The Lorelei Signal
Ill-met by Moonlight
Written by Maureen Bowden / Artwork by Lee Ann Barlow
I am Hekate, Goddess of Witchcraft. My friends and clients call me Katie. I rent a house situated between a cut-price cosmetic surgery centre and an abortion clinic, in Liverpool’s South end, within spitting distance of the city’s two fine cathedrals. I enjoy the ambience.
The sign on my door says:
Madame Kate A’Lunar
Hypnotic Regression to Previous Lives.
No Appointment Required
No Charge, but Donations Welcome
My demonic assistant, currently calling himself Clint, manifested at the foot of the desk in my office on the first floor. “Mad Meleesha’s downstairs. Wants to see you. Says it’s urgent.”
I scowled. “She’s not mad, just sad, and a little obsessive. We all have our eccentricities. Your name for instance. So last century. Joachim would be more contemporary.”
He ignored my suggestion. “She’s mad. Shall I bring her up?”
“Yes, and be polite.”
I enjoy helping humans. They interest me and I like them. Some however, are a vexation to the spirit. Meleesha Fontaine was one such, but I wouldn’t tolerate rudeness towards her from a demon, no matter how many centuries he’d served me.
Meleesha bounded in. “Katie, you must help me.” Her voice quivered and her face was flushed. “I don’t think I can bear to go on living.”
“Clint,” I called. “Two coffees. Now, please.” Three seconds later the door opened of its own accord. Clint carried in a tray, containing a coffee pot, two cups, a sugar bowl and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. He placed it on my desk, poured the coffee and retreated. The door closed behind him.
Meleesha scooped three spoonfuls of sugar into her cup. Her hand was trembling. “Calm down, Mel,” I said, “and tell me what’s wrong.” I made her take deep, slow breaths and she eventually became less agitated. “Now, start at the beginning.”
She nodded. “You know Mrs Baxter who runs the guest house across the street from me? Two days ago I called on her to return the toaster I borrowed when mine caught fire.” She sipped her coffee and took a bite of chocolate chip cookie. “We were chatting about this and that and she mentioned she had a charming new guest, a professor in Social Awareness and Lateral Thinking. He’d been booked to give a lecture at the university.”
I might have known this had something to do with a man. Mel’s crises always did. “I suppose she introduced him to you,” I said.
“Yes, she was leading me to the door when he came in. Professor Steven Jarrett, his name is. He has beautiful blue eyes. I recognised him instantly.”
“That’s the thing, Katie. I must have known him in a previous life. I believe he’s my soul-mate.”
The poor man. “Do you think he recognised you?”
“Yes. He smiled at me.”
“Hardly conclusive proof. You’re a good looking woman. Men must have smiled at you before.”
She flicked her wrist, dismissing every previous male acquaintance, “This was different.”
“So, you think you’ve met your soul-mate. Why can’t you bear to go on living?”
Her eyes filled with tears and she wailed, “Because he’s been unfaithful to me.”
I choked on a cookie. “When? In a previous life?”
Clint appeared, handed her a tissue to blow her nose, and handed one to me to cough up regurgitated chocolate chips.
“No,” she blubbered. “I don’t remember previous lives. I mean last night.”
Flamin’ Hades, I thought. He doesn’t let the grass grow. “Drink your coffee, Mel, then tell me all about it.” I topped up her cup and added more sugar.
She took a swallow, pulled a face, tipped in two more sugars and took another swallow. “Mrs Baxter had told me he was giving his lecture in the Cilla Black Memorial Hall, starting at seven o’clock yesterday evening, so I turned up hoping to get a seat. I did, but it was near the back so he couldn’t see me.”
“Satisfy my curiosity,” I said. “What are Social Awareness and Lateral Thinking all about?”
She shrugged. “I haven’t a clue. I just wanted to be there to meet him afterwards. I rushed out when it finished, ran to the car park, sat in my car and waited.”
My intuition told me where this was leading. “I’m guessing that when he turned up he wasn’t alone.”
“Too right he wasn’t. He had this floozie with him. They found a dark corner and it looked like they were eating each other alive.” She’d stopped crying but her face was getting redder and I could sense her rage building. “I wouldn’t tolerate it, Katie. If I couldn’t have him nobody could. That’s when I decided to kill them both.”
I slammed down my cup and roared at her, “You did what?” My familiar, a mangy black cat called Cromwell, screeched, fled from under the desk, and leapt out of the open window. Luckily he can fly.
Meleesha whimpered, “Don’t be angry with me. I didn’t actually do it. When they tumbled into his car and started to drive away I intended to ram them with mine, but a poseur in a black BMW pulled out in front of me, then stopped and began yattering into his phone.”
I sent a silent blessing to the poseur in the BMW. “I’m relieved to hear it. What happened next?”
“I blared my horn at him but by the time he got out of my way Steven and the floozie had gone. I drove to Mrs Baxter’s and sat there all night but they didn’t turn up.”
“I expect they went back to her place.”
“That’s what I thought. What can I do? He belongs to me.”
“He doesn’t, but you need to realise that for yourself. I’ll help you to recall the life in which you knew him and we’ll find out what relationship, if any, you had with him.”
“You’re welcome, but we’ll have no more talk of murdering anyone. Do you understand?”
I led her into the Hypnotic Regression room, told her to lie on the couch and sent her into a deep sleep. I called up the image she held in her mind of Steven Jarrett, and I said, “Find him.”
She groaned, tossed her head from side to side, and then she relaxed and smiled. “I see him: my beautiful Adonis with eyes of cobalt blue.”
“Tell me where you are.”
“I’m in the market place. The slave-trader is parading his latest stock. There’s only one I’m interested in. I make a bid. The trader haggles. I draw him aside and tell him of my father, a senator who has Caesar’s favour. He recognises the veiled threat, and the blue-eyed boy is mine. I take him home.”
“Is he happy to go with you?”
“Of course. He understands what I require of him and he performs with enthusiasm. I call him Delectus. My beloved.”
I got the gist. Now to find out how it ended. Not well, I suspected. “Find the day on which you last see Delectus and continue to tell me what’s happening.”
“He asks me give him his freedom. He swears he will stay with me out of choice, but as a free citizen, not a slave. My father’s scribe draws up the scroll. I sign it and hand it to Delectus. He kisses me. ‘I wish to bring you a gift but I have not yet received wages for my service to you.’
I open my coffer, fill a bag with coins and hand it to him, He smiles and waves to me as he walks away.
Hours pass and he does not return. I send a household slave to make enquiries. He reports to me in the early evening. I believe I detect a smirk as he speaks. ‘Mistress, I have been told Delectus purchased a fast stallion and was last seen riding towards the harbour.’ I am not alarmed. There are many traders from exotic lands that ply their wares in that vicinity. Maybe that is where he will buy my gift.
Night has fallen. A street urchin appears at the door and asks to speak to me. He is leading a fine stallion. ‘Is this a gift from a young man known as Delectus?’ I ask.
‘It is, mistress. He paid me well to bring it to you and then he boarded a ship.’
My heart is heavy. ‘To where was the ship bound?’
‘I regret I know not, Mistress. Many ships were leaving the harbour. They all looked the same to me. He sent you this note. Maybe it will tell you what you wish to know.’
I take the note. It says, ‘You’ll see me in your dreams.’”
Meleesha fell silent. I held her hand. “I’ll count to three and you’ll wake up. One, two, three.”
She opened her eyes and took a great gasp of air. “Why didn’t he come back to me? We’re soulmates.”
“No you’re not. You enslaved him. Do you believe that’s right?”
“No, not today, but it was in ancient Rome. Something must have prevented him from coming back.”
I shook her. “Can’t you see? He ran away from you.”
She frowned. “Why would he do that?”
“To live his own life and choose his own mate.”
She pushed away my arms and sprang to her feet. “No, you’re wrong. He’s come back to me now and that floozie is trying to steal him. I must find them and if she won’t leave him alone I really will kill them both this time.”
She fled before I could stop her. I called Clint. “We have a situation,” I said.
I know. Mad Meleesha’s on the prowl.”
“Have you been eavesdropping again?”
“It beats daytime TV.”
I sighed. “It’s time you did something more constructive. I need the name and address of the young woman who was with Professor Steven Jarrett last night.”
“No problem. I’ll get down to the university and lurk.”
“Make it quick. Meleesha will be lurking too, and I must find the love-birds before she does.”
“Why didn’t you wipe her memories of the blue-eyed boy when you had the chance?”
“Error of judgement. I won’t make the same mistake again. Now go.”
“I’m on my way.” He paused. “One thing I should mention: no human has eyes of cobalt blue.”
He returned within the hour. “Her name’s Gracie Harris. She’s an archaeology student.”
“Did you discover how well they know each other?”
“She attended a lecture he gave in Cardiff last month, about social interaction depicted in cave paintings. A mutual friend introduced them and a metaphorical spark was ignited.”
“That’s probably why he accepted the gig at Liverpool Uni,” I said. “They took the opportunity to fan the metaphorical flames. It had nothing to do with Meleesha.”
Clint handed me a time-yellowed post-it note that was no longer sticky. It was covered in his scrawl. “That’s her address.”
“Thanks. Good work. I’ll cast a spell for directions to this place.”
“No need.” He pulled his phone from the pocket of his draped jacket, and jabbed his finger at the tiny screen. “Google Maps is quicker. You should learn how to use technology.”
“I’ll consider it when you change your name.”
I looked at the map, memorised the route, transformed myself into a pigeon and flew to the student accommodation block in which Gracie lived. Returning to human form, I found her flat and rang the bell. A pretty, young woman with long dark hair opened the door. She was wearing a Star Wars bathrobe.
“Miss Harris?” I asked.
“Yes, and you are?”
“Madame Kate A’Lunar. I need to speak to you and Professor Steven Jarrett, urgently. I assume he’s here?”
“If you’re going to give us a lecture about propriety-”
“I’m not. I’m attempting to save your lives.”
“Oh. Well, we can’t talk here, I’m not dressed. You’d better come in.”
I followed her into the living room. Steven was lounging on the couch. He was dressed but he hadn’t shaved. The stubble enhanced the chiselled contours of his face. Gracie said, “This is Madam Kate A’Lunar. She’s come to save our lives.”
“I know,” he said. “I overheard.” She sat close to him. He put his arm around her, and turned back to me. “Welcome, Madame Moonlight. Are you a witch?”
“How did you know?”
“Social awareness. It’s my field. You have a pigeon feather in your hair. Who’s trying to kill us?”
“Meleesha Fontaine. Mrs Baxter introduced you.”
“Ah, yes. She seemed a little odd.”
“She just longs to be loved and she’s obsessed with the notion that you’re her soulmate. She waited for you after your lecture last night and saw you in the car park with Miss Harris.”
He winked at Gracie and she blushed.
I continued. “Her mental state was thrown off balance. I can fix it but I want you out of the way until I’ve done it. She’s dangerous.”
He flashed a charming smile. “Thank you for your concern, Kate. May I call you Kate?”
“Katie. Your anxiety is unnecessary. We’re leaving for Paris tomorrow morning and if she turns up here tonight, I’m sure I can reason with her.”
“If she lunges at you brandishing an axe you won’t get the chance. Leave now. Move into a Travelodge near the airport and don’t tell anyone.”
Gracie said, “Katie’s right, Steven. We must go. I’ll get dressed.” She stood up and as she moved to the door she said, “Are you really a witch?”
I was relieved that she didn’t say, “Amazing.”
After she’d left the room Steven said, “You’re Hekate, right?”
I stared into his impossible cobalt-blue eyes. It was like looking into the depths of an ancient bottomless lake. “Right. Is that lateral thinking?”
“And who are you, Steven?”
He laughed. “It doesn’t matter who I am. I love Gracie and I don’t want her to be harmed. We’ll do as you suggest.”
“Good. Enjoy Paris and give my regards to Jeanne d’Arc.”
I saw them safely on their way, became the pigeon, flew to Meleesha’s doorstep and took human form again.
She opened the door before I could ring the bell. She held her car keys in one hand and a large knife in the other. “Going somewhere, Mel?” I asked.
She raised the knife. “Don’t try to stop me, Katie. I don’t want to hurt you, but I have to fight for my man.”
I invoked a paralysing charm and aimed it at her legs. They buckled and she slid to the floor. I levitated her back into her living room and dumped her in an armchair. She screamed, “What have you done to my legs?”
“I’ve given them a rest. Do the same for your tongue.” I placed my hands either side of her head, forcing her to look into my eyes and I sent her into a deep sleep.
With relief, I flopped onto her couch. Paralysis charms are exhausting. I controlled my breathing, and mentally prepared for the onerous task of erasing the blue-eyed Adonis from her convoluted mind. When I was ready, I began editing her memory banks until there was no trace of him. I also ditched her recollection of everything that had happened since she returned Mrs Baxter’s toaster. Finally, I compelled her to sleep until morning and awake refreshed and content.
I flew home in the form of the pigeon, entered through the open first-floor window and transformed back to human form before Cromwell attempted to eat me.
I called Clint. “I need you to return the favour you owe me.”
“Which favour is that?”
“The one where I saved you from the clutches of a rabid seventeenth-century exorcist.”
“Oh, that. I thought four hundred years faithful service just about covered it.”
“Nice try, but we both know you only stay because it’s a cushy number with plenty of leisure time.”
“Go on then. What do you want me to do and how long will it take?”
“First you’ll need to transform yourself into a handsome man.”
“I already did.”
“Mellow the image. I’m thinking George Clooney, not Vlad the Impaler. Then I want you to charm Meleesha into falling in love with you. Marry her, be faithful to her and keep her happy for the rest of her life. She’s in her thirties, so a maximum sixty years should cover it.”
“Do I get a medal at the end of it?”
“No, but there are perks in it for you. She’s intelligent, conscientious, and a good-looking woman.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why are we doing this?”
“To bring happiness into a lonely life and to stop her from murdering anyone. Let’s get started. I’d like you to meet her during some informal activity. What do you do in your spare time?”
“Not a lot, but I’m thinking of joining the Salsa Dance for Beginners class that’s just started in the Sergeant Pepper function rooms above the Stermat Hardware store in Penny Lane.”
“Perfect. I’ll persuade her to join. Do you have the details?”
He flicked his fingers. An introductory leaflet and membership application appeared in his hand. “Give her this. I’ll get another one.”
“Thank you. Just one more thing: do something about your name.”
Next morning I called on Meleesha. “Come in Katie. Lovely to see you,” she said. “I fell asleep in my armchair last night and I’ve only just woken up. I must clean my teeth.”
“You do that,” I said. “I’ll make the coffee.”
“Thanks. Three sugars in mine.”
While we drank our coffee she said, “I’ve been thinking, it’s time I had a man in my life. I might join an internet dating site.”
“No,” I said. “A lot of the men who use them don’t want commitment. They’re pubescent butterflies who flit from flower to flower, and you don’t cope well with rejection.”
“You’re right, Katie. So what should I do?”
“You should get out more and have some fun. If you meet a man you like and he likes you, take it slowly and see what happens.” I handed her the leaflet and the application. “Why not give this a try?”
She was engrossed in the sensuous world of Salsa when I finished my coffee. “I’ll see myself out,” I said. “Let me know how you get on.”
She rang me two weeks later. “Katie, I’ve met a wonderful man with the most beautiful brown eyes. I think I’ve found my soulmate. His name’s Joachim.”
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian, living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had a hundred and fifty-two stories and poems accepted by paying markets, she was nominated for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize, and in 2019 an anthology of her stories, ‘Whispers of Magic’ was published and is available from Hiraeth Books.
She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. Her husband has performed these in folk music clubs throughout the UK. She loves her family and friends, rock ‘n’ roll, Shakespeare, and cats.