Seven stories set in a variety of cultural backgrounds explore human relationships as they become entangled with magical influences. Written in a range of voices, these contemporary stories move effortlessly between the realms of both romantic and erotic love. A woman finds herself enraptured by the folk traditions of Shinto when she travels to Japan to discover the hidden meaning of a strange necklace. A young Wiccan uses her mother’s Tarot cards to find out more about the nature of love. A young girl realises that there is more to growing up when she discovers an unusual painting by a Jewish artist, in her local art gallery. A chance encounter with a rune reader leads to a chaotic adventure for a young archaeologist searching for an ancient stone in the bleak fells of northern Britain. In these and the three other stories in this collection we are left with a warning; that we must tread with care, because sometimes you can choose your Gods – but sometimes they choose you.
Taking a God for a Ride
Deep in the heart of Arcadia, hidden in the rocky mountains of central Greece, lies a cave – and at its mouth, a tree. Bleached white from centuries of cloudless summers, there is little to distinguish this tree from any other growing upon that scrubby hillside. Neither is there any indication of its spiritual heritage. It has not for instance, had a great prophet seated under its boughs, nor has its wood been used to fashion a cross. And yet, although the tree appears to be quite ordinary, a god once made his home there and that god was Pan . . .
“Good Lord, is he actually shagging that goat?”
I stopped typing; my fingers motionless above the keyboard. Turning from my desk I saw my boss, Michael, regarding with horror, our most recent acquisition.
We, the staff of Outreach Art had already begun to regard with some affection, the current object of our boss’s scrutiny. The small statuette which had arrived from Italy earlier that morning, along with several other replicate pieces, had been placed with some reverence, upon a large desk in the centre of our office.
Michael leant over the statuette, as if a closer inspection might somehow reveal some redeeming feature. He shook his head.
“We are an educational charity specialising in bringing art to those who can’t get to see it for themselves,” he reminded us. “How can we show this to the residents of Fernbank Retirement Home?”
“At least we know the residents will all be over eighteen this time,” I said (our last visit had been to a school).
“Over eighteen,” he repeated, “over eighteen? They’ll be over eighty! This will most likely give them a heart attack. Look at it – you can actually see his penis going into the goat’s . . . the goat’s . . .”
Behind me Mary, Outreach Art’s large, bubbly, receptionist, waited an agonising five seconds before delivering him from his discomfort,
“Vagina!” she hollered across the office cheerfully. She was sitting with her back towards us and out of the corner of my eye I could see her broad, round shoulders shudder from the effort of trying not to laugh.
Michael rubbed his forehead.
“To be honest, I’m surprised it even made it through customs,” he continued. “It’s probably classed as illegal porn this. What’s it called? Yes that’s it, bestiality – that’s what this is.”
“Actually, that’s not strictly true,” I said, feeling a sudden urge to explain. “You see, the God is half-goat himself.”
“Pan: The guy who’s fu- the guy who’s having sex with the goat?
“Oh and he’s a God is he?
I nodded, then raising my eyes heavenwards to access my mental notes I began to recite;
“A shepherd God in Central Greece, who was also worshipped in ancient Persia . . .”
Where the Cards Lie
A spell sprang into being.
“Hail Hecate; Dark Mother, Queen of night.” Four naked young women shuffled to their assigned positions.
“Hail Hecate, we beseech you, pour down your blessings upon us your children.” The floor of the wooden summerhouse creaked. Upon a small table draped with a black velvet cloth a pack of tarot cards glimmered in the candlelight. Stella, who stood in the centre of the room, raised a dagger above her head,
“Hail Hecate, Wise woman and Crone, protect us as we enter this, the darkest time of the year – all hail and welcome.”
“All hail and welcome,” the other three young women replied.
Hannah watched through a black veil. Of all the women present, she was the only one not entirely naked. She felt nervous and wished she had not been encouraged to play such a central role. A draught rolled in from under the door behind her. She shivered and tugged the ends of the veil forward so that the thick tasselled edge covered her breasts. Working skyclad had always been a problem for her.
Perhaps if she were more content with her body she wondered and watched the light from the moon shine directly from the skylight in the roof onto Stella’s hair and breasts. Stella always appeared happy to expose parts of her body no matter what she was wearing, Hannah thought ruefully.
Behind Stella stood Janice. Her startling red hair and long angular limbs also made her stand out but Janice never seemed to notice. And if she had she certainly wouldn’t have bothered about it.
That left little Karen, who at that moment was standing next to Hannah. Karen, ever eager to do everything right with her teeth which slanted ever so slightly inwards, pale grey eyes which were spaced almost too close together and naturally curly hair which was kept cropped to her neck to stop it from sticking out at odd angles. Karen was – Hannah considered her options – Karen was, curvy, although she would never be accused, as Hannah frequently was, of being plump (well-rounded if people were being kind – fat – if they were not).
Janice stepped forward,
“Psst, Hannah it’s you now.”
Hannah shook herself from her thoughts and realized with horror that everyone was now looking at her expectantly. Her toes gripped an invisible branch under her feet. To her left she heard Karen snuffle and clear her throat, (the dust inside the old summerhouse must have set off her sinuses again). In front of her Stella nodded impatiently,
Hannah shuffled forward and stopped. She lifted a piece of paper to her face, which until then, she had been using to conceal her crotch.
“I can’t see,” she said, her voice muffled under the silk shawl.
“What?” Stella dropped her arms. The knife hung loosely at her side.
“I said, I can’t see a thing through this bloody material,” Hannah repeated and pulling the shawl away revealed a pretty heart-shaped face with large blue eyes, a pale, creamy complexion, which was now slightly pink from having been under the veil.
Stella rolled her eyes,
“For heaven’s sake,” she muttered.
Hannah pursed her lips. She took a deep breath, steadied herself and then, raising her eyes to the piece of paper, began to read aloud the poem which was written upon it.
“Who calleth me doth call darkness to the land and winter to the skies, yet I come in love, this night when the veil is thin. . . ”
Immediately the girls fell silent. Soon, charged with the spirit of the invocation, they stopped behaving like bickering school-girls and became what they purported to be; regal Priestesses of the Moon or as more commonly known, Wiccans.