Barbara Ardinger, Local Long Beach resident and author of Secret Lives based her book in Long Beach. She will be on a Virtual Book Tour this month with Pump Up Your Book and her press release appears in the Long Beach Post online edition. Visit her tour page at Pump Up Your Book. Follow her on facebook
Secret Lives Excerpt
Now the four spoke in chorus, their voices growing with the force that was moving around the circle.
Watchers above, we summon you to our work. From the starry paths upon which you dance, lend us your far-seeing wisdom. Quicken our magic tonight.
Watchers below, we summon you to our work. From the dark and hidden worlds that wait beneath, lend us your powers of fertility and rebirth. Quicken our magic tonight.
The air was tingling now and a palpable energy was moving around the room.
Time is present. Power is here.
As the invocations echoed back from beyond the walls of Herta’s ordinary living room, four of the women lit the indigo candles, their flames dancing and redoubling in the gathering energies. Herta folded her hands at her heart and nodded her head in an ancient gesture of greeting.
She looks like one of the Sibyls, Brooke thought, and she looked again at the women she’d known and worked with for fifteen years. Our familiar friends, but tonight they’re the Erinyes. The Holy Furies. The avengers of the ancient world are present in this room. These women look perfectly capable of pursuing any criminal to his death. And probably beyond.
Eyes closed, Herta spoke again. “Terrible and invisible powers now present, justice is our intent. The cleansing of this neighborhood is our intent. A seed planted here to carry order throughout the city is our intent. Protection for all who live in fear, no matter where—this is our intent.”
* * *
And softly and slowly, with gradually increasing volume, the thirteen women began their chant, wordless at first, simple humming. Then drawn-out vowels were added, and some women added Names, and others added Words and Calls in languages little used in modern times. Accompanied by Julia and Margaretta on doumbeks, the women chanted, and soon the energies they were drawing up began to coalesce in their circle. The force of the chant grew, the sounds whirling, snaking, rushing in a shimmering vortex in the center of the modest living room.
As the chanting and drumming grew to their howling, screeching climax, Herta stood up. She reached out with both hands as if to grasp the power, and she focused it on the covered basket on the teacart before her.
The chant peaked, an orgasmic release of energy skirring around the circle, an incandescent elemental energy—
There! Herta caught the almost visible power in her hands and flung it into the basket with all the force she and the circle now embodied.
“It is done.”
Breathing heavily, some of them still swaying, the women sat for many moments with their eyes closed. Herta sat with closed eyes, too, feeling the energy return to ground, feeling it flow back to its source.
“Girls,” she said at last, “we’ve done it. We have empowered our guardian.”
The women looked at her, then at the teacart. They were about to be shown what Herta had drawn from her mother’s second old book, the book they had opened only a few times before. The last time—twenty years earlier, in the days of an undeclared war across the Pacific—they had created a different kind of protection. They had built a shield that would bring their sons and daughters home from Vietnam, safe and whole. One who had come home was Milly’s husband.
“As you all know, under the full moon in Cancer, I prepared a small nest in a box. I built it upon agate and jasper for strength and protection, upon petrified wood for transformation and great age, upon obsidian for grounded fire. I lined this small nest with the molted skin of a snake for rebirth, with bears’ claws and sharks’ teeth for ferocity, with owls’ feathers for swift and silent flight. I prepared this nest for three fresh eggs, laid on the day of the dark moon. One egg I painted white, one red, the third, black. Now we will see which egg hatches. And what hatches. We have birthed our avenger.”
She gestured toward the teacart. “Listen.”
They heard pecking and scratching, the splintering of an eggshell, the familiar sounds of hatching. And then unfamiliar sounds … a harsh bark, a cough, a rough hiss.
Herta lifted the large oval basket that covered the nest. “Look.”
There it lay, a box lined with gold cloth that cradled a bed of stones and a nest lined with snakeskin and claws and teeth and feathers. Two of the eggs lay intact, unfertilized, unhatched. But the black shell lay in pieces.
And sitting on the edge of the nest was a tiny, green, four-footed animal, its pale golden wings still plastered damply against its scaly sides. Its golden eyes were barely open.
“Our guardian. A creature as old as the heavens, as fierce as the fiery powers of earth.”