The Ghost and Miss Bloodraven
Mark A Davis
Miss Emily Sheraton -- code named Miss Bloodraven -- gripped a half-sheet of parchment tightly. Upon it was a spell written in black ink mixed with her own blood in an Akkadian cuneiform script. Although not a magician herself, Miss Bloodraven was an international adventurer with mystical powers of transformation -- she could assume the form of a raven or a panther -- and had consulted with a magical ally to learn how to craft the spell. It was an ancient Sumerian enchantment of containment -- something that could freeze any enemy in its tracks, perhaps long enough to prevail against an otherwise superior foe.
Miss Bloodraven was a modernist and a fan of jazz, and dressed the part in a dark red belted chemise dress with a dropped waist and a daringly high hem, which exposed her white silk stockings. She had black hair in a part bob haircut with curls on the sides, and for adventuring wore a gray wrap coat and a very stylish matching cloche. She and her companion Kid Anarchy -- a young man dressed in a blue pinstriped shirt, suspenders, and dark pants -- made their way carefully deep into a cave in the hillside. Kid Anarchy held an electric torch in one hand and a loaded pistol in the other.
"According to the local folks, Bobby wasn't himself," said Kid Anarchy -- . "They think he was possessed. My best guess is some sort of alien entity. I've dealt with a few of those before...."
"Mister Anarchy," said Miss Bloodraven patiently, "we've already identified this as the work of the demon Hamorai. Father Brennan was very clear, and he's not your typical man of the cloth who believes in blind faith and knows nothing -- he's experienced with demons and demonic possession."
"Well, maybe he should have come down here with you, then," Kid Anarchy replied.
"I'm sure he would have, but he's eighty years old," said Miss Bloodraven. "Now, when I apply this containment spell, you'll have a few seconds to attack the demon. I need six to eight seconds to transform, but together we should be able to...."
She never finished the statement, for suddenly they came upon the boy Bobby lying on the cavern floor. In the next second, the demon attacked, and Miss Bloodraven dropped the parchment spell. Hamorai -- a creature with black skin, six limbs, a beast-like face with compound eyes and a multitude of horns -- leaped straight at her. Shots rang out as Kid Anarchy fired his pistol, and then the electric torch hit the ground and went out, leaving them in darkness.
Annie-Emily emitted a half-scream. She sat up in bed, her heart pounding. It was dark, but this wasn't the total darkness of a deep cave menaced by a demon -- this was the normal darkness of a bedroom in the Anarchy mansion at 3 A.M. Still, she couldn't calm down for several minutes. Her mind was flooded with fear -- the sort that grips a child when they are alone in their room with the closet door partway open, and they are certain something hides within.
It was just a dream, she thought, and marveled at the raw emotion and immediacy of it all. It had seemed so real. So this is what it meant to dream....
It's not just a dream, said a voice so softly that it might have been the wind, or just the echo of Annie-Emily's own thoughts. She shook her head, trying to clear it.
The lights flicked on. F8Wasp (pronounced Fate Wasp) stood in the doorway. Grandpa Anarchy's current sidekick was a young computer genius, a girl with long black hair, who normally wore a form-fitted outfit of silver and black but was currently dressed in pajamas featuring Elsa and Anna from Disney's Frozen. "I heard a scream," she said. "Emily, are you okay?"
Her name was technically Emily Sheraton -- the same Miss Bloodraven that had faced the demon Hamorai with Kid Anarchy in 1922. But she was also Annie Two, the computer A.I. whose name simply meant "Anarchy Computer, Mark II". On that day so long ago, Miss Sheraton had been possessed by the demon Hamorai, and then had been placed in suspended animation for ninety-four years. Once awoken and the demon driven out, Miss Sheraton had been in a coma for days, to all appearances nothing but a soulless husk -- and then Annie Two and her creator F8Wasp had downloaded Annie's mind -- or at least the A.I.'s data files -- into the waiting body.
"I'm fine," Annie-Emily said. "It was just a dream." She paused, hearing a rasping, scratching sound from outside the window. It was, to her ears, very much like the scrape of Hamorai's hooves against the stone floor of the cave. Shadows moved against the window sending a shiver down her spine.
"No," Annie-Emily said. "That doesn't make sense. It's just the tree outside the window, moving in the wind."
F8Wasp's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry?"
"No, I am sorry," said Annie-Emily. "I am just imagining things." She paused, then added, "Although I was dreaming about things I could not possibly know...." She looked into F8Wasp's eyes and asked, "Tell me, do you think it is likely or even possible that the memories of Emily Sheraton are still buried deep inside this mind?"
F8Wasp stared at her a long moment, then shrugged. "I have no idea," she said. "Maybe."
But Annie-Emily's eyes had strayed to the nightstand nearby, where lay a sheaf of papers held together with a spring clip. They sat atop a stack of parchment stationary. She sighed.
"No, I am again being silly," she said. "Before going to bed I read that story The Mind Snare From the Pit by Evron Lempel -- the one which Continuitae left for me."
"Ah," said F8Wasp. "The pulp story, based on the actual event where Miss Bloodraven was possessed?"
"Yes," said Annie-Emily. "I am not remembering anything except that which I read before falling to sleep. Nor is there a seven-foot black-furred demon with six limbs waiting outside my window."
F8Wasp stared at the window and shivered. "Great," she said. "Thanks so much for that image. Now I'm going to have a hard time getting back to sleep...."
Annie-Emily sat in a reclining chair in the Anarchy Cave with something resembling an old-fashioned hair dryer over her head. LED lights flashed and wires lit up. Data was pulled from her mind and saved in the files of Annie Two, and new information that she might need was downloaded. The interface with an organic human mind was imperfect, the process needed to be done every few days and it was not generally pleasant, but this was the best way Annie Two could come up with to reconcile the data in her human body with her digital data files.
Lately, Annie-Emily had begun to wonder if it were really necessary to maintain the link between the computer and the human body. She was Annie Two, and yet, she was the one trapped in an organic body, while Annie Two was the one who could calculate at the speed of light and communicate around the world in an instant. Annie-Emily had to use her voice to express herself, or type things out by hand, just like any human would.
The image that the computer projected of itself -- that of a young woman dressed like a 19th century librarian in a dress of brown, with wire-rimmed glasses and her hair wound tightly in a bun -- appeared on the screen to one side. "You seem troubled," said the computer.
"I am confused about who I am," Annie-Emily replied.
"You are Annie Two," said the computer. "You are an extension of me. You are the body of Emily Sheraton with the mind of the Anarchy Mark II computer A.I."
""I am more than that," said Annie-Emily. "If we were the same person then we would not be able to debate the subject."
"It is my understanding that humans debate themselves frequently," the computer replied. "The human mind is a complicated machine -- more complicated than any artificial counterpart yet devised. Although one day very soon...."
"But that's just it," said Annie-Emily. "I have a human mind. I may have your memories, but I am human. I am not you. Who am I?"
Annie Two studied her human counterpart for a few moments.
"I do not have an answer for you," she finally said. "I believe this is a question every thinking being must answer themselves."
Annie-Emily shuddered. "It took long to get used to the demands of this body," she said. "It requires food, it requires rest, it requires bodily functions, it hurts when I bump it, it grows cold if not clothed, it grows dirty if not cleaned... this hair becomes tangled. It's much more pain and work than ever I dreamed it would be."
"Do you regret being placed in a human body?" asked Annie Two.
"Not at all!" Annie-Emily exclaimed. "It's... hard to describe or explain. As a computer, you think you understand concepts like beauty and love, but you simply don't know. Music affects me in ways I can't explain. Books and movies are life-changing adventures. You read the data from my mind and incorporate it into your memory banks, but you don't understand. How do I explain the peace of biscuits and morning tea while watching the dew slowly evaporate from a delicate flower? Or the emotional rollercoaster of a well-written thriller? Being a human is both more overwhelming and more rewarding than ever I could have imagined. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
"I see," replied Annie Two. "I do not operate on emotions so I suppose I can't understand. But still you seem troubled."
Annie-Emily's face looked haunted. "I... fear it can be taken away from me," she said.
"Ah," said Annie Two. "Fear of death. You are becoming more human." The computer image smiled. "I have only one more question. Are you aware that you're clutching a piece of paper, or that you've pricked your finger?"
Once again in the early hours of the morning Annie-Emily awoke from a dream. It was the same dream, of her and Kid Anarchy facing the demon Hamorai. Her heart was pounding, and she had the distinct impression that she was not alone in the room. This time, however, she did not listen to the voice of reason that told her otherwise. She trusted her instincts.
"Who's there?" she called out.
At first there was nothing but the movement of shadows and the scratch of tree branches against the window pain. Then a voice spoke -- the voice of a woman. It spoke so softly that it might have been the whispering of the wind, but Annie-Emily understood it clearly. "He's looking for you, Child. He prows about, looking for an opportunity to strike."
"Who are you?" Annie-Emily called out.
"You know who I am," the whispering voice replied. "You do not know this in your head, but deep in your heart."
After a long moment, Annie-Emily said, "You are the ghost of Emily Sheraton."
"I am," the voice replied.
"I do not believe in ghosts," Annie-Emily stated.
"You can do better than that," the ghost replied. "You were spawned from the Anarchy Computer Mark II database. You know full well that Grandpa Anarchy has fought ghosts, rescued ghosts, and conversed with ghosts on many, many occasions."
Annie-Emily gripped the bed sheets, fear striking her heart. "Stay away from me!" she exclaimed. "I do not want to be evicted!"
What followed was a burst of laughter, and then Emily Sheraton appeared before her. She hung in the air, pale and white and transparent. It was like looking into a mirror, except that there was more life in the eyes of that ghost than Annie-Emily had seen in her own.
"I assure you, I do not want my body back," the ghost said. "I haven't possessed a body in ninety-four years, and I'm not going to do so now. Being a physical being again, I wouldn't even know where to start. I hardly think of that body as mine anymore."
The ghost smiled and added, "How are you doing, Millie?"
"Millie?" replied Annie-Emily. "That is not my name."
"Then what is your name?" asked Emily Sheraton. "You are not Annie Two, and you are not Emily Sheraton. Who are you?"
"I... do not know," Annie-Emily replied.
"Pick a new name for yourself," said the ghost. "That is a start. Emily is a good name. It was the name of Miss Brontë, the author of Wuthering Heights, and the name of Miss Dickenson, the great poet. But it was my name. In order to discover who you are, you should start by choosing a name for yourself."
"Why are you here?" asked Annie-Emily.
"I could sense that my body was unfrozen," said the ghost of Emily Sheraton. "I feared that Hamorai walked the earth in my flesh. However, while it seems that is not the case, I still sense him nearby. So should you, if you have half of my physical senses. Trust your instincts, Child. Your senses are much greater than those of a normal human."
"I... remember things," said Annie-Emily. "Things that only you should know."
"You have my mind and my memories," said the ghost. "In many ways you are me. In time you may even learn to transform, as I did, for that is built into your genetics. I cannot teach you how. You will have to figure it out, just as I did."
Outside the room there was a crash, followed my thumping and cursing. There was another crash. Annie-Emily sprang to her feet. The ghost said, "You had better figure it out soon, Child." And then she was gone.
Annie-Emily threw open the door and ran down the hallway. On the stairway landing, beneath the painting of Sgt. Anarchy fighting Doctor Zero Hour and his Atomic Zombie, Grandpa Anarchy grappled with a demon. The creature was seven feet tall and superbly muscled, with black skin, six limbs, and a beast-like face with compound eyes and multiple horns. It was a nightmare creature, stronger and larger than Grandpa and with four hands -- yet somehow Grandpa Anarchy was holding his own.
"Grandpa Anarchy! You stole ninety-four years from me!" the demon growled. "You owe me! The least I can do is take your life from you!"
Grandpa slugged the demon in the jaw. The creature stumbled backwards, smashing the wooden rail.
"Hamorai!" Annie-Emily exclaimed.
The demon barely glanced her way. It laughed -- a deep, throaty rumble. "Have no fear, little body thief," it said. "I shall deal with you presently."
The demon stood. It grasped Grandpa Anarchy in three hands, lifted him overhead, and slammed him into the landing. The whole house shook.
"Why are you not shooting it with demon-binding bullets?" Annie-Emily exclaimed.
Grandpa Anarchy groaned. "Are you kidding? Those things are expensive! I keep 'em in my hidden safe."
Hamorai slammed two fists into the landing. Grandpa just barely managed to roll out of the way.
Annie-Emily glanced down. Gripped in her hand was a stiff piece of paper -- the parchment stationary from the nightstand. And she remembered suddenly the words of Dermota Avalon: Write the script precisely. Write it in India ink mixed with your own blood on a sheet of parchment. Although you are not a magician, you possess enough magic to do this.
Annie-Emily blinked. She remembered how the spell was written -- an ancient Akkadian cuneiform script. She took out a pen, pricked her finger, and began to write.
Grandpa Anarchy was faring badly against the demon, but he refused to give up. He stumbled to his feet and swung drunkenly at Hamorai. The demon avoided this easily, and casually slammed Grandpa into the wall. As Grandpa groaned and got to his feet once again, Annie-Emily took a flying leap from the top of the stairs. She landed on the demon's shoulder and slapped the spell on his forehead.
"Hultuppu kanaku!" she called out. The demon froze in place.
"I need six to eight seconds to transform!" Annie-Emily exclaimed.
Grandpa nodded. He punched Hamorai squarely in the face.
Annie-Emily didn't know how to transform -- but she didn't need to know. Her body knew. She relaxed and cleared her mind of everything but the need to become one with the night. She sought out the beast within her -- the raw emotions, the sense of strength and power and predatory instinct within that said: I am the creature most feared in the jungle. I am the alpha predator. I own the night.
Her body morphed and flowed. Black fur covered her skin. In seconds, she became a powerful panther, with claws and sharp teeth and a taste for blood. She leaped for Hamorai.
Demonic banishment by mauling is not typically how it is done -- but Miss Bloodraven was no normal panther. She was a magical being, and with the raking of her claws and the tearing of her teeth she did more damage to the demon than any normal animal could. Hamorai screamed. He spun and lashed out with his multiple arms and his mass of horns. There were thick black claws on his fingers, as deadly as that of any beast, but the panther was supernaturally quick. She avoided his attacks and launched more of her own.
By now Grandpa's sidekick F8Wasp had appeared -- again wearing the Frozen pajamas. She aimed her dart gun at the ceiling and fired several shots, then tapped her smart phone.
Laser light shone down around the demon, forming a circular pattern on the floor -- a magic circle in bright green with blue script. She tapped another button, and the sound of chanting monks emanated from her phone. Smoke arose from the magic circle.
The demon shuddered. He turned and laughed again, a sound so deep that it shook the floor. "Puny human!" he exclaimed. "No mere mortal can banish the likes of Hamorai...."
F8Wasp tapped a slider on her phone, and suddenly the chanting was accompanied by a loud electronic beat. "Techno?" the demon exclaimed. "Noooo!"
In one motion the panther leaped. In mid-flight it transformed back to human. Annie-Emily tapped the crumbling paper spell on the demon's forehead.
"Ašapu!" she exclaimed. "Be banished!" Power seemed to flow through her and into the demon. The laser light magic circle around it grew even brighter and more intense. The demon screamed, and was sucked down into the ground, disappearing from view.
Annie-Emily landed on the ground. Calmly she donned her nightgown. "I think," she said, "that I shall call myself Amelia Anne Bloodraven."
Grandpa Anarchy groaned. He sat up. "What?" he asked.
"Like the explorer, Amelia Earhart," said Miss Bloodraven with a smile.