I was speechless when I saw him sitting there. I think maybe that at first, he was just as dumbstruck as I was. We locked eyes for several thrums of the chiming Waltham clock as it hammered out the audible announcement of midnight. The beginning of, and the end to, a day. Ground zero- the proverbial witching hour.
I'm certain my jaw worked up and down in a flap of soundless queries and maybe even protests. I was very simply in awe of what I was seeing. I think that perhaps it was he who regained composure first; at least that is how it seemed at the time.
Seeing him was like looking into a mirror. True, he appeared to be more fit than I-considering that I sport the excess center baggage of a sedentary life behind a keyboard along with a true love of good food and beverages of malted barley liberally spiced with hops. This is also not to mention that my beard displays the hoary frost of more grey hairs than I would wish to count. Still, he appeared somewhat soft around the edges, exhibiting evidence of his own time spent piloting a keyboard.
Please pardon me. I fear that an unchecked stream of consciousness rambling has begun right from the outset. It would seem that I've neglected a fiercely important part of the story, simply because even now, I am rattled to be thinking about it.
I've forgotten to start at the beginning.
First of all, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Murv. You may be more familiar with the moniker, M. R. Sellars, which appears on the cover of my books. I am an author of fiction novels, thus far all of which are deeply ingrained with a positive pagan slant. Yes, I set a stage that finally allows the witch to be the good guy.
What I have begun to relate to you, I have told no one; not even my wife. I've kept this secret, not so much because I fear what others might think, but because I'm not entirely sure what it is that I think. I mean this was an experience that was wholly and completely unexpected. Without precedent-in my life, at least-and through no invocation of my own doing. Provocation? Well, that just might be a different story; however, I am still unsure of the person or source, if any at all, responsible for this event. I suppose it could have been nothing more than my overactive imagination prodded along by a liberal swath of distilled spirits-Lagavulin, I seem to recall. And, we all know how the imagination can play tricks. Due to this lack of surety, it is with great pause that I even give thought to subjecting you to a recount of this bizarre event. This stream of verbiage, that when scrutinized closely, might well be considered nothing more than a dream- or perhaps, nightmare, depending upon one's point of view. But, it seems I've already begun the tale, so it would be very unsporting not to finish it.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, the beginning. Well, to put it simply, it was Samhain night. The first Samhain night that followed the release of my first pagan fiction novel. I'm certain I don't have to tell you what this night represents. We are all fully aware of its deep significance, and of the onion skin transparency that besets the veil between the worlds on this particular night of the year. Truth is, I've been a practicing witch for many years. I've seen Samhain's come and go. I've stood in circles and called out to my ancestors- both distant and recent- who have made the journey across the bridge before me. I've felt them with me; known in my heart that they are fine and happy where they are; and I am fully aware that I will join them on that side one day.
However, even with that knowledge and experience, I was unprepared for what this particular night had sprung upon me. I simply didn't know that the veil between here and there, life and death, earth and the summerland, was also a veil between reality and fiction. That when the single-celled translucence overtook that curtain for a brief few moments, it not only opened a passage between the diametrically opposed ends of the bridge, but one between the world of absolutes and hypotheticals as well. I suppose I should have paid more attention to quantum theory in college, but again, I digress.
The members of my coven had each gone their own ways for the evening. My wife and daughter were soundly asleep, as well I should have been. Instead, I sat quietly meditating on the candles still burning on our indoor altar-a polished slab of cedar trunk liberated by my wife from a logging operation in Washington State many years before. A final tumbler of peat-smoked and filtered Single Islay Malt Scotch rested firmly in my grip, occasionally making its way along an arc to my lips, and then back to my knee. The antique rocking chair I occupied made a low creak against the hardwood floor, sounding out in sync with my motion to and fro. Other than that, quiet calm filled the house.
Midnight crept in with only the bong of the clock to announce its arrival, or so I thought. It was the second ring of the chime that truly caught my attention. A hollow quality followed the sharp sound as it faded slowly into submission, only to be chased by the third, and fourth; duller and hollower still. Instinctively, I looked toward the clock, feeling much like the narrator of 'Twas the night before Christmas'. It was at about this instant that we became aware of one another.
As I said earlier, it was much like looking into a mirror, even though he was certainly more fit, and wore his age better than I. Still, the face was the same, right down to the beard, brown eyes, and small scar on his forehead. We stared at each other, beginning with silent incredulity that slowly melted into quiet, inexplicable comfort. It wasn't until the twelfth and final peal of the clock had become nothing more than a recent memory that the howl of quietude was broken.
"Rowan?" I asked.
He simply nodded affirmation.
"Rowan Gant?" I repeated, following the question immediately with another stuttered string of words. "What are you.....; Why are you......; How......;"
"Your guess is as good as mine." He shrugged. "It's Samhain. I suppose that could have something to do with it."
Rowan Gant, the protagonist of my novels was sitting across from me, not more than ten feet away. A fictional character. Words from a page perched in a chair, as full of life as I was. And he was speaking to me.
"I've got to be dreaming," I said succinctly.
"Cliché," he returned. "You're not exactly living up to my expectations."
"You'll have to excuse me," I told him tersely, still trying to convince myself that I was merely in the midst of a dream. "I wasn't really expecting to find a work of fiction sitting in my living room."
"Well, how do you think I feel?"
"What do you mean?"
"To you, I'm a random bit of fiction," he explained, "but if I'm to believe the book sitting on your shelf, then you created me. I'm the product of your imagination."
I took a moment to mull over his words. "So, to you, I'd be like a God or something?"
"I wouldn't go that far."
"Why not?" I wasn't particularly interested in being anyone's God, but my conclusion had seemed the logical one. To me, anyway.
"Like I said," he continued, "If I am to believe that book. I'm not at all certain that I do."
"Then what do you believe?"
"I don't know. Maybe I'm the one who's dreaming."
"That would make two of us," I replied.
"Pretty strange dream," he added.
Silence again filled the space between us as we continued to look one another over, and digest the brief bit of conversation that had occurred. As we sat, a random thought flitted through my own mind. If this experience was more than a mere dream, it was an opportunity I couldn't afford to pass up. A character of my own creation was seated before me in three-dimensional glory. I could do what any writer of fiction would give his eyeteeth to do. I could actually interview my protagonist.
"Okay," I finally said. "Even if it is a dream, would you mind answering a few questions?"
"I don't know," I shrugged. "Just whatever pops into my head I suppose. Kind of like an interview."
"Well, I suppose that depends on exactly what pops into your head." He raised an eyebrow as he said this. "Because if this isn't a dream, and you actually are responsible for the content of Harm None: A Rowan Gant Investigation, you've got a pretty sick mind."
"I'm a writer," I told him. "It's my job to have a sick mind. And if you think that one is bad, just wait. There's another one due out in a few months."
"Thanks for the warning."
"I'd start sending out my resume if I were you," he offered. "An imagination like yours can't possibly be healthy."
"You know, I can get this kind of abuse from the critics. I don't need it from my own character."
"Provided that I actually am your character."
"Well, what do you say we pretend for a bit and see where it leads?"
"I guess we can give it a try, but if it gets too weird I'm stopping."
"Like it isn't weird enough right now?"
"You know what I mean."
"Okay. Fair enough."
"So what's your first question?"
I have to admit that I hadn't thought that far ahead. The opportunity was presenting itself on a silver serving tray, and I had absolutely no idea what to ask. I must have sat there with a blank expression on my face for a moment or two longer than I thought.
"Well?" he pressed.
"Just a second," I stalled, "I want to make sure I approach this in the right way."
"Okay, take all the time you need. I don't suppose I'm going anywhere."
"All right, how about this," I ventured as a thought struck me. "I've had a few critics hit me with this one, and I know what my answer to it was. Let's see what you have to say."
"What's the deal with the interaction between you and Ben Storm?"
"What do you mean?"
"The whole 'white man', 'chief', 'kemosabe', 'Tonto' thing. I've had a few readers and reviewers mention that it's not PC, and that it really just amounts to the two of you insulting one another."
"You ever hear of a TV show called The Lone Ranger?"
"Sure. Hasn't everyone?"
"Apparently not the people who've been complaining," he offered. "Ben and I both grew up watching that show. The interaction between us comes from familiarity and mutual respect, just like it did with the characters on that show. Neither of us feels the least bit insulted."
"But doesn't the word 'Tonto' actually mean, 'Fool'?"
"In Spanish, yes, I believe it does. But, I'm not speaking Spanish. Tonto is the name of the Lone Ranger's faithful Indian friend. When I call Ben 'Tonto', it is simply a fond nickname. Are you for real? People have actually complained about this?"
"Not many, but there have been a few."
"Sorry to hear that. Glad I'm not you though."
"Want another one? What about when Ben refers to Felicity as 'Squaw'?"
"What about it?"
"Isn't the word 'Squaw' a degrading reference to a particular part of the female anatomy?"
"Oh, come on. In someone's perverted mind MAYBE it was turned into a degrading colloquialism, but not when it comes out of Ben Storm's mouth. It very simply means 'young woman'. Look it up in the dictionary."
"I have. You won't get any argument from me."
"Listen, you aren't buying into all that 'PC' garbage are you?"
"Me?" I asked. "Not at all. I am simply getting your side of the story."
"Good. Because if you are the driving force behind my continued existence, then I'd sure hate to think you were just another one of the sheep in the flock."
"Well, judging from the dialogue I've written between you and Ben, my guess is that I'm the black one amidst the sea of white."
"Well don't let the 'PC' police get hold of you with the peroxide."
"I'll try to avoid that," I chuckled.
The first questions had been simple, and his answers had eased me into the concept of the interview. But the real truth was that they were only surface queries. They were things that I already more than knew the answers to, and really shed no light on the real person who was Rowan Gant. However, the candor with which he answered filled me with enough confidence to take a bigger leap into the fray. To ask a deeper question to which I had no idea what the answer would be. In retrospect, I suppose I should have waited a bit longer before diving in, but hindsight is at the very least 20-20, and we can't always take back what we have begun, even if we wish that we could.
"Okay, let's take a different path. How about your state of mental well-being?" I asked.
"You're sure about that?"
"What do you mean? Of course I'm sure. Why wouldn't I be fine?"
"The nightmares." I made blatant reference to what he had experienced during the murder investigation in Harm None.
For the first time since we had begun our dialogue, his self-assuredness seemed to fail. He once again grew quiet, but now, instead of maintaining his gaze in my direction, he looked away. I knew I'd touched upon a subject he'd rather not venture into. Truth be told, I wasn't exactly sure how far I wanted to go with it myself.
"You've had some pretty hairy visions," I pressed forward anyway. "In some cases actual visitations from the other side. That has got to be unsettling."
"Hell yes it's unsettling," he shot back; displaying the closest thing to anger I'd seen from him since his arrival. "I'd really rather not talk about it."
"Don't you think you need to?"
"What? Are you a psychiatrist all of a sudden? I thought you were a writer."
"Okay, okay." I backed off, simply adding a small warning, "You know it's only going to get worse."
"You'll deal with it," was all he said.
"I'll deal with it?" I shook my head, somewhat confused. "What do you mean, 'I'll deal with it'?"
"We're assuming that YOU created the situation, right?"
"Yes," I nodded. "That was the idea."
"Then it's your responsibility to deal with it."
"But, what if&ldots;"
My sentence was cut off by the thick peal of the clock as the hands rotated to indicate one A.M. This one, just as the dozen tones an hour before had done, rang out with a hollow soul, hanging on the air for what seemed an eternity. The hour had passed unbelievably fast. I felt in my mind that we had only been speaking for a matter of minutes, but the clock told a different story. My glance shifted from Rowan Gant to the timepiece and back again. Without warning, the scene had again changed. Now, standing in the doorway behind him was a slight, curvaceous figure with milky skin, clad in an oversized tee-shirt. A pile of auburn hair rested atop her head in a purposeful twist held fast by methods unseen.
"Rowan," her voice lilted with the same hollow quality as the chime from the clock. "It's late. Come to bed."
"I'll be right there, Felicity," he told her.
She gave a slight smile and turned, then disappeared back through the doorway. It was apparent that she was completely oblivious to my presence in the room. Rowan stood, and followed after her, pausing at the door and looking back over his shoulder at me.
"I guess the interview is over?" I asked, not knowing how else to approach the situation.
He looked at me with a deadly serious gaze for a long moment before speaking. "Okay, Sellars, if you really are responsible for my world, I've only got one thing to say." He nodded his head in the direction Felicity had gone, and then returned his glance to lock with mine. "Whatever your sick mind comes up with for me to deal with in these books of yours, don't you dare let anything happen to her."
"I have more questions," I called after him as he turned and disappeared through the doorway.
"Maybe next year."
Those last words mixed with the forever-dying tone of the clock and faded away into the dark. As the empty silence spilled once again into the room around me, I sat wondering just what had occurred. I was completely unaware of the passage of time until the continuing theme of the clock's chime broke my stupor once again. The double peal told me I had been staring blankly into space for a solid hour, not entirely sure what to think about the most recent event of the night.
Finally, I downed the last of my Scotch and set the tumbler aside, but before heading off to bed myself, I made a mental note to light a candle for Rowan Gant come the next Samhain.
This article is a work of fiction. Characters depicted herein are Copyright © M. R. Sellars. M. R. Sellars is the author of the best-selling Rowan Gant Investigation series of pagan oriented suspense-thrillers. (Harm None and Never Burn A Witch. The third novel in the series is due for release mid 2002.) Sellars resides in St. Louis with his wife and daughter. For more information, visit www.mrsellars.com.