the audience.

“Sarah!” he called out. “Forgive me!” With no idea how to end this charade, he covered his face and sobbed, and let himself be politely shoved out of the way so the woman behind him could get her turn.


That December he tried his first magical operation. It was a fairly simple one: calling up a spirit of protection. The actual working was adapted from one in the Clavicula Solomonis, which Mr. Lucas had identified as holding a nugget of truth, modified by elements from the Picatrix and the Occult Philosophy of Agrippa. Preparations took most of the month, but on the night of the winter solstice Sam had everything ready in his room.

The air was scented by aloe resin and cedarwood burning in a couple of jade bowls — the smoke detector, batteries removed, was in the refrigerator. The Third Pentacle of Jupiter drawn in cobalt ink covered most of the floor. Sam himself wore a linen tunic he had laboriously hand sewn, and held a wand cut from an oak branch as he chanted the formula invoking the power of Mendial, ruler of the thirty-third decan. The whole thing began at four in the morning, just as Jupiter rose behind the rooftops of the Bronx to the east.

The hardest part of the whole ritual was overcoming the lurking sense that Sam was making a complete fool of himself. He read the phonetic transcription of the Hebrew formula aloud, but it just seemed like meaningless gabble. All his careful preparation and ritual materials suddenly looked like a lot of foolishness.

Sam stopped, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He focused on his memories. Of the ghost Mr. Lucas had called forth from a ring. Of the crow-headed Anzu. Of Alice and Tommy.

He opened his eyes again, clear and intent. When he spoke it was loud and commanding. He willed the spirit to appear as he repeated the words, again and again.

And then it did appear.

Unlike the ghost of Willis Dean this was a vague shape, little more than a ripple in the air, but Sam could make out a head, eyes, arms — and nothing more. Below where its waist should be the thing trailed away into nothingness.

Sam’s heart pounded with fear and excitement. He took another deep breath and spoke to it. “I command you, by Mendial, Lord of Power, to accompany me and guard my body from all harm.

I bind you to this task by the Name Yiai for a year and a day. By Enlil I command you to obey.”

Its voice was as vague and blurry as its appearance, and Sam realized it was a distorted version of his own. “By the Names I obey.”

The thing moved toward Sam, who tensed, ready to fight or flee, but aside from a slight static-electricity feeling all over his skin, here was nothing. Was the spirit encasing him? He hadn’t expected that. He had imagined leading the thing around like a supernatural guard dog, not wearing it. It was disturbingly intimate, and Sam fought the urge to banish the spirit from his presence forever.

Once it was all done, his body rebelled. He was exhausted and needed sleep. Cleaning up could wait until morning. He did dig out his spare anonymous burner phone and send a text message to the number Lucas had given him.

“Did it! What now?”


His answer came four days later as he sat in the grand reading room of the New York Public Library, taking notes on a copy of Father Sinistrari’s Demoniality. Someone took the seat next to him, and after a moment Sam heard a raspy, cigarette-scented whisper. “You aren’t alone.”

Sam looked over, keeping his face blank. A short, heavyset woman occupied the next seat. She might have been anywhere from forty to eighty, and the unnatural orange of her hair didn’t match the slight salt-and-pepper mustache at the corners of her mouth. But the eyes, watching Sam from behind rhinestone-studded avocado cat’s-eye glasses, were sharp and wise looking.

“You’re here,” he said quietly.

“You’ve got a friend around you,” she whispered back. “Most people can’t see it but I can. Who are you?”

He hesitated. One thing Lucas had drilled into him was not to reveal his name. But if he told her the false name he was using, that would make him look like a naive poser. He needed another layer of alias. “Ace,” he said.

She regarded him skeptically for a moment. “You look more like a deuce to me. I’m Sylvia. You’re interested in magic. How come?”

“I’ve had some . . . experiences,” he said. “I’m looking for answers.”

He closed his notebook, and as he did he noticed something odd. When he looked directly at Sylvia she seemed to be just a dumpy woman like fifty thousand others in Manhattan. But when he looked away, in his peripheral vision she wasn’t alone. There were vague shapes looming behind her, and small flitting presences around her.

She glanced at the books on the table in front of him. “Most of this is crap, you know.”

“Yes. I’m trying to pick out the bits that aren’t. I’ve been looking for a teacher, but all the ones I’ve met are fakes or crazies.”

Sylvia almost smiled, then rummaged in her enormous mustard-yellow handbag and handed him a business card. He took it. Under a smudgy graphic of a rainbow and a cartoon cat wearing a mortarboard were the words:


Private Tutoring

There was no address or contact information.

“How do I find you?” he asked.

“You look like a smart guy. Figure it out.” She stood up — she wasn’t much taller standing than sitting — and headed for the stairs.

Sam stared at the card. Was it some kind of magical guide? He closed his eyes and tried to feel any supernatural pull, but there was nothing. He looked at it again, then his eyes narrowed and he smiled.