Search This Blog

Friday, 27 October 2017

Halloween horror-01 - ‘with X-rated parts…’

Especially for Halloween – the horror/romantic thriller Chill of the Shadow. One US reviewer statedThe story carefully unfolds into a complex, and chilling tale not exactly for the lighthearted. Maria Caruana, an investigative journalist and police Sergeant Francis investigate the disappearance of young pregnant women. They put their lives on the line to learn whether or not black magic is alive on the Maltese islands.
            … Some people make good out of bad, but Bryson Spellman takes his bitterness to the dark side. Zondadari, a vampire, and Bonello a politician, and his right hand man, Grech are just a few he sucks into his evil plan. Maria’s search for answers takes her to Zondadari. He has a hold over her from the moment she sets eyes on him, and even as she wonders if she loves him, she fears that he is a vampire.
            The dark forces gather, and then the story breaks wide open and reveals the depth of evil that has befallen the beautiful tourist island of Malta.
            This is a rather deep story with some X-rated parts that I feel should be placed as a warning...’

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3: ‘Tumbling thoughts’, where the journalist Maria does some research on black magic in Malta…

As the day wore on Maria found that several small libraries locked away books, often for purely censorial purposes, a hangover from the earlier times when the church held stronger sway.
            A quick search took her through the scant collection of Malti books and offered up nothing of note, which wasn’t surprising since her country’s language hadn’t been officially written down till last century
            The English, French and Italian works had merely scratched the surface of folklore, particularly the dark side. Instinctively, she now believed that a dark side existed, but it was – not surprisingly – hidden. Where there is light, there is shadow.
            The stories were all probably oral; and the country people normally associated with earth-magic were still exceptionally insular. Perhaps they didn’t write the lore down. Of course, the secret societies, if they existed, had the Order of St. John to emulate.
            Witchcraft reared its ugly head as well. Here, too, in these idyllic islands the Inquisition had taken its toll. Blood and gore had been splattered in the name of the Pope. But she could find no substantiated accounts of devil-worship in the islands. Which seemed rather odd. Throughout history, every society and country had its share of devil-worshippers and there was no reason why Malta should be any different. Father Joseph may believe that he is right and the islands are too devout but her cynical reporter’s head told her to dismiss the priest’s assurances for what they were, self-delusion.
            She found old copies of several classics in French: Collin de Plancy’s Spectriana, Cuisan’s Les ombres sanglantes and Gabrielle de Paban’s Histoire des Fantômes et de Demons and Démoniana. And while they were true treasure troves of the black arts, they didn’t mention Malta once.
            A couple of English encyclopedias on occultism and ritual magic proved useful for definitions and practices and were of great help when she spent time on the dense but always fascinating prose of the Reverend Montague Summers in his History of Witchcraft.
            Apparently, in medieval times crossroads were grim places, where miscreants were hung and left in cages to be feasted upon by carrion. Legend suggested that the mandrake or mandragora – the semi-human – was a plant of fertility, magical virtue and occult power. When a man was hanged, his semen or urine fell to the ground and there in that spot grew up the mandrake. Never read that explanation in Harry Potter, Maria mused. J.K. Rowling got it right, though, about not uprooting a mandrake as its shrieks were so fearful that whoever dug it up would die with the yells ringing in his ears. It could be harvested by getting dogs that tugged up the roots; though a whole kennel-load of them might be needed.
            Poisoning was quite commonplace in those dark days. Fortune-tellers added to their meagre fees by acting as back-street abortionists and bargain-basement prostitutes and as a side-line they also sold poisons to duchesses, princes, marquises and lords.
            Malta jumped out at her when she read about a poison ring with connections in England, Italy and Portugal. It was formed in the 1670s and had been headed by Galaup de Chasteuil, the son of the Attorney general of Aix, a Knight of Malta, and at one time also a Carmelite prior who happened to keep a mistress in his cell. Among the ring’s membership had been nobles, a banker and a lawyer. Chasteuil fled during the investigations of the Chambre Ardente in 1680, when the Black Mass was first mentioned in any historical document.    
            She was surprised to learn that the Knights Templar had been associated with black magic rites, though in fact it was their enemies who, jealous of the Knights’ power, had spread the rumour that even now wouldn’t lie still. King Philip of France and his puppet Pope Clement V lusted after the vast Templar wealth and sought to capture and torture the Knights. The Inquisition’s torture produced many confessions, among them that the knights worshipped the idol Baphomet, a goat-headed demon. Some scholars believed that Baphomet was a corruption of Mahomet or Mohammad. Maria shook her head, finding it hard to believe, considering that the Islamic faith abhors idols of any kind.
            A person who is physically constrained or morally terrorized has no freedom of will, Maria reasoned, shuddering as she read on. How could they give credence to confessions extorted in such a manner? The victim is not responsible. The elderly Grand Master Jacques de Molay insisted the Order was innocent of all but one offence against God, and that was confessing untruths while being tortured. Burned at the stake while facing Notre Dame, de Molay called out through the flames that both Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God. Pope Clement died a month later and King Philip was killed in a hunting accident before the year’s end.
            In 1312 the Knights Templar Order was dissolved and their assets were sequestered and some passed on to their rivals, the Knights Hospitallers who subsequently became the Knights of Rhodes and Malta. This was familiar territory for her, as she – like most of the islands’ schoolchildren – had studied the Great Siege of Malta of 1565.
            After delving into the terrible atrocities of the past – a perpetual war between good and evil in which inevitably the innocent were often destroyed – she was glad to emerge from the oppressive confines of the musty libraries.
            She spent an hour at her office computer, googling the worldwide web for anything about the combination of Witchcraft and Malta. Not a lot of useful information came up in the results, surprisingly. Wicca adherents argued for the understanding of life and nature, while there were studies of Witchcraft and sorcery during the Inquisition years in Malta, but nothing recent turned up. She hadn’t the stamina to check out all 91,300 result pages so she decided to leave for a hasty burger.
            Later in the afternoon, as she stood and leaned over the railings of Barrakka Gardens, idly watching the few ships and boats in the Grand Harbour, she breathed in the warm air and the fragrance of the flowers to clear her head. A flower arrangement spelled out MERHBA – welcome –– and had done so for many years.
            She never tired of this view. It was somehow reassuring; perhaps it was the solidity of the city-walls, a satisfying permanence – the same sixteenth century bastion walls that the knights of the Order of St. John built to protect and encircle their city of Valletta. The panorama from left to right took in the breakwater entrance to the harbour with, across the water, Fort Ricasoli, where she had covered the making of several films. Over there, too, was Bighi, once a Royal Naval hospital but now state housing, and Fort St. Angelo, still standing substantial and perfect – living history. Directly in front of her was the town of Senglea, now dwarfed by a moored rust-streaked giant Liberian tanker.
            A dghajsa crossed the harbour, the boatman standing above his tourist charges, effortlessly pushing his long oars. Maria was born the same year that the British armed forces left for good – the climax of Dom Mintoff’s political career – so she had no direct memories of the days when the water here was thick with moored warships and dozens of those water-taxis plied their way to the Customs House jetty. But her father had told her of those days and she’d seen his many photographs. Maria fished out of her shoulder bag a pair of small binoculars and studied the harbour.
            She shivered involuntarily on seeing two young boys diving off the bows of a tethered blue-painted luzzu, the fisherman having left the vessel to sell his catch in the market. The water was still too cold for her preference. The boys were having fun, though, the sun glinting off the water on their spare muscular bodies and glistening black hair. Maria was drawn to the protective eye of Osiris painted on the boat’s bow. To ward off evil. Yet another reminder of the fear of evil lurking below the surface of everyday life.

Chill of the Shadow

 Amazon paperback and e-book here

No comments: